Hail of Shadows
He was slipping, mind turning on itself, trapped in this too small space and devoured by the darkness.
Something shook him hard, bouncing his head into the wall. It was a box, not the nothingness again.
But there was no time to gather himself together, as the walls of the box collapsed, letting in a cacophony of sound. He flinched and tried to cover his eyes from the blinding light after an eternity in the dark, but his muscles twinged with pain, as his limbs gracelessly flopped to the floor. In the light, he saw his skin was frost pale and his nails were black. The power-dampening collar had stripped the illusion from his skin. In sudden panicked revulsion, he tried to call the illusion back, only to have the collar tighten on his throat, hand clawing at it to try to yank it looser.
He lay on the floor, trying to breathe, humiliation of his true appearance burning through him worse than the binding around his neck. Reaching for power to attack made it worse, and the collar burrowed into his flesh.
Malekith laughed in mad delight, the sound skittering down Loki's spine like tiny spiders. Prisoner of the Accursed. Get a hold on yourself or he wins.
Loki closed his eyes as he forced himself not to reach for power, until the collar loosened again and he could take a breath. Then, he sat up to see where he was.
Malekith's throne room in Svartalfheim, this was. Loki had never been here before, but it could be no other place.
It seemed a poor imitation of the grand hall in Asgard. There was a high ceiling and a huge throne up on a dais, but since they were underground, the space was lit only by artificial lights, some with the clear steadiness of power and others by the flicker of flame, but not enough to light the high vaulted ceiling to more than dank shadows. The side pillars were thick and graceless, carved in geometric patterns and bounded in iron fencing their lower halves. There were many dark elves in the hall, warriors in armor and rank, standing in rows.
The dais itself and throne were better lit, gleaming on the pale whiteness of Malekith's hair unbound and the scarred face of his. His great sword sheathed at his side, Kurse stood behind Loki, gleaming in his laughably ornate new armor.
There was another figure, hooded and cloaked, standing on the lower step of the dais, off to the side, who immediately attracted Loki's attention by his attempt to appear anonymous.
But then he saw that Malekith held the Casket of the Ancient Winters on his lap, and Loki gritted his teeth furiously. That is mine. I should have used it to rip you apart on Jotunheim, and if I get the chance again, I will not hold back.
Malekith saw the direction of his gaze and chortled, holding it up. "You want this, Frost Midget? It's ours now."
Loki pushed himself to his feet and smirked at Malekith. "It belongs to me."
"Kneel to the king," Kurse warned in a deep growl.
Loki scoffed, "I see no king. Only a worm that lives in the dirt."
Kurse struck, one gauntled hand grabbing him by the back of the neck and slamming him to the floor. It felt like getting hit by Mjolnir. I will peel that flashy armor from your body and then the flesh from your bones, Kurse.
Malekith laughed, as did many in the audience, and Loki clenched his hands, trying to stay focused on what was important. As he straightened, he eyed the distance between himself and the Casket. If he could get a hand on it, the overflow should break the collar, and he could cast a winter in this hall and kill all of them.
But it was too far. He had to play for time. But luckily that was one of his skills.
With Kurse's gauntleted hand on his shoulder to keep him on his knees, Loki lifted his chin to look at Malekith and chuckled. "It occurs to me if you had come to me just one year ago, we might have been allies. But you missed your window to invite me to join you."
"This is not an invitation to join us," Malekith spat.
"Just as well, I have had my fill of allies who are murderous lunatics." He expected Kurse to hit him for that and was not disappointed as Kurse clouted him to the floor. When Loki straightened again, he was a full body length closer to the throne.
Malekith sneered, "You are nothing."
"I am master of the Casket of Ancient Winters. You can caress it all you wish; it will never open for you."
"We shall see about that, Frost Midget."
Loki decided the term didn't really bother him - had he been raised a Jotunn maybe it would be annoying or hurtful, but as he was average stature for Aesir, it had no bite. He smirked back. "I can hide my skin if I wish, but alas for you, there's no illusion great enough to cover stupidity."
Kurse hit him again, but the look on Malekith's face was worth the slamming pain to his ribs. But Loki realized he had pushed it too far, as Malekith yelled, "Take him below! Teach him pain! And fear and respect!"
Kurse grabbed him by the neck, and guards fell in with them to force Loki toward an archway to the right side of the dais.
Loki shouted, "Who can respect a king who kneels to Thanos the Eternal?"
For a moment, as Kurse shoved him through the archway, Loki thought his counter-measure had failed, but then Malekith called for them to stop and bring Loki back.
Loki suppressed a smile and hung his hed so his hair fell in his face and let him conceal his gaze as he searched the nearby faces for reaction. Oh yes, that had been a surprise to some of them, and now Malekith had to control the damage. Poor mad Dark Elf king, you think caging my powers and having your servant slap me around will defeat me? I have faced worse than you in my own hall, and you are a pale shadow of your new master.
Kurse thrust him to the ground at the foot of the dais. Malekith left the Casket in his throne and walked down the shallow white stone steps. "We kneel to no one." He backhanded Loki with his gauntlet, which gave Loki a chance to look at the hooded figure lurking in the shadows to the left. But still he couldn't tell who it was, except the person had some status to stand upon the dais at all.
Loki laughed in Malekith's face, making sure his voice would carry, "You kneel to him. You serve him. Believe me, you serve him. And when he is done with you, you and your army will be dead on the field, as he burns us all to ash, you fool."
Malekith seized him by the throat and yanked him close to glare into his eyes. "We will destroy Asgard and Jotunheim and Midgard - everything Asgard holds dear - we will make them kneel to us. We will have our revenge. And before that, you will suffer and you will know fear. Maybe someday we will let you die."
He thrust Loki from him and returned to his throne to replace the Casket on his lap, fondling it greedily. "Remove this Jotunn trash," he sneered. "Take it below and bind it."
Loki knew he would get no better chance.
In that instant when no one had a hand on him, Loki lunged for the Casket, darting up the steps, low and fast with a hand out. Needing just to touch it…
A heavy weight fell on him, crashing him across the steps, immobilizing him only a few handspans from his target. Kurse. Loki struggled, but he had no leverage and no weapon and in a moment, found the blade of Kurse's dagger pressing against his ribs.
Reluctantly, Loki stilled.
Malekith kicked him in the face. "We shall punish you for that."
Loki worked his jaw, made sure he had all his teeth, and narrowed his eyes, hate like liquid fire in his veins. I should have killed you on that day I killed your father. He gave a strained chuckle, Kurse's weight heavy on his back. "Odin Allfather will take back his mercy and destroy you."
Kneeling down, Malekith seized Loki's hair in a fist and wrenched his head back, "You think he will come for you, the unwanted fake son?" he hissed. "He is ashamed of you. Why else would he hide this hideousness from the Nine Realms?"
The words hit their mark, but Loki was far too deep in his hate to flinch and he bared his teeth. "You're an expert of hideousness, Malekith, so you tell me."
"Shall we cut out your tongue, serpent?" Malekith threatened, the talons on his other hand digging into Loki's jaw and cheeks. "Or make it pleasure us?"
"I suppose it would be hard to find willing bedmates, looking like that," Loki taunted.
Speechless with fury, Malekith pulled his hair sharply, whispering words to tighten the noose again. The pressure on his neck grew tighter and tighter, and Loki clenched his jaw against the pain, refusing to give Malekith any satisfaction.
A female voice called suddenly, "Brother!"
Malekith hesitated, letting Loki have a chance to suck in a breath. She had to be Sigyn, Malekith's sister.
Her voice sounding nearer, she said more softly for Malekith alone, not the audience, "I beg you, think of what you do. If you kill him, how do you learn to control the Casket?"
Malekith let go and stood. "He provokes us."
"Of course he does," Sigyn murmured. "He desires a quick death. He fears what you will do."
Loki considered denying that, but Kurse pulled him up to his knees by his wrists up the back, and that let Loki get a look at her. She must have been the one in the hooded cloak, though her hood was now back on her shoulders, so he could see her face. She looked like any other Dark Elf, her long white hair tied back in a braid with the large eyes and ears, but there was something about her that drew his attention. It didn't seem quite… right, somehow, and he stared at her, trying to figure out what it was. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Sigyn."
She strode closer to him and her foot lashed out to hit him in the jaw. She had some strength in her foot, if not quite enough to do more than make him feel it. "Do not speak to your betters, beast."
"If I had any betters, I would keep that in mind." He grinned at her, unafraid. He could sense how his lack of fear was throwing them off balance, and best of all, they knew it wasn't a pretense. Because he wasn't afraid of them.
Sigyn, who seemed far more sane than her brother, looked him in the face. "You think you are so strong. But we will avenge my father's death, and you will beg for mercy long before we grant it."
He met her eyes and smirked. "I am exactly where I wish to be."
That troubled her, her expression falling with doubt, before she rallied, "You are our prisoner and no one can save you."
"And who will save you?" he countered.
Unnervingly Malekith laughed and looked to Kurse. "Take him below, and then, friend, we begin our attack."
Loki's gaze snapped to the warriors waiting in the hall, realizing they weren't there just to witness Loki's capture. Malekith laughed again. "Oh, yes, princeling. Now that we have one of you safe in our net, we set forth to crush our enemies and take what is ours."
He was going to attack Asgard.
Kurse shoved him out of the great hall, and even though Loki carefully kept track of the path, most of his thoughts clung to that revelation with dismay.
Thor, I hope you made it home. They need you.
They marched down the dim stone halls deeper and colder into realms of heavy iron doors and faint cries of pain and despair. Loki let his situation sink in, realizing this was probably going to be quite terrible. Walking ahead of Kurse and the other guards where no one could see his face, Loki dampened dry lips and his eyes darted for escape routes that did not exist.
And brother, when you are finished with them, I would not at all mind if you come fetch me, too.
They cut off his surcoat and tunic to bare his upper body and make sure he had no weapons or tools, and chained his wrists and ankles spread, with his feet barely against the floor. It was tolerably uncomfortable, but when the door shut there was no light. His eyes strained to find anything, and any attempt to cast the merest flicker tightened the metal around his throat.
But as his eyes grew adjusted to the blackness, there was a tiny bit of light coming through the panel in the door directly before him. He stared at that shard of light to keep his mind anchored in the present, while he worked his hands against their wrist cuffs, finding his left was a little loose.
The door opened again and Malekith and four armed guards entered, and Malekith gestured blue foxfire lanterns attached to the walls aglow. Even if it was to see his enemy, Loki was glad for the light.
Malekith stalked across the floor and Loki smirked. "You found out you cannot use it, did you not? You tried everything and it will not bend for you. I warned you."
Malekith kicked him. The spike at the tip of his boot drove into his belly. It wouldn't break the skin, but the strength of the blow made Loki gasp. "It is keyed to your blood." Malekith's eyes burned into his. "Your blood activates the Casket."
"It belongs to me, you monstrosity," Loki spat, unwilling to give a hair's breadth. "You shall never control it."
"Blood. Blood is the secret. We can make your blood serve ours, bind us together."
Loki laughed. "You think to trick it? Fool."
Malekith held up a dagger with a slender handle and a long enough blade it could be classed as a sword. He let Loki see the runes carved into it and, with a vicious grin, he stabbed it straight into Loki's side.
He let out a grunt at the force of it but clenched his jaw on a cry as Malekith twisted the blade.
Oh ancestors. His body reacted, back arching in a futile attempt to get away, and his hands yanked against the bonds.
Malekith pulled the knife out and with a sneer, he put his claws into the wound, trying to make Loki cry out with the pain, but Loki held the scream in his throat, while he glared at Malekith and silently promised to rip him limb from limb.
Malekith finally pulled his hand away and deliberately licked the blood off his fingers. "Never tasted Jotunn blood before. We look forward to drinking yours though - it's delicious."
It was hard to unclench his jaw to speak, but Loki forced his voice to return in a low hard whisper, "You are a vile creature. And I will enjoy tearing your heart out."
Malekith hit him in the side of his head, snapping his head back, and Loki lost his footing, sagging in his chains and straining his shoulders. Finding his feet again was a fight, as the wound burned and he felt blood coursing down his bare flank.
Malekith grabed Loki's chin with his bloodied fingers. "Your death will be hard and slow."
Loki smirked at him, challenging, "Try. If you kill me, the Casket will crack open this realm and Jormungandr will consume it utterly. And I will be avenged."
Malekith's eyes flickered, considering Loki's words. Few knew much about the Casket, but everyone knew about artifacts that were spell-keyed to individuals and reacted poorly to their owner's deaths. Hopefully the doubt would keep Loki alive long enough to get out of this hell hole. No matter how long or unpleasant his stay might be.
"No matter. Blood binding will give us control of it." Malekith spun away, to grab a small metal cup off the table by the wall. He held it against Loki's skin to catch the blood. When the flow slowed as the cut healed, he stepped back and raised it to his lips, to murmur over it and drink it.
He chortled at the disgusted look on Loki's face and then abruptly, stabbed him again in the thigh. Loki nearly bit through his lip as the bespelled blade pierced his flesh again. Malekith laughed and ordered his men, leaving the knife in him, "Bleed him. We want a basin full by sunrise."
After Malekith was gone, Loki tried coaxing them out of doing it, but they ignored him utterly, their eyes dulled by Malekith's sorcerous thrall.
The night passed slowly - no food, no drink, no rest, only sharp blades and blood.
Crossposted from DW There are comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.