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14 October 2014 @ 11:00 pm
A Crocus in the Snow 2/  

SVARTALFHEIM - present day

Sif knew they were there, somewhere close. She could feel the beady little Dark Elf eyes watching her from just out of sight. Trying to catch them, she kept turning quickly, but there was nothing there. It seemed impossible they could hide in such a barren landscape of dry scrub, black basalt and volcanic glass, but they did.

When she would have tried again to catch sight of them, Loki grabbed her wrist. "Don't. They have shroud glamour around them. All you do is look foolish."

She gritted her teeth. "Can't you break it?"

"I could." He let go when she tugged at his grip. "But I'm trying to end a war, not start one," he reminded her. "As soon as someone identifies me and passes word to Malekith, we will meet our watchers soon enough."

"Are they all around us?" she asked in a low voice.

"Now they are, yes." He didn't look, but answered with certainty. "I count eleven, keeping pace at fifteen meters." He turned his head to lift a brow at her. "I did warn you this was a dangerous place."

It was not the danger she objected to, but the sneaking. The elves hid on the edge of her vision; she knew they were there, but like wraiths, they vanished when looked at directly.

To try to take her mind off the annoying feeling of eyes on her back, she asked, "How did you plan anything with him in the first place? We've had no contact with Svartalfheim since King Bor's time."

He snorted once, mocking her naïveté. "So Asgard believes. Malekith has been in contact with many of Odin's enemies, over the years, those within Asgard and in other Realms as well. I first heard of him from…" he paused then let out a short laugh. "Laufey. Ah, the irony."

The queen had told her that Laufey had been killed trying to assassinate the king. Sif wasn't sure where the irony was, but decided this wasn't the time to ask.

Loki chuckled once more, to himself, and continued, "They had made an alliance, though it came to nothing. They were two old warriors with a lot of talk and anger about how they'd both been wronged, but they could do very little. That was," he hesitated and let out a long breath, gaze flickering with memory, "why both of them were so eager to fall in with my plans. I could offer them a way to finally achieve their vengeance. Of course, neither of them looked at the price as carefully as they should have. No one ever does, when they think they have what they want."

He said that a little too heavily, as if he meant the words for himself, too. He fell quiet, thinking, and she prompted, "So when did you come here?"

His glance suggested she should know that for herself. "After I fell."

"When we thought you were dead." That still stung. When he had let her think he was dead - not just his family, he had let her believe he was dead. He had let her believe all sorts of terrible things, and some of them had even been true. She shook her head.

"When I rather unexpectedly continued to live, I had to do something," he said lightly and shrugged.

"So you came here to make an alliance. With a Dark Elf who's hated Asgard since before Odin Allfather even took the throne?" she asked incredulous. "Why in the Nine Realms would he listen to you? Why wouldn't he want you dead?"

Loki's step paused. "Because I'm not Aesir, Sif."

"What are you talking--" She started impatiently but fell silent and grimaced. She'd forgotten that his blood was not Aesir. "Oh. Of course. So you told him?"

"He had to believe why I was angry." He bent to pick up one of the chunks of black basalt, tossed it once in his palm, before hurling it to the side as if he didn't care where it went. Sif, who knew perfectly well that he could throw a dagger with pinpoint accuracy without watching it hit its target, watched the rock herself, waiting. There was a faint scrambling sound near where it landed as one of their watchers had to scoot out of the path. Loki's lips flickered with a brief smirk, before the humor died away. "It wasn't entirely my idea. But planning my vengeance with one who hated Odin even more than I did, seemed like a good plan. At the time."

She wondered whose idea it had been, but that wasn't the important part. "But that was before Midgard." She frowned at him. "What, your grand plan was to rule Midgard and then join Malekith in destroying Asgard? Except that wasn't going to work and you knew it."

He glanced at her and shrugged. "The grand plan was that I told him about the convergence and he would attack during it. If I happened to be a prisoner on Asgard he would free me, but if I was ruling Midgard, I would join him."

"And if you were dead?" she asked quietly. Because they both knew that had been the most likely outcome of his 'plan'.

His grin was an unexpected response. "Then I'd have my vengeance after, wouldn't I? There was no bad outcome, that was why it was perfect."

Hearing him refer to a war on Asgard as 'perfect' was unsettling. "Except for the death and suffering."

"Says the Lady of War," he mocked her and she nudged him.

"Hey. Good paths. Remember?"

He rolled his eyes. "Jesting. This place is dark enough without you being dour, Sif."

She eyed him, disapproving of his sense of humor. But she was not so distracted she missed when the air twenty paces in front of them rippled strangely then glowed as a Dark Elf unshrouded himself back to visibility. Black and silver armor, white hair, and a helm that contained a mask that hid the facial features, the warrior said nothing at first. Sif put a hand on her hilt but didn't draw.

Both she and Loki stopped, and Loki held out his hands at his sides, empty. "I have come to meet with Malekith."

"You are Loki of Jotunheim?" the Dark Elf demanded.

Sif only knew he reacted to that because she felt his arm twitch where they were touching, otherwise his face and voice were smooth and calm. "I am," he answered. "And my companion is Lady Sif of Asgard."

"Asgard," the warrior hissed at her, "is not welcome here." She glared at him, daring him to draw a weapon on her and did not lower her own hand.

"She's with me," Loki returned, his tone a level calm that suggested the warrior not argue with him. "If you would escort us to Malekith, now, I need to speak with him."

"The witch stays here."

Loki took two steps toward the Dark Elf, his gaze like ice and voice now dripping with menace, "I killed four the last time your kind tried to play games with me, and with her at my side, we'll kill a lot more than that. And still we will both go on to talk to Malekith. So why don't you be cleverer than you look and take us where you were already told to?"

"Loki, we're trying to be friendly," she cautioned him.

"If he stops being a fool, I can be friendly. But this is gamesmanship and I will not play with the likes of this moron." He started past the Dark Elf warrior. "Take us to Malekith or get out of my way."

The Dark Elf seemed to have no authority to actually stop Loki, whose action forced him to scurry on ahead, saying nothing in a sullen silence, as he led Loki and Sif onward.

To ease Loki's clenched jaw and glare, Sif nudged him and leaned in to tease, "You killed only four? Were you not feeling well? You should have taken more than that."

His glance was offended, but she saw the amusement there. "I still needed an alliance," he objected. "And there were more than a few of them."

"Six? Ten?" she taunted.

"One hundred twenty-four." He smiled sourly at her surprise. "Let's say that Odin Allfather was not the first king I've been dragged before, in chains. Though at least Malekith took them off when he learned who I was."

There was an angry tightness in his voice that worried her. She touched his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. He gripped back then pulled free, to walk ahead.

She looked at his back as he strode with outward confidence, but she knew it was an illusion, masking emotions that were still tangled and laced with darkness and anger.

But they climbed a low rise that proved to be a lookout area over a deep valley. Bleak dark grey stretched as far as the eye could see, tree-less wasteland rising to distant smoking mountain.

The valley was dominated by a giant tower. Shaped vaguely like a hammer, it was a deep obsidian black, outlined in scarlet and white lights, and it looked like it belonged under the sea, like some ancient creature that should exist only in the deep a million years ago.

It was not what she expected for a land so broken and empty, its people supposedly so shattered they hadn't caused trouble for five thousand years.

Its lower point was set into the ground, with small building lumped around the base, and from here, she realized the small figures in the tidy rows were thousands of silver-and-black armored warriors gathered near it. It wasn't a tower at all; it was a war ship.

"Oh ancestors, that… is immense."

"At least he hasn't left yet," Loki muttered. His eyes turned to her and he asked, "One last chance for you to take the path to Asgard. Once we get inside I won't be able to send you back."

She ordinarily would be incensed at anyone offering a chance to flee from trouble, but he made it with little expectation that she would accept and managed to make it charming. "Did you think I would leave you here? Now?"

He couldn't help a brief smile at her skeptical question. "No, but I thought I should offer. They have no love for Asgard inside."

She thought about a hundred Dark Elves who had taken him for Aesir before hauling him to Malekith, and knew he was probably speaking from personal experience. But then she thought of might happen when he started talking peace, whatever his blood, and she shook her head. "I stay with you."

"Mind that you remember I asked you," he advised, drily, then inhaled a deep breath. "Come, Sif. The army gathers, we have little time."

He headed for the path that wound down to the valley floor, and she followed.

Part 3