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13 September 2013 @ 12:22 pm
Hail of Shadows 13/?  
oh, part 13 on Friday the 13th. Seems appropriate somehow.

The gathering of the tribes was impressive, and while they might be gathering for different reasons - some for revenge for the murders, some just for the fight of it - Frigga felt proud of Loki for those who came to see what he had done with the Casket and fought in hope of what he could do to restore Jotunheim.

The thought occurred to Hogun as well, while they were watching the most recent group to stand at the edge of the ice and stare in amazement. He murmured to her, "You think he will give them what they want?"

She hesitated and made sure there was no one near enough to hear their discussion. "A sorceror king to lead them back to glory? Perhaps. It will appeal to him to have a role not in Thor's shadow." She glanced at Hogun and read the doubt subtly on his face. "You disagree?"

"He would see them all burn."

Which was true. He would, and he had. But that would not last forever. "When they help rescue him and his blood-mother comes for him, I think that will help. But … we will see. The Nine Realms may look very different when Thanos is defeated." It had come clear to her that Loki and Thanos were both agents of chaos -- their mere existence tangled the threads of orderly existence. Now that they were set in opposition to each other, war and change were inevitable.

Her eyes turned to the sky, even though Asgard was not a place one could see with the eyes from here. Her home was going to have to change, and it changed slowly and unwillingly, but Loki's secret was coming into the open. She and Odin would have to deal with it, hopefully with less painful fallout for Loki than he feared.

Skadi's heavy footfall pulled Frigga's thoughts away from future speculations. "We are prepared."

Hogun cast a look back at the gathered giants. "That is… two hundred? That is all?"

"Of those near enough to hear the call and come soon," Skadi said, and sounded less pleased about it than Hogun.

"A formidable force," Frigga reassured them both. "Not since the great war have the jotnar stirred in such numbers. Malekith will be surprised."

Yet Hogun was right, as well. Two hundred was fewer than she had hoped. If Malekith had, in fact, taken the bulk of Svartalfheim's army to Asgard, it should be enough. It would have to be.

"A few more may join when we go," Skadi said, "They refuse to commit until they know it will happen. But the rest?" She snorted dismissively. "Cowards, the lot of them."

"Then we are better without them." Frigga rose from the stone where she had been waiting. "If your people are ready, then it is my turn."

Her warriors gathered to her, as she headed across the ice to the drifts of snow and stone on the other side, nearer to the great high cliff that dropped to the Jotunheim lowlands.

She had found the area alive with energy and had unraveled Loki's shadowpath gate long since. It touched Jormungandr and was a weakness they could all ill afford with Thanos lurking. But there were two portals as well: Loki's to Midgard in the center of the ice, which had been unmade probably by Malekith himself, and a second to Svartalfheim, left behind as a taunt or perhaps a trap.

Frigga hadn't touched it at first, wary of warning Malekith of the coming attack, but then had tested it to be sure it ended in Svartalfheim.

She unsheathed her sword to draw some of the enchanted power from it. Holding the sword upright in both hands before her, she looked past it and into the glowing mass in the aether. Though it was turbulent and chaotic, tinged with the dark foulness of Thanos, there was a green shimmer as an echo of the powers Loki had wielded nearby. She smiled to feel it and incorporated it to strengthen the portal and connect it more deeply to Jotunheim.

Shifting the destination would clear it of traps. This was much like re-weaving a tapestry - she had to unpick part of the design Malekith had made and change the picture as well as widen its borders. It was a skill she had not had cause to use in some time, but she found the words and the power returned to her as easily as choosing thread at the loom.

The portal grew in strength and physical dimension, so that two Jotunn could walk abreast beneath. At the center, it opened; at first a tiny hole of brilliant light, but as it widened, it formed an image of the other side, as if it was truly a door that had opened.

Svartalfheim had grey skies of high overcast, and a dull light shone on the wide dry grass plain not far from their capital that stretched out toward distant mountains.

She let out a breath and lowered her sword wearily. Volstagg was there, to offer his shoulder for her to hold onto and she tried to smile at him. "It is done."

Sif and Fandral nodded and drew their swords. "We will scout," Sif declared and the instant she and Fandral received a nod, they jumped through. Visible through the portal, they turned, ready for any trap or ambush or even unwary farmer, both circled in turns out of sight scouting beyond the visual range of the portal. They spoke together, their words unheard, then Fandral turned back to the portal and beckoned that the way was clear.

Frigga and Volstagg, with Hogun standing behind her, moved aside and she lifted her head to address Skadi. "It is ready. You may begin sending them through."

Skadi gave the order and it was shouted down the line. Frost Giants picked up weapons, shields, and supplies, and headed for the portal. They were not the most disciplined group, some shoving their way to a place, but the narrowness of the portal forced them to line up, and soon there was an impressively long line of Frost Giants across the snow and ice, reaching back toward the city. Others lingered in the ruins, those who had refused, and a few of them picked up their weapons and joined the end of the line. Others faced the taunts of their compatriots and stayed behind.

Frigga watched them pass through, wishing she could have made the portal bigger - it was a slow process at a time when they needed haste.

Skadi stayed with Frigga, herding her people through as quickly as possible. As they waited for the line to pass through, Skadi looked at Munin, sitting on her shoulder. "Your bird? Is it your pet?"

Munin gave her a bright-eyed stare and said in an uncanny approximation of Loki at his most disdainful, "I am Munin of Asgard. Prince of Ravens, Keeper of the Allfather's Secrets, and Lord of Hazelnuts."

Frigga shot a look at him at the last. "No," Frigga said sternly. "These are for Loki, not Munin of the Rotund Belly, prince of birds too fat to fly."

Munin's head tilt was offended, and with a loud, wordless caw right in her ear that made her wince, he launched himself from her shoulder and flew into portal.

"It speaks?" Skadi asked in astonishment after he had gone. "Truly you Aesir are strange creatures." Shaking her head, she went to break up another shoving match.

Frigga pitched her voice for only Volstagg to hear. "The Svartalfen are far more disciplined than this lot. I fear for them."

"They are fierce fighters when roused," he reassured her and added ruefully, "As I was reminded only last year. They pressed us to the edge of the cliff and might have killed us all, but for the Allfather's timely intervention."

"Rarely have I seen him in such a fury." And rarely had one so minor event caused such a cascade of misfortune, leading them directly to this very place and this situation. Yet perhaps it would be all to the best in the end - Asgard and Jotunheim were allies for the first time in milennia, Midgard was much stronger now and had woken to the dangers beyond Earth, and Svartalfheim would weaken from this two-front war.

To make it truly better, they would need to win, save Loki, and keep Thanos out of the Nine Realms. She wrapped her fingers around her sword-hilt, in silent oath to herself that she would make it happen.

By the time she, Volstagg, Hogun, and Skadi made it through the portal, the first battle had already been fought and won.

Sif was cleaning her blade, as she and Fandral reported to Frigga. "There was a patrol. Uncertain whether they were sent or merely stumbled upon us."

Fandral added, "Malekith knows now, if he did not before. I saw two enemy runners head east toward the hall."

She wanted to swear at that - Malekith would close the gate.

"We have lost our surprise," Skadi declared and hurled her axe at the ground, very nearly into the feet of one of her people. "Curse Malekith and all the rats in their tunnels!"

Jorg, leader of another of the tribes, growled, "They will come forth to bite us." He glowered at Frigga and Volstagg in particular, and she was sure he had fought in the last war. But he had also been one of those to stand in the ice and look upward, his expression for a moment stricken with grief as if he remembered what Jotunheim had once been. "We must leave them no fortifications. Leave nothing standing and no one alive within five hundred paces of our position."

This part of Svartalfheim was a craggy land with deep river canyons and chasms cut across flat plateau between two mountain ranges. The plain where they stood was grazing and farmland, and Frigga watched, feeling a little sadness, as the Frost Giants methodically tore down every stone house, every tree, and as many of the low stone fences as they could with their giant hammers. They found few people, who had, it seemed, had enough foresight to escape to the fortress.

The fortress was not visible, though everyone knew where it was because the nearby road led directly to it. The Halls of Svartalfheim were underground, a vast labyrinth cut into the towering walls of the biggest chasm, accessible by a wide road that between guard towers of a foregate, a descent along the canyon walls, and an inner gate of stone.

Munin returned to her, to report the inner gate was shut, the guard towers were manned, but other than that, no one stirred on the entire plateau.

So it was without opposition that the army moved closer to the fortress - not so near they were within direct striking distance, but enough.

She sent Munin home to report to Odin that her army had put Svartalfheim under siege, much as Svartalfheim had done to Asgard, so that he would know not to let Kurse leave.

She had not wanted a siege. She had especially not wanted the door to be shut so tightly not even a mouse could sneak in.

As the sunset cast reddish light on the blue skin of the Frost Giants and made their eyes glow like fire, they began building their own walls with the tumbled remnants.

And meanwhile, she sat beneath her pavilion and ate her camp rations, and waited. Malekith was here, somewhere, with Loki.

She lit a candle and looked into it, casting her mind forth to see if she could find them. The ash-and-death taste of Thanos lay deeply across the aether, a foul shadow that strengthened as the day turned to night.

But of Loki, she found no sign. Not that day, nor the next.

When Thor found himself gripping Mjolnir again, wanting to hurl it straight at Stark's wide windows, he set it on the floor and walked away, clenching his jaw.

"Drink?" Stark offered.

He accepted with an absent nod of his head, staring out at the sky. So far, he had endured several meetings, saying the same things again and again about Loki, about Thanos, about what was going on in the outer Realms. Most of it, the mortals did not believe. The doubt was frustrating, but ultimately none of it meant anything except that time was passing and he'd had no word from Asgard.

He had spoken to Jane once by Stark's telephone; it was an awkward conversation, not only because the telephone felt very fragile and small in his hand. He had admitted he had thought of her, but what he needed to know was if she had finished her device to contact Asgard, which she had not. He could hear the disappointment in her voice and knew from how quickly she left the connection that he had managed it poorly, but there was little he could do, expecting to leave soon.

And yet, despite standing on Stark's deck and bellowing to Heimdall frequently, he still was no closer to leaving.

"Maybe he's just… busy?" Tony ventured, handing him the ale. "Rescuing Loki?"

"Perhaps. I hope so, but I fear attack is more likely. But not knowing …"

"Nah. If you knew, you'd be even more upset you're stuck here," Stark said.

That could be true, but Thor did not think so. "I do not understand why they have not brought me home."

"Well, take it easy. My house is your house, make yourself at home, try not to break stuff, and maybe in the meantime you can try to remember more about Thanos, other than he's strong and likes to hurt and kill things."

"I have said all I know," Thor protested wearily.

"Except for how we stop him if he comes here."

Thor shook his head once. "Midgard is more advanced now, but your battle will be hard-fought against Svartalfheim, far more so than the Chitauri, for they are intelligent and magic-users. Thanos himself will cut through your army like a fell wind, gathering slaves to his will as he passes."

Tony snorted. "Magic. It's only science we don't understand yet. Bruce and I were figuring out the scepter fine before it all went to hell. I only need some more examples and I can learn it."

That let Thor smile for the first time. "Have you several hundred years to devote to the study?"

"It won't take me that long," Tony declared with a bold arrogance that made Thor's smile widen. He drank the ale and wandered to examine the artifacts by the wall that were new since the attack on New York.

Tony went back to the bar to fetch his own drink, and a little later, there was a tapping on the glass door. "Huh, that's a big bird," Stark muttered.

Thor didn't pay much attention at first, as the taps repeated, thinking it was one of the multitudes of pigeons that enjoyed roosting at Stark Tower.

Then the computer interface declared, "Sir, there appears to be a large raven seeking entrance. Should I open the door?"

"No!" Stark exclaimed. "Of course not, I don't need birds inside! Why would you even ask that, JARVIS?"

At the mention of a raven, Thor whirled around to see Munin, flapping his great wings and tapping on the glass with his beak, then circling back around to do it again. "Open the way! It is news from Asgard!"

"Because in the stories, Odin of Asgard has two ravens, sir," JARVIS answered drily, sounding a bit smug to Thor's ears, as Thor strode excitedly to the glass door.

The moment the door slid aside, Munin flew inside, circled once and landed on the top of the bar without touching any of the glassware.

"Munin, what news?" Thor demanded.

Munin preened one wing and then looked at him. "Nut?" As if that was the only word he knew.

Thor took steps nearer to him, glaring. "Munin, you tell me at once! Why has Father not brought me home? What has happened to Loki?"

Munin was not impressed with his demands, simply gave him a beady yellow, infuriating stare and repeated, "Nut."

Growling, Thor circled to the inside of the bar to grab a glass jar of nuts from a lower shelf, wrenched off the lid, and slammed it down on the counter in front of the bird. Both glass and wood beneath trembled, but did not break. "Now, speak."

"Um, Thor?" Stark asked hesitantly, and in Thor's quick glance, Stark was looking at him as if he'd lost his mind. "It's a bird. I know ravens are smart, and obviously he can say a word, which is cute, but shouldn't you just take the message off his leg or however he's carrying it, instead of yelling at him to talk to you?"

"He will give me the Allfather's message, now," Thor demanded of Munin, who was swallowing peanuts like a hatchling.

Munin ate one more, as if to prove he was not subject to Thor's commands - he reminded Thor painfully of Loki in that moment with his prideful defiance - and then finally talked. "The Allfather speaks to his son that Asgard stands under siege. Pale elves are come with war."

It was not entirely a surprise, but still Thor shut his eyes, wishing desperately he could teleport home.

"It talks?" Tony asked, sounding shocked. "Like, really talks?"

Munin shifted his head to look at Tony and declared proudly, "I am Munin, Prince of Ravens, Keeper of the Allfather's secrets, and…" he hesitated, glanced at the container of nuts, then added, "Chief Messenger of the King of the Nine Realms."

"How does it talk?" Stark demanded. "How is it even making those sounds?"

"How do you?" Munin retorted, and sounded exactly like Loki when he muttered in disgust, "Mortals."

He turned to present his tail feathers to Stark, who laughed. "Pissy little thing, isn't he?"

Munin turned a baleful yellow eye on him, but Thor was tired of the irrelevancies. "Munin. Tell me of Loki. Is he safe?"

Munin didn't look at him immediately and Thor knew. "Safe? No. Held in the heart of Svartalfheim, not safe. But the queen seeks him there with the giants."

"My mother is in the field? With Frost Giants?" Thor asked incredulously. He would say it was some fantastic untrue story, except Munin would never lie about such a thing. "How did Father ever allow this?"

Munin cawed a laugh. "How could he refuse? Whence came the willfulness and tricks of the prince of mischief but from her?"

Thor had to admit that was true. It was not something he thought of often, since most of his life she had been the gracious, wise queen, but he had heard some stories from Volstagg, especially when in his cups, about the queen's younger days. She had taught Loki magic despite Odin's disapproval - small tricks when he'd been little to entertain him, when he'd been too ill to do much else, and greater skills later, until he had buried his head in more ancient and dangerous lore. Plus she had encouraged his youthful pranks with her indulgent delight.

But still whether or not the queen was capable was not the point. "Why are they not bringing me to help?" he demanded.

"Midgard is weak," Munin said.

Stark interrupted, "Hey! We're tougher than you think! What does a bird know anyway!"

The raven ignored him. "The Allfather believes if Thanos succeeds in his design, he will strike here."

By 'design' he meant Thanos taking hold of Loki and the Casket. "Malekith will never break him, Munin. I cannot believe that!"

Munin plucked another nut from the jar and gulped it down. "The king is not so certain. But it is for the queen and her allies to find him, not you. You have your duty here."

Frustrated, Thor turned on his heel and went to window to glower up at the sky, folding his arms so he wouldn't call Mjolnir and start laying waste to the room.

"She sounds pretty fierce," Tony said, coming up behind him. "I'm sure it'll be fine."

"Queen Frigga has not fought in battle since before I was born," Thor said, not turning to look at him. "I cannot understand what possesses Father to allow this."

Behind him Munin said, "The lioness will not bow to the wolf, when her cubs are in peril."

"And if the lioness falls?" Thor demanded furiously. "That will break him more than anything Malekith could ever do!"

Thor woud be stricken if she died, but right now, all he could imagine was Loki's reaction. Grief would shatter his heart to madness, and Thor feared Loki would fall to violence and rage worse than Midgard with the foundation of his soul slain. Thor would lose them both by losing her, and he did not think he could endure it.

"She is not alone," Munin said. "The Warriors Three and Lady Sif went as her guards. And the Frost Giants heed her words. They stand in siege of Malekith's halls but soon will crack its shell and eat its meat."

That was a little reassuring, that at least she was not alone. All of those warriors would give their lives before any harm touched her. "You could not have said that at the start?"

"There, see?" Tony slapped his shoulder. "Even the bird says everything will be fine. She'll rescue your black sheep brother, keep the supervillain out of our dimension, and your dad will send the evil elves home." He paused and muttered, meaning to be heard, "My god, when did my life get so screwed up that 'evil elves' are a thing?"

His disgruntled tone coaxed a smile from Thor and he inhaled a deep breath, trying to set aside his anxiety. He would have to trust to the wisdom of his parents and hold onto hope.

When he turned back, he saw that Munin had gobbled half the nuts in the jar, and had settled onto the surface of the bar as if he was too heavy for his legs to hold him up. "Greedy beast! What if Father needs you?"

"There is another," Munin said and turned his neck to arrange his feathers before sleep.

"You are the messenger." Thor slammed the lid back on and thrust it at Stark. "Put this where foolish ravens cannot reach it."

Stark took the jar as if he had no idea what to do with it. "Okay. Magic talking ravens who stuff themselves like it's Thanksgiving. Evil elves, Norse gods. Next it'll probably be unicorns or flying monkeys or some other damn thing," Stark grumbled in disgust as he headed for the door. "Whatever happened to science? I'm going to go work on something. Something science. In the lab. With no magic." He waved the nut jar vaguely in Thor's direction in farewell. He was still going on about inventing something when the lift doors shut behind him, leaving Thor with Munin.

"Will it be well, Munin?" he asked softly, stroking the raven's soft feathers gently.

Munin fixed him with a yellow eye. "The queen arouses from her slumber to find the lioness again. The great wolf of Asgard's vision clouds with doubt, but it will clear. The lost prince fears he is a wolf with no pack, but when he understands he is a lion, he will unsheathe his claws and tear the throats of his enemies."

Which sounded comforting, but Thor noticed there was one missing from Munin's insight. "And me?" he asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.

Munin rubbed his head on Thor's finger. "You are their strength, Odinson. In this storm, it is to the lord of thunder they must hold fast."

"But I'm with them not."


"Not soon enough."

"How would it be otherwise? But not all battles are yours to fight. You must wait." Munin tucked his head down and murmured sleepily but with great satisfaction, as if already dreaming, "Nut..."

Loki's time sense was not completely accurate in the darkness; he'd lost awareness twice for an indeterminate period, during the worst of the fever when his mind had slipped him back into his fall from the Bifrost.

But as the sickness passed, he knew it had been at least two days since anyone had visited. He presumed that meant Malekith was busy, probably with the war. Hopefully Thor was pounding Kurse into paste, but something was happening to draw Malekith away, and that was favorable to Loki, no matter what it was. He was disappointed Sigyn didn't visit, but he knew his words would have to percolate within her. Absent some great passion, treachery was a slow process. He had planted the seed, which might not grow or flower at all.

As his mind cleared and his body healed. He could not depend on Sigyn to turn on her brother, and it would be best to be able to free himself anyway. So he recalled the various unmaking spells and began testing them very carefully against the tug of the collar. Most were too powerful and choked him, but he remembered Frigga's comment about coming at it with guile, and that proved to be the answer. Malekith wasn't as clever as he thought he was and he had left a tiny loophole in the detection ward. It did not detect small amounts of potential energy, so Loki fed tiny shards into the collar. It was paintstaking delicate work, weaseling around the suppression of the collar itself, as if he had to snag a drop of water with the tip of a knife and let the droplet fall between a narrow crack to a tiny pebble below. But Loki had nothing else to occupy his time and he could be exceedingly patient when he needed to be. When there was enough energy stashed in it, he would trigger a change to dark energy, it would break the collar, and he would escape this rat hole. As long as he didn't blow his head off.

He heard Malekith's voice before the door opened, and he seemed angry about something. Hopefully it was something to Loki's advantage, but for now, he expected Malekith to take his rage out on his prisoner. Loki forced himself to relax with a deep breath and closed his eyes as if he were dozing. He would not give Malekith the satisfaction of seeing any disturbance at all.

Malekith stepped within and the door closed behind him, oddly without any companions. He moved across the stone floor, near Loki, before speaking. "You seem too comfortable, pet. I shall have to change that."

The tone. The wording. It was all wrong for Malekith.

Loki's eyes shot open and he jerked backward, away from Malekith, rattling his chains as his heart took a sudden leap for escape.

Malekith grinned. But it was Malekith in body only. His eyes turned black as pit vipers, swallowed up by darkness and backed by a corpselight glow, like a candle in a dead cave.


Crossposted from DW There are comment count unavailable comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.
Ray: Wild Magicrirenec on September 14th, 2013 08:28 am (UTC)
Skadi is wonderful. I love the shared bond between her and Frigga. Your world building on the Frost Giants culture is fantastic. And Minon is also awesome. Like serious love for that sassy raven. That whole middle section was brilliant. And I chuckled at: My God, when did my life get so screwed up that 'evil elves' are a thing.' :D

Lovely language use throughout. And the end... Argh!

lizardbeth: Av - Hiddleston liferuinerlizardbeth_j on September 15th, 2013 02:10 am (UTC)
Yay, you can join me and April in Munin Fan Club. :) HE IS THE BEST. and hee, that whole section with Thor and Tony was a total last-minute addition, so I'm glad it's even coherent, tbh

The road gets tougher from here, so be ready. :)

Thank you! (and by the way, I'm so glad I've lured someone else to the dark side I have someone else who appreciates my flailing and plot bunnies! )