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a history of things unsaid

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Now

Empty settlements are ubiquitous on Jötunheimr. That is, the ruins of them are. As Loki flits between once-cities, searching for a temple to his liking, he encounters in each a spectacle of broken, half-leveled buildings, uneven walls of cracked ice – vast crevasses in the ground and over everything a thin covering of ash. Whatever restorations managed, whatever number of frost giants recovered since the great war with Asgard, Loki undid all and then inflicted damage twice as terrible and cut down a number twice as devastating in the few moments he'd forced the Bifröst's gaze over Jötunheimr's vast blue plains. Loki wants to build a towering pyre and weep before it in horrified grief while its flames lick the sky. He wants to knock over such a pyre and avidly watch all of this despicable and despised realm melt and burn.

The current reconstruction and re-population goes slowly without their Casket of Ancient Winters, but progress is yet apparent. Loki avoids the laborious up-cropping of fresh buildings, the tribal meetings wherein hierarchy is being redrawn in blood, and most particularly Helblindi sitting straight-spined on Loki's throne. When Loki presses a bare hand against the ground, he can hear the chatter between tribes and individual Jötnar; vague plans spanning for centuries, the hushed but ever present grumblings for revenge, and more mundane aches and groans. Winter-song is an imprecise means of communication, utilizing impressions over words and efficiency over eloquence. But unless warmongering Aesir arrive uninvited on their lands and demand their attention in the spoken All-Tongue, it suffices.

Hours or days later, as Loki wanders yet another far-off settlement, he feels the muted pulse of a holy place. Meters below the ground he finds the caved-in entrance. Ymir himself may have walked it for how ancient the brittle air feels against Loki's skin. There is damage to the temple, although the crooked beams still hold the ceiling against centuries of new snow and the mosaic floor is well preserved, but the damage is old – older than Loki's doing, older than Odin's, and caused by abandonment rather than assault. The winter-song is faint for leagues in every direction, and every shadowed corner Loki checks is empty of spying eyes.

The ice glows wherever Loki presses his palm.

Yes. This temple will do.

The pity is that Loki would have left well enough alone. He'd at last dismissed Jötunheimr as a means of redemption, if ever his bitter thoughts sweetened enough to yearn for it anew. He'd come to some strange, uneasy peace within himself – was content to while his time wreaking havoc that fell far short of genocide. He'd found new allies who cared not of the royal machinations of a distant realm and who appreciated Loki's cleverness, did not despair his magics. It was a tightrope existence, yes, but one Loki could've walked for eons, should no new weight seek to unbalance him.

But that is then.

That is before Latveria and the children's book hidden in a castle library, a book that changed everything. That day Victor had been his usual tedious presence, engaged in some droning lecture on his growing doubt that Loki shared his commitments. There'd been some disparaging of Loki's frequent disappearances, the expected bemoaning of Loki's overly-complicated plans in which Loki too quickly loses interest. Or that may have been a previous lecture, or some combination of several; Loki's attention was intermittent. Victor had been mid-word when Loki took his leave, had followed Loki through the castle hallways still lecturing, and had only allowed himself to be interrupted when Loki locked the library door in Victor's face.

Calmly – for none save the stretchy scientist ever seemed able to rattle him – Victor had said, “You are being purposefully unreasonable to irritate me.”

Loki had answered, “Only in equal measure to how you bore me, darling.”

And there, hidden in a bookcase underneath a stack of ancient mythology, Loki found it.

The temple thoroughly warded against any outside presence, Loki carefully calls upon the Casket of Ancient Winters. He sets it on the broken stump of a central pedestal, the top of which would have once loomed five feet over his head and now is level with his eyesight when he kneels before it. Next to him, he places the book.

It is Vanir in origin, each thick page covered in flowing, brightly colored illustrations that tell a series of tales without a single word of text. There is magics in the ink; when he traces fingers along the lines phrases come unbidden into his mind. How it came to be on Midgard Loki has no idea and little interest in knowing. He has, since the book's discovery, been interested in little else but the last story, which tells the tale of how the golden realm defeated the frozen one.

When Loki traces again the first illustration, of a glowing box held by a great, monstrous figure with deep red eyes, Loki thinks and hears and knows,

The ice giant king is so feared because he has no heart.

He dreams these days in illustrations. How could he not? The ink should be faded for how often in the past few months Loki has flipped through the pages and traced the drawings. The story of an ancient ritual and a special relic buried safely in the ice realm's belly, its secret known only by the ice realm's kings. The relic lends ever-winter to the realm, and ever-strength to its people, and ever-life to its ruler. In exchange, when a king-to-be is born, the king-who-is calls upon the relic and consigns to it the king-to-be's heart, for only a being with no heart could be cold enough to be worthy of presiding over the frozen realm.

But a prophet-well whispered this secret to the golden king, the story tells, and the golden king schemed to make this strength into a weakness. Only the ice giant king can call upon the relic, and the relic can only be called upon when an heir is born. So the golden king waited and waited and waited until an ice king-who-is bore a child and prepared in secrecy for the ceremony, unaware that the golden king was meanwhile preparing for war.

At this point in the tale the illustrations blur with the sudden sense-knowledge of once being a small thing in Laufey-king's great hands. Loki remembers the reaching feel of his ancestors' long arms, dead fingers tapping at his tiny chest in time with what the Casket demanded, hungry. Hears the startling war-cries too close to the temple and Laufey-king's snarl. He remembers being left on the cold floor with only the Casket's shrieks for company and remembers his own tears, because when a king returned to him it was not the one who left him there.

This is how the golden king finally defeated the wicked ice giants, the story concludes. This is why those foolish enough to lose their heart will be always defeated by those who cultivate and treasure strong ones.

But the story gets one detail wrong. This Vanir author may know many things he should not, may have sight that sees what escapes even Heimdall's gaze, but there is this one. Little. Detail that Loki knows and he does not. Before stealing the relic, the golden king slays the king-to-be.

But Odin All-Father did no such thing. Odin All-Father is not so merciful as the Vanir's golden king.

Strange, that Loki only ever wondered at the unfairness of Thor being twice-bright, never considering that it is because he is only half-dim. Strange, how clear it is the reason for the misshaped emptiness inside him. Not a gaping emptiness, no, but an emptiness that does not gape wide enough. Loki erred in fearing himself unworthy of the warmth of Asgard's crown, when he should have feared himself unworthy of the chill of the crown he was always meant to wear.

No wonder the kings of Jötunheimr are so cold. No wonder that Loki is never cold enough.

And now at last an escape from the circular existence he'd endured since his fall. Striking Midgard, being humiliated by her foolish heroes, flitting between realms while he recovers his strength and his pride. Sometimes perusing Nidavellir's markets for dwarvish metals, or trading ballads with the dökkálfar, or meditating and reading stolen Midgardian literature in the heat of Múspellsheimr's caves. And then back to green earth, clashing weapons with the Avengers on battlefield when Loki should be striking sideways with poison and mistruths. But if Loki struck from the shadows, he would have long ago been the victor against mere mortals. So why choose over and over to disadvantage himself? Why always stay his hand from a killing blow? No wonder he would've tolerated this tightrope forever, pulled back and forth between wants that cannot harmoniously coexist.

No wonder Loki was cast so swiftly from Thor's bed and was so easily replaced in Thor's heart ...

Stung by those memories – more bitter than the rest combined – he returns to contemplating the Casket of Winter, which lights the cave in faint, endless shades of blue. The glow reflects off the temple's roof, bowed down with the weight of centuries and centuries of snow and ice, creating strange figures against the curved walls. All this time he carried it, felt its pull without fully understanding why. Even as a child and being shown the wonders of Asgard's treasure room, fingers clasped in the All-Father's deceptively gentle hand, nothing captivated him as thoroughly as the Casket. The Casket held no such wonder for Thor, who was wide-eyed and barely able to focus on one treasure before alighting upon another. Thor –

No. Loki is not thinking of him.

Loki spent months researching the ritual how he could, but for all that it is laid bare in this story the truth of the ceremony's intricacies is, indeed, a secret. Especially given there was only so much he was willing to reveal to others in the pursuit of more information. But he gathered enough to fill out what detail the book could not, and the memories playing at the edge of his mind provide the rest. Loki recalls again the thrill of sudden knowledge that washed over him when he read the story. Hears in his mind the chants. The interruption and the sounds of a war. A ceremony half-finished, and Loki still too whole by half.

He would bet anything – his head, his mouth, his life – that the story tells of true events. And he knows, with startling and absolute clarity, that it is above all others this secret Odin feared he would learn.

How now, All-Father? Loki wants to spit those words at Odin's feet. Almost as dearly as he wants Odin to appear at the temple's entrance and to once more steal away the Casket and free Loki from an endlessly cold fate. Would the King of Asgard twice spare the King-to-be of Jötunheimr? Some necessity spared Loki the first time. What Loki would not give to believe it's love that could spare him a second ...

Too late by far, now.

“I regret not my wickedness,” Loki says, words echoing against walls that are not used to spoken sound. He may be alone, but the Nornir hear always and it will be known what he spoke. It would be known that if any other being had also half a heart, their sins would have been twice as terrible.

Loki presses his hands against the frozen floor and speaks winter-song into the ice. Threads of glowing magic twist from his fingers to curl around the temple floors. He was right – this ritual does not require specific words or actions; it hinges on intent, on sacrifice. A trail of arabesques rapidly circle and crawl up the pedestal toward the Casket, which shimmers and begins to whisper to him in a thousand thousand languages, felt more than heard and only a handful familiar to him.

Certain phrases are sharper, lift above the bottomless murmur. Prince of Ice, he hears. Winter son. King-slayer. Come to finish. Odinson and Liesmith. Firstborn and secondson. Come to begin.

A fissure runs through the Casket's middle and opens; the chatter swiftly becomes deafening. King-to-be. Loki closes his eyes and tilts his head back, glorying in the chill of deepest winter that washes over him. King-who-is. His lips split in a grin at the first feel of tapping, seeking long-dead fingers. We welcome you, the words scratched in blood across his mind, waited for you. Asgard stole you and rejected you. Yes! Soon all of the realms can reject him and it will be no matter to him. He will be above such pettiness – such stifling emotions. Let Thor have his passion. Loki will be stronger for its absence.

The fingers abruptly still, and the murmurs become a clamor – a fierce argument that rattles Loki to his bones and causes the temple beams to creak and shift. OURS, the ancients scream, and then quietly, as if the argument is happening a great distance away, sacrifice of equal value. In a single voice, a single language, of jarring lucidity: We accept.

The light against his closed eyelids intensifies, seems to originate from all directions and becomes an almost tangible weight pressing his kneeling form lower, bowing his back. The seeking hands move again, but they crawl up his chest, a thousand fingers mapping the shape of his lips.

This isn't right. This is not how Loki remembers.

Loki tries to pull up his hands to protect himself but they may as well be weighed down to the floor by Mjölnir. Spells fizzle along his fingertips but do not manifest. A particular hand pries open his mouth, and Loki knows – he knows – that the hand is Laufey's. No! The seeking hands withdraw, and Loki coughs and gags on a viscous liquid he suddenly feels spreading the length of his throat. He opens his eyes and sees the ghostly shadows of the hands, the fingers beckoning, and he helplessly spits out a mouthful of whatever unknown substance chokes him. The black liquid follows the spirals of the magic along the floor, a serpent called by the Casket's unceasing and cacophonous song.

Bowed, his arms straining to keep himself from slamming forward, Loki gags as more of the thick liquid pours from his mouth, smears down his chin. There's too much – it drips from his ears and nose, is ripped from his fingertips. And all of it glides forward and upward, drawn into the Casket's greedy depths.

Loki only notices the blood-red mist that emerges from the Casket and follows the same but opposite path of the liquid once it has already begun a rapid crawl up his arms with such heat as to make Múspellsheimr itself jealous. The gods what agony, and he can't even inhale enough to scream – can't make any sound at all. And as his blood heats and moves faster through his veins he realizes, horrified, what sacrifice of equal value he has just unwillingly made.

No. No no no!

This isn't what he wants! He chokes helplessly on the last of the black liquid, watches as it disappears into the Casket. The red mist, too completes its journey and sinks into his pores, burning him from the inside out. His chest expands horribly, ribs pressing unnaturally outward, and just when Loki expects to rupture from the strain he hears a long, low sigh, and then –

Nothing.

The tension dissipates, gone as if it never was, and so too whatever was holding Loki's hands immobile. He collapses down, his nose thwacking into the ground. He takes much less notice of the blood that trickles down his chin than in how the murmurs quiet and drift away as the Casket seals closed. A strange thump, and then the Casket begins to melt into the floor.

No! Loki crawls forward, his body clumsy as if he was held captive for years instead of minutes. He scrabbles desperately at the Casket but it melts too quickly and slips, insubstantial, through his fingers. He keeps scratching past when his fingers bleed, past when the glow of magic has faded and the temple is again still and undisturbed. Loki can barely think for his shock.

Loki has no comprehension of how much time must pass before he forces himself to stop. Strength utterly spent, Loki covers his mouth with his shaking hands and sways forward until his forehead rests against the frozen ground, legs folded beneath him. In the shelter of his cupped hands he tries to speak the word why, but no sound breaks the temple's silence. His lips don't even properly shape the syllable. He shudders.

How just. How fitting. How gods-be-damned wretched. The last words he'll ever voice were a lie.


Then

Loki covers his mouth with both hands.

To muffle the sound of his breathing as he pads quietly down the hallway, he tells himself, thankful that Thor is not around to pin him to the floor and twist his arm up his back until Loki spits out the truth – that he covers his mouth to muffle his delighted laughter. Loki is still young, far short of the height he one day will reach, and he spends most waking hours dizzy with the magics he is only just beginning to learn. Every spell Loki learns is a revelation but never a sufficient one when there is so much still to know. He keeps an ever-expanding mental list of enchantments he wants to master and mystical mysteries he wants to unravel, and if it takes him until the far-off day Yggdrasil itself withers and crumples to ash he swears he'll cross off every last one.

At the great entranceway to the treasure room, Loki glances at first one guard and then the other; he may as well be a fly for the notice Halvard and Amund take. They are attentive, keeping careful watch, scanning the hallways for intruders and nodding at passing Aesirs, but whenever they happen to face toward Loki's direction their gaze passes over his form without the slightest catch. Incredible.

He's tempted to dally here for as long as it takes to be discovered. Would Halvard feel his stare on his back first or would Loki's concentration break first and Halvard only notice him when he flickers into sight? How long would he be able to tickle a finger down Amund's arm before he realizes it's not a stray insect? If Loki whispered soft suggestions would they mistake his words for their own thoughts? Their own intentions? What if –

No. Loki has a more pressing curiosity to assuage and still the trickiest obstacle ahead of him before he can. Another time, he promises himself. Facing the doors again, Loki places a careful hand against the wood and concentrates on making himself insubstantial as he mouths the necessary enchantments. While one day he will use this magic to tread effortlessly between realms, today he panics slipping through a single wall, nearly trapping himself.

Once through, Loki is so startled he trips forward and almost sinks through the floor. Catching himself in time, he forces his body to be motionless and listens for any commotion, but he hears only the sound of his own gasps. He's in a hall lined with Asgard's dearest treasures, and he'd gone through the front entrance.

Loki is, frankly, stunned he's going to get away with this.

Righting himself, Loki quickly descends to the bottom of the staircase without pause; there is only one item in this room that interests him, that calls to him in some relentlessly compelling fashion. Ever since this morning when father took Loki and Thor on a tour through this treasure room, Loki has been unable to think of anything else. As if the Casket of Ancient Winter speaks to him in some unfamiliar language, trying to tell him a story he already knows but which hovers and waits just past his conscious memory. Standing before it, Loki swears his heartbeat thumps in triple-time. He reaches his hands out, framing the Casket between his palms and marveling at the ethereal light tinting his skin blue. Carefully, he brings his hands closer, and the voices become just a bit clearer –

“Hah! I knew you'd be here, Loki! I knew it and I was right!”

Loki snatches his hands back from the Casket and spins to face the entrance. Thor has time to bound down the stairs, halt beside him, and throw an arm around his shoulders, all while grinning madly, before Loki registers that it is neither Amund nor Halvard nor Odin come to lecture him for being where he should not be, for almost laying hands on what he should under no circumstances be touching.

Moron, he hisses to himself. You should have been paying attention – should have been ready to shield yourself from sight the moment someone else was near. Except Loki is not entirely certain the thought originated in his own mind.

“And you're after this gloomy old thing, too. I knew it! As soon as you weren't in your room I knew that you'd be here madly coveting. It's your favorite, isn't it? Of all the wonderful things here this is your favorite and you were going to spend all day in the dark staring at it and probably molesting it. Ask me how I know! Go on.”

Loki squirms under the arm pinning him fast to the other boy's side, but Thor simply tightens his hold. Thor has only just begun sparring with wooden swords around the practice rings and already his physical strength is twice Loki's. Conscious of how easily Thor is pinning him and irritated at how easily Thor guessed his intentions, Loki snaps, “Maybe it was how I was staring at it when we were here earlier? I wasn't trying to hide it.”

“Wrong!” Thor says. “Well, I mean, yes, you were. Staring, I mean. But that's not how I meant.” He shakes Loki. “Ask me, Loki. Come on!”

Crossing his arms, lips turned sullenly down, Loki turns his head away from Thor. “Fine. How did you know?”

“Because you only like two kinds of things – things that are gloomy, and things that are shiny, and this is the gloomiest, shiniest thing I've ever seen,” Thor says so quickly the words run atop each other. “I'm surprised your knees didn't buckle when you saw it!”

“Shiny?” Loki repeats incredulously.

“Yes, shiny!” Thor says. “You know how I mean,” he wiggles his fingers, “Shiny.”

Loki has to stare at Thor's wiggling fingers for a long moment before he understands. “Oh. Shiny. You mean,” he mirrors Thor's motion, but allows wisps of green light to curl around his fingers. “Magic.” At Thor's nod, Loki says again, “Oh. I thought you meant –” He bites his tongue to stop the last word, tries to halt his hand from gesturing, but it's too late; Thor's teeth gleam white, and Loki feels a blush redden his cheeks.

Me. Hah! You thought I meant shiny like me,” Thor says, absolute delight buoying each word. Loki hasn't a blink in which to sputter an embarrassed denial before Thor sweeps him up in a hug and spins them around until Loki is dizzy. “You're like a – a skinny, prickly, unpleasant teddy bear, Loki. Never be different!”

There is explicit insult in that sentiment, Loki is nearly certain, or he would be except that an insult wouldn't normally cause the blush on his face grow to warmer. “Let me go, you oaf,” Loki demands, but he doesn't quite attempt to escape Thor's hold and may in fact have raised his own arms to lightly hug Thor back. While Thor spins them around again, Loki hides his red face against Thor's neck and quietly enjoys the thump of his own heartbeat in his ears; sometimes, when Thor is not around, Loki forgets he has one.

“How did you get here?” Loki asks, when he finally brings himself to shrug out of Thor's embrace.

“How did I – through the entrance,” Thor says slowly, as if Loki is slow. “Pushed open the doors, walked through. The usual. Why? Did you come through the ceiling?”

“Amund and Halvard let you pass? Father said specifically we're not to be here without him.”

Thor shrugs carelessly. “And Amund and Halvard also know that one day I'll be king. They're wise to cultivate my favor now.”

“Ah,” Loki says. He could challenge Thor's easy assumption of just which one of them will one day sit on Asgard's throne, but for now it is more amusing to say, “Very clever. Now when you have sons with wide smiles, you'll already know which guards will disobey your orders so as to have a future king's favor. Good show.”

“Oh,” Thor says. “Huh.”

While Thor puzzles over this revelation, Loki returns to his study of the Casket. Its call had dimmed at Thor's arrival, and now even though Loki strains his ears and Thor is silent, Thor's very presence must be too loud. Or else Loki is imagining everything, projecting some strange desire, attaching a deeper meaning to this – this gloomy, shiny relic where none exists. No. It can't be that. “I am too young to be so mad,” he murmurs. It is a testament to how often Loki murmurs strange thoughts to himself that Thor merely pats his shoulder and offers, “As you say.”

Already bored with the Casket, Thor wanders off to inspect other treasures. Loki glances between Thor and the Casket; with Thor no longer beside him it calls again, to the ... negative space within him. Perhaps that's the answer. It calls to emptiness, so would have no hold over Thor.

“Now your turn,” Thor announces. “You must guess which one I like best! And you have to tell me why, too. Like I did.” Without waiting for Loki's agreement, Thor clasps his hands behind his back and begins to hum a playful tune, ambling among the treasures and leaning close to inspect this one or that and waggling his eyebrows at Loki. “This one?” he muses. “Or this?” before starting up the hum again. “Do you need a hint? Guess, Loki!”

Loki allows Thor his game for several minutes before turning back to the Casket. “It's a trick question,” he says, and sees Thor's reflection in the Casket still. Without looking, Loki points to one of the few empty pedestals. “Your favorite is the space saved for whatever treasures you bring home in victory.”

When Thor doesn't answer, Loki turns to face him. Thor's smile is leagues wide. “That's right! How did you – Loki, that's it exactly. How did you know? You must tell me. I have to know.” He bounds forward and latches both hands around one of Loki's arms, shaking him. “Loki, you must! How do you always know?”

The more interesting question to consider is how could Loki not. Thor is a royal prince who will never know want anymore than Loki will – what true use for treasure could Thor have except for the tale of how it came to be his? He'll have to learn how to marvel – or at the least how to pretend to marvel – at the achievements of others, but for now his favorite stories are the ones that revolve around himself. And no one but Loki ever tells him to be otherwise. Simply stand Thor in front of a mirror, and Thor is not the only one who can barely see in his reflection the young boy for the tall warrior-king he will soon enough be. All of Asgard joins in the illusion.

“My ears are burning,” Thor says. “Whatever could be going through your mind?” Loki simply raises an eyebrow, and Thor grins wider. “It just got worse, didn't it?”

What a thoughtless, arrogant thing Thor is, and Loki's thought have indeed turned crueler, so how is it that both of them are ever mistaking Loki's malice for affection?

“I'm far too delicate for your wicked tongue, Loki. You must spare me.”

“As you say.”

“No matter.” Thor's shoulders rise in another careless shrug; that Loki was never going to fall for this simple trick was no reason, in Thor's mind, not to try. “Keep your council. I don't need the details to know your secrets.” Loki blinks at him, and Thor's hands slide down to curl around Loki's. “Now come, magpie. We should go. I told them I would only be a moment and it's been that several times over.”

“You leave that way,” Loki says, tugging his hand free and shimmering out of sight. “I shall leave as I came.”

Thor gapes and looks wildly about – he spins once as if Loki merely stepped sideways out of view. “Loki! Where –?” He swings an arm out, and before Loki has time to duck the back of Thor's hand slams into Loki's nose. Loki yelps and thunks backwards onto the marble; his concentration ruined, the spell dissipates and Loki is visible again.

For a moment, Thor and Loki stare at each other, Thor's arm still outstretched and Loki on the floor holding a hand to his bleeding nose. Thor's lips twitch first, and despite Loki's effort he feels his own eyes crinkling at the corners, and within one heartbeat and the next Thor is collapsed beside him and they are both choking on raucous laughter.

“Loki! You – you – I shouldn't – shouldn't be – you're hurt,” Thor manages to gasp, but Loki just waves a dismissive hand and keeps laughing. “No – no, really – Loki, I'm sorry –”

Loki hears the door creak seconds before, “My prince? Is everything well?”

Thor's head whips around toward the entrance, where Amund peers in.

“Oh,” Thor says, still chuckling, “I was just –” Loki quietly enjoys Thor's expression when he realizes Loki has once again melted from sight. Traitor, Thor mouths to where he believes Loki to be. “Just,” Thor gestures toward the Casket, “The Casket, you know, and, well,” and Loki has to bite his tongue to keep from snickering when Thor visibly attempts and fails to construct any lie – let alone a convincing one – connecting his loud laughter to the Casket of Ancient Winter.

Amund is little help; he merely waits patiently as Thor stammers. He's still father's man, despite Thor's charm, and Loki makes a note to caution Thor from too quickly counting favors. Not that Thor will heed him.

Abandoning any pretense of excuse, Thor abruptly announces, “I will be on my way now. I've had my fill of these treasures for today.”

Loki has crossed his ankles and laced his hands behind his head, prepared to wait until he is alone before making his own considerably more dignified – and secretive – exit. But as he stands, Thor casually reaches out and fists his hand in Loki's tunic. Loki has no choice but to be dragged along or else risk discovery, and so while he allows himself to be led up the stairs he finds consolation by poking Thor repeatedly in the back and watching Thor attempt not to react.

“Of course,” Amund says when Thor reaches the top of the staircase. They are just through the entranceway when he adds, “And you as well, Prince Loki?”

Loki walks directly into Thor's back, and Thor, just as startled, stumbles forward. Loki glares at Amund, but no. Amund's stare is off by a ways, and Loki looks down but does not see himself. The spell holds. But what then?

The guard says, “Perhaps you were less stealthy than you believed.”

Amund is going to regret that. This is the sort of thing that Loki does not ever forget. While Loki seethes and Thor glances uncertainly between Amund and Loki's general direction, Halvard says, “You were as a mouse. Amund jests.” He taps the doors and says, “The room is warded, young prince. Against those that would sneak in with intentions far more sinister than curiosity.”

Loki eyes the runes that appear along the doorway at Halvard's touch. Thor, clearly eager to be away from this tension, tightens his fist around Loki's tunic and says, over-loud, “As you were.” He drags Loki along once more.

“He still wastes time and effort with parlor tricks,” Amund says to Halvard, as if Thor and Loki are more than a few feet away. “So he shields himself from our sight. What of Heimdall's? What of the Nornir? No, better for a man to stand his ground and let all who would look upon him.”

Loki's mental list grows just that much longer.