Prelude

At the beginning of all this, I was just Dr. Strauss, lead researcher of historic occultism at Site-269, Antarctica. As interesting as the title sounds— I assure you it was not, Site-269 was a maximum-security document storage facility. For the most part, my team deciphered arcane writings of long-forgotten pseudo occult practices. My final week at Site-269, though I did not know that yet, was one that would forever change my life. It was at this time that my inclusion in this story began.

- Dr. Michael Strauss, Project Midgard


March 6th, 1951

I hadn't been in my office for more than five minutes before there was a knock at the door. I buzzed them in and moments later Junior Researcher Mariya Vescio was standing before me, clipboard in hand, ready for me to approve the vault transfers of the day. Site-269 had ten storage vaults, A through J, where we placed cataloged documents for long term storage. As the team lead, I had to approve all transfers before they left the main site. "Sir, I have 16 transfers to Vault-H that need approval and another dozen to Vault-C.", she outstretched her arms in my direction, clipboard in one hand, a pen in the other. As I took them from her, I cleared my throat and said, "'The Sutoku files are going to C, what are we sending to—", my words were cut short by a small tremor that shook the room. "That's the third one this week.", you could hear the tinge of concern in Vescio's voice. "Glacial shift, they happen from time-to-time. It's nothing to worry about." I told her as I signed the paperwork and handed the clipboard back. I made a waving motion to the door as I said, "If that's all you can go."

I left my office, making my way towards the exam room to check on the team translating 9th-century Icelandic seiðr tomes. I was about halfway down the hall when another tremor, this one a far greater magnitude, shook the site— the lights flickered, went dark, and resumed power. I walked past the door to the exam room and up the stairwell at the end of the hall, if anyone knew what was going on it would be Site Director Vakstein. As expected Vakstein's office was a slurry of site security and administrative assistance, all chirping away at the clearly overwhelmed Director. I stood patiently in the back of the office as the personnel left one-by-one, waiting five or so minutes until just the Director and myself remained.

"I hope you're not here with more questions. Because I don't have any answers.", his voice was rasp and groggy. "No, I just wanted to tell you that the team is working on the PY-247-G collection, should be done by next week.", of course, I really wanted to know more about the tremors but clearly, he didn't know or wasn't going to tell me anything. Vakstein wouldn't even look up from his desk, "Yeah, okay good.", he waved his hand dismissing me as I had previously dismissed my subordinate. Seeing an opportunity, I said, "If there is anything you need help with you know where to find me.", before leaving his office. At the time my career within the Foundation had gone stagnant, sure I was regarded as one of the best in my field but being stuck in Antarctica did not foster the new connections needed for advancement. I had to take opportunities wherever I could; if that meant sucking up to Vakstein for a year or two, so be it.

As I entered the exam room my team's heads collectively turned in my direction, presumably looking for the answers I myself failed to gather. I shook my head, "I don't know what's going on anymore more than you do guys.". My disappointed subordinates went back to shuffling papers, transcribing tomes, and whispering amongst themselves. As I sat down at my workstation the room shook again, this time more prolonged than the last.

No sooner was I seated that Researcher Bryant was handing me a stack of files, "We got a batch ready for approval.". Thomas Bryant was the best Site-269 had to offer smart, inquisitive and handsome, all reasons he quickly became my favorite Researcher. "Good, keep on them. I don't want this tremor business keeping the real work from getting done.", I told him as I took the first folder from the stack. "Half the guys are blaming it on Vault-K, the rest think the whole base is going to fall into a giant fissure. Shouldn't be too hard to keep them focused, right?", as he turned to walk away, he flashed me a smile and I reciprocated the act. Ah yes, Vault-K, every site has its superstitions, some story the seniority tell newcomers to get them going— Vault-K was ours. The mysterious vault housing a top-secret super-anomaly has been the go-to 'campfire story' for Site-269 for years, but of course, we had no Vault-K. Or at least, that's what we thought.


That night I was woken from a sound slumber to the sound of banging on my living quarter's door. I sluggish stumbled my way to the door, opening it revealed two men clad in body armor. "Sir, you're coming with us.", the first man said as they pushed past me into the room. My initial reaction was to protest their entry until I noticed the insignia on the second man's sleeve— a small red hand. I could taste the sour tinge of adrenaline as the realization dawned on me. "Wh-what's going on?", I managed to say as opened my wardrobe. "Your presence has been requested. You will be briefed upon arrival." the first agent said, his voice a deep raspy baritone only acquired from years of smoking. "We'll be leaving this site. Dress accordingly."

The Red Right-Hand answers directly to O5 Command, I thought whatever I was getting myself into must be big. Just the opportunity I'd been looking for, a chance to make an impression on someone with real power. I quickly got dressed and dawned my insulated gear, I was now eager to embark on this mysterious assignment. As the two agents and I made our way through the door and down the hall, another elongated tremor shook the site. It was at that moment clarity struck me, that had to be what this was about— the tremors.

We were passing Researcher Bryant's living quarters when I was hit with an idea. "Wait, I need my assistant. Whatever your bringing me to do must be important and I'll need Researcher Bryant, at least." I said as the three of us came to a stop. The agents looked at me and then each other before the previously silent agent placed his hand to his ear and began whispering into his radio. With a nod from the second agent, the raspy-voiced agent said, "Make it quick. We're wheels up in 10 minutes.". I stepped back to Bryant's door and began knocking. The door slowly cracked open; Thomas's face lit up with a smile as he saw me. He fully opened the door and his smile turned to a look of concern as he whipped the tired from his eyes. Before Thomas could speak, he noticed the two agents standing behind me. "Is everything alright? What's going on, Mike?" his voice was soft yet unwavering. I pushed past him into the room, shutting the door behind me.

We embraced, locking lips for just a moment before I pulled away and said, "I don't know much, all I know is the Red Right-Hand just woke me up and needs my help. I figured I could use your help.". I could see the gears turning in his head as Thomas made his way to his dresser. "It's gotta be something important, they only an—" I interrupted him to say, "I know that's why we need to hurry."

All four of us walked briskly down the central corridor toward the main entrance. Barely a word was spoken as we entered the airlock, after what seemed like an eternity the exit clicked open and the sound of creaking metal ushered in a wave of cold Antarctic air. Upon seeing us the helicopter parked in front of the site sprang to life as its rotating blades whipped the frosted air into a whirlwind. One-by-one we entered the chopper the agents following behind. No sooner than the door closing we were airborne, Site-269 fading behind us as we flew east. I broke the silence with a short cough before speaking, "Now can you tell us where we're going?". The agent looked at his partner before shrugging, "Vault-K". The words hit me like a ton of bricks and if Thomas's face was any indication, he felt the same. We were silent for the remainder of the hour-long trip.


From the outside, Vault-K looked no different from the rest of the vaults, aside heavily increased security. It was as the enormous door opened that the difference between this Vault and the others became apparent. Rather than opening to a large warehouse of security lockers the vault opened to a long tunnel to a massive underground chamber. Various engineers and security personnel rushing back and forth distracted me from the large structures in the center of the room.

There in the center sat an enormous cage, 10 meters tall and wide, runes and sigils common to Norse thaumic practices were etched and layered on the bars to form a complex binding array. So struck by the sheer ingenuity of such a cage I barely noticed the being standing. There in the center of the cage stood what looked to be a man, two and a half meters tall, long flowing blonde hair framing a chiseled face. With sunken eyes, a protruding brow, well-defined cheekbones, and piercing blue eyes, it was an otherworldly face not easily forgotten. It was then that I noticed what Thomas had been staring at. Not the cage or its occupant but a large device resembling a battering ram, equally complex sigils and runes etched across the surface.

"Quite a beauty isn't it. We call it the Thaumic Ram." a voice rang out behind us, both Thomas and I turned to face it. Walking towards us was a tall slender old man, wearing a lab coat typical of senior personnel. Now face-to-face the man reached out to shake my own, "Dr. Lonavin, I'm glad you could make it.". I shook his hand, his grip cold and clammy, before saying, "Dr. Strauss, I'm not sure your choice of escorts left the impression there was a choice.". We shared a short chuckle before facing the cage, "Dr. Strauss, I have brought you here today in order for you to open this cage." Opening thaumic locks was something I was all too familiar with, but never had I attempted breaking a binding this complex. I stared at the cage as I responded, "How long do I have?". He looked at the cage and then back to me, "O5-7 expecting this cage to be ready to open by the time he arrives… in three days.". This was a far greater task than I could've imagined, a chance to make an impression on a member of the O5 Council directly. I could barely hold in my enthusiasm as Dr. Lonavin patted me on the shoulder and walked away. About twenty paces off he turned his head and shouted "Better get crackin', you'd hate to see him disappointed."

I won't bore you with the finer details of the work we did over those three days, it involved translating the binding ritual used and complex thaumic calculations to reverse it. While we were transcribing, I was able to glean a bit of information on the origin and purpose of the cage. The sigils were easily recognizable as those used by Scandinavian master seiðr practitioners of the 8th century. In the coming months, we would trace these runes through the many sub-cult of the time all the way to the modern-day The Universalist Order of the Æsir, but that's a story for another time.

Of particular interest was what we learned of the purpose of the cage; this was no ancient rite passed down the generations no random ritual that came from a whim. No, this cage was designed with holding one being in mind, his many names include the King of Lies, God of Mischief, Hveðrungr, Loptr, and Loki. I don't know what I believed when I discovered this, it wasn't so farfetched considering everything I knew at the time. It wasn't until I brought this information to the attention of Dr. Lonavin that I know for sure; the utter lack of interest and knowing smile as I told him affirmed my inclination— that thing in the cage was truly Loki.


March 10th, 1951

The day had finally come, O5-7 was due to arrive any minute, Thomas made his way over to me while I checked our new engravings on the Thaumic Ram. "Are we sure this is going to work?" I could hear the anxiety in his voice. "I'm sure of it." I whispered, my calculations had been double, and triple checked, there was no room for error. Even though O5-7 was approaching the chamber was quieter than the past three days; Dr. Lonavin had cleared the chamber of almost all personal. All that remained was Dr. Lonavin, Thomas, Myself, two engineers, and 4 agents of the Red Right-Hand. We waited, lined up in front of the cage. The sound of the internal airlock rang out, followed by quick deliberate footsteps— O5-7 had arrived.

As he approached, I noticed our attention was not the only ones he garnered— the thing-in-the-cage's gaze was fixed on 05-7. Now merely feet away I got a good look at him, he was handsome man, 6' tall, slender, black hair slicked back, with eyes so brown they appeared red in the light. Finally, he spoke in a calm and cold voice that radiated authority, when he did it was not in English as expected but rather but an admittedly a poor facsimile of archaic Scandinavian. The being's voice from within the cage sent a shiver down my spine, it was inhuman— unearthly. At the time I was semi-fluent in the dialect but that applied mostly to reading or speaking to myself, I found it slightly more difficult to follow the conversation. From what I could tell this was there first-time meeting, previously the entity had spoken to O5-1. A deal was struck between O5-1 and the being and O5-7 was now there to make good on that deal. It seemed the being was going to join the Foundation in some capacity, though the exact nature of the arrangement I could not tell at the time. One word kept being repeated by both the entity and O5-7… Ragnarök.

It seemed O5-7 was finished with its query yet wholly unassured in the answers. He turned to Dr. Lonavin who responded with a short nod before ordering the engineers to active the Thaumic Ram. After a minute the ram could be heard grinding as steam poured from various components. In a split second the ram lurched forward slamming against the cage, sparks could be seen igniting from the impact. A tremor shook the ground and just like that the large door to the cage simply fell to the ground. The entity did not look down at us as he walked past, it went straight o O5-7, it kneeled down and placed a hand on top of O5-7's head. After a moment the entity began to shimmer and distort, like heatwaves off a hot grill, it hurt my eyes to look at. I peeked over at Thomas to see how he was reacting only to find his mouth ajar. I found to see and there before stood two identical O5-7s, one being naked but still, identical. I assure you I had no prior inclination as to what happened next.

With a swift chop of his left hand the entity cleanly removed O5-7's head. My heart dropped to my stomach, Thomas let out a gasp, but Dr. Lonavin did not react at all. My mind was swimming before I snapped out of it, remembering the presence of the Red Right-Hand, surely, they would swoop and rain hell on this entity, but again no reaction at all. I was frozen in place to scared of confused to move a muscle. One of the agents walked up to the entity and flashes a crisp salute before opening his satchel and presenting a fresh pair of clothes. "You'll be needing these, Sir." he said voice laced in unwavering loyalty. Then the entity turned, and his gaze fell upon Dr. Lonavin, Thomas, and myself. It finally dawned on me— I was going to die.

The entity… Or should I say, the new O5-7, handed the agent the clothes and pushed past him. "What are we doing with them?" it pointed in our direction. to my shock, its voice was exactly the same as the old O5-7. If I hadn't witnessed the events of the last five minutes, I surely wouldn't have known the difference. "Termination, Sir." the agent responded, this sent Dr. Lonavin into a rage. "That wasn't part of the deal! How dare—" his shouting was cut short, the new O5-7 lifted his hand and made a twisting motion, Dr. Lonavin twisted in a way no body was capable. There was an audible snap as the doctor's limp twisted body fell to the ground.

The entity's eyes fell upon me like two piercing blue swords cutting straight through my mind. I knew what was about to happen, I needed to say something but did not know what. I was desperately grasping for a way out but all I could focus on was its eyes… ITS EYES. I snapped to attention, "S-Sir, your eyes are the wrong color. They should be brown." was the only thing I could think to say. To my shock, it worked. The being lowered his hand and flashed me a smile that churned my stomach. The entity closed its eyes and when they opened, they were the correct shade of brilliant brown. "I could use someone like you… How would you like a job, Dr. Strauss?" its voice sounded amused. I didn't even have to think, "It would be an honor, sir.". "Good." it said as it lifted its arm once again making the twisting motion. I thought I was dead. But the idea was cut short by the loud crunch to my side as Thomas's body collapsed to the floor in front of me.

I stared down at my lover's dead body, the flood of emotion left me paralyzed. The new O5-7 let out an exaggerated sigh before saying, "Well, are you coming?". I looked up from Thomas's corpse, the entity was getting dressed, all 4 agents standing by his side. I stepped over Thomas and made my way over to my new boss, O5-7, Loki.