The Background (because, I'm told, I'm the only person alive who knows this stuff): Ragnarök is the end of the world. Not as we know it; the end. The Eddas, the ancient epic poems, describe it as a prophecy. There will be a terrible winter and shuddering of the earth that will shatter nations and scatter man; evil shall break free of its prison and the gods will leave their idle frolic to meet in final battle against the forces of darkness and die with honor.

P.S.: For anybody out there who already knew that…bless you.

Sigyn—

* * *

According to the Norse tales, Sigyn and Loki wait in the damp twilit cave, listening to the eerie echoes of each poison drip and the sound of their own breathing. Sigyn holds a wooden bowl over Loki's face. Slowly, it fills with the venom of a snake coiled on the rock ceiling. When the bowl is brimming, Sigyn carries it away to empty into a rock basin—a fermenting pool of poison. Loki is left unguarded; he screws up his eyes. The snake does not wait. Its venom splashes on to Loki's face and in torment he shudders and writhes. He cannot escape, and the whole earth quakes in his struggles.

Loki lies bound. That is how things are and how things will remain until the destined apocalypse: Ragnarök.

*

'One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love.'
Sophocles

*

Never were sweeter words of love spoken by a silver tongue than when he realized that she deserved to leave him—and that he didn't love her enough to let her go. And so he told her romantic tales to ease the cold, bitter nights. He sang her songs that had her shaking with laughter whenever she dared grow grim. When she looked at him in sorrow, he whispered the lies of 'go' and 'live' and 'be free,' while his eyes, filled with empty promises, begged the truth.

But she did leave. It was his hell's design that she leave him staring at the coiling serpent above as her footsteps whispered evermore softly across the stone floor—softer, and softer still. He was finally left straining against his bonds, desperate to catch the sound of her once more before the serpent's venom dropped. But, as always, the acid struck his face. The agony so great that he could not hear himself scream her name.

This was his punishment for the death of their sweet Baldur by his cunning. Or so they claimed. In truth, it was about their damned prophecy. Anything and everything to prevent their Ragnarök. So they said.

*

She stood at the entrance to cave they had called prison for millennia and watched the contents of her emptied bowl burn away the snow and decomposing leaves until only roiling, poison smoke and the blackened stone basin remained. The word 'Sigyn' echoed at her back, growing louder every second. Each syllable hounded her. Like a frightened rabbit, she didn't know whether stand frozen or run. She wished she could will her heart to stop, but on it hammered, a blistering cadence in rhythm with the screams and the shuddering earth.

How horrifying, she thought as she stood, trapped in the moment. How horrifying it was that, with her name upon his lips, her husband moved mountains to kill tens of thousands. And how noble that, in doing her duty as wife, she had saved that number again a hundred-fold. How she hated the Æsir. One child lay slaughtered, the other driven to madness and to Hel after being made the instrument of the butchery. Their father, the jotun man she had loved consigned to never-ending torment by the one who had dared to call him Brother. Chained by entrails of his son, and tortured: this was their idea of mercy. How she hated them, their righteousness, their justice. The Æsir took an eye upon hearing empty lies, and then a hand for an eye and a head for a hand. They were the monsters in her eyes: cruel and possessing no fairness beyond what was found in their youthful, unmarred complexions.

She wearily sank to her knees and laid her lined hands on the large bowl she had thrown down into the snow in rage. She stared into the distance, and dreamed of leaving him. She could and find a maiden with ideas of nobility and duty to take over her task for a short while, or she might entreat a strapping marksman to shoot the serpent dead from its high perch.

But could her husband, for all his words, forgive her the agony and the betrayal?

A different frown overtook her first as she felt the earth tremble beneath her. The jotun's bonds were anchored deep and throughout Midgard. His struggles ran through his bindings to cause destruction at their ends, not their beginnings. Earthquakes were not supposed to happen here.

Her eyes darted to the cave's dark, gaping mouth in fear.

*

The small part of Loki that remembered what time was knew she had been gone longer than ever before. A smaller part knew what that could mean: she had left him. Only a piece smaller still could bear to think of it. That last part, what would have been called his heart had anyone believed he possessed one, was glad.

The rest of him was too grateful that the pain had somehow dimmed. Then wariness set in and he opened his eyes to see the serpent, its jaw closed, its eyes staring. The viper, Skaði's parting gift to him, unwound slowly from the cave's ceiling. It arched to peer into the tunnel out which Sigyn had gone, tongue flickering in the dim.

After an eternity of silence, it turned back to the jotun. It's mouth peeled back to bare its poisonous fangs, and he recoiled in horror and realization. All along he mistaken its dripping venom for malice when in truth it had merely been salivating. The snake's pentagonal face was etched with ravenous hunger. Somehow Loki found the strength to struggle harder than ever before. He screamed for Sigyn: a salvation that the small, insidious part of him prayed would never come.

The serpent dropped from the crags onto him and coiled tightly, forcing him still. His lungs wheezed, helpless to do anything else. He himself could only stare at the pale head as it curved and rose above him. Then he willed himself to breathe calmly and close his eyes. So be it. He was destined not to die fighting, but as a coward. His brother's precious prophecy would be proved as false as the fools who believed it, and he would be allowed to see his daughter Hel at last. He let himself succumb to his death.

And then she screamed his name. Startled by the sound, his eyes sprang open to watch the bowl break open as it struck the serpent's skull.

The snake flew through the air to hit the stone floor. It was a writhing mass on the ground in the darkness as Sigyn turned to it, eyes brimming with bloodlust. She grabbed a jagged wooden shard from the remains of the bowl and approached the injured beast. As she held up the makeshift weapon to plunge it down into the snake's body, its head appeared from the center of the coils. Even as she struck down, it's jaws snapped up. It bit her leg. She pierced its side. She cried out. It hissed murderously and surged up to coil about her and tighten about her legs. She lost her balance and fell back, striking her head.

As his wife went still, dazed, and the serpent slithered slowly up to her neck, Loki surged into motion. In the millennia of pain, of torture, he had writhed, but never like this. "Sigyn!" came his constant cry, a name he had shouted for millennia, and yet this time the word held something more.

She jerked to the sound of her name and began to struggle, but the monster now had her wrists.

The ends of his chains strained to break free from their anchors spread across the earth. The frightened and dying in those quake-ravaged places wailed again at the return of the tremors. The earth rippled. Almost imperceptibly, the ground on the entire planet was pulled towards one desolate spot in the northern Arctic before slowing and stopping. For a moment, the world was still.

And then it split apart.

The face of unfaithful Helen was said to have launched a thousand ships. Why, then, is it a surprise that Sigyn, with her smile, her laugh, her hastily spared glances, her unfailing devotion, should cause the man she loved to find the strength to shatter the unbreakable? The world screamed, dealt a grievous blow as the shreds of chains ripped through it center. The earth buckled. No place was safe.

Even the cave, which had always been the start of such tremors but experienced them itself, shook. Loki ignored the rumbling cave walls as he found his chains gone limp. With a shout, he hurtled to Sigyn.

Pain had never been enough to make him break free. Not fear, nor rage, but love. Love gave him the strength to power his legs for the first time in millennia. He moved, desperate to save the woman who had chosen an eternity of suffering to spare him as much pain as she could.

So it was ultimately thanks to love that he was rewarded with the sight of his Sigyn locked in battle with the serpent as the cave's ceiling came crashing down.

*

When the tremors stopped at last, the whole world round survivors stood, shocked at their short reprieve from death. The same awed response was present everywhere, in every direction and in all places: cities, fields, hills, valleys—even caves.

"Still alive?" Loki's words came from a broken voice that struggled out from a battered throat. From the rubble, he rose up, more thing than man. Reaching out, he stroked a limp, white hand. There was only the hand to touch; the arm and all attached lay buried beneath an immovable mass of black rock. He stroked the palm, traced its lines, and if he divined some future knowledge from it, he said nothing, only kissed the gentle limb and let it fall to earth. He stared at it, still for just a moment. Then he slumped and clutched at himself, screaming. He buried his head in the crook of one arm and rocked, shuddering as violently as the earth had only moments before.

After a time, he pulled his head from his arm and touched his face. His pale skin had been gouged. Many of the scarred, acid trails through his flesh were old, but some gaped fresh—and wet. Tears coursed through the grooves, down his neck and heaving chest to fall to cave floor. "What is this?" he hissed in shock, and he followed the rivers up to where they spilled from his crazed, grief-drowned eyes. "No. No, I show weakness to no one. I care—for no one." The sibilant noise gave way to a shuddering rasp. He reached out again for the lifeless hand, only to pull away, unable to touch the white flesh.

He sobbed. Only once. Then again. He dug his fingers through his ashen hair and breathed ragged through gritted teeth. "Evil doesn't care. Monsters show no weakness," he snarled, "Monsters…monsters…" His hands fell limp to the ground, and he stared at them. "They're the monsters," he muttered, then froze.

A smile slowly curled on lips set beneath maddened eyes. "And they'll pay. If I have to end this world, prove his Prophecy…so be it."