Taking the quinjet to Arendelle was, by far, the best flight on an airplane that Loki could remember. The seat was relatively comfortable, it did not reek, and there were no propellers. Also it was fast, so he would have to endure it for less time.
He still didn’t like the the hum of the engines, whose harmonics still seemed very wrong to him, but at least having windows only the front he didn’t have to look at them and wonder when they would explode.
Also, Steve and Natasha were with him, and Sharon was piloting, making it all feel familial.
Steve also had a new suit, which Loki could admire. Similar to his war-era suit, but sleeker, it fit him like a glove. Between Steve and Natasha in her Black Widow tac suit, there was no shortage of something enjoyable and distracting to look at. He felt a bit under-dressed himself, since he hadn’t shifted to armor yet, but Natasha seemed not to mind letting her eyes stray across the fit of his black t-shirt, so he left it.
Steve also had his shield back, which made Loki happy to see. It belonged with him, and he was glad it hadn’t been lost or stolen.
They passed the time discussing the ‘creature’. Loki had wondered briefly if it were Olaf, somehow still existing, but no one would describe Olaf as a yeti. So then he decided it had to be a polar bear – what few sightings there were, were at the northern border of Arendelle up in the highest peaks and glaciers. And that poor lost polar bear was getting tangled with old tales of the Ice Demon, so the stories got bigger and more ridiculous over time, as most stories did.
Sharon set them down with their supplies and then went off to park the jet outside the nearest town, where they would meet in a few days.
On the ice he shifted to his armor and a fur-lined cape against the cold. It would’ve been warmer if the sun were out, but the sky was covered by heavy, winter-like grey clouds. It wasn’t snowing, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it started, since it was cold enough.
Natasha was bundled up in a parka with a fur-lined hood and he liked the way it framed her face.
He cast a basic search spell, just in case. Just because he thought it was a polar bear didn’t mean it was. Arendelle was saturated with power after Elsa had used the tesseract, and it might have lured other entities through cracks in the dimensional wall.
Closing his eyes, he sent his awareness outward, searching. There was something. Something faint, echoing through the ground. Something magical. Or at least touched by magic.
He pushed, trying to get nearer to it and understand what he was sensing, when a different awareness abruptly surrounded him. And a ‘voice’ called his name across the gulf of the void.
“Loki?” A familiar presence returned, a feeling of desperation giving it power. To break the shield he’d made. “Loki!”
It was Frigga, again. “Loki, please, no, don’t shut me out--”
He tied the threads long enough to give her a taste of his rage and betrayal and abandonment. “I said: leave me alone. I want nothing to do with you or with Odin. Out of my head and be gone.”
He shut her out again and stumbled, as he opened his eyes.
“Lukas?” Natasha asked.
He cast his eyes upward, narrowing his eyes, and then took a deep breath. “I found something. I think. Probably just a polar bear, but it’s the only thing nearby that seems anomalous.” he turned in place to get a fix on the direction. “This way.”
Lukas and Steve went ahead to break a path in the new snow, and Natasha hated both of them with a burning passion because neither of them noticed the temperature. She glared daggers into their backs and tightened her hood, reminding herself she was born in Russia, a graduate of the Red Room, and she should be tougher than some 90-year-old from Brooklyn.
Steve laughed at something Lukas said, and she pondered which one she should strangle first. She could leave the bodies here and probably no one would find them for years. It would be like a reverse of the comic book story of Captain America finding the Ice Demon in the ice of Arendelle.
"I get why Fury's sending you two on this make-work mission. You because it's Arendelle, and Rogers as some kind of sadistic aversion therapy, but what did I do to deserve this?" she complained, only half joking.
Lukas glanced back. He was smiling, damn him. She was definitely strangling him first. "You are here to keep us out of trouble, I believe."
"No trouble out here in this white hell," she muttered.
She could not have been more wrong, as trouble found them.
There was no warning – only a sudden angry roar, and the snow itself seemed to rear up and hurl itself at her. She was being pelted by something, and she staggered back, reaching for her sidearm in her coat pocket.
More roaring and something massive swatted her so hard she went flying, crashing into a snow bank. Scrambling up, she had her first view of … the thing. It was huge, giant-sized, three meters tall, vaguely human shaped but seemingly made of snow or ice.
"So there's no creature?" she called to Lukas. "Just stories about you? Or polar bears? Because I have news for you!"
"All right, I was wrong!" he called back, ducking an icy hand that slammed next to him. Rogers threw his shield, slamming into the creature's back and drawing its attention.
Lukas straightened, holding out his hands. His fingertips were aglow with a greenish fire and the creature stopped, held in place by whatever he was doing.
She looked, heart in her mouth, as Lukas held his ground before the massive creature. He looked up at it, hands extended, but then something happened.
Recognition lit his face and he whispered, "Elsa?"
The creature's head whipped down, two coal-black eyes stared at him.
"Destroy it!" Steve cried, but Lukas ignored him, staring up at the creature.
"I feel her power in you. You're Elsa's, you must be," Lukas said, his voice soft with wonder. He lowered his hands and moved closer to the creature. "It's been so long since she went away. You must have been so alone...."
The giant ice monster whimpered, and Natasha realized it understood him, at least at some level.
Lukas extended one empty hand, reaching for the creature. "I didn't know you were here. I would have come," he promised. "I... I am so sorry you've been alone all this time."
It seemed to be working for a moment, as the creature looked down at him, but then he howled and a giant icy fist swatted Lukas into a stand of pine trees. It turned and started loping through the trees, tearing off branches as it passed.
"Lukas! Come on!" Steve exclaimed. "We have to go after it!"
Lukas grabbed his shoulder. "No. We let it go."
Steve stared at him, brow knitted in confusion. "But why?"
Lukas turned from him, to look in the direction the ice monster had gone. "My daughter created it. It's all I have left of her."
It was plain Steve had no idea what to say; Natasha doubted that he knew the story. "Oh. I'm sorry. Your daughter?"
"Elsa. The Snow Queen of Arendelle," he answered distantly. "Officially I am her ancestor, but she was my daughter. She died in 1823."
Natasha, who'd heard enough to put it together before that, still was struck by hearing it aloud. A historical figure – a fantastical figure of legend, really, "the Snow Queen of Arendelle" – was his daughter, the one he'd nearly cried over at Randolph's house when he'd seen the book. She remembered the images the trolls had shown her of Queen Elsa's funeral, and Loki kneeling at her bier, crumpled in grief.
After a moment's silence, he forced a brief laugh. "It must sound ridiculous to mourn someone dead almost two hundred years."
"No," Steve replied, voice soft with sympathy, and he set a hand on Loki's shoulder. "It doesn't." Then he gave a pained smile. "I'm not exactly in a position to throw stones here, y'know."
Posture relaxing, Lukas glanced at Steve. "I suppose not."
Natasha brushed off the snow caked on her trouser legs with her gloves and stomped closer. "Which leaves the problem of what to do with that... creature. It's still dangerous."
"I... don't know," Lukas answered. "I won't destroy it. But it's alone and feral." His pale eyes sought the more distant mountain peak. "I was not so different once. But I don't know how to help it. I don't have the power to make a companion for it; Elsa was able to create it because of the tesseract, but that was lost. I could take it elsewhere, maybe to Jotunheim where it would have winter permanently, but this is its home. If I did that, I might as well kill it."
The sad hopelessness of his voice touched her. "Perhaps some sort of park?" she asked. "I think this is already protected wilderness, so if they make more of an effort to keep people away for their own safety."
“Its safety, too,” Steve said. “I feel like it would be like a modern King Kong.”
Loki frowned at him, and Steve abruptly grinned, “Seriously? Do I know a reference you don’t?”
“King Kong, a story about a giant ape found on a hidden island and captured and toured around as an attraction,” Natasha explained. “But Steve’s right; if people find out about the creature, someone might be able to capture it.”
“And put it on display,” Loki said, in disgust.
Natasha hesitated before saying, “Or worse. Humans aren’t always kind to what’s different and magical.”
Loki’s skin went ashen, as he realized what she meant. “Experiment on it, you mean.” She nodded and touched his arm, but he shrugged her off and took a few steps away, looking toward the clouds that hid the higher peaks.
“Return to the village,” he abruptly commanded. “I will see you there.”
“Lukas, no--” She grabbed for his arm, but it was touching smoke. She felt nothing. She heard snow cracking as if from a footstep and lunged in that direction, but a bright green glow washed across the white field and she knew he was gone.
Swearing in Russian, she turned to meet Steve’s eyes.
“Maybe he needs time alone,” Steve suggested.
She agreed with a heavy sigh, though she thought his true intent was something else. He would either send the creature away or destroy it to save it from the same thing he’d suffered. She just didn’t want him to face that choice alone.
With heavy heart, she turned her feet back toward the path off the mountain. “Come on, Rogers. There’s nothing more we can do here.”
In the town below, night had fallen and she and Steve had eaten dinner at their guesthouse and were finishing with coffee and whiskey, when the front door opened with the sound of cheerful bells.
Lukas entered, and at the archway, surveyed the common room and found them in the corner table. He sauntered to them, as if he had not a care in the world, dressed only in a green jumper and slacks as if coats were for other people, but his eyes seemed dark and his lips made only a faint attempt at a smile.
“You okay?” Steve asked, after Lukas plopped down in the third chair.
“Fine,” he answered with a deliberate shrug.
Since he wasn’t saying it, she prompted, “And the creature?”
“I unmade it,” he answered flatly. But his hand trembled slightly as he reached for the last piece of bread still lingering from their dinner.
“No!” Steve gasped. “Why? I thought you wanted to save it.”
“I did.” Lukas helped himself to her drink and she let him, figuring he needed it more than she did. “But I can’t. No one can. So I made sure it will be no one’s entertainment or experiment,” he snarled the last word, and she nodded to herself.
“But the park--”
Baleful eyes met Steve’s, and Steve fell silent. “It was mine to do and I did it,” Lukas declared.
Natasha signaled the hostess for another of the drinks and when it came, handed it to Lukas too, who cradled the warm cup between his hands and inhaled the aroma of the steam.
“So are we finished here?” she asked. “Should we go to Arendelle tomorrow, or get Sharon to take us back to New York?”
“Arendelle,” Lukas answered. “Since I’m here, I should visit and I can show Steven the sights.”
She worried that it would be too much for him, but since he was volunteering she smiled and agreed.
In the Arendelle town square, Lukas led them across the pedestrian plaza to the bronze memorial. Unlike the last time Natasha had glanced at it, now there were flowers, two plums, and a jar of preserves on the steps. Arendelle knew he was back, even if no one seemed sure that Luke Rendell was the Ice Demon.
He snorted at the jar. “So, what do you think?” he asked Steve. “Mind you don’t mock it, because I can show you far worse things for Captain America. And Natalya will back me up.”
Steve folded his arms and regarded the statue before nodding. “Looks like you in the face. Not bad. The wolves are a bit much, but I suppose that’s the whole mythological Loki thing they’re joining you to.”
Lukas’ lips parted as if he wanted to object, but then shut again before he said, “Yes, likely.”
“Will you show us the castle?” Natasha asked. “I know from the brochure in the hotel that it’s old enough to be the same one you knew back then.”
Lukas stilled and then gave a disarming smile, gesturing, “You can see it from here. There’s nothing left.”
Steve exchanged a glance with her, and he said, “I know the Nazis destroyed it, Lukas. And I remember how upset you were when you found out. You haven’t been there, have you?” When Lukas didn’t answer, Steve knew and said, “Let’s go visit.”
“There’s nothing there,” Lukas repeated, almost petulantly.
But Steve ignored that, to get to the heart of the problem. “We’ll be with you. Come on.”
“Fine,” Lukas snapped. “You want to see a pile of rubble and some grass? Let’s go see it.” He marched across the pathway, but his anger didn’t last, needing to tell them about it. “This was a causeway before they filled in this side. Probably with the rubble from the castle.” At the end of the pathway was a low broken wall, presumably the original stone and then concrete along the top to preserve it. There was a gap in that wall where Lukas paused. “This was the gate,” he said, brushing a hand across the stone, before proceeding inside.
There was a look in his eyes that said he was seeing the past. Natasha glanced at the explanatory displays as they wandered inside, noting the copies of photos of the place before its destruction. Lukas ignored them, as he ignored anything modern.
“The courtyard,” he murmured and turned in place to look. The courtyard itself was grass and stone cobbles in no particular order, only what was left of them. But the grass was trimmed neatly and at the other end of the lawn, a family was playing with their dog.
The castle itself was also mostly gone, leaving just a warren of partial walls that Lukas avoided, heading around to a side garden between what would have been the palace structure and the outer fortification.
There he paused, captured by the sight of a statue.
It was a beautiful monument of white marble, of a woman in a long dress with long hair in a braid and a small crown on her head, surrounded by snowflake patterns at her feet. The carving in the base read Queen Elsa, 1781 – 1825.
Lukas translated the words at the bottom, “Beloved queen, mother, sister, and--” his voice choked, “daughter.” Steve jerked as if he intended to offer some kind of sympathy, but Natasha held him back, knowing this moment was for Lukas himself.
After a moment of staring at the monument, he held out his palm. A pale blue light formed and swirled, and when it dissolved, there was a sculpture made of ice sitting there.
It was similar to the larger statue, a woman in a long gown with her braid in front of one shoulder, but this one was clearly drawn from memory: she smiled with delight, her hands held high as a spray of ice fountained upward from her hands and arched over her head.
Lukas took the figurine and set it on the ground at her feet, and stepped back. A sphere of glowing light flashed around it at a gesture of his fingers, and he said, “That is how I must remember her. Not in death, because all living things must end eventually, but in life.”
“She was beautiful,” Natasha murmured. Despite the brightness of the sun and the warmth of the day, the statue lost none of its definition and continued to launch tiny snowflakes in the air, where they vanished. Having expected it to melt, she reached to touch it and found an invisible wall. No matter how she pushed, she could go no closer to the statue. Drawing back, she had to smile. It would stay there, preserved, unmelted, perhaps forever. It was an impressive magic, made even more so by how quiet it was.
He shut his eyes and drew a pained breath, before adding softly, “Everything of hers is lost. I cannot continue to hold onto the past as if it will bring her back. I am alone and wishful thinking of the past will not make it less so.”
Steve’s hand fell warm on his shoulder. “You’re not alone, Lukas.”
“I think Wanda and Pietro would disagree, too,” Natasha reminded him, and slipped her hand into his. “You have friends, and you have family. You’re not alone, not really.”
Lukas looked at them, and they looked back. Natasha hoped he was considering that they both were alone, too – Steve by time, and Natasha by the circumstance of her training. She had a few friends now, but that was a recent development, and the world beyond that list was full of strangers and enemies. Not family. For the first time in many years, she wondered if she could find her parents. Were they still out there? The Red Room had told her they were dead, but they lied. Maybe her parents were alive. Could she find them?
Looking at Lukas’ devastation of a daughter lost centuries ago, she couldn’t doubt that her parents would remember her.
“Alone together?” Lukas asked, lips curving wryly. “All of us?”
“Yes,” Steve answered with firm confidence, circling Lukas’ shoulders with his arm and pulling him close, but Natasha wasn’t left out, as Lukas’ fingers tucked between hers.
“You want to stay for awhile?” Natasha asked.
He glanced at the smaller statue and shook his head. “No. I’m done here. Let’s go.”
The three friends turned toward the gate. Behind them a small ice statue continued to throw snow into the air, and in the sun, it gleamed like diamonds.
Erik Selvig stared at the figure before him, neither impressed nor horrified by the person who had come through the rip in space-time created by the tesseract. He felt nothing at all.
The same voice that had been in his mind, as an insidious whisper, was now booming and proud: "Guten Tag, Herr Doktor Selvig. It is good to be home."
Erik returned words that would normally make him shudder with disgust, but his mouth formed them anyway:
Johann Schmidt’s thin lips smiled with a lizard-like satisfaction, as he put a hand on Erik's shoulder. "It is time to remake the world. But first, there is much work ahead of us."