In seemingly no time at all, you're standing in a darkened corridor before a large, ornately wrought iron door. The hallway feels old, filled with darker purpose than did the weapons vault.
"We must be quiet." Loki's voice is hushed. "There is a pathway to Midgard through these doors, but we'll need to get past the Valkyries." With careful slowness, he opens the door. Rays of golden light shoot from the handle to the hinges as soon as the seal is breached, and Loki darts inside, pulls you in after him, then painstakingly shuts the door. An oddly spiced smell reaches your nose. The faint glow of the door does nothing to alleviate the clammy atmosphere of the chamber you stand in. The ceiling is presumably high above; you cannot see it for the shadows. The walls are lined with large niches swathed in darkness, and the silence presses upon your ears. Every hundred feet or so, a weary torch mounted on the wall burns on, dimly illuminating the smooth stone floor. Loki gives your hand a reassuring squeeze and moves forward, gently tugging you along behind him.
You hold the hem of your skirt with your other hand and let Loki lead the way as you squint into the darkness, trying to make sense of the misshapen shadows and occasional glints of metal. Your eyes widen when you pass the first torch. Lying upright in the alcove is a woman, tall and armored in black leather and the most delicate chainmail you've ever seen. Her eyes are closed, her face unnaturally pale and perfectly still. There's a spear beside her, and she has several blades strapped to her person. She would look fit for battle, if she were only breathing. Valkyries. This is where they keep the Valkyries. You shiver. Loki walks faster.
You're starting to feel drowsy when the corridor ends and you're faced with a smooth, handleless door. Loki presses his palm against it and it slides open soundlessly to reveal a stepped circular room. The door seals itself as soon as you're in the room, and the sudden draft of cold, clean air makes you dizzy. In the center of the room, the floor drops away, leaving a circular pit of darkness. You point.
"What is it?"
"A path to Midgard, quicker than the Bifrost and more convenient for the Valkyries. When war broke out they were able to go directly to the battleground without having to go through Heimdall."
"The Valkyries- are they dead?"
"No. They are in a trance." Loki guides you down the steps and to the edge of the pit. "The air in the catacombs is laced with an ancient venom. Excessive exposure to it will cause a death-like slumber. It's designed to kill intruders, but if it fails then the Valkyries can be awoken."
"Who in their right mind would try to break in to a chamber, filled with armed warriors nonetheless, where simply breathing could incapacitate them for eternity?"
"Who in their right mind would consume three petals of a nightlily, knowing full well that she may never awaken?"
You stare at Loki. His eyes are serious, no trace of a smirk in his features. You take a breath and close your eyes, forcing yourself to speak. "I... I haven't... been able to sleep without- without dreaming- in a thousand years. Last night was- unbearable. I couldn't face the dreams again. And in that moment, when I picked up the nightlily, my life seemed a small gamble for something as empty as oblivion."
"Ah." Loki's voice is soft. He clears his throat, but doesn't raise his voice. "In response to your question, the catacombs aren't a single chamber. They're a series of corridors, each passageway branching off and doubling back multiple times before ending in a vault. Only the Valkyries know the way through."
"So it's a maze? Whatever for? What could so valuable that it would require more protection than everything in the weapons vault?"
"Ragnorak." The word hangs in the air for a moment, the gravity of its definition weighing upon you. Loki looks around warily. "There are monsters here, deep in the dungeons. Beasts, all of whom are fated to be instrumental in the coming of Ragnorak. Chained, shackled, buried- no precaution is excessive. If someone were to set even one of them loose, then the day of doom could very well be upon us. But enough of this. We've lingered long enough."
You peer down into the pit. "This leads to Midgard?"
"To be precise, it leads to a dank and inescapable cavern littered with sharp rocks in the deepest, darkest part of Asgard. But if all goes accordingly, yes, it will take us to Midgard." He wraps his arm around your waist and jumps.
Darkness engulfs you. Loki's body pressed against yours is all you can feel, the rest is simply wind. It rushes past you, threatening to tear away your very identity. But then you see a blink of light, and then another. And then you're falling past hundreds of small gems embedded in the sides of the pit, each softly glowing with a different hue. Loki wraps his other arm around you as you fall past larger and larger gems, and then the gems become a vein, running through the rock in maddeningly intricate patterns. You feel a strange tugging, and then a flash of light makes you close your eyes. There's a strong pull on your body, and Loki's grip on you slackens, for the briefest of moments, and then the pull on your body changes directions and there's a splash of water and you open your eyes to find yourself flying out of a stone well into muted daylight.
You're lying on your back, looking up at a blank grey sky devoid of stars. Loki is by your side in an instant, a smile on his face as he coaxes you to your feet.
"They cannot see the stars," you say, frowning.
"We've been here a mere five seconds and you're already criticizing?"
"Observing. Unlike some Asgardians I could mention, I don't intentionally find fault in everything. But they can't see the universe?"
"Not as we do, no. It's really no surprise that their vision is so limited."
You look around, noting for the first time the rolling countryside. "It's rather quiet. It reminds me of Vanaheim. The Air Faction's lands, anyways."
"You'll find that some parts of Midgard are cultivated, some remain wild and untamed, and still others have been shaped into cities. None of the individual areas can compare with the other realms in beauty, but you have to admire the mortals for their happiness. Midgard can be charming." He offers you his arm. "Shall we? There's a lively town not too far from here."
You link your arm through his, grateful for the heavy Asgardian dress in the chilled air. "Do they name their towns, the Midgardians?"
"Oh yes," Loki smirks. "They've taken our tradition of naming and run with it. I believe they've actually created a system by which they assign names, particularly for living creatures."
"So where are we going?"