Many, many years later

Asgard was unusually silent that afternoon. There were no Æsir bustling about the streets on their various day-to-day errands or children playing in pleasant late summer weather. There were no dogs howling and no horses clomping down the golden pavement. The wind from the Sea hissed emptily against the gleaming walls of the palace. There was nothing to dull the sound of the clanking chains.

The young man being led through the palace gates was flanked by golden-clad guards, his feet, wrists, and even his body bound by chains that rattled dolefully with every step he took. Despite his bonds, he still carried himself with a proud, almost nonchalant air, and a curiously mocking smirk hovered around his lips. But his eyes stared blankly ahead.

They had almost reached the doors of the palace when the man stopped abruptly, earning menacing spear tips pointed at him from his guards. The man ignored them contemptuously and stared off beyond them at the edge of the paved path where the trodden grass led down into the garden. Something glistened in the afternoon sun like the light of Bifrost.

"What are you stopping for?" one of the guards demanded. "Your father is waiting, prince."

The man laughed, a mirthless, uncanny sound that did not belong in the quiet, beautiful city of the gods. "Don't call me 'prince.' You know well enough that title never belonged to me here." He laughed again, soft this time, but no less strange. "And believe me, the Allfather has been waiting a long time for this day. I don't think it's going to break his old heart to wait a few minutes longer to pass sentence on me."

He stepped off the path and immediately had a spear point at his chest. "What are you doing?" the same guard demanded warily.

The man brushed the spear aside with his bound hands. "Afraid, are you?" he said with that odd quirk in his lips and a green light in his eyes. "Think I might just blow up the palace, escape back to Midgard, and kill the Allfather and your oaf of a prince on the way?"

The guard swallowed in a way that suggested that this might have been unnervingly close to what he was thinking. The man sneered and held up his hands. "Believe me, if I could escape, I'd have done it a long time before now. Plenty of precautions have been taken, don't worry. I'm dangerous."

One of the other guards gave the first guard a cautious nod, and he lowered his spear. The prisoner ignored him and walked slowly into the garden, still flanked by wary Asgardian soldiers, until he came to stop at a spot of earth close by the palace wall.

The guards looked at each other, obviously confused and surprised. There was nothing particularly spectacular about the patch of ground their prisoner had chosen to look at. They could see that long ago, someone had carefully covered it with smooth shore stones, many hours' labor, but the grass had long since crept up over the small mound. The only thing of note was the crystal slate, half-hidden behind the grass and tilted to the side, but it still shone faintly in many different beautiful hues. The prisoner stared down at it, his face inscrutable.

Suddenly, there was a boy kneeling in the grass before the mound. The guards stepped back in surprise, instinctively raising their spears, before they realized the truth. The quietly weeping boy had the same features as the prisoner: the same raven hair, the same bright, calculating eyes, the same angular face. But the boy's face carried a youthful innocence and sorrow that the older version of himself had long since lost.

Loki stood looking down at his boyhood self that he had summoned from his memory and with the small amount of magic that had not been Bound. As he watched, the young Loki reached out and put his hand on the crystal slate. I'm sorry, the child said, his voice a faint echo of a memory. I'm sorry I brought you here. But what do you care? You were just a wild animal. You were never my friend. I was stupid to think you could ever have belonged with me. I'm sorry.

Of course, now Loki understood the terrible irony of the whole situation that had been lost upon his younger, ignorant self. Now he understood why Odin and Frigga could never in good conscience have refused him what he had asked. But in his damaged, hurting mind, he supplied his own lessons to that long ago day when his adoptive mother had knelt beside him and told him (a lie) that he was not a failure.

Without warning, Loki kicked out as best he could with his manacled legs. The illusion vanished in a ripple of yellow-green light, and a spray of dirt flew against the palace wall. Another kick sent stones, earth, and grass flying. The guards stepped back in perturbation as they watched the former prince of Asgard viciously destroy a mound of dirt. One particularly large stone smashed into the crystal slate, shattering it into a thousand shards of glistening light.

Loki stepped back, his breathing hard, staring down at the small site of ruin that he had created and destroyed. His eyes flashed wildly, then he lifted his head and looked toward the palace, that uncanny smile still flickering around his lips. "One time can be written off as a mistake. Two times and you know the true nature of what you're dealing with," he said. "Isn't that right, Father?"

He turned back to his guards. "Well, lead on," he said to them, his teeth showing in a taunting grin. "We mustn't keep the Allfather waiting."

The End