Night went by in the warriors' camp. The celebration was long over. Around and inside the tents there was silence.
The frozen landscape around it didn't change much as day approached though: Jotunheim was a land of perpetual winter and shadows.
One warrior, however, didn't sleep a blink during the whole night.
Exhausted but restless, Loki was lying on his back, his glaucous stare lost. His mind was overactive, frantic to the point of torture.
His self fluctuated dangerously between loath and grandiosity.
The Prince played once more a battle in his mind, to come up with any reasoning that would allow him to feel valued.
Fighting against an invisible current that, in the end, always seemed drag him back into that familiar unworthiness.
His father. The warriors. The entire people of Asgard.
Why was everyone blind when it came to him?
'Thor.' He mumbled in reply to his inner dialogue.
The sound of someone snoring loudly next to him called his attention:
He glanced at Tyra and his expression softened.
No. With her and his mother only, he felt seen; understood.
But so was his luck, that even her was taken from him.
His features contracted back to tension as his mind was starting to pull him back into obsession.
Sorrowfully, he recalled a scene between him and The Allfather, on the morning that the ruler of Asgard decided to make an alliance with the Vanir people:
--'I am begging you, father! Let me marry her instead.'
'...My son, I regret, but how could I grant your request? Thor is going to be king, I cannot insult a kingdom to which we hope to forge a bound with...'
'...A lesser offer. Is that it?'
'No. With anything else but a future queen's position.'
'I am just as worthy, if not more so, than Thor!'--
Loki closed his eyes so fiercely at that point, he seemed to be wishing he didn't exist. His mind, however, mercilessly played that scene to the end:
--'You seem to misunderstand.' The King said. 'You can't secure an alliance without giving the other part a share of the power. This is not about you!'
'No, you are the one to misunderstand. Those are my feelings...'
'Your feelings...?! You know each other for a day! That's enough.' With an echoing sound Odin smacked his gauntlet on the throne's armrest with frustration and conversation was over.--
The Prince was unaware that outside, the warriors were already reunited and just about to finish their breakfast.
Sitting in a long row with the Asgardian soldiers, Thor's wife searched for Loki and not finding him, decided to look inside the tent.
She passed through the Warriors of Three, who seemed distracted with talking.
Recalling that they were mocking her friend's skills the night before,Tyra shamelessly bent towards Volstagg's cup and pushed phlegm through her nose on his milk.
Inside, she found Loki lying on his back and still as a statue. Only his eyes seemed to betray a hint of pain.
A light touch on his wrist snapped his attention back to the present moment. Tyra was kneeling next to him, a worried frown on her face:
'Dear, what's wrong with you? You didn't come to eat with us and I find you here immersed in unpleasant thoughts.' Her face got closer to scan his.
'I see that you are completely exhausted, you don't sleep well... What's troubling your mind?'
Whenever Loki didn't want to share something, he quickly deflected a question with another one. Forcing a smile, he asked:
'You barely slept too. Why was that?'
'Oh. Too much to drink, I suppose.' It was her turn to avoid a question, not willing to talk about the infamous nightmare.
She sensed he need space to process whatever was troubling him before speaking about it, so she didn't insist.
There was so much resonance between them that in a few months, through affinity and friendship, their initial connection evolved to deep love and total understanding.
Words sometimes were unnecessary.
The rest of the morning was uneventful. It was time to return to Asgard so the troops awaited for Heimdall to summon the Bifrost.
Thor called the Guardian out loud, asking him to take them back. Yet something seemed to be malfunctioning because the glowing tunnel kept snapping in and out of appearance, as if out of control.
Meanwhile Loki climbed off his horse and stared at Tyra for a moment, who has been also quiet for most of the time.
'Maybe someday they will forgive you, give them time.' He said, believing that her worries were due to the fact that the Princess had no contact with her kind in Vanaheimr for a long time.
Though that wasn't in her mind at that time, as soon as he mentioned her family a deep shadow was casted on her expression, and Tyra lowered her head with a pained sigh.
Loki observed her profile with a mix of compassion and longing. At present he had an enormous urge to comfort her, though in very different ways than his position of best friend allowed him to.
--'I've been there to speak to them myself. I would do anything to help you know that, but I found them to be insultingly cold in your regard.
Now I understand why you have such a hard time to believe people love you. They received all of your letters, but I will never tell you this.
And you will never read the one they asked me to deliver, because gladly, I've burned it.' --The Trickster thought.
--'I love you so much that I wished to make it up for the love you lacked before.'--
Upon raising her eyes and finding his loving gaze, the shadows were lifted from the woman's face and they shared a playful glance.
Their attention was caught as the troops started to curse and complain out loud because of the waiting. Indeed, the magic tunnel was still struggling to remain stable.
'Remember that time you casted an illusion on my wine and I thought I've swallowed a bunch of rotten intestines?' Tyra asked with worry, watching the flicking rainbow gateway.
'I admit it was rather rude.' He said, with a slightest hint of a smile, wondering why she was bringing it up.
'Rude? I thought it was hilarious!' She lowered her voice to continue. 'Recall how I went chasing after you through the castle and we climbed down the bridge to the undergrounds?'
'It's a well known fact that in general, a Vanir can't take a joke.
' He teased, remembering the playful fight in the catacombs, between laughs and risky jumps, dangerously throwing sorts everywhere and without a care about damaging the ancestors' tombs.
'Ah, we had a great time.'
Tyra laughed nervously and whispered: 'It would've been even funnier if we hadn't damage the Bifrost.'
'Shit.' He cursed lowly, Loki's imagination drew a faithful picture of how a spell bounced off the stone dome and hit a structural pillar, causing it to crack.
After that both rushed outside fearing the place would collapse over their heads, wondering if they took things too far.
And now that he calculated the underground's location in his mind, he assumed that yes, it was right under the teleportation device. Hell to pay if Odin came to find out...
Both exchanged a glance as if to swear they would keep quiet about it.
In the meantime Lady Sif approached them:
'We can't all go back at once, so we will have to do it in small groups. Get in line.'
Since both Tyra and Loki were at the back talking they were the last ones to board. As usual the marvelous device took them racing through a corridor of sidereal glow.
They never saw a rough landing coming though, as the flow suddenly stopped.
Tyra accidentally fell over Loki as he found his back hitting something hard as stone. The contact of the body of his beloved against his was enough to leave him stunned for a moment.
Not making any move to change positions he just lied there, but was startled to hear her state:
'Uh. Now it's a good time to be scared shitless. What is this place...?! What the hell did we do this time?'
He looked backwards in the almost darkness still lying on the ground, and though upside down, a gloomy sight was enough to change his focus from the warm legs around his:
A corridor made of polished black stone, as tall as his sight could reach and infinitely long.
All along under it lied a hungry abyss, whose's howling winds echoed in a sound that mimicked an eerie and ominous cry of tormented voices.
Torches suddenly became alit by themselves making them jump a bit, burning with a strange greenish fire.
With difficulty due to the lack of light, he saw a row of marble statues along the corridor, but they didn't seem to be from this world at all.
'Well, it seems we've caused a slight detour. Nothing to worry about I am confident.' He replied with his ironic nonchalance.