The Watcher has a terrible morning in Marvel’s new What If… Loki Was Worthy

The Marvel multiverse is going literary.

In a new series of What If…? books that leave the comics behind, authors from across the genre spectrum will crack their knuckles and mess with the comic publisher’s continuum of heroes and villains. First up: What If… Loki Was Worthy? from Madeleine Roux (the Asylum series), a novel that finds Thor dead, New York in flames, Tony Stark on a warpath wielding Asgardian tech, and Loki banished to Earth, enduring a life of “boxed wine, instant noodles, and some sort of regional performance troupe known as the Buffalo Bills.” Loki did an oopsie, and Roux’s book explores whether he’s worthy enough to make things right. Valkyrie will be along for the ride.

Before What If… Loki Was Worthy? hits bookstores and other outlets on April 2, Polygon has a piece of the puzzle to share: the story’s prologue, which whisks readers into a particularly anxious moment in the life of the Watcher. If you thought running out of coffee was a five-alarm start to a morning, read on for how things could be so much worse.

It had been exactly nine hundred and sixty-seven years since the Watcher had detected something approximating surprise scratching at the edge of her consciousness. To be the Watcher was to become an observer, a stranger, not just to events but to emotions. Surprised, she thought, how odd, first amused, and then quickly alarmed. She twisted away from her idle musings and toward that vague suggestion of a feeling. Surprise. What could it mean? Was it a prediction? An omen? A warning?

What If... Loki Was Worthy book cover featuring silhouettes of Loki and Valkyrie fighting a Destroyer inside an outline of Loki Image: Random House Worlds

She had been meditating on loss, and the irony of the Watcher losing even the experience of loss itself. The Watcher ruminated on this thought for some decades, self-indulgent, she knew, but her job was to exist and monitor, not to interfere. It then occurred to her that perhaps the itching scratching nagging surprise had been there for a long time, lingering at the fringes, like an anxious, bouncing child waiting for her mother to notice her presence.

Have I been contemplating, or have I been asleep?

The unfathomable number of universes within the Multiverse available to her sight unrolled before them, spreading out in an arc, as pleasing and orderly as a magician fanning out their cards. Worlds abundant, desolate, oceanic, volcanic, utopian discordant, thriving, and ravaged could be seen, each as colorful, strange, and mysterious as those same magician’s cards. No, not mysterious; nothing was unseen or unknown to the Watcher. She had assumed that when the mantle landed on her shoulders, such omniscience would bring peace, and perhaps for a moment (a true moment to us, a mere millennium to her), it did. Such things faded. As all things did. As all these worlds visible to her eventually would. The Watcher searched, allowing this sense of “surprise” to guide her. Where was it emanating from? And why was she now filled with a sinking sensation, one that suggested her attention was overdue?

This is meaningless — I cannot be surprised. I know everything that has happened, will happen, or is happening. And yet… And yet.

Her mind scanned the cards, searched the infinite, and a warm surge traveled through her, beginning at her fingertips and ending at her scalp. As her eyes closed and the seeking continued, shocking bursts of color burst against her eyelids, followed by a scent.

Familiar. Comforting. Impossible.

Cinnamon and then something rich and biting that billowed toward her on a cold morning breeze. A bell tolled. A chant grew, magic words, sacred words. “Day leaves grow surely. Day leaves grow surely…

A being this powerful was not accustomed to feeling powerless, yet something gripped her. The scent. The bells. The chant. Before the Watcher’s eyes, the deck of universes, of worlds, sharpened into individual rectangles, each decorated with symbols and numbers. A memory tugged at her from beyond her own existence. Inconceivably, it predated her. How? Her hands hovered over the worlds that had become, quite clearly, cards. Cards covered in symbols. As if magnetized, her hands hovered here and there, drawn, pulled, and finally anchored over one card.

The Watcher’s hands pressed down on the card; her senses were overpowered once more. Images flashed across her mind rapidly — a flowering tree suddenly withering, covered in blight and rot. The tree vanished into dust, replaced by a fall of chalices that tumbled and clinked, clattering down onto a floor littered with bloodstained swords.

This was a memory, she knew it with total certainty, yet it couldn’t be. Nothing came before the Watcher. Gentle, papery hands took hers, drawing her attention upward, and there the Watcher saw a shadowy presence presiding over this mess of cups and swords. The stranger gazed down at her, and the Watcher sensed she was not alone. Yes, this presence had taken her hands, but there was someone standing beside the Watcher, too, their youth and vitality as strong as the wild, brazen flash of a solar nebula birthing a sun.

As abruptly as the images and strangers had come and taken hold of the Watcher, they were gone. Alone once more in the neutral, uninterrupted wilderness of space and time. She was alone, but not empty-handed. The Watcher had not felt her breath hitch or her pulse race in eons, and by and by, perhaps over a week’s time, she returned to herself. When she did, she still held the card, the one that radiated a single, electrifying emotion: surprise.

Something is about to change, thought the Watcher. Something is about to break.

A tree flowered on the card floating above her palms. Yggdrasil, the World Tree. It had not yet withered and imploded as the unsettling visions foretold, but there, almost imperceptible, there on a high, high branch, a green leaf shivered and yellowed and clung precariously to its home.

Yggdrasil could mean many things, but the Watcher, as she so often did, had a hunch.

So many worlds, so little time. Infinite possibilities, creating infinite realities. Long have I watched the trickster god sow chaos, why would his thirst for bedlam draw my attention now?

The little leaf on the big tree on a card the size of a world shivered once more and began to fall.

Something is about to change. Something is about to break.