Who: Sif, Dr. Strange, Loki What: Sif arrives and is shown to the Asgardian warehouse, where she learns the fate of Asgard and most of its people. When: Friday Rating: Green
This city was on Midgard, Sif was certain of it. Which meant she needed to find the SHIELD and its people, who would have some idea of where she was meant to be and how she had got here. And at least would be able to help her figure out what was going on, even if she wasn't ready to return to Odin and ask for help when she'd already been told to stay away until she had captured her quarry. There was something awry in Asgard and Sif could only solve it once she'd got back in Odin's good graces.
But when she asked one of the mortals in the streets if they knew where to find the SHIELD, they looked at her so strangely. "Try Bleecker Street," someone suggested. "There's someone there who can help."
So Sif made her way toward this Bleecker Street on foot, with help from other pedestrians, who were happy to offer assistance once she got their attention. Once she found the street, she made her way down the block until one townhouse stood out to her--a sorcerer's place. This, then, would be where she was meant to ask for aid. She would have to be careful. Sorcerers were tricksy wights, and Midgardian ones no different to Asgardians.
177A. Sif knocked on the door of the townhouse.
Dr. Strange stayed put for once. There was no need to portal to the new arrival, Lady Sif of Asgard. The close proximity and the fact that they directed her to him meant he had nothing to do other than wait on the other side of the doors. And it wasn't surprising that people in The Village pointed in the general direction of where Strange resided. He was more or less the new neighborhood watch, living in a place that - to those not in the know - looked like it was a tattoo parlor. But for those who transversed universes, they could see the Sanctum as a grand old corner townhouse of brick and stone, with an odd large round window on the uppermost floor.
The door being knocked upon opened, revealing a well appointed old home, full of polished wood, antique furnishings, and ominous shadows. Within, Dr. Strange was standing just beyond, the red cape fluttering as it rested restlessly over his shoulders. Even before he spoke, it seemed as though he was expecting her.
"Hello, Lady Sif." It was a deep voice that was no nonsense, and yet almost sounded as though they met before. "Please, come in. I've been expecting you since your arrival, and can answer any questions you might have."
"You have the advantage of me, Master Sorcerer. I thank you for your welcome." Sif pressed her hand to her chest in the traditional Asgardian gesture of greeting and farewell. "I do not know how I have come to Midgard," she confessed, her mouth creasing into a slight frown. "I was--elsewhere, on a mission for Odin--and now I have arrived here. I am not formally under displeasure or exile, but Odin bade me complete my task before I return.
"Under other circumstances I might ask Heimdall's aid, but--things are badly amiss in Asgard and I would not return unbidden, save with force. Do you know if Thor travels in Midgard? I would speak with him and take his counsel, and give him mine." The mention of Thor's name brought a faint, reflective smile to her lips, briefly softening her stern demeanor.
There was a pregnant pause, one in which Strange forced himself not to eyedart off to one side to think about how to put this. He schooled himself, as always, in preparation of delivering good news...and bad news.
No matter how he thought about trying to word it, there was simply no good way to deliver this bad news.
"First," he said very slowly, "welcome to a new universe. You've been drawn through a dimensional instability. We're a relatively new part of the multiverse. There's a welcome package. If you're unfamiliar with Earth's technology, there's some Asgardians here that can help explain that to you.
"Secondly, Thor is here," he continued, looking regretful for what was coming. "The remaining Asgardians are here, along with his brother and a Valkyrie. I regret to inform you that Asgard is gone. Odin has passed and Thor is king. A Titan named Thanos killed half of the refugees in transit to Earth, and decimated one half of the remainder using the Infinity Stones. Along with half of all live throughout the universe."
He knew Asgard was aware of what Infinity Stones were, and it was likely he could skip that part of an already dire conversation. A warrior like Sif wouldn't want pity, but he lowered his head a little to show his condolences and said, "I'm sorry. Thor or Loki can tell you more. I can take you to them right now."
His first revelation caught Sif by surprise, demonstrated by a lifted eyebrow; subsequent news brought more minute twitches, adding up to an expression of distress under her superficial stoicism. She took a few long moments to absorb the series of blows before finding the strength to respond.
"The Allfather dead, and Asgard no more." Sif shook her head. "Woe that I was not there to defend her. I am familiar with your Midgardian technology--or the Midgard of my universe at least--from my time here dealing with your SHIELD folk: the son of Coul and his band. And I know of the Infinity Stones; Odin once trusted me to deliver one of them to the Collector. It is ill-done to have more than one of them at a time, and now we see why. Take me to my people, please: Thor if he can be found.
"When last I heard of Loki, he was--" and here Sif laid enough emphasis on the word to convey suspicion "--dead. He is--have you met him? He is a trickster, and in these matters I would hear no honeyed lies, or bitter falsehoods."
That there was also a Valkyrie, a myth of her childhood, gave Sif a hope unlooked-for in the middle of her despair, but until Sif met the woman whose sisterhood had inspired her, she dared not let her emotions override the cold facts.
Dr. Strange watched as those emotions shifted to and fro, and let out a sigh.
"Yes, Ragnarok. And, uhh...Loki technically died defending Thor," Strange made sure to add that since the Trickster God hadn't caused many issues at all since last spring, surprisingly enough. Perhaps Loki learned a few lessons, but Sif did need to know before delivering her to their doorstep. The last thing Stephen wanted was more trouble being started, when there was enough to juggle already. "This universe brought Loki here entact. I'm not sure of the details of his death before that, but he and Thor seem to be working well together for the past year. You might not have a choice in the matter. Thor might be indisposed. Dr. Foster is very ill."
He was choosing his words carefully, even as he turned to one side to open a small portal using the sling ring. He drew out a welcome package before the portal closed in on himself. He focused on the front entrance of the warehouse next, and another larger firey ring opened, wide enough for them to walk through, side by side.
An expansive warehouse was on the other side, a clean lined modern building that hid a decidedly Asgardian looking interior.
"This way, Lady Sif," he said, walking through and the cape fluttering in such a way that it seemed like a corner of it was beckoning her with a crooked finger to follow. "If you have any further questions, you can return to the Sanctum at any time or ask me on the network."
Another eyebrow at the news of Loki having died to defend Thor--not the first time Sif had heard that story either, and Thor would forgive him always, because they were brothers. Still, best she at least make a pretence of acceptance, and be in position to help Thor--and Jane, who perhaps was not recovered so well as they had hoped from her encounter with the Aether--and to remind Loki of the price of disloyalty when he again considered it.
She stepped through the flaming ring, welcome package in hand at Strange's beckoning, and the beckoning of his cloak. It must be sentient. She wondered how Strange communicated with it, and if she could without donning it. Donning it against its will seemed like a decidedly bad idea.
"Thank you for your aid; I'm sure that the Asgardians here can tell me most of what I need to know. Though if I can contact the Midgardians I know here through this network, that would be most useful to know."
Dr. Strange wasn't exactly friends with Loki. He was still on The Watch List, but he was downgraded to Low Level Mischief since Wakanda, last year. The cloak was a good tell of who was a worthy ally and who wasn't. It did have a mind of its own, and it seemed more lively in its movements around Lady Sif. Much as it was when it chose Dr. Strange.
"Any time. The more allies we have, the better. You'll find Agent Coulson on the network also."
He knocked upon the doors and they opened, revealing an interior that was equal parts marble and a central fountain, of gilded columns and yet modern conveniences. Some harried mothers were watching Netflix dramas on a large TV in a far off common room, and children were yelling as they sparred with wooden swords in the dining hall.
Dr. Strange mumbled something to the door guard. The man nodded and quickly departed, leaving the door open for them to enter.
"You're where you belong again," Strange said to her with a smile. "I'll be leaving. I know you have many people to ask, but my card is in there and my contact information is on it. Again, my condolences."
He stepped away, nodding his head to her before walking through the portal and waiting on the other side to make sure no bloodshed happened.
"Thanks and farewell," Sif said to Strange. "Until we meet again."
Loki soon came down the stairs in a rush, flanked by the guard minding the door. He was wearing casual Midgardian attire and was wide-eyed at the news of the newest arrival. Dark hair had a haphazardly windblown look, as though he was working on the roof and the winds off the water had been blowing through it.
He stopped before Sif, eyeing both her and the sorcerer warily, but also unable to stop a smile that threatened to tug at the corner of his lips.
"Hello, Sif," he said with a soft and low voice. There was hard news there and more than a fair amount of guilt for causing some of it. He couldn't see the future though. He wasn't a witch. "It's good to see you here. Again. For the second time. I suppose you don't remember that, do you?"
Sif took a long look at Loki, taking him in, searching him for the signs of deceit she could never quite manage to find in advance, and shook her head. "I have no--to my knowledge I have not been here. I was in the far reaches of the universe on the Allfather's orders, the last I recall. You were dead, or at least believed so, the last I heard. But much more has passed for you--in this universe or another--since last we met. Including another Sif, from another time and place, it seems."
As Strange's portal closed, Loki's smile faded quickly and was followed by a magnificent wince. Not only was he about to talk to an entirely new Sif, but the topic was a sad one, considering the heartbreak he hadn't expected feeling during Odin's passing, and everything that transpired after.
"Ah, yes, about that," he said, hands fidgeting in the same manner that his mother used to do when nervous or on edge. "There is much I must tell you, and Thor shall, after when he is able. First, I know that I did several things that were...reprehensible, born out of petty jealousy and sudden madness. I fear there is much that I need to admit to you of my wrong doing, and worse news beyond even that that was not of my doing."
He stepped aside so that she could enter, feeling very much like a knife was twisting into an old wound in his heart at the very sight of her. How long had he pined after her, and been given nary a second glance or a cold shoulder? Sif's gaze ever strayed to Thor, as everyone else's did. And it was one of the bitter barbs that festered within him for a very long time. No warrior would have much to do with a sorcerer who preferred tricks and talking one's way out of trouble, to hardened combat in the face of danger.
He sighed and clasped his hands together tightly to keep them from moving. He'd gone through this before, and he must do so again.
"Allow me to show you to the kitchens," he offered, "and we can talk in relative privacy, over some Midgardian coffee or tea."
"Very well," Sif said, inclining her head slightly toward Loki. The gestures that so resembled Frigga's as Loki made his confession had not passed unnoticed. Perhaps there was something different about him now--and it was this possibility, more than anything, that convinced her that she was truly in another universe, a place of different possibilities.
Or perhaps Loki was still a very good liar. Sif reminded herself to withhold judgement until she spoke to others who might describe Loki's actions over time.
It was more a case of a universe putting him in his place once and for all, rattling his cage and offering perspective. There was so much he wished to say, and yet he and Sif hadn't truly ever been on those terms where he was comfortable enough to say it. It was all formality. It was always formality, since that was the way of the royal family. Even when he was trying to sneak into the Grandmaster's good graces, he was polite to the other sycophants around him. Self preservation made for odd bedfellows...especially in Sakaar. No comment.
But in this warehouse, he was among the people that he wanted to help save. Sure, he showed up in a self-aggrandizing manner, to cover up any still healing wounds in his soul. He knew that it was his own miscalculations that caused things to go awry, and he was blaming himself ever since.
He promptly showed her into an expansive kitchen, with many stoves and ovens for cooking daily meals. To honor a returned warrior, the cooks bowed their heads to them both, a fist clenched to their chests as they did so. Loki smiled at them and led her over to a small corner table.
"Please, sit if you'd like. There is much to tell you, and I shan't spare the worst of it. That way, perhaps Thor isn't so burdened." He asked a nearby cook, "Tea please, if it's not too much trouble? If it is, I can conjure some." The cook shooed that off and two cups of tea were promptly brought and sat down. "Thank you."
"Thank you," Sif added as well, taking her cup in hand to drink and fortify herself for what promised to be a terrible tale.
He eyed the departing cook before he spoke again, making sure they were well out of earshot.
"I...I'm so sorry," he said, his voice softened and his entire expression grave. "Everyone here knows it was I in the guise of Odin, for Thor discovered the ruse. I feared you would catch on quickly, so I sent you and Volstagg to deliver the Infinity Stone. I sent you to recapture Lorelei and to find the other escaped prisoners. It was me. You've every right to be angry. It was...a profoundly stupid and petty thing I did. When Thor found out, we went to retrieve Odin, but.."
He tried, to hide any inner turmoil at what transpired next.
"...father did not want to return. It seems he broke my spell even before Thor and I arrived," he explained, pale hands hovering around the tea cup to feel the warmth. "He made his peace and bid us well, departing to Valhalla. His daughter, our sister, Hela, was set free when he passed. She threw me and Thor out of the Bifrost and invaded Asgard. Volstagg, Hogun, Fandral...basically all of the Einherjar? Gone. She killed them all, I've been told. Along with anyone else who dared stand in her way of the throne or trying to keep her from invading other realms."
How did one explain that Odin lied not only to himself, but to Thor, to Sif, to everyone under this roof? That he sent the Valkyries out as fodder to die at Hela's hand to keep his secret in place? If there were murals of her, they were ordered to be covered up. Even his mother hadn't risked speaking of Hela to either of them before then, and Hela was not her daughter either.
It was a golden sham indeed, shrouded in a web of lies, and they were each laid low by it. Enough that even Loki - who was normally fueled by bitter sarcasm - looked truly regretful when he tried to meet Sif's eyes.
Sif's face had gone hard when Loki admitted he had been wearing Odin's guise and deliberately keeping her out of Asgard lest she unmask him. She had known that something was amiss and been unable to act on it. In that Loki had succeeded. But the rest of the tale--horror upon horror, her friends dying without her blade at their side, sleeping terrors from the dawn of Odin's reign awoken, Ragnarok come at last--she could not but close her eyes, and wish to close her ears so not to hear it, and shake her head as if that would make it all untrue.
"What of--" there were a dozen, a score and more names she would have asked after, starting with Heimdall and going from there. But no, she would not finish and hear of the fallen she loved. Had loved.
Instead Sif ceded ground, stony though it was. "Odin concealed your own heritage for many long years." Which was not an apology, or even pity, just a statement that she knew facts that supported his interpretation. "The history of Asgard is long, and we knew little of it. Even those who had studied wisdom instead of the blade."
He knew she wanted to ask about several people from the court. Friends, their families, any distant relatives. Even if he was never well thought of in Asgard - warriors didn't trust males that used women's magic - he knew all their names as well. The list of their losses were long, but apparently not as long as Odin's lies were going on.
"I had no idea," he admitted, and this too was a grievous blow to everything he was or wanted to be. "I prided myself on learning as many secrets as I could, in learning every scrap of knowledge in the libraries. It was all for naught. To not even know there was a sister? I thought everything was a loss, but Thor went back. He tried to kill her, but she was the Goddess of Death. She was drawing her power from Asgard itself. He bid me to start Ragnarok using Surtur's recently acquired crown. I hid the Tesseract before doing so. And then we all made our escape, intent on settling in Midgard."
He wanted to laugh bitterly at himself, at everything, but he couldn't even manage that. Instead he shook his head, and couldn't meet her eyes as he bore even worse news.
"We saved who we could," he said, "but the Mad Titan Thanos found us, and at a disadvantage. The Valkyrie led half to safety at our bidding. And those of us left, fought to the last. Until all that were left were Thor, myself, Heimdall, and this Midgard's beast known as the Hulk. He was truly going to kill Thor so....I gave Thanos the Tesseract to spare Thor's life. The beast was bested and Heimdall was killed, after using the last of his power to send the beast back to Earth's sorcerer. And then, apparently, Thanos killed me. In front of Thor. So."
There was a very uncomfortable pause as Loki frowned, contemplating the depths of the rapidly cooling tea.
"I don't imagine Thor took things lightly after that," he finally finished. "But for whatever reasons, this universe has brought us here. Thus, we have tried to make the best of it. Despite all manner of odd things transpiring."
He drew in a deep cleansing breath and let it out slowly, hesitating before focusing his gaze back on Sif again.
How to even respond to all that was beyond Sif. She ought to say something, she knew, something to ease Loki's pain. Death was one thing, but that sort of death, with the goddess slain, and at the hands of Thanos--who knew what the cosmic ramifications were. And yet he was here, and if he was, then yet others might be: Heimdall, the Warriors Three ...
Sif could not let herself hope. But if Loki spoke truly, then perhaps the sorcerer was right. Perhaps Loki had learned a true and deep lesson. She could do nothing but encourage it. "I think," she said, "under the circumstances, I will not repay you as I promised the last time I thought you were deceiving Thor. And we will be, if not friends, at least colleagues in the common good here, if you wish."
In truth, the entire experienced crushed him and he was floundering to keep his head above water ever since. It was through several stumbles and missteps that he was where he was now, and he only improved once he and the Valkyrie came together. He felt more complete than he ever had, before. Or perhaps it was the benefit of time and hindsight that granted greater clarity.
And yet to hear such words from Sif were more than he could have ever hoped for, and there was a smile that wasn't hardened at the edges with any deceit or darkness.
"I do wish it," he said, looking surprised yet grateful. "Very much. Truly though, not all news has been foul? There is yet more I must say. Mother was here briefly, but disappeared. This seems to happen every now and then, so do be aware. We are establishing New Asgard in Norway, so your help could not be timed better. I am betrothed to the Valkyrie, and there will be a feast by next month's end. Thor and Jane are still enamored with one another, but....the Aether. It made Jane very ill. Eir has made a blood tonic to help, and Midgardian scientists and doctors are doing all they can so she lives. She is very frail at present. And Thor's mood has been dampened by it. Seeing you will surely lift his spirits."
He truly hoped so. Neither himself or his bride-to-be wanted to bother Thor overly much, but this? This would be a happy surprise, indeed.
"My congratulations on your betrothal. Though I am afraid I come with no gift but my presence. I do look forward to meeting her; when I was a girl I always wanted to hear the tales of the Valkyries." So many hopes and dreams and questions--where had they gone? and why had Odin let the custom lapse?--and now she could guess at those answers and have some of them answered. "And I had heard--the Midgardian sorcerer said that Jane Foster was here, and ill. So I would speak with her when she is well enough, and offer my friendship and support. And of course--Thor." His name brightened her own face for a moment, even with all the heavy tidings that had bowed her under their weight today.
"Thank you," he replied in a softened tone of voice, taking a long sip of soothing tea while listening as she spoke. He left the heavy drinking to their Valkyrie. He always thought of Sif being like a Valkyrie must be, and wondered why they had fallen into myth and legend. Now he knew. And he suspected the reasons why it wasn't ever fully spoken of.
"You know," he offered, after a contemplative pause, "your presence is a gift in and of itself. It is surely a balm to everyone to have you here, including to Jane and Thor. In fact, I will have a room readied for you in the royal quarters on the top floor. It's nothing as grand as our former chambers but it is comfortable. I hope it will suffice."
"More than, given some of the places I've been bunking of late." Sif laughed, and for a moment it was almost like their youthful days in Asgard, long ago, when all they had to complain of was the strictness of their parents and teachers. "I cannot say that this too shall pass, but we will surmount this and build, if not a new Asgard, a place of our own."
It did, and he was glad for it. He was taken to hiding inside and company was welcome, since the outside world still considered him a war criminal. He wasn't keen on announcing his arrival, and it would be good to feel the wind on his face again without weaving a veil seidr into a disguise.
"Surely, we will, although I do feel bad about that sordid business, even if it did need be done. I hope you caught some of those escaped prisoners, at least?" he said, but he left Lorelei's name out of it all.
That Lorelei was now gone was a blessing for them all. For every other realm out there, as well. She was a plague, to be certain.
And yet, something else that Sif said caught his attention, for Loki liked plans very much. He was always thinking of them, although his plans of late were concerned with rebuilding.
"I was thinking of asking Thor to conduct excursions to find a new planet to inhabit one day. Surely you must have come across such places in your travels. Once you have settled in, perhaps you might tell us sometime. But before then..."
He took another sip of tea, realizing that Sif likely needed food and rest. That wherever she was before, following her sense of duty, the path was probably a hard and long one with little amenities. He didn't want to keep her from resting any longer than necessary.
"Let me go arrange your room now with Lady Agatha, who was once the royal housekeeper. Surely you must remember. Old, stern, disapproving of us all and chiding us to be neat and tidy. Foe of all dust motes. She'll see to things immediately."
"That would be most kind. It has been--some time--since I slept in a proper bed. And I will offer counsel to Thor--His Majesty--" Sif remembered to call him that this time "--when he asks for it. I am, of course at his service."
Of Lorelei, she had nothing to say just now.
"Yes, his majesty," Loki said with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, but one that held no malice anymore. "I think Thor would rather such things were more relaxed, but some formalities and holding true to some of Asgard's traditions still seems advisable."
Others, perhaps, were best left behind them. Asgard was no longer a monument build of blood and gold. It was better, Loki thought, even if they were gods and goddesses, to leave some of that behind. It didn't seem especially clever to do more than protect themselves and try not to take risks, at this juncture.
With that in mind, he stood up and nodded his head to her in farewell.
"I'll speak with Agatha straightaway. Good eve, Sif. I am glad to see you."
He smiled and walked out of the kitchens, leaving her to her tea while her chamber was made ready.