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24 September 2013 @ 02:25 pm
Hail of Shadows 16/?  

He held her to him, tangling his fingers in her blood-soaked hair. He willed her heart to beat, her spirit to return, her eyes to come to light again - but it was all too late. She was gone, dead, beyond his reach, and he would never see her again. She was lost, and now he was lost in her wake, falling into the nothing where she had been.

The shadows pressed him, and they laughed and laughed as their claws tore his flesh to ribbons. But he let them. Nothing mattered. Let them rip him apart, and let them take him… she was dead and it was over.

Yet it was not. A whisper, a breeze, something touched him, a gentle persitence that demanded attention. At first he ignored it, since it was too distant to distract him, but then he heard his name. "Loki?"

The call split the darkness around him, at first a watery thin brightness but then a ray of light reaching toward him. "Loki!"

A slap on his cheek snapped his eyes open. For a moment his vision was weirdly twinned with two 'realities' - the bright cell on Asgard and the feel of his mother's body, and the dim confines of the pit on Svartalfheim and Sigyn's pale face above him.

She frowned at him worriedly. "Come back," she urged him, hand turning gentle on his cheek. "Here. Loki, see me, not whatever nightmare holds you in its grip."

The brighter illusion faded, as he blinked and focused on her face. "It was not real?" He meant to state it as a fact, but his voice quavered and rose up in a question, and the grief-stricken pressure on his chest would not ease.

Her fingers brushed the sides of his face, wiping away tears. He felt as if he should be embarrassed by that, but her face held nothing of mockery, only sympathy. "No, only a terrible vision Thanos thrust upon you. It was not real," she reassured him.

He inhaled a ragged breath and let it out slowly, trying to find calm again. Not real. It did not happen. Mother's still alive. I did not kill her.

But he could still feel the blood on his fingers, still feel that sickening guilt inside, hollowing him out into a glass vial vaguely shaped into his form, but an abyss within.

"I need to get you out of here," Sigyn whispered urgently, casting a nervous look over her shoulder. She tugged futilely on the lock on his wrist nearest her. "But Malekith - Thanos - carries the key. I need to get it."

That snapped him more aware with alarm. "No," he said. "No. Do not try. He will kill you."

"I will help you," she declared, so fiercely the true green of her eyes flashed through the illusion.

"You roused me from the nightmare. You helped," he reassured her.

"Not enough."

"Then," he thought about it, but there was really only one way left. "I need you to bring a knife."

"What? A knife? Why?" she asked, warily.

"To set me free. Plunge it in my heart and I will die."

She jerked back, eyes wide with shock and dismay. "No!"

"You must. I cannot stay here; I cannot-- he will break me, and we will all lose. So take a knife, fill your mind with vengeful thoughts of your father and the thousands of Svartalfen I slaughtered, and kill me."

She shook her head in frantic denial. "No, I will not. I will get the key-"

"Do not be a fool! He will snap your neck. There is no other way." When she still looked resistant, he knew he had to push harder. "Or will you let all of your people go unavenged? I attacked them, it was no accident. I enjoyed it. I felt elation as I watched them scream and burn."

She flinched at his harsh tone, but recovered and shook her head. "Even if that was true -"

"Oh it is, very true - "

"- it matters not. I know you mean to provoke me. But I will not murder you, Loki. I will not. I will get you free. We are powerful beings and there is always another way."

"There is no other way!" The note of hysteria in his voice echoed against the walls, and he clenched his jaw to silence himself.

"I know things seem bleak--"

"They are bleak," he snapped, all out of patience. "And will be bleaker still, unless you--"

She silenced him with fingers across his lips. "Hush," she murmured, and her other hand smoothed back his hair. "You are still shaken by that nightmare. Do not let that monster drive you to hopelessness, Loki. You are strong. Be bold."

Bold. That reminded him of Thor, and he choked out a laugh and turned his head away. "I am no kind of hero, Lady Sigyn. I never have been."

I destroy and I kill… I do not deserve gentleness. I am the monster who would murder the only one who ever loved me...

Sigyn's hand alighted on his chest, startling him from the cold depths of his own despair with her warmth. "I disagree. I think you are in pain and you want an end, but your offer to sacrifice yourself so others may live remains heroic."

"Nay, the blood on my ledger runs too deep for hero." He meant to laugh; it came out too bitter. "Pin not your hopes on the repentant villain; he will disappoint you in the end."

Her hand coaxed him to turn his head back to face her. "I am sister to Malekith the Accursed and a wielder myself; you think I do not know the allure of the dark power? Give me one who has tasted it and found the strength to turn away, over one who has never tasted it at all."

He looked up at her, searching her eyes for deceit. But there was none. She offered understanding freely, unaware of what a gift it was to him. That she believed him to be strong when he felt so terribly weak seemed absurd, yet she did.

He wanted so much to lift his hand and touch her true hair, to know how that honey-gold softness felt against his fingers. It was an abrupt desire and made him feel oddly breathless and unsettled. He pushed it away as irrelevant, holding to the truth of his situation. "This is all very sentimental, but the fact remains that Thanos is poisoning my mind, and he will break me from the inside unless I contrive escape." With a chill, he suddenly recalled the energy he was storing in the collar -- he'd forgotten he had been trying to make another path. "There may be a way…"

"Oh!" She lifted her head, thinking she knew his idea but with one of her own. "The Casket. You tried to get to the Casket despite the collar so it must be of use to you, even shielded. It sits unattended in Malekith's chamber. If I bring it here, can you use it to break the dampener collar?"

Now that was an excellent idea, even better than his own attempt to attack the collar. "If you can contrive a way to bring the Casket to me, so I may touch it, a great many things will break." He smiled, thinking of it. Not only could he break the collar and the chains, but he could take out all of Svartalfheim.

Sigyn put a finger across his lips. "No. Promise me you will not harm the innocents here. There are many who do not deserve your vengeance, who are victims as much as you are."

The impulse to total vengeance crested and fell; he grimaced. "Very well. I swear. But in exchange, I want a promise from you: if you cannot fetch the Casket, you will bring a knife and end this. Before it becomes too late for us all."

Her eyes met his and she nodded somberly, understanding the stakes in play. "Done."

"Be wary of a trap; it must be less unattended than you believe."

"I was not born of a cabbage yesterday." She drew back, affronted by his unnecessary advice.

Despite the desperate circumstances, the retort made him smile. "No, you were born of a Valkyrie, in summer, with starlight in your eyes."

She leaned down close and caressed his cheek. "You need not flatter me when I have already given up my soul to help you."

"Perhaps you found it instead."

"Perhaps I did." Her breath feathered across his lips and for a moment, he hoped for more, but then she straightened away, her hand still on his cheek. "Now I owe you a kiss, Loki Silvertongue. You may collect it, if you wish, when we are both free."

He found he had no words, at all. But within, a tentative hope blossomed that he would collect it.

Her free hand found his, wrist locked to the base of the altar, and she gripped his fingers briefly. "Hold on," she urged him. "I will return."

When Thanos returned, Loki knew he had to hold Thanos' attention while Sigyn found the Casket. He swallowed, centered himself, and looked into the cold eyes calmly.

"You will never win, Thanos. You are your own undoing."

"I am eternal. I am forever. You, pet, are only as long as I wish you to exist. In misery and torment."

He remembered Stark's casual, infuriating defiance, and smirked, "Really? Because from here it looks like I have beaten you twice. I beat your attempt to make me bring you the Gauntlet, and now I'm beating you again. You made your big play to crush me, and yet you are still outside Jormungandr. All I have to do is… absolutely nothing to keep you there. I believe they call that victory."

Thanos' hand wrapped his throat and squeezed. "You are a worm. Less than a worm. And I will see you crawl on your belly before me, begging to please me."

Loki stared back into his eyes, unflinching. If Thanos killed him -- Loki would win again because he would take the Casket with him. And he wasn't afraid of death.

Thanos let go and Loki gasped, wishing he could rub his neck. His throat ached, all the way to the bone, and he couldn't swallow and barely draw air through the constricted passage.

"Only a foolhardy warrior declares victory before the battle is completed," Thanos warned and grinned at him, chilling and cold. "And you, toy, have to keep winning and winning. I need only win once. Shall we see how many times you can win before you lose?"

A cold hand settled on Loki's brow and he felt the inky foulness creep in the cracks in his defenses.

Again and again.

he dropped a clear cylinder with the same smirk, but this time, he knew Thor would die and he only regretted his action when it was too late

he watched as Laufey thrust a spear into Odin Allfather's sleeping form and when Frigga looked to him in desperate appeal, Loki stood unmoving as Laufey cut her down as well. Then Laufey turned to him, grinning. "Truly you are my son."…

The false memories of death and horror stained his thoughts, an insidious poison of his spirit that crept in despite his will. He resisted, tried to hold on to what he knew was the truth, but felt battered and weary, a capsized sailor clutching flotsam in the midst of a vast dark sea, wave after wave crashing over him.

he fell back on the floor, shoved away by the queen. "Do not touch my gown with your filthy hands, boy."

He looked up in confusion. "Mother?"

Her eyes were cold as she struck him across the face. It didn't hurt, but it was a shock. She had never raised her hand to him. Or had she?

"I am not your mother. You are a servant, and a sickly, mostly useless one at that. Know your place and do your work, and never call me that again."

Not his mother. He remembered hurling those words at her in hateful accusation, but that made no sense. He knew she wasn't his mother. He was a servant, brought to Asgard to save his life and then allowed to work. He was grateful for that much. Why would he ever think that the queen was his mother?

Yet why could he hear her voice so clearly: "I am here, little one, I am here for you."

He crouched on the floor and watched Frigga walk away, then clutched his head as uncertainty tore at him. Where was he? When was he? She couldn't be his mother, that much was clear, because his skin was the wrong color and she was the queen and he was … nothing.

But. Mother. He remembered brushing her long beautiful hair, and how it felt under his fingers - something the queen would never let him do.

He remembered a golden light embracing him, and her voice that reminded him of the truth.

And he remembered trying to touch her on the other side of the barrier when she told him how much she had wanted him. That she loved him.

He latched onto that memory with iron claws, refusing to let it go. She was his mother, she had come for him, and anything else was a lie.

He opened his eyes back in his prison, stone table under his back. Inhaling a breath, he calmed the rapid beat of his heart and looked around the room as best he could. It was deserted, Thanos was gone. Loki hoped Sigyn had been able to reach the Casket, but he had to do his part as well to weaken the collar.

Closing his eyes, he went back to dripping potential energy into the collar carefully. He forced himself to concentrate on that small deed and push the fear away. Nothing else existed in that time, only himself carefully harvesting droplets that existed only in potential. It was soothing.

He had little time before he felt the air shift and a presence intrude on his sense of the room. There were quick footsteps and he turned his head to see Sigyn approaching from the shadowy recess. His disappointment when he saw her carrying nothing was a knife to the gut.

"I almost had it," she whispered, kneeling beside him. "But he came back too soon. But I did find out it is protected by naught but a simple ward. I can take it easily."

"Then it must be a trap," he said.

"The instant I take it, he will know. He is never far from it. Why would he need more, when it is of no use to anyone?" she asked.

It was of use to Loki, of course, but perhaps Thanos thought there was no way Loki would be able to free himself of his restraints. "We need a distraction to draw him away." He frowned, trying to think. "Perhaps the jotnar can attack in force."

"But how could I possibly pass word to them that is needed?"

"Not you, me."

"You?" she looked at him incredulously. "How are you going to do something I cannot?"

He remembered a bright golden flame surrounding him in warmth. "My mother is with them. I can reach her."

Regarding him, she shook her head. "Despite the collar? That is … impressive."

He cast his eyes upward and managed a bit of a smile. "Not so much. There is a hole in my cell. And the queen of Asgard has power of her own. She will bring them to attack, while you fetch the Casket."

She hesitated, glancing down, as if realizing this was finally true betrayal she could not explain away. "Sigyn, I am never escaping this place without greater help," he reminded her. "If you help me - if we become separated - go to her, tell her how you helped me. She will know you speak truly and shelter you."

She lowered her eyes, considering his offer and the risk she was taking where she might have to leave her home and flee to the place of people she'd long thought her enemy. Loki waited, knowing she had to decide, even though there was little choice. She would have to flee, he was fairly certain of that. Malekith or Thanos would not be pleased with her helping him. At least she would have a place to go.

When she lifted her head again, it was to return his look proudly, her choice made for good. "We must not allow that monster into the Nine Realms."

It was still a relief to hear. "No. Stand ready. Do not return until you have it. We may get only one chance at this."

She nodded. "But it will work, and we will stop him, and show them even the freaks can save the Realms."

That made him almost smile. "Yes. Together." She set her hand briefly on his chest and he watched her leave. Then he closed his eyes and took deep breaths, settling himself into a trance, deeper and deeper until he was all spirit and mental energy and sent it forth.

The collar constricted his throat, but he ignored it, floating upward, higher and higher. There was no sight here, only the aether, and he started to search for that brilliance that was the queen of Asgard in a place that had no form and no direction, governed by will.

Mother, hear me. Where are you? Hear me, I know you are close.

He searched, but there was no reply and he couldn't find her. Last time, he had been desperate, less focused, uncontrolled. Perhaps his control was hindering him.

It wasn't hard to let go of the barrier he'd put between himself and fear. Underneath the bravado and the anger was a deep well of utter terror that flowed up to cover him the moment he let it. The colors turned wrong and the darkness was cloying and threatening. If he didn't grab the Casket and escape this place… Mother, I need to reach you again. Amma, please, where are you? For a moment, I believed his lies, and I thought you were gone. I am trying to hold on but I don't know if I can. Please find me, I need you. I know it is cowardly and weak and I shouldn't need you so much but--

Suddenly she was there, warmth and light all around him, holding him tight. "Hush, Loki. There is no shame in loving and needing other people. I am so sorry I made you feel there was anything wrong with coming to me for help. There isn't. I am here for you, now and always."

He knew they had little time - this was difficult for both of them and he could slip free any second - but he let himself feel comforted, wishing it was her real arms around him. Then, when he felt a bit more put together, trying to forget all the visions that said otherwise, he told her: "I need the jotnar to attack, as much force inside the halls as you can. I need a distraction for my plan."

She was pleased to learn he had a plan. He felt their joined grasp weakening and knew he had little time, so added hastily, "Treat Sigyn gently; she helps me."

He sensed her surprise and delight at that news, but she urged, "Stay strong. We are coming."

There was a tightening, like an embrace or a kiss, and then she was gone.

He opened his eyes, satisfied. He ached everywhere, but that would fade soon enough, and he felt ready.

Soon. I have been under your boot long enough, Thanos, and I will see you squirm under mine.

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