“Don’t let them touch you!” Volstagg cried out.
Loki heard the shouted warning but he was already spinning, gaining momentum for his attack on the Frost Giant before him. The creature lunged, grabbed Loki’s arm and dropped to his knees, eagerly staring into Loki’s eyes in anticipation of his agonized screams from frostbite. Instead of pain, Loki felt warmth flush though him from the painful clasp. He stared down and watched his flesh turn the same color blue as the hand that gripped him. He twisted his arm, flexed his fingers, dumbfounded by the change. What witchery was this? He looked up at his opponent to see the Frost Giant’s expression fade from surprise to grim realization. This meant something to him.
Alarmed, Loki slashed quickly with his knife, scoring a deep wound to the Frost Giant’s chest. The creature cried out as he released him, then fell backwards. Still staring at his arm, Loki was relieved to see his skin fade back into his normal color. Whatever the spell was, it was ending. Loki was a gifted sorcerer, a seiðmaðr, and while he frantically searched for some hint of magic working on his skin, there was none. The implications were…he stopped that line of thought. He had not the time to consider them for the battle still raged on around him.
Loki heard a grunt of pain and glanced up; Fandral had been impaled by a shard of ice. Loki whirled about and flung a blade at Fandral’s attacker, driving him back and buying time for Volstagg and Hogun to reach their stricken friend. As they pulled him free, Loki sought out Thor. They had been outnumbered before; now with Fandral injured they needed to retreat or be overwhelmed.
Sif must have come to the same conclusion. “Thor!”
“We must leave, now!” Loki added, putting the bark of command with a touch of desperation in his voice.
“Then go!” his brother roared, flinging Mjölnir at the Frost Giants. The mighty hammer knocked seven of them down in succession.
At least Thor had heard him. This was one of their exit strategies: Thor would draw their foes ire and then use Mjölnir to fly and catch up with them. Loki raced after the Warriors Three, providing cover for their retreat while Sif cleared a path before them.
Loki was running off to their side when a pillar of ice shot up in front of him. He smashed head first into it and bounced backwards, landing flat on his back, dazed. He blinked his eyes trying to clear the blurriness from them and when they finally focused, he saw King Laufey was towering over him. Fear shot through Loki. He weakly lifted his hand, fumbling as he tried to gather his magic to fling at the enormous figure.
The Jötunn king smiled, then kicked him in the head.
Exhilarated by the brutal battle, Thor flew though the icy air and landed with a thump next to the Warriors Three. He laughed, relieved to see them together at the Bifrost site for even Fandral was in good spirits despite being slung over Volstagg’s shoulder like a sack of grain. His blood sang with joy at the mayhem they’d caused: smashing Frost Giants and teaching them the lesson to not trifle with Asgard’s finest. This is what he’d trained for, what he was made for!
With a blast of light, the Bifrost deposited Odin astride Sleipnir before them, Gungnir raised high. With a thunderous expression, the old king took in all with just a glance. “Thor! Where is Loki? Where is your brother?”
Thor smiled and said, “He’s right here.” But when he searched for him, he was not right here. In fact, he wasn’t anywhere visible. “He’s…. Loki!” he called out, hoping his playful brother was just out of sight and hoping to avoid Odin’s considerable wrath.
Odin scowled. “Thor, with me! The rest of you return to Asgard. Now!” Odin was angry and Thor’s companions did not hesitate to comply. With a kick, he sent Sleipnir into a gallop down the icy slope towards Laufey’s palace.
Thor shared a puzzled glance with his companions then spun Mjölnir, taking flight to follow his father.
It was easy to find Loki; Thor and his father drew together as they surveyed the scene. Loki was at the center of a semi-circle of Jötunn warriors, unconscious and held up high against a pillar of ice by two Frost Giants, arms pressed straight out. There was a cut above his eye and the area around it puffy and dark. Laufey stood in front of him and as Thor watched, the Jötunn king grew a wickedly sharp ice blade, pivoted and thrust the point upwards into his brother with a savage motion.
“No!” screamed Thor. He raised Mjölnir but before he could throw her, Laufey turned just enough that Thor could see he was slicing through Loki’s armor, pulling it aside and exposing his torso and upper arms.
When his chest was bare, Laufey gripped Loki by the chin and roughly lifted up his head, causing it to impact sharply on the ice wall he was pressed against. Loki’s eyes shot open and he squinted dazedly about.
Beneath the skin to skin grip of three Frost Giants Loki’s flesh flushed to the same blue as those that held him pinned. Raised markings appeared on Loki’s face and chest. The scores of Jötnar that surrounded them growled in surprise. Even Thor could see that the pattern that was on the Jötunn king was repeated on Loki’s body.
“Behold!” announced King Laufey, turning to address the assembled crowd. He still had hold of Loki’s chin. “My son, the lost prince, long thought dead but stolen by Odin!”
The Frost Giant’s growls grew louder with anger and protest, their deep voices grumbled like the sound of a landslide.
Odin raised his voice, powerful and commanding, to be heard over the shouting. “He is not yours! You cast him off to die when he was a babe. Release him!”
“Give you back the child that you’ve polluted in the ways of Asgardian filth? No. He will remain here to be cleansed. He will know his people and his place.” Laufey’s hand slid down Loki’s body to splay out across his chest, the spread of his fingers easily covering the width of Loki’s chest.
Loki’s head tilted down to see the blue hand pressed against his now blue chest. “No,” he gasped, his voice full of horror.
“Never!” Odin raised Gungnir and a shockwave of power burst out, bowling over the Frost Giants like a fierce wind scattering autumn leaves. The ones holding Loki were smashed against the pillar and all fell limply to the ground. “Thor, fetch your brother. Quickly!”
Thor was completely confused but he knew one thing—that his brother’s life was endangered and he needed to save him. He raced forward, leaping over the dazed Jötnar.
Loki was half buried in Frost Giants and he weakly lifted his hand towards Thor, his eyes desperate. “Brother, help,” he gasped.
Thor hesitated; a Frost Giant’s touch would burn him and Loki’s eyes gleamed with the bright color of fresh blood, but his expression was pleading and frightened--an expression Thor had not seen from his brother since he was a child who trusted that his big brother would save him from monsters. Thor felt a fierce surge of protectiveness swell up inside him and he knelt down, laying a comforting hand against Loki’s blue face, his heart aching that his brother was so afraid. The touch did not burn though and Loki’s flesh flushed pink and warm under his hand, his red eyes faded into their familiar green. Thor smiled, grabbed his brother’s hand and pulled, sliding his arm behind Loki to yank him free of the pile of bodies. Loki stumbled weakly as he tried to help but he was unable to support his own weight. Thor gathered him close and slid his other arm under his knees and lifted him to his chest. He leaped hastily over the mass of Jötunn bodies and was beside Odin before any of the Frost Giants had stirred.
“Here,” ordered Odin. “Place him across my lap and give me your cloak.”
Thor slung his brother across Sleipnir’s back and swung off his cloak in one smooth action. The heavy woolen garment settled over Loki, concealing his tattered clothing. “Father— ”
“Not now, Thor. I will explain later. All will be well. Meet me at the Bifrost site.” Sleipnir reared once, pivoted and was galloping off before Thor had time to raise Mjölnir from his belt.
Looking back at the scores of Frost Giants littered about, Asgard’s first prince regretted ever deciding to come to Jotunheim. The trip had been meant to be an adventure and a chance to intimidate Frost Giants, to hurt them enough that they would think twice before coming to Asgard again. Instead, blood had been split, his father was livid, his brother hurt and at the center of some outrageous conflict between Odin and Laufey.
King Laufey pushed himself upright and staggered to his feet. “You will not be able to keep him from me, Princess,” he shouted angrily. “The runt belongs to me and Jotunheim! He’s mine and I swear I WILL get him back!”
Thor stared hard into Laufey’s blood red eyes but saw only avarice and ambition. The thought of his younger brother alone with these beasts made his gut cramp with an icy chill. “Never! You’ll have to get past me and the combined might of Asgard first.” he spat back.
With a spin of Mjölnir, Thor flew through the air and rejoined his father in time to be transported to Asgard by the Bifrost. Back in the Observatory, he stood worriedly next to Heimdall as Odin thundered away, stopping for no one. Thor’s red cloak flapped frantically in the wake of Sleipnir’s supernatural speed, hiding the injured prince from curious eyes. For that, Thor was grateful. His brother took pride in his appearance and would be upset to think any casual observer could see him injured and bloodied, powerless and in need of rescue.