The Jotun forest was dense with thick vegetation, but not the kind Loki would find on Asgard. These trees and bushes had a kind of nullity to them. The trunks were enveloped in a frosty blanket and the leaves which hung precariously from twigs were a very pale green. Frankly though, it was surprising that there were even living things in this icy wasteland.
“I find myself questioning this little endeavour of ours,” Loki said, breaking the silence that was as cold as the weather itself.
“It must be done, as ordered by the Allfather.” Sif scanned the map she had been carrying for their entire journey. She pointed to an opening in the shrubbery on their left. “This way.”
Behind her, the Warriors Three; Volstagg, Hogun and Fandral as well as Thor, followed quietly.
“Are we just going to ignore the fact that the Aesir sent us on a confidential search for an object we know nothing of, except that it brings those that have died back to life?” Loki persisted.
Fandral, a blond-haired man with the disposition of a child trained to war, fell back and walked next to Loki. “It is not our job to question the wishes of the Aesir, my friend,” he whispered. He looked around paranoid as if the trees had ears, and lowered his voice even further. “But I have heard rumours that they seek this relic for the defence of Asgard. You see, if they can bring our dead soldiers back to walk among us, we may have a solid defence for Asgard, while those who have not yet passed to Helheim can prepare for if we need to be on the offense. Our army becomes larger and exponentially stronger. Makes sense, don’t you think?”
Loki lifted a sceptical eyebrow. “There are too many unanswered questions. Such questions are why has nobody else searched for this object? Why would it be in this god-forsaken forest? And surely there will be negative repercussions to disturbing such a fragile balance of nature. I thought the Aesir were more intelligent than diving into this without more information.”
“We’ve always dived into things head first!” Volstagg chimed in. “Why, that’s the fun of it. It’s akin to the excitement of digging into a delicious smelling potluck.”
“Volstagg! Hush.” Thor made a silencing gesture with his hand.
Fandral rolled his eyes and returned to the front with the rest of the group, obviously disappointed at the loss of mystique due to Volstagg’s rather annoying obsession with food.
Silence befell the search party once again, making the atmosphere of their surroundings all the more eerie. Wind whistled through the trees and made the shadows on the frosty surface below their canopies take on menacing forms. Loki adjusted his coat and tried to shake the feeling that they were being watched. He wasn’t bothered by the cold weather. Actually, he quite enjoyed it. It was the chilling sensation he felt in his bones that was disturbing. Like a grim foreboding of something terrible happening. He quickened his pace to catch up with the others.
The wind picked up until it was blowing at a tremendous rate. A loud cacophony of sounds suddenly filled the holes created by the silence. A loud bang could be heard from somewhere far ahead, followed by many softer bangs and a shrill whine that cut through the air so viciously Loki thought the ice all around them would shatter. Sif stopped dead in her tracks, clutching the map tightly as if for comfort. For many dragged out seconds, nobody moved. Not a word was shared. There were mere distressed glances. Finally, Thor spoke up.
“We need to keep moving.”
“I think we should investigate where those sounds came from,” Fandral interrupted.
Loki looked at him incredulously. “And bring ourselves to an abrupt and pointless death? Forgive me, but though this may seem like cowardice to you it is common sense to me. I don’t think we should carry on in any direction. A sensible option right now is to head back to Asgard.”
“We can’t just leave so soon, Loki. We have our mission.” Sif was always one to follow orders to the very last syllable. She would also be the one, Loki mused, to get them all killed, one way or another.
He sighed. “Very well.”
Sif directed an appreciative nod at Loki and then turned to Thor. “Thor and I will continue looking for the relic. Loki, Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg; you go investigate that noise.”
Hogun nodded in silence while Fandral and Volstagg grinned. Loki stood stationary in shock. To split up and make him go with the Annoying Three was an absolute atrocity, but he had no choice but to comply. He followed the three as they went separate ways, a straight line of resignation plastered on his face. He could hardly believe that he was being ordered around by a warrior maiden. He was a prince; the prince of Asgard. He was never supposed to be taking orders from someone below him. But alas, his father’s orders were that they follow Sif, as she would be the map bearer. There was nothing he could do or even say with regard to it.
He made his way through low-lying branches winding their way around neighbouring trees and tried his best not to get his foot caught in the roots that protruded awkwardly from the ground. There was also the danger of slipping on the ice, which, he argued with himself, he was afraid of because of the danger of physical harm, but the truth was that he was only afraid of wounding his pride and looking like a clumsy fool. He was secretly hoping one of the three would lose their footing and do just that. It would make for a rather amusing moment, and would offer something to lift the mood of this overly depressing place. As they got closer to the apparent source of the raucous, another whine could be heard, but much fainter than the first, followed by several more whines and whimpers.
“Speed up boys, it sounds like something is hurt,” Fandral stated with his usual heroic tone.
“Wait!” Loki said as loud as he could while whispering. “It could be a trap.”
Hogun nodded. “Loki is right. It’s too risky. We should stick with what we came here to do.”
Loki felt a sense of relief. Hogun was usually the more sensible one of the three. Perhaps they would listen to him.
“If it is a trap…” Volstagg started.
“…then we shall fight to escape!” Fandral interjected.
Volstagg frowned. “I was going to say we had better be rescued.”
“Rescued?” Fandral laughed. “My man, when have we ever needed a rescue?”
“Well, there were those battles in-”
“Okay, hush now, Volstagg!” Fandral walked ahead to avoid any embarrassment Volstagg might have created for them.
Once again they had managed to annoy Loki. “Can we just see what that is and get this over with?”
Fandral cleared his throat. “Right, right. Onward!”
The next few minutes were filled with painfully dull conversation that made Loki crave the disturbing silence. Topics ranged from who had the bluntest axe in Asgard to suggestive comments on why Sif chose to go alone with Thor. This carried on until they reached a cave of sorts. Creepers had crawled their way around the entrance. Loki could only see inside well enough to observe several stalactitic icicles that extended into a sharpened point.
The whines could be heard again – this time coming from inside the cave. Some cautioned glances were shared between the Warriors and Loki before an agreement was made. They each made their way into the cave in silence.
The cave was mostly dark with only some rays of light shining in through cracks in the roof. Though the four tried to tread lightly, the contact their boots made with the ground still echoed throughout. Another whine sounded, followed by an ear-splitting howl that stunned Loki so much he nearly tripped. Probably best that the three never knew about that, he laughed internally at his own mistake.
“Over here boys!” Fandral sounded relieved. Everyone rushed forward to see what he had found.
Hogun and Volstagg let out awed gasps. “What? What is it?” Loki pushed his way past them. His heart exploded when he saw the source of all the noise. Lying on the ground with its forepaws outstretched was a wolf pup. A large boulder had crushed its left hind paw and left it unable to escape. Every now and then it would erect itself on its forepaws and attempt to pull and scratch itself out, but the struggle was in vain, and it would end up squealing in pain and falling flat on its stomach. Fandral immediately dashed forward and wrapped his arms around the boulder. Loki could see his muscles bulging through his green leather suit as he exerted himself to lift it off the unfortunate pup’s paw. It howled in agony.
“Stop! You’re hurting it, you oaf.” Loki scolded. Fandral walked up to him challengingly.
“Do you have a better way to go about this?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” He pushed Fandral aside. Levitation magic wasn’t new to him, though he hoped it would be strong enough for an object of this size. He rubbed his hands together as he looked down at the pup. It was staring up at him, its eyes pleading him to make the pain stop. Suddenly its head began jerking and it vomited a clear liquid.
“We must hurry.” He gestured to Hogun. “Quickly, hold it still. It’s going into shock.”
Loki held his palms toward the boulder and focused his energy towards it. He could feel strong pools of energy flowing from his hands and wrapping around the large mass. It diffused into it and locked onto it. He cleared his mind and willed his energy to move which in turn moved the boulder. Slowly, it began to lift and the pressure was taken off the pup’s paw. It let out one fainter cry before falling completely limp.
“Lift it out!” Loki gasped from the amount of strength it was taking to hold his energy up. As soon as Hogun lifted the pup up and out of the way of the boulder, he released his concentration and allowed it to fall.
“Give it here. You’re holding it wrong.” He held his arms out and took the unconscious animal from Hogun who was holding the pup in such a way that it hung in what looked to be a rather painful position. “We must get this thing to Asgard so we can give it medical attention.”
They all agreed and made their way out of the cave. It was surprising how much warmer it was inside. As soon as Loki stepped outside he was hit by a gust of icy wind that chilled him to the bone.
“Loki!” Thor was making his way to them. Loki found it odd, though, that he was walking backwards. The scene, however, made sense once a frost giant was no longer obstructed by a tree. It was attacking Thor. Or rather, trying to. Mjolnir was brought down upon its head and it fell rather suddenly to the ground. As Thor came closer, so did many other frost giants, followed by Sif and, unsurprisingly, more frost giants. Loki scowled. Vile things.
The trees to their side and behind them rustled as another group of frost giants appeared. Loki realised that they were surrounded on all sides. This won’t do. Not now. The pup in his arms was bleeding out and going cold. Their time was short and yet before them lay a battle.
“We have to go, Thor!” He shouted over the clanking of metal against metal and the cries of the Three who had impulsively joined in the fight.
“That simply won’t do!” Lady Sif replied. “We have not yet searched the entire forest.”
Loki ducked behind a fallen tree as an ice shard was flung his way. He flipped his free hand up and made the culprit fly into the air and land on two more of his own.
“We cannot stay, Sif! Do you not see the egregious danger that surrounds us?”
“Danger has never ceased our battles!”
“No, but I hold a wounded creature in my hands that is on the brink of death. We must go!”
Sif sliced through a frost giant and kicked a couple more towards Thor who happily finished them off. She turned towards Loki and upon seeing the wolf pup, blood caking its fur and paw hanging flattened and limp, she nodded. “Loki is right, we must go.”
“What?” Thor was bemused and agitated simultaneously. He brought a frost giant down and slammed his boot into its head. “We can defeat them all if only we persist!”
“That is in all respects true, Thor. But look towards Loki. That thing is dying.”
One of the Jotun warriors squealed as he was flung into the air by Thor and dropkicked by Hogun. Thor threw Mjolnir at a hoard of Jotuns. He turned to Loki and threw his hands in the air. “You wish for us to desist for a dog?" He grabbed Fandral who kept his body stiff and launched him into another group of warriors. He thrust his fist forward, intending it for a frost giant. The Jotun dodged and made Thor slam his fist into a tree which created a huge hole in the trunk. He growled and held out his hand for Mjolnir. When his hammer was returned to him he slammed it into the giant. “I’m terribly sorry, but there are almost always casualties in battle. Certainly more important ones than that of an animal.”
“Have you no heart, brother? This is a living thing! It, however, won’t be if we persist with this arguing.”
Sif slashed through more attackers and ran towards Thor. She grabbed him and called the rest over. “I’m sorry, Thor, but we simply must go.” As soon as everyone was together she called for Heimdall. Several Jotuns were blown back as a bright flash was directed onto the group. They were all pulled into the portal. Loki clung onto the pup. He couldn’t have it die. Not after they had just saved it.