"Come M'Lady, surely there must be something you desire more than whatever it is that lies within that box."
Loki had been arguing for a good thirty minutes with the woman before him, yet he might as well have been talking to a slab of granite for all the good it was doing him. The woman certainly wore an expression that could have passed for it.
The box in question wasn't really even a box; it was a chest, covered in nine chains and nine locks and resting on the ground at the woman's side. Loki thought it was a bit extreme. Why did anyone need nine locks on one chest? Surely one was enough.
Summing it up to a Jotunn's paranoia, Loki pressed on, determined to sway the one-sided conversation in his favor. "Please, tell me what is it that you wish for more in the nine worlds? There is nothing that is beyond my reach. The man leaned forward, resting the weight of his arms on the table. His beard, long and golden and decorated with beads of gold and silver, danced and jingled noisily against the table's steel. "I can give you ice that does not melt, fire that does not burn, and wool spun from gold." The man whispered. "Surely in the Land of Fire, there is something that even its Queen finds herself fantasizing about."
Across from him, the woman leaned back with a sigh, reestablishing the distance the table created before her. She was a tall wench, like most of the Jotunns Loki had come across in his long life, and pale too. Deathly pale. Hel had been that shade of pale too, when last the god had seen her, once upon a time and long long ago, before he'd been imprisoned by his son's entrails.
I can see her again. He'd not had a chance to visit Angrboda's daughter since escaping his prison on the stone. But now Loki was free. There was so much he wanted to do. So much he needed to do.
His forehead still burned at the memory of the serpent's venom, forever dripping above his head with only his wife to catch the poison. And oh how it burned when she left to empty her bowl, leaving his flesh to sizzle and hiss and how it felt like an eternity passed before Sigyn returned, bowl empty to start the process all over again.
Yet his wife had been clever, though it had taken Loki a millennium to realize it. He'd cursed and screamed his pain to her whenever she'd left Loki with his serpent, yet it wasn't until one day she returned with two large pails in her hands that he realized what it was Sigyn had been doing with that venom. The goddess had rested her bowl on his forehead, and Loki had been forced to agonizingly strain his neck for decades on end in order to keep it balanced as she worked.
For days, months, years he'd been forced to lay motionless, staring up with terror-ridden blue eyes into the jaws of the serpent from which the venom dropped. Forced to not flinch as had become second nature for him, but to lie perfectly still as the poison fell from one fang, than the next, drip, drip dripping into the bowl on his forehead. The scent burned his nostrils, the sight made his eyes water. And through it all still there came that constant drip, drip, drip of venom.
Sigyn had been careful though. She'd taken her time and hadn't rushed, applying one drop after another to their son's intestines and watching as the venom ate through the bindings. Slow, but effective. Once the woman had gotten one of his hands free, it grew easier as well. Though unable to rip the bindings from his other arm or legs, a free hand meant he no longer had to balance a bowl on his brow, nor even lay fully beneath the snake's gaping maw.
"What I want..." The woman began, and Loki found himself roused from his thoughts, returning his full attention on the pale-blond woman before him. "What I want..." She repeated, regarding him with eyes the red of brick. When you sleep with the fire, it burns you inside and out. Odin's words, from a time when Loki had been on friendlier terms with the Aesir. "I do not wish for fire that does not burn nor ice that does not melt. What use have I of such thing, Trickster God? No, what I want is the nine worlds resting within the branches of Yggdrasil and under the World Tree's three great roots." Her voice was rough and grinding, like gravel grinding underfoot. "I want the earth beneath my feet and the lake of lava above my head. I want a sea of stars where Mani rides his chariot and Sol brings the morning, chased by wolves that will never catch them. I want the Aesir to leave the Jotunn be, for theJotunn to leave the gods to their doings, and for Man to do as is his nature."
"So tell me Little Giant," She leveled her gaze at him, and for a brief instance the Jotunn looked as ancient as Odin himself. "Do you believe yourself truly capable of giving me what I desire?"
For one painstakingly long moment Loki found himself at odds with how to respond. Finally the blonde leaned back into his own chair shaking his head and sending blond curls tumbling across his face. "No." The man admitted. "No, I can't give you what you want."
"And why is that?"
A frown tugged at the corner of Loki's lips. "I cannot give you what you already have." He explained. "You have the earth beneath your feet, and you live in Muspellheim; the lakes above your cave are nothing but lava. Or magma." The god added, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I never could tell the difference between the two."
"Lava is magma outside the volcano, Loki."
"Ah, thank-you Sin-Mara. Now, as I was saying, I can't give you what you ask for simply because you have all of it already. Is there nothing else?"
The woman, Sin-Mara, took a long gulp from the cup of mead resting at her elbow. The giant shook her head. "I rather like the way the world is right now, Loki." She said. "True, there are more than a fair share of fools out in the world now, and the gods seem more than happy enough to ignore the idiocy of Man, but I'd rather watch the foolish intricacies of mortals stumbling across the path of knowledge than watch them and everything else I've come to cherish obliterated with the dawning of Ragnarok. I've come to love my husband very much, after all."
Than why has no one seen the two of you together? Loki wondered. He knew Sin-Mara's husband, Surtr, better than he did the woman herself, and in all the times they'd spoken, never had the spouse been in the others company. Today Sin-Mara claimed her husband was off in Helhiem, the land of the dead. Surtr was assisting his god-daughter, Loki's very own flesh and blood, with the creation of a vessel made from the nails and bones of the dead. The Trickster had only heard rumors, but supposedly the ship was large enough to fit all the leagues of the deceased on its deck with room to spare for a legion or two of Jotunn. When Naglfar set sail at the dawn of Ragnarok, the Aesir wouldn't stand a chance.
Yet so much still needed to be done before the vessel could set sail. The three roosters resting throughout the nine worlds had yet to crow in warning. Surtr needed his blade. Loki's son Fenrir needed to break free from his own prison. The World Tree still stood tall and straight and Nidhogg and Jormungandr still rested in their own chambers, neither having made a move to depart. And none of that included Loki's own role in the nine Worlds' many ends.
"Ragnarok is not something that can be halted, Sin-Mara." Loki persisted. "It's going to happen whether you want it to or not, and nothing is going to change that. The Norns predicted it. The Volva spoke of it. You were prophesied to be as much a part of it as your husband, as Hel, your god daughter, mind you, and myself as well."
The blond shook her head. "But you forget Loki, that though you are free, there have been no other signs of Ragnarok. Surtr has no reason to bear arms. It is why he assists your daughter, for he grows weary of waiting for some external source to cause strife amongst all the nine worlds. A chaotic and destructive giant he may be, but even Surtr dislikes the idea of his death at Ragnarok, or mine, or the end of Hel. Naglfar is little more than insurance against the Aesir-should they act, so too will we, with enough forces to overrun the walls of Valhalla."
"Yes, you escaping your chains could be seen as a sign of things to come," Sin-Mara continued. "However, one could also say that Baldr's death, caused in no small amount because of you, was a sign of things to come, and he died long before you were even imprisoned."
Loki leaned back into his chair with a sigh, kneading his forehead with his knuckles. The scar that had formed on the god's forehead from the years of venom throbbed dully. "So you're saying there is nothing I can do to convince you to give me what's in that chest."
The giant shook her head. "I see no reason to give you Laevateinn. Not without other signs, Chaos Jotunn."
Chaos Jotunn. Loki hated that name. Somewhere since his imprisonment the giants had come up with a title of their own for him. The trickster wasn't sure who it was, though his suspicions lied with Angrboda. The woman carried a grudge a mile long, and she'd never quite forgiven Loki for allowing Odin and the rest of the Aesir to take their children away.
The man looked away, observing the room as he thought of a response to the tall woman before him. There was no rush. Unlike her husband, Sin-Mara had all the patience in the world, and she'd wait a decade if that was what it took for Loki to respond.
They were in a cave, deep underneath the thick, flowing streams of lava that flowed through Muspellheim. Even down this deep the air was warm, but not in a way Loki found uncomfortable. On the contrary, the cave was almost…cozy, in a way. Curtains of cool, dark shades were draped throughout the cave in much the same style as the blond trickster had seen within caves dwarfs occupied. Adorned with runes and sigils, the curtains took the place of doors that would have been large and clunky in such an uneven terrain. Light came in the form of small candles littered within cubbyholes and ledges carved out of the stone walls, with jars and other miscellaneous items resting upon steel shelves bolted against those areas not glittering with candle light. Here candle holders had been bolted into place, and the tiny flames flickered in the cave, casting shadows that danced and moved, watching with glittering eyes from the glare of light off glass.
Blue eyes paused on one item in particular before slowly sliding back to the calm red that seemed to watch his every move. The man shifted in his seat, an odd chair made of long strips of metal bolted together and cushioned with sheepskin stuffed with down. Wood couldn't survive in Muspellheim; it'd catch fire as soon as it entered the realm, and there were no tunnels beneath the lava and fire that could bring the wood safely to Sin-Mara's chambers.
"Well..." Loki let his arms plop into his lap, and the man sagged visibly in front of the giant. "I suppose you leave me with no other option. I'll just have to wait here until one of those cocks finally crow."
The Jotunn sat a little straighter at his comment, and the blond thought he saw the corner of one lip twitch downward in a frown. "I'm sorry?"
The trickster nodded his head, closing his eyes with a resigned sigh. "It seems like the only choice, doesn't it?" He asked, peeking one cerulean orb open to gauge her expression. "I'll be hunted down and returned to my binds if I leave and wander about the nine realms. The dwarfs hold little love for me and the elves would sooner turn me over to Freyr than host me. The realms of Man can only hide a god for so long before word returns to Odin and I have no place amongst the Jotunn or the dead." The deity spread his arms and shrugged his shoulders. "Really, this is the only option."
The red-eyed woman raised an eyebrow,skeptical. "So you would rather risk the burning flames of Muspellheim rather than leave and enjoy your new-found freedom?"
The man grinned, revealing shiny white teeth. "Why not? Surtr is as much a kinsman as anyone else, being Angrboda's brother and all. Besides! He's my sole daughter's god father, and though I know him, I do not know him. Or you, for that matter. Why, we could host a family reunion right here in your home!" The god exclaimed, his eyes dancing merrily and his smile growing larger as Sin-Mara's face changed gradually from stone to alarm, before disintegrating into outright horror.
"Fool God, do you intend to destroy us all?" The Jotunn demanded, staring at Loki with wide eyes. "Angrboda has yet to forgive her for what you did to her children, and if she does not attack you on sight than my husband will. Never mind the fact that he'd sooner kill the both of us than see you sitting at my side. Would you tempt fate by harassing fire?" The fire Jotunn would scald them both alive for the mere fact that Loki was conversing with his spouse, let alone sharing house and hearth with the chaotic deity.
Loki chuckled. "Come now, there's no need to exaggerate. Surtr never struck me as the jealous type. I'm sure he'll be more than willing to host me when he comes back and finds me in his wife's quarters, don't you?"
The Jotunn narrowed her eyes. "I'll remove you personally if you truly mean to stay Loki. This is not something to joke about nor is it it one of your acts of mischief. You will only gain new enemies if you refuse my advice." The woman moved to stand, towering over the deity to the point where her height forced the woman to stoop. Even then, her shoulders still managed to brush against the cave ceiling.
I suppose that is why they have no ceiling ornaments down here. Loki thought wryly, the smile on his face sly. "Now, now, there's no need for force." The god had to crane his neck to look up at Sin-Mara, and his neck popped uncomfortably. "Just tell me what I can offer you in exchange for that chest. My name is soiled enough without the addition of the theft of one of the weapons of Ragnarok to add to the list. Allow me to retrieve something of equal value to the Laevateinn and hand the weapon over. I'll be on my merry way, you can go about your business, and Surtr need be none the wiser."
Something in the way in which Loki spoke made the Jotunn pause. His voice, perhaps an expression in his face. Whatever it was caused Sin-Mara hesitate, and a look of uncertainty flashed across her face.
She's afraid. Loki realized. Of what? The start of Ragnarok? Surtr, perhaps? Surely not me. Whatever the reason, the deity pressed on. "I have been imprisoned for a long time, Sin-Mara, you know that as well as I. A Jotunn's love for the Aesir is small and almost non-existent, and though I once called myself under their name, it does not change the fact that the gods have wronged me greatly. I don't crave the end of the world, Sin-Mara. I desire vengeance."
"They forced me to watch. They sewed my eyelids open and made me watch as they turned Vali into a wolf. The forced me to watch as he howled and snarled, chaining him up and throwing him into a pit with Nari. The gods made me watch Vali tear Nari's throat open before chaining him to a stone in the bottom of that pit. And do you know what they did next? They took Nari's dead body and slit him open, throat to loins, and bound me to the sharpest rock they could find with my dead son's entrails."
"Yet they weren't done yet. Witnessing the demise of my two eldest sons was not enough, the Aesir had decided. So they went to the deepest ocean to where Jormugdar slept and stole one of his children, who slept in coils around his body. They placed that serpent in a tree and tied it's body into a knot around a tree branch so it could not escape. Then they pried open it's jaw with a silver pick crafted by the dwarves and left it hanging above my head, allowing the venom to gather and fall upon my head."
The deity fell silent than, his expression cast in shadows and unreadable as Loki looked up at the earth giant. When Sin-Mara made no move to speak, the blond continued, his voice soft. "I was forced to listen day in and day out to the howls of the wolf who once bore a likeliness to my son as the venom of one of our kin dripped and burned into my skull. It drove me mad, Sin-Mara. Had Sigyn not come to my aid, my soul would have rotted in my body and I'd have become..." He shook his head, running a hand through thick plates of gold.
"In order to punish me they sought to destroy my family, who had been innocent of any crimes or mischief I had caused in the past." The deity spat on the ground. "And so I ask you, as one of the daughters of Mimir: What kind of gods would punish the innocent?"
For a long time Sin-Mara did not speak, her eyes staring down on him with an emotion Loki couldn't place.
The trickster furrowed his brow in confusion. "A feather." He parroted, and the earth Jotunn nodded.
"Bring me the shining feather that lays between the eyes of Vidoftnir, and you will have the Laevateinn, Loki. But be wary; I have watched that rooster for many a day, and he's proven time and time again that he can be as much a trickster as you. Watch for mischief, watch for plots, for should you return with anything less than the most brilliant, shining feather from his plumage, I swear to you this: I will be Sin-Mara no more. In my place only a Nightmara shall stand, and only once you've ventured through the minds of the one million men it has touched will you find it and obtain what you desire."
Loki nodded, his head feeling unusually heavy upon his shoulders. "The brightest feather from the rooster that rests upon the World Tree." The man rose from his seat. "You're a kind lady, Sin-Mara. The feather shall be yours within the week."
The Jotunn said nothing, and so with a bow he turned and ventured towards the cave entrance, where the blistering heat of Muspellheim awaited him.