“Father!” Thor boomed, marching down the long stone corridor that lead to and from the dungeons underneath the palace. His hand was so tightly wrapped around the handle of Mjolnir that his knuckles were white, which was no small feat for his skin was tanned golden.
“My son,” Odin said, pausing on the first of a long series of steps, leaning his weight on his spear. “What troubles you?”
“Father..” Thor said again, walking most of the way down, and coming to a halt before his elder. “I have just learned what my brother's punishment is to be and you cannot do this. Loki deserves a fair trial.”
“He needs to pay for what he has done,” Odin stated. “His crime does not span just our realm, what he has done against his own family, but against the people of Asgard, against Jotuunheim, and Midgard. The death toll was great, greater than a mere tantrum should have been carried.
“Tantrum?” Thor's voice rose. Somewhere in the distance, thunder rang across the land as a storm started to brew. “My brother was in pain.”
“You believe the God of Lies?”
Thor growled. “I know my brother better than any. Watch his eyes. Its the only part of him that he cannot control. They spoke of great pain.” His hand worried at the handle of his hammer.
“You worry about him, just now? After how many year centuries?” Odin asked. There was no friendliness in his voice.
“I would ask you the same,” Thor stated. He straightened some. “I never lied to him about who or what he is.”
“And who is he now?”
“My brother.” There was no question to Thor's voice. It was fact set in stone. “I have spent the last several hours enduring the blade that is his tongue until he ran out of poison, and would finally listen.” He pulled an empty vial from his belt. There was but the tinniest bead of some violet fluid in the bottom. “Only then, could I give him what mother had pleaded.”
“Something to occupy his mind to keep him locked while preparations are made, no doubt,” Odin stated.
“Nay,” Thor replied. “She said it was something to calm his troubled heart and mind,” His hand tightening on the hilt again. Muscles were starting to protest at the extra use but he didn't care. “I asked him why.”
“A truth serum?”
“She did not say.” Thor shifted his weight. “I understand little of his pain, but I will rectify this.”
“It is too late for that now, my son,” Odin said. “Far, far too late.”
“I already realize this mistake. I should have done many things. Now is not too late to begin.” Thor wet his lips, then looked back at his father, looking him in the eye. “I would claim responsibility for him. Help him, save him from his anger.” He is not supposed to be the angry, reckless one, Thor had contemplated, I am. “My brother cannot be held responsible for all of his actions. What happened on Midgard were not entirely of his doing. He was a shell, a Draugr. Those creatures,” Thor pointed away from himself to emphasize, “took advantage. They used him as a puppet for their mad schemes.”
“Your brother willingly murdered over half of the Jotuun, murdered his own biological father, for what?”
“He killed your greatest enemy,” Thor stated.
“He murdered Laufey, not killed,” Odin stated in turn. “Laufey should have fallen in combat, not over where I slept. There was no honor in your brother's actions.”
This caused Thor to give into silence. Stabbing...or rather, blasting, someone in the back was not honorable. Not in the slightest, regardless of how dangerous the person was. Mixed thoughts brewed in Thor's mind. Loki had sparred the lives of valuable warriors in how his actions played out, yet...at what cost? Honor? Honor was like the sun, to live without it was a horrible thing. This made him angry, and yet...on the other side, Loki did save the Aesir from needless deaths in a war that could have spanned centuries. Mere blinks in time to all of them, but at what cost? Thor growled lowly, a sound that should have been barely audible if not were the hallow stone walls.
Pressing his advantage, Odin spoke again. “Those actions weigh heavily on the family's honor. Helblindi has taken Laufey's palace and has stated as much. Laufey did not raise a fool. They did not even have the ability to defend themselves against the destruction that was waged upon their lands. I have left them without before. Now they truly suffer with their lands in ruins. I will have no choice but to return the casket to them under certain conditions so that they may recover.”
“They would die with out it?”
“Why must my brother be subjected to a punishment that was banned before your father became king?” Thor demanded, recovering a previous train of thought.
“It is the only punishment suitable. Many would have his head, or see him torn to pieces, even tortured gravely,” Odin replied. “At least Loki will remain whole, and he will feel the gravity of what he has done.”
Thor drew a deep breath, then walked passed his father. He didn't like this, not one bit.
“Where are you going?”
“To see my brother,” Thor said, pausing. “Mother bid me to give him more of that potion so he would hopefully not fight the guards, nor bring further injury to himself.”
Odin watched for a minute. Seeing that his father had no more to say, Thor continued walking down the stone hallway, the sound of his boots bouncing off of the walls almost painfully. Odin turned and continued up the stairs.
When he arrived at the correct door, Thor ordered the guards to let him inside. Once there, he walked over to the hard wooden bench jutting from the wall. On it, Loki way on his side, arms at an awkward angle due to the manacles around his wrists still. He looks more like he had fallen there than actual lie. His eyes were half open, staring at nothing in particular, at least until he realized Thor was nearby.
“Not your brother...” Loki whispered, his voice rasping, strained from all the curses he had thrown over the passed couple days.
“Always my brother, no matter what you say,” Thor replied. “Mother wishes for me to give you more.”
“Don't want it...” He weakly tries to push himself up. Thor leans forward and helps him. Adrenaline gone, the pain and stiffness of his injuries set in. “I want my mind unfettered.”
“Mother wishes you no harm,” Thor replied, giving a nod of understanding. He sat down on the hard bench, next to Loki and let his younger brother lean on him. “So she wishes to help you as best she can.”
“She wishes me to silently march towards my punishment,” Loki said. He hated feeling this weak, oh how he hated it. “I would prefer to resist.”
“Father has decreed that it happen, but I can reassure you that no harm will come upon you,” Thor replied, wrapping an arm around Loki and giving a one armed hug. “Mayhap there is some truth serum in this,” Thor said, holding up the vial.
“No, there isn't,” Loki replied. “Those have a sharp taste to them, like licking the edge of a blade. Ironic, isn't it? That,” he glances toward the fill vial, “tastes sweet, like spring water.”
“Indeed.” Thor rolled the vial in his hand, careful not to drop it. “Will you?”
“Nay, not yet,” Loki replied. “The last still has time on it.” He glances up at his not-brother. “How long?”
“Tomorrow morning, everything will be ready,” Thor said mournfully.
“Have they told you what will happen?”
“At least its not the stocks,” Thor said softly. “No, this is worse. Do you remember the things our teacher once spoke of, punishments that were forbidden?”
Loki laughed. “Earned that have I? Which is it? The glass coffin? Chained to a rock, alone with a serpent's venom to keep me entertained?” He threw out ones he most easily remembered.
“The glass coffin one,” Thor replied.
“Oh,” Loki said, laughing again. “That just gives me time.”
“Time for what, brother?”
“Time to think of ways to repay the kindness,” Loki replied. “If you haven't noticed, I don't care any more. I have no reason to. I've no home to go to, no realm would have me without the intent of discovering how many pieces they can break me into, no reason at all to care.” A malicious grin crossed his face. “I've not a single reason to care any more. There is no love lost on monsters like me.”
“You have a home, right here,” Thor stated. “You are no monster, brother.”
“Oh certainly, I have a home. In a cell. In a nice glass box,” Loki said. “Those are acceptable for me to call home.” The maniacal joy faded. “I think not.”
“Please brother,” Thor pleaded. “Drink. You are loosing yourself again.” He offered the vial of violet fluid.
“You just want me to be a quiet shadow,” Loki states bitterly. “A stepping stool.”
“Loki...” Thor pleaded again. “I do not think that of you. I never did.”
“Then why? Why?!” Loki's voice was flooded with bitterness. “Why did you never give pause to see me chocking in your wake? Your shadow is as immense as your ego and as stifling as a wet blanket.”
“I have been asking myself the same questions many times of late,” Thor said. “I feel guilty for wronging you. At least...” he felt slightly hopeful, “...at least, tell me, do you feel guilty for what you have done?”
Loki reached up and took the offered vial. He briefly considered smashing it on the floor and crushing whatever was left with the heel of his boot. But no. For all his rage, Loki couldn't stand the idea of their mother's eyes full of tears. He uncorked it, glaring at Thor, then tipped back his head, swallowing it. “Should a monster feel guilty?”
“You are not a monster,” Thor restated.
“Then what were all those stories told when we were children? Of how horrible the Jotuun were? I remember several times you crawling into my bed claiming one was in your closet. Ironic, there really was a monster and you slept with it,” Loki hissed, voice dripping with venom.
After a minute, Loki could feel his stomach calm. He was so full of anger any more that it turned his stomach bitter, making eating an unpleasant experience. At best he had sipped water, or some tea, but doing so often gave him dry heaves. This fluid, too, made his stomach twist, but that faded quickly as his body absorbed it quickly. Loki drew a deep breath then let it go, before he looked over at his not-brother.
“You know I do not think of you that way,” Thor said softly. “We may not share blood, but that matters little to me.”
“If I started calling that rock over there brother, would you be jealous or call it brother as well?” Loki asked sarcastically.
Thor smiled. “That sounds more like you.”
“I'm not that person any more.” Loki's eyes shifted away. “Neither of us are. We cannot erase what has happened.”
“When I spoke with our mother, I agreed to her words,” Thor said. “It would have been better to simply tell you.”
“And then what? Live every day knowing that everyone hated you not just because you are different, too pale, too dark haired, too argr, but because you were really a monster as well?” Loki asked. His voice was softening as the potion's effect kicked in.
“No,” Thor said. “We would make them see.”
“Always the ignorant one,” Loki said softly. “Always thinking you can magically make everyone think the same as you. No, Thor, they would see their crown prince just fine and well. They would also see that the house of Odin was harbouring a monster right behind him.”
“That's not true and you know it.”
“They called the wrong prince the god of lies,” His voice was growing softer, dampened by drowsiness. “You lie to yourself far more than I have to everyone else.”
Thor swallowed, considering Loki's words. Trust his brother to leave him with a whole lot of thinking to chew on while they waited. While true, it would be dinner time soon, Thor did not wish to leave his brother. Loki would spend enough time alone soon enough.
~ ~ ~
In the morning, the door swung open with a loud clang. Inside, on the bench, the two brothers were leaning against one another, asleep. Odin sighed, then tapped his spear on the ground, to which even in such a small space it gave such a loud clang. Both of them jumped nearly off of the bench, awake in an instant.
“It is time, Loki,” Odin stated. “Guards,” he turned to the two outside the room. “See that he is ready in two hours time.”
Thor looked up at the high window. It was early, very early. The last hints of the moon still showed through the tinny window. “Is my brother not allowed a request before going?”
Odin turned back. “Under guard, he will be allowed time to prepare himself, bathe, change, I do not care.”
“What point is there in wasting good food?” Odin snapped. “He's refused everything he has been given so far.” Thor swallowed hard, then looked over at his brother, a questioning look on his face. “Now both of you, make yourselves presentable and less like tavern flies.” Odin then turned and stalked away.
Thor looked up at the guards. “Will he be allowed into his chambers?”
Loki looked away. “My power has already been stripped,” he said quietly. “I cannot even enter them, now.”
“Arrangements have been made to take him to yours instead, my prince,” the one guard said. “I suggest we make haste if you are to be ready in due time.”
Thor nodded, and stood, stretching some kinks out of his neck. “Come brother.”
“Not your brother...” Loki hissed. Thor ignored the repeated comment.
~ ~ ~
“Why did you refuse food?” Thor asked. He was facing the door, refusing to leave Loki's side, much to the younger god's dismay. Loki at least as able to convince him to turn away so he could bathe with some privacy.
“I'm not hungry,” came the bitter answer.
“You used to eat well. Not as much as myself, but well,” Thor said.
“Must you even compare me to you?”
“I apologize...” Thor said, starting to turn.
“Eyes forward,” Loki snapped, grabbing a towel and wrapping himself in it. Sort of. The chain was truly a pain in the rear for the way it swung. More than once now he had hit himself with it, forgetting about it entirely as it smashed into the flat plane of his stomach, nearly winding himself. In his haste to put the towel around him, the chain swung wildly, and rapped him in the crotch. He muttered a few very creative insults to the manacle's maker, and limped over.
“Are you well?” Thor asked, concerned with the pained squawk he heard behind him.
“I'm fine,” came the strained answer. “Clothing. I'm not going out in a towel.”
“I saw some on the bed...”
“Open the door.”
Thor did so, confused. A pair of thin hands pressed against his back, the chain thunking against his lower back, then pushed him forward. He did not resist as Loki steered him to face his closet. In fact, Thor laughed. “Why are you so secretive?”
“That is not an answer,” Thor said with a grin, repeating something Loki had said to him numerous times after he attempted to give that answer. “Why?”
“What part of monster did you not understand?”
“Are you like those movies strange, strange animated movies late at night?”
“What?” Loki sounded genuinely confused.
Thor grinned. “I fell asleep and woke to that on the television. There was a girl with a high pitched voice and the strangest creatures doing things with tentacles-”
Loki reached up and put his hand over Thor's mouth. “Stop. I do not wish to hear any more.”
“They were entertaining.”
“Simpleton,” Loki murmured, stepping away, then turned to the bed. He plucked at the things lying on the edge of the bed, confused at first, then sighed. “And you wonder why I stopped calling you father...” he muttered under his breath.
“Is all well?” Thor asked.
“I'm fine. Need I find a dictionary for you to help you understand those words?” Loki snapped, lifting the pants off of the bed, and putting them on. They were loose and comfortable, reminding him more of sleeping clothes, but really, they were just well on their way to being worn out. The tunic was tricky to put on, in parts, him unable to do so with any sort of magic, but he did manage. Someone had spent a good deal of time modifying these paupers garments to add quite a few buttons to the sleeves so that he could wear something somewhat familiar. “Now I could use your help.”
Thor beamed as he turned, helping his brother adjust the sleeves at his shoulders and with the numerous buttons. “Can I see?”
“No!” Loki paused. “If you look while I happen to be unconscious, I will find out and I swear to you that I will carve out your eyes and wear them.”
Thor laughed. “But I need my eyes.”
“Then don't look.”
“All right, brother,” Thor laughed, “I swear I will not look.”
Somewhere, in the pits of Loki's mind, he found it comforting to hear Thor's voice full of its usual cheer. He couldn't deny that he craved those times, but there was no turning back. Not now...it was far, far too late now.
~ ~ ~
Loki's lip twisted in a sneer at the thought of walking through the crowds gathered in the throne room. There was hardly any choice. In a way, it felt reassuring to have Thor standing just in front of him, yet at the same time he hated it. Always in the shadow. Always. Behind them stood a pair of guards, sealing off any attempt to run, not that he dared to. Without the power to protect himself and so many rallied against him, Loki knew he had one path and that was forward through the grand hall. Or backwards onto pikes, and he quite disliked the idea of being speared like a fish.
The elder brother turned and nodded, then bid Loki to follow. Before he could, Loki banished the distaste from his expression, taking a deep breath and throwing his head high. He would not face the court like a whipped dog, he would face it like a prince.
Thor stepped forward, the hall falling all but silent, as they walked by. Through the corners of his vision, Loki could see some turning, whispering. Amongst them, he saw an old rival whispering to one of his cronies. Loki wished he could have heard that fool's words, but the din and the ambiance of the room drowned out those words to all but those the fool intended to hear them.
The walk was long, longer than Loki remembered, but he supposed that was due to the weight he was currently bearing. Within, a storm brewed that rivaled that which Thor could create. He wanted to lash out at the gathered nobles, countrymen, even paupers. What else did they honestly expect from a monster but equally monstrous actions? A bitterness gathered in his stomach again, making bile rise, putting an even more sour taste in his mouth. For a bare moment, he yearned for something, even too sweet mead, to wash that taste away.
The two brothers, the guards, came to a halt before Odin. To the side, the warriors three gathered, along with Lady Sif. To the other side, their mother stood. A brief glance, and one could see that Frigga wanted to rush to her sons, to protect them from Odin and what would come, but she did not. She could not.
“Loki Odinson.” It was a surprise, to many, that Odin had made the decision to keep his claim on his youngest as a son, even after all that had transpired. “As you are already aware, your fate has already been decided and it is not open to further deliberation as it has been decided that your punishment is suitable to the crimes you have committed.”
Odin drew himself straighter, looking out over the masses briefly. He caught the eyes of a particular group, from Midgard. “We have no laws that end with death of the condemned, and imprisonment is nothing to people who have nothing but time on their hands. What we have decided should be fitting to your laws, and to ours as well.”
“What will happen to him?” Nick Fury asked, stepping forward from the group slightly.
“It is one that has fallen out of favor for the severity of it, however, I believe that this will be sufficient to satisfy the will of the people, and maintain peace between the realms,” Odin replied. Around him, he could hear people's whispers rise to a murmur. They knew what he spoke of from lessons from their tutors. They knew what was to happen. “Three weeks may seem like little time to anyone, but to him it will be much, much more than that. You may witness his sentence's execution this evening.”
Loki fought to keep his expression neutral, but could not stop himself from swallowing hard. His mind went numb. His fath-Odin was truly going to go through with it. He had hoped it would be commuted to a cell until Midgard's current civilization crumbled, where he would be able to still tell his mind safely behind a heavy, locked door. No, he would be silenced, locked away, and for what? Three weeks? Mere drops in a bucket. It was almost laughable.
“You said you had nothing but time,” Fury stated. “Only three weeks?”
“I will explain the severity of it then,” Odin replied. He turned his attention back to his sons. “You will have until dusk to make any amends if you so choose. May you find peace once again, my son.” Gungnir rapped against the floor once, finalizing any decisions.
~ ~ ~
“You think you have it easy, don't you?” Fury said. He didn't dare move much passed the door. Even in chains, powerless, he knew Loki could still lash out since he was not chained to the wall.
“Perhaps,” came the quiet reply. “You know nothing of our laws, Fury.”
“I know that three weeks is pretty short, even for us,” the director stated”. This was true. Multiple DWIs may result in a month or so in jail, indecent exposure, minor crimes that had been repeated two, three times might give such a low jail sentence. “What is really going to happen to you? Do you even know?”
“I get to sit in a pretty box,” Loki replied with a smile. “And you get to watch.”
“I was under that impression, when I discussed this with your father.” Fury stepped aside, into the room, but away from the door finally. There was another bench on the other side of the room, he headed to it and sat, crossing his legs and resting his hands on one knee. “Three weeks is still awfully short.”
“Care to elaborate or will I have to ask your distraught mother?” Fury asked with a grin.
Ire rose, the green of his eyes seemed to change, from grassy to poisonous. “Leave her alone,” Loki spat.
“Touched a nerve, did I?”
Loki glared at him. “Leave my mother alone.”
“Or what? Will you tell me?” Fury asked, taunting, “or will I have to ask her?”
“I will rip that grin from your face,” Loki hissed. He seemed to be coiling in his seat, like a serpent readying to strike.
“Might I remind you of the guards right there?” Fury said, a tip of his head indicating the guards at the door. Loki gave them a glance, growled and settled down. “Well?” Fury asked.
“It is far worse than you believe it to be,” the younger brother replied. “It was declared cruel well before Bor became king.”
“My grandfather,” Loki said. “We have never met him. He fell in battle before any of us were born.”
“So why is being locked in a pretty box for three weeks cruel?” Fury asked. He thought of taunting Loki again, just to see the trickster's angry again, but thought better.
“Because for every minute that passes outside the box, it is a full year inside it.”
Fury thought about that, running the math through his head. He knew the death toll from Earth, and figured there were plenty from the frost giants. “A year for each life lost,” he mused to himself. He could have almost started to laugh at Loki, grasping the real depth of what was going to happen. “I see now. Well.” Fury stood, a swift, fluid motion. “I hope you enjoy your little vacation.”
The heavy door swung shut with an equally loud slam behind the director. Loki was on his feet in an instant, roaring, slamming shoulder first into the door in a rage, having heard Fury laugh somewhere down the hallway. He gave a pained grunt, pushing himself from the door before he sat down again, glaring poison at the small barred window.
~ ~ ~
Lunch came, and left, untouched. Loki had the urge to attempt to throw the bowl of thin soup at the window and hope that some hit the guards on the other side and, hopefully, just hopefully, have some impact on their day. He was horribly bored and a bored Loki was the one that misbehaved the most. He didn't, however, just sat and watched it cool, before someone came and took it away. Dinner was the same, a different sort of soup, again with some heavy bread. Loki stared at it. It would be the last thing he would eat for a quite a while and he honestly considered it.
When the servant came to take away the tray, they found him in the opposite corner. The guards informed the servant to relay a message that Loki had been ill. When the small group gazed inside once the door was open, they could see why. Very little of either had been eaten, but what little he had left him retching in the corner. Tired eyes gazed back at them, causing them to worry, but they left just as quickly as they dared come.
A short while later, Thor entered the cell. “Brother, are you well?”
“I'm fine. 'Mn not your brother,” Loki slurred, half awake and having been roused by Thor's booming voice.
This time Thor ignored it. “The guards worried about your health and sent word back,” the elder brother stated. “I came as soon as I heard the message.” A pause. “Is there anything I can do...?”
“Take a nap for me?” Loki answered with a wry grin.
“Your brother,” Thor completed. “Yes, you keep saying this as if to convince yourself into it being the truth, but it is your greatest lie. I will always call you brother.”
“Quit trying to sound noble,” Loki groaned. “Its not very becoming.”
Thor smiled, but only briefly. “It will be time soon.”
“A pity,” Loki said, a slow grin speaking across his face. “I was so looking forward to sitting here and having entertainment drop by daily.”
“You don't mean that.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
Thor sighed, then sat down on the bench near where Loki curled on the floor, knees to his chest, tucked under his chin, one arm wrapped around his legs, his other hand at his knee. “If only you had made your agony known before, brother...you would not have to do this.”
“Would you have listened before?” Loki asked. “Before Odin threw you to Midgard, powerless and mortal?” He already knew the answer, but he wanted to ask it any ways.
This gave Thor pause. The answer was like lead on his tongue. “No...”
“Mnn. Then what good would it have been? For all my words, there would have been no point wasting them on ears that would not hear them.” Loki paused, letting his words sting. “Anyone listening would say that I was telling lies anyways.”
Thor looked over, at his brother. “I am sorry...”
“Its too late for that, Thor,” Loki said softly.
Thor took a deep breath and straightened. “You are not being executed. We will have time to change that. Change everything. We will have time I will make the time.”
“I swear it then,” Thor said with great conviction. “I will find a way to see you happy again. I would give anything.”
Loki thought on that for a moment. The yearning was there, but...no. No more time in shadows and shade. “You can't just fix this, Thor. There are too many pieces...”
“I will find a way.”
There was a knock at the door. “Prince Thor?”
“It is time.”
Thor swallowed hard, then turned his gaze to Loki. He leaned over, offering his hand. “Come brother.”
Loki sighed heavily, carefully uncoiling himself. He took the offered hand, and pulled himself to his feet. His legs tingled from being so tightly coiled on the floor, but with a few careful movements that faded. He straightened and looked at his bro-no-Thor. “Three weeks cannot end soon enough.”
~ ~ ~
“Nick!” Tony yelled, marching down the hallway, and bursting into Fury's office. “Dude, seriously?” He waved about a small stack of parchment in his hand. “You seriously agreed to this?”
“Agreed to what?”
“Loki's sentence!” Tony spat.
“I suppose you have been discussing it with the team now that you know,” Fury said.
“And researching on the side. Did you even do that yourself?” Tony demanded, slamming the parchment papers onto the desk. “You could see he wasn't all there before, when he comes out, we're going to smell the crazy coming from him clearn down here!”
“What do you mean?” Fury said, leaning forward in his seat. “Isolation cells are common practice here for the worst criminals, and you know it.”
“There's been a lot of research in the passed few years on the effects of isolation on prison inmates,” Tony said, his voice nearly a growl. “With what information they've given you, and with what we know, there's a reason why they outlawed this punishment. Its inhuman, by everyone's standards.” Tony glanced upwards. “Jarvis, load the research we've found up here so Fury can read it.”
Fury cocked his head slightly, watching Tony suspiciously. “All right. I'll read it, though I have some bad news for you.”
“Its too late. His sentence has already started.” He indicated the yellowed papers on his desk. “They didn't give me those until it had already begun.”
Tony let loose an angry hiss. “To make sure we don't change our minds.”
“Likely.” Fury skimmed down through the data, and cringed at a couple lists of side effects. “You're right...”
Tony shook his head, then ran his hands through his dark hair. “When I see Thor next, I'm going to talk him into bringing Loki here after its over with. He's going to need a team of therepists.”
Fury swallowed hard, looking from the screen to the papers. “That is excessive...”
“Yeah...hey, Jarvis, look into some good local therapists, like ones used to real crack jobs, also have a room re-finished to be strong enough to hold Bruce when he's in a bad mood, and give it padded walls. Oh, and a couple straight jackets, reinforced enough to hold the Juggernaught,” Tony looked at Fury. “Better safe then sorry.”
Fury sat back in his seat, steepling his hands, a look of concern on his face as he continued to watch the screen scroll down.
Note: I put some thought into this. How to show someone slowly loosing their sanity it without it being completely obvious. I figure it would be far more interesting that way :)
He had no idea how much time passed between when he remembered that he fell asleep and the point which he woke up. All Loki knew is he had never heard the palace, nay the entirety of Asgard this silent and that he was very disorientated. He looked up above his head, seeing the drapes billow softly in a warm breeze, but no sound of birds. From the amount of light coming in, it should have been mid-morning and the birds full of song. Or perhaps the distant sound of people in the practice fields.
It was already odd enough that he had wakened, in his own bed, in his chambers, dressed for sleep as if it were any other day. The only problem was, Loki distinctly remembered being dressed little better than a pauper, not in what he usually slept in, lying on one of the least comfortable things he had ever lie on, his guts aflutter with guised worry, and hearing the slow, clanking sounds of locks. Had he slept the entire three weeks away already?
Loki slid from the bed, checking carefully, making sure the floor was real, before standing. He stepped away, to the window, lying his hands on the sill and gazing out. There should be small shapes here and there, of guards on their routes, of people walking somewhere in the distance, and still he heard and saw nothing. This is quite odd indeed...
As he changed his clothing, Loki temporarily contemplated the idea that just perhaps he somehow lost his hearing. He had absolutely no idea how that could have possibly happened, but who knows, maybe they changed their minds and decided to disable him instead. A quick check and there was no blood about his ears, no pain. Loki then decided to do something that crossed his mind as ridiculous, and clapped his hands together. The sharp sound was the final confirmation that he did still have his hearing, but something was very amiss.
He quickly finished dressing and preening himself to his usual standard before searching his chambers. No sign of a servant having left and removed breakfast as they usually slid the table they used a bit off from where he specifically set it. A quick run of his hand over it and he found that there was also no sign of moisture or anything from having held something hot or cold for any length of time. Loki started building a mental list of oddities.
Alive, well, in my own room.
No servants have visited.
Not a single sound outside.
There had to be a reason for this. Loki drew a deep breath, then let it go, trying to still some of the more crazed thoughts in his head, then exited the room. As he walked the otherwise silent halls (the lone sound made was from him, from his boots), he observed different areas. No guards anywhere, not where they were normally stationed, and he had not passed a single one, nor heard the whisper of their armor and robes. Continuing forward, Loki headed to the feasting hall and found no one there. There was food set about, as usual, arrangements of fresh fruit and flagons of wine.
OK, he thought, so everyone left Asgard but me, but how that could possibly happen? Loki picked a random seat and reached for some fruit. There was a pleasant grouping of red and green apples, along with a few other fruits. Loki grabbed one, not paying attention to which, then bit into it. He was lost enough in thought hat it took a moment before he realized that though fresh and crisp, the apple had no flavor. It tasted more like...crunchy water. Loki stared at it suspiciously, then chose some grapes and found they tasted the same. Loki blinked then reached for the wine, finding that it, too, was more or less water, only colored the deep red of wine. He then stood, walked over to another setting and repeated, sampling this and that. He added to the list;
Food and drink with no flavor.
Thinking on this, Loki up and left the dining hall, and headed straight to the library. Come to think of it, he wasn't really hungry anyways, but still this was so...odd.
Why am I walking? Ghosts float...don't they?
He entered the library, noticing that it lacked the musty smell of old tomes, picked a path he had taken many times, reached a favorite shelf, and plucked a favorite book from it. He breathed a sigh of relief for at least they let him keep his books, but it was short lived. When he opened the book, he noticed that words and parts of pictures were missing. Slowly, he placed the book back onto the shelf, where he had pulled it from. Loki turned back, quickly taking a less used route, over to a shelf he had just started to read from a couple centuries ago, plucked up a book he has not read yet and opened it. He had to check, just to be sure.
Loki walked outside, into the bright sunlight. He had to shield his eyes for a minute, but it passed as his eyes adjusted, walking down a well traveled path from the side gate to the practice grounds. There had to be someone here...
As he went along, Loki glanced over at the pens, where Thor kept goats. Why his brother picked goats, Loki had no idea. A dog would have been much simpler, but then Thor liked to over complicate the strangest of things, and thought too simply of others. Then they had the nerve to call Loki the odd one. The only issue right now was...there were no goats. Not even the one gray female that had a tendency to chase after him for no other reason than she simply wanted to. In fact, the pens didn't smell like they usually did either, nor did they smell like they had been freshly mucked out.
Loki strode away from the fence and down the path. There should be spectators in the stands here and there, almost always someone coming to watch the warriors practice for entertainment value. No one. The weapons on the racks held no dust, nor did they look like they had been used any time recently. As Loki made his way back to the palace, he took a different turn, leading the bathing area, and still found no one. Not a single warrior, clean or dirty.
No warriors pummeling each other.
Perhaps I am dead and that is why I cannot see them, and there is no way of knowing if they can see me...
Loki wandered back into the palace and slumped at the door. Was there even a point going inside, he contemplated, since there was no one to taunt, nor anyone to taunt him. For a bare moment, he wished that Sif would come around the corner and throw a few jibes at him for being, in her mind, lazy.
A grin spread across Loki's face. He attempted to teleport and found he could not, but still, no one to stop him, he walked casually back up to his chamber and right passed it...
And into Thor's room.
If anything, he would love to see his not-brother's face when he was done...
Once inside, Loki never bothered to close the door, (shouldn't he be able to just walk through it?) but he did decide to have a bit of fun. He tied the ends of the drapes into large knots, rearranged his drawers of small clothes and socks, used ink to draw silly faces he had seen briefly on Barton's phone on the circle plates of Thor's armor, put his capes in the bathing room, and towels on the hangers instead, along with a few more things Loki could think of that he had wanted to do, but didn't quite dare to (at least not yet), and especially not at this scale.
Still there was no one was here to stop him, not even Thor...
Yet, he wondered, if Thor was in the room, watching things move on their own accord, what was he doing? Was his dear not-brother scared out of his wits and run out of the room? Was he trying to stop him? Was Thor even in the room?
However, once he was done rampaging about the room, extracting ever scrap of revenge he could possibly think of doing to one room, reality started to settle in. The amusement with his actions left Loki, standing alone in the middle of a ravaged room.
Thor would likely not notice any ways. Thor...dear, dear Thor...was the worst housekeeper, and a constant stress on the servant's nerves. They could never voice their frustration, but he knew it was there. It would be them and only them who would truly suffer from his actions, not Thor. Thor...
Loki sighed heavily, cursed, and kicked over a chair.
He looked up at the window, seeing that it was passed noon now, and he had plenty of time to kill. Maybe everyone just up and decided that they needed a day away from him and left for a day. Maybe they will be back tomorrow.
~ ~ ~
Or perhaps not...
Loki kept track of the days everyone was missing, marking them on a piece of parchment he had attached to the wall with a dagger. Months passed, and still no one.
Maybe Helblindi lured them away and froze all of them...
or Surtur has returned and stolen them all...
Or they all went to Cancun? That Midgardian place that seemed popular with all the advertisements he had seen.
Best check on that later. He wasn't done here yet.
He could still write and the pile did not seem to go down, no matter how many sheets of it he took. At first, he had a fun with it, perhaps a bit too much so. He experimented, folding some sheets into shapes he had seen when he had control of Barton's mind, finding that they could, indeed fly, and sent a few around his room, and far, far more of them out the window to see just how far they could go. Taking a bit of ingenuity with the design, and from what he knew of birds, Loki played with the configuration of the parchment, finding a couple designs worked better for staying aloft longer, and others for short, but fast flights. He laughed at the idea of the courtyard being a mess, covered with the oddest things anyone has ever seen done with parchment, then groaned shortly later, knowing he neither Thor nor his mother would come to tell him to clean the mess up.
Thinking about the endless parchment stack, he left the room, only to return with an awl, some sheets of leather, and a roll of string. He sat down and proceeded to make several books with these things. The process took several days and he had the spare time, still marking down the number of days he had seen no one, and heard nothing. When he was done he packed them in a bag he had hidden in his closet that he could store practically his entire room in, and it would still be no heavier, nor larger than a single tome.
After that, Loki started finding other things he could place in the bag. Some things were practical, like the string, leather scraps and such that he had found, along with clothing,
For a few minutes, Loki stared at the satchel, then left to find other things. In the kitchens, though he had sampled a bit of this and that, he still found everything lacked flavor. Texture was there, but flavor...well...he could finally stand this one bread he detested with a passion. It was too heavy, too strong, and gritty with grain, and he would eat around it if it was ever placed in front of him.
Once Loki ran out of things to put into his satchel, he exited the palace, spear in hand, and out across to the Bi-Frost. Once he arrived at the gateway, again, it was a strange sight for Hemidall was not there. The watcher...never left his post. Loki stared at where the man was usually perched for a moment, then entered the gateway.
This was different from how he remembered. In place of the mystical portal, and the black space that it occupied while not in use, was a series of eight doors. Taking a guess, Loki opened the first and saw endless curtains of fire. Muspelheim. No, that won't do at all.
The next one revealed endless darkness. Hel. Not that one either.
The next door, well, lucky him, it revealed torrents of icy winds and ice. Or at least it should have been. Loki went back and checked the first door. Where there should have been blasts of hot air and heat, there wasn't any there as well.
Good. He didn't have to figure out where he coat was tucked away in his bag.
Loki stepped through the third door and started to head towards the bastion he knew was a brief walk away.
~ ~ ~
Tony pressed his hand against the glass, peering inside. “This kinda neat, creepy but neat.” He looked up at the other. “Are you getting some readings?”
“Yeah. I love this invention of yours,” Bruce replied. “How many days has it been so far?”
“Eight,” Thor answered softly.
Tony thought on it. “That's like 12,000 years so far.” He gazed into the glass thoughtfully. “I wonder how he's holding up in there.”
Bruce made a low, concerned sound. “Considering blood keeps welling under his fingernails then disappearing, not so great.”
“Unconscious mind affecting the conscious?” Tony asked. “Or whatever the sci-fi concept is.”
“Basically. His body temperature keeps jumping oh so slightly, along with his heart rate. His breathing stays pretty even though,” Bruce reported, looking at the tinny screen.
“I wonder what he's doing...”
Jötunheimr was a strange, long trip. In a way, Loki had felt like he could possibly explore, in privacy without the slightest worry about another person bothering him since no one was here either, where he came from, what he was and the land related to that. The downside of no one there was there was no one he could ask questions, not that he would expect any answers. He would have, otherwise more expected an icy sword through his neck, but again, alone, no worries.
Loki stood on Laufey's throne, mostly because that was the best way to see from it and sitting proved uncomfortable since it was so large. He sketched the details in one of his many books, seeing that it was so very much different than Odin's. Instead of shining and golden, and able to see across the realms, he could only see across the frozen wastelands, which turned out to be thriving in ways he could never previously understand even if it was currently vacant of minor forms of life. In the vast distance he had noticed that there were a sort of frozen tree. Perhaps he would explore there sometime, and discover if they too had apples and other fruits and nuts.
It was a far cry of his first impressions of Jotunheim. The first trip, everything was grey, and black, and blue with a blinding white washing everything out. This time, not being hurried or hindered, Loki could see that this place wasn't so bad after all...
With a conscious thought, Loki let the glamor fade, watching as his hands turned from its usual creamy pale, to dusty blue. Maybe that was why the Jötun marked their bodies, so that they could tell themselves from their surroundings. OR they were trying to be pretty...were they pretty? OR were they ...what were they? Green? Green was good, right? He was green.
He couldn't remember.
Loki had searched other areas he remembered, exploring those trees (those amazing, amazing trees)the places where he and Thor had trekked looking for the sword of Surtur, and a couple other areas as well. One he remembered following Thor on one of his many trials of manhood, another where the trip hadn't gone so well, but hey! They they were alive, weren't they?
Was he alive?
He certainly didn't feel it. A numbness had settled in his heart after he ran out of paper on the first two sheets marking down the days. Months bled into thousands of years now. Having caught his reflection in a stream in Nifelheim, He hadn't aged any, had he? He was a man, boy, man even though he hadn't done the same trials. He had tried, oh he had tried, but Odin never recognized his feats like had Thor's.
Was was his feats anyways?
Loki kept walking, figuring feats, feet, same thing.
~ ~ ~
He had decided to climb up to a cavern where he and Thor had stayed once, curious of something, but doing it by himself was very difficult. More than once he had lost his grip and fallen, but was able to catch himself and make his way back up after a brief respite.
This time, however, he was not so fortunate.
He had tumbled, end over end, sliding and ultimately falling down a crevasse.
Once he slid to a halt, the burst of adrenaline that numbed the pain of each rock he slammed into faded, he found himself cold and wondering just how many bones had snapped in his descent, how many bruises would he count. Loki wasn't sure how long passed before he dared to move. How he wished someone, anyone...Thor! Thor was good. Would come running, pluck him from that little dark cave and carry him away and make it stop, but no one would come.
Slowly, so slowly, Loki uncurled from the ball he had fallen into. He grasped at the dirt and snow, slowly pulling himself to his knees a little at a time. His gaze moved from gray ground to a bruised hand, to the other. He lifted one, gently pressing it to his ribs. He hissed, feeling a spot that was softer than usual. Taking a deep breath, Loki crawled over to pull himself up with a wall for support. As soon as he attempted to put weight on his left ankle, he yelped in pain, then fell back to the floor. He panted, grasping his leg and pulling the bones straight so he could heal them.
His powers did not come.
Loki gave a grunt of frustration, then made a second attempt.
He sighed. “So I am going to have to wait this out. Fine. I apparently have the time.”
~ ~ ~
“What?” Tony asked, jerking aware and walking over to the glass box.
“His bones spontaneously broke...” there was a mix of fascination and horror in Banner's voice. He took a couple steps to the side, running the scanner over Loki's left ankle.
“What the serious hell,” Tony exclaimed. “I really wonder what he's doing.”
“We really should try to see if there's more information on this thing,” Banner said. “I mean, we don't know if he's just trapped inside a cube for all of this, or what.”
“You can't break your bones in a rubber room,” Tony said. “At least not normally. You cute little weirdo you,” He tapped on the glass as if he were speaking to a goldfish. The engineer looked over at Banner. “The best place would be their library, but I don't know if they will let us in there. I doubt they have a card catalog to flip through and look for 'cruel and unusual punishments.'“
“No, but,” Banner looked over at the engineer, “I bet we can figure something out anyways. We can only hope that they might let us borrow a few books and see if we can get Jarvis to scan and translate them.”
“That...is not a bad idea, I'm glad I thought of it,” Tony said, standing up from where he was leaning.
Bruce rolled his eyes. “You're welcome.”
Tony shifted his gaze into the glass, towards the trickster's hands. “They're still bruised.”
Bruce looked as well, then ran the scanner over Loki again. “He's healing normal time now. Its fast for us, but a bit slower than earlier. At his current rate.”
“Very,” Banner replied. “Maybe this thing only helps him with minor injuries. At his current rate, and as long as he doesn't pick up anything new, he should be pretty much healed by the time he wakes up.”
“That would be the good news...” Tony said. “Bad news is, he's only a third of the way through. A lot can happen in that time.”
~ ~ ~
“Look at the size of this place!” Tony exclaimed, spreading his arms wide. “If this is where he spent half his time, remind me to take Loki around to all the libraries.”
“Not bad,” Bruce said, stepping from behind Tony. “I'd worry about you being quiet, but I somehow doubt that many spend any time here.” He turned to the third person in their small group. “Thor, do you know where the books we're looking for might be?”
“Nay. My brother would know, since he knows this place by heart,” Thor answered. “You are correct, few spend their time here.”
“How about we start where you would find Loki sitting?” Tony suggested.
“Aye,” Thor replied, then turned down a less dusty path. “There are many places, but he had his favorites.
~ ~ ~
Reality came back as he walked through the lands of Hel. This was the last space he decided to transverse as it was the most depressing. Depressing was better than the confusion and madness that was scrambling his thoughts. Though his trek through the lands of the Jotun had been interesting, it was only a matter of time that he ran out of things he wanted to look at. Loki had been forced to find a way to brace his ankle so he could continue walk. It was very strange. In a couple weeks time he should have healed, but he waited. Loki knew he always took longer than Thor to heal, but this...this was strange.
So he waited.
And nothing ever happened.
Not wishing to spend forever in that little cavern, Loki was grateful he had literally stuffed far more things than he thought he would ever need to take with him, along with things that just seemed silly at the time. Wood was useful to build fires and keep warm while he dare not move. Wood also proved useful, along with his daggers, to fashion a means to support his leg, then bind it with strips of leather. It made walking very odd, his limb still ached, but at least he could walk.
That was thousands of years ago.
Here, now, in the lands of the dead, Loki stopped, contemplating a rock garden he had helped Hela arrange once, having brought her some prettier stones from above in return for a small boon to use someday.
A place full of rocks and he had brought more.
The would be gleaming, if there had been any sunlight, pieces of granite, marble and limestone arranged in different sized circles around tall, flat, gray rune stones, the areas in between filled with a heavy layer of various colors of sand he had procured from different shores made a serene place to rest finally.
Just how long had he been walking anyways? His legs were not tired, yet, by all rights they should have been. Loki had lost count of the days; a breeze had ripped the pages from his hands and carried them off into the oceans of Midgard. He had tried to chase them before the tide carried them away, but he remembered that he never really learned to swim all that well, never having really left water he couldn't just stand in. Loki cursed the self imposed isolation he put himself under as a child, having not wanting his flaws seen by too-curious eyes.
Loki had already spent a brief time in Midgard, exploring a few spaces that came to mind, before he retreated to here, in Hela's lands.
There was a point where he walked passed the Shawarma place that Anthony had mentioned, where he had been chained outside to a lamp post, left to go without. He distantly remembered not wanting Midgard food, finding what Barton had eaten appalling, but at that point, injury and use of his magic had drained him and left him with a hunger gnawing at him. Thor hadn't even looked in his direction, not at first, instead devouring his food with great enthusiasm as usual. Thor was an embarrassment when he ate, always devouring like a man who had never been given a decent meal.
Or so Loki had figured, left there alone in the cooling city street, drawing back on a thousand old memories.
Even when Loki had heard a sound behind him, then boots on the cracked pavement, did he finally turn to look. Thor had exited the establishment, leaving the side of his new friends, to sit next to his younger brother. “I brought you something to eat,” he had said quietly, offering something that looked like a wrapped up bundle.
Loki stared at it, feeling the hunger gnaw at him still. He was not going to eat out of his not-brother's hands. Not that he could with a muzzle wrapped around his face. Instead, he looked away.
Thor received a glare.
“Brother please. Take it.”
The glare remained, but he reached to pluck it out of Thor's hands. How in the nine realms did Thor think he was going to ingest it? Osmoses? He was surprised, Thor reached behind him, carefully unlocking the muzzle and sliding it from his face.
“Eat, please,” the older brother pleaded.
Loki contemplated the thing in his hands, then reached to pluck at the outer coating. It was oddly bread-like, flaking and tearing at the same time. Thor reached over, placing a gentle hand atop of Loki's thinner one. “Not like that, you eat that as well. It is called a wrap.”
The younger god looked at the piece of 'wrap' between his fingers, leaning to take it in his mouth and chewed tenderly. Oh how his jaw ached at the moment, but there was food before him, from his not-brother's hand. His empty hand dropped as if the chains had suddenly grown heavier. Loki reached over, placing the rest back in Thor's hand.
The elder gave him a confused look. “Do you not like it?”
Loki didn't answer.
He was not going to eat out of Thor's hand.
~ ~ ~
Loki sighed, having been lost in that memory. It was too clear, happening just shortly before he was imprisoned. His gaze moved across the stones again. It was, indeed, a good place to rest even though he hadn't felt much of the need to rest. It would be a good place to think as well, however, his thoughts were betraying him more and more of late as confusion over took him. Oh how it had hurt when he smashed his still bruised hand against a rock wall. His knuckles bled, turning raw and red from the force of impact, but still, he kept doing it for a time, howling with frustration, the impact of being alone for the rest of eternity cracking and shattering his sanity.
For months, Loki had found his hands shaking, his stomach rebelling, retching up nothing but bile. There were a few times where he felt as if his very organs were rebelling, his heart sped so fast he feared it would leap out of his chest and run away to leave him alone as well. His battered hands shook more often than not anymore, unable to sit still at all. He never had any form of tick, but he was gaining one very quickly as his nerves became as frayed as a over stressed rope.
Loki knew he had to calm his thoughts. Thinking was proving dangerous at times, however. He had nothing better to do than think, and sketch things he has seen, and start a new paper tracking the number of days passed, which filled up quickly, and was at some point lost again to the winds of Midgard.
~ ~ ~
“How are things preparing?” Steve asked as he walked over to the shorter, dark haired man who was busy checking the corners of the room.
“I'm amazed how fast they got all this done,” Tony replied halfheartedly. “I'm just making sure those seams are secure. “He's not as strong as Thor or the Other Guy, but he is still stronger than the rest of us, and almost as smart as I am. I just don't want him ripping through the place if he has an episode.”
Steve examined the room. The walls were coated with thick padding, so much so that walking was a very interesting feat. To one side, there was a bed that all but blended into the room, with the sheets firmly fastened down so they could not be removed easily, likely so that no one could be strangled by twisted up sheets. There was a window, Thor had insisted strongly that Loki would enjoy seeing outside, but no drapes framed it. The edges of the padding was sealed around the window so it could not be so easily ripped away, and the glass itself were heavy panes so thick that the outside was distorted some, blinds that could be opened or closed with an unseen switch sealed in between.
Idly, Steve wondered what the younger god would be wearing, and figured it would definitely not include shoes unless there would be no laces. Maybe he would buy him a pair of soft slippers and see if it would be allowed. The floors were chilly some mornings after all.
“Friend Rogersson,” a voice said behind the Captain.
Steve turned. “Oh, hello.” He gave the other blond a curious look to the bags he carried. “What are those?” He spied the logo on one bag, seeing the Disney store scrawled across it.
“I asked the Lady of Spiders what would possibly help and she suggested to purchase something soft and friendly.” Thor placed the items, a plush of Stitch, and another one of the experiments onto the bed, tucking them neatly into the corner next to the pillows. Thor turned, and picked up the bag, setting the second one inside it. “He will not be able to have it now, but in due time.” Inside the tastefully plain tissue paper lie a rather trendy looking scarf. “While here on Midgard, I noticed he seemed to appreciate these.”
“That's really nice of you,” Steve commented.
“I hate to ask this but, why now?” Tony asked, finishing his personal testing of that particular corner.
“How do you mean?” Thor asked. “Oh...I have been told by the wise-man you requested I speak with that I am making good progress.”
“Glad to help,” Tony said. He looked over at the Captain. “I hired a therapist full time and have them on call.”
“That explains why Bruce is having an easier time,” Steve replied. “Good to know.”
Thor nodded thoughtfully. “Speaking with the wise-man has helped me understand more. It is he who suggested this second gift,” he said, tapping the box gently. “Although he also said that in time he felt it would be good if both of us would attend so that we may find lasting peace between us.”
“That's not a bad idea,” Steve said.
“Odin needs a therapist too,” Tony muttered as he pulled at the padding around the window, inspecting the seams. “My father was harsh and didn't care much about me, but at least he's never done this...”
Thor nodded sagely. “Indeed. I have been warned that my brother...may not be the same person he was before in just a few days.” Thor looked over at the engineer. “Were you able to find the information you required?”
“Yeah, that reminds me, Jarvis?”
“They are ready for your use, Sir.” A pause. “Sir, the literature you scanned is also ready at your request.”
“Coooool.” Tony turned his attention back to the other two. “I took a digital camera with me and took a ton of photos. Its how I captured those pages that looked interesting and also I took a lot of scenery.” He threw his arms wide, as if telling a fishing story. “I want to blow some up and frame them. They would be amazing in the dining room.”
Thor smiled. “I look forward to seeing them.”
“Reminds me,” Steve said, “Fury had me come along when S.H.I.E.L.D had several meetings with Asgard's council and I thought it was really odd with how your father handled the whole situation. He was so... removed from the whole issue. It was like...” he paused as he spoke, trying to find the right words, “like he was talking about some person he had just met or read about in the newspaper, not a son.” He looked over at Thor, watching as the thunderer's expression shifted from confused, to concerned, to hurt as a blizzard of thoughts passed through his head.
“He had not allowed me to be at his side in those meetings,” Thor said quietly. “My father claimed that I was not ready to handle something of this magnitude yet, and that I would best learn watching lesser trials.”
“So in one hand, he's either trying to protect Thor from reality or from him defending his brother, and on the other, punish Loki right out for something that isn't entirely his fault?” Tony shook his head. “That doesn't sit right.”
Thor gave the billionaire a concerned look. “How do you know this?”
Steve spoke up. “I may not understand all the modern stuff around us anymore than you do, Thor, but I do understand people.” He shifted, sitting down on the plush floor as Tony walked over to another corner. “You saw it too. You said your brother's eyes were green, and before the Hulk threw him around, they were blue.”
“Really creepy blue,” Tony added. “When he pulled himself out of the Loki-shaped dent in my floor they were green.” He looked over at Thor, with a brief smile. “We've been chatting a lot about what happened.”
Thor's eyes narrowed slightly, listening to their words, then thinking on them. “You are correct. They kept changing...”
“Shit wasn't all his fault,” Tony said. “You saw them change?”
“Indeed,” Thor replied. “There was a brief moment outside the tower, I saw them change. When I realized that his injuries had caused it, that is when I threw him.”
Steve blinked. “You...threw your brother?”
Tony laughed. “Aaaaanyways, I'm damn good at mingling, if I do say so myself. Loki would probably be proud of me with how I got a few kind words out of people about him. There weren't many though.”
“My brother...has many enemies. Not many shared his sense of humor,” Thor said.
“Yeah, but what they did tell me, he is damn good at that,” Tony said with a grin. “He earned that name quite well. Also, that one chick, Sif, is it true in the myths about her hair? I mean the black looks good, but-” He stopped speaking when Thor's eyes went wide, then full of regret.
“Yes...I should never have acted as I had then,” Thor answered. “I should never have laughed at the results as well. It only widened the rift between us that I could not see forming then.”
“Its not too late to fix it,” Steve suggested. “You still haven't answered Tony's question either.”
Thor looked over at the engineer. “I apologize.” He drew a deep breath and released it before speaking, gathering his words. “It is not without help that I have brought realization to what I should have been doing and what wrongs I have done. Lady Jane taught me the first steps with her kindness that humility and empathy is not a weakness.”
Steve looked over at Tony with a quizzical look. Tony shrugged. “The city kept flooding because of his emotional state. It took a bit of thinking, but we figured it out. Looks like keeping a counselor on staff wasn't a bad decision.”
“How many has it been now?” Steve asked.
TW - anxiety attacks
“So according to this data,” Bruce started, glancing over, “which there really isn't any because they don't use the same technology we do, but this is normal. The few times it has been used, the healer did report similar, strange injuries. I've been monitoring him, and its not muscle spasms causing the breaks. It has to be some form of sorcery, otherwise I can't explain it. Also, there is no record of what they actually saw furring their time inside. The end results were...bad.”
“Those would be some serious muscle spasms,” Pym commented with a cringe at Bruce's words.
Bruce looked over at the other scientist. “How have your tests gone?”
“I have nothing to base anything on,” Hank answered, waving a hand at the data showing on a sPad. “If we could go see others of his race, get an idea, I'd have something I can base things on, but I have nothing. I can't base this on the Aesir because he's totally different.” He glanced over the readings again. “Its really fascinating. To Loki, Antarctica would be a fine summer day. He's not built for anything hotter than Asgard gets, and Asgard is pretty temperate.”
“So that's why he kept stealing all the ice out of the ice maker,” Tony said, looking at the golden contents of his glass of scotch.
“He can make his own,” Bruce said. “He was pranking me and putting it in my bathtub.”
Tony smiled. “That's one way to get you to cool off.”
“Not funny,” Bruce said.
Tony leaned forward, sliding aside the glass he just emptied. “So what do we know right now? Sum it up for the kids out there.”
“Right now, Pym said, “his injuries are normal for whatever is going on in his head, no idea what he is seeing or doing, but I think I can come up with something that can possibly help him once he comes out. A broad spectrum of tranquilizers immediately to take the edge off so we can bring him back here safely, and I think I can design some sort of super Prozac cocktail to take the edge off in the long run while he reorients himself with the world.”
“Loki has already been sleeping for days though,” Bruce said.
“I doubt he is getting any real rest though,” Pym answered. “Not with what the scans are showing. His mind is as active as if he were fully awake, and there is no rest periods because of the whole time warp thing going on. That alone can push him off the deep end, we have to have sleep or people really do go insane.”
Tony shook his head. “I need another drink.”
“You're uncomfortable,” Bruce stated, observing.
“Hell yes I am uncomfortable. The 'not right' list keeps getting longer. I can't believe that Odin would put his own son through this,” Tony responded. He thought back to a conversation from says ago. “Did we even get a full list of charges against him?”
“No, not really,” Pym answered, searching his sPad for an answer. “Just what, how long and so fourth. The rest we know is all our own research.”
~ ~ ~
Loki sat at the edge of the water, staring, appearing almost catatonic at the edge as it shifted back and fourth, lapping at the edge of the land, as it curled lovingly around little stones and twigs, working a piece of debris onto the land. Somewhere near by he should have caught a look at a fish or something swimming, but he was both not paying attention, and did not see one if there was anyways. There was various animals around to eat, but no actual animals. It was very, very odd.
A time passed, warm fading to crisp, to cold, and back to warm again, and again, the passage of years before he did finally move from that spot, to stare blankly at his twitching fingers, then ultimately to the sky. Loki fell backwards, to flop onto the wet spring grass. After several deep breaths, he finally stood, limbs twitching, looking around, wondering.
Thoughts came, and left.
Why Midgard again? Why was he here? Where was everyone?
~ ~ ~
Reality came back as he walked through the lands of Leh. This was the last space he decided to transverse as it was the most depressing. Depressing was better than the confusion and madness that was scrambling his thoughts. Though his trek through the lands of the Nutoj had been interesting, it was only a matter of time that he ran out of things he wanted to look at.
Here, now, in the lands of the dead, Ikol stopped, contemplating a rock garden he had helped Aleh arrange once, having brought her some horribly bland from above in return for a small boon to use someday. Why bland? Were there not enough bland stones here?
A place full of rocks and stones, and he had brought more.
They would be still bland, if there had been any sunlight, pieces of....of rocks...what kind were those? Daises? Roses? All arranged in different sized circles around tall, funny looking stones with stuff scratched into their surfaces, the areas in between filled with a heavy layer of various colors of sand he had procured from different shores made a serene place to rest if you were suffering from insomnia.
Just how long had he been walking anyways? His legs were not tired, yet, by all rights they should have been. Ikol had lost count of the days; a breeze had ripped the pages from his hands and carried them off into the oceans of Dragdim. He had chased after then, but an absolutely enormous squid had emerged from the waves, grasping the papers in one tentacle and trying to grab him with another. Thinking better for the sake of his health, Ikol had decided that advancing in reverse would be the best thing to do.
Ikol had already spent a long time in Dragdim, exploring here and there, counting the number of odd buildings with the giant golden M logo for entertainment value. He even discovered some that stocked beer, but sadly, like the punch he drank so long ago, it didn't taste like anything.
There was a point where he walked passed the Amarwahs place that Yont had mentioned, where he had been chained outside to a duck, left to go without. He distantly remembered not wanting Dragdim food, finding what Notrab had eaten appalling, but at that point, injury and use of his magic had drained him and left him with a hunger gnawing at him. Roht hadn't even looked in his direction, not at first, instead devouring his food with great enthusiasm as usual. Roht was an embarrassment when he ate, always devouring like a man who had never been given a decent meal.
Or so Ikol had figured, left there alone in the cooling city street, drawing back on a thousand old memories.
Even when Ikol had heard a sound behind him, then boots on the cracked pavement, did he finally turn to look. Roht had exited the establishment, leaving the side of his new found enemies, to sit next to his younger sister. “I brought you something to eat,” he had said quietly, offering something that looked like a wrapped up bundle.
Ikol stared at it, feeling the hunger gnaw at him still. He was not going to eat out of his not-sister's hands. Not that he could with a muzzle wrapped around his face. Instead, he looked away.
Roht received a glare.
“Sister please. Take it.”
The glare remained, but he reached to pluck it out of Roht's hands. How in the seventy-two realms did Roht think he was going to ingest it? His ears? He was surprised, Roht reached behind him, carefully unlocking the muzzle and sliding it from his face.
“Eat, please,” the older sister pleaded.
Ikol contemplated the thing in his hands, then reached to pluck at the outer coating. It was oddly bread-like, flaking and tearing at the same time, revealing the meaty contents. Roht reached over, placing a gentle hand atop of Ikol's thinner one. “Not like that, you eat that as well. It is called a warp.”
The younger Jotun looked at the piece of 'warp' between his fingers, leaning to take it in his mouth and chewed tenderly. Oh how his jaw ached at the moment, but there was food before him, from his not-sister's hand. His empty hand dropped as if the chains had suddenly grown heavier. Ikol reached over, placing the rest back in Thor's hand.
The elder gave him a confused look. “Do you not like it?”
Ikol spoke softly, his voice rough from disuse, “It tastes like nothing. Everything tastes like...nothing.”
Roht gave him a concerned look, accepting the wrap back from his sister. “Would you like something else?”
“Water is fine.”
“I...I shall bring you some. I will return, sister.”
~ ~ ~
Ikoloki stared at the stones for a short while. He looked down, at his bandaged hands. They had cracked and bled again as he climbed over rough stone mountain sides, exploring. There were right gouges and minor stab wounds as well, where he had truly lost it and attempted to dig his way through Midgard with his bare hands.
No that didn't sound right. Midgard. It had to be.
Loki sat, for an unknown amount of time, just staring at the rocks. One could have thought him catatonic should they have dared walk over and poke him. Truthfully, he had completely zoned out, his perpetually busy mind grinding to a halt for that time. When he finally roused from the blank state, he found his hands finally stopped aching and he unwrapped them to see that his injuries had healed.
Looking for something to do, Loki pulled out one of his many books full of drawings of things he had found as he traveled. He had, in an attempt to create continuity, numbered them. This was an earlier number, the drawings and writings inside were still clearer, saner, full of coherent thoughts and neat writing. He pulled out another, more recent one, where he could see his hand writing had much to be desired, and the little sketches here and there looked more like some wild creature had decided to make marks alongside of his writing while he slept.
He looked between the two, and after a few minutes he decided that he really liked the neat one better. Looking in his pack, Loki pulled out all the messy ones and threw them into the rock garden. No sense wasting space in his pack on books full of nonsense. His pack needed cleaning out anyways.
Out went the last of those books, various wrappers and papers that covered foods that he had found (and not a one tasted like anything). Loki even threw away Aesir pottery in favor of leaving the pieces he had found as he transverse the realms, having found them more pleasant to look at and use. While he went, he found many very interesting things in Midgard. The mortals practiced seid came in many different forms depending on where one was at. He remembers standing in a great stone circle, seeing glimpses of the passed there, he remembered the abandoned tribal areas, where seid was the center of life. Amongst his many possessions, he had picked up a rare form of drum or sorts, that was highly decorated and was made from skulls.
There was a time he had an idea why they would make such an object, why anyone would make any sort of thing, but it was lost to him. Names were beginning to blur together with the lack of anyone other than himself to call them anything. With no real reason to speak at all, Loki started to wonder how he was keeping track of names in the first place, or how he was even having coherent thoughts. Then he slowly remembered, it wasn't too long ago at all that he had completely lost it. In fact it was just a few years ago he had come out of it, realizing that he was staring at the same set of rocks and breathing raggedly until he passed out, only to wake some unknown time later feeling much better and more like himself.
He picked up one of his books that he specifically kept at hand, easily done for it was a small book he kept in his pocket. Inside, he wrote a few very important things.
“I am Loki of Asgard.
I am Aesir.
I am Jotun.
I am a man and a monster.
I am alone.”
Blunt, short, but to the point. Those few words reminded him who he was. He had forgotten his name before, and did not wish to again. He turned the page.
“My brother is Thor Odinson.
My other brother is Balder.
I killed Balder.
It was an accident.
My mother is Frigga.
My father is Laufey/Odin Borson.
I killed Laufey to make Odin happy.
I wanted to be in the light.
Outside of Thor's shadow.
Odin was not happy.
Odin said 'No.'
Darkness surrounded me.”
Loki sighed and put the small book away. He had written unhappy things, but he felt they were important things. Jarring little sentences that helped. It put a weight upon his shoulders that he would rather forget, but it was important not to now. There had to be an end to this madness.
~ ~ ~
“How many days?”
“Four more,” Bruce answered, his eyes shifting from vial to beakers, and back again, moving with a practiced speed.
Tony leaned back against a desk that was not occupied by either scientist. “Are you two going to have everything ready in time?”
“Yes actually,” Pym answered from Tony's left. “One half done today, one half tomorrow.”
“He's not going to suddenly mutate into a super trickster? I don't want the whole planet turned into-”
Both men stopped and looked at Tony. “No.”
Tony backed away some. “Sorry! Sorry, guys.” Bruce signed from somewhere to Tony's left. “Has there been any changes? Anything?”
~ ~ ~
Another one came.
It clawed at his conciseness like black, angry tentacles, pulling at his mind, grasping anything that resembled a sane, clear thought and ripped it away, leaving him in a darkest, blackest pit of anguish he has ever felt. That's where monsters belonged after all, in deep dark pits away from prying eyes, left to children's imaginations. They had no business walking amongst men. Being completely alone made it far, far worse with these dark thoughts running circles in his mind. He had no one to go that could soothe away the insanity, not his mother, and not Thor.
Loki clawed at himself, dull fingernails scraping skin, trying to make himself feel something other than the intense mental pain that wracked his thin body. The anguish reached out so intensely that he felt it physically, twisting his guts making him retch and heave though nothing would come. It quickened his breath as if he had been running for a long time, his heart sped out of control,throbbing, racing with such fervor. Everything was running out of control, and no matter how hard he tried to slow down his breath, and try to find a peaceful state, he just couldn't do it. Fear kept him from being able to do it as his heart felt like it was going to burst, or stop all together any minute.
He doubled over, arms wrapped tight around himself, gasping desperately for air, trying to stop himself from shaking for his own sake, but it did little good. The trickster lie on his side, curled into a small ball, finally giving in and letting tears flow. Loki hated crying. He hated how he felt after words. He hated being a messy pile of regret and misery.
That was why he was still around wasn't it? To suffer. To feel miserable. There were no stories where monsters received happy endings. They were met with hate, rage, fear and ultimately death. This was his death, a sobbing pile of misery.
~ ~ ~
“My God...” It was a curse Hank rarely used. He didn't really believe in some unknown force behind the makings of the universe even though he had spent the last few days examining one off and on. There was panic on his face as he looked up and over at the other biologist. “He's finally broke down.”
The first thing Bruce felt was pity. He knew what it felt like to be alone all too well, that monster inside him having driven everyone away, even the love of his life. The second was rage. How could Odin do this, much less to his own child.
He jumped, Pym having roused him out of the slow boiling rage that was building, changing his features. “Sorry.”
Hank shook his head. “This isn't right...”
~ ~ ~
It was a long time later when he finally roused from the flat, dreamless sleep he had fallen into, pushing himself up from the harsh, rocky round. Loki had almost expected to wake and see Hela, but he did not. With a resigned sigh, he lie back down.
“So this is how it is..,” he said softly to himself, his voice rasping. Not speaking in what felt like eons, then suddenly screaming like a dying animal did not do well for one's throat at all. It felt like someone had reached down his throat with a wire brush and scrubbed it hard. “I am to spend all eternity alone...”
How could all the souls, the people be gone from everywhere, yet...it was as if everything was maintained by nature, by inhabitants...that simply was not there. Come to think of it, it neither rained, nor snowed. Nor had the seasons changed at all.
Something dawned on him.
Rage seethed deep inside and threatened to boil its way up out. If his throat was not already raw, he would have let the anguish overflow, but it would only make his throat even more sore. He pulled himself from the floor., found his pack, and then took off towards the palace.
~ ~ ~
“Well, it stopped at least,” Bruce said.
“At what cost?” Hank countered.
Tony stood, shifting his gaze between the two. “What stopped?”
“He was having a prolonged panic attack,” Hank answered. “It finally stopped...but who knows what this means. He is either completely broken, or is going to be a one man rage machine worse than him.” He gestured to Bruce.
“Either is going to be hard to fix,” Bruce said.
Tony cringed. “So what do we do?”
“There still isn't anything we can do,” Pym said. “Two more days until we will really know.”
~ ~ ~
It inhaled vigorously that someone had bound his magic. Loki would nearly have given his left leg (not an arm, hands were needed to cast spells), to be able to teleport, but he could not. It took ages for him to crawl up out of the dark pits of Hela's lands, through the realms and finally back to the palace. He was panting heavily as he finally stepped inside.
Loki rested a minute, then continued, making his way to is chambers, finding nothing changed, then to Thor's (which was still a mess), to his not-parents, and ultimately the dining hall. Rage seethed inside him. There had to be an answer.
He recalled, which was a feat for it was so, so long ago, apprehension, the clear lid closing, and falling asleep as locks ticked shut.
The glass coffin.
Loki turned on his heel, heading below, to the dungeons. Likely, they set up an area just for him, just for that. Also likely they would keep it on display to show what happened to those who opposed Odin's ever changing opinions.
Most of the dungeons were dark, decrepit places that stank of bodily fluids and rot, but thankfully he could still smell nothing. See it certainly, but not smell it. That was a blessing in a way. Loki peered around corners, searching, until he finally found a lit area, and saw a shining glint. He immediately took to that direction, to arrive to where everything had been so carefully set up.
Lighted crystals dotted the room, giving it a soft glow. Much of the mold and rotting straw had been cleared away, the room passively clean. He slowly approached the case where he saw himself lying inside, peacefully asleep. For the first time, in ages, Loki heard sound that was not made by him. He could hear what sounded like spirits speaking, standing next to him. He could barely make out words, but still, he could hear them. Relief washed over him like a cool douse of water.
He wasn't alone.
Loki reached forward, tentatively touching the glass. He drew closer, peering inside. He looked the same as he did now, memory placing him in the same comfortable clothing. Looking, comparing, he saw that the same pale bruises were on his true self's hands as they were on his imaged self. He hissed softly at this realization for if he had known, he would have been more careful.
“How many days?”
“He will be released tomorrow,” another ghost voice said.
“Or so they think,” a voice behind him said.
Loki turned and saw a ghostly image appear. “Brokkr...”
“That's right, boy,” the dwarf said, eerily calm. “I was wondering when you would finally put things together.” The stout man started to walk around him. “Long ago you cheated me out of my rightful winnings with your sharp words. When your father came to me to repair that device, he inevitably handed me a chance for revenge.”
Loki drew a sharp intake of air, realizing what the dwarf was speaking of. “You sabotaged the box.”
“Smart boy.” The dwarf stopped walking. “It is funny he came to me instead of Dvalin. I think he wants his troublemaker put away permanently.”
“I figured as much,” Loki said softly. “Thor won't stand for it.”
“Doesn't matter,” the dwarf replied. “As long as those locks are set, you are trapped inside of that box, inside this fake world.”
Forever condemned to cycle through madness, until I find my death from anguish, Loki thought. He was not about to say that out loud. “I will escape,” he said firmly.
“Good luck with that,” the dwarf beamed.
“I will hunt you down, and I will have your head,” Loki continued. “You betrayed a son of Odin.”
“I will stay awake for days with worry,” the dwarf scoffed. “He isn't calling you a son anymore, so I'm hardly worried. Your brother missed it off playing with his humans, but Odin stripped you of your titles two days after you were put in that box.”
This only brought more anger to Loki.
“Be gone, wretch,” the younger god snapped. “Leave me.”
“You've been alone for how many thousands of years now and don't want to speak with the only person who can?” the dwarf asked, genuinely curious.
A icy cold glare was all the answer the dwarf received.
“Have it your way. I hope you enjoy what life you have left in you. Another burst of madness like that last one might end you.”
“I think not,” Loki stated. “I am far stronger than people give me credit for.”
“Have it your way.”
The image disappeared.
After a moment of silence, Loki slammed his hands on the glass in frustration. He truly was stronger than one thought, because the glass buckled, being old and brittle, shattering under his hands. After a yelp of pain, he stared at his shaking left hand, shards of glass embedded in the soft flesh.
~ ~ ~
“Whoa!” Bruce jumped nearly three feet from where he was standing as a burst of blue light, then the top glass of the contained randomly shattered. He grasped at his chest, panting.
Pym looked equally shocked. “H...how?”
“Look!” Tony said, pointing inside. Though no glass had fallen in such a way to hurt its occupant, Loki's hand bled. The philanthropist tried to reach inside, to grasp that hand, but he was met with a blue shimmering barrier. “Aw man!”
“Do you think...” Hank said slowly. “He finally found himself?”
Bruce snorted. “Bad joke.”
Hank thought about it. “Yeah, you're right.”
~ ~ ~
Loki looked down at himself, leaning forward. His true self's hand bled, just as his imaged self was. He gently pulled the glass from his hand, and then rifled through his pack, to pull out some clean rags to wrap his hand and hopefully staunch the bleeding.
He had to think. If what he just did affected his real self, and he could hear voices around him...how could he possibly let them know that the box was sabotaged.
*sends giant squishy hugs for all those giving kudos and comments*
I love you people <3
Loki looked from one hand to the other, studying the injuries, before carefully wrapping it with new strips of rags. The thought did cross his mind, to pick up a piece of glass and start writing on his own skin, but the idea alone made his stomach twist uncomfortably. Though he kept it in mind, he knew there had to be another way. The trickster stood, listening to the voices around him, trying to recognize one or another.
I can't wrap it or touch him at all. There is this barrier in the way.
What about a spray or something? At least keep infection out...
Loki walked around the case, listening still, until he stopped right next to where Stark would be standing. “Anthony!” He bellowed with all the might he could muster out of his thin frame. “Stark! Hear me!” He rubbed his throat, making sound rubbing it raw from the inside out.
“Ow!” Tony jumped, a slapping a hand loosely over his ear. “What the-?”
Pym and Banner both jumped, startled. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” Tony answered, rubbing his ear. “I just heard the weirdest thing drilling right into the side of my head.”
“Shh! Listen, I hear it too,” Banner said, moving closer to Tony.
~ ~ ~
Loki kept yelling at Tony, hoping his voice would be heard. “Hear me! Give me a sign that you can, anything! Throw something, just hear me!” More and more , he grew desperate, screaming his heart out. “Stark!!!”
~ ~ ~
“Hear me,” Bruce said softly.
“Throw something...” Pym added. “Who could it be?”
Tony's eyes lit up. “My...god...”
“What?” both scientists asked.
“Its Loki. He's trying to talk to us.”
“To be honest, I can't tell who it is, Tony,” Bruce said. “Maybe if we tried an EFT, like they do in those ghost shows, we might be able to narrow it down.”
“No, it makes sense,” Tony said. “The case broke, now we hear a voice. Maybe he can hear us.”
“We really should try that recording,” Pym suggested. “I can't quite tell what he's saying if it is him.”
“I'm on it. Let me get my suit, I have recording equipment built into it,” Tony said, dashing out the door.
Shortly later, he returned, garbed in crimson and gold armor, sliding to a stop. “Ok guys, is he still talking?”
“It,” Pym said, “stopped a few minutes ago. Maybe it gave up.”
Tony rolled his eyes, glad the other couldn't see him. Throw something, the voice had said, but there was nothing to throw. The box! Tony reached over, grasping the glass in his armored hands and squeezed, crumbling it further. He did his best to make sure none of the glass rained down on the sleeping figure inside. “Come on, Rudolph, you gotta see this...Jarvis, start recording.
~ ~ ~
Loki wished he had brought something down to the dungeons with him to drink. His throat felt like someone had taken a wood rasp and shoved it down his throat and wiggled it around for a while. He sat, rubbing his slender neck. A noise. Jumping to his feet, Loki looked around the room. In the case, just along the one side over where the top was broken, it crumbled more, crackling loudly. He strode over again to stand next to where it was happening.
“Anthony?” his voice broke, strained.
~ ~ ~
“Sir, I am detecting a low level frequency in the room. Something seems to be speaking, but everyone else is silent.”
“That's what I want to hear. Keep recording,” Tony ordered.
~ ~ ~
“Anthony,” Loki repeated, rubbing his throat. “So you can hear me. Listen. I've no time to explain. The box is trapped. The only way you can free me is by the same sorcery that locks me inside. You have to defeat the locks and be quick about it before... before...” his voice faded. Before the madness sets in again, he meant to say, the mere thought of those words burning in his mind, catching in his throat.
He shook his head. “I will do my best to clear the way. I saw new things appearing as I returned to this place. Your journey will not be easy. There are monsters in our world that you don't understand.”
~ ~ ~
“Jarvis, replay the recording out loud. Filter out the extra noise if you can.”
The three men listened, as the soft, rasping voice spoke. Pym closed his eyes, sighing deeply. “I...really hope those were sane words.”
“He is the god of lies,” Bruce said. There was a regretful sound to his voice. “He's tricked us before. This could be another one just to get out early.”
“That didn't sound like lies to me,” Tony said, “and I've heard my fair share of them. That was desperate.” He shook his head. “This punishment is so many flavors of wrong...”
Bruce nodded, agreeing. “There is still one more day left. The locks are supposed to do a count down, each one unlocking an hour before he's released, so like, nine hours before, the first one, eight hours before, the second one, and so fourth.”
“The only thing we can do is just wait,” Pym said. “I'd want to be out of there early too, but if we just jump and say 'oh hey, we need to free him early' I don't think that is going to sit well. We're not even from around here.”
“We do have the respect of Asgard,” Tony said. “I'm more than willing to use it if need be to pull some strings.” Oh how he hated this. One more day, that was another thousand years alone. And what did Loki mean by trapped in the first place.
“Hey reindeer,” Tony said, using one of the many nicknames he'd given the trickster. “What do you mean by trapped?” He waited.
I don't know yet. Brokkr repaired the box at my fath...Odin's behest. I saw him...but he would not tell me how he has accomplished his trap. He could not be able to tamper with the sorcery of the box by itself, only the mechanism. He is no sorcerer.
Jarvis replayed the message again.
“So we need to talk to this Brokkr guy,” Tony stated.
“I'd still wait,” Pym said. “If we don't let their justice play itself out, its not going to do any of us any good. They could turn and lock him in for even longer.
“I'm going to do some talking around,” Tony said, pulling his helm free. “Find out who Brokkr is in the first place and what his beef with Loki is.”
~ ~ ~
Loki slumped against the wall, making soundless thanks to the realms that he could be heard. That he was heard. He took a deep breath, then pushed himself up from the spot on the floor, then released it slowly, turning his gaze around the room.
The realms were changing on his way back to the palace. Great beasts, monstrous looking warriors, powerful beings he had seen come and go at Odin's hands, all appearing, though still, as if frozen in time. Hela, Surtur, Einherjar, Valkyries...all slowly materializing. It was not hard, in his few moments of clarity, for Loki to put together what was going to happen. Great battles were coming and he worried who would actually stand to fight for him, but then...did he not just speak with Stark? Why would he be here? Making sure he stayed put, or what else? Surely it was not worrying about the monster that had caused such harm upon his realm.
Regardless...Loki strode from the room, paying close attention to his surroundings. Guards had appeared around the area. These were not the grand, royal guards from the upper levels of the palace, these were the lower guards. The ones here were the crudest, some of the cruelest men in Asgard, and they needed to be. In Odin's eyes of course.
As he slipped to the upper levels, familiar guards appeared. He knew some, by name, but not many. As Loki passed the throne room, he opened the heavy doors, peering inside. There stood Odin, Gungnir in hand, the council members standing about as if a meeting were taking place. He paused, then walked on, in the main room, Thor himself stood, Mjolnir in hand, his four friends stood around him in a protective array. Loki strode to the courtyard, and saw the soldiers gathered there, standing in formation, as if Ragnarok were coming.
This... did not bode well.
Loki walked to the front of the lines, turning, walking backwards and staring back at the legions, awestruck. Never had he seen Odin's forces gathered like that. His shoulders dropped, trying to keep his jaw from doing the same, his feet coming to a stop. He took another deep breath, and released it, gathering his thoughts.
If they were in the correct order, they would enter in Muspelheim, the land of fire, first. Loki had no time, he had to see what was happening, had to prepare as best he could to ease their way through the realms. That fact became all the more apparent as he traveled on.
~ ~ ~
Tony stood, watching, staring at the different colored and styled locks. There was a small gathering there of himself, Pym, Thor, and Frigga, all waiting faithfully, watching for the first lock to disengage. Pym stared at a watch he had brought with him, his eyes counting down the seconds. Tony's gaze followed Hank's when they finally flicked up at the case.
Hank's expression twisted, eyes narrowing. “Now I was sure...” he said under his breath. They waited, and continued to wait. After several minutes no change came. “Maybe I got the hour wrong,” he admitted.
Frigga shook her head, a coil of her pale hair dropping from where it was pinned back from the movement. “I wrote it down,” she said softly.
“And I'm sure my calculations on the time change and shift are accurate,” Tony said. “Jarvis and I worked through it a hundred times to make sure.”
“Maybe someone re-set it and it will unlock nine minutes before time...” Thor suggested. The idea was distasteful, but then so was this punishment.
Tony slid down the wall, seating himself, his gaze still trained on the case. “I don't know about you guys, but I have plenty of time to wait.”
~ ~ ~
Loki's fingers intertwined with his long, dark hair, threatening to pull it from his scalp, but he resisted. His breath was ragged, gasping for air as another wave of anxiety threatened to claim him again. Small sounds came from his throat, trying not to gag on his own saliva.
He...he had to make his way back to the prison. There was no time and he knew he would not make it. It had taken him the last thousand years to struggle his way through the appearing legions, struggling through finding different ways to help who ever would come to save him through. The proverbial clock was ticking. Despite being busy, the insanity had returned. The whole idea of being trapped there forever tore at him, the idea of no one coming tore even more at him, cracking his resolve.
Loki turned his gaze upwards, to the blackened sky, full of smoke and fumes. His breath calmed, a whole other darkness ate at his vision. “Forgive me brother...”
The world went black.
~ ~ ~
The small group still gazed at the case. Odin himself had arrived just a few minutes ago to oversee it unlock fully. Tony had taken to standing, trying hard to keep the glare from his eyes as he watched the old god stare at the case. Originally, the man had asked what had happened to the case, his single eye tracing the lines of glass shards and cracks. Later, Tony did notice that Odin's one hand worried at his spear, ever so subtly. Tony half wondered if Odin was aware of that. He kept watching, seeing the old god shift uneasily on his feet, his breath briefly stopping when Pym nodded, indicating when the locks should have sounded.
Except they didn't.
Everyone watched as the elder god walked over to the case, setting a single hand upon it. He looked over at his wife, drawing back ever so slightly at her red, watery eyes, her steely glare. “You did this.” Her voice was soft, angry. “Your actions are going to end him. I am never going to see my son's smile again.” Odin opened his mouth, but not a sound came out. Frigga did not relent. “I told you to not trust that dwarf and you did not listen.”
Odin's one eye trailed down, to Loki's still face. “Brokkr's skill exceeded Eitri's. I had little choice.”
“You had a lot of choices,” Frigga stated with great conviction, her voice a little louder, her petite hands balled into fists. “You could have done what the man of fury suggested, have had Loki work for his organization and make him see and work with the wrongs he had done. No, you chose the one option that no one, not even your father would have chosen.” Tears broke free, following down the gentle curves of her face.
A time passed. When Odin finally spoke, his voice was very soft. “I'm sorry.”
“Sorry, I'm afraid, isn't going to fix this,” Tony stated, his voice a bit louder. “How do we fix this? Like, how do the locks work? Is there a way to fiddle with them to get them to unlock?” He stepped over, crouching down to look into the hole in the center of one.
“Would the Queen, Lady Karnilla know?” Thor asked. “She and my brother are equals in power.”
“Perhaps...” Odin said softly. His single, blue eye raised, looking over at Thor. “See to it. Save your brother from your father's foolishness.”
*plays an ode with words to Firelands and Molten Core*
“You are a bigger fool that I would have ever thought,” Karnilla said, walking along the length of the glass case, her delicate hand sliding along the edge.
Odin did not reply to her verbal jab. “Is there a way to stop the mechanism?”
“There is,” she replied. “When I word came to what punishment you condemned your own son to came to me, I immediately researched this device.”
“There is little to find,” Odin replied. “What could you know of it that I do not?”
“Plenty.” She straightened. “As you know my realm contains knowledge that the others do not. These locks,” she pointed towards them, “are magical as you know. Each one is a realm in itself, where he would have been able to transverse between them. Without the keys, they are as they are, empty, void of all life.” She rounded the end of the case to stand next to the locks. “They are not empty right now. Someone has re-worked the locks to hide pieces of the keys, and they have filled the slots. I'm afraid Loki faces great danger by himself.”
“The keys were destroyed long ago,” he said softly. Odin's one eye narrowed, realizing the dwarf's deception. “Can the pieces be removed?”
“No. They are sealed in place now they have fallen,” Karnilla answered. “I can feel the magic that binds them.”
“What else can be done?” Thor asked. His hand tightened on the handle of his hammer, as it often did when he felt anxious.
“Unfortunately the obvious answer is when he finally succumbs to madness,” Karnilla started, “however, I have a theory that may work.”
“Tell me!” Thor demanded.
“You must enter the locks and dislodge the keys from the inside, in those false realms,” Karnilla stated. “I have found a way to allow you to do so, and have gathered those same means.” She turned her gaze to Odin. “I would demand weregild for this, however, seeing the great Odin finally admit he had done something wrong is payment enough.”
Odin's gaze turned steely at that, but he said nothing. “Thor, gather your friends and whom ever else you need to do this.”
“It would do you well to remember provisions and weapons,” Karnilla said. “If it is on your person, you may take it with you.”
“I'll go,” Tony right out said. The Aesir gave him a curious look. “Hey, I've done some bad things before too. People got hurt too, an d I turned out okay. I don't see why he doesn't deserve the same chance.”
“If by provisions you also mean someone who can help heal, I'll go too, Pym said. “I can do what an ENT can do, and learn whatever else you want to send me with. My sensors would be really useful too.”
Thor smiled broadly. “I would gather my other friends as well.”
“Make haste,” Karnilla said. “Each hour longer inside is an hour longer in which your brother's suffering continues.”
~ ~ ~
“What's that?” Tony asked, watching Pym put a carefully packed case of vials full of a brightly colored substance.
“For an emergency,” Hank answered.
“Kinda like phoenix downs?”
“Um... a little,” Hank answered, a mysterious smile on his face. “Have you been playing those games with Clint again?”
“Maybe,” Tony answered. “I've been needing some fresh ideas lately so its been helping.”
Hank looked around. Thor stood with his warrior friends, all of them laden with weapons and armor, each with a different type of satchel, battle ready. They were an intimidating sight to behold and Hank was glad they were on their side, instead of the opposite.
Thor strode into the room, an unusual commanding air about him that Tony rarely saw. A grim, but present smile came to his face, seeing his long time friends. “I cannot thank you enough for assisting us,” he said, “all of you.”
“Its no problem,” Tony said. “Its what we do.”
“Aye,” the portly one said. “The little buggar has saved our necks many times, its good to be able to return the favor.”
Tony's eyebrows made their way to his hair line, not having expected to hear such a thing of the trickster god. “Really?” He looked over at Thor who puffed a bit with pride at those words, his smile lightening some. The thunderer nodded at Tony.
“Aye,” said the short haired blonde with the curled mustache. “Thor gets us into trouble, Loki gets us out. We haven't learned a thing or listened to his warnings yet, but we've always enjoyed the adventure of just doing it.”
The dark haired woman raised one eyebrow at Thor, then gestured with one hand. He noticed and jolted. “Yes, I apologize. Introductions are in order. My friends,” he raised a hand gesturing to each in turn, giving their names.
Shortly after greetings were exchanged, Karnilla strode into the room, eying the gathered warriors. “Are you prepared?”
Several 'aye's' came, and the queen nodded. With a wave of her hand a cauldron appeared in the room, having been hidden by her earlier, explaining the oddly herbal odor in the room. She turned to the gathered people and spoke, “I will put you into a similar trance that Loki now lies in, one which you may enter the false reams in which he has been trapped. I do not know what lies there as there are few details about what occurs within those realms except they are devoid of every creature and person that transverses the realms.
If there is no danger, I expect you back in but a few hours,” she continued. “If there is danger, I bid you to have a care. As you can already see, what happens there affects you here. The All-father would not take it well if he lost both of his sons,” she said as she turned her gaze to Thor. She looked as if to say something more, but withheld it. Instead, a soft smile spread her ruby lips. “You may, wish to sit down before I begin.”
The group sat, Tony found himself wishing he had a travel pillow to prop his neck with. It would have been handy, even though he rested, awkwardly, in his full suit of armor. He could only begin to wonder what those three warriors and the Lady Sif thought of the colorful armor he had built for himself as his eyes drifted closed, listening to Karnilla's enchanting words.
~ ~ ~
Tony was apparently the last one roused from the ground where he sat, his eyes opening to the darkness of his HUD and a window open of the surroundings. His dark eyes went wide, seeing the surroundings were bathed in a red glow, the sky pitch black with smoke. “Ohmygawd!” he blurted, shoving himself to his feet, head and eyes darting around to see what was going on, why was there fire everywhere.
Thor smiled to him. “Good to see you again.”
“Where are we?” Tony heard to his left, from Hank.
“We are in Muspelheim,” Fandral answered. His arms went wide as he gestured. “Welcome to the Eighth realm and almost lowest realm.”
“Strange place to start,” Volstagg said.
“You forgot to tell us to bring marshmallows,” Tony answered, knowing the reference was going to go straight over their heads and saw as much when he caught confused looks in his direction. Tony smiled and activated the face plate. “So where do we start?”
The grim one, dressed in dark clothing, Hogun, slid into view from behind an equally dark colored rock. “Karnilla was correct in assuming that it has changed,” his voice was quiet compared to the boisterous others. “There are encampments right where we saw them last.”
Thor's face set in a grim expression. “This does not bode well.”
“We need to find the key piece,” Sif said. “It is probably in the citadel.” She gave an equally worried look. “Hopefully Surtur is out.”
“Who's Surtur?” Hank asked, straightening the pack on his shoulders.
“A great evil,” Thor answered. “Even my father does not contain the power to fully vanquish the demon.”
“Not good,” Tony stated. “No, not good.” He thought for a moment. “How dumb is it?”
“Not very to outwit our king,” Volstagg answered. “We're braver than any man in the realms. We don't have Loki's tricks, but we do have the raw power.”
“Good thing you brought me along,” Tony said with an unseen smile, plenty of ego behind his voice to make up for it. “I know a thing or two.”
“We should get going,” Hank said.
~ ~ ~
“I....” Tony said, panting, “do not want to see another spider so long as I live.”
Fandral grinned at him. “But they love you so, and are not afraid to show it with venom, fire and webbing!”
“Smartass,” Tony replied.
The portly one reached over, ripping a few legs from each of the fallen, absolutely huge spiders, and placed them in his pack, each disappearing as if the bag were far, far larger than it seemed. “Doesn't hurt to save a few of these for later,” he beamed.
“You eat those?” Tony's eyes went wide.
Volstagg nodded. “They're delicious. Tastes just like sea spiders.”
Hank beamed at Tony. “What do you think crab and lobster are?”
Tony's unseen face went pale. “Oh God...”
The group laughed.
~ ~ ~
They had traveled far, through winding tunnels deep underground, but under what the two humans would have loved to know. Passed the vast open areas full of spiders, great flame worms, and massive rock men that shook the ground where ever they walked. Tony made sure he took recordings, forgetting that he was currently not in the waking realms, cataloging the different beings that they saw.
“See those things, man of iron?” Fandral whispered, pointing to massive hounds, their bones showing, aflame, as they gathered, devouring one of the huge fallen spider beasts, this one far larger than the ones seen earlier.
Both humans looked, drawing back at the gruesome sight. “What are they?”
“Hell hounds,” Hogun answered quietly from where he was perched on a rock. “They devour anything that falls here.”
“The others?” Hank asked, curious, pointing to the massive half serpent creatures.
“Flamewalkers,” Fandral replied. “Nasty beasts. Haven't meant a one that I like yet.”
“Yeah, lets not go say hi to those,” Tony said, peering in the direction that Hogun was looking. “Looks like there's no way around those things.”
“They're just elementals,” Hogun answered. For once, a smile touched the grim man's face. It looked chilling. “Lightening beats fire.”
Fandral smiled as well. “Lucky for us.”
~ ~ ~
“This seems anti-climatic,” Hank said. The group crouched at the bottom of a hill, gathered closely. “I thought it would be a huge citadel somewhere.” He rotated a small dagger he had found after some rock monster had fallen. It didn't glow, but it still interested Pym, if only for its beautiful design. If he could, he would have kept it for a letter opener.
“There is, down there,” Hogun pointed across the scorched lands. “The key is not inside.”
Hank looked up from the blade and to where the grim man pointed. The huge building in which the grim man pointed to was well, huge, and jagged, its brilliantly colored walls were decorated with dark stone, with pyres burning all around it, on it, and likely in it as well. All around it were jagged black spires of scorched stone and random tall spires, poking from the molten ground. The whole thing made no sense in the scientist's mind, but then, a lot didn't.
Thor cleared his throat, gaining the attention of those around him then reared back slightly on his haunches, straightening some, yet still crouched. “Above is Executus, and he is a coward amongst these creatures.” The thunderer pointed across the way, to huge serpent creatures they had avoided purely because of their might. “He will not be alone. When we fight, I will hold his attention, while the rest of you kill the rest of them. If light or fire surrounds any of the creature's hands, kill them first.”
“Right,” Tony said. “I'll watch for them and see if the magic jammer works on them.”
Thor nodded. “Go.”
The battle was short and sweet, especially since Tony quickly spotted and neutralized the ones Thor had told them to watch out for, which also made Hank give him a thoughtful look, that was quickly dropped. Tony knew that look though. It meant that the biologist was thinking. In the end, it was exactly as Thor said, the great beast that guarded the key was a coward. It had slithered away to a corner when the fight broke out, and was found hiding behind a rock. Thor, being the insanely honorable being he is, spared the coward for he would not have such tainted blood on his hands. Instead he sent it running, well, slithering.
“How do we...?” Sif had asked, laying a hand on the giant cylinder of blackened metal. The think glowed, dimly, at her touch then disappeared.
“This should not have been so easy,” Hogun stated. “Something is taunting us.”
“Likely,” Thor said, staring upwards to the sky where the thing disappeared into. “We must go to Niflheim, before we travel upwards.”
“What's a Niflheim?” Tony asked.
“Next realm down,” Fandral answered. “The lowest, and the land of the dead, and not the good sort.”
“Its for those who didn't die as warriors,” Volstagg said a smile behind that huge red beard of his. “Why we love to fight so much. Who wants to dwell there forever.”
“Its this way,” Thor stated, pointing back the way they had come. “We do not have to move in the branches of the tree, for I saw a portal. This makes it easier for us.”
They started to travel to where Thor had directed.
Somewhere in the distance, a sinister voice could be heard, loudly calling out. “Too soon...”
~ ~ ~
“Hopefully,” Fandral said wistfully. “we don't have to face Hela as well.”
“Hela is reasonable at least,” Thor stated. “It would be a facsimile of her.”
“Really? Never met her,” Fandral said. A smile spread underneath his blond mustache. “I will have to change that. Is she attractive?” Thor gave Fandral a serious look, then shook his head before stepping through the portal. “What?”
On the other side of the portal it was dark, it was cold, and they knew they were surrounded by some very unsavory beasts if you could call them that. Peering over the ledge, Thor pointed to a ways away. “There, that ledge. We do not have time to fight our way through their hordes, though we would enjoy it greatly any other time.”
Tony looked over at Hank. “Can you makee that jump?”
“Don't think so,” the biologist answered.
“All good,” Tony replied, grabbing Hank, and holding tight. He engaged the thrusters in his suit, and followed behind Volstagg. The both of them were honestly surprised that the large man was able to be so nimble on his feet, but then, who knew anything anymore. Tony let go of the man, and they continued forward, watching Thor and Hogun lead the group warily. The
billionaire watched the two, genuinely interested. When in his game, Thor was not so dull witted after all he realized as he watched them silently direct one another, communicating who knows what. Thor waved forward Fandral, then directed him around before his blue eyes met Tony's and a silent nod.
With a loud battle shout, Thor raced in, flinging his hammer to gain the huge skeleton's attention and taunting it to keep it, as he continued his charge, grabbing the attention of several creatures and kept running up and around the edge of a hallway. Behind him, Hogun kept up, his maces shattering brittle, discolored bones as if they were nothing, Fandral quickly catching up, splitting and rending creatures on the opposite side. Volstagg came up the rear, watching the sides closest to the rock wall and sending shadows flying back to where they came. The two humans huffed as they kept up with the Aesir, Tony throwing shots at stray creatures, trapping them in their path. Up ahead, Thor had popped back around the corner, taunting them and sending his hammer flying in an amazing array of acrobatics, twisting and turning in the air.
Up behind Thor a figure appeared out of the shadows. “How dare you meddle with the forge!”
Thor twisted where he stood, turning his gaze. “Bron.”
“Thor,” the ghastly looking man spat. “You have no business here in Hela's lands. Begone with you!”
“I seek the key piece,” Thor stated, “show me the way to it, or you will fall before me. There is no other option.”
“Of course there is another option,” Bron said, raising his hands, a deep violet-black surrounding them. “You fall before me instead!”
“I say thee nay!” Thor shouted, charging at the sorcerer. “Silence your foul tongue!”
Hogun appeared behind the sorcerer, lashing out with his mace, stunning the man before he could finish his spell. The three, Fandral stepped in when Hogun went flying, made short work of the sorcerer, staying close and not giving him a chance to bring any of his spells about. The oddest part, Tony observed, was the clothing falling like no one had been living in it, the man himself disappearing after he was defeated.
“We must keep going,” Thor said, not even breathing heavy from the exertion. “Perhaps it is in the Pit.”
“Oh good, hell has pits,” Tony grumbled. “Somehow, I had a feeling that phrase was true.”
The pit wasn't much better than the forge. At least streaks of eerie blue light were not present, so it had a lot less of the haunted house look. The whole area was open, and gray. So gray that if you searched all the paint chips in hardware stores everywhere you would actually find this sort of gray because it was that....gray. Tony made a point that if he ever met this Hela person, he would give her a list of some good interior decorators because she was in a bad, bad need of one.
“So where do we go?” Hank asked, wincing as he looked around. “I think I've seen prison food with more color than this.”
“That's awful,” Volstagg said with genuine horror. “Boys make sure I behave on Midgard, they have horrible prison food!” His statement brought a round of chuckles as Thor gazed out over the land.
Tony walked over to the thunderer and placed a metal clad hand on his shoulder. “You all right? You're not usually this quiet.”
“Thinking,” Thor replied softly. “Wondering still, what we could have done to prevent everything coming to this.”
“What do you mean?”
“What our parents or I could have done to prevent the darkness from claiming Loki's heart and drive him do what he has done,” Thor replied. “There is nothing that can be done about the past, but I would change the future for him, make amends.”
“It might have all been things you never did on purpose,” Tony suggested. “Who knows. I didn't hardly exist behind everything my father was doing. It was all Howard this and that, and the whole Super Soldier project, and more projects after that. Tony,” he tapped on the metal breastplate over the arc reactor, “didn't exist until they both died.”
“If I were gone, he would exist,” Thor said, using that level of reason. “It would match things he has stated before.”
Tony nodded grimly. “Maybe when this is all said and done, we'll just have to make sure we include him in our games and not pick him last, when we do stuff to make him feel more included.” A smirk came to his hidden face. “I guess one of mys nicknames for him is more appropriate than we think.”
“I still do not understand it,” Thor replied. “What is reindeer games?”
Tony laughed. “We will have to make you watch that movie sometime. I'll have Jarvis put it on the movie list along with a few others I think you'll like.” He jerked his thumb towards the rocky expanse. “Lets get going. Your little bro still needs us.”
~ ~ ~
After crossing what felt like the worst desert ever, they trekked up a steep incline, through a cavern that constantly rained large chunks of rock, snow and ice, up across a shallower, snowy incline. Thor lead them to an opening, that turned and descended, again into the mountain.
The unfinished, rocky walls eventually gave away to smooth carved ones. The eerie lights returned, brazers full of brilliant blue fire dotted the walls as they walked, until they finally reached a heavy door, and everyone's hopes bloomed, seeing the huge cylinder piece. This one was ghostly, unlike the one they had seen previously. Thor looked, making sure everyone was in the room just in case before reaching out to touch it.
“So you seek to save the liesmith,” a gruff voice sounded from across the room. Thor paused, staring at where it was coming from.
“Brokkr.” Thor's voice dropped to a low rumble, like thunder.
“Aye, you do remember me,” the stout man smiled.
“So you're the one who trapped the prison case,” Tony said, stepping forward. “I've got a bone to pick with you.”
“Lots of them here,” Brokkr said flippantly. “You won't succeed. I've already seen to that.” The short man stepped aside, revealing a ghostly mirror surface. Inside, they observed the fallen trickster. “You might want to hurry up. If he fades away here, he will there too. That is a bet I plan on winning.”
“You vile fiend! You'll pay for this!” Fandral said, brandishing his swift blade.
“Indeed,” Thor stated, his voice still rumbling like distant thunder. “You seek to harm a prince of Asgard. No matter my brother's standing, there is no small price to be paid for committing such a crime.”
“I already paid you with a fine weapon,” Brokkr said, pointing to Thor's hammer. “Paid handsomely long ago when the liesmith tricked me.”
“You were given compensation for what happened,” Thor stated, growling. “Father paid you by letting you harm my brother.”
“I did what Odin should have years before that,” Brokkr snapped in turn. “He should not have removed the stitches. It would have done all the realms a favor if he had just left them there.”
Oh ouch, Tony thought, realizing that that particular tale was now true. It also made him wonder about the other tales, well, up to including the one about his children or having birthed a horse. Thor never spoke of those things, for whatever reason, but it still made one wonder. The billionaire wondered if later he would dare ask him, or better yet, some late evening over some coffee while some random movie played as background noise. That would be best he thought.
“And allow my brother starve? I say nay, dwarf.”
Tony took one step to the left, away from Thor. Just in case.
Not that it would help much.
“Have at thee!” Thor charged. He slid to a halt, the dwarf disappearing in front of him. Rapidly shifting his thoughts, he reached out, to try to touch the still appearing portal. Thor's mouth set into a grim line. “Take care of the key,” he ordered, “I must save him.”
“Dude, that's just an image,” Tony said, pointing to it.
For a bare second, Thor pouted. He had truly hoped that it was a portal and not just an image. “He cannot be far from here.”
“Looks like that would not be far from here,” Fandral said, peering down a dark hallway. “Perhaps just around the corner.”
“Thor!” Sif's quick shout came, her jumping to battle ready in an instant. The only reason they could see her at the moment was the ghostly key had disappeared. The men turned, twisting their gazes around the room to see it fill with spirits of all sorts. Some looked like commoners, others sages, yet others warriors and hunters.
Thor growled, hefting his hammer to battle ready as well. “Leave, or face our wrath!”
“Stay with us,” a sibilant voice called. “Sleep...”
“Thor...” Volstagg started, his voice full of query, “how do we kill ghosts?”
“No idea,” Thor answered.
“The font,” Hogun stated, pointing to the odd pedestal in the middle of the room. He raised his mace. “They came from that.”
The sibilant voices called again, beaconing them to sleep, encroaching upon each of them, transparent limbs reaching. Tony's face went white as he noticed that he recognized some of the faces amongst the ghosts. “...Dad...?”
“Stay son, rest. You look like you could use it,” the image of Howard Stark said.
“You're not my father,” Tony stuttered, stepping backwards until his back touched the cold wall. He was trembling in his suit; he recognized a lot of these faces, many of them those who were left dead in his path before he turned his life around. “Get away!”
Sensing his friend's fear, Thor charged through the crowd, putting himself between the spirits and the fearful philanthropist. “Take it out!” he bellowed, swinging Mjolnir uselessly at the spirits.
Hogun charged forward, mace raised high, and he brought it down on the font. A resounding clang sounded, his mace bounced off of it, leaving it unscratched. The grim man looked over at Volstagg. “Help.” The rotund man nodded and pulled his much larger mace from its holding place, and raised it as he ran over to the font, bringing it down on the font. An even louder clang sounded, but still no effect.
Thor looked grave, glancing over his shoulder at Tony, seeing the man come undone in the corner that he backed himself into. He had never seen Tony be afraid of absolutely anything, but his passed haunted him far more than the man would admit. “We must leave.”
The others nodded, Volstagg stepped over to Tony, hefting him despite his heavy armor and tossing him over his shoulder. Tony struggled at first, before he realized that a friendly person had a hold of him. The group charged down the opposite hallway from where they came, Thor racing ahead, head turning watching, looking.
“Brother!” the thunderer yelled, sliding to a halt. “Go! I will follow!”
The rest of the group continued, the spirits in hot pursuit. Thor raised his hammer, calling upon lightening to bring down the roof a short ways down the hall way. Hoping it would hold momentarily, Thor dashed, crouching for a bare second to lift the unconscious trickster from the ground, to turn, then follow the others.
~ ~ ~
“There he is!” Fandral called, a broad smile on his face. He lowered his hand that he had been using to shield his eyes, and turned to the group. He rejoined the group as Thor slid to a halt and walked the rest of the way. Fandral glanced up at the thunderer, stealing a glance at a rare softer look on his face, and gave a worried one in turn.
Thor gave Loki's prone form a squeeze before lying him down so that Hank could take a look at him. Pym crouched down next to the trickster, pressing a few buttons on the side of his helm, which Thor recognized as running his sensors. Tony was doing the same with his suit.
“He seems to be okay,” Pym said after a few minutes, and after prodding Loki around a bit. “He's just passed out from exhaustion or something. Its hard to tell right now.”
Thor nodded silently, lost in a thousand thoughts. “We will not leave him here.” There was no questioning, no simple stating. He was more or less ordering.
To the side Volstagg was poking around in his magical endless bag, pulling a sheet of heavy cloth. “Someone help me cut this to size,” the heavy-set man said. “I think I can make something that will work. He doesn't weigh any more than any of my children.”
With the help of Fandral's sword to cut the thick fabric, and a bit of rope, the managed to bundle the younger god neatly, and relatively comfortably so he could be easier carried. Though Thor wanted to keep his brother close, they argued against this – Thor tended to rush in first, and it would be a bad idea in general. Instead, Volstagg took to watching Loki, half giving him fond looks almost if he were one of his children dozing away. Tony expected him to start pinching pale cheeks any minute.
“So what's next? Where are we at?” the billionaire asked.
“Nidavellir ,” Fandral replied. “Land of the dwarves.”
“Dwarves...” Tony said thoughtfully. He gestured towards Loki. “Didn't he have a run in or two with them?”
“Aye,” Thor said regretfully, looking over at Sif. The young woman's cheeks reddened slightly, her gaze turning to the ground. “Unfortunately.”
“Is that going to be a problem?” Pym asked, glancing at the prone trickster.
“Not if we have anything to do with it,” Fandral said confidently. “That was the first we've seen of that dwarf since Loki dealing with him.”
“So that's really how you got your hammer?” Tony asked, eying the heavy stone and metal thing.
“Aye,” Thor replied, lifting his hammer from his belt and gazing at it briefly. “There is more to that tale after words than what was written in your stories,” he started, “to many of them. Perhaps in time I would tell them.”
Fandral smiled. “You should re-tell that of how you two retrieved it from Thrym.”
To the side Volstagg started laughing. “Oh yes, it was quite an event! Thor does no justice to the beautiful Freya, no matter how much you paint him.”
“Wait,” a mischievous grin plastered across Tony's face. “He put makeup on you too?”
“Aye...” Thor said softly, his cheeks flushing.
“I hope he made you shave,” Tony laughed.
Pym shook his head. “Come on guys, we need to get going. We can keep harassing Thor on the way.”
“I...hate block puzzles,” Tony said, as they exited a deep cavern to arrive at the next portal.
Thor chuckled. “Then you agree, that game should be placed in the devourer?”
“Devourer?” Volstagg asked, confused, horrified.
“The creature that dwells in the kitchen sink in Man of Iron's home,” Thor explained. “It devours what ever you place in its gullet.”
“Oh God...” Pym said, something dawning in his mind. “Tony...I know where the Wii remotes went...”
Tony turned, his gaze shifting up to meet Thor's, catching a bit of a flush to his tanned cheeks. A slow smile spread across Tony's face, realizing what Hank was talking about. “Really?”
“Aye,” Thor replied, his gaze suddenly turning to the ground, having been caught. “I apologize.” The whole conversation was confusing the other Aesir to no end, wondering what a 'we' was and 'remotes' were.
Tony laughed. “I'll explain it later.”
~ ~ ~
“Its like we walked into one of Bruce's books,” Pym said, looking down at the city below full of dark shapes. “What was it, Forgotten Realms?”
“Dunno,” Tony said, “haven't read those ones yet. Isn't all that D&D stuff based on Norse mythology?”
“Some of it. Some of it Irish, some of it English, some of it German,” Pym said. “The guys who come up with it are pretty well read.”
Fandral glanced back and fourth between the two, utterly confused, yet the smile never left his face. “You two are queer.”
Tony nearly choked, and Hank laughed. “W-what!?”
“He means weird,” Pym explained.
“It means something else?” the short-haired blond asked, wholly innocent of newer terms.
“Yeah, um yeah. We don't use that word for that anymore,” Tony stated. “Its used to imply that guys like other guys, or gals like other gals now days.”
Fandral blinked owlishly, then looked over at Thor. “Truly?”
“Aye,” Thor replied, checking the wound leather strap on his hammer. “Their terms and...slang?...Are difficult to grasp at first, but in time one can learn their meaning well enough.”
“I've been teaching him,” Tony said with a grin. “Still can't get him to use a phone yet, but in time.”
“Later, my friend,” Thor stated, placing a hand on Fandral's shoulder. “We must proceed.”
Pym looked over at the group. “We aren't going to blend in with these guys, no matter what we do.”
“We did not look like dwarves either, but we walked amongst them,” Tony replied, stepping closer to the edge of the overhand to look. “Yeah, so not going to blend in.”
“Appearing the same will do us little good,” Hogun stated. “The dark elves are hostile and we usually go out of our way to avoid them.”
“Aye,” Fandral said with a wince, a few bad memories coming to mind. “Loki saved us more than once here, too.”
Sif looked over at the grim man. “We should scout ahead, locate the key and meet back here.”
Thor nodded, thoughtfully. The dark elf subterranean cities were huge and there would be no way they could locate the key quickly at all if they stayed together. They had a better chance of being caught if they stayed together, yet, if they separated, how would one know if one of them found trouble? This was a tough decision.
“Only two of us should scout at a time,” Thor stated, coming to a decision. “Take no more than two hours each. If no more than an hour passes from that time and one does not return, we will rescue whomever.”
“An odd decision, my friend, but a necessary one,” Volstagg said. He reached and patted the unconscious trickster. “We don't have the little shadow's help this time.”
“Aye,” Thor said solemnly. “We've none of his cloaking spells to aid us.”
“I will go,” Sif stated.
“And I,” Hogun added.
Thor nodded, agreeing, then watched as the two of them disappeared into the shadows in opposite directions. He sighed heavily, then sat down away from the edge, back into the shadows. Fandral followed, sitting next to him. A short ways away, Volstagg walked over as well, setting the satchel full of trickster next to Thor so that he could be closer to his brother. Tony and Hank followed suit, setting down a short ways away. Tony used his armor to set a timer, along with an alarm just in case.
“So now we wait...” Tony He looks around at the small group, watching Thor check his brother carefully, making sure he hadn't been bumped around too much.
“You might want to let him out of that once in a while,” Pym said, attempting to be helpful. “He's going to be one huge muscle cramp when he wakes up.”
Thor gently patted his brother on the head, tugging him close to lean against him again. “Aye, but I dare not here, not surrounded by so many hostile persons.”
“We have two hours to kill,” Volstagg stated, clapping his hands together quietly. “How about a story, Thor?”
Thor laughed softly. “We have no mead to tell the tale with. We shouldn't at least.”
“Aye,” Fandral chimed in, “a pity too, for it was getting about time to enjoy some. Good ale, wenches, and a story are always a good time.”
“How about one of your stories involving him?” Tony asked, gesturing with his chin towards Loki. “You guys keep talking like Loki was a big help when you guys ran around the cosmos.”
“Aye,” came a couple replies.
Fandral and Thor exchanged looks. “Might I suggest, how he joined our merry band?”
Thor gave a thoughtful look, gazing out into the darkness for a moment. “Aye. That would do well.”
Tony looked at his timer. “Well, we have not quite two hours to kill now, might as well.”
~ ~ ~
I am uncertain what our father had been thinking that day. After Algrim's death, Loki had changed significantly. I should have seen it beforehand that the symptoms were there, and many a time as I reflected, I feel that his death was one of the catalysts that caused the darkness to grow within my brother's heart.
“Who is Algrim?”
“He was one of our father's advisers, the last of his race. When both of us were very small, the Jotun invaded this realm, and had wiped the dark elves out of existence. All but him. They had petitioned the All-father for help, but for reasons unknown, he did not listen to them. Only when the Jotun were nearly to our borders, did our father react and drive the Jotun back into their realm. It was too late for the dark elves, but at least peace returned.”
“Eww. What happened to him?”
“That, my friend, is another story.”
We originally never took Loki with us at all. He preferred to stay behind and study his books, or do we know not what daily. We offered to take him hunting with us, and he refused. We offered to take him on the simplest of adventures, and he refused. I had wondered if he feared hurting someone again, or many other things, but I never discovered what held him back. He expressed little interest in traveling with us, yet even then he showed signs of maliciousness towards me. I wondered if he blamed me for what happened that day, or if perhaps he blamed himself, but Loki never expressed it either way. We used to share everything, but since that incident, he has kept to himself.
The trolls had taken a great many things. They took food, farm tools, cattle and supplies from many farmers. There would be no way they would have survived the winter months without food, and would not survive at all without the tools of their lively hood. We are no ranchers, nor had the things necessary for a caravan to bring everything back, but this is where my brother was needed.
Our father knew that the trolls were troublesome adversaries, but were not outside our capabilities. Well, all but my brother's. He did not do as well as I in training at the time. Loki barely had the strength of heft a sword, much less to fight for he concentrated more on studying his magic rather than to fight. This did cause many problems for him in the future, but he had settled this so well...I was proud of him then, but at that time, we worried that Loki would not be able to complete our journey.
You see, the All-father used this as one of the first many tests of adulthood for us. Trolls would be too strong to face directly, it was a test of wits and guile rather than strength. I was a poor leader then, and no one wished to listen to Loki for fear he would lead us right into their hearths and become their supper.
As we left the lands of the palace, passed the outer most gates, we felt as if a dark shadow had been following us the entire way for Loki was in a foul mood being pulled away from his books. He still brought one with him, but was not able to read it until much later for Sif would not have being used for a table.
“He shared a horse with Sif in our earlier days adventuring. She would not have him leaning a book against her back as we traveled.”
“He and horses did not quite get along.”
“I thought he got along really well with horses.”
“We don't talk about that.”
“So the story is true?”
“The story is very different from what your lore keepers had written. We do not talk about it because the All-father forbids it. He had finally over come this issue when he created Sleipnir.”
“With seidr. That is why we do not speak of it. Men do not use...seidr.”
“Yet if you brother hadn't learned, I'd be less a leg.”
“So your brother didn't like being pulled away from reading...”
It did surprise us how good his aim was. From the back of that horse, Loki had spotted and killed three large rabbits before we set up camp. Though, I had attempted to bring cheer to Loki, he wouldn't quite have it. I did notice that he did keep the skins of the rabbits we had caught, saying something about making glue. The reason we were surprised of his aim was because he never went hunting with any of us, yet we ate well on his catch.
“He didn't show a lick of pride either. I remember the first time I brought home shot game. I was proud as could be when I brought home that deer. Rabbits are a lot harder to shoot, at least I've never managed to get one, and yet it was like he just as indifferent as ever, as if he just opened a book, not accomplish something like that.”
“Aye. I was upset with the first game I shot. I had killed such a magnificent creature for Loki made me miss the tree we had been aiming at. I did not understand at first why our father was proud of this, nor Loki's joy in it. I wondered sometimes in recent years if he had already been hunting without me and did not wish to announce his accomplishment before I had made my own.”
“Don't want the younger son being ahead of the elder one, huh?”
“Aye. It would have been inappropriate.”
It was three more days travel before we finally reached our destination. Trolls are not bees, or any other form of creature that frequently moved in and out of its warrens. No, we had to locate them with smell alone. They are not very cleanly creatures. You can smell their dwellings miles away. Unlike other races, they post no sentries at their doors for no sane creature would enter a place that smelled so...strongly.
“Your goats have less stench, even before mucking out their pens.”
“Aye. Yet another story.”
None of us really wanted to enter such a place, but we did. We did not see the first guard until we were well below ground level, and then that same guard was asleep at its post. You see, we don't know if there are troll men or women, they look alike if there are, much as you had seen with the dwarves.
“Women with beards...geh.”
As we crept passed the resting trolls-
“Resting? They were passed out drunk.”
Passed out drunk trolls, we did finally discover the location of the supplies. They had hidden them deep within their caverns, and much of the food had already gone rancid because of their filth. Hogun and Loki were able to locate the farmer's tools and cattle. We were in good time for most of the cattle still had their health, but it would be a problem to move them as their hooves were loud upon the cavern floors.
“And no one wakes from a stupor smiling.”
Aye. They also had one awake guard, who was watching everything. Unfortunately for us, that same guard was attentive enough that he had captured us and locked us in a side cavern with the cattle. There was naught but a few things inside except for spoiling grain, a fire to keep the cattle warm and a filthy pool of water.
We knew not what to do but when I looked at my brother, I could see he was lost in thought. He had Volstagg and myself retrieve a shim from the previous cavern. Unlike the small ones you know, this was taller than us, and it weighed a great deal. He then had us carefully roast the great piece of wood until it was as hard as iron. While we did this, he pulled a bottle from his satchel and to our surprise it was hard elven liquor. The strong sort that would put a bilgesnipe to rest. I know not where he had acquired it from.
“I gotta try some of that.”
“So I miss my scotch.”
We had protested saying it was no time for such a thing and knew that there was no way Loki would be able to handle such a strong drink. There are few who truly can. Loki had bid us to be patient, and left our cover. He appeared to our guard, bottle in hand, and halted the troll's assault with his clever words. We had feared for Loki's life, but we quickly realized what he was doing. With his clever words he had offered the bottle of strong drink to the troll as a gift from his guests for being so determined in his duty to watch over the cattle. It would be his reward for his good service but Loki had told him that it had to be consumed quickly for it would spoil soon just as the stolen grain had. The troll demanded Loki's name, and Loki had replied “noman.”
The troll did what he was told, downing the bottle in one mighty gulp. It was not long before the troll was asleep like its companions. It was then, my brother returned to us and bid that we blind the troll's one eye with the hardened stake, which it quickly roused, screaming in pain. When its half roused cohorts demanded to why the guard was wailing so, he screamed out loud that noman had harmed it. Loki's trick was a clever one, the screaming of the guard covered the sounds of the cattle's hooves, as we lead them into a portal my brother conjured, along with the farmer's tools.
~ ~ ~
Pym stared at Thor for a moment, with a 'you gotta be shitting me' look on his face, then shook his head. “Thor...really...that doesn't sound right at all. That sounds like something that happened in the Odyssey. You guys are Norse, not Greek.”
Thor smiled. “So I had read after Lady Jane had told me the same. You have many of our adventures wrongly recorded, some of them seem to have traveled. It is not unknown for a man to borrow from another man's tale to increase the vastness of their deeds.”
“I'll be damned, I knew you had to be bullshitting in some of your stories,” Tony said, shaking his head. He then looked at the timer. “Time's up. Its also been another forty-five minutes.”
The Aesir laughed quietly. Thor looks over at Hogun who had returned, with no news of where the key was. The grim man did nod, however. “I did hear of a disturbance across the city. They may have captured Lady Sif.”
“Why did you not interrupt my tale?”
“It would have been rude,” the grim man replied.
~ ~ ~
“There she is,” Fandral whispered, pointing to an area with many guards surrounding a central cage like structure.
“Somehow, I don't think whiskey and wooden stakes is going to help here,” Tony stated quietly. “Those guys look like they eat broken glass for breakfast.”
“Aye,” Thor said. He turned to the corpulent man just behind him. “Stay here.”
“You can't just run in there, Thor,” Volstagg warned. “They will skewer you like a roast.”
“I do not plan on doing so,” Thor replied. “Let us attempt one of Loki's tricks. Hogun, could you create a distraction?”
“I'm the only other one who knows how to pick locks,” the grim man replied.
“You are the only one who knows how to vanish,” Thor replied, his fingers becoming twitchy around the handle of his hammer. He did not want Sif to be trapped there longer than she had to be. “I can crush the lock.”
“That has not worked before.”
Tony listened, then suddenly an idea sprang in his head. “Oh, hey. I have a laser. I can open the cage with that. Just give me two minutes and I can get it.”
The two looked at him, then each other. Thor nodded. “Then it will be so.”
Hogun gave a solemn nod, then disappeared into the darkness. The group watched as most of the group of elves scattered towards where the distraction was. A few wise ones stayed behind, left to the lack of mercy on Thor and Fandral's parts as they cut them down easily, then readied themselves in case the others returned. Luckily, they did not, buying Tony the time he needed.
Tony was but a few seconds behind, setting to work quickly and quietly, having charged the laser beforehand, and made short work of the iron lock. He set the pieces down as Sif exited the cage. Then, as quickly as they had come, the group left the area. When they returned, immediately Pym checked Sif over for injuries and stepped back, satisfied that the elves really hadn't done anything to her.
“Did they question you?” Thor asked.
“Nay. They figured I was mad creeping about their city alone,” Sif answered, readjusting her armor. “I did listen to them, however, and the key is in the center of town.”
Tony was surprised to see Thor show a dislike for something. “That's the busiest part, isn't it?”
“Depends if they are having an execution or not,” Thor replied. “They could have been preparing it for Lady Sif.”
“Nay. Some of the soldiers were considering selling me to one of the dens in the lower city,” Sif stated with a great deal of distaste in her voice. Her hand wrapped around her sword's hilt, sliding it back into place, but one could see she would have rather been beheading the one who had suggested such a thing.
“They have no festivals this time of year,” Fandral said, a hand stroking the long blond hairs at his chin. “We could have a clear shot at it.”
“Aye. We can hope,” Thor stated.
~ ~ ~
“How the heck is he doing this?” Tony asked quietly, knowing he was hidden from view from the elves all around them, but he was not sound proof.
“I know not,” Thor replied even more quietly. “Hogun is not Aesir, and he has many skills most of us do not have.”
The grim man flashed a very brief smile at Tony, then looked back out of the alley way. Thor followed the man's line of sight, sizing up the distance and location of the massive black pillar. “Where is the portal?”
Hogun shook his head. Thor then turned to Sif, who also shook her head. Again that distasteful look crossed Thor's face.
“Maybe its like in the one Harry Potter book,” Pym suggested. “If we touch it, it is the portal?”
“I didn't know you read those,” Tony said, surprised, staring wide-eyed at the scientist. “You don't look the type.”
“Neither do you, but hey, who are we to judge,” Pym replied.
“Must be a strange looking potter,” Fandral commented.
“We have little choice,” Thor stated. He turned his gaze to Volstagg. “Will you be able to keep up?”
“Aye, I won't fail you,” Volstagg replied.
“Lets go,” Thor stated, pointing forward. He hesitated, watching as his friends made their way first, followed quickly by Pym and Volstagg. Thor knew that if they were going to be caught at all, they would capture the slowest of them, and he would not have his brother be endangered, so Thor bolted forward last. One by one, as they touched the key fragment, it glowed more, until Thor's hand joined the others.
In a flash all of them were gone.
~ ~ ~
Frigga looked form the resting form of her eldest to where she heard a loud noise. Another piece of metal dropped to the floor with a loud ping, bouncing and rolling across the stones to come to a rest by Hogun's foot. She clasped her hands to her chest, feeling it swell with hope.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“You should leave this key until last, Odinson.”
Thor turned his gaze upwards, towards the face of Loki's half brother. At first, he had tried hard to see the connection between the two, but it was lost to him. The best, Thor figured, was Loki apparently looked a bit more like his other parent, and left the thought at parent due to gender being an estranged subject when it came to Jotun.
“Why is that?” Tony asked, walking around the frozen chamber, looking at the delicate carvings into the ice carefully, to not melt it with his breath.
“Because he rests here, not in Asgard,” Helblindi answered. The far taller creature turned, pointing out a delicately arched window. The shorter ones looked, seeing a citadel in the distance.
“Utgard,” Thor said softly. He knew that place. Loki had been imprisoned there before, chained deep in its dungeon, for an incident from the past.
“Indeed,” Helblindi said, long arm lowering. “From what you described, it is odd that he rests here instead of within your keep.”
“I find it odder that we are having a conversation,” Fandral said, still in a bit of a shock when the Jotun had quickly agreed to talk rather than fight upon Pym's suggestion. He, and the other Aesir had always taken the Jotun as mindless violent peoples after all.
“Then we will continue our journey,” Thor stated. He turned to the taller being, and gave a formal bow, looking the part of a prince more than a warrior. “I thank you for your hospitality. “
“I would continue to give such things,” Helblindi stated, bowing in turn, “I will have an escort lead you to the portal and have them wait for your return. Please, do hurry. He was to meet me some time ago, to discuss reparations for his actions.”
This caught Thor's attention. “Tell me of this?”
Pym noticed as well, giving a thoughtful look. “A memory,” he said softly, “Loki remembers he was supposed to come here at some point for a meeting. Fascinating!” He looked over at the thunderer. “Thor, keep him talking. This could let us inside Loki's head.”
Thor looked from Hank to the Jotun, giving the latter a quizzical look. “Upon the All-father's word?”
“Upon his own,” Helblindi answered. He turned his gaze upward, out the window. “Our brother...did wish to make amends for his actions. I know of his reputation and he was sincere in his words. The All-father knows not what sort of damage he has created by his own carelessness.”
“So I am slowly becoming familiar with,” Thor said softly, his gaze drifting to the floor, then suddenly snapping up. “I would, if we had time, speak with you further.”
Helblindi nodded sagely. “Aye. Go now. Save him.”
“We will not fail,” Thor stated.
~ ~ ~
“Where are we?” Fandral asked, a bit shaken by the looks of their surroundings. Sif looked no less agitated as she spun in a close circle, eyes darting everywhere around the metal and concrete surroundings.
“SHIELD compound,” Tony answered. “This...” he pointed, then followed his own directions over to a large device with a glowing blue cube in it. “This has to be where Loki first arrived here on earth.” Tony examined the panels, and computer banks. “Wow...”
“Convenient,” Pym stated, turning, pointing. “Key.”
“Indeed,” Fandral said, then started walking towards it. “This feels too easy.”
“Nothing is ever this easy,” Hogun stated, wary, looking around still. His hand was tightly wound around his mace, watching.
At the same time, Thor readied himself as well. “Aye...”
Suddenly, Tony ducked behind his own hands, the Tesseract flaring like a star exploding. He stumbled backwards, blinded, “Oh, sorry Thor,” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “New rule, leave the plate down unless eating.”
When Tony could finally see, it wasn't Thor that he bumped into. “Uh, guys...”
“We're in trouble aren't we?”
The group was surrounded by armed SHIELD agents, all holding some nasty looking weapons from stage two, aimed towards them. One glance, Tony and Pym both could see that the Aesir didn't know what those things were, but they knew they were not good. Tony's lips set in a grim line.
“Thor...hammers and swords aren't going to stop those...”
“Sooo...what are we going to do, there's no cover here,” Pym said, looking around. His usual calm demeanor was all but shattered with so many weapons leveled at him.
“I guess...we talk,” Fandral said, sliding his sword into its scabbard. “It is what he would do.”
Thor paused, making a few jerky movements. His mind was racing, body surging with adrenaline, ready for battle. He wanted to swing his hammer, to mash skulls in, be bathed in blood and sweat. To win. Slowly, haltingly, he lowered his hammer. The others soon followed. Thor turned, looking at his much smaller friend. “Talk then, you are the one who is also wise with words.”
“With women, you mean,” Fandral said, “with women. There isn't a one here.” The shorter blond gestured to the armored men around them, not a single one small enough to be a woman, no signs on their armor of it either.
“If you can talk them to your bed, perhaps you can talk us out of the room,” Thor said quietly.
Someone cleared their throat, loudly, the sound echoing in the mostly silent chamber. The group turned and looked. Nick Fury walked towards them, a typical expression of anger played across his face. Slowly, he came to a halt. “Gentlemen. What in the hell are you doing in the middle of a top secret SHIELD facility?” There was no politeness, no humor, nothing but barely contained rage. “Especially, here.”
Tony wriggled passed Thor and Fandral, “Hey, Nick, let me explain.”
“Yeah, me. Nick. The weirdest stuff is going on, we didn't come here on purpose.” Tony came to a halt, standing in front of the two Aesir. “You know the Twilight Zone? Yeah, its exactly like that.”
“You expect me to believe that?” Nick said, his voice low.
“Its the only explanation we have,” Tony answered, hands splayed and held wide, a gesture of innocence. “We didn't mean to come here, but hey, if we can poke that button over there, we will be on our way, won't tell anyone, scout's honor.”
Fury stared at the fast-talking, armored billionaire. “That is...the biggest pile of crap I have heard from you so far.”
“Its the only crap I have,” Tony replied with a broad grin.
Fury took a step back, turning ever so slightly to Coulson. “Arrest them for trespassing on government property.”
“Now wait just a minute,” Tony snapped, stepping forward. Behind him he knew Thor and the others would be jumping to resist. “All I ask is this one thing and we're gone. Trust me on this. Gone. We will never say a thing about ever having been here because technically we never were. Coulson, Phil, dude, no, stop!”
Coulson had walked over, bearing cuffs and was pulling Fandral's hands around behind him, confusing the Aesir man. Tony walked over, protesting, trying to stop the man without really trying to hurt him. “Seriously, dude, stop.”
“You know I can't disobey orders,” Coulson replied.
“Yeah, well, at least I didn't get stabbed by a lunatic,” Tony snapped. His jib was on purpose, to unsettle the man.
“Are you threatening him?” Fury snarled, his resolve breaking down.
“With an unconscious man, yes,” Tony replied, twisting to face the SHIELD commander. “He's very dangerous, talks in his sleep because you know that's the most threatening kind.”
Fury gave a sneer. “Have you lost your mind, Stark?”
“Yup! That's why I'm here, trying to find it. It has to be rolling around here somewhere.”
Thor gave a sideways glance towards Sif. The warrior maiden nodded. They both could see what Tony was doing. He was the most armored out of all of them and could take a few hits from the weapons, where as they would not be able to be so lucky. Just to be sure, Thor elbowed Fandral to get his attention. The shorter blond squeaked, startled, and rubbed his ribs while staring back at Thor. The thunderer made a very subtle gesture, which was understood. From there, Thor took a deep breath and waited, watching the two humans really start to argue.
Thor took a cautious step, a sort he normally took when stalking prey when out hunting, uncharacteristically soft, slow. He listened and heard the soft shuffling of the others. Knowing that they were alert, Thor's fist clenched the his hammer, knuckles going white as he called fourth a blast of lightening around them, knocking the armored agents off of their feet. An instant later, the group ran, again Thor purposefully staying behind a bit to cover for Volstagg's burden, and to make sure Tony was close behind.
One by one the group made it to the key piece, the thing dulling in color then flashing, blinding the encroaching SHIELD soldiers behind them as they teleported away.
Apologies for the short chapter. I've been busy of late, and I wanted to post something with a bit of a plot.
The group entered the palace.
The Aesir were taken aback at the general emptiness of the palace. There were no guards walking their routes, or standing at their posts, nor visitors and delegates milling about. Nothing. It created an eerie silence in the palace, broken only by the howling sound of wind moving through windows in the upper levels, echoing through the stone halls. To the mortals, it sounded like a classic haunted house, ominous, dark, and foreboding.
Carefully, the group moved forward, heading to the main foyer, where delegations were greeted, and people often trans-versed trough to other areas of the palace. When they arrived, there was no one there, save a single dark figure who stood, well leaned, against a wall on the far side, eerie eyes tracking the group.
The figure, was very familiar. Thor took a few slow breaths, trying to steady himself. Tony glanced between that figure and the resting one Volstagg guarded.
“Loki...?” Thor said softly.
Those eyes blazed, flaring as if back-lit by an unholy fire, set into a face that seemed to be too pale, too white even for Loki. He moved, walking towards them, inky, dark clothing swirling like smoke, whisper silent, and yet it almost seemed to drip with darkness. His footing was sure, silent, deadly as any assassin that they had ever met. The heavy cloth and leather swayed as he came to a stop, leveling those bizarre eyes at the group.
“I see you have finally arrived,” the mirror-Loki said smoothly, something not quite right about the smile he gave.
“Aye...” Thor said slowly, looking from the figure to his brother. One glance at that smile, he knew something was not right at all. “What business do you have here?”
“To stop you, of course,” the inky image replied. “To make sure that weakling that allowed himself to be captured stays where he belongs, forever punished for that weakness. He should have never surrendered.” A laugh, a horribly harsh, barking sound. “Midgard is merely a setback to my plans, dear brother. I would have succeeded if I were not trapped behind that weakling.”
“You are not my brother,” Thor nearly spat.
The dark blot gave another lopsided smile. There really was not something right with that, nor the nearly broken-necked tilt to its head. “Am I now? Last I knew, you kept screaming at me to give up my dreams and come home.”
Thor took a step forward, pointing at the blot. “My brother had no true desire to take over Midgard, nor any other realm. You are the corruption that has tried to devour my brother.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not,” the mirror-Loki said, stepping backwards. “It matters not what I am to you. You are not my brother any more than I am yours. I am a freak. The progeny of a monster, hidden behind pretty wrapping, lied to, sheltered. Do you know what I felt the instant I realized what I was, Thor? Do you?”
“Nay, I do not.” Thor was seething, but he listened. He felt he had to.
“I felt it was a matter of time that you would slay me,” the blot answered, shifting, waning then reappearing. “That was the first time in my life I was afraid of you.”
Thor's mouth set in a grim line, listening to the other speak. His train of thoughts was interrupted when Hank stepped over to Thor and placed a hand on the As' arm. “This is interesting.”
“How so?” Thor asked, his attention turning.
“That...has to be a manifestation of your brother, but you're right, its really not him,” Pym explained. “Its like that is negative Loki, and your friend is holding positive Loki. All his fears given form.”
Thor considered this. “Also why he is asleep still?”
“Likely. In this place, there can be only one aspect of him awake at the time.” He thought about it then spoke again. “There might be more than one aspect of Loki, if this one is fear.”
The older Odinson nodded, turning his gaze again to the inky blot that claimed to have his brother's name. “If you are his fears...then you should also know well that I would never hurt you.”
“Perhaps, but you did once vow to eliminate all of the Jotun...I remember this well.” The creature's voice turned hallow, sibilant. “I will kill you.” The blot shifted, changing form, growing massive wings, a tail, the body distorting utterly until there was nothing left of what looked like the trickster. In his place was a dragon shaped blot, that made a howling screech, its form suddenly igniting. The Aesir reared back, knowing how dangerous such a creature was, knowing that something full of fear was especially dangerous.
Thor shifted uneasily on his feet, not quite sure what to do with this creature. It looked like his brother, it sounded like his brother, but it voiced things Loki would not voice, for whatever reason. The blot spoke up again, interrupting the indecision. “But you,” the thing shook a hand, pointing at Thor, “you....they would love me again if I eliminate you. I would no longer fear loosing everything if I secure my place...yes....”
Thor swallowed hard, not liking what the thing said. “My true brother would never harm me.”
“Do you really know him so poorly?”
“Nay.” Thor was certain. No matter what, Loki never did anything that would cause permanent damage. True, while he had send him crashing to his doom, Thor had survived. Perhaps in a way, Loki knew Thor would survive. The elder Odinson was watching intently, as the smoky shadow backpedaled away from him, spreading its arms wide.
“He will likely fight like a wounded bilgesnipe,” Volstagg said quietly, pushing his precious bundle away from the monster.
“Aye,” Thor agreed. “We have wounded and killed many of them before, and this will be no different.”
“So we are going to kill his fears?” Tony was very curious of this. “Sounds like the best therapy ever, really.”
“Aye,” Thor said again, then turned to Sif. “I will distract it, you land the killing blow.” He turned to Tony. “You too. Taunt it back from me when it gets too close to me.”
The warrior maiden nodded, reaching and pulling a pole with a bladed end from is holding place. With a shake, it extended into a long spear like weapon. Tony nodded, and did as told, taunting the beast from the air, as Thor did from the ground, the two of them confusing the creature.
The beast swirled around the room, twisting and turning, every bit like flying wild fire, trying desperately to set them ablaze or devour them. The tactic worked, however. The beast was quickly worn down chasing people, until it stayed still long enough for Sif to hurl her spear, piercing the creature's chest. In turn, the creature screeched in pain, clawing uselessly at the metal spear, but it did drop, mostly from the creature's flailing.
With a screech, the creature summoned smaller versions of itself, to swarm after them while it kicked away the spear. Thor called the monster away before it could go too far with it, making it drop it and chase him. Fandral and Hogun quickly made short work of those smaller beasts with Pym's help. Hank used one of his sonic weapons to stun and group them up for easy killing.
Soon, Fandral was closest to where the spear dropped, and swiftly dove to pick up the spear and this time he threw it, hitting the creature in the throat. This time it gave a wet gurgle, ink leaking from its wounds, blackening the floor. The two strikes were not enough however. Thor surged forward, flinging his hammer into the creature's skull, ending its existence.
Lowering himself to the floor, and finally setting down, Tony looked around. “So where to now?”
“The training grounds?” Hogun suggested.
“The temple,” Sif stated.
“The feast hall!” Volstagg suggested with a grin.
“The training grounds, then the temple and...yes the feast hall” Thor said with a bit of a smile. “Let us proceed!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The group carefully descended into the under side of the training area, to emerge into the field. This was large, as massive as any Grecian Colosseum, but no where as near ornate for this was a mere training ground. It was a place where soldiers and warriors started, practiced and earned their start in the world of Asgard.
They passed through a dark tunnel, passing up through a large doorway that was rounded, into the open area. The smell, the reddish-gold dust, the gentle breeze, it was all too familiar. Fandral moved forward the fastest, a broad smile across his face as he looked around. “Well, this is nice at least.”
“Aye,” Thor agreed.
“Look,” Hogun said, pointing across the field.
Across the field, again, was a vaguely familiar black shape. Instead of the liquid, changing fluid that all but rolled towards them. This time that shape was jagged, all angles and about as friendly looking as a bramble field. The only thing the same was the blazing green eyes. Next to that blot of darkness stood Tyr, the war god, looking ready for battle as usual.
“Which Loki are you?” Thor demanded. He took a guess, considering who was standing next to it, and wondered if this was his anger given form.
“Who are you to make such demands of me?” the blot snapped, gesturing widely with both of its arms.
Thor gave a look at Sif, she nodded in turn. “Your brother makes these demands.”
“You are no relation of mine!” the dark blot shouted, block-like fists clenched, shaking. The shape moved closer, voice cracking with anger. “Stop assaulting me with your lies!”
“I am not lying to you.” This was confusing the thunderer. Lies? Assault? Since when!? Thor's expression changes from stern to confused.
The blot stepped closer still, its voice quavering with unaccustomed rage. “You. Its all about you. “How many times was I forgotten because of you? Pushed aside and ignored in the wake of your so called accomplishments? Half of them were blunders! If it were not for I, you would have caused irreparable damage time and again!” It drew back, voice dropping to a low, seething hum. “How many times did I bear the blame for something gone wrong, while you walked away unpunished for doing the exact same thing?” Those blazing green eyes seemed to glow even more than before.
“I apologize, I fail to understand what you are saying,” Thor replied. He stammered, something that sounded alien coming from a man who was normally so sure of himself.
“How can you claim you remember nothing?” The dark shape nearly started to spaz. “How!? Is your ego so large you cannot see anything past it?”
“I see plenty, brother.”
“Then why do you not see all of this?”
“I was blind.”
“You never voiced these things, brother. I cannot help you if you continue to contain instead of share these things. I cannot read your mind.”
Thor closed his eyes, trying to shut the creature's mad raving out, and steady his breath. His last words sent the apparition into a blind rage, words flying, as cutting as any sharp blade Loki ever weilded. Was his brother truly this angry at him, deep down inside, or was this an exaggeration? Likely, he would never truly know until the real one chose to speak of it.
The thunderer reopened his eyes, to stare at those blazing, poisonous green ones. “Stop.”
“I will not stop! Do not tell me what to do!” The thing spat. “You mind what you do for a change and leave me alone! Die!”
The blot grew, as it stepped backwards, its form changing. Instead of a dragon, this time it seemed to turn to stone, permafrost and ash, creating a formidable armor as it wrapped itself around Tyr. At first the war god was shocked, but once he realized what he had been given, a blood thirsty smile crossed his face. He immediately charged at Thor.
One of Tyr's massive fists flew past Thor's head, the thunderer dodging him. With a growl, Thor was retaliating in an instant, swinging his hammer and crashing the heavy end into Tyr's new armor. The end bounced off of the stone with a loud thwack, jarring Thor's arm. The thunderer growled, launching into a flurry of blows.
From a distance, seeing his attacks ineffective, Pym started recording and analyzing the sounds of the weapons bouncing off of the hard armor. Each weapon made a different sound as it hit different parts, but there had to be some point where one would give away a frequency where that armor would crack. Thor was the one who found that crack, breaking a piece off of the left pauldron as his weapon slid from where it had landed, the thunderer thrown across the field shortly after words. In his ah-ha moment, Hank raced forward, calibrating his instruments and promptly aimed them at the armor.
The first shot was not strong enough, merely cracking his armor slightly, not giving them an advantage at all. He intensified it the second time, watching stone and permafrost crack like a punch to a mirror. Hogun wasted no time, his heavy mace crashing into Tyr's leg. The war god fell, mostly due to shock, and in that same shock, the normally stoic man screamed in pain. Fandral was just as quick, his thin blade sliding between large cracks, into Tyr's chest, quickly ending his plight. The doppelganger fell to the ground, defeated.
Pym spoke first, “that was his anger and hate, before it was fear. Unless he is a bottomless pit of negative emotions, we could see something totally different next time.”
Thor stared at Tyr and the crumbling pieces of armor, nudging a bit of it with his foot, a thoughtful expression on his face as he appeared temporarily lost in his thoughts. “He never voiced any of these things,” he said. “Never a word.”
Sif reached over, gently pushing Loki's ruffed hair out of his face. “He contains too much. Its a wonder he did not break before.”
“Its not healthy,” Pym stated. “It never is.”
Thor nodded, having learned this from before. “I think I know what we face next in the temple.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The temple was an unexpected place. Tony could not help but notice how similar it was to the one they passed through while in Jotunheimr. The walls were not so intensively carved, much like the temples and ancient buildings in the Middle East on Earth. Tony mused, havinghad wondered that since the Jotun had the power to manipulate ice, were those walls grown and shaped with thoughts instead of carved? Something he was curious to find out. Hells yes that would make great PR for them to have such an ice show in the winter. Maybe even make it a fund raiser, which would make Steve incredibly happy.)
Then again, none of this was as he had expected. Tony had expected to walk into a huge, dreary castle reminiscent from those crumbling ruins that remained from Europe's dark history, only to find such modernistic, sleek buildings that seemed to be made of gold, and some sort of beige stone, not weathered timbers and gray, lots and lots of gray. He could really appreciate the way the Aesir decorated.
Thor and Sif lead them through the building, past areas that seemed familiar, yet not, symbols they could never begin to recognize on the walls, richly decorated in yet more gold and colorful banners. In the end, it turned out, there was indeed a darker area. These upper levels were for the open public, for everyone from the average person, to Odin himself, but those lower ones were reserved for something else entirely. Sif had explained that she had been there before, her first time to see if she had any gift for Seid, and later times to try to pry Loki from its depths. They explained, that Sif could walk down there and not a person would blink. When Thor would, people would whisper to no end. It was the only place Loki could hide where he was not easy to reach, and thankfully, it was very rare that he spent too much time there.
Thor explained, one thing he did know about his brother, was the things he had been accused of over and over. At this point, Tony and Hank received a crash course on Asgardian culture. Sif was not supposed to be a warrior, it was inappropriate for women. Knowing Midgardian culture, Thor left the explanation to that. Loki was not supposed to be a sorcerer, which made everyone perceive him as weak, and, most unfortunately, put him on the receiving end of some severe insults. The only way Loki managed to slip into those levels without drawing attention was all thanks to his shapeshifting powers.
“So to blend in, just as as Irish as possible,” Tony said with a laugh.
“If Irish means fighting and drinking a lot, yes,” Fandral answered, not entirely sure what the philanthropist was suggesting.
“I can see some severe cultural clash happening someday,” Hank stated. “Whatever you do, don't walk around Earth suggesting women do just that unless you want to loose some very valuable parts.”
“How valuable?” Fandral asked.
“The family jewels,” Tony answered with a cringe.
“Oh....dear.” Fandral almost shrunk in on himself upon hearing that, his legs subtly sliding together a bit.
“You should be familiar with that,” Volstagg added with a laugh. “He's crossed most of the Valkyries after all. Their training dummies bear his likeness.”
“So why is it a bad thing for Loki to come down here? It looks fairly ordinary,” Hank asked as he looked around.
“This area is for women's craft. For Seid,” Thor said. “My brother knows Seid, but it is a craft that is supposed to be limited to women only. Part of it is how he heals himself.”
Upon hearing this, Hank became uncomfortable. “What about those who choose to educate themselves?”
“They would and do call you a sorcerer as well,” Thor said. “I know otherwise, but to explain it, few would accept 'scientist' as an appropriate occupation. A tradesmen, yes, but not as such.”
“That...is messed up,” Tony said.
“So on Midgard, it is ok for women to fight, and for men to not?” Fandral asked, looking over at the warrior woman curiously. He waggled his eyebrows at Sif, who in turn shoved the shorter blond away from her person with a huff.
“Absolutely,” Hank explained. “They fight, they lead, they have their say in the government, business, everything.”
“And still rear children,” Fandral reached over and gave Sif a tap on the shoulder. “Maybe you should move!”
“Bad idea,” Hank said. “It was women like her who wouldn't give up that made the way for the rest. Its how things change.”
Thor nodded thoughtfully. “Aye. Asgard needs to change, for the better.”
They eventually arrived in a deep chamber that was open, round and had a fire pit in the middle. Over it was an iron tripod to suspend whatever, and there was the remains of logs, some nothing but ashes, some partially burnt. The room smelled of burnt wood, herbs and some otherworldly incense. Over to the side, sat a familiar dark figure, legs crossed, one hand holding a heavy stone bowl, the other using a pestle, humming, content, as it busily mashing away at some herbal smelling concoction. This incarnation was again smoke like, edges wispy and curling, away from the main dark figure, but it lacked the dripping darkness.
Those blazing eyes turned up, looking at Thor. This time the green seemed more...grass like. Pleasant. Not the toxic color they were before. A ghost of a smile appeared on the dark figure's face. “Thor!” The figure stood, dropping the things it held aside, quickly forgotten, as it surged forward to throw its arms around Thor's broad shoulders.
Thor was briefly stunned, more so than when he had met Loki's rage. His little brother was never so open. The majority of the time “go away” meant “stay here “after all. This was very different. Too, this version radiated warmth, though Thor knew not what the other two felt like, but this one was warm, almost like sitting next to a warm fireplace. Instinctively, Thor put a hand on the shadowy figure's back. “Brother?”
“I've missed you,” the figure said, withdrawing, hands sliding down Thor's chest, then reached up, grasping the edges of Thor's cape. Thor watched, noticing that indeed, this form was truly shifted, shorter, curvier. “Brother! You must listen to me.”
“I am listening,” Thor said softly.
“That is new,” the doppleganger said playfully, a slight tug at the corner of its mouth in a quirky smile. “I think I like this change.” The thing paused, then spoke again. “When you go forward, you must listen closely. Things will be said, some true, some not. I know you are unable to tell which is which from me for everyone accuses me of lying constantly. I know you cannot tell so well as you think at least, but I will have you know, I never lie to you. Trick, banter, fool, yes, out of love, because at times it amuses me, but I have never lied to you.”
“But you have before, on Midgard,” Thor asked, fingers twining gently in long dark hair, brushing it back. “You told me father was dead, our family shattered.”
The figure looked regretful. “I did that to protect you. I needed you to stay put until I was ready for you to return, once everything was ready. I knew you were strong, and would succeed in what task you had been given in no time, even if you are an idiot.” The doppleganger leaned against Thor, head lying against his chest.
“What of the Destroyer then? Why did you send that if you wished me to live?”
The voice was quieter as it turned its face into his chest. “I needed something to drive you to fight, to drive you to pick up the pieces of your heart and put it back on your sleeve. Its what you do best. I needed you whole again.”
“What if I had lost?”
“You never loose.”
“Aye, but what if?”
Sif moved, uncomfortable. Oh how had she hated Loki for sending that thing after Thor. No one had much time between then, and when he fell to tell him what had happened, how Loki nearly lost his brother thanks to his actions. It had filled her and their friends with a blind rage, but, hearing the mirror image speak, and knowing what they knew now, things had changed. Sif turned her attention back to the two, wanting to know the answer.
“I would never forgive myself. I would be dead as well, alone,” the figure replied.
Thor nodded, the barest of motions as he did so, satisfied with the answer. “I forgive you, Loki.”
“I do not deserve it.”
“Do not assume what you deserve. We must free you, away from what you truly do not deserve,” Thor said. “We fought the last two incarnations of you. What do we do with you?”
“Love me, of course,” the figure replied, sliding out of Thor's arm's and stepping back. “I do not show it as easily as you, but I have much to give.”
Thor smiled, watching the figure step farther back, raise its arms and disappear as if it unraveled itself, literally, smoke swirling, and dispersing into nothing. The thunderer turned to the others, watching their serious, if shocked expressions. “Come my friends,” he said, “let us finish this.”
*cackles madly in a corner somewhere*
Thor walked cautiously, Mjolnir held out at his side, a clear warning of his intentions. Before him stood Baldr, his keen sword in strangely glowing hands. In fact, Baldr was difficult to see clearly for he was the opposite of Loki, instead of being made of darkness, he was made of white light. Next to him was a doppelganger of Thor himself, wielding a sword. His own mirror self was a strange one, in a way, mostly because that image seemed to be a bit taller than he actually was. Just behind them stood the united mirror image of Loki, hands aglow with a sickly green light, ready to throw spells or daggers, impossible to tell which.
The trio stood before Odin, battle ready to defend the king at his command. A bitter thought crossed Thor's mind. That this was a time before their trials, before they really ventured too far outside the palace and city grounds, before they started to walk their own paths. Before whatever happened that started the dark changes in his brother.
The thunderer turned his harsh gaze up at the dais, at the image of Odin. “Let us take the key, or we will take it by force.” If this was anything like his own father, well, the peaceful approach did not always work so well with him any more than it did with Thor. He had to admit, Odin had taught him to be bloodthirsty.
“A large claim for one so small,” the mirror-king said. “As you can see, I have no intentions of allowing you to win.”
“Why do you want to hurt Loki? I mean, yeah, he can be kind of a jerk, but he's a nice jerk,” Tony said. “Hell, I'm a jerk sometimes too.”
Odin made no move, his expression did not change at that. “He left me no choice.”
“How so?” Thor asked, straightening some.
“He is correct,” Odin started, “in many of his reasons to hate you, you stupid boy.” The king moved, pacing to the one side, still speaking. “In your wake, in your blundering adventures outside the castle walls, chasing down stories from drunken, old warriors, did you really think that the people would accept their prince and future ruler as a careless brat that cared nothing for the people around him? Or the repercussions of his actions?” Odin paused, turning his gaze at Thor, seeing the golden prince's expression shift as he was lost in thought.
The other Aesir shifted on their feet as well, uncomfortable, Sif turning her gaze to the grim Hogun, who subtly returned it. The warrior woman then turned and spoke up, “Mi'lord, you sent us on some of those missions.”
“Did I?” Odin replied.
“Thor said...” Fandral started.
“'Thor said' indeed,” Odin said, cutting the shorter blond off. “Where do you think he received those ideas?”
It was rare to hear Tony growl. “Not cool, dude.”
Odin laughed. “He was such a foolish boy.” The All-father shook his head, then turned back to them. “Everything I've done I've done for Asgard.”
“Regardless to the damage you left in your wake,” Thor stated. “And yet you claim that I am the reckless one?”
“When I saw Laufey's son, I immediately knew that everything would fall into place. One way or another, I would accomplish my goals. I would save Asgard from the reputation, from the terror it had become under my father's rule. You see, foolish boy, I did allow Bor to be taken by the snows of Jotunheimr on purpose. He could have been saved, but your great-father had been a brutal, savage beast of a king. History, is written by the winners, after all. Asgard was the terror of the nine realms. No man will disagree with my word once I reveal Loki's true parentage. They will pity us, having taken in such a foundling, only to be betrayed by it,” Odin explained, as he continued to pace. “Your brother knew this. He managed to find his way into books I thought I had securely locked to all prying eyes.” The All-father came to a stop behind the mirror of Loki. “Always seeing hidden things and locks as challenges, never thinking that they were locked or hidden for a reason.”
“I remember you saying he was brutal, but not the rest,” Thor said. “You erased his memory so completely that not even an image of him remained. Do you plan on doing the same to my brother?”
“Of course,” Odin said in reply. “Of course. Through you, I was able to do what I could not because of the timing of your birth and my ascension to the throne. By placing all the wrongs I can upon the shoulders of your brother, and through his passing, we would be redeemed. The golden prince would ascend to the throne, free of any wrongs hanging over his head and Asgard would move forward, into a grander age, away from its bloody history.”
This made Thor stare, mouth agape, unable to believe the words from the mirror-king's mouth. Sif was quicker on her feet, and with her words. “You demonized Jotunheimr to make Asgard appear better. They are not even as brutal and violent as everyone believes, are they?”
“Watch your tongue, wench,” Odin snapped. “The only reason I am allowing my son to take your hand is because of the will of the people. What they believe, contrasts greatly with what I know. You poison him. You are no better than that beast Bestla.”
“Nay, I aid my prince with my council, just as your advisers aid you,” Sif bit back. She was never one to just take insults idly.
“If that is poison, then I gladly drink of it,” Thor stated. “I have had enough of this. If you will not stand down, then we will take the key.”
“Oh not yet,” Odin said, stepping forward, towards the group. “Not yet. Hand him over so that I may finish this. I would have preferred a more public display, but this will have to do.”
Volstagg took a wise step back, pushing the trickster away from the rest instinctively. “I don't bloody well think so.”
“You'll have to go through us first,” Tony said, standing a little straighter. He was on the short side, but he could have been the tallest for the force behind his words.
“That is of no consequence,” Odin said, stepping back, a wolfish smile hidden in his beard as he did so. “Kill them.”
The trio before then wasted no time, the mirror-Thor and Baldr rushed forward in an instant, to be met by the elder, true, Thor and Hogun. Staying behind, those clever, poisonous green eyes tracked their movements, shortly slinging bolts of ice, slowing Fandral's charge with freezing energy. Sif caught onto this quickly, tossing her spear, breaking the trickster's concentration. She knew this trick well, keep Loki from casting any way possible and you stood a chance. Hell, stay in his face, do not give him any room, and you stood a better chance. It meant you would face his daggers, but those sharp blades were nothing compared to the deadly spells he could throw. Knowing this, Sif bounded forward, closing the gap between herself and the trickster, glaive whirling effortlessly in her hands.
A short distance away, Thor grabbed and manhandled Baldr, hefting him and throwing him to the floor. Though he knew Baldr was a good swordsman, he was also a reluctant one. It was not for lack of bravery, no, it was from over thinking usually. In the end, the man simply had horrible luck made all the worse with Thor being his opponent. It took very little for Thor to quickly convince the man to stay where he threw him, Baldr not really wanting to be one with a grave yet again.
Thor looked up from the floor, to see the Man of Iron zipping through the air, taunting the false thunder god as Fandral made good at the image's heels. If that doppelganger was anything like the real one, it would take an extraordinary amount of reasoning, strength to reason with him, much less stop him.
The thunderer shifted, turning to see the mirror of his brother and Sif fight. She knew, too well, that you had to close the distance between yourself and he, to make him stop casting, to stop throwing daggers and arrows, and force him to concentrate on dodging incoming blows. The shadow darted unnaturally, but Sif kept up with it, her weapon spinning and twisting with him.
The warrior woman, shifted suddenly, her weapon twisting, coming around and striking with a loud 'plok' sound. Stunned, the shadow wavered on its feet. She then turned, having heard Thor's deep voice call to her.
Knowing he now had her attention, he gestured. Sif followed Thor's line of sight and quickly figured out what the man was attempting to say with just gesture. Understanding, she nodded, spinning away. She did not run for long, just a few feet away and daggers flew past her head, a ways more, she could hear the crackle of energy gather at his hands. Sif turned just enough to see that, indeed, the shadow was gathering power, casting. Bolts of whatever spell of choice soon followed, just missing her by bare inches.
“Liesmith!” Sif yelled, taunting, twisting words that were once aimed at her, knowing her words would soon send him into a blind rage. “You are not jealous of your brother, but of me for I am more a man that you can ever claim!”
Her words run true, as fine as any blade, sticking the shadow metaphorically through the ribs into its heart. Ice turned to fire, large balls of brimstone and molten heat flew towards her. Sif ducked, neatly rolling out of the way as spinning ball of fire hurtled towards her, and crashed squarely into the false thunder god. The doppelganger of Thor screamed, a foreign sound to all their ears, then dropped under the relentless assault from the shadow. The pyroblast had been the first of several bolts of pure power thrown, until finally, the last pops and crackles sounded, of armor popping apart like that popped corn stuff, sizzling and sparks flying as the mirror-Thor fell, finished.
The real Thor swallowed hard, watching this, and shot a worried glance at hi resting, true brother. That...was something to be truly concerned about. No matter...he turned, knowing the other means to counter his brother's power and threw his hammer, sending it crashing into his brother's shadow, stunning him long enough so that Thor could draw closer, rotating between blows and stunning him again and again. What few strikes that did land on the elder brother were weak, little more than scratches, bouncing off of his armor. Knowing that this unfair play would wear the trickster down quickly, Thor pressed forward until finally one of the stunning blows dropped him to an unmoving black heap onto the floor.
Left alone, Odin stood at the base of his throne, spear in hand, staring back at Thor's icy glare. Thor knew that there was no way, imagined or otherwise, that his father would back down from a fight, from a challenge. “Father...do not make me do this...”
“You can always surrender,” Odin stated.
“I will not,” Thor said firmly. “I refuse to believe that you are our father. That the shade of him is a lie, larger than any tale spun by my brother could ever manage.”
“You know that your brother lies, and you are in a realm of his making. How do you not know that everything I have said thus far are nothing more than more of his lies?” Odin said, stepping towards the thunder god. “He is quite good at it.”
“I can see he learned it from you,” Thor replied. “I've noticed...both of you show that you are lying in the same way.” Thor did not move from the other man's gaze, did not glance to anywhere, but heard, felt that his friends were moving, heading quietly towards the key after seeing such an opening. They knew the same as Thor did, that none of them stood a chance against Odin. Not with the power that the All-father commanded.
“There are no outward signs, I taught him that,” Odin admitted. “To keep his face straight, to hide what he truly intended and felt. Why do you think I taught and encouraged the both of you to play card games so much?”
“Indeed,” Thor said, reflectively. “However, it appears that your time is up.”
“Aye,” that winning grin crossed the features of the thunderer, as he shifted his stance from defensive to moving, bolting forward, past the false-Odin, and to the piece of the key where his friends waited for him.
Why yes, I am foreshadowing another fic. :)
Odin stared, pensively, at the broken case, at the peaceful face of his youngest. To his side, Figga clung to his arm, thin hand nearly shutting off the circulation to his arm where she gripped it. The king and queen stood in the little cell room, surrounded by the unconscious bodies of those who were brave enough to venture fourth into the synthetic world inside that horrible, vile enchanted, broken box...that would not let either of them closer to their son.
The All-father was at least kept himself well schooled. He did not allow flinches of pain as Frigga's hand tightened around his arm, as her tears flowed. He could not allow himself. The guards were outside the room, giving their lords privacy, but Karnilla stood in the corner, a smug half smile on her face as she watched the pair. Odin could not afford to allow anyone to see him as anything less than completely unflappable, least of all the queen that was still easily one of his rivals. Oh how he wanted that woman to leave him and his wife to their grief.
A metallic sound rang in the room, the three conscious people jumping, startled. Their attention turned to see the final, golden key piece drop from the very last lock. Odin breathed a silent sigh of relief that was cut short with a quick, vice like squeeze from his wife before she crossed the room and pieced up the little piece of metal. She held it to her breast like it was a precious gift as her eyes locked on the pale face of their resting son.
Yet he did not move.
A cough interrupted whatever thoughts that were starting to form in Odin's mind, him turning to see the Hogun's face tinge slightly pink then fade, realizing his king was watching him and the bare seconds of vulnerability. Next to him, Fandral roused next, yawning contently, then peering around, surprised to see he hadn't just wakened from spending a night in a tavern's boarding room. Sif followed, then Volstagg along with Thor. The hefty one peered at his side oddly, Frigga giving him a curious look as the red haired man looked disappointed, then he turned to the rest of the room, smiling broadly to see Tony staring at him for a moment. One by one they pushed themselves to their feet. Thor was the first to cross the room to the case, to his brother...
To appear crestfallen as his little brother still rested peacefully.
Confused, worried, Thor turned to his parents. It was only then that he did notice the crow that had landed across the room, gave a soft sound and stared at him keenly. Not far away, the other, Huginn, landed, glanced at the other bird, then, too, stared at them. A fading shimmer had been about them, an unusual deep blue, tell tale signs of his father's powers.
Thor turned, in confusion, to first look at his mother. Frigga was obviously worried, hands at the edges of the broken glass, her face damp with tears. His father...he appeared ...well, as usual. As if he had all the emotional warmth and joy of a rock. There were slight details, however, Thor knew well from learning statecraft. The way muscles tugged at his solitary eye, the ever so slight twitch at his cheek. His father was a raging storm of worry and anger behind a mask of serenity. For a moment, a bare moment, their eyes locked. In that moment, Thor understood what he faced before was, in no way, the very tired looking old king that stood not far from him. That Odin was...
In turn, Odin stared back at his son, his eldest, his heir. Thor was easy to read, the fiery glare of barely contained rage, uncertainty, questioning, demanding an answer. Solemnly, he shook his head, just slightly. It would have been difficult to catch this if someone were not looking for it and he knew Thor was looking, trying to understand. He himself did not understand, but something very gravely wrong had occurred during the time he has spent within that imaginary realm.
A realm that was obviously a set-up.
Thor turned, understanding, directing his steely glare at Karnilla. It was not two seconds later that Odin was doing the same, standing just a little straighter, banishing the weariness form his frame. To the sides, the others were picking up on what the king and prince was doing, pulling their weapons. Frigga stepped back, wisely, warily watching those around her.
“Release my son,” Odin commanded, his spear appeared in his hand out of thin air.
“What are you talking about?” Karnilla demanded in turn. A glow of energy formed at her hands.
“This,” Odin pointed to the case, to the sleeping figure within. “When the council met and discussed punishment for him, it was you who suggested this. I have come to learn in the time my child has spent within this case the full repercussions of what this would do to him, thanks to one of our allies.” He paused, a side long glance and he noticed Tony's proud half smile. Odin raised a hand, gesturing to the two crows, Huginn and Muginn. “You swore that he would not come to any harm, but I have seen otherwise.”
“As you can see, he is unharmed,” Karnilla stated in turn. “He is uninjured.”
“Outside,” Odin relied. “Outside, but there are more than one side to a person, would you not agree?” His voice turned stronger, catching a glimpse of Thor's hardening glare, his glances that begged for action. “It is obvious that your plans to ruin my family have been ruined in kind. Release my son.”
“This is not a curse of my weaving,” Karnilla replied, that smug smile returning. “I am not so foolish to stand alone.”
“Or you are a coward,” Thor spat. “Who cast it? I demand to know!”
Behind the two irate men, Frigga turned her attention away from them, hearing this change. Hank moved aside, respecting the queen's space, but watched quietly. Now that she could, she reached forward, her fingers stroking Loki's dark hair. Frigga bent down as a soft glow appeared around her hands, whispering unintelligible words. That glow grew, taking a greenish tint, then faded. “Welcome back, my son,” she said softly as she watched his eyes open finally. Frigga straightened, her hand not leaving the crown of her youngest son's head. “It was Amora's casting,” she informed them.
“I forget you know Seid,” Karnilla said softly, watching the queen closely. “Regardless, I take my leave. My part here is done.”
“Your part? There were yet others?” Thor jolted forward, hammer raised to stun her before she could teleport away. Failing, the thunderer slumped slightly where he stood. Fandral reached over and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder as Thor turned back to the others. Both men turned to the queen inquisitively.
“Were there other curses?” Odin asked as he walked closer, laying his free hand upon the broken edge.
Frigga gave a jerky nod, paying more attention to her son than her husband, watching as the other returned to sleep. “I would need Eir's help. I did not look deeply, but I can tell that some of these curses are complicated.”
“Many curses?” Thor blinked, concerned. “What kinds?”
“Give us time and we will let you know,” Frigga answered, her pale eyes turning, catching sight of healers entering the room. “For now, he needs rest while we devise how to unravel them.” She looked over at her eldest.
Without a word being said, Thor and Odin both reached forward, opening the broken case cover. Thor reached inside lifting his brother as if he weighed little more than a child. Loki barely moved, shifting only to almost...seemingly curl closer to Thor. Seeing this returned that broad smile to the thunder god's face, as he turned and headed towards the healing rooms.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“What troubles you, my son?” Odin said carefully as he approached his eldest. He found Thor, in his usual spot he would stay at when troubled. This place, in a distant location, a disused tower frequented only by the occasional guard and troubled youths. Algrim would find him there, and after the dark elf had met his untimely death, Odin learned this was the place where his eldest would go when troubled.
Thor turned slowly from the window, from the waning sunset. “If you were watching, you would know.”
“Aye, but I wish to hear it in your words,” Odin replied, stopping finally by where Thor was perched in the wide window ledge. “I worry for you.”
“And not my brother as well?”
“I worry for him as well, but he has not yet wakened, so for now, I worry for you.” He paused. “I do bear good news. The curses have been lifted from him and your brother rests peacefully in his own bed at this time.”
Thor perked up slightly. “What were they?”
“One thing at a time,” Odin said with a smile. “I still wish to hear about what happened.”
The cheer faded from the older prince as quickly as it came. In fact he looked right out troubled, his normally sure gaze turning to the floor, to the ground, anywhere but where Odin stood. “The things that false...creature spoke of...”
“Aye,” Odin said patiently, listening.
“How much is true?”
“None of it,” Odin replied with a heavy, tired sigh. “I do understand that many things you had seen would lead you to believe that I am some sort of monster who would have your brother destroyed. I would tell you more on this, but not at this time.” The old king sounded quite tired, mostly from spent so much time awake recently. Truthfully, he felt like what he was about to discuss was far more arduous than dealing with interplanetary issues mostly because this is something that him so close to home. The All-father did not like it when his children were troubled so. “I will admit to you, I have done many things, many of which I regret now, but I did it to protect you.”
Thor looked up at his father warily, an unspoken question on his face, slowly straightening his posture more, as Odin continued to speak.
“I taught your brother to do so to protect the family. You know the people accept his sorcery, and barely so, but not his ability to heal others. I have tried my best to keep him from falling into a secondary role, only to accidentally place him in another secondary role. Regardless of everything, I am very proud of him, of his dedication to you at the sacrifice of his own.” Again he paused, letting his words settle slightly. “You know not what he had done to protect your friends. To protect us.”
“Like?” Thor wanted to know. He leaned forward, showing as much, eyes bright with interest.
“Your brother...” For once, Odin looked uncomfortable. He drew upon a long list of things he knew of, too long a list,picking something at random. “Drinking poison that was meant for you on more than one occasion. Keeping certain mistresses from your bed, who would have slain you as you slept...when you left for Jotunheimr that day, it was not the first time Loki had sent guards to notify me of your plans.”
At first, Thor looked uncertain, but dawning realization painted its way across his face. It explained so many things. Why his drink would change, why his brother would use his silver dipped words to coax women away from him... why and how Odin knew so quickly to save them when they were truly in danger...
“I should apologize to him...” Thor said softly.
Odin nodded. “We both should. There is no way we can change the past, but according to your mortal friend, we can at least help him make peace with it so that he may move forward.”
“You said there was more...” Thor suggested, remembering.
Odin nodded and turned. “Come. I would rather not discuss that here. The superiors of your mortal friends should hear this.”
Thor moved, a smooth motion, standing from where he had been bent for some hours. He bent oddly at first, circulation returning to his limbs, but he quickly recovered. “How so?” the thunderer asked as he followed his father.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Odin looked over his shoulder, making sure that his son was still there, and allowed Thor to walk past him. He then turned and quietly closed the door. The All-father then whispered a spell, sealing the door, before he joined the small group. Director Fury along with a few of the other Avengers, and Helblindi gathered there. It was pretty obvious that he and Loki shared a parent, both possessing angular, delicate features and thin frames. What other similarities there were, was left at that for few had any opportunity to get a good luck when Loki shifted his form in such a way. Either way, bringing the Jotun there had been a challenge all in itself just to not cause a large disturbance amongst the people who were already on edge to see the prince after his punishment.
Odin watched as Thor moved across the room and to his brother's side, to sit then reach, laying one large hand on the other's, encompassing it completely.
Odin drew a deep breath then let it go as he crossed the room, knowing he had their attention. Fury was giving the king a harsh look. “What is this I hear about this not being his fault?”
The All-father nodded. “After seeing what I have, it has become clear that one of the things I had always tried desperately to save my son from has succeeded.” He gestured to the second frost giant in the room.
“My father had all the rights to demand my brother back, and he would have, but we had nothing to give,” Helblindi said, his crimson gaze turned to the sleeping form on the bed. “There were too many reasons for Loki to stay here to make those demands. I was a child at the time, but I remember it well.”
Odin nodded, agreeing with those words. “Thor, when your brother made the discovery...his heart was shattered. I can only imagine his pain.”
“You shouldn't have kept it form him,” Helblindi said, interrupting, “but...he would not have been cared for so well if he had known either...”
“He would be damned...” Thor said softly.
“Aye,” Odin added. “The people would openly reject him more so than they do now. I will not have this truth known for his safety.”
“What did he say? You never told me,” Frigga asked.
“He wanted to know why, and I couldn't tell him,” Odin answered.
This time Frigga nodded, turning her gaze to Loki. She reached and stroked a few dark, errant hairs out of his face. Thor gave her a curious look when he saw his mother smile. “ tried to say Loki was our new son at first, but later he decided that he would have joined you two in marriage, and sealed a lasting peace between our realms. Odin's second idea did not work.”
Tony gave a surprised sound. “But they're...” He gestured hands open, palms up, rotating left and right in the general direction of the two younger gods.
“Aye, and that is why I did not,” Odin said. “We tried to separate the two of then, but even at such a young age, Thor would not have it. He spent every minute he could with Loki and we eventually gave up. They were inseparable.”
A rosy tint took to Thor's cheeks and he looked away. “Did I truly behave so poorly?”
Frigga made a dismissive sound. “It is too late to claim innocence now.”
“There are other reasons,” Helblindi added. “That would have been an acceptable arrangement between our people.” His crimson gaze moved from the younger to the older prince. “I am certain that you remember his health?”
“Unfortunately,” Thor said, turning his attention.
Helblindi nodded. “You could provide care for him, where we could not. Herbs from our dying lands were not strong enough to heal him.”
“You also said he was found in a temple,” Thor said, looking over at his father.
“Aye,” Odin said.
“We were begging our gods for help,” Helblindi explained. “We knew he was different when he was born. There was an age to his eyes that few ever see. An old soul in a new body, but something tried to take him, so Laufey fought back. Whatever it was, it followed the great tree to him as if it had been looking for him. It attempted to claim him, but my father could not fend it off along with Odin, so he was forced to make a choice.” That crimson gaze moved, over to Odin. The All-father looked unfazed. “For his protection, we paid dearly for it, and Loki was kept safe for a long time.”
“Until he fell,” Odin added. “When he fell beyond my reach, I could no longer protect him.”
“So let me make sure I am hearing this correctly,” Director Fury said, “Loki was born with a creeper following him and you kept it away until he fell from the Bi-frost, that thing took over him, and at some point he met the Chitauri, and we all know what happened from there?”
“Aye,” Odin answered.
“Do you have any idea what the source of it is?” Steve asked.
“It would explain why he seemed to have multiple personality disorder at times,” Hank Pym added. He looked over at Thor. “I don't know if you noticed it, but the huge difference between the three manifestations we saw...it would explain that. It was almost as if something was leaching onto two of them, but couldn't touch the third.”
“What about separating him from it...” Thor asked.
“We know not the source. Many have searched, but no one has ever discovered it,” Helblindi answered. “It...seems to come from outside the nine realms.”
Odin shook his head, remembering those manifestations and the stabbing regret their words brought to him. “We cannot. Your mother, Eir and myself have tried, and we only caused him further pain.”
“We unraveled the curses from him, ones meant to bind his obedience, to tame him and that thing within him,” Frigga explained, “but we were unable to remove that from him.”
Hank looked at the sPad that was tucked under his arm, and all the notes he had written. “Give me some time, and with some help, we can at least help him deal with it until we figure out what it is, and hopefully prevent something like what happened from reoccurring.”
“How much can I depend on you guys managing this fully?” Fury asked. “I don't think anyone can afford a round two.”
“There is a lot of medications out there that help people with psychotic episodes, but I can't make that conclusion right now. I need more information,” Pym answered.
“How do we know that human medicine will help the littlest frost giant?” Tony asked.
Banner laughed. “That would make a great kids book title.”
“I don't think he'd read it any time soon,” Pym said. “We don't for sure, but then we have seen tranquilizer darts affect Thor if the dose is high enough so we might be able
to work out something for Loki.”
Frigga gave a sad look at her youngest. “I'm afraid he will not be able to remain here.”
“What do you mean? He is safe here,” Thor said, jolting.
“Nay, your mother is correct, Thor.” Odin stepped closer. “The Jotun have forgiven him after learning of the circumstances. The irony is not lost upon me that they are more forgiving than the elves are. Our security was violated despite every precaution. I will not fail him again so long as those responsible are still free.”
“That reminds me, I have a nice room ready for him,” Tony said. “Thor even helped decorate it a bit for him.”
“That padded room you built?” Fury asked, doubtful.
“Yeah. We tested it. Even had Bruce hulk out in there, and it stood up pretty well. I've never seen the Hulk giggle before we tried that,” Tony answered.
“The floors were like one of those bounce houses...I guess even the other guy likes those things,” Bruce answered, embarrassed.
“It was so damned cute though! Why won't you let me post that on youTube?” Tony teased. “Anyways, we have it all set up so he can't hurt himself until we can get him calmed down and accessed. Its pretty cozy really.”
“Aye...” Thor said fondly, remembering the gift he had placed on the well bolted down bed. “Loki would be comfortable and safe.”
Helblindi moved, shifting to pull a floppy for it did not have the usual stiff cover at all, leather bound book from his satchel and set it at the foot of the bed. “Take this with him. Our only penance I ask is that he learn about his people. It is not often that we create books, for we rely more on spoken word, but this...we have made especially for him, to learn of us with.” He