This story is a strange conglomeration of both movie and comic canon. It may have vague spoilers for Journey Into Mystery up to issue 631 (though it's not following that closely).
Loki dreamed of a spark of fire suspended in the air.
It was a little thing but immensely bright and beautiful. Amorphous flames of green, red, orange and many other colors twirled together. It was lovely and Loki felt himself drawn to it like a moth. He reached out tentatively to touch it.
His finger tips barely brushed the fire and then his hand was alight. From there it quickly spread up his arm and soon he was engulfed in the beautiful flame of many colors. But unlike a moth he did not burn. The fire danced across his skin but it felt warm, and familiar. It brought him comfort not pain.
How he wished others could experience this! And some vague part of him felt that there were others who did. Though few and far off he could feel that there were those who were also graced by this wondrous ember's presence.
It felt safe.
But then the fire began to spread.
The flames crawled from Loki's leg and took hold of the ground. From there it ran wild.
It consumed all it touched and the rapid pace in which it swelled was alarming. Trees burned, buildings were razed, rocks combusted, and even the oceans boiled and turned to vapor. Nothing could stand against the flame's warpath. Not even the boundary of one realm.
It had gone from being a beautiful and wondrous thing to a nightmare, and Loki could only watch in horror as even the living befell to the inferno. Unlike with Loki, where the fire merely shimmered protectively across his skin, all others were devoured. Hair and fur was the first to burn filling the air with an acrid stench. Then skin would follow as it was scorched, and sloughed of bones before turning to ash like paper. Loki could hear eyes popping as they turned to jelly under the heat. Bones snapped and burned like dry tinder. And the screams…
The shrieks of billions of creatures being burned alive would forever haunt Loki's thoughts.
The conflagration grew grander on scale. It consumed Midgard first. From there the fires burned through Alfheim, Asgard, Vanaheim, Jotenheim, Nidavellir, Svartalfheim, and Muspelheim. Even Hel the land of the dead was set afire.
Even the dead were burned to nothingness.
And still the burning did not stop.
And Loki, still engulfed harmlessly in what he once thought to be a stunning and comforting thing, could only stand there unaffected while he watched in horror as Yggdrassil, the great life tree that always was and always would be, was incinerated before his eyes.
And still it spread.
It was only once all that ever was was reduced to ashes did the greedy fire turn on him. The warmth of the flames turned to agony as the blaze began to consume him as well.
He could only scream though he knew not if it was for the cruel pain he was enduring or for what he had just witnessed.
He was still screaming when the nightmare left him and he was wrenched back into consciousness.
When he had bolted up he looked wildly around as if suspecting everything to still be ablaze.
However there was no rain of ash. There was no blinding fire of gold and green and violet. There was only his cluttered, circular tower room. The only light belonged to the soft cast of moonlight from the window.
And he wasn't burning. In fact he was soaked from being drenched in his own sweat.
Yet still his heart hammered, and his nerves remained alight. His eyes stung and there was a knot in his throat as if his breath and eyes were still being burned. He tried to compose himself but anxiety coursed through his veins.
'Calm yourself,' Loki scolded. 'You are in no danger,' he tried to reason with himself though was not entirely convinced of the truth in the statement.
And just as he thought his breathing was almost under control there was a mighty whump.
Loki felt his nerves spike once more and he was startled into falling off his sleeping matt. He looked to the center of his room where the hole that served as the room's exit was.
There he saw his brother rather comically wedged in the small opening. One arm was free brandishing a sparking Mjolnir while the other was jammed into his side. Thor's face was alight (with panic?) and frenzied. In the dark Loki could almost see the lightening dancing across his eyes.
"Brother!" Thor's voice boomed full of worry as he finally wrenched his other arm free. The second he pulled himself loose from the all too small entrance he was on his feet. Still looking to be half asleep and clad only in a simple pair sleeping pants and his helmet Thor stood protectively in front of his sibling surveying his surroundings for whatever fiend it what that had made his brother cry out so.
He looked absurd. Loki vaguely wondered why Thor hadn't simply used Mjolnir to properly armor himself.
Instead of commenting on it Loki stared bemusedly up at his brother and watched the emotions that flickered across Thor's face. It went from one of protective aggression and bloodlust, to mild puzzlement to comprehension dawning. There was no one in the room save for him and Loki.
Realizing there was no immediate threat to his little brother's safety Thor lowered his hammer and turned to Loki.
"Brother, when I heard your cries I was concerned for your wellbeing." Even when Thor tried to speak softly his voice carried. The Thunderer set Mjolnir on the ground as he knelt before his little brother. He gently placed his massive hands on Loki's shoulders and looked him over for ailments. Finding nothing he frowned and asked, "What is troubling you so?"
Loki blinked still somewhat in shock over the last five minutes. He tried to focus on Thor but he was looking fuzzy. And his face was feeling hot…
He was crying.
Well that explained that.
When he offered no answer to his brother's question, instead choosing to silently stare at his older brother with watery eyes, Thor sighed and tugged the smaller boy into his arms in a comforting embrace.
Loki offered no resistance. His heart was still racing and his mind was still reeling. He knew that Thor probably half guessed the cause of Loki's current terrified state.
His brother most likely assumed that he had been plagued by a horrible nightmare of his past. He probably thought Loki had dreamed of the unspeakable misdeeds his older and previous self had committed.
But Thor was wrong. Loki had a nightmare yes but it was not something he had done in a past life. He had been a bystander this time. This time he had merely been a witness to something more horrible then anything he could possibly imagine.
He felt the need to explain this to Thor.
But he couldn't find the words. The tears were coming on stronger now and they robbed him of his breath. He was scared and still tired and for a brief moment, feeling like the child he was, Loki decided that he didn't want to be logical or strong.
"It wasn't me," Loki finally sobbed into his brother's chest. "It wasn't me."
Thor, not entirely understanding his brother's words, merely held him closer.
The next day wasn't much better.
He was in the main hall though it was late in the morning and mostly empty save for him, his brother and the warriors three.
Thor had stayed with him through the night. In the end Loki could not get back to sleep though he feigned so for his brother's sake. Thor would not let himself succumb to his own exhaustion until he was sure his brother was resting.
They both ended up getting up much later then they would usually and went to break their fasts rather late in the morning. Fandral and Hogun tagged along to keep Thor company while Volstagg decided he would have a midmorning snack.
"… I fear your memory is failing you dear Fandral for as I recall it was I who vanquished the Lindworm! Surely you must call to mind the glorious moment when I plunged mine blade into the beast's breast! It scales were large as plates and sharp as broken pottery but it was no match for the glory of Volstagg the Stalwart! The sound of its scales shattering was most satisfying." The Large man barked a laugh before taking a massive bite of mutton.
"Nay, Volstagg. I do however recall the audible snap of your mighty blade breaking in twain against the beast's armored belly. It was my cunning and quick swordsmanship that finally ended the dragon," Fandral alleged with a smile.
"Surely your recollection is skewed after these long millennia! Tell him Hogun!"
"Do not ask him! The beast knocked him out. He was unconscious the entire battle."
"And whose fault was that?" Hogun gritted, his ears going pink. "You shoved me into the damned beast's tail mid swing."
Fandral winced at the memory. "Ah yes. It was rather unfortunate timing. You made quite the impression on that mountain side."
Volstagg grinned widely. "I remember that. It took us a small eternity to free you from the rock. You were stuck rather tight."
Volstagg, Fandral and Even Thor snickered at the man's expense.
Hogun the Grim was starting to look more like Hogun the homicidal. Then suddenly he gave a small yet evil smile and spoke four simple words: "The Huldra of Djursland."
That shut them all up.
After a moment of awkward silence Fandral spoke up, "Why did you have to bring up the Huldra?" He sulked.
"Let us not be distracted from other…ahem. Let us get back on task!" Volstagg slammed one meaty hand on the table. "Tell us, Thor, who was responsible for our great victory that day against the Lindworm?"
"I believe it had been Loki's cunning that saved us." Thor smiled.
Thor's three friends looked flabbergasted.
"Did he not suggest we chain a bull so when the Lindworm swallowed the beast hole we had him hooked like a wild cod?" Thor continued with mirth in his voice, "We reeled the foul dragon in and slew him with ease soon after."
Loki actually looked up in surprise for a moment before he continued to ignore both the conversation and the honeyed root vegetables. Instead he kept trying to pick at his nettle soup. That was the unfortunate thing about soup though. No matter how much you pushed it around it never looked like there was any less of it.
Loki didn't see his brother's smile waver.
"Oh..Hurm. I may vaguely recall that…" Volstagg said hesitantly.
There was a pause. Then, "Though surely it was I who dealt the final blow."
The argument was renewed and Loki was quickly forgotten once more.
He knew what his brother had tried to do by bringing up Loki's alleged triumph of the past. Usually Loki loved hearing of his and his brothers exploits from a time where he was less evil and they were more brotherly. He liked hearing of his former self's redeeming side. But now his mind was too far entrenched in other matters to be distracted by such tales.
Loki stared into his soup. There he saw the image of a pale boy with dark circles under his eyes. The boy in the reflection had look of unease and agitation etched on his face.
He stabbed at the liquid with his spoon successfully disrupting the image.
How could he eat after last night? How could he even consider food after the horror he saw?
That nightmare had been more than just a nightmare.
He blamed the surge of adrenaline he had from the suddenness of the visions and his brother's subsequent barreling onto the scene for his inability to focus at the time. Also he had still been tired and that didn't help. He had not been able to handle the situation with the grace or reason that he usually would.
However it was a new day. Even though he was still shaken and jarred from the previous night he was able to analyze it with a more appraising eye then he had before.
There was something wrong about that dream. It had seemed so real for starters. Real in a way that even lucid dreams did not. He had felt the warmth of the fire. He could remember with great clarity the sparkle of the little ember and its beauty. He could still feel its embrace as if he was in the presence of an old friend.
He could still clearly see when everything turned wrong so quickly.
The change was jarring but he could still recall in vivid detail every horrifying sight, every pungent smell and every bone chilling sound.
He could remember the sensation of his flesh dissolving into the fire, fueling it only after everything else was consumed.
No, it had not been a normal dream. Even his worst nightmares didn't leave him with such an unsettled feeling at the pit of his stomach.
So it hadn't been a memory, and Loki was convinced it was more than a simple night terror. On top of the vividness of the ordeal he had also felt the vague presence of others. At least he had initially before something so violently corrupted everything and the worlds were reduced to ashes.
But what was it then? Had it been a glimpse in the future? A message? Was there an outside being tampering with his mind? If that was it then the perpetrator would rue the day he ever crossed him.
Loki sighed and dropped his spoon into his bowl. It slid into the soup and was lost under the creamy green liquid.
Oh well. The soup had been cold anyway.
So he spent the next several seconds glaring at his breakfast with an intensity that could burn holes through steel (though it was doing little to reheat his meal). That was what he was doing when Volstagg's voice carried into the air.
"The boy ought to eat more!" Volstagg said loudly between bites of his goat haunch. "His lack of appetite leads me to believe he may be lost in some wicked plot!"
"Just because you haven't heard from me in a while does not mean I am not here," Loki noted flatly.
Thor was giving him a worried look but before he could say something Volstagg plowed on ahead.
"Good!" Volstagg turned bodily toward him. An impressive feat given his size. "You always were too slender. Maybe if you put some meat on your bones people would trust you more. You know what they say, Boy! You are what you eat!"
With that Volstagg swept Loki's bowl of soup from the table. An arc of green liquid found its way on to Fandral's boots much to the man's displeasure.
"Volstagg!" The blond man yelled. "What are you doing?"
"Quiet you. Volstagg the Sagacious is passing great wisdom on to the boy." He waved a finger at the man and turned back to Loki.
Fandral made a noise of incredulity and frustration and started whining to Hogun about ruined moleskin. Hogun looked as if he could care less. Thor merely smiled amusedly at the scene.
"Instead of that bitter green broth, sate your appetite with something sweet! Perhaps it may do some good for that disposition of yours." With that he forcibly swept a platter of small cakes in front of Loki.
Loki didn't reply. He had no appetite to sate. If it weren't for the fact that he was still too disturbed to eat then the spray of crumbs from Volstagg's mouth quelled any feel of hunger.
Even so he tried taking a halfhearted bite out of one of the oat cakes. It felt dense and tasteless in his mouth but he chewed it nonetheless. After a small eternity he swallowed, stared at it, and dropped what was left on his plate. It clattered like a hockey puck.
This would not do. He did not much like feeling on edge as he currently was. He would get to the bottom of that horrible vision and hopefully would move past it.
The tree that always had been and always would be was reduced to ashes.
He groaned and let his head drop to the table with an audible thunk.
The action startled the others into silence.
"Loki!" Thor cried out in brotherly concern. "What troubles you, little one? Are you feeling ill?"
Loki let his forehead rest against the cool wood for a dramatic moment before raising his head. He met Thor's concerned face, and worried blue eyes with a carefully crafted blank expression.
He let them all stew in the silence for one moment.
"I think I have finished breaking my fast," he said with a smile and fake cheer before standing up and leaving the table.
He was going to get to the bottom of that dream. No matter what it took.
Loki ran through the possible positive outcomes of this endeavor and he couldn't stop the embarrassingly giddy laugh from bubbling up inside him when he concluded that there probably wouldn't be one.
Thor looked like he desperately wanted to go after his younger sibling and you could see the conflicting emotions play across his face. Finally he dejectedly dropped back into his seat. There he folded his arms across the table, dropped his face into them and sulked.
"My friend," Fandral began. All slights against his person (and his boots) momentarily forgotten in favor of his friends well being. "Are you alright?"
"Nay, Fandral," Thor admitted. "I worry for my brother."
Unseen to him his three friends shared a look of resignation.
"I'd worry not, Thor." Fandral shrugged. What he said next almost hurt to say but it was for his friend. "Loki is merely being Loki. Whatever wrong he's done will surely be forgotten-"
"-as soon as he comes up with something grander," Hogun muttered under his breath. Fandral shot him a withering look.
"We're trying to make him feel better," the blond man hissed loudly under his breath.
"Loki has done nothing wrong." Thor sat up and scrubbed a hand down his face. "He is plagued by nightmares regularly but last night was different."
"Nightmares?" Volstagg blinked.
"He dreams of…the past. His past," Thor admitted hesitantly deliberately not looking at his friends. He did not want to see their expressions for surely he knew what would be there.
Renewed distrust most likely. Knowing looks as if the fact that Loki dreamed of past evils was no surprise at all and surely a sign of things to come. Thor wished he could just make them understand that his little brother had a clean slate. He had paid for his crimes and he was still paying for them. The child was not what he had been in the past and it was unfair to label him as such.
It was difficult. Thor knew this better than anyone.
"Last night was different. He was screaming," Thor explained. "So loudly I thought he was being attacked. When I finally reached him the look on his face was one of complete terror. I have never seen that expression on his face before." He paused and realization dawned on him. "Never. Not in this new life of his or even the past."
Even when Loki faced the Void he had not looked so scared.
Thor stood up suddenly. "I feel the need to find my brother. This is something I should have inquired about further. I find myself worried for his peace of mind."
"Just remember this. When you give everyone else some peace of mind keep a little for yourself," Hogun said sagely.
Thor smiled. "Aye. That I will my friend." With that the Thunderer exited in haste
When he was out of listening range the other three sagged.
"Poor, Thor." Fandral sighed dramatically. "For someone as joyous as him to be saddled with someone as toxic as Loki is a crime in itself."
"I'd agree but that is the nature of all children. Alas it is a symptom of the age! One moment they are a beautiful yet near mindless lump in your arms dependent upon you for all comforts and the next they are sneaking from the home and refuse to eat their vegetables." The large man sighed dramatically before eating one of the honeyed roots Loki had earlier rejected.
"Still it must be so hard for Thor. These days it seems like he is less of a brother and more a father figure. And do not get me wrong Thor is great, and brave and I would follow him to Hel and back if he called upon me to do so, but," Fandral noted cheerlessly, "I fear he is not entirely equipped for childrearing."
"Especially not a child as trying as Loki," Hogun added flatly.
"Truer words have never been spoken," Volstagg agreed. "I believe the Midgardians have a rather apt statement regarding the manner. They say it takes a village to raise a child."
"Yes, but what do you do when that child can raze the village?" Fandral asked warily.
They had no reply to that.
"We cannot help you."
Loki stood there absolutely dumbfounded as he gazed upon the three norns. Of all the things they could have possibly said to him that was not what he expected.
It took some time but he finally convinced his brother that he was fine and barely could even remember what it was that had woken him in terror the previous night. He could tell Thor didn't entirely buy it but eventually he gave up and left Loki to his own devices. He was probably holding out the hope that Loki would eventually come to him with all his problems so they could have an the Asgardian version of the awkward, teary heart to hearts like those they had witnessed on Midgardian television.
That wasn't really Loki's style.
Maybe for some things Loki would seek his brother's aid but this was not one of them.
If it came to dragging his brother into something he wanted to at least know what it was he was getting into first.
He holed himself up in the library. Partly to research what it was he had seen and partly to ensure that if Thor was still hawking over him he'd get bored and leave. It took a while. Thor was nothing if not persistent. Eventually, when he was sure Thor was no longer tailing him he dug out his special armor and helmet.
The books had failed him, Ikol had been convinced that Loki's subconscious was merely plaguing him with residual evil thoughts of the past and nothing more (also useless), and so Loki was driven to the end of his rope.
Quite literally. Since all else failed he fastened himself to a line and jumped to the roots of Yggdrasil to seek the Norns' council. This was not something particularly pleasant to do which spoke a great deal of Loki's concern on the matter.
Surely the norns would have the answers, he reasoned to himself.
That line of logic was turning out to be a failure as well.
After the initial speechlessness wore off he asked, "What do you mean you can't help me?"
"We see naught into dreams," Skuld elaborated.
"We only watch what has happened, what is and what has yet to come," added Verandi.
"Yet you, Liesmith, are chaotic in nature. Your future is fluid and branches into many possibilities."
"So is this dream just a dream?" Loki questioned. He was almost disappointed. He had been so convinced that there had been more to what he experienced. For it to have been nothing more than a nightmare was almost as unsatisfactory as it was relieving.
Also it gave Ikol 'I told you so' fodder and that was never pleasant.
However just as he was starting to feel comforted by this notion the norns did what they did best and dashed all hope against the rocks. 'We did not say that little one."
"It is uncertain but there may be more to what you saw. We cannot see into your mind but we have looked into the future."
"Of course you did.".Ah well. He came for answers after all. "What did you see?"
"A fire unlike anything we have witnessed before," Urd began wistfully.
Loki's heart dropped into his stomach.
"Yet we do not know its purpose or what it is even doing," Skuld added sounding a little miffed. The norns were not used to such uncertainties and you could tell it did not sit well with them.
It didn't sit well with Loki either.
"The future is frayed. Fire is fickle. It can be a bringer of life and comfort or a raging monster. In one future it may be life. In another perhaps death. Yet in all the strands it is present though the effects are unknown. We know naught what it is."
"Beyond that there is haze. The future is clouded in smoke. This is the least bit settling."
"What about me? What is my involvement?" He wasn't sure he wanted to know but the vision (if that's what it was) came to him. That was significant in itself.
They gave him a wary look.
That did nothing for his anxiety.
"Since your rebirth your future has become just as troublesome as the foreboding miasma we see in what has yet to come. You are capricious and unpredictable, Trickster. It seems you confuse even what has yet to be and you are forever changing. We may tell you one path but it may do you no good," Urd started softly.
"It may very well be the incorrect one. And unlike others where usually one's futility in changing their destiny sets it in motion, this may no longer be the case with you. You have become mercurial in your new childhood. Telling you a future may very well be the catalyst to changing it," Verandi finished the thought for her sister.
Well that was frustrating. "What can I do about a future even the norns are blind too?" Loki growled. Usually he was more composed than this but he was tired. More so he was confused and that was a state he did not much like.
"It may be that this entity you dream of is even beyond our sight. We see all of the nine but what lies beyond these realms can be clouded even to we."
"So I came here for naught but a renewed sense of impending dread. I thank thee fair ladies for this new founded clarity," was his toneless response.
"Hold your sarcasm, Child," Skuld snapped. "This smoke and fire bodes well for none. We too are now curious to this blindness in our sight. We cannot help you but mayhap there is one who can.
"It is not the future you need. What you must look in may be what you already saw. Yet if you do so again you may very well succumb to the emotions and distress you had the first time. In such a clouded state you will gain nothing. You need to seek outside counsel on the matter."
"But not you three," Loki pointed out.
"Aye. You need a dream seer."
That at least was getting somewhere.
But then came the cryptic instruction.
"You need he who breaks dawn," began Skuld.
"He who speaks with no mouth may aid you," continued Verandi.
"He who dwells in the east, a red god of white," finished Urd.
Loki heaved a tired sigh. He was getting his answer so what did he have to complain?
They gave him a rather flat look.
"What do I need to do to find this Red God?" He finally asked in resignation.
He was surrounded by ancient tomes and scrolls. Books were splayed around him left open and birdlike.
All of it was useless.
There was next to nothing regarding the dream seer the norns had spoken of. Even in the oldest records regarding the pantheons outside of Asgard there was little information about the Red God of White.
And for bright little Loki, who was so used to knowledge and answers coming quickly to him, this was torture.
"Uh! My brain hurts! I hate this!" Loki dropped a heavy tome, one that was big enough to crush a small child, onto the floor. It made a satisfying CRACK when it hit the ground.
He dropped to his haunches and fisted his wild black hair. "Could you imagine feeling like this all the time? It is no wonder people hate school."
Thinking back to a time when Thor was a similar age to him (which was not that long ago to Loki) he felt a new sympathy for his brother's dislike for their lessons.
"Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain," Ikol's voice betrayed no levity but Loki could hear the mocking undertones.
Rather than snapping back with some witty comeback Loki instead rubbed his temples in frustration. He needed a new approach
Loki whipped out his stark phone and took to the internet. "I've looked everywhere else. If it is not on the first three pages of Google then it doesn't exist," he claimed darkly.
The magpie scoffed at him.
So he went to google and even there there was little information concerning Red Gods that were dream seers.
Yet it wasn't as futile as the books had been for he found a more concrete name to go on.
The Norns had spoken of the Navajo God known as the Talking god.
"Well, now. How does one find a way to talk to the talking god? How exactly do you plan on finding him?" Ikol asked mockingly from his perch on a bookshelf. "I highly doubt this internet has clear, and reliable instruction regarding the matter."
"The Norns gave me instruction on the summoning if I could find him. But it says here he can speak through impersonators aaaand," Loki scrolled the page with his thumb, "the impersonators are not allowed to speak when impersonating the God for such an act is tantamount to suicide. What sense is there in that?"
He pocketed the phone and went to rummage through an old chest near the back of his room. From it he pulled a roll of paper which he proceeded to unfurl on the floor.
It was a massive map of Midgard.
"What are you doing?" Ikol asked flatly.
"There is power in a name," Loki responded as he rummaged through the chest again. This time he pulled a small string and a cone shaped rock out. "I'm going to try dowsing to locate this talking god."
"With nothing but a name to go on?"
"I've gotten by with less." Loki attached the rock to the string and held it steadily out over the chart.
'Reveal to me the talking god,' he willed. 'I require his aid.'
For a moment the stone was still and Loki began to fear this was but another failure to add to the steadily growing pile. But then it slowly began to twirl. Its wheels grew steadily larger with each round.
Loki let the stone lead and slowly he tilted his hand in the direction of the pendulum's rounds.
Then suddenly it stopped swinging and went rigid. The point hovered statically over singular point on the map.
"Huh. That is strangely convenient," Loki noted.
Lady Jane lived near there.