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06 March 2014 @ 05:23 pm
Snow Queen and Ice Demon, chapter 3  

Inside the study, Loki was examining the book but glanced up when the door opened. "Anna, good evening."

"You seduced my mother."

"Ah." He very carefully closed the front cover of the book before turning. "I did. Yes." Elsa watched as Anna closed the distance between them, and there she was, a tiny girl with red hair facing a near giant, and she slapped him across the face as hard as she could.

Elsa, who had seen him snatch an arrow right out of the air mid-flight, knew he could have stopped her, but he let Anna strike him. The blow barely rocked him and the mark on his skin faded immediately. He grinned at her, with apparent delight.

Anna put both hands on her hips. "You're not even sorry!"

"Well, no, because Elsa was born and I will not be sorry about that. And, not to be crude, but I'm not sure you would have been born without my showing your mother how much better her husband could be treating her," he smirked. "I don't go where I'm not wanted, princess."

"But under pretense! She thought you were my father!"

He shrugged. "Not at first. She was alone, so was I, and she got a very pleasant dream out of it."

"But --"

His casual mien dropped away for sharp edges and his eyes glinted like ice as he suddenly loomed over her without moving at all. "Do not press me," he warned in a dangerous, low voice. "Your childish morality does not concern me. I do as I please."

Elsa held her breath and felt her magic swirl in response to his sudden dark threat. For the first time she truly believed he was a god. Or a demon. He wasn't God, but that didn't mean a lot when facing an elemental force like this.

Anna swallowed hard and nodded, leaning back from him nervously. He stepped away from her before Elsa had to intervene and suddenly everyone could breathe again. He tapped the book. "Elsa gave me this to translate and I discovered there's a magical object lost in this palace and it's been fueling her powers since she was born. We need to find it, if we can."

"I thought you might have seen it in your explorations when we were little," Elsa said.

Loki explained, "It looks like a crystal cube, as big as one's hand. It may glow with a pale blue light. It is likely hidden. Have you seen it?"

Anna made her thinking face, scrunching it up in various painful-looking combinations, and then shook her head. "No, I don't think I've seen anything like that."

"We'll have to look then," Elsa said, disappointed. "I doubt it's in a public area, so we should look first in private chambers, the library, the towers, or the cellars."

"Cellar!" Anna announced abruptly. "I remember seeing a strange blue light. Hm, I had forgotten that. I thought it was your magic, Elsa, but maybe it wasn't. Hopefully it's still there."

Elsa and Loki followed Anna downstairs. Neither of them had been down there before, but Anna greeted all the staff cheerfully, as they cursied or bowed to the queen. Elsa was aware of the curious stares that followed her and the smiles as they saw she was with Loki, and now she realized that was because everyone thought she was in love with him.

She glanced aside at him, as he had to duck a low-hanging lantern. If she announced he wasn't a suitor, people would wonder why he stayed in the palace, and his presence was a good deterrent to new suitors. Still, it was strange to think that people believed she might marry him when he was her father.

He caught her eye and raised a curious brow at her. She just shook her head, smiling. "Later."

"In here," Anna stopped in front of a small wooden door, banded in iron. She tugged on the handle and it didn't budge.

"Allow me," Loki said and moved in front of her. He tugged on the door as well. "Locked. Easy enough." He set his hand on the keyhole briefly and opened the door.

"Elsa, can you do that, too?" Anna asked.

"With training," Loki answered for her. Beyond the threshold it was pitch-dark except the faint light from the lantern in the corridor behind them that glinted dully on shelves full of things put into storage. "I feel it," he murmured, "It's close. But covered, I think, or we would see the glow. Let's see if I can get it to resonate for us."

He held out a hand, and a sphere of green-gold light formed above his palm. Anna gasped, having not seen such a visible display of his magic. By its light, Elsa saw the banquet dishes neatly stacked on the shelves, chairs piled on top of one another, and small wooden chests. She opened the closest chest to find it full of folded bunting and it smelled strongly of cedar.

Loki moved forward slowly, as the sphere rose up to the ceiling to illuminate the furniture and fixtures. Then, just when Elsa thought they might have to look through the whole pile and open everything, something on the middle shelf far to the back started to glow ice-blue.

"There!" she and Anna both exclaimed and pointed in unison, and he laughed.

"Yes, obviously." He tried to reach the small chest, stretching over the pile of chairs and extra leaves of the main dining table stored on their ends, but couldn't reach it. He was about to start moving things out of the way, when Anna pushed past him.

"I can get it." With the fleetness of a mountain goat, she clambered up on the stack of chairs.

"Anna!" Elsa exclaimed.

"Either of you can catch me if I fall, right?" she asked fearlessly, moving from chair stack to the top of a tall wardrobe, sneezing as a cloud of dust rose up. Anna crouched at the end and pulled the end of the chest. "It's not heavy at all," she announced in surprise and with it in both hands she edged back to the other end of the wardrobe and looked down at them. "Ready?" she asked, and tossed it.

Loki snagged it out of the air and opened the top. A bright bluish-glow like a strange lantern spread outward, lighting his face as he looked into its depths. Elsa scooted closer and looked down into it, and her lips parted in amazement.

She'd pictured something like a block of a ice, but this wasn't that at all. It had smooth surfaces and sharp edges that had been cut by people, not nature. However, looking into it was like looking up at the night sky, since she could look into it forever. That glow wasn't a light like a candleflame, but it was power deep inside it. It washed over her skin like a chill, and she reached a hand toward it, wanting to touch it. Wanting to feel it. Wanting it…

Loki snapped the cover shut, and she jumped back, blinking as if stirred from a dream. The power… "Oh dear God protect us," she whispered in fervent prayer and crossed herself reflexively. "It's very dangerous."

Loki sniffed in disdain, as if her God had no business protecting her, but he held back his scornful words to say simply, "We should take it back to the study."

They were at the door, when a plaintive voice stopped her. "Uh, Elsa? Loki? A little help?"

Elsa turned back to find Anna still on top of the wardrobe. Elsa made an ice slide, and Anna rode it all the way down, popping back up to her feet in the hall with a grin. "You're the best."

Elsa dispersed the ice, and found Loki was watching them with a fond smile, as if he was remembering some youthful playfulness of his own. The smile disappeared abruptly and he turned away to stalk down the corridor, coat-tails fluttering behind him.

Anna's eyes found hers in a 'what's his problem?' face with eye-rolling at his back, but as they followed him back to the study, Elsa understood the pain manifesting itself as annoyance.

A century of being an exile. She had nearly lost herself in just a season of solitude, how terrible would decades be? Wandering the world with no family, no home?

In the study, she shut the door behind them as Loki set the chest on the writing desk, and went to pour himself a strong drink as if he needed it to deal with the cube. She signaled him to pour her one, too.

"I was wondering, about when you were the Ice Demon--" she started.

"Wait, what?" Anna looked at her and then Loki in shock. "You? How is that possible?"

"Sorcery," he answered shortly.

"When Elsa said you were older than you looked, I had no idea -- wow, the Ice Demon. I'm glad you're not so mean anymore. Did you really steal that child to keep for yourself?"

He turned incredulous eyes at her. "To keep it? Whatever would I do with one? Certainly not." He drained his drink in one swallow, and poured another.

"Did you freeze the church?" Anna asked.

His look was puzzled, not sure to what she referred, and after a moment of sorting through his memories, he answered, "I sealed the door shut with ice. So, yes?"

Elsa chuckled. The story would have it that the Ice Demon had put a dome of ice over the church, trapping the entire village inside. All he'd done was lock the door.

"Did they unfreeze it through their prayers?" Anna asked.

Loki gave a snort. "No. A candle sufficed."

"Did you eat the priest's bones?"

He rolled his eyes. "No! That is absurd. They never found his body because I threw it in a ravine. His terrible Latin annoyed me," he said with baiting glee, and seemed disappointed when neither of them reacted with outrage.

Elsa had already figured out that the stories had to have some truth to them, so she wasn't surprised to find out that at least one of the deaths were real.

Anna was much too busy verifying the stories to be disturbed by one of them being somewhat true. "Did you change into a dragon?"

His fingers gripped the bottle as if he was tempted to drain it or throw it at her head. "If I say yes, will you stop badgering me with inane questions for fear I will turn into a dragon and burn you to ash?"

She looked up at him, head sideways, and smiled sheepishly. "Probably not?"

He groaned. "It was an illusion of a dragon. True shapeshifting is very difficult and usually not worth the effort, when I can accomplish the same thing with illusion." He turned to Elsa. "Please tell me you have a better question?"

"I was wondering why you stopped. The story claims Prince Gunnar of Norway killed the Ice Demon, but that can't be true."

She thought of the words of the story, written down in the small book for her:

'Prince Gunnar sat alone before the fire, armed only with his courage and his sword, and he knew this monster must be defeated at any cost. Tomorrow he would find the demon's abode and slay him, or die trying. The sound of ice crackling underfoot announced an arrival from the surrounding forest, someone drawn by the smoke. The stranger wore furs and worn cloth bound around his body with ropes, and he had only a hunting knife for a weapon. "Greetings traveler. Might I share your fire tonight? It is cold for spring."

"Of course, friend," Gunnar said, for he would never refuse anyone shelter or fire in the wild. The stranger sat down on the other side of the fire and removed his fur mittens to hold his hands to the heat. But Gunnar saw those hands were elegant and white, not the hands of a hunter. His eyes sparked with silver malice and he looked upon the prince like a hawk looks upon a mouse. But the prince was no mouse, and he knew to reveal he had seen through the demon's deception was to court instant death....

"As if he could kill me." Loki scoffed. "I had watched him take his vow in the town square. I intended to kill him with his own sword and leave his corpse on the church steps as a lesson against such presumption," he said with an unnerving relish. "He knew who I was, since no mortal would be fool enough to wander my woods. His only hope was to take me by surprise. Not that he had a chance, but I let him play." His chin lifted and he gazed out over the bay, his expression distant as though he could see the memories against the sky. She could almost see it herself: Loki crouching beside the fire, a feral creature in his furs, toying with the prey who thought he was the hunter. That seemed more like the Loki of the old tales than this one in the velvet coat and civilized mask.

He continued, "He asked a question as an attempt at distraction, and we fell into conversation. I was surprised he was intelligent, and he was surprised I was not the monster he had expected. We talked all that night, putting aside that one of us was supposed to die."

"And he persuaded you to stop?" Elsa guessed.

Loki considered that. "In a sense. That was the first time I'd conversed with anyone since I came to the mountain. He reminded me that though I had lost everything, there were places in the world where humans valued the things I had valued once and where they might welcome my knowledge. So, when dawn came, I let him live. I walked away, and the Ice Demon was no more. I was amused to find out later that Gunnar had taken back a wolf pelt and claimed it was me."

A silence fell after his words, and after a moment, he turned to frown at them. "What?"

"You lost everything?" Anna asked softly. "That's so sad. I'm glad you found us."

She curled a hand around his forearm and leaned into his shoulder. His frown turned perplexed and he looked at Elsa as if hoping she could explain. When that seemed not to get the response he expected, he patted Anna's hand once. "I am not your blood, Anna," he reminded her, as if she might have forgotten.

"You're my sister's father. I don't know what that makes you exactly, but I know it makes you family."

"I have done terrible things," he said. "Not all the Ice Demon stories are false. I killed that priest, I let an entire company of soldiers fall to their deaths in a chasm when I might have saved them…." Elsa had the impression he was testing them, as if to find the point at which their affection would snap.

Anna didn't let go of his arm. "Because you were lonely. And you're not anymore, because you have us. So you won't do terrible things again."

"Your logic is unassailable," he responded drily, and she poked him in the ribs with her other hand.

"Say it: family. You have one now, and we're not going anywhere."

Loki's gaze sought Elsa's above Anna's head, as if to implore her to intervene, but Elsa smiled. "She'll pester you until you give in."

"I can see I have no other option." He heaved a deep sigh of mock-reluctance. "Family."

"Yes!" Anna's hands went around his waist to hug him tight. "This is even better than getting you as my brother-in-law!" she declared with loud enthusiasm.

His eyes flared as he took her meaning and flew back to Elsa with near panic. She had to laugh.

The tesseract was very beautiful, but like snow and ice, its beauty also contained a great danger. Elsa didn't like to have it outside its box, and she especially didn't like touching it. Because she liked it too much, and she knew that feeling was dangerous.

Loki felt the same, she knew, when he gave the box to Anna to keep for them when they weren't using it.

But touching it gave her a strong impression of its power, that feeling of a cold wind rushing through her. It wasn't the same feeling as when she used her own power for small things, which had once been a fear lodged in her chest but was now a more peaceful happiness. So she learned to untangle the two threads, reach for her own first, and for the tesseract only with deliberation.

Elsa and Loki had moved their practice to the main courtyard. Anna sat on an empty cart, dangling her feet off the end with the chest closed beside her. Olaf was keeping her company as they watched Elsa and Loki. Loki had wanted to keep practicing in private, but Elsa had convinced him it was in all their interests to show that she was not the only one with powers or the only one who could control them. When she glanced at the crowd gathered in the windows of the palace or at the open doors to watch, no one seemed frightened - or very surprised - to find out he had powers, too.

They were now playing a game: they were growing a tree made of ice and traded turns adding branches to it. It was to help with control, to use their own powers and not touch the tesseract's, even though it sat nearby. The tree now stood twice Loki's height, a beautiful but fanciful structure of graceful limbs and a profusion of transparent leaves. In the sunlight it gleamed and cast tiny rainbows all over the stones of the court.

His last branch proved too heavy, and the tree cracked. Loki exclaimed a foreign oath and flung out a hand, shattering the tree into a pile of ice shards.

"Ha!" she crowed. "I win!"

He pouted, glaring at the glittering pile as if it had personally offended him.

"It was a very pretty branch," she consoled him, and for a moment, he looked as if he might stick his tongue out at her, but recovered his dignity.

"Well done," he said. "Neither of us touched the dark energy. I think we're ready to put it away."

That seemed like something to celebrate. Plus it was a beautiful day.

Elsa formed a snowball in her hand and threw it at him. He was quick, catching it, and he flung it back at her. She barely deflected it in time, hurling another in his direction.

"Anna, Olaf, help me!" she called and made a pile of snowballs on the cart next to Anna. With a gleeful laugh, Anna started launching them one by one at Loki.

"Three on one! Still not fair odds - for you!" He retaliated, snowballs bowling Olaf over and smacking Anna in the chest with perfect accuracy. Elsa sent a barrage at him which hit some sort of invisible wall before him and built a real wall of snow that protected him until she pulled it away.

Soon snowballs were flying in every direction. She and Anna pinned him between them, but their snowballs passed right through him and hit each other. His form disappeared in a flash, and Anna yelped, "Hey! Where'd he go?"

Snow hit the back of Elsa's neck with a shock. There'd been no one there. Half expecting that Kristoff was back or some child had joined in the game, she whirled around to find Loki, chortling smugly at the success of his illusion.

"You cheater!" Elsa's giant snowball fell out of the sky, meant to fall on his head, but he was already gone, now standing ten paces away, fastidiously brushing fat snowflakes from the sleeves of his black velvet coat.

Which was when Anna's last snowball smacked him in the back. "Got him!"

Something dangerous crossed his face, as if he was tempted to attack and had to forcibly remind himself he was playing, not fighting. He held out his hands in surrender. "No, no, anything but the dread snowballs!"

Elsa blasted several at him which he didn't even try to avoid, laughing as a dozen hit him in quick succession and he collapsed theatrically to the ground. "Oh, I am slain!"

Elsa pounced on him, trying to tickle him. He proved unticklish, but very strong, holding her in one arm and Anna in the other when she came to help. Then, when both of Loki's arms were full, Olaf leaped on top of the pile. "Hugs for everyone!"

"What did I say about hugs?" Loki demanded, but he wasn't angry and didn't try to force Olaf away.

Olaf lifted his head to look down into Loki's face. "They're not so bad, are they?" Olaf asked, knowingly.

"Better than getting stabbed in the gut, I suppose," Loki muttered, and Elsa elbowed him.

"Don't be such a grump."

Anna giggled into Loki's shoulder. "That was so much fun."

He let them go and stood, removing the snow from his coat with a gesture, and offering each a hand to help them up. Elsa cleaned up the larger piles of snow and her sister's dress, leaving the rest to finish melting in the sun, while Loki picked up the tesseract container.

The odd foursome headed inside to have tea.

Far away...

The flames in the small brazier died away to a pile of grey ash and Frigga, Queen of Asgard, smiled and brushed away the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. They were not sorrowful tears.

He was alive. She had always known as much, but recently his name had floated on the wind, a distant whisper barely heard to tell her that he was using it once more. And now she could see him, as the protections he'd wrapped around himself faded. At last he was ready.

She beckoned one of her ladies close. "Have Thor come to me. Tell him I know where his brother is."

"You found Prince Loki, my queen? That is happy news indeed!"

Frigga sent her away, knowing the news would be all over the palace by sundown. Loki had been found. After so long lost in self-exile, the prince was coming home.

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