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10 September 2013 @ 01:52 pm
Hail of Shadows 12/?  
Chapter 12




Malekith returned the next day, to force Loki to take more. "Mutton broth for something new," he chortled delightedly. "You want to stop? Tell us how to control the Casket."

Loki eyed the pitcher. He still felt ill from the first one, though at least the pain had faded for lingering weakness and nausea. But if more was inevitable, at least he could have some fun on the way to more misery. He groaned pathetically and begged in a hoarse voice, "No, please, no more…"

Malekith grinned and leaned closer. "How?"

"Well… No, I should never tell you this…" Loki's gaze went behind Malekith to find that Sigyn was now in the doorway watching. Good, that meant an appreciative audience.

Malekith seized his chin tightly. "Tell me. How do we control it?"

"Okay, okay." Loki delayed, hanging his head and taking shallow pained breaths. Then he raised his head and looked Malekith in the eye, to explain as condescendingly as he could, "To start, two Jotunn get together, maybe they have a drink or two, and then they go to their special private--" He didn't get a chance to finish before Malekith was hitting him again, but Loki was too amused by his little joke to care.

He gasped a laugh when Malekith paused. "You are a moron, Malekith. Have you not figured it out yet? There is only one person who can control it: me."

Malekith sneered back at him. "One? There are many filthy Jotunn brutes. Maybe one of them will be useful…"

"Oh, did I say any two Jotunn? I meant to say, one must be the king of Jotunheim or his blood. And since Laufey fell dead at my feet, I'm the last," he snarled back at Malekith with some vicious satisfaction.

Malekith took a moment to make the simple addition. "You are Laufey's get?"

"My compliments on your fine grasp on the obvious." Behind Malekith, Loki saw Sigyn's lips twitch in an irrepressible smile, though she wiped it away as soon as she realized he was looking at her.

As expected, Malekith forced him to drink the meat broth but left as soon as Loki collapsed into his chains, body tearing at itself again from the inside.

Again, Sigyn stayed. He lifted his head as she approached, and he wanted to say something mocking, but she spoke first, shaking her head, "I thought Loki Silvertongue was supposed to be able to talk himself out of everything. Yet you provoke Malekith deliberately."

Ah, you see the tactic, but not who it is aimed at. Excellent. His shoulders hurt too much for a shrug, but he lifted his brows. "Amusement. You do the same with him, sometimes, do you not? He is so easy to provoke."

To his disappointment she ignored the bait, intent on her own path. "Yet in retaliation he hurts you. Poisons you."

Pain surged within, insides twisting sharply, and he choked on the urge to retch again. He managed to say dryly, "I noticed."

"Then why?" Her jaw set as if he was being particularly stupid. "You know you will end up using the Casket to open the portal for my brother. It is inevitable. I have seen what my brother does, Loki. He gets what he wants, even from one as stubborn as you. Everyone can be broken."

That was the most amusing thing she'd said so far and he managed a laugh that didn't sound entirely as if he were being strangled. "You fail to understand. Whatever Malekith does to me is nothing compared to what Thanos will do to punish me for my failure to deliver the tesseract to him." He remembered his nightmares of the corpses in the great hall of Asgard and the towers burning. "I would rather enjoy your brother's dubious hospitality for all eternity than be Thanos' slave. Or see Asgard fall under his shadow." He managed a chuckle. "I hate Midgard and Jotunheim most intensely, but not even they deserve him."

She shook her head. "You say that now, but eternity is a very long time."

"True. But I will not have to wait for eternity, will I? This will all be resolved when Thor kills Malekith." He affected surprise. "You thought you were going to win against Asgard? Odin Allfather has the tesseract, you fool, he will crush your army, and Thor will hammer Malekith into the ground."

"But you're our hostage. They will not dare."

Loki snorted. "I would not wager what Odin Allfather and Thor will not dare. Daring is not a quality Thor lacks."

It felt ironic to use Thor's reputation to his advantage, having hated it for so many years. But at least there was finally a use for Thor having been a violent hothead for centuries. Something Svartalfheim knew well, as one of his most frequent recipients.

Loki watched her carefully, as he laid out the full weight of what foolishness Malekith had undertaken. A little worm of doubt began to gnaw at her.

She tried to hide it with a disdainful sneer. "Let it be on your head then. You get no sympathy from me, butcher."

She stalked out and let the door slam behind her. He bit his lip so he wouldn't call after her, to try to get her to stay.

But the cell felt very empty when she wasn't there, and he was left with nothing to distract him from the burning inside and his own worm of doubt.

Would anyone come to rescue him? Or was he, again, abandoned and alone?




The temperature dropped so that Frigga put up her fur hood and heated another stone, but the storm that raged on the heights was a gentle dusting of snow in this area where Loki had tampered with the weather, and mild enough that no one needed to seek greater shelter.

First light showed the clouds had thinned, and the sun was visible briefly at the horizon as a flash of fire, casting rainbows through the ice in all directions in a shower of color not often seen on this gloomy realm.

Sif watched the shimmering with wide eyes, turning her head with her lips parted, caught by some failure of speech.

Then the colors were gone as the sun vanished behind the cloud cover again, but it was a hopeful sign.

Frigga was about to ask Sif her thoughts, but a feel of a disturbance in the aether caught her attention. She glanced up, in time to see a high flash of light, as a tiny portal opened above.

A bird winged down leisurely. It was a large raven, black as pitch with bright yellow eyes, and Frigga smiled to see him, holding up her arm for him to land. "Munin. You bring word from the Allfather?"

The raven's talons grabbed her arm as his weight settled on her. With surprisingly dainty steps, he moved up to her shoulder. He cocked his head and demanded, his cawing voice perfectly understandable, "Nut."

Knowing that she wasn't getting another word from him until he had his treat, she reached into the pouch at her swordbelt. She was carrying shelled hazelnuts, meant for Loki, since she doubted Malekith was feeding him at all, and offered one between her fingers. Munin took it delicately in his beak. While he ate it, Sif and Volstagg gathered nearer to hear the news.

When he finished, he repeated the demand, "Nut."

"Message first," she insisted. "Then nut." Ravens were very clever, could flit between Realms on their own, and often behaved like toddlers to get their way.

Munin's head-bob seemed disappointed, then he fixed one beady eye on her. "War has come to Asgard," the raven said. "Elves come, pale and cruel, dashing themselves against the wall. Kurse leads them."

"Not Malekith himself?" she asked, frowning

"The Accursed One is not in Asgard," Munin confirmed.

Absently, she offered him another nut, disappointed by the news. She'd hoped Malekith would be leading the army, but as she had feared, he must have stayed with Loki to torture him into using the Casket. Her breath caught in her chest, a painful pressure in her heart, that he was being hurt. This was worse than hearing about his suicide from the Bifrost -- at least then, she'd held to hope that he had found a way of escape, and if he had truly died, she'd consoled herself that he'd not suffered long. But there was no consolation in this certain knowledge.

Munin nudged at her cheek with his head, looking for attention, and she smoothed his soft feathers with her fingers, letting the repeated caress soothe her as well.

"Freyr will hold the wall," Sif said. "The Allfather has the tesseract. They will not break through."

She said the words boldly, but her voice held an underlying question. She needed her own reassurance, being here where there was yet no battle, when her homeland was under attack.

"We will find our own war soon," Frigga said and turned to watch the Frost Giants, as another group arrived, suspicious of their own kind and hostile of the small knot of Aesir. But despite their wariness they walked, one by one, between the ice pillars to stand in the middle of the ice and look up to see a patch of cloudless sky the color of deep water.

The more she watched the Jotunn and the naked awe in some of their scarlet eyes at the sight of a sky some had never seen before, the more she was sure there would be war. Loki was her son, but to some of them, he had made a miracle.

"Aye, it is not an easy thing to be away," Volstagg nodded and touched the handle of his axe. "But we shall fall upon Malekith like wolves at his own gates."

Fandral asked, drawing near, "And if he threatens Loki in retaliation?"

"He will," Frigga admitted softly. "But there is no promise he could make I would believe, since I know he intends Loki harm. Therefore it's up to us to find and rescue him, or to defeat Malekith so thoroughly he has no choice but surrender and return Loki to us." But those, she knew, were the good outcomes to this quest, and there was another which loomed large in her fears. She turned her gaze to the portal Malekith had left behind as taunt or trap, and her voice quieted but turned sharp, "And should he murder Loki in spite, he shall find a mother's vengeance far more terrible than defeat."

"Malekith is mad, but not a fool, my queen," Volstagg said, patting her other shoulder.

"I hope so." But Malekith was vindictive and hated Loki, and she did not truly believe he would allow Loki to leave his captivity alive. Because he was mad, and he would not care about the consequences to his people if he exacted his vengeance.

Munin nudged her again with his head and interrupted her dark musings. "Nut?"

The hopeful question made her smile so she had to give it to him and pet him. He was a silly bird sometimes, but wise.




The next time Malekith came in, Loki fought against the dose, spitting it back out in Malekith's face to watch Malekith spiral into a rage.

He regretted it though when Malekith had his guards hold him in place and try to dislocate his shoulders. Luckily his inner power was too strong for that, but that didn't stop Malekith from exploding in fury and whipping him again.

At first, it didn't hurt. No worse than a slap. His flesh was tough and bound by the magic of his being, as an immortal's had to be, and he healed. But Malekith was a magic user, too, and his lash was cursed.

He didn't stop, as flesh weakened and the pain rose. Loki started to wish for the strike itself, as the brief shock of the blow distracted him from the sharper pain of the touch of air on his raw skin. Sagging in the chains, his body stayed in that room, while his mind fell into a haze, disconnecting itself. His awareness drifted, lost in a vision of ice that burned and fire that felt cold.

Until sharp words snapped his awareness back into his body. "Brother, stop!"

For one confusing moment, he wanted to protest to Thor that he wasn't doing anything.

With difficulty, he raised his head and forced his eyes open, to see Sigyn had grabbed the whip. "Malekith, you don't want him dead."

"We want him to suffer."

"He is suffering, brother. Take a moment and admire your handiwork."

Loki let his head fall again, to present the picture of abject weakness, hoping Malekith would stop. Just for a little while. Malekith's idea of admiring his handiwork involved raking his talons down Loki's bare back. Jerking in reflex to escape, Loki yanked at the chains and closed his eyes, trying to be somewhere else.

Malekith grabbed his chin and raised his head again. "The pain ends when you open the portal."

Loki's eyes opened. It took a moment to find his breath and his voice, panting through his teeth. "The Nine Realms … are under my … protection."

Strange. Saying that, he felt stronger.

"Your protection?" Malekith sneered and backhanded him across the face. "You can't even protect yourself, Frost Midget. The unwanted abandoned freak?"

That hurt somewhere deep inside, a knife to an already damaged heart, until he heard - as clearly as if she was next to him - Frigga's tear-filled, desperate voice trying to call him back as the pain had tried to drag him into Thanos' shadow: "I wanted you. Never forget, little one, you were wanted."

Wanted. Malekith's insults were lies.

"Mine. My protection." Loki got his feet under him again and straightened, gritting his teeth to force his muscles to work, despite the raw, bloody mess of his skin and the vicious squeezing pain within. "I am Loki of Asgard, and I will never open a portal to Thanos. Never."

Malekith hesitated then forced a grin. "So brave. So futile. When we thought this flesh was Aesir, we thought it would take longer, but you weaken, Frost Midget. Soon we will have you screaming. And you will beg us to open the portal to make an end."

Loki remembered a glass chamber his captor had thought so secure, not knowing his captive could walk out whenever he chose, and he sneered, "I have nevere begged anyone for anything, and I'm not starting with you. You are nothing to me-- a mad little boy with half the strength of his father."

Malekith lifted a hand to hit him again, then stopped. "Provoking us to kill you, freak? We won't fall for it. You heal, and tomorrow we start again. Sigyn, come."

They left him to shiver alone in the dark, poison still in his veins, as his skin healed slowly from the damage.

Unexpectedly, he heard a step outside and the door opened. The lantern on the wall flared to life, and he saw Sigyn had returned, alone.

An unreasonable flare sprang to life within him, hoping that she had come to free him. But she was carrying a cup, not a key, and he let his head droop again. More games, then. He was caught between waves of chill and heat already and tried to brace himself for more again.

She walked with soft, quick step before him. "It's only water," she murmured. "I promise."

Lifting his head, he let her hold the cup to his lips, figuring if it was a lie, it didn't matter. But it turned out to be water.

The lack of poison renewed his strength. "Such friendliness," he mocked after a single sip. "Are we friends now? Should I agree to open the portal because you're so kind?"

She snatched the cup away and stared at him incredulously, before giving a laugh. "You don't know how to stop, do you? Even when it's in your best interest to be polite to the only person helping you at all?"

That made him want to smile. But it'll be all the sweeter if I make you work for it. Instead he said snidely, "You are not the first to try to use kindness against me."

She threw the water on the floor, splashing his bare feet. "Is that more what you expected?"

"More honest."

"And you are all about honesty?" she mocked.

"I tell the truth, but few want to hear it." Which was, of course, itself a lie, but it always sounded good when he said it. But it was true that he told the truth and disguised it as a lie as often as the opposite. All a part of the game. But here his wits and his words were his only defense and only weapons, and he had to wield them carefully, and ignore the physical as much as he could.

"So tell me the truth," she requested, "This sensitivity to meat. Will it kill you?"

He decided he would tell her the truth; there were advantages to claiming yes or no, but the lack of surety seemed better. "My mother learned of it when I was an infant, and always kept my exposure low. I have not consumed any for centuries and never so much. It is a unique flaw, unknown in any history I have seen." He thought about it, realizing he had looked in the wrong place and feeling briefly irritated at Frigga, who had let him waste a summer searching Asgardian records; perhaps she had hoped he would find an Aesir with the same affliction, since it was unlikely that any Jotunn babies had lived long enough to reach Asgardian records.

Perhaps he should simply accept that he was different from anything else in the universe. Nothing like him had existed before, and nothing like him would exist afterward. Perhaps Odin had always been right to fear him. Such a singular creature must have a singular destiny.

Sigyn said, "So it might kill you."

He nodded once, not particularly disturbed by the idea. "It might. Eventually."

Her face didn't give away whether that was useful information to her, or not. He had made it clear enough that dying held no fear for him, so they couldn't hold that over his head in threat, but if he could die of it, then Malekith risked the Casket slipping through his fingers.

"I know you await something. But Kurse has Asgard under siege; they cannot come. Even if they could, no one will find you here. So what do you wait for?" she demanded.

He dared not react to that news that Kurse had besieged Asgard and dug his fingernails into his palms to keep control. It was no more than he had suspected, knowing Odin would lack the will to use the tesseract and wipe them out. Loki smirked tiredly. "I await my hand in Malekith's chest as I pull out his heart."

She froze, eyes searching his face. "You mean that," she said slowly. "You mean to kill him."

Which he did. But the honesty served a different purpose this time. "Did you think all this-" he rattled the chains, drawing her attention to them and the dried blood on his skin, "-would earn no retribution? Nay, lady Sigyn, I am sorry for your sake, but every pain, every humiliation, I will repay upon him."

"He avenges our father's death!"

"No, he wants to serve his master," Loki reminded her, to set the hook. "He cares nothing for vengeance, only to force me to open the portal for Thanos. And Thanos cares nothing about Durn or Svartalfheim, even less than Malekith does. Tell me, would you like to free your people of his madness?" Loki asked. "I will kill him for you, and you can be queen."

Her eyes widened in surprise at his sudden offer, and she smacked him across the face. "How dare you say I could ever betray my brother!"

"Oh, my mistake. I thought you cared about your people."

She glared at him and folded her arms. "I will not play your game."

He hid a smile. She already was playing; she just didn't know it. "Someone should. Because he's going to get you all killed."

"You are a liar," she spat at him. "You're trying to turn me against him and it will not work. I am Svartalfen, and my brother is the king. And I would never betray him."

She turned on her heel and stalked out, slamming the heavy door behind her.

Despite the vicious clawing of his insides, Loki found a chuckle.

"You should be careful making such oaths. The fates enjoy forcing you to break them."



Crossposted from DW There are comment count unavailable comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.