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03 October 2012 @ 11:07 am
Fic: The Poison Rain 8/14  

His mother was alone in the dining room, stirring the bowl of fruit and cream to pluck out her favorite berries. She glanced up then down again with a rueful smile to have been caught eating directly out of the serving bowl, when she had told him innumerable times not to do that himself. But she had seen his expression and frowned at him, asking in concern, "What happened?"

Thor drained his abandoned cup then told her everything he had seen. She listened, expression turning more grave and pensive.

He poured for her when he refilled his own, and when she took the cup from him, her fingers tightened on his in comfort. "It will be well, Thor. This is a good sign, I think."

"Good?" he repeated blankly. "Mother, that creature punished him for admitting he wanted to save you. How is that anything but ill?"

"He admitted it," she said. "That is significant itself. But when you say 'that creature'…" she trailed off, thoughtful.

"You do not believe it is Thanos?" Thor asked, incredulous. "Mother, I saw his eyes change, grow dark. For that moment it was not Loki there."

She raised a hand to stop his protests and explain. "While there may be a connection between Loki and the gate he created, to touch him I think Thanos would have to stand in the threshold of the gate itself, here or at its other end, and Heimdall would see the Realms bend beneath the weight. He has not. Nor do I believe it is necessary. We know Loki was in a weakened state in Thanos' grip for a time. That is enough."

"What then was it? Because, Mother, it was… unnatural."

"I believe it was the corrupting influence asserting itself directly. And that is good because it means what was once combined has begun to separate like the oil from the water. He is beginning to see it as apart from himself." She smiled and gripped his arm. "Do you not see, son? He is fighting."

He wanted to share in her enthusiasm but he could not, not after what he had seen. "I … do not know if that will be enough," Thor added heavily. "He sleeps now, overcome by the blow, but I glimpsed weariness. He has been using illusion to disguise his appearance."

Frigga nodded, unsurprised, but she had always been much better at seeing behind Loki's illusions. "It is a struggle, Thor. As if Mjolnir sits upon his chest but he still tries to wriggle free."

Thor remembered pinning Loki with Mjolnir on the Bifrost and the idea of some shadow pinning his spirit in a similar way was abhorrent.

"But," Frigga added in a stronger tone, "it is better that he struggles and helps us as much as he is able."

Thor sighed. "If only he could tell us the location of the shadowpath gate. But he only jests about that."

She smiled a little and shook her head. "I suspect outright treason is not possible."

"But he declares an intent to take the tesseract himself. Surely that is treason, if anything is," Thor protested, and then understood when Frigga lifted a brow at him. "Oh. It is a lie."

She nodded. "Enough of him knows he will take it to Thanos that whatever he says is irrelevant. And because the gate is his route to leave, he cannot reveal it, no matter how much he may want to." She shook her head and asked, "What jest did he make this time? The stables? I imagine he would enjoy that."

"No, he said the same, beneath my bed. It seems to amuse him greatly."

"Did he?" she asked, brow furrowing. She set down her cup. "Thor, remain here. I will return in a moment."

Bemused and curious, he nodded his assent but she had already hurried out of the room. He set down Mjolnir and decided he might as well eat until she returned.

Odin's work room was deserted this time, and the system was quiet as Frigga walked up to the central table and activated it, calling up the same map of the palace that Odin had been viewing. She rotated the three-dimensional, simplified map to show the east wing where the royal chambers were located. Then she started to smile in admiration, and shook her head, "My clever boy."

Then back in the dining room she swept through, ordering, "Thor, come with me. Bring Mjolnir."

He followed after her, swinging the hammer up to his shoulder. "Mother?"

"I have an idea of the location of the gate, and I want you with me to check it."

They went beneath the palace into less traveled areas, used mostly for storage and to facilitate movement if the outside was inaccessible during an attack. It was a tangled labyrinth of corridors and ancient tunnels and inter-connected rooms, some which dead-ended and some were too narrow for much use at all. This area was far from the Hall of Treasures and seemed unlikely place to sneak invaders in, but as long as Loki had left them signs to follow they probably would see no one all the way.

Thor looked around curiously with a fond expression. "Loki and I played together here."

She smiled, remembering how often they had come to her when Loki had hidden too well or Thor had hidden too poorly, or she heard reports from the servitors of practice swords clashing or boys howling or singing or other strange noises coming from the tunnels.

"Loki continued to explore the tunnels, long after you stayed above. He also used them to access his tutors," she murmured, hesitating at a cross-corridor and glancing up at the ceiling, picturing the map again, before choosing the left. "Did you ever notice that Loki always knows exactly where he is within a given space? It is an ability necessary for illusions, because he must know where to cast them."

"Yes, of course," Thor agreed with some confusion.

"He knows the entire palace very well. Do you know where you are, right now? Exactly?" she asked, coming to a stop. It was close by, she could feel the hum on her skin.

Thor glanced around. "East wing. This corridor joins the Path of Stars to the stables. They are that way."

She smiled. "Correct but not exact. It is also," she held up a hand to feel lightly at the air, her brow furrowed in concentration as she eased forward on tiptoe, while Thor watched her curiously, "six levels directly beneath your chamber." She made a sharp gesture with her hand as if tearing something away. "Beneath your bed, in effect."

And there, revealed, hanging against the wall of this seldom-used corridor was a distortion in the air. It rippled, shining like moonlight on the surface of a night-time sea, and then shimmered with dark rainbows that seemed to pull the eye downward and inside. As it grew quiescent again, it turned transparent until it was barely visible at all. Even without its shield, one would still have to be sensitive and close to it to know it was there.

"The gate!" he realized then he was doubly astonished when he realized what that meant. "Loki spoke truth."

"Indeed." She folded her arms and regarded the gate with great satisfaction. "I wondered when he used the same words whether he was trying to hint at something real, not merely taunting you." She moved nearer, and Thor paced her anxiously, as if he feared that Thanos would emerge from it as soon as she was within reach. She examined the floor and wall close by, knowing Loki would have needed a physical object on which to affix the portal to keep it open. Finding a small a metal disk on the floor, no bigger than her thumbnail, she pointed to it. "That is the anchor point. Break it and the portal should unravel."

He hefted Mjolnir as she moved away. She could tell he thought it was overkill - his great hammer against the tiny disk - and she smiled to herself. He would learn there was a reason she had not tried to do it herself. He brought Mjolnir down lightly. The hammer recoiled, hurling Thor down the corridor a hundred paces, and the entire palace trembled and rang like a bell.

Thor climbed to his feet, shaking his head to clear it. He cast a rueful glance at her. "I should hit it harder?"

"Better you should destroy the floor than let the gate stay," she advised.

He lifted Mjolnir again and brought it down, this time with all his strength.

A sharp crack of thunder split the air and a brilliant light flashed that would have seared mortal eyes. The air itself seemed to heave and then the portal dwindled, until with a sudden gust of wind and a last shake of the ground, it was gone. The tiles directly beneath the gate were powder, and the floor and side wall were riven with cracks. But it seemed most of the force had directed into the gate, and the damage was mostly to the surface, as the floor held with only a protesting creak when Thor eased forward.

She joined him cautiously, taking his offered hand for safety, and tested the energies while he prodded with Mjolnir at where the portal had been.

"Well done," she told him, stepping back, satisfied that the gate was unraveled. "I expect your father will be curious what we did, and I intend to take great pleasure in telling him."

"Mother…" Thor complained. "Is that not petty?"

She would not let that stop her, because while gloating was unseemly, satisfaction was not. "He was wrong that Loki had no care left for his family or his people. Beneath the pressure of Thanos' shadow, he had still found a way to tell us what we most needed to know. Your father needs the occasional reminder that he is not always right."

"You are more like Loki than I thought before," Thor observed, and she smiled.

"Oh yes, he is the child of my spirit." She caught the hesitation, flicker of doubt in his eyes, and she sobered and shook her head, giving a little sigh. "You two. Loki makes the same mistake. He believes that if I love you, I must therefore love him less. But love is not a cup of water, finite and bounded. I can love each of you, to the very depth of my being, and still have room for others."

"I know that," he reassured her. "I do. But hearing you speak as if you two have a bond that you and I will never share --"

She laid a hand on his cheek. "Dearest, I have a bond with you than he and I will never share. Let him have this one: that you and Odin Allfather are as alike as two sides of the same blade, where Loki and I are aligned in understanding."

His half-smile was chagrined, acknowledging the ridiculousness of his moment's jealousy. "I know."

Rising up on her toes, she kissed his cheek. "Good. Now free yourself of distress, my son. My disagreement with your father does not mean I love him less either, merely that I will take delight in informing him he was wrong."

Smiling so impishly he had to smile back, she stepped away and instructed him, "Go to Loki and tell him his escape route is destroyed. I hope the knowledge will free him of fear of retaliation or punishment."

He agreed and took his leave, and she went to find Odin.

( Part Nine )