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16 August 2013 @ 12:21 pm
Hail of Shadows 6/?  
Previously: (Also at AO3)
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five

(also, as a private note because it's fucking hilarious - the number of commenters after five who believe that plan is actually going to happen.... oh sweet summer child, you've obviously never read anything else of mine.)

Frigga found Thor first. He'd drained one flagon and was on his second, and looked chagrined when he saw he had no second to offer her, when she entered.

"Your father intends you to depart," she said, "so I have come to see you off as I wish in private."

He set down the flagon and strode to embrace her tightly. "All will be well. I will look after him, Mother, I swear."

"And yourself as well," she reminded him, smiling, and kissed his cheek. Then her smile faded and she said with more serious intent, "But hear me, my son. Should Thanos invade the Realms, you cannot fight him alone, no matter the provocation."

"Is he truly so strong?"

"Your father fought him in the flower of his youth with knowledge you have not and could only banish him from the Realms. Thanos will not be alone, either -- he always lures and beguiles others to serve him."

How narrowly they had escaped one of their own being lost to him. She still shivered to think of Loki caught in that cell, believing he had no escape from Thanos but death at his own hand.

Thor nodded, but he was thinking of something else. "Will you tell the same to Loki? He intends a confrontation."

"I will warn him, but he listens only to his desire for vengeance. In this, you must be the wiser."

"I will," he promised.

"Good." She smiled. "Thanos is clever and strong, but he cannot defeat the greatness of Asgard in my sons. You shall prevail."

He nodded and caught her hand in his to raise it to his lips. "Keep well, Mother. I will return, with Loki. I promise."

She watched him go, still smiling, and then left to find Loki as well.

Loki was where Odin had left him. She circled in slowly, as he stared at the tabletop, slumping in his chair. He did not greet her, or seem to notice her presence at all, until she stood beside him.

His voice was very low. "I … have never heard such words from him. Never. They come to the ear so strangely I feel they cannot be true, but I want to believe…"

She gripped his shoulder. "Believe," she urged. "They are truly meant. He -- and I - have great hope for you, Loki. You stand upon a better path now."

"And if I should still lose the way?" he asked. "If the path still leads to the same end?"

Her fingers lifted to caress his cheek. "The path has many ends. It always has; it was only you and your father who believed there was but one. You choose the course, and when you choose in wisdom and compassion, it will end well."

He nodded slightly, accepting her words and, she hoped, believing them.

"What does he expect of me on Midgard?" he asked. "They will not listen to me; nor will I have anything to say to them that Thor cannot."

"You know the reason: to face those you offended," she answered. "Those you harmed."

"I know they hate me already. I need not see it."

She moved to lean against the table and regard him as he glowered at the table, and knew she and Odin were right to send him. "You must go because you lack understanding of why you must."

His gaze flicked up to hers, narrowed in irritation. "Word tricks? I thought better of you."

"If I give you the words that does not mean you will understand them. You must come to it on your own."

'Is it so hard to see, little one?' she thought sadly. 'But then, true remorse is such a strange creature to you, you scarcely know how to handle it.'

She bent and kissed the top of his head. "It will be well, Loki. Help them against Thanos, and I think all will fall into place. You have a strong heart once it is made whole again. And that is all we want, my son." She smoothed down his hair and then moved back. "Are you prepared?"

He shrugged once. "I need only the Casket."

"Then I will give you the same warning I gave to Thor: you must not seek to confront Thanos alone."

Letting out a wry chuckle, he shook his head. "I do not seek to confront him, at all."

She doubted that but left off arguing. "Good. Watch over Thor. Thanos will try to provoke him into something rash, and you must be the wiser."

"I will," he promised, and his light eyes affirmed the promise. She smiled-- setting them a charge of each other tended to curb their reckless tendencies, as each saw the foolish behavior in the other far more clearly than in themselves.

"And take care of yourself as well. I could not bear to lose you again."

He stood and then, surprising her, caught her in a brief, but fierce embrace. "Thank you," he whispered.

She didn't bother to ask for what. "You carry my love with you always -- remember that," she reminded him and smiled. "Now, off with you. Make us all proud."

With a smiling, youthful backward glance at her, he left, headed for his chambers to fetch the Casket.

The smile fled her face after she watched him go, as uncertainty seeped back in. Was he ready for this? Was this the right thing to do? Would they get the outcome they hoped for, or would Thanos strike too soon?

My sons will defeat you utterly, Thanos. Of that, I have no doubt. If only they have a little more time.

Strange to find herself lacking in the one thing she had thought she had in abundance.

After a deep breath, she raised her head, and she was ready to be the queen of Asgard.

* * *

It was something of an echo of what the ceremony should have been, Frigga reflected. There was a crowd in the courtyard to watch the princes depart; there were fewer but still many, since Odin had not wanted this to be a secret.

The guards kept the audience back from the front steps, as the family emerged from the great doors. Frigga moved to the side as Thor and Loki both continued down the steps, and Odin remained at the top. Gungnir hummed against her skin. Odin had charged it with the tesseract, so that it held more power than its usual considerable strength, and the energy wanted to be free.

There were whispers when people saw Loki, wearing his fighting leathers and carrying the Casket of the Ancient Winters. Close by, the Warriors Three and Sif stood in a knot together, and plainly none of them understood not only why he wasn't bound for exile, but held an object of power. Sif's eyes tracked Loki warily, her hand hovering above her sword hilt. Her regard was intense enough Thor noticed and lifted his free hand toward his friends for them to relax.

Loki and Thor both turned to face Odin, as soon as they stood on the stone pavement of the courtyard. Loki kept a careful pace behind and to Thor's left and his head down, ignoring the watchers.

Odin announced, "Today, our sons go forth to warn our allies in Midgard of the terrible threat Thanos the Eternal poses to them. They go with our confidence that they know their duty."

Loki's jaw clenched and then, abruptly, with far less grace than usual, he dropped to one knee and bowed his head. Startled, Thor turned his head to see what Loki was doing, but joined his brother, kneeling beside him. That caused another round of reaction in the audience, this one more approving.

Frigga was also surprised, both because it had not been planned, and because it was something Loki would not have done of his own volition before. He hated humiliating himself, ever, and she suspected that, whatever he might say, Loki had sabotaged the ceremony to avoid kneeling to both Odin and Thor. But perhaps he finally understood that the symbolism of amends was important in itself. Or at least he was clever enough not to let regicide remain the people's last image of him. Odin gave a small approving nod and came down the steps to rest a hand first on Loki's head, in an unmistakable gesture of forgiveness, and then Thor's.

"Against Thanos, Asgard can have no stronger protectors," he declared. "Return wiser and in victory. Rise, my sons, you shall not go to another Realm on your knees."

Both stood as Odin returned to the steps. He held Gungnir aloft, calling lightning and wind, to sweep about the courtyard, before a brighter flash struck, slicing the air asunder and grabbing Thor and Loki up and hurling them away.

They were gone and Odin ground his spear against the stone, and for a moment, he glared out at the gathering as if daring them to object to what he'd done.

No one did, though Frigga saw confusion. But she saw also thoughtful curiosity, especially when Volstagg's gaze met hers. He knew there was more to the tale than the family had revealed.

But ultimately, the king had decided and it was over, so the crowd dispersed. No doubt they would gossip and try to understand, but the interest would fade in time.

She returned inside to attend to her other duties, and let Odin handle those brave enough to question him.

They arrived in the frigid wasteland of Jotunheim in a flash of light and a flurry of swirling snow. As it settled, Thor looked around warily, Mjolnir ready, in case they had been seen.

But it seemed the Frost Giants were not close, and Thor saw or heard no sign of any approach. When he was satisfied there was no open threat, he faced Loki, intending to praise his surprising choice to kneel to the king, but Loki was looking toward the ruined city with an odd, distant expression on his face.

"Brother?" Thor asked softly.

"Wondering what my life would have been if I had been born… right," Loki murmured. "Like one of them."

It pained Thor that Loki thought he had been born wrong. He closed his free hand on Loki's slender shoulder. "I am glad you are who you are."

Slanting a look at him, Loki rolled his eyes. "You are the most appallingly sentimental idiot. But I suppose it's part of your charm."

Thor grinned and ruffled his hair, provoking a very undignified yelp and Loki's elbow in his side. "Get off!"

Thor's chuckle deepened to a laugh when Loki tucked the Casket into the aether so he could free both hands to smooth his hair. Loki glared at him darkly for laughing. "Mannerless oaf."

Thor had to laugh at that, too. It felt so good to have his brother back at his side, insults and all. "Come, let us find your gate and be gone from here before night falls."

"Yes. My eagerness to get to Midgard is without measure," Loki retorted dryly, but as he turned, something drew his attention. He stopped and then rushed forward, spying a blood spattered trail across the snow.

Thor followed, and stopped where Loki did at the top of a low ridge, to stare in appalled dismay. There was a Frost Giant corpse in the snow. He looked diminished, his great strength and size availing him nothing against whoever had struck him down. Ragged pieces of armor still hung on his frame and his bluish skin stood stark against the snow, marred by the gaping wound in his belly. A spray of scarlet blood colored the snow and his entrails stretched out to one side as if something had pulled them out, and his face had frozen on a look of torment. He held a long-handled axe in his hand, its head unbloodied as though he'd been unable to strike a return blow before falling.

"He died slow, in fear," Thor observed, uneasy at the strange feeling of pity in his chest.

"This was no creature looking for food, only for cruel sport." Loki's hand now held one of his daggers as he looked around warily. "Who killed him?"

"One of his own?" Thor guessed. "A battle amongst the tribes?" There were no prints in the compacted, icy snow to hint at what manner of person or creature had done this.

Loki shook his head. "They would not leave the weapon."

Thor turned to look at the ruined city. Among the shadows, were there hostile red eyes watching them? "Ambush and murder, then. I wonder if the murderer watches us. Someone does, I think."

Loki's gaze followed his and he didn't answer for a moment.

"Loki?" Thor wondered, concerned as Loki glanced at the corpse and then back to the city, troubled. "What is it?"

"The air feels chill and wrong," Loki murmured. Thor would have made a jest about the air on Jotunheim always being chill and wrong, but Loki's tone meant that something was more ill than usual. He lifted Mjolnir in readiness, as Loki suggested, "Let us not tarry." He abruptly walked away, ordering in an aside, "Find the gate. The anchor is a spherical piece of obsidian the size of my fist. I will build the portal."

"Very well." Thor thought that seemed reasonable. "Tell me its location."

"You feel nothing? How is it you are their trueborn son and you have the sensitivity of a mushroom?" Even Loki's mockery seemed more reflexive than true, as he glanced around uneasily. He moved a few paces to his left, to find the center of a roughly circular and flat snow-covered area unmarred by stone or touched by the blood, put his back to the city, and planted his feet. Taking out the Casket and holding it in both hands, he shut his eyes as the power began to swirl, utterly refusing to give Thor the least assistance in where to look despite his own desire to leave.

The chiding words struck Thor as the impetus they were meant to be, but instead of retorting and possibly interrupting, he turned away. He had seen Loki's gaze flicker to Thor's left, and so Thor stomped off in that direction to look for the shadowpath gate. This sorcery was no expertise of his, but he had been near enough to the one in the palace to know what its presence should feel like.

He started to quarter the snow, concentrating on trying to feel for the portal while also keeping an eye toward the apparently abandoned city. There was a sense at the back of his neck as if red eyes were staring at him, but no matter how hard he looked, the broken towers and shadows remained empty.

Where were they? It hadn't taken long for them to notice the invaders last time, even if they hadn't confronted Thor's group until Thor had forced it. Had that fallen Jotunn been only one of a wider war, fighting to claim Laufey's throne?

Because we did that, he realized, looking at the fallen towers. The Frost Giants had never repaired the city after the war, their numbers and perhaps their will broken. Perhaps Laufey especially, Thor realized. With his people defeated, his once great city ruined, his only known heir born tiny and weak, and his Casket stolen, Laufey must have felt cursed, but instead of going mad with vengeance, he had retreated into defeat.

Thor glanced at Loki, who was murmuring under his breath, his form shining in the light streaming from the Casket. His expression was taut with the effort, and his fingers gripped the Casket. His hands and face seemed bluish, though still not fully revealed, but neither that nor the shimmering portal building before him was what made Thor gape.

Beneath Loki's feet the snow was re-crystalizing and turning into clear ice, in a widening lake. The winds diminished, and more astonishingly the clouds above opened, a growing round window to reveal silvery stars against the pure black of the void. The power spread outward, uncovering the stones as the ice reared up and crashed like waves on the larger boulders, leaving delicate sprays like the finest spun glass. The rainbow shimmer of the swirling energies reflected in the ice, as if it was another kind of Bifrost. The sight captivated Thor, amazed at the growing beauty.

Was this what Jotunheim had looked like once? More ice and gleaming light, and less snow and shadow? Or was Loki doing that, combining his Asgard learning with his Jotunn power? However it was happening, it was beautiful and he couldn't wait to compliment Loki and watch his reaction, recalling how stunned Loki had been at Thor's appreciation for his ice flower.

This portal seemed quite different from the near-instantaneous process the tesseract had allowed them to use to get home from Midgard, and since it seemed that it would take Loki a few more minutes, Thor turned away and kept looking for the shadowpath gate.

There still seemed be watchful eyes in the shadows of the ruins, pricking like a burr in Thor's back, and his grip shifted uneasily on Mjolnir's handle. He wished the Frost Giants would show themselves, but with all the power visible around Loki now, perhaps they thought better of confrontation.

But then he felt something aside from the creepy hateful staring, like a hum against his skin and realized he was feeling the gate. He started to inch his way toward it, concentrating on following the slender thread, when Loki suddenly let out a sharp cry.

Concerned, and guilty that he hadn't been watching Loki's back, Thor whirled, hammer ready. "Loki!"

His brother was recovering his step after stumbling backward. "Fangs of Fenrir, what was that?" Loki demanded furiously and shook his head as if to clear it. He scrubbed a hand across his face and through his hair.

"What happened?" Thor called to him.

Loki frowned at his portal, where the shimmer had been replaced by a strange swirl of darkness and lightning flashes within its boundary. "This place … it feels different," Loki answered. "The power should all work in harmony here, but does not. There is a taint not present before and it fights me. I dislike it, brother. Hurry." Then he frowned at Thor. "Why are you standing there? Do you truly feel nothing at all? Go there!" He gestured fifty meters to Thor's right side.

"I feel it here, close by. Are you certain you recall the location?" Thor called back.

"Of course I am certain!" Loki snapped back, offended. Then his eyes widened and flicked about in alarm, sensing or realizing something which Thor did not, not yet. "Thor, we need to go. Now!"

Thor did not question. He might not always trust Loki about some things, but in battle, he did absolutely. Something was wrong. Thor threw Mjolnir to rush back to Loki's side, prepared to battle Frost Giants or whatever else it might be.

He landed, expecting to slip on the icy surface or for it to crack beneath him, but neither happened. He raised Mjolnir prepared to battle and give Loki more time to fix the portal.

But he saw nothing, except for snow falling lightly outside the touch of Loki's power.

About to turn his head and frown at Loki, the sound of a single pair of hands applauding rang across the snowy plain, drawing his attention to a low ridgeline to the west. Standing atop it, lit by a halo of bluish foxfire, stood Malekith, king of Svartalfheim. He glared down at the sons of Odin in hatred as he clapped slowly.

"Malekith," Loki spat in disgust. "I should have known."

Malekith looked the same as their last encounter, if even more haughty. His ears were large and pointed and his colorless eyes seemed to glow with a feral light in permanently half-shadowed but pallid face. He wore black and silver armor, and a black helmet over his long white hair. But Malekith was no warrior; like Loki, he was a sorceror, and a powerful one.

At first Thor wondered how Malekith had reached another Realm with the Bifrost broken, but of course he had built the other portal that Thor had felt. He glanced toward the city where the feeling of watchful eyes had ended after Malekith had revealed himself - now the ruins seemed desolate and abandoned. Yet Malekith would not be here alone. Why were the Frost Giants not fighting him and any others with him? Had he slaughtered them all?

Malekith flickered and disappeared before reappearing twenty meters in front of them. Thor, used to Loki's illusions, knew that Malekith might not be there at all, though Loki threw his dagger as if he was.

Malekith flicked his fingers and sent the dagger spinning away into the snow before it reached him. "Forget us so soon?" Malekith sneered. "But here you are, little Asgardian princelings. So far from home. Fallen so neatly in our trap."

Trap? How could it be a trap when they had a portal at their back? Thor cast a glance over his shoulder and saw the portal was now a shining, rippling barrier. Malekith's laughter was a shrill wail, and somehow he sounded even more mad than he had before.

Loki ignored him to murmur urgently to Thor, "When I counterspell and open it, you must warn them of his treachery."

But Thor let the words pass unheeded, because he would never leave Loki to battle alone. There was no end to the hatred that Malekith felt for Loki. "Loki, no…"

But Loki ignored the protest, taking two steps forward with the Casket. "You seek to challenge me here, Malekith, while I hold this? You are a fool."

Malekith giggled, and the sound made Thor shudder in revulsion. "Who knew you would have to come here to close your shadowpath gate? We did. Who knew you would come with that as a gift from your precious Odin Allfather? We did. But who earned the vengeance of the most powerful being in all of creation? You did, the Littlest Frost Midget." His chortle grew to a full mocking laugh at Loki's look of horror that his secret was now in the open.

"How--?" Loki whispered.

"He is my brother, even so, Malekith!" Thor threw Mjolnir, furious at the white-faced shock on Loki's face. "We brought you down once, we will do so again."

Malekith wasn't there, but when he reappeared, Mjolnir nearly got him on its return, but Malekith blinked away at the last moment. And in anger at the near hit, he gestured with his hand.

Loki reared back with a cry as if the gesture had struck him in the chest like a knife blade. He straightened, shaking it off. "Your father was even easier to kill than my own," Loki snarled and, like a viper rising, energy burst out from the casket just as Thor held up Mjolnir and called lightning on him.

Malekith evaded both, teleporting out of the way with a chortle, as the thunder crashed all around. But it was distraction enough because the barrier in front of the portal exploded in a flash of light as Loki tore it away.

"Thor!" Loki cried. "Tell them, he is in league with Thanos!"

Thanos. The ice now seemed to form inside Thor, rather than be outside. If Malekith was in league with Thanos, then Thanos had the help into the Nine Realms he'd wanted. And the Svartalfar would be his new army to attack Asgard.

"Thor, go!" Loki ordered, casting another spell that hit something and rebounded back on them. He held up the Casket to avert his own spell and the energies exploded against the shield Malekith was holding on them. Loki gasped as if hit again and staggered to one knee. "Curse him, he's trying to close it! Go!"

"We will battle him together," Thor declared, pulling him up to his feet with a hand under his elbow. Mjolnir passed beyond the magic shield's boundaries and returned to him, but struck nothing. Malekith was hidden by illusion.

"We are shielded, you moron, they cannot know unless you go!"

"Together," Thor refused.

"Oh, so touching," Malekith mocked. His voice echoed across the bare reaches of snow from all directions. "The brothers want to suffer together. And die. We will send your heads to Odin Allfather and he will know our father is at last avenged."

"Never! Show yourself, coward!" Thor hurled Mjolnir again, targeting the last location of the voice, even though he could see nothing. Beyond the reach of Loki's spell, the snow was falling heavily now, providing more cover to their enemy.

But a second attacker moved into view on the stony ridge - a large figure in heavy armor who was clearly not Malekith. At first Thor thought it was a Frost Giant, though short, but then Loki identified him with a snarl, "Kurse!"

Kurse, like Thor himself, was a powerful warrior, and he'd grown more powerful in Malekith's service, assisted by some sort of magical enhancements that made him more of a challenge. Thor knew he was going to have to keep Kurse away from Loki. He clenched his jaw and spun Mjolnir at his side, grimly determined to take Kurse down quickly.

Malekith attacked again. A bolt of energy smashed down from the heavens, and Loki's defense split the bolt and drove both into the ground ahead of him. They turned to ice on impact, forming into towering columns.

But Kurse was coming, and when Thor threw Mjolnir at him, he parried with his spear. The impact drove him back, but not to the ground, and he kept coming.

Loki could not be using half of the Casket's actual power. Why was he holding back? "Loki, use it! Take them both!" Thor cried.

"You stopped me the last time I tried to destroy them all! Make up your mind!" Loki yelled back, and Thor realized he was fighting the Casket itself, to keep control. He couldn't unleash it without destroying Jotunheim.

Loki clenched his jaw, as his eyes glowed with a fell light. "The portal!"

Thor glanced backward, seeing the portal was sparking as if Malekith was attacking it, trying to close or shield it again.

Loki took advantage of his distraction and made his move. "Thor, go!" Loki flung a hand out, and an invisible fist punched Thor off his feet and right at the opening. He shouted in protest, but Mjolnir crossed the event horizon of the portal, pulling him in.

But the moment cost, as Loki fell backward onto the ice, Casket tumbling from his grip. The last Thor saw was Malekith, laughing in glee, as he appeared at Loki's side, and slammed his boot on Loki's chest.

"LOKI! NO!" But the portal cared nothing for his denial or his distress and sucked Thor inside, as he yelled Loki's name.

The transition was wrenching, as frigid tendrils wrapped him in coils and squeezed before hurling him out the other side.

Crossposted from DW There are comment count unavailable comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.
Rayrirenec on August 17th, 2013 06:04 am (UTC)
Slanting a look at him, Loki rolled his eyes. "You are the most appallingly sentimental idiot. But I suppose it's part of your charm."

Thor grinned and ruffled his hair, provoking a very undignified yelp and Loki's elbow in his side. "Get off!"

Aww! I did love that bit.

With his people defeated, his once great city ruined, his only known heir born tiny and weak, and his Casket stolen, Laufey must have felt cursed, but instead of going mad with vengeance, he had retreated into defeat

And this bit shows his growth.

And, gah! Noooooo! Excellent chapter. :)

Edited at 2013-08-17 06:05 am (UTC)