- Alternate Universe
This is a sequel to Families.
Okay, Tony had obviously not given enough consideration to how they were going to get to Nidavellir. The Bifrost, basically an Einstein-Rosen-Bridge, had at least in theory made sense to him. Loki and Vili had promised to explain the theory behind how they were able to travel between the realms at a later point but for now, it was giving him a headache. And he wasn’t just talking figuratively. He now had a lot more compassion for Strange and his trouble with magic after coming online.
Nidavellir itself was interesting. He what no idea how the surface of the planet looked like, as they had come out in a hall of stone under the surface. The hall was very high with huge columns throughout. Tony could not tell if it was a naturally occurring hall or if it had been hewn into the stone. Either way it was impressive. He could certainly understand why they wanted visitors to arrive here.
Two dwarves were waiting for them. Tony wondered if either Tolkien or Peter Jackson had somehow managed to come here or if Dwarves had visited Earth at some point within the last century. They were shorter than human though not as small as some depictions in children’s books made them out to be. If Tony had to guess, he’d say that if he were to stand right in front of one, they would just about reach his shoulder. They had a more stocky build and beards that reached their chest.
“Prince Vili, Prince Loki,” one of the dwarves greeted them. “And this is the Midgardian, Tony Stark, I take it?”
“I am,” Tony confirmed.
The dwarf looked him up and down. “Well, it seems Midgardians have a more reasonable height than Asgardians. I am Hanarr. I will take you to my king and his council.”
Tony figured he should probably not comment about the height issue. It didn’t seem to be malicious, in fact it seemed to be more aimed at the tall Asgardians.
They passed a few other dwarfs on the way through the halls but they ignored them, apart from some curious looks. Tony noticed that many of these looks were aimed at him. None of them were malicious, just curious. He couldn’t blame them, he was just as curious about them.
They reached another big hall, with many corridors leading off. A few dwarfs were standing around in a semi-circle to the side. As they came closer, Tony could see a dog made out of metal in the middle. It moved but the movements weren’t fluid at all. To Tony, they looked more like the way robots often moved in older movies, all choppy. Just as they passed the group, the dog reached the wall but instead of turning, it kept trying to walk forward, only to knock against the wall again and again.
Tony winced. If this was an example of their craft, then Loki and Vili had overstated their ability.
“Very nice,” one of the dwarfs standing around the dog commented. “Very lifelike.”
“A wonderful piece of work,” another added. “I wouldn’t know what to improve.”
Tony couldn’t resist. “The movement can use a lot of work and if it’s supposed to be lifelike, the processors need a complete overhaul.”
The dwarves whirled around to stare at him, not having noticed their approach, then glared at Tony. “Have care what you say, Midgardian,” one said. “This work was crafted by Prince Vitr.”
Tony winced. Great, he knew he shouldn’t have come, no matter how appealing it was. Not even arrived and he’d already insulted a member of the royal family.
“It’s an honest assessment,” Hanarr said. “That would be acceptable for an apprentice just starting out, for a master it’s an embarrassment. His lineage doesn’t change that.”
Their eyes widened. “M- Master Hanarr,” they stammered.
“I believe you are needed elsewhere,” Hanarr said. He waited until they had left, then turned to Prince Vitr. “And you, what are you showing this kind of substandard work for? This is far below your usual level of skill.”
Vitr shrugged. “I know. That’s the point. I’m trying to learn how to make an automaton like Gullinbursti but neither Ivaldi nor his sons are willing to share how they did it. I need someone to bounce ideas off, someone who won’t hesitate to tell me if I’m wrong just because of who my grandfather is.” He grinned up at Tony. “And I think I might have found someone.”
Tony couldn’t help but return the smile. He still remembered when he had been younger and many people had been trying to gain his favour by kissing his ass. “Well, I do have a day or two here. I could take a look.”
“Oh, very well,” Hanarr sighed. “(Name3), please take Prince Vili and Prince Loki the rest of the way. I will accompany these two to the forges and keep an eye on them.”
“I believe Mister Stark is not yet cleared again for working the forge. He was wounded in battle against Thanos,” Vili said. “I would rather not have to explain to his guardians why he returned more injured than he left.”
“I assure you, I am very familiar with young warriors trying to return to work quicker than they should. I will make sure he does not overdo it,” Hanarr replied.
The negotiations were going reasonably well, Vili figured. They had even brought to meet High King Modsagnir himself, the first of the dwarves. Odin had been forced to leave Nidavellir a lot more independence if he wanted to keep them making armour and weapons for Asgard. It now proved both an advantage and a disadvantage. On the one hand it meant that there were less hard feelings between their people they would have to overcome. On the other hand it also meant that they had not been close enough to the rest of the realms under Odin’s rule to want to be interested in supporting the rebuilding effort in order to keep the close relationship.
They all looked to the door when it opened without a knock or a servant announcing who it was. The automaton in the form of a dog they had seen early entered but it was moving a lot more smoothly than before. Next followed Tony Stark and Prince Vitri, both of them beaming with accomplishment. Hanarr was just behind them, his smile almost hidden by his beard.
“Grandfather, look! It’s moving properly,” Vitri called.
“I see, Vitri,” Modsagnir replied, smiling indulgently.
Vili’s eyes widened a bit. They had heard earlier that Vitri was a prince but they had not known that he was High King Modsagnir’s grandson, one of his younger grandchildren probably, since he had not played a role on the political stage yet.
“His code, was makes him act independently, will need some more tweaking,” Stark said. “But the groundwork is solid.”
“Master Stark was able to help Vitri figure out how to make it work,” Hanarr said. “I understand he has created artificial lifeforms before.”
“Not all of them have a physical form,” Tony said, “but yes, I’ve created five AIs.” He did not count ULTRON. Since Charles had undone Maximoff’s attacks on his mind and the investigation carried out by both the UN and the X-Men, he knew that ULTRON had not been his doing but an outside force who had simply taken the Iron Legion and assumed the name of the program he and Bruce had been working on. Vision on the other hand had been less his creation and more the result of magical and scientific elements coming together in a way no one had yet been able to properly explain.
“Impressive,” Modsagnir said. “We have been very impressed by your armour as well, all versions of it, not just the one you created to fight the Mad Titan.”
“You know about me?” Stark asked before Vili could. They had of course informed the dwarves that they intended to bring a Midgardian along but they had neither told him his name nor any other information, aside from him being one of Thor’s shield brothers.
Radswid, Modsagnir’s advisor, grinned wickedly. “We make sure to stay aware of what is happening in other realms.”
“I have seen your people on numerous markets in the different realms but I would have thought that you would draw too much attention on Midgard,” Vili said.
“You did not actually think that Asgardians and Vanir are the only ones with the ability to shapeshift, did you?” Modsagnir said.
“Or perhaps you thought we subscribed to that foolish notion that as a warrior race we should reject magic as dishonourable?” Radswid added.
Vili hid a wince. It seemed that the prejudice many Asgardians had regarding magic was known in the other realms. Personally, he’d always taken too much after his mother’s side of the family to believe that foolishness but he knew many, especially among the warriors, who thought that magic had no place on the battlefield. Asgard would have to change where the role of magic was concerned, partly because they did not have the power and influence anymore to take such a view without facing opposition, partly because most of their warriors had been wiped out by Hela and the survivors were either mages themselves or owed their survival to magic.
“So you have visited Earth?” Tony asked. He wondered if he had been right earlier and Tolkien or Jackson had actually encountered real dwarves but decided not to ask.
“We have, yes,” Radswid confirmed. “We’ve been interested in the advancement you have made, both your people in general and you in particular.”
“It is rare for us to find a kindred spirit in other realms, someone who is also both creator and warrior,” Modsagnir said.
“I’m not a soldier,” Tony pointed out. Again. He hated the assumption. He did agree that heroes should have to follow rules and have some oversight, like soldiers did, but most heroes weren’t soldiers and shouldn’t be treated and expected to act like they were.
Modsagnir just looked at him calmly. “I said warrior, not soldier. We are very aware that not all battles are fought on the literal battlefield. That doesn’t make those battles any less important.”
Tony found himself flustered by the respect the dwarves were showing him. They were not kissing ass to get something. Sure, they were interested in seeing what he and others on Earth came up with but from the sound of it, they could do so already. They didn’t need to butter him up. So did that mean they were giving their honest opinion? “Would you be okay with return visits?” he asked to change the subject somewhat. “I know a few young scientists who would enjoy and benefit from the chance to exchange ideas.” He figured Peter, Harley and Princess Shuri would love the chance to learn from the dwarves.
Vitri stared at his grandfather beseechingly, making Modsagnir laugh. “I believe my grandson is very much in favour of that suggestion, as well as the chance to get your input on some of his other projects.”
“Then let us return to formulating future relations,” Radswid suggested. “We are not interested in another alliance with Asgard. Frankly, it will be centuries until you have something to offer Nidavellir.”
Vili could not refute his words. He had figured the same already.
“We are willing to sign a non-aggression pact,” Modsagnir said. “We can also offer you assistance in building your new home when you have found a planet and a deferment of payment until Asgard is back on its feet.”
“With the understanding that all our work will remain our property until paid for,” Radswid added.
“You have our word,” Vili said.
“You misunderstand,” Modsagnir said. “Our works will be spelled so that they can be recalled by their creator if payment is refused.”
Vili and Loki exchanged a look. They would forget to mention this to Thor. He probably would not take it well that the dwarves did not consider his word or Asgard’s as sufficiently trustworthy. “We accept,” Vili said. Really, it was the best they could hope for, getting the offer to assist them even if they could not pay anytime soon. His grandson’s happiness seemed to have put Modsagnir in a good mood.
“Now as for Midgard,” Modsagnir said, turning to Tony. “A more formalized relationship between our realms would give both sides certainty, especially if we intend to exchange ideas and students. Would you take our proposal for an alliance to Midgard?”
Tony was taken aback. Hadn’t he just rejected an alliance with Asgard? And now they wanted one with Earth?
“As we said, we are interested in the advancement made on Midgard. Your work with Vitr today has shown us that we can benefit from an exchange of skills and knowledge, so an alliance makes sense,” Radswid said.
“I would be happy to take your proposal to the UN and to advocate for it,” Tony said. The details might take a lot of discussion but he didn’t doubt that they would ultimately agree. An alliance with an established planet or realm, as they called it, would give Earth a better position in any future contacts with other planets.
“And will you also come back to Nidavellir to visit?” Vitri asked.
“I would love to.”
Out of courtesy, Vili and Loki made sure to arrive outside the Institute and then enter through the front door. Charles and Erik weren’t surprised that Rhodey, Steven and T’Challa had all found their way to their office by the time the three travellers had made their way up.
“Welcome back, Tony,” Erik greeted him, ignoring his three fellow Sentinels and the way they were feasting their senses on him. He was doing much the same, if for slightly different reasons. He always catalogued his children with sight, hearing and smell when they returned from travelling, satisfy his instinctive need to make sure his family was alright. “Did you have fun?”
Tony beamed happily. “It was amazing. There was so much to see and I got to tinker in the forge with two of them.”
“In a way that wasn’t physically straining,” Vili hurried to assure them. “They knew not to let him aggravate his injuries.”
“Some of those metals are like nothing I’ve seen before. They said that I can study it when I visit again.” He looked at Erik. “You could come along next time, see how they feel to you.”
“You’re planning to go back?” Rhodey asked.
“Oh yes, Prince Vitri invited him personally,” Loki said.
“Did he?” T’Challa asked, voice strangled.
“Yeah, he’s one of the two I worked with in the forge,” Tony said.
“It does sound like you had fun,” Rhodey said.
“I totally did.”
“Would it really be okay for Erik to come along? Did he extend an open invitation or did he invite just you back?” Charles asked.
“No, it’s fine. We agreed that it to visits in general, especially for engineers or smiths, since that’s close to what they are doing,” Tony said.
“We will take our leave,” Vili said, “Thor is likely waiting already to hear how it went.”
“I can stay a bit longer however if you have questions about the document on magic I gave you, Stark,” Loki offered.
“We wouldn’t want to keep you,” Strange said, glaring at Loki. “I’m sure I’ll be able to answer any questions he might have.”
“Fair enough,” Loki said. He managed to keep it together until they had travelled back to Norway through a portal, then he started laughing.
Vili shook his head, though his lips were twitching as well. “You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”
Loki glanced up, a bit worried about Vili’s reaction. To his surprise, Vili looked amused and something almost like… affectionate. “A bit, yes.”
Vili laughed. “I could tell.” He sobered soon however. “Loki, in the meeting now, we’ll also discuss our next destination.”
Loki frowned, confused by his reaction. “I figured, yes. It’s the same thing we did last time.”
“I plan to go to Jotunheim next.”
He paled. “Jotunheim?” He gave him a pleading look. “Can’t you go alone this once?”
“I think it’s important for you to come along, to learn more about over heritage and to overcome to prejudices Odin failed to protect you from.”