Odin was a fool.
Loki followed Thor along the halls of the palace, surrounded by a phalanx of guards, his chains rattling softly as he walked. Odin was a fool, or possibly deluded by the sentimental belief that Loki needed little more than ceremonial restraints – that he would submit willingly to Asgard’s judgment. Loki was almost grateful for the muzzle, for it hid the smirk he couldn’t quite keep off his lips.
The bindings on Loki’s restraints were almost laughably easy to work around: intended to block access to magic, and in truth he couldn’t sense the various magics around him as he was accustomed to, but nothing stopped him from tapping into the magic of the restraints themselves. He drew it to himself slowly, carefully; even if the honor guard was useless Thor might still notice the shifting flow of power. Might notice that Loki’s shoulders were beginning to tense from the rising pulses of pain the bindings shot into him.
He slowed his pace, falling further behind Thor. He’d stepped away from his brother the moment they’d landed on the broken edge of the Bifrost, shaken off Thor’s hand when he tried to take Loki’s elbow: a show of petty defiance for Heimdall and the guards. And he’d glared at those guards who had stared at their fallen prince-turned-Jotun, letting the void show in his eyes, and now none of them could quite look at him.
They were passing through a hall Loki knew well, although he’d rarely followed it as far as they intended to take him now. And he’d no plans to actually go that far today, either. Fully two steps behind Thor, protected from the guards’ scrutiny by Asgard’s fear of the imperfect, of things they did not understand, (of Jotun), he took a deep breath, lips shaping words of power – still hidden by the muzzle, the more fool Odin – and exhaled.
He stepped to the side, dodging neatly between the pair of guards that brought up the tail of their little procession, and stopped walking. The group continued down the hall, Loki Odinson still trailing in his brother’s shadow, as always, exactly where everyone expected him to be. But Loki leaned against the wall, letting his smirk climb past the muzzle to his eyes. The bindings made the illusion cost more effort than he was used to; he actually had to concentrate to maintain both his double and the veil that hid him from prying eyes.
But he’d been hiding from Heimdall since he was a child, and making illusory puppets to dance in his place for nearly as long. He half-closed his eyes, part of his mind following his double the rest of the long walk to the depths of the palace, to the small cell hidden behind an innocuous door at the very end of the hall. The one time, as a young boy, he had asked Odin about it, the king had scolded him for going places he shouldn’t have, and dodged his questions. Later, he’d found writings in the library that suggested the cell had once been meant to hold Odin himself, long ago when Bor had ruled and Odin had been Asgard’s trick-monger.
It was not as meager as it could have been – let no one say Asgard treated its royal prisoners too harshly. Three short steps down into a stone chamber whose walls were covered with runes of binding and dampening, a cot at the far end and what could generously be called a desk and stool to one side. He walked his double into the cell, had it look around disdainfully. Thor stepped toward him – it – and Loki spun his image away, two quick steps across the cell, all haughty anger and bristles and a flat green glare over the muzzle.
Thor opened his mouth as if to speak, then sighed heavily and closed it again, his shoulders slumping. “If that’s what you wish, brother,” he said quietly, and in a hall halfway across the palace Loki laughed despite the sharp rebuke from the muzzle’s magic. The double didn’t move, though, and after a minute Thor turned away and climbed the steps out of the cell. One more glance over his shoulder at the illusion – really, would he ever learn? – and then the guards slid closed the heavy door.
The seals on the chamber broke his connection to his double immediately, and he imagined it vanishing in a shower of golden sparks behind the door. But it didn’t matter: there was no window in the door, no way to see inside. And no reason for anyone to open the door again until they came to fetch him for his audience – his trial – before Odin. Loki wasn’t sure how long that would be, but he didn’t need very long to do what he planned.
Wrapping his veil more firmly around himself, now that he was no longer distracted by his double, Loki strode down a side hall, following servants’ paths through the palace until he reached the double doors of Odin’s treasury. Another simple illusion showed the guards their prince – the golden prince, the only true prince of Asgard – and they opened the doors without question. Only after the doors had closed again did Loki drop his veil, releasing the magic, and he couldn’t quite stop the sigh of relief as the bright spikes of pain receded. Thanks to Odin’s foolishness or sentimentality, it wasn’t much – he’d suffered far, far worse since he’d fallen through the void – but it was annoying.
Loki strode down the center aisle, barely glancing at the familiar treasures to either side. He had rather hoped that Thor would bring the Chitauri scepter back with them to Asgard, so that he could retrieve it now. But it had disappeared some time between when the mortal woman had attempted to threaten him with it and the ridiculous display in the park (“Look, mortals! We have vanquished your enemy and he is sent to a dark punishment”) and he suspected the humans had claimed it as they had the pieces of the Destroyer.
Never mind, there were other things here, relics of far more interest. At the far end of the hall, in the place of honor once reserved for the Casket of Ancient Winters, the Tesseract glowed blue in the dim room – rushed here by Odin’s private guard, no doubt, after Thor had handed it over at the edge of the Bifrost. The Tesseract to the treasury and the Jotun to the prison: Odin truly had a place for everything.
The other relic of interest was closer at hand, and Loki stopped before it: an ostentatious golden glove studded with ridiculously oversized gems along the knuckles. Another thing Odin had not bothered to tell his sons, but the library had once again answered the questions the king would not. Loki lifted his chained hands to take the Infinity Gauntlet from its pedestal – and then froze, as a scuff of leather on stone betrayed the presence of someone behind him.
He spun, calling a dagger to his hands despite the spike of pain the bindings gave in return, and stopped again. He’d expected to see a stray guard, perhaps, placed there by Odin after the events of last year; or even Odin himself, alerted somehow to Loki’s plans. He didn’t expect to see a woman, short for an Aesir and unarmed, her hands held in front of her as if preparing to cast a spell.
He had no idea where she’d come from. She stood a little ways back along the walkway, nearer to the door; he’d have had to walk directly past her and he was certain he’d been alone. She didn’t look Aesir, either: aside from her height, she had reddish-brown skin and long black hair that picked up the red of the torches lighting the room. Her clothes were nothing strange, red and black leather armor not unlike Loki’s own, or that of many warriors of Asgard, Vanaheim, and Alfheim. But her helm – headgear – headdress? – was strange, two tall soft cones above her temples like horns, or a fox’s ears, the same red as her armor and edged with black and silver bangles.
She looked just as surprised to see him as he felt, and he saw her gaze flick from him to the Gauntlet behind him. Her hands moved, spreading from a defensive posture to a conciliatory one, and she took a few quick steps toward the far end of the room, giving him as wide a berth as the narrow walkway allowed. Loki watched her as she passed him, surprise and annoyance fading to amusement. Another thief in Odin’s treasury, and when would the old man learn?
Still, she was going for the Tesseract and he needed that. Taking the Gauntlet would alert Odin even if nothing else had, so he couldn’t risk a drawn-out fight with her for it. He drew magic from the chains into himself, preparing the illusions he’d need—
And was interrupted again, this time by the sound of shouting from outside the doors. Someone had finally noticed that not one but two thieves had free run of Odin’s treasury.
Loki smashed his fists through the glass case and snatched the Gauntlet off the pedestal, shoving it unceremoniously through his belt, and ran down the walkway toward the Tesseract. Behind him he heard the doors thrown open, the shouts of guards; ahead of him the woman was also running for the Tesseract. He sped up and, thanks to his much longer legs, reached its bier only half a step behind her, but she was fast and she’d already grabbed it—
Wait. She’d grabbed it with her bare hands?
—and then a familiar voice roared Loki’s name and he turned to see Thor storm into the room, practically barreling over the guards unfortunate enough to be in his way, expression betrayed and furious.
Loki’s mind raced: the bindings restricted his power enough that he couldn’t open the path back to the Chitauri realm without the Tesseract’s help, and anyway he didn’t want to think about what the Chitauri would do to him if he returned without it. But the woman had it, and the guards would grab her even if Thor ignored her in favor of Loki—
A brilliant blue wall of light, shaped like a circle and spinning at the edges, appeared in front of him, between Thor and the guards, and Loki and the woman. She was already leaping toward it, and Loki made a choice in an instant. He leapt after her, close enough on her heels that he nearly stepped on her, and the light of the wall, no, not wall, portal, wrapped him in a warmth not unlike the Bifrost.
Half a second of free-fall (falling, endless and alone, lost and unwanted—), then stone under his feet. The portal snapped shut behind them, cutting off Thor’s howl of rage.