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30 July 2013 @ 01:55 pm
Hail of Shadows 1/?  
Hail of Shadows
Part IV of Understanding the Storm
Characters: Loki, Frigga, Thor, Odin, Sif, Fandral, Hogun, Volstagg, Malekith, Sigyn, Thanos
Rating: R (for some scenes of torture)
Wordcount 57,000 total, 3500 this part

Outside the boundaries of the Nine Realms, beyond the protective embrace of the World Serpent, waits a figure of nightmare and shadow, who leaves only death in his wake: Thanos the Eternal. Even as Loki vows to avenge himself on Thanos, dark forces are moving: in snowbound Jotunheim, a warrior is murdered to lay a trap, and in Svartalfheim a mad king makes a terrible alliance. Frigga knows only a united Asgard will withstand the coming storm, even as the fates seem determined to rip them apart.

Author's Note: So here it is, starting exactly 100 days from the release of Thor: The Dark World - aka the movie that will utterly joss this story! Both the Dark Elves and Thanos are in this, but are pretty much entirely a creation of my own brain, since I started this even before the teaser came out. Sigyn is also in this, but in a different take on her role. So, you gotta roll with the changes. :) Many thanks to [personal profile] hearts_blood for the beta. Everything left over is totally my doing. The story is complete, except for edits and formatting. And yes, this story is much bigger than the ones before, as events in the other Realms impact Asgard, but in its heart it's still Loki and Frigga's story as they continue to deal with the aftermath. I hope you enjoy the journey!

Previous stories in this series:

Understanding the Storm (LJ | AO3 | FF.NET)
Understanding the Storm: Prelude
The Poison Rain
(Tales of the Storm are also in this 'verse - they're short backstory vignettes of Loki's childhood)

Crossposted to AO3 and FF.NET

Loki fell.

The void stretched endlessly all around him -- nothingness binding him. Screaming without voice, the horror of it continuing on and on, pain seeping into his every cell until he prayed for death. Icy thorns settled into his mind, of regret and guilt and fury -- oh such rage to consume him and tear him asunder, until only madness was left to him.

Then he felt a welcome warmth, a light in the darkness that he fell toward. But it was not a light, it was a web, and within he was held fast. The more he struggled, the tighter the bonds. He tried to call on his magic, but it answered only as a pale flicker.

A dark shape approached, with footfalls like thunder and a voice like the bottom of the sea, "My pet. You have no tesseract, no Gauntlet…. You failed me."

The great head turned toward him, skin violet in the shadowy light. "Now I will play with you, traitor. I will break you until your only thought is to serve me."

"Never," Loki spat in defiance, even as a huge powerful hand seized his wrist and crushed it, grinding the bones until Loki cried out at the pain.

Thanos leaned closer, fetid breath in Loki's face. "You belong to me. You betrayed me, and so I will destroy everything you care about. Then I will bring you to heel, pet."

He reached toward Loki's face, and Loki flung himself back, trying to escape. The bonds slipped...

Loki opened his eyes, finding himself in his bed in his own quarters in Asgard. His heart was pounding and his wrist ached with an echo of the pain. Rubbing at it, he had to swallow and cast a spell to illuminate his room, both to chase away the shadows and to prove that he could.

It had been a nightmare. Thanos was not here. That had been a product of his fear, nothing more.

He rose, for a moment puzzled why he was in bed, since he thought he'd fallen asleep at his desk searching the crystals for information on how to unmake an Eternal.

But he stood, restless, curious to look for… something. Was it Thor he sought? Another scroll, perhaps. He would know when he found it.

The hallway outside the main door of his quarters, was deserted. As was the dining room, the corridor to the throne room, Odin's work room…

He couldn't find his family. Or guards. Or servants.

There was not a soul in the palace at all. Loki's footsteps quickened, until he was running, trying to find anyone.

In the grand hall, Loki raced through the emptiness of the long aisle, toward Odin, who was sitting in the massive throne atop the dais. Loki was glad to see someone in this strangely empty palace, and Odin could tell him what had happened.

"Father! Father!" Loki ran up the steps of the dais and raised his head. "Father--"

His voice died in his throat. That was not Odin in the throne.


Thanos was sitting in Odin's throne and wearing Odin's helmet. He grinned. "Did you think to escape, toy? Look behind you…"

He didn't want to see, but Loki turned. The great hall of Asgard wasn't empty -- it was full of corpses. In his mad dash toward the throne, Loki had run across bodies scattered in a bloody ruin of people he had known all his life.

Sif. Heimdall. The Warriors Three. Tyr. Freyr.

Odin lay at the foot of the dais, Gungnir pinning him to the ground through his heart.

Frigga lay crumpled to one side, her long golden hair trailing in a pool of blood, and Thor to the other side, his heart torn out of his chest.

All dead.

"No." Loki whispered, fear and horror tangled within him as he looked on the scene of devastation.

"No, no, no!" he cried out and raised his arms to cast something in desperate need to stop it, to stop everything. Not like this, it couldn't happen like this, not everyone, not death in Asgard. He would break Asgard to its foundations and have the Serpent devour them all…

A massive hand seized him by the neck before he could choke out a word. "Tell my lady I will lay the Nine Realms at her feet when you see her again. That is my gift," Thanos whispered into his ear.

As he felt the pressure tighten on his throat and he knew that Thanos was going to strangle him or break his neck, Loki awoke abruptly.

He was at his desk, cheek against the table before he snapped upright. This time he knew he was truly awake, but that settled nothing of the fear still rushing through him from the dream. He ran to the balcony to grip the balustrade and gulp cooler air.

The sounds of metal clashing of some fighters sparring with weapons down in the garden, smithcraft banging beyond that, and the horses and birds were signs of life, and slowly he calmed himself.

Dreams. Dreams within dreams. It was fear, nothing more. Childish, weak fearfulness of shadows. He was stronger than this; he had to be stronger than this or these dreams would come to pass.

Be more like Thor, less like yourself, he told himself savagely. Stop being a coward. Find the answer. Make a plan. Thanos will not frighten you when you know how to kill him. And you will, because all things that live can also die. All things that exist can be unmade.

Resolved, he turned and headed back to the archive.

* * *

From the higher terrace Frigga watched Loki striding purposefully through the outer gardens.

Though there were others on the grounds, he avoided them all, once by cloaking himself with invisibility as he approached the fountain court and the small group enjoying the cool beauty there, before returning to view once he had turned the corner on the other side. He did it without breaking stride, almost by reflex, wanting to get to the archives without interruption.

She frowned, at this proof of isolation. He had spoken to few people outside the family since his return and avoided the feasting hall. It was worrisome. Loki would claim it was for the best, and he might believe that, but she knew without more than a few slender threads to hold him up, he might still fall. She needed to tie a web to him so he would understand he was not alone.

She would plan the formal reconciliation ceremony. That would announce to the realm publicly that Loki was returned to his family again. Fortunately few knew the truth of any of his deeds, and it would be a simple matter to ignore it as rumor.

But the other, perhaps more important, task was to rebuild those friendships which had withered over the years.

Frigga's eyes found Sif and Fandral in the western court of sport playing handball while others watched and cheered them on. Sif was the key. The Warriors Three tended to follow her lead if Thor was not around.

Sending a message for Sif to attend her before meridian, Frigga returned to her study with the palace maester to plan the ceremony.

As the sun crowned the sky, Frigga waited in her garden and was pleased when Sif found her there. "My queen. You have summoned me?"

Frigga turned. Sif looked uncomfortable and Frigga smiled in welcome. "Sif, please." She waved her closer. "I wished to speak with you."

Sif avoided the flowers that seemed drawn to her curiously. "As you wish."

Frigga checked the sakken herb and plucked several leaves to send to the kitchen for Loki's plate. "You are aware that Loki is returned?"

"Yes." Sif nodded and added politely, "His survival is a miracle. You must be pleased."

"Oh, I am overjoyed. But far less pleased by what had been done to him in his absence."

Sif hesitated. "Then, the rumor is true? That he was… ill because of Thanos?"

Frigga sniffed the mint on her fingers. "Yes, Thanos plucked him from certain death and was able, in his weakness and despair, to set a sort of oily taint upon him to force him to acquire a certain treasure. The Allfather and I freed him of it. But --" She looked to Sif. "Thanos was not what caused his acts with the Destroyer when he attacked Thor and you upon Midgard."

Sif's eyes went to the door as if she wanted out of there, and plainly she had no idea what to say. "I see."

"No, you do not." Frigga's voice at first was sharp and then she softened into a sigh. "Nor did I until recently, when his angry words under the influence revealed to me certain truths that he has kept long hidden from us all. I will not divulge his secrets, but he had more cause to anger and resentment than is apparent." Sif frowned at that, and Frigga could see possibilities of secrets flit across her features, memories of rumors quashed long ago, but Sif would not come to the truth. "The Allfather and I are working on healing this breach, and thus I would request that you do the same, if you will."

"What would you have me do, my queen?" Sif asked, trying not to sound uncertain, but her eyes gave her away.

Frigga smiled. "Speak with him. Try to work your way to healing and forgiveness. He once held you in high regard, and it pains me to see you two so divided."

Frigga could see the temptation to resist pass through Sif's eyes; the idea that talking was a weakness. For her, standing in this garden was weak and not becoming a warrior. Sif had to fight to take her place at Thor's side as a warrior, when women warriors were not common. Frigga was not unaware of what Sif's opinion of her was: the queen was a sorceress, a healer, a mother. One who needed protection, not a protector. That Frigga was soft.

Inwardly she smiled and wanted to shake her head: Someday, child, I will show you my armor and you will see that the world does not cleave itself so neatly.

"He divides his time between the archive and his chambers, and he will not approach you," Frigga murmured, turning to the flowers again. "So you must be the brave one and seek him out."

"I will do what I can, my queen," Sif answered, bowing her head.

"Thank you, my dear."

* * *

Frigga hesitated at the doorway, for a moment content to watch. Loki had his head bent toward the loremaster of the archives, listening intently as the white-bearded elder spoke.

But as Loki listened, he shook his head in denial and before Wulfgar had finished, Loki interrupted fiercely, "No. That is unacceptable. There's another answer."

"Do you think you are the first to believe so, prince? The first to look into these mysteries?" Wulfgar challenged. "Allfather searched as well, in the springtime of the Realms. These are not new paths."

Loki frowned, fingers folded beneath his chin, his eyes like shards of glass as they reflected the light while he contemplated the depths of the archive. "There is an answer. But… you are right. I will not find it treading well-worn paths."

"Are you certain you truly wish an answer? By challenging an Eternal, you also challenge the Celestials," Wulfgar warned.

Loki smiled feral and sharp. "Good. They surely can unmake what they made."

"You would stand before them and ask they destroy their creation?"

"Ask?" Loki repeated, trying the word in his mouth and his smile widened as he rose to his feet. "Nay, never ask. I am far too impertinent for that."

"And full of guile," Wulfgar added, but it was said with some affectionate despair and Loki did not react in offense, merely chuckle.

"Oh, always." Loki turned and noticed her in the doorway with little surprise. "Mother? What brings you to the archive?"

Wulgar began to rise before she gestured him to remain. "Please, Wulfgar, no need. I wanted to speak with Loki, so I must ask your forgiveness and take our leave from your wisdom."

"Aye, my queen. But it has been good to see the prince back where he belongs these last few days," Wulfgar said.

Loki's footstep hesitated at the words and then he went back to Wulfgar, lifting the loremaster's cup between his hands and whispering. As soon as steam curled above the surface, he set the cup down. "Your tea is warm again, Wulfgar. I will return anon."

They left the archive and proceeded across the garden. She smiled at him and tucked a hand around his arm, aware of everyone who could see them and making a small show of their closeness and her approval. "That was kind of you."

"It would be, except I cooled it in the first place," he admitted, darting a glance at her.

She sighed, knowing she should've expected that. Some things had not changed. "Why?"

"He kept telling me it was impossible. I dislike hearing that. Especially after I told him I knew there was an answer and I would find it."

"Loki, pranks on the loremaster--"

"It was harmless. And I fixed it," he protested.

She would have asked why he bothered to do it in the first place then, but that was like asking why ice was cold. She glanced at him with disapproval but let it go. Small pranks were a better outlet for his impatience and annoyance than smuggling enemies into Asgard and accidentally starting a war. They started up the steps to the terrace. "Surely I did not hear you correctly that you intend to be impertinent with the Celestials?"

"They are powerful, but they are not gods," he said with a dismissive flick of his fingers.

"That is what the Midgardians say about you, my son."

His step hesitated, ever so briefly, but then he squared his shoulders and continued. "Nevertheless it is an option. And I know from the reaction it has not been tried before."

"No," she agreed. "It was not thought likely. Banishment seemed more promising."

Loki shook his head. "Yet it was temporary, a patch on torn cloth, not woven in repair. I seek a more permanent solution."

The guards saluted as she and Loki passed within the high corridor with its streaming colors of light from the windows.

She was not about to wager against him, but she held her doubts privately that it was possible. If Odin had been unable to wound Thanos and had resorted to thrusting him outside Yggdrasil to protect the Nine Realms, it was unlikely Loki could do more. "For all our sakes I hope you find the answer, but remember, it is no solution to exchange one great uncontrolled power for another."

"I am not that powerful, Mother," he retorted.

She glanced at him, smiling. "I was not speaking of you, you conceited creature."

He chuckled, and at the top of the steps that led to the family quarters, he stopped. "To where now?"

She led him back outside to her garden; it was a familiar place to him, but he paused on seeing the new addition of the strong, young beech with the bright green leaves and silvery bark that now stood in the center of the grass.

"I told you," she murmured from his side, "I planted it for you, when I thought you gone."

"It is… lovely," he said, sounding a little stunned by this proof that she had mourned his death.

She sat beneath the sheltering boughs in the soft grass and gestured him to join her. He knelt, sitting on his heels, and lifted his gaze to the tree again in some wonder.

"Every day, I sat beneath this tree," she murmured, saddened that he had doubted her, "and I attempted to scry for you, unable to believe in my heart that you were truly lost. And every day, I found nothing. I was inconsolable, but then Odin brought news of a miracle: that Heimdall had seen you on Midgard. Despite what lore and wisdom both said of falling between the Realms, you lived."

"Even though it came at such a price?" he asked, casting his eyes down to his hands.

She laid a hand on his knee. "Had Thanos returned you to us, there might have been alliance and forgiveness; there certainly would have been truce. You were a useful tool for him, but it is he who brings war, Loki, not you."

He nodded once, accepting her words but with some hesitation.

She decided to continue with what she wanted to ask him. "I need to know something. When Thor impetuously brought down the barrier and you struck him, what would you have done if it had been me?"

He blinked, having not expected this line of conversation at all, then looked down at the grass to avoid her eyes. "I'm glad it was not."

So was she, but that was not the question. "Would the darkness have struck at me?"

She could see the comforting lie rise up in the beginnings of a smile, but the false smile faded away unfinished. "I - I think, yes," he said after a moment, barely above a whisper. "I do not recall any intent to strike him. I did not realize what I had done until he lay before me. I intended only to strike myself, my own death as the path to freedom."

"To believe death is your only path…" her voice choked in her throat and she shut her eyes, trying to hold onto what she meant to discuss with him in the face of this horror. She inhaled a shaky breath. "By your own hand…"

His voice seemed dry but pained as well. "The doors to Valhalla were locked against me long ago."

Her eyes opened again, as she became suddenly furious, and she glared at him, even through the sheen of her tears. "You do not know that. You cannot. You presume. And so you surrender to despair, when if only you held fast, you would have the victory."

"I saw no path to victory."

"Because you refused to create one," she told him. "You had no faith in yourself, or in me. You saw no way out because you chose not to fight for one."

He bent his head, in acceptance of her censure, and considering the lack of angry protest, in acknowledgment that she was also right. He kept his eyes on his fingers as he wove long strands of grass idly together and said nothing.

"What would have happened if that blow you gave to Thor, had killed me?" she asked, more softly.

He raised stricken eyes to her, shaking his head. "No, I would never--" he protested, and fell silent when she wrapped a hand around his.

"No, you would not," she reassured him. "Not of your own will. I know that. But I fear if it happened in thrall or mistake, you would lose yourself in rage and guilt, and in your madness, you would become a force for destruction and death. I do not want that to be my legacy, my son. Not ever."

He hesitated, lips trembling before he shook his head. "Do not ask this of me," he pleaded in a whisper. "You-- without you, I know not what I would do."

But she saw it in his eyes: In grief and fury I will burn them all until, at last, someone makes an end of it and of me.

"Loki…" she started in protest but trailed off into a sigh. She had done this, and she could not expect it to change so quickly.

"No flower metaphor to demonstrate the transience of life, even on Asgard?" he asked, lifting a brow, teasing her when she didn't finish.

She had to smile at that. "I need not say it if you already know." But then she held his eyes. "You are stronger than you believe, but you must learn to stand firm against the winds of fate. I may not always be there."

He lifted his head proudly, as if he were about to declare an intent to stand alone, but reconsidered to speak truer words. "And if the storm sweeps me away instead?" He launched his woven blades of grass into the breeze, lofting it high with a gust from a whispered spell.

She coaxed the grass to twirl down and land in her palm like a tiny bird. "That is why we need others to catch us."

She handed it back to him, and he took it between his fingers with a flicker of a smile. Narrowing his eyes with concentration, he clenched a fist around it. She felt a flash of power and when he opened his fingers, the simple grass had transformed into a small spray of tiny lily-bells. "And only when we are caught can we become better than we are," he answered and offered the sprig to her.

To her surprised delight, she found the blossoms were real, not illusion. "Beautiful transmutation, thank you." She tucked it into her hair, winning a grin from him for how silly it must look stuck haphazardly above her ear but she left it there anyway. Not every mother in the Nine Realms had a son who could make her flowers, after all.

She kept the flowers in her hair, long after he had departed to return to the archive, hoping he meant what he'd said.

Chapter Two

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