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Story [Thor] "all our winters to pass", Loki/Sif - Movie Quote Challenge response - Part 12 up 5/13!

Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Mira_Jade , Sep 15, 2014.

  1. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    "all our winters to pass"

    Genre: Action/Adventure, Romance
    Rating: PG
    Time Frame: Post-Canon; Speculation-fic, Now AU
    Characters: Loki/Sif, Ullr, Thor/Jane Foster, OCs

    Summary: When Thor Allfather pays for a mistake of old with seemingly his life, it is left to Sif to put the balance to right again – with the help of an unwilling Loki, who, as always, bears an agenda of his own.

    Author's Notes: Way back in June, I received the quote: "I'm paying dearly for past mistakes" (Control 2007) for the Movie Quote Challenge. Over the past few months, I have played around with a few different replies to that quote, before settling on this one - a far future (we are talking about after Thanos' eventual defeat, etc), fix-it fic for Loki and Sif shippers. Some of the ideas in this story I have had since first seeing Thor II, so this was a wonderful way to both get those ideas down, and work through some of my overall theories for the upcoming Marvel films as a whole . . . Well, hopes we should call them, rather than theories, but there you have it. ;)

    This is more of a short story than anything longer, but within you can look forward to a mangled retelling of myths, comics, and movies - all with a few surprises along the way. :p Even so, little to no prior knowledge about the fandom is required to read this tale - I will explain as I go, and really, some stories are just universal, no matter the characters. ;) That said, I thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoy. :)


    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words.







    Part I

    In her mind, she'd planned this moment a hundred and a hundred times again.

    Though he thought himself clever with his occultations, with his enchantments designed to conceal and his spells of misdirection, Sif had long been able to peel his magicks away like a scab to reveal the tender wounds smarting beneath. As she had not in so long, she did now, gravely bowing her head before her shield and biding: north, as far north as you may. Even before the thought was formed to completion, the vast everything and nothing of the cosmos rose and swallowed her whole.

    Her shield pulsed with golden light as she focused on her destination; it listened to her command and obeyed her will. It shuddered only once more, as if hesitating, before she felt a flush of cold pulse from the steel – a cold sharp enough to rend flesh from bones and still blood within veins - but she set her mouth into a grim line against the wards seeking to hold her back. She insisted.

    At length, the spells of old listened to her. At long last, they yielded.

    Once, she recalled, after the final battle that had placed Thor on the throne he'd long struggled to avoid, he'd sent two dozen of Asgard's finest seiðrmanðr to accomplish this very task. None had succeeded, and those twelve were different for what they had encountered and survived, for what their spells had struggled and failed to subdue. In an unexpected gesture of of mercy, each mage was returned to their own minds the first full moon following their attempt to seek the Worldslayer out . . . but only just.

    Thor, tender as his heart was, had seen his brother's leniency and hoped. Sif merely set her jaw.

    Yet, it was her memory of that open, bruised look on Thor's face that set her path now. Her clinging to that recollection opened the way before her; it made her determination unmovable, her will absolute. She would not turn feom the path set before her.

    The cosmos shifted to reveal the iridescent limbs of the Mother in all her glory. There before her wide open eyes were Yggdrasil's branches, stretching onwards to infinity. In the small way she could comprehend, she was shown both familiar stars and far off worlds, all hanging on the myriads of celestial strands that made up the realms of the universe. The awesome glory of the cosmos shifted – pressing – protesting – for her presence, but she merely bowed her head and pushed on. She would not be swayed and convinced to turn back; her will was stronger than that.

    “The wards are bound by blood,” the head mage had explained the reason for his failure. “We cannot breach so powerful an enchantment.”

    Yet, set upon the weapon she bore were Loki's own spells . . . Loki's own wards of protection and runes of power. Now, she called upon a force she had not touched since before his fall – his first fall – and asked them to aid her anew, just as they once had so long ago.

    The wards concealing his hiding place on the Branches let her through suddenly, without warning - dropping her as if miffed they were required to do so. The tremulous spin of starlight simply vanished, and she was left in the same kneeling position she had begun with on Asgard. A heartbeat passed while she gathered herself, and she looked up to take in her surroundings. Instead of the gilded floor of her suite in the palace, she now knelt upon the cold ground out of doors. There was a fresh layer of untouched snow, clean and cold and white to her senses, blanketing the world around her. She was surrounded by a forest of tall evergreens; the scent of cedar was thick and spicy in her nose alongside the towering shapes of the more familiar fir and spruce. Ice delicately frosted the trees, turning them to bleak guardians watching over a land that slept in want for spring.

    Sif peered through the trees, drawn by the sound of water. A wide river ran through the landscape. Its surface was mostly frozen, although water still rushed underneath, flowing from a great waterfall that dominated just to the west of her vision. Only the crest of the plunge had frozen over; no matter the winter, the mighty cascade still rumbled as muffled thunder, calling her senses back from where they still walked the byways beyond.

    Inhaling, she stood from her crouch; her boots were loud to break on the fresh, untouched snow. She followed the course of the river downstream, and spied a clearing on the bank, dominated by a simple structure of wooden logs. The small dwelling was familiar to her eyes, being not unlike those they would use to break their hunt in the north of Asgard's wild. She felt an unwanted pang, wondering if he had unconsciously recreated the memory here, before recalling that Loki had never much cared for the hunt. Her joy had not been his own.

    At the thought, the corners of her mouth turned down, and a part of her (the part that was Sif the woman, not Sif who was and called to War) whispered that she could still turn back. She could run – flee, retreat – and leave this place before her presence was found. But she had succeeded in silencing that voice for centuries; she would not begin heeding it then.

    Besides, she thought darkly, he is already aware of my presence . . . he knows I am here.

    Just as the thought crossed her mind, heavy in it's certainty, a dagger embedded itself in the wood of the tree closest to her head. Wafting in a telling haze around what was visible of the blade and hilt, seiðr was a pop of verdant green against the icy blue and grey tones of the winter-swept land. Sif was alert, but she heard no telling step in the snow. There had been no indrawn breath or hiss of drawn steel giving his place away – only the flying of the dagger and its flare of green. Instinctively, she held herself still in anticipation of blow.

    “That was a warning,” a cold voice bit out from behind her. His voice was as dry as dead leaves, hoarse, she could imagine, from long disuse. “The next one shall not be.”

    Her shield pulsed in her hands, warning her of the further build of seiðr upon the air. For a moment she reflected on the irony of his spells protecting her from himself, before brushing the thought aside. The enchantments whispered that she could still go back, that she could still return the way she had came . . . but, she was not here for herself.

    So, Sif stuck the hilt of her glaive in the ground, and leaned her weight on the weapon to show a strength that she did not quite feel. She squared her shoulders so that they were parallel with the ground, and proudly tilted up her chin. The leather covering her fingers made a strained sound in the cold as she clenched them; the steel plates covering her body clinked as she steadied herself. The fur from the collar of her cloak tickled against the vulnerable skin of her throat, and it was such a discordant sensation against the potential violence of that moment that she fought the urge she had to darkly smile. Instead, she focused on the weight of her shield, on the glint of the Ivaldi-forged wings of her helm as they caught the winter-light, and -

    - she turned, and met his eyes.

    “I would not doubt your aim should you wish to try.” Her voice too was a strained sound, forced and unnatural to her ears. “Yet, I fear that you would me no easy target.”

    Loki's reply was swift: “You,” he gave on a hiss. Sif merely raised a brow in reply.

    “Me,” her voice was dry – purposely so, this time. She made a gesture to the small cabin in the clearing beyond. “Are you going to play the gracious host and invite me in, Loki? It is quite chilly outside, as I'm sure you know.”

    His look, she thought with some satisfaction, was touched with no small amount of incredulity. The pupils of his eyes were blown wide, showing his surprise openly. Yet, she took no comfort in his confusion; she knew him to be capable of his worst when he felt as an animal backed into a corner and ready to bite in order to hide a wound. She forced herself to meet his eyes, and found them to be more green than she had remembered; his gaze was piercing, reflecting the cold of the land and the winter. He was thinner, she thought. The lines of his face were harsh and sharp; if she but reached out to touch him, she could place her hand in the hollow of his cheekbone. He wore no armor, safe as he assumed himself to be where none could touch him. Instead, he wore a simple dress of black hunter's leathers and a heavy white fur cloak about his shoulders. His hair was long now, and hung down his back in a simple, messy queue. No doubt he had tied it away out of annoyance for its constantly hanging in his face, she imagined, rather than any conscious decision for vanity. His common, almost rough appearance was so very different from what she had so long known of him that she stared, unwittingly taken aback.

    Sif next noticed the cord he wore about his neck, decorated with various odds and ends. Even her unfamiliar eye could espy talismans and tokens, the likes of which he would not have dared to wear openly in Asgard before. That, she forced a pang away to acknowledge. The tips of his fingers were stained with ink from whatever project had his attention before she interrupted, and that small, seemingly inconsequential detail was so very familiar that, for a moment . . .

    “I do not believe that the rules of etiquette require me to give shelter to an assassin,” Loki remarked. It did not take him long to recover his voice. He moved across the snow as a whisper when he took a step towards her. “I anticipated Thor ordering forth a stronger force than the incompetent lackeys he first sent, but I never imagined that he would send his sharpest blade.”

    “If I was here with death in mind,” her voice was low, “you would not have been able to throw your first dagger.” War whispered through her words, and he tilted his head as if to better hear its sound.

    When he smiled, she could see his teeth. “Perhaps,” he gave tonelessly, but his eyes glittered. “Yet, for now, I have already tired of your visit. I would ask – politely, of course – that you turn around and return from whence you came.”

    She shook her head. "I cannot do that, Loki."

    “I'm sorry for first implying a choice,” the thin line of his mouth turned unkind. “Leave. Now. Before I force you to.”

    Yet, she was unmoved. Defiantly, she settled the end of her glaive in the ground and met his eyes without blinking. “No,” she repeated. "I shall not; not until you hear what I have to say."

    “What, precisely, makes you think that your words are welcome? I,” his speech was hissed from between his teeth, as if he was something wild to match the untamed land around him, “have served my exile well here. None have suffered by my hand, and none - ”

    “ - none have benefited, either,” she interrupted, little caring for such speech. “You serve a sentence of your own writing, but within its parameters there is no penance, no effort to redress the wounds you have inflicted. You - ”

    “ - I only desire to be left in peace. After what I have done – which can indeed be counted as payment enough for my great many wrongs – that is not so much to ask.”

    “Then you would let this pass without seeing that blood is paid for blood?” her voice dripped with scorn as her hands clenched about her glaive. “Of everything I had thought to know about you – even the you of these past years . . . you would not let this go unaddressed.”

    Sif saw where his eyes narrowed. Curiosity flickered through his gaze before he shoved the emotion aside with a clear scowl of annoyance, yet it was too late. The damage was done.

    “Of what do you refer to?” his voice was dangerously hushed. Everything steel-sharp about her could hear the deadly edge lining his syllables, a more true warning than any snarled word or thrown blade ever could have been.

    “You have not heard?” she asked. She widened her eyes to feign exaggerated surprise, and a part of her viciously enjoying the annoyance that flickered across his expression in response.

    “If you have not noticed,” Loki retorted dryly, “this is not a place that word reaches often . . . or quickly.”

    This was her moment, then. And so, she braced herself. She tilted her head back to meet his eyes, refusing to blink and look away.

    “Thor . . . “ your brother, she almost said before seeing the way his gaze narrowed with a look that was colder than the wild and the evergreens standing tall in the winter. “Thor . . .” but for all of her strength, she could not force the simple syllables to pass from her mouth. She had long rehearsed her speech, but found it all for naught when the moment was upon her. Her tongue was full of words, yet she could not speak a single one aloud.

    And so, like pressing a knife into flesh, she forced her thoughts to shape quickly and cleanly. She made her wound.

    “Thor is dead,” she let the words fall between them. “Thor is dead, and his murderer still walks free.”



    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
  2. NYCitygurl

    NYCitygurl Manager Emeritus star 9 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Jul 20, 2002
    “Thor is dead,” she let the words fall between them. “Thor is dead, and his murderer still walks free.”

    :eek: Girl plays dirty! But it's a good way to get his attention. (I'm assuming here that he is still alive and sitting on that throne ... [face_worried] )

    I'm excited to see more! And, as always, I adore the title :D
     
  3. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Gorgeous title and gripping and intense interplay between Loki and Siph. She is not one to back down and be intimidated. And she is the only one he must listen to, perforce. Excellent use of the quote.
     
  4. divapilot

    divapilot Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Beautifully written. So vivid!
     
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  5. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    NYCitygurl: I just have so much love for Sif - and how she handles all of the boys. :p In my first draft of this story, I seriously contemplated killing Thor off . . . but I just couldn't. That doesn't mean that I am not going to make things really, really difficult on them first. ;) [face_devil]

    Nyota's Heart: Thank-you so much! Their dynamic just kills me dead, and I am glad that you are enjoying this tale so far. [:D]

    divapilot: Thank you so much for saying so. :) [:D]


    And here we go with more . . . I have a list of definitions and mythological tidbits for anyone who is interested, too. :) As always, I thank you all for reading, and I hope that you enjoy! [:D]





    Part II

    Thor is dead, and his murderer still walks free.”

    Sif never understood why so many referred to Loki's face as a mask, sculpted from ice and stone rather than flesh and feeling. She watched him now, watched as his eyes flickered and the green within took on an almost unholy cast of power. She watched as his breath turn quick, as his hands clenched into fists, all before -

    - beneath her feet, the ground trembled, distantly at first, but then with tremors enough to shake the trees. The settled snow fell free from their highest boughs to fall down on the world anew as their limbs creaked and moaned. The river rushed and the waterfall roared as the currents rose to slosh angrily against its frozen confines. Sif tensed, expecting the wild magic about him to snap like a band pulled tight. The land itself answered his pain and rage, and she waited for her moment to act, expectant -

    - but Loki simply exhaled, and called his power back when next he breathed. His eyes cleared, leaving only a still, cold rage behind – a now familiar cast of feeling that she fought a frown to see. If he felt grief for her news, he hid it well. She watched, but the fist of his left hand did not tremble.

    “Perhaps,” Loki bit out with forced civility, “we should continue this conversation indoors.”

    “I thank you for your hospitality,” Sif replied, just as stiffly.

    She did not wait for him to lead. Instead, she turned from him and picked her own path to the cabin through the trees. A heartbeat passed before, slowly, he followed. Her shield pulsed in warning for her back being so recklessly exposed to him, but she refused to turn or keep pace by his side. She doubted her ability to hold his eyes again.

    Besides, that familiar feeling of awareness she usually knew for his gaze was not there, not then. Insteas, she merely assumed him to be absorbed in his thoughts. That suited her just well, she told herself, and held her glaive more firmly in hand.

    It took less than a minute to reach the clearing on the riverside. The cabin, when they entered, was a simple structure. There was only one open room walled off against the winter, with a wood burning stove in the furthest corner and a large table that Loki used as a desk in the space closest to the door. There were no shelves, only a few chests, with books piled and scrolls stacked haphazardly atop their broad surfaces. She glanced to the left to see a bed made and untouched – not out of some sense of tidiness, she imagined, but from lack of use. She thought again of the dark circles beneath Loki's eyes and forced herself not to feel at the thought. His welfare was no longer her concern . . . it had not been for quite some time, at that. She told herself that she only worried for his lack of sleep effecting his control over his seiðr in the days to come, and left her thoughts at that.

    Sif glanced again at the room, this time seeing not the humble size and shape, but rather the glimpses of wealth and comfort that she could always attribute to Loki within. Thick, exotic furs were draped over the bed, and on the left wall a tapestry hung as the room's only decoration. She looked curiously at the story the weaving told, recognizing no tale she was familiar with. Yet, she knew an elvish hand when she saw one, and she picked out six massive figures feeding six massive bowls of water to the roots of a great tree . . . and she wondered at it. There were long, elegant daggers imbedded in the wall through the tapestry – thrown from the desk, she espied the trajectory, no doubt from Loki when he needed to clear his mind of the pages he poured through. The room's one chair and table were wood from Vanaheimr's great Red Forest, carved to depict longships tossing and turning upon a turbulent sea; a serpent rose from the depths of the waves with glittering eyes of emerald to face the hapless sailors. Gold and bronze inlaid the few chests there were, while the books too were bound in leather and clasped with precious metals over their spines. In those few she could see, she thought to imagine a treasure trove of elicit knowledge and rare words.

    The desk, as ever, was a deceiving mess of controlled chaos when she approached. There were empty inkwells alongside those full, while clippings from quills dotted the surface like breadcrumbs. There were various artifacts and trinkets whose uses she knew not strewn about, some glittering with precious materials while others were dull and unassuming at first glance. He had maps and a compass out, and she could see places from the Nine Realms to the far off corners of the universe mapped – from the Skrull and Kree Empires to the Shi'ar Imperium. Queer markings were made all about, and she spared a moment for wondering at their meanings before filing the information away for later.

    There was one particularly large book out and open on the table. In the margins of the pages she glimpsed his familiar, spidering script set cramped and crooked to fill the blank spaces. She could not even guess the language the book was written in, and so (after refusing to remember long days sharpening her knives while he sat in the library, pouring over similar such tomes, many even older than they themselves were) she turned away. Next to the book was a small chest, locked and warded, and even she – with her veins dead to seiðr – could feel the enchantments that pulsed from it. She knew better than to touch it, and after a moment's wondering, she gave it no more thought.

    Sif did not ask to be invited to sit before taking a seat in the chair next to the desk – the only chair in the cabin, for he clearly never planned to entertain guests – with an ease and grace she did not feel. She propped her boots up on the table, and watched with some black amusement as Loki waved a hand to clean up the melting snow and mud from the soles before it could soak into his maps. The thoughtless use of his seiðr tickled against her skin like a whisper, and in that there was familiarity too.

    Still without saying a word, she next took off her helm – the motion was an unspoken truce as clear as she could make it – and placed it onto the open book with a careless motion. The steel was heavy, and the sound it made against the thick pages was dull. She watched as a muscle high in Loki's cheek twitched in annoyance, although he voiced no complaint aloud. Once, she recalled with a pang, that annoyance would have turned to playfulness. He would have snapped his fingers and her helm would have levitated to dance just beyond her reach as she tried to reclaim it, until . . .

    But that was another thought she pushed away through the long force of habit. She remained silent for a long moment, instead regarding Loki as he stood ill at ease in a space that was so clearly his own. She raised a brow, inviting him to speak. He clearly had questions, and she was there to answer them.

    “You have news on . . .” his throat worked, but he could voice nothing further. She read the word brother in his eyes, even if he held it mute in his mouth. “You have news regarding Thor, do you not?”

    “Thor is dead . . . or, rather,” she amended, softening her tone to lessen the blow of her words, “if he is not dead yet, then he soon will be.”

    Loki's eyes were furious and dark upon her. She watched where a vein throbbed in his neck; where he had to work his throat in order to swallow. Yet, he waited for her to speak. He did not interrupt her.

    “A wraith was summoned,” she revealed, speaking slowly so as to ensure his complete attention. “The specter was a soul-stealer, from Niflheimr.”

    “That is impossible,” Loki interrupted with a wave of his hand. “The last of the wraiths were hunted to extinction by Buri First-father, long before even Odin was born.”

    Sif shrugged. “One must have had guile enough to slip through the cracks.” She turned a measuring eye on him. “It is not such an unheard of thing for such creatures.” Her words were pointed.

    “Perhaps,” Loki muttered, refusing to rise to her bait. Something flickered in his eyes, and she wondered at his thoughts before he continued to ask, “Who is the unfortunately stupid being who sought to control such a thing?”

    “The services of the wraith were summoned by the brothers Gangr and Iði, sons of Ölvaldi. I assume that you remember them?” In the end, his lack of reaction gave his knowing away more so than any flare of feeling could have. She tapped her fingers against the carved surface of the table, suddenly restless. “They attacked to redress the punishment of their brother Þjazi, whose spirit even now rests in the Star-keeper's prison.”

    Long ago, when they were little more than children – youths, not yet into the century of their majority – Þjazi had formed a plot to kidnap Iðunn, an Aesir woman whose grove of apples was said to grant immortality to those partaking of them. Loki owed Þjazi a life-debt at the time – from another one of Thor's youthful escapades gone wrong, though that part of the tale was rarely remembered – and he had paid his debt by aiding the Jötunn lord in abducting Iðunn from Asgard. Yet, as soon as the parameters of his agreement were fulfilled, Loki turned on Þjazi and brought Iðunn safely back home through his efforts – efforts that also led to the capture of Þjazi and his sentencing to a lifetime imprisonment amongst the stars.

    Loki did not speak, chosing to listen instead. So, she continued, “The brothers were too late to seek recompense with Odin, who originally sentenced their brother. Even Thor knows little of his father's wanderings; he is beyond the reach of all.”

    His mouth turned tight at her words. His eyes darkened, but there was only satisfaction in his gaze. Loki had paid an eye for an eye with his once-father, and he would not seek apologies for that crime, not when he did not believe himself to be in the wrong. She sucked in a sharp breath of retort, and continued, “With Odin unavailable, they settled for his next of blood. Thor fought the brothers, of course, but they . . . they turned the wraith on his family. They knew that they stood little chance crossing the Thunderer in arms, and so, they were dishonorable in seeking their recompense.”

    Even then, Sif remembered the horrible, greedy cry of the creature that was more shadow than shape alongside the wide, terrified eyes of the boys who nonetheless held their ground before a foe no steel could face. A sharp taste of copper filled her mouth, and she swallowed against her want to war.

    “The twins are just now learning to bear arms, and the Allmother is expecting a daughter by the time the snow thaws,” Sif revealed through tight lips. “Thor would risk them not, and he offered his own soul freely if they would accept it and leave his family be . . . Gangr and Iði agreed to his terms, and made the trade.”

    She let out a deep breath, thinking of Móði's bright blue eyes, like storm light bright in the sky, and Magni's easy way of laughing at the slightest coaxing. She next thought of Jane's grip – tight enough to bruise, no matter the human shape of her bones – around her arm to hold her before she left. Jane's eyes had been pleading, even when her words were cool and calm as she asked her to bring her husband home. Sif exhaled, feeling her purpose settle about her anew, as strong as the steel of her armor.

    A ripple of feeling touched Loki's brow before it smoothed away. He did not know his brother's family, she thought next. What should have been his right and dearest privilege was now nothing more than a few gleaned names and wispy rumors. He had not been there to watch Jane dig in her heels and hold her head up high to cling to that which she claimed as her own. In the end, the woman who had reordered the stars themselves was not one to trifle with lightly, as Asgard's court had since learned, to the ill of many and the great gain of a privileged few. Loki had not been there to watch Thor settle into the role of king and husband and father; he had not been there to see his brother rule with wisdom and a tender heart, nor was he there to stand as a shield to those who viewed the tender years of his reign as a weakness, rather than a hunger to rise equal to the names of those who came before. Loki had not been there to calm Thor as he paced the corridor beyond the birthing chamber the day his sons were born. Loki was not the second to welcome the princes into the world them after Thor released his awe-struck, wondering hold on the twins to share them with those who were eager to love them just as dearly. Instead, Sif had in Loki's place, and now she watched a flicker of regret shine from his eyes. Queerly, she felt but little of the satisfaction she long expected she would. Instead, she only felt weary.

    “Whatever the brothers are using to control the wraith makes them impossible to track,” Sif admitted, pushing aside her thoughts of kin and duty. Instead, she summoned her thoughts of blood. “Not even Heimdall can see them. And yet, we know their final destination. They must take Thor's soul to the Star-keeper in order to trade it for the soul of their brother. That prison is - ”

    “ - no,” Loki said before she could complete her words. His voice was harsh to her ears – harsh and raw and final. “You know not what you ask.”

    “I need your help to access the byway,” she pushed on, uncaring of the way his eyes shadowed – filling with that which she would call dread if she did not know him better. “The bifröst cannot reach this place, and yet - ”

    No,” he said again, the single word like a spark thrown from crossing blades. “No, I cannot.”

    “You can not, or you will not?” Sif challenged. She took her feet down from the desk, and leaned forward in her seat, intent on holding his gaze.

    “Perhaps I quite simply care not,” he retorted. “Perhaps I merely do not feel like helping.” For all of his childish words, however, his teeth were bared and his eyes were narrowed to fierce slits of green. The surprisingly warm air of the cabin was charged the same as a storm before lightning struck. She could taste the tell-tale bite of ozone on her tongue. Outside, she imagined, it had started to snow.

    “You do not lie well,” Sif deflected after a long moment. “It does not suit you.”

    “To the contrary,” he all but sneered his words, “I have made quite a name of it, or have you not heard?”

    “But never to me,” she proclaimed with a boldness she did not wholly feel. “Even then, a part of me knew.”

    Once, he had stared down at her from the throne with Odin's eyes, and even without completely understanding her own mind, a part of her had recognized him in his stolen skin and stayed her own mourning of his 'death'. Even when Odin's eyes continued to watch her – so much so that the court started to whisper of Odin taking a new wife and fathering a new heir after the disappointments both his sons had proven to be . . . She swallowed, forcing herself not to think of the days she had spent with her king sending her backwards and forwards across every known corner of the galaxy, all the while dealing with too many unsavory creatures and unscrupulous rogues to mention – ever searching . . . seeking . . .

    “Then you acted with your mask better than I did with mine,” Loki scoffed. He did not believe her claim - and the irony of that was not lost on her.

    Sif gave a sharp snort in reply, but found that her throat was curiously dry when she went to speak. The wound to her heart was still more raw than first she had thought. She swallowed, and found her breath.

    Loki, meanwhile, did not take her silence as anything other than her anger. He ignored her, and made a sweeping gesture about the cabin. “As much as I have enjoyed our little chat, dear lady, you can see that I am very busy - ”

    “ - indeed, you must not have a moment to spare,” she drawled - before something about his words prickled at her. She raised a brow, suddenly wondering . . . “What are you working on?” she asked. For it would not be characteristic of Loki to sit for decades and twiddle his thumbs with nothing but contemplation and peace as his idle companions. No, he had assigned himself a task, and -

    Sif looked down at the table again, and felt a flare of power bite against her senses from the small little chest. Even as blind to seiðr as she was, centuries of recognizing his magicks made warning whisper about her skin - as unsettling as the winter's wind that had picked up beyond the cabin's walls. She reached out a hand, wondering what he had hidden away when he reached out, viper fast, to grab her wrist and stay her movement. She felt his grip tighten about the leather and steel of her vambrace, and her blood quickened in a way that left her unsure if she wanted to pull him close or inflict a blow. But, it had always been as such between them, even when his name was clear and his mind only suffered underneath a fraction of the shadow that burdened it now.

    “I would not touch that if I were you,” Loki warned darkly. She had not been this close to him since the day his enchantments had fallen - leaving just Loki in Odin's place, Loki upon Odin's throne . . . alive. She was close enough to see the pale purple bruising around the sockets of his eyes . . . close enough to observe the way the long lines of his throat worked when he swallowed, and he too stared . . .

    “My lady,” Loki finally started with a sigh. This time, the fight was gone from his voice. He sounded only weary, and she saw her chance. She was close.

    Do not,” she hissed. “Do not speak unless it is the right thing you wish to say. You owe him this!” she exclaimed, wrenching her wrist away from his grip. “You owe him, and - ”

    “ - I owe not a thing; not to Thor, and most certainly not to Asgard,” his voice was harsh in reply. “And the cancellation of my debt is the very reason that I refuse to visit the Star-keeper's prison, or do you forget who else lies within her hold? What remains of Thanos is bound away there, and that is reason enough for Huld's keep to be erased from the bifröst's sight.”

    “So you would leave Thor to an eternity of that torment?” her words were hot with hurt and outrage. She showed more feeling than she ever cared to reveal to him again. “If you feel yourself so absolved, then why are you here? Why are you here, alone, when you could instead be . . .” but she faltered. She could not force her words out when they included those like family and comrades and loved ones. She could not speak when each word was both true and false at the same time. So, she swallowed them all away. “You are here when everyone else is . . . when - ” she fought to amended her sentence, but was too late.

    “ - and who cares for my absence?” Loki returned, his voice steeped with derision and disbelief. He stalked across the small room like a caged beast, his step restless and brimming with a dangerous tension as he paced. “Who looks to my place and feels regret for my shadow?”

    “Your brother did!” Sif exclaimed, rising to her feet in a single, agitated motion. “Your brother has ever mourned your every misstep, while others felt only betrayal and rage.” She swallowed away her own feeling, struggling to cut away her own ties to the situation at hand – but such a severance was one that surprised her for how difficult it was to complete. Instead, she steeled herself, and continued, “Ever have Thor's eyes been on the shadows, hoping for the day that you would return. He understood, as he always has.”

    Loki snorted, shaking his head in a motion that was more denial than disbelief. “And what I do now, I do also for Thor. He would do the same if asked – for Thanos sleeps amongst the stars for the betterment of all, and I would not hasten his return any sooner than I must.”

    She only stared at him, amazed. “So you are here . . . preparing for this far off day?” she raised a dark brow and snorted dubiously.

    “Obviously,” Loki sneered. “Forgive me for not expecting the likes of you to understand. But I do have a great deal to accomplish before then, whatever you may imagine, and you are ruining what was at first a very productive day.”

    She felt rage lick at her bones like fire. “Then your debt is still not paid if you feel it necessary to make such preparations!” she retorted. “You turned Thanos' attention to Midgard in the first place. To Asgard and all Nine of the Realms -”

    “Thanos' eye was set on the universe,” Loki scoffed. “I only steered his path quicker than he would have first set it.”

    Even still, she could see the way he swallowed. His throat was dry. Even to mankind, their tales detailed those who were stronger than the gods - and titans like Thanos ruled over all, no matter the story. She had never specifically asked him what he saw during his fall . . . what he saw when Thanos caught him from the nothingness of the cosmos, and he worked his tongue to spin silver words in order to preserve his soul alive . . .

    . . . but no. She still could not ask.

    “I fix my mistakes,” Loki seethed in a low voice. His eyes were clearly lost in his own thoughts; in many ways, she imagined that they were closely aligned with her own. “Or have the stories since forgotten that?”

    “That is why I am here, Loki,” she said in a low voice. “I never forgot that. Thor never forgot that - ”

    “ - I do not want to hear any more of this,” his voice was an angry, wounded sound from his throat. For a moment, she did not recognize it as a voice belonging to Loki as she knew him.

    “Why? Because the truth hurts?” she pressed on, advancing on him as he backed away from her. She used the truth as her weapon, blunt and battering as she struck again and again.

    “Sif . . .” her name was a low, dangerous syllable from his mouth. He held the first two fingers of his right hand to his temple as if he had a headache he was trying to sooth. “I need for you to be silent.”

    And yet, she continued. She held her head up high, as if she faced him with steel rather than words. “It is true, no matter how much you would deny it. The truth is that some things you cannot run from -”

    “Sif.”

    “ - some things you cannot forget -”

    “Sif.”

    “ - and pretend that they once meant nothing, when, instead, they were everything -”

    Sif.”

    Her throat stopped working. She opened her mouth, yet no sound came forth when she tried to speak. Her hand flew to her throat, but she could feel no wound, only -

    She stilled when Loki held up a hand. His look was narrowed and troubled, and his eyes were bright as they filled with seiðr. In answer, she felt white hot anger flare up from deep inside of her. He would not dare . . .

    “I said silence,” he hissed on a furious whisper.

    The wards about her throat shimmered. At last, he released her words.

    Sif sucked in a sharp breath, and found her vocal cords raw from her fighting against the hold of his magic. “The next time you cast such an enchantment, I will cut out your tongue,” her voice was strained as she made her promise. “So make sure that your spells are strong.”

    But Loki only held up his hand again, ignoring the thread of war in her voice as few could. “You were followed,” he rolled his eyes as he gave his explanation, as if irked that he had to take a moment to do so.

    "What?" Sif blinked, taken aback. “How is that possible?” her voice was low so as to let him work without her interruption. She watched as his eyes narrowed – though he did not physically move, she knew that he felt around the edges of his wards and shields with a deliberate, cold concentration. “Only the Allmother and Heimdell knew of my task," Sif was dubious, "and they - ”

    “ - obviously, your brother's sight grows dim with the passing of the years. And Jane is still – or was – human,” Loki dismissed her protests with a sneer. “These wards are bound by blood . . . whoever this is must be powerful indeed to follow on your trail.”

    Suddenly, understanding hit her like a blade sinking in deep between rib-bones. She sucked in a breath as Loki waved a hand to open a path through his spells. Arrogantly, he granted whatever foolish soul was trying to reach him a way to follow. Purple mist and green magic swirled, opening a portal as the shades of unnatural light danced in angry and potent patterns against the back wall of the cabin. The bowls woven into the tapestry seemed to glow.

    “It does not matter,” Loki said in a voice low with promise. The threat in his voice was as familiar as the steel in her own hand. In answer, she surged forward, fear rising in her throat as a sour, horrible taste in reply to the violence that was suddenly tangible on the air. She could not let him -

    “ - Loki! Stay your hand!” she reached out to hold him back, even as a familiar figure stepped through the portal Loki had opened. She looked, seeing where a pair of hazel eyes and a mop of messy black hair appeared, and -

    “ - Mother?” those familiar eyes widened with surprise as Loki's wards released the youth with a flare of green magic and startled power.

    Yet, the surprise in Ullr's eyes was nothing as compared to the wide, stunned look that Loki turned on her – a look that was as a blow itself as he looked from the boy to her and repeated: “Mother?” in a voice fraught with questions.

    " . . . mother," Loki stated once more in a low voice, dead of feeling.

    In reply, Sif took in a deep breath, and steeled herself as if for battle.






    Author's Notes: . . . it was completely unintentional to leave you with another cliffhanger there. I will try not to do it again. :p ;) [face_devil]

    And, to wrap this chapter up, I have a few handy dandy notes . . .

    Aesir: Proper term for 'Asgardian'. Well, the almost proper term, as Aesir is a plural term. But, the singular of Aesir is Áss, which I would rather not use for obvious reasons. So! Aesir it is for simplicity's sake. ;)

    Seiðr and Seiðrmanðr: Norse term for 'magic' and 'magic-user'.

    Midgard: Earth, which was said to rest in the 'middle' of Yggdrasil's branches.

    Vanaheimr: One of the Nine Realms, a sister-world to Asgard.

    Niflheimr: One of the Nine Realms, and one of the two primordial worlds of creation – this one being of ice while Múspellsheimr was of fire.

    Iðunn and Þjazi: She was the goddess of Youth and Immortality, and the tale I related here was much as it was in the myths. Loki was forced by the Jötunn (or Frost Giant) Þjazi to aid him in kidnapping Iðunn, but when the Aesir started to turn old and grey for the loss of the apples that gave them immortality, Loki schemed to return Iðunn and see that Þjazi answered for his crimes. After he did so, Odin took Þjazi's eyes and set them as stars in the night sky as punishment - which is my inspiration for the prison we will see more of later. Þjazi did have two brothers – Gangr and Iði, although their vengeance is more my own idea than anything the myths had in mind.

    Ullr: A winter-god of archers, shields, and skis, who even sat Odin's throne while he slept during the winter, and led the Wild Hunt in his absence. During the summer, which Ullr didn't much care for, he was known to dwell in Helheimr and keep Hel company - which is a story you can take to be symbolic of the seasons. (Ullr was an enchanter of unmatched might, with magical means of transportation through his enchanted bone-shield - which sounded more than familiar to me. ;)) He was Sif's son in the myths, although his father was a Jötunn whom Sif would not reveal in order to protect him. (Which I am also jumping to conclusions for, seeing as how Loki and Sif's affair was also mentioned in the myths - but, that would also make Hel his sister, and explain his fondness of her.) Thor, with his big heart, claimed Ullr as his own, and raised him as his stepson . . . That is the myths, though, and I am having way too much fun putting together this story instead.

    Móði and Magni: Thor's two sons, one by his Jötunn mistress Járnsaxa (who is also one of Heimdall's nine mothers to really make that a tangled web :oops:), and one by an unnamed mother. I am cutting through that messy family dynamic by making them twins and giving them both to Jane. So much simpler. Really, those two deserve happiness and babies and everything else good in life. [face_love]

    I think that is everything, but if you have any more questions, please feel free to let me know. :)


    Now, until next time! [:D]



    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
  6. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Intense and dramatic interplay =D= =D= You have a grasp on all these mythologies and the names of people and places and timelines. On top of expanding the stories so marvelously! Just plain genius :D [:D]
     
  7. Viridian-Maiden

    Viridian-Maiden Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Aug 14, 2013
    Really impressive! I'm not that familiar with the fandom (other than the films) but I'll admit to being a Loki girl. :)
     
  8. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Nyota's Heart: Thank-you so much! [:D] I love cobbling together these various bits and pieces of stories to form my own tale - really, probably more than I should. [face_laugh]:-B

    Viridian-Maiden: Because Loki is Loki. 'nuff said. :p [face_love] Thank you so much for the kind words. [:D]






    Part III

    . . . mother,” Loki repeated, his voice dead of inflection or feeling.

    And Sif steeled herself as if for battle.

    Her gaze flickered between Loki and Ullr, by habit accessing their worth as potential adversaries and deciding which one to engage first before circling around to confront the second. A heartbeat of tense, uncomfortable silence passed before she turned from Loki in order to address her son.

    “Ullr,” she hissed his name, channeling her roused anger and that horrible, twisting feeling within her stomach into her voice. She could not yet look back to Loki, but she could well imagine his stare. “What are you doing here?”

    Ullr did not immediately reply. Where she could not bring herself to face Loki, her son stared openly. He was curious, she recognized with a rising sense of trepidation. Questions swam in the wide shape of his gaze; she watched as they built on the tip of his tongue. He had always been an outgoing child, free of misdirections and subterfuge, and he saw no need to hide his interest now.

    “You would not tell me where you were going,” at last, Ullr turned away from Loki to answer her. His voice picked carefully around the anger in her words, but he found his strength as he spoke. “You have never hesitated to shield me from your journeys before, but you did this time . . . which means that this is something different . . . something dangerous. This is something that you worry for, and thus, something I worry for.”

    “And if this task was something I decided to shield you from, you followed me regardless?” Sif returned, steel lining her voice. “Your wisdom fails you, child.”

    Yet, Ullr was unmoved. What she intended as a rebuke, he saw as an opening. “I am strong; I know that I can be of aid to you. I promise, I shall not be a hindrance,” he insisted, setting his jaw in an expression that was as familiar as a mirror to her. Then, quietly, he added, so soft that she first strained to hear: “You should not have to do everything alone.”

    Sif swallowed the urge to sigh, seeing that - sure enough - Ullr was prepared for a journey . . . and a battle. He wore sturdy brown leathers over a practical, grey-blue tunic, and his cloak was heavy and lined with fur against the snow. The only armor he wore were the vambraces he had newly earned; the steel was etched with a design of tree branches from his own hand, where he had labored underneath the instruction of a master dwarf-smith earlier that summer. Strapped at his waist was the broadsword Thor had commissioned for his last nameday, while over his shoulder he had swung his quiver and bow - his more preferred weapon of choice. His eyes were hard and determined as he held her gaze, but not so much so that she could not see the flicker of worry dwelling deep within them. He had her eyes, shifting from a clear brown to grey-green depending on the light, for which she was suddenly thankful for. His face still bore the roundness of youth, but there was enough of her in the shape of his jaw and the line of his nose to make the ridiculous stories of the court seem true – the whispers suggesting that Ullr was hers and hers alone, with she needing the help of no man, not even for this.

    When she opened her mouth to argue further, Ullr's eyes narrowed in a way that had Loki raising a brow of his own. “Indeed, the child is your spitting image,” he drawled, at last drawing her eye. As an insect would flash bright wings to distract a predator, so Loki had ever used his tongue sharp with humor to cover over any more vulnerable an emotion he may have felt. “I have seen that face before - you shall get nowhere arguing with it.”

    Sif darted a glance around the cabin, suddenly wishing for more privacy than its single room provided. She turned her gaze outside, and then returned her eyes to Loki. “If I could speak to you alone, I would appreciate it,” she bid stiffly; there was little of a request in the shape of her voice. Loki did not say a word aloud in reply to her, but he made his way to the door, which she took as agreement enough.

    The cold of the winter filled the cabin as Loki opened the door and slipped outside. She drew her cloak closer to her body, and darted a hard glance at Ullr. “Stay here, and do not touch anything.”

    “Not a thing,” Ullr was quick to assure her – too quick, really - and Sif fought the urge she had to sigh.

    . . . sometimes, the art of parenting was more wearying than fighting a whole herd of bilgesnipe. Not for the first time, she muttered a quick prayer, asking the ancients to bless her own mother for bearing up underneath the pains she had heaped on Gná's shoulders over the years.

    After one last pointed look at Ullr, she followed Loki outside. Though the sky was still grey and heavy with precipitation overhead, the snow had stilled for the time being. The temperature had dropped since her arrival, causing their breath to frost on the air as Loki turned a thoughtful glance towards her. He held a hand to his chin as he looked her up and down, but when she went to define the feeling in his gaze, the green of his eyes was only cold, matching the winter.

    “Your son is what . . . forty summers? Forty-five?” Loki hazarded a guess. Ullr's dark head almost came to her shoulder now, and he grew taller rather than broader in the willowy way of children. Loki's guess was close enough – too close.

    “This winter is the fiftieth he has seen,” Sif answered. She wished that she could adjust the number to her liking – but she did not trust Loki not to ask the same of Ullr later, and Ullr had no reason to lie.

    “Ah,” Loki said, drawing the sound out on his tongue. “He does not look much like Thor – and, at first impression, he is most certainly too smart to be the Thunderer's son. Yet, one could simply attribute his mind to you.”

    “He is called Sifjarson,” her words came out as a fierce slash of sound, more so than she would have had first intended. “He is mine, and mine alone.”

    “Really?” Loki arched a brow, little impressed by the warning in her tone. “Forgive me, my lady, but these things tend to follow the involvement of two . . . unless you have found a way to blindside nature, that is.” The cold in his eyes had only grown. “Tell me, was it Agnarr? He always was sweet on you – and you could do worse than a captain of the Einherjar. Yet, I see no ring on your finger, and Agnarr is an old fashioned sort . . . so it could not be him. Did you finally give in to Refli's ridiculous – and daily - proclamations of love? Only, please tell me that it was not Fandral - ”

    “Ullr is Thor's son,” she blurted, hating the words even as she spoke them. They ripped from her throat; they left a wound on her tongue. Yet they had their desired effect - they silenced Loki midsentence as few things could. He merely stared at her, a look in his eyes that she could not quite define. She looked for all - anger, mourning, jealousy - but could define the shape of none.

    The dishonesty tasted bitter in her mouth - unkind, even. Any further words felt thick and clumsy to her as she instead remembered the last stages of her pregnancy . . . those final days when it had become impossible for her to hide her condition any longer. When even Thor understood why she would not fight in the rings or drink mead at the feast any longer, why she had forsaken armor and leathers for voluminous dresses and soft robes . . . He had looked on her with such a softness in his gaze . . . there had been no pity therein, no sympathetic words or daft speeches of empty consolation. Instead, Thor had touched a massive hand to her swollen stomach in wonder, and welcomed her child into his family with low, heartfelt words of adoration. In the days since then, Thor had done nothing but shield her and Ullr from the cruelties of the court. Initially, he had even offered to claim Ullr as his own in order to stay the rumors and silence the unkind tongues that inevitably went to wag. As Thor's son, Ullr would have both an assured future and claim to the crown of a prince, even when born not to Thor's wife, yet . . . she could not lie. Not about something as great as this . . . Even so, neither had she ever breathed a word of the truth.

    Sif fought the urge she had to rub at her temples, suddenly grateful that Loki's great perception – his uncannily acute mind – often chose to close down, turning itself blind and deaf to sense and reason when it came to anything and everything regarding himself. He was all too ready to believe that she had ever been just waiting to throw herself into Thor's arms, and he would choose to trust his insecurities and suspicions now. For once, his lack of faith in her suited her purpose just as well.

    Loki took a step closer to her, his eyes unblinkingly locked on her own. Where the Aesir ever walked with a brazen strength to their stride, Loki instead moved with the grace of a hunting cat, fluid and whispering. She watched the sway of his movements with a narrowed gaze, promising an equal such danger to match. She would yield no ground to him, and so, she stood as if she had roots as Loki stared down at her - seemingly trying to pull the truth from the black of her eyes. She tilted her head, and let him look unhindered.

    “He has your eyes,” Loki muttered. He lifted a hand as if he would touch her cheek, but he instead tugged on a lock of her hair. The strands were ink-dark against the stark white of his skin, and she blinked to remember him with a knife held in hand, his eyes young and worried as he asked if she was sure . . . and she had been so sure as the locks of harvest yellow fell away, only to grow back as black as night. Due to his youth and inexperience, his spells had long since marked her . . . marked her as he was marked against the golden heads of the Aesir. For many years, she had worn that mark with pride.

    “He has your hair, as well,” Loki mused thoughtfully. His voice was a distant, far sound to her ears. “Which is interesting, for I had not thought my enchantments to run blood deep . . .” His eyes trailed over her, and she suddenly hated the open, bare way she felt underneath his gaze – much as she ever did. This close, she could smell the pine and cold scent she always associated with Loki . . . along with the burnt ozone smell of lightning – magic, as she was most familiar with it. She took in a deep breath to steady herself, hating that she even had to hold her heart from a precipice in the first place.

    “It was as much a surprise to me,” Sif agreed, her voice dry. At least she spoke her words truly - for Loki's face was not his true face, and she had no way of knowing how deep Odin's spells went. She had not known what to expect.

    It took Loki a heartbeat to reply. He worked his mouth soundlessly before snapping his teeth together with a clicking sound.

    “Yet, it does not matter,” his expression turned, morphing from a hypnotized sort of softness to an unkind ugliness. For once, his turning barbs for wounds cut her when she would rather them break over her like waves upon a shore; she thought that he had lost his ability to hurt her long ago. “It now makes sense why you are so eager to return the boy's father to his place. It explains why you would turn to me in the first place - as I am the last of all of your options, I presume?”

    “You have no idea - ” her words started out strong, but she immediately found that she could not speak to defend herself – to defend Thor - without worsening his opinion . . . or, more dangerously, revealing the truth. She had backed herself into a corner with her lie, and her honor stung at the smug sort of disgust she could see building in his eyes.

    “Oh, I think that I have quite the idea,” Loki returned on a sneer. “Fifty years. Tell me, was Thor even cold from his mortal's arms when you drew him to your bed? He would have been but days returned to Asgard to fill Odin's vacant throne, and Jane would have not yet followed him. How, after so many centuries spent panting after him to no effect, did you finally manage - ”

    Where her words could not come to her defense, she settled with her second option. She slapped him.

    Sif pulled none of her strength from the blow. Instead she watched with a vicious sort of satisfaction as his head snapped back and a red outline of her palm bloomed against his too-pale skin. No matter that she had surprised him, he did not stumble from the force of her hand.

    She bared her teeth. “Mind your tongue,” she all but growled in a low voice. “Lady Frigg did not raise her son to speak such crass words.”

    “Ill it is to speak so of the dead, is it not?” Loki's eyes flashed as he rubbed at his cheek. He worked his jaw, clearly testing it for injury; the bones made a popping sound in the cold. “Or is it merely ill of me to speak so of one you call yours? . . . even if Thor never saw the worth in what he had.”

    The snow crunched underneath her boots as she took a strong step towards him, closing that last bit of space between them. He eyed her warily, ready to dodge another blow, yet, he did not back away.

    “What? Does the truth hurt?” he returned her words from earlier, his every word sharpening as if they were blades. “When I served my sentence in the Vaults, the guards were all atwitter for Thor's at long last wedding his childhood sweetheart, the Lady Sif – they looked forward to a day free from their duties when they could drown themselves in mead, you know. And oh, but it must have ached to have your goal so within your grasp, only for that mortal to return and ruin everything. Even with your bearing him a son, Thor still chose her when all was said and done . . . yes, that must have been quite the blow indeed. Or does my tongue speak lies again?”

    Sif held up her hand as if to strike him again, hating the shape of his words as they were uttered . . . but she clenched her fingers. She let them shape a fist, even as her arm fell to rest by her side. An energy still coursed through her limbs, however; she desperately wanted for battle.

    I courted your brother when it looked as if you would spend an eternity locked away from the sun . . . when Earth was denied to Thor by his father's own command, she wanted to say, to defend herself as well as her king. I watched Thor wilt and fade away with every day he was kept from his star-searcher, and the idea of him married to one of the vultures of the court when Odin at last lost patience with him . . . I could not bear the thought. She knew that she would not be able to hide the hiccup in her voice as she said so. In many ways, Jane had filled the void that Loki had left gauged in the deep of Thor. The human woman was one of the first to see the softer parts of Thor, the parts that he once would have hated in himself, and instead loved him for it. Yet . . . at that time . . . Yes, I would have married him if he asked me. I even moved to encourage his hand – but only because he could not have the one he wanted, and I alone would have understood that his heart was taken . . . I would have been strong enough to bear a life of half-love, and see that his heart remained protected. I am sworn by blood to protect and serve the House of Odin, and I would have been his shield, even in this . . . If he could not have the one he wanted, and I could not have mine . . .

    I could have lived on my duty alone . . . I could have sacrificed – as you clearly know nothing of, she wanted to screech the words until they bled into his ears. But, the Nornir were kind to Thor, and he now has his dear one at his side. He has the family and the love he deserves, while I . . .

    Instead, she merely swallowed her words away; she remained silent as her indignation rippled within her as something living. She did not utter a word, instead she stood there, feeling her body tremble with a fierce, righteous anger - a rage that snapped at her ribs and set fire to her lungs. Furious tears burned behind her eyes, but she blinked them away, determined that he would not see them fall. She would not give him the satisfaction.

    “You do not need your tongue to show to me the way,” Sif at last muttered. Her voice was thin, shimmering with her fury. Once, the sign would have been a clear warning to him, and he would have abandoned his words - even in the middle of their worst arguments. Yet, she did not trust him to do so now. “So,” her voice found strength as she continued, “for all of our sakes, do your best to keep it civil within your mouth.”

    His smile was a knife-wound upon his face. “Oh, but you do need me. Actions alone will not win you this path, and force will not grant you your way. And yet, I said that I would not show you the way to Huld's keep, and I meant it. Thor's son changes nothing.”

    If all she cared for was not balanced upon the edge of a blade, she was certain that she would have done him a real harm then. As it was, she had to concentrate on the spicy smell of the cedar trees, fragrant and damp from the snow . . . she swallowed to taste the cold storm-air upon her tongue . . . the muffled roar of the waterfall beneath its veil of ice ticked at her ears. She focused on the physical world around her in order to call herself back to order once more. Through great an effort, she stilled the war in her veins as if she was a general ordering her army to halt, to lie in wait for the opportune moment to attack . . . finally, at long last, she felt as if she could breathe.

    Sif stepped back from Loki, calm once more. She was ready to try her hand at persuading him again when there was a bright flare of purple and yellow light from inside the cabin. A loud, rushing sound rattled the walls - and while Sif could not see through the drapes covering the windows, she could very well deduct that Ullr had been unable to keep his hands to himself. It was only just a matter of time, really.

    “By Surtr's flaming beard!” she cursed as she turned from Loki in order to open the door of the cabin once more. At the rush of cold air, Ullr bashfully looked up from where a ward protecting one of the artifacts on the desk had protested being meddled with. She sighed at his sheepish look, but nonetheless stared at him crossly. “Are you hurt?” Sif asked, her voice tart with annoyance.

    “No,” Ullr reflexively denied. He hid his right hand behind his back, but not before she could see the start of a rather nasty looking burn stretching across his fingers. She watched him fight away a grimace of discomfort – for nothing burned quite like an angry ward, this she knew from experience.

    Expectantly, she stepped into the cabin and walked across the floorboards. She stood before her son and held her hand out to Ullr without saying anything more. Ullr glanced at her face as if weighing his chances of protesting, before he revealed his fingers to her with a resigned look. They were burned . . . badly, she frowned to see, but to his credit he did no more than wince when she pressed her thumb to the ruined flesh to ascertain just how deep the burn went.

    “You were warned for caution, were you not, child?” she heard Loki said to Ullr. Sif looked over her shoulder, and saw where he was leaning against the doorpost, with the door still open to the cold beyond the cabin. His arms were crossed nonchalantly, and his eyes were neutral and bored – as if he were apathetic to the scene before him. Even still . . . she found that leaping muscle high in his throat, and read his lie from his skin. “Half of the items in here are powerful enough to flay skin from bone.”

    Ullr's eyes flashed with a moment's curiosity before he caught her glare. He looked down, suitably abashed. “I did not think that I was causing any harm,” Ullr said, a note of childish sullenness to his voice.

    “Most of the fools who've lost their hands to a Margygur's seeing-stone often start with innocent intentions,” Loki rolled his shoulders to shrug. “There is a jar containing a green salve in the first chest. Apply it to your burns, else they spread.”

    Ullr blinked, and Sif watched the questions that bloomed in his gaze before he clearly pushed them aside. He first looked to her in question, and when she waved him on, he turned to look through the chest Loki had pointed to – this time careful not to touch anything he did not have permission to handle.

    “How did you come by a Margygur's seeing-stone?” Ullr asked as he applied the salve to his burned fingers, watching in amazement as the ruined skin bubbled and steamed before smoothing over pink and healthy once more.

    “Very, very carefully,” Loki answered. When he smiled, Sif could only see his teeth. “Hafgufa may or may not have been involved.”

    Ullr placed the salve back with a careful hand, yet his eyes widened in a way that Sif knew from experience would lead to a dozen more questions. His right hand was restless – as if he regretted not having parchment and a quill so as to take note of Loki's answers then and there. She inhaled sharply, knowing that some traits would be more telling than her son's color of eyes or hair.

    “Do not fill his heads with tales,” Sif found her voice. It was reflexively maternal of her to narrow her eyes at Loki in warning. “Too many cloud his mind already.”

    “And if it not a tale I have to share, but the truth?” Loki asked innocently. While his words should have been playful, she did not trust the mercurial cast of his emotions in the slightest.

    She hissed a breath out from between her teeth, and turned to look at Ullr again – ignoring Loki. “Now that you are healed, I am taking you home. Now.”

    Ullr raised a brow, confused. “Are you not going to the Star-keeper's prison?” he asked.

    We are going,” Sif said – her voice hard as she stared over at Loki. She left no room for him to protest her decision. “You, however, are going to return to Glaðsheimr, and you shall then list every way you could have possibly put yourself – and others – in danger through your disobedience. Heimdall shall look your words over when you are done, and he alone can declare them satisfactory.”

    Ullr frowned – yet, this was not the first time he had endured such a punishment. Sometimes, the trouble he placed himself in with Thor's sons was so reminiscent of her own childhood that . . . but she could not think of that now, lest he see a glimmer of fondness upon her face. Yet, after a moment, she realized that his frown was not a simple distaste for punishment, but rather . . .

    “Please,” Ullr said, his voice shaped in entreaty. “Do not make me go back there. The air still smells like them, and I can still feel a shadow of that . . . that thing they used. It is green, and its pallor is everywhere . . . I cannot close my eyes to it.”

    It was not a simple fear of shadows he spoke of, Sif knew with a sinking feeling. But with his words . . . she looked over at Loki, hoping that Ullr did not give what she feared he did away. And yet . . .

    “Green . . .” Loki muttered. His eyes sharpened as he looked at Ullr with a renewed interest. “Few of the Aesir are so perceptive when it comes to things of this nature,” he said, and she could feel the power in his voice as he spoke – as he wove his words so as to draw forth the reply he wished to hear. “These thieves were green in what way?”

    Ullr blinked, and she watched as he carefully chose his words. Her son was honest – unfailingly so, and he would not think to lie. If she moved to stay his speech, Loki would know that she endeavored to hide something from him, and his assistance would not be gained until she told him the truth . . . She set her face into an impassive mask, resigned.

    “There was a green stone they used to summon the wraith,” Ullr said slowly, standing up tall against the hungry look that suddenly invaded Loki's gaze. “It was green as the skies of Helheimr . . . it was the green of souls.”

    “Was it now?” Loki muttered. His eyes glinted as he turned to her. “How long has Thor been gone?” he asked.

    “Two nights come this eve,” Sif answered warily.

    “And you waited this long to fetch me?” his mouth stretched in distaste. “You wound me.”

    “As you said,” she retorted, her mouth curling in distaste as she spoke, “you were my last resort.”

    “Well then, the Nornir have smiled upon you this day, dear lady - for I have changed my mind. I shall help you with your task, and see that Thor is retrieved . . . safely,” he saw fit to add after a heartbeat. He nonetheless drew out the words as if he spoke a threat instead, and Sif narrowed her eyes in reply.

    Ullr stepped forward, his eyes bright with hope. “Thor will come home, then?” he asked with a child's simple joy for a loved one. At the words, she watched where Loki turned in time to hide a flinch. While he tried to portray an air of grace and ease, every line of his body was tight with a noticeable tension.

    “Yes . . . Thor will be returned to his place,” Loki muttered. He turned to her. “Are you going to try and force this one home? Our time is already severely depleted if you wish to be successful.”

    “Yes,” Sif said, just as Ullr said, “You may try.”

    She glared at her son, while Loki only gave a dark chuckle. “He will follow us as soon as you release him from your sight, you know?” He shrugged, uncaring. “It is nothing more than we would have done.”

    Sif narrowed her eyes, ready to draw a vow from Ullr before Loki added, “And besides, Thor was already slaying dragons at his age.”

    “Only when you pushed him into their nests,” Sif retorted on a low voice, not at all liking the challenge that rose in Ullr's eyes. She had no way to ensure that he would not follow her, and at least, this way, she could watch him where he went, and shield him as she could. And yet . . .

    “Are there going to be dragons?” Ullr asked, and at the earnestness in his voice, Loki gave an unkind snort.

    “Or, I can bind him in so many wards that he will not be able to move from this place while we are gone,” Loki's eyes glinted at the thought. “As the boy's mother, the choice is yours.”

    More than the challenge in his voice, she felt her breath turn tight as she thought about Ullr's uncanny resilience to seiðr. She thought, then, of . . .

    No . . . safer would it be for Ullr to be by her side when they encountered Gangr and Iði than that.

    So.

    “He shall come with us,” she decided, hating the words even as she said them. Ullr gave a satisfied smile, but she did not let him hold onto his joy for long. “But, do not think that I have forgotten your initial disobedience. It shall be addressed when we return home.”

    “Of course,” even while Ullr bowed his head humbly, he was not quick enough to hide the anticipation in his eyes. She fought the urge she had to sigh.

    “How terribly domestic,” Loki drawled, glancing between the two of them. “This shall be fun indeed.” Even so, his voice was filled with anything but. She picked up her helm from the table, and took her glaive in hand. Donned for war once more, she felt the slightest bit more at ease, the slightest bit more herself. When she was ready to depart, she looked to find that Loki stared at her with glittering green eyes.

    And so, Sif steeled herself and bid, “Lead the way.”






    End Notes:

    Margygur: Norse version of a mermaid, with prophetic abilities.

    Hafgufa: The mother of all sea-monsters, if the myths can be believed - known only by her 'nose' that appears as an island rising from the waters of the Greenland Sea.

    Nornir: Plural of Norn - the Norse counterpart to the Greek/Roman Fates.


    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
  9. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Wonderfully intense and Ullr is a delight - very much the son of his parents, even if Loki is not aware of it entirely. Looking forward to the adventure and the consequences. =D=
     
  10. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Nyota's Heart: Thank-you very much! It certainly does look to be the interesting ride, and I know the outcome. :p As always, I thank you so much for reading! [:D]






    Part IV

    Loki was most acutely aware of being watched. Or perhaps studied was the more accurate way to define the sensation.

    Since leaving the cabin, Ullr's eyes had yet to turn away from him. The boy's gaze was heavy, as if with questions, and Loki had since held his head up high and refused to indulge his curiosity. Sif, he noticed, only looked his way when it was absolutely necessary, which was such a divergence from how they once would have started a quest that he -

    . . . it was simply different, he reined in his thoughts, and let them go no further.

    As they picked out a path towards the river, Ullr steadily walked between he and Sif. Loki wondered if the child unconsciously set himself as his mother's shield, or if the move was done so deliberately. He could not quite tell, and after a long moment, he simply decided that he did not care.

    “Where are we going?” Ullr was the first one to ask, breaking through the tense pall of silence. Sif had learned long ago not to waste her breath on such idle questions; instead, she would trust him to reveal himself in due time. Or, Loki reflected, she better knew to save her words for battles she could win.

    “One does not simply skip through the realms willy-nilly,” Loki snorted, letting the tone of his not-answer leave little doubt of his opinion of the boy's mind. “There are rules that one must follow for this sort of thing.”

    Yet, Ullr was nonplussed by the edge to his voice. “Then, what exactly is this place?” he asked next, glancing at the cold world around them. “This is not any moon I know, but I have yet to see them all. Is it - ”

    “ - even I do not know,” Loki rolled his shoulders in a show of apathy. “I simply needed a place of concealment, and when I asked the Mother, this world appeared as my answer. I assume that it is more of a pocket realm than any true place in the universe. Either way, it has served my purposes well enough, and I have yet to question Her choice.”

    “It snows much the same on Asgard; it started to fall right before I left,” Ullr pointed out thoughtfully. “This world is close enough to home – maybe Yggdasil knew that, and made it so for you.”

    “Asgard may be home for some, but not for others,” Loki said on a clipped voice. To his left, Sif's eyes had gone from frowning at the scenery to carefully watching his interaction with her son.

    . . . her son . . . Thor's son . . . That truth still carried a bite of its own, and he shoved the thought away, wanting but little of its sting. Later, he would allow himself to dwell on that fact, and untangle the thorny maze of emotions surrounding it, but for now he could not . . .

    He could feel Sif's eyes flicker on him, uncannily perceptive, and he turned his face into the cold.

    “You are a seiðrmanðr, are you not?” Ullr asked next. Sif gave her son a warning look for his continued attempt at striking up a pleasant conversation between them.

    “Ullr, leave him be,” she chided, but Loki waved a hand. Perhaps somewhat pettily, he was ready to disagree with her over anything, simply to be contrary.

    “Let the boy speak,” he countered, and at the reproof in his voice, her glare was hot. “Yes,” he turned to answer Ullr's question. “I am a seiðrmanðr.”

    “Are you powerful?” Ullr asked, genuinely curious.

    “There are none more so,” Loki felt his teeth flash with his answer.

    Ullr inclined his head. “Are you Loki?” he asked.

    Loki blinked, realizing that his name was not yet spoken in the child's presence. At one time, it would have gone without thought that Thor's son would know him, and know him well. But, now . . .

    . . . well, that too was a thought he would save for later, much later, when there was only the dark and the silence and these troublesome distractions gone from his life once more. Now, Ullr would have only known his name spoken as Worldslayer . . . Destroyer . . . Kings' Bane . . . Liesmith . . . Usurper, betrayer, forger, and fraud . . . Laufeyson, Jötunn, and monster. None were the most flattering of appellations, all known before the evening fires as cautionary tales to scare children into obeying their parents' biding.

    “I am he,” Loki at last answered. His voice was thinner than he first wished for it to be.

    “I thought so,” Ullr nodded. “I recognized you from Thor's tales,” he continued. “You are mentioned often.”

    Loki tilted his head and wondered what shape those stories took. The thought was not exactly a warm one. Next to Ullr, Sif's hold on her glaive was tense. “And, your mother's?” Perhaps he was searching out a wound, but he was suddenly sieged by the urge to know.

    “She has never mentioned you,” Ullr answered, and his casual reply cut more deeply than any caustic words aimed to barb could have. Loki swallowed, hating to find his breath thin about his throat. It did not matter, he told himself; it had not for decades now.

    “And you?” Loki abruptly turned the conversation, liking its course but little. Underfoot, the crunching snow was loud as it compressed; their breath frosted on the air as fat flakes of snow fell from the grey sky overhead. “You wear a sword. That was your mother's first weapon.”

    “I am yet too young for her glaive,” Ullr said, a note of sullenness to his voice.

    “You want not for a war hammer?” Loki raised a brow, looking at Sif rather than Ullr. Even so, he did not miss the boy's look of distaste as Ullr said, “They are cumbersome things to wield. Barbaric, even.”

    Loki snorted, delight filling him for the youth's words. Thor must be so disappointed, he bit his tongue to keep from saying. Sif's gaze was harsh when he caught her eye again, and he turned back to the path ahead.

    “And the bow?” Loki continued, truly curious now. “That is an odd choice for one of the Aesir.”

    At his observation, Ullr's eyes filled with a true delight. Their hazel colour was more green than brown in the crisp winter light, and for a moment, Loki stared, thinking to know their shape even better than his own. How pleased he would have been, years ago, to bring such a glow to his mother's eyes . . . but now? He swallowed, again, wondering how the same wound could bleed after having been stitched and scarred so many times over.

    “Nearly ten years ago, Ullr attended his first fae ring on Álfheimr,” Sif spoke for her son. Loki blinked, at first taken by his thoughts to the point where he had forgotten that he had asked a question. “He was quite enchanted with Faradei, and the king gave him his first bow as a gift. Ullr has been practicing with it ever since.”

    Her words drew Loki up short. “King?” he asked. “He was the youngest of Gandalf's brood, and last I checked, the Elf-king was hale and whole. Even were he not, Faradei would have eleven brothers to first usurp to claim the throne.”

    Sif rolled her shoulders, yet he did not miss the way her mouth shaped as if to cut. How far you have been from home for so long, he could all but read the thought from her eyes as loudly as if she had spoken it aloud. “King Gandalf did not walk alive from the battlefield during our final push against Thanos," she revealed, sorrow coloring the shade of her words for the loss. "Three of his sons laid down their lives at their father's side, and one took the ways West to Vídbláin for his wife falling where he could not save her. Two more perished in the civil war that broke out when Álflyse tried to usurp power following Gandalf's death. Four have taken up the ways of the mage, and would not touch the crown for their vows; while you know that Álfgeir is lost in drink more often than not, and his mind is no longer suitable for ruling. Haki is lame ever since an encounter with a band of raiding Dwarves, and, thus so, to Faradei the crown lies.”

    Loki blinked, fighting not to let his surprise show on his face. Centuries ago, Gandalf had agreed to foster him for a period of five winters during his youth - when it became laughingly apparent that he had surpassed all of Asgard's mages in skill, even though his magicks were still wild and rampant. In the mystical lands of Álfheimr, his skills as an enchanter were revered and set on high, rather than scorned and viewed as a coward's weapon of smoke and shadows. Whilst dwelling in the Elf-king's halls he had allowed himself to think that maybe, just maybe, he could see his seiðr as a gift as well. And, now . . .

    He fought to find his next breath, with his grief high and choking about his throat. And yet, that was precisely what Sif searched to see, and he would not give her the satisfaction. He turned his gaze away from her, and walked on.

    They journeyed in silence, turning with the river when the landscape began to climb in a harsh slope. They picked out an icy path through the trees, heading towards where the river poured down into a massive, half-frozen waterfall. Ullr stared at the icy layers of frozen water as they climbed higher and higher, exhilaration tinting his pale cheeks pink.

    “Where are we heading?” Ullr asked, his voice lost to the thunder of the cascade.

    “There is power to be found in the crossroads,” Loki at last decided to reveal. He pointed, and from their height it was easy to see how the river perfectly bisected the land, running perpendicular from the mountains in the distance. Here, he could feel the ancient rift in the physical fabric of the pocket-land as if it was an itching underneath his skin. He inhaled, and could already taste the stars. “This is a natural cross-point between the worlds. When separate realms touch, weak spots are rubbed raw where they collide, and a gate may form in those places - much as the one you traveled through.”

    “But, does this gate not lead to Asgard?” Ullr asked.

    “It leads wherever you may wish for it to lead. You need only the proper words to ask, and the proper force to see your words obeyed.”

    Sif turned as he spoke, understanding his intentions instantly. “You have a queer way of dealing with your unwanted guests, Loki.” She glanced at the crest of the waterfall – where icicles decorated the shelf of the cliff, hanging over the frozen river. It was all but perfect for his intentions, but not necessarily for the faint of heart.

    “Are you afraid to jump?” he asked, false concern worn mockingly about his face. “How terribly inconvenient . . . and yet, the fall will not kill you, even if I am wrong about the gate.”

    Sif's look was withering in reply.

    “If it were easy,” Loki shrugged, a mean smile pulling at his mouth, “everyone would be doing it. As it is, Huld's Keep is not a common - or easy to reach - destination. I cannot simply snap my fingers and have us all appear there by force.”

    Sif exhaled through her teeth, clearly agitated. Her breath clouded on the air between them to join the spray from the waterfall below – where the current was so powerful that it broke through the ice, no matter the cold of the winter.

    As she peered over the edge, weighing her options, Loki reached out to grasp her arm. She looked down at where he held her, and then up at his eyes with a pointed look.

    “I only ask one thing, Sif. When we reach our destination . . . let me speak. This is a being that steel will do but little against, and Huld has ever done naught but laugh in the face of War.”

    He looked, and saw where Sif clearly struggled with what he said – with her desire to return Thor to his place battling her mistrust . . . her wariness born from centuries of his empty words.

    “Do you not trust me?” he asked at last. He intended for his words to come out teasing – cruel, even - but they did not. Instead, his voice was low, and his throat was dry when he tried to find his breath. In answer to his question, the look she turned on him was as a blow itself. She did not reply before turning to take her son's hand.

    Sif jumped. A moment later, he followed.



    .

    .

    The first step they took fell not on solid ground, but rather on the spaces between the stars.

    Or . . . so it seemed.

    Beneath their feet, silver mists billowed, and while they could not see a corporeal plane with their physical eyes, they stood upon a hard surface. Around them, curtains of hot gases danced in every possible colour against the black void of space, creating shifting illusions of pillars and grand towers, of balconies and elegantly shifting spires. If Huld's keep was a palace of stone they walked through, they would be in its foremost hall, with banners flapping high in the gaping chasm of the room and the lord's throne standing tall and imposing over every other.

    Yet, there were no standards to fly here, and Huld Stjarna rarely bothered with the trivialities of a throne - even when she humored her visitors with a form that could sit one.

    Through the wide open 'windows', the starlit branches of the cosmos were dancing and vibrant, alive with life and the light of a trillion far off worlds. And yet, the stars closest to here writhed. They were held in place, not by the infinite wheels of time and space, but by Huld's ancient hold. Here they were sewn into the darkness and left to hang in agony, rather than burning and soaring with their own might, sailing on their own path through the byways of the universe. Loki could hear them scream alongside the sweet chorus of the cosmos, and their discordant song was one that burned through his ears.

    Yet, Loki could see where where one captive soul did not scream . . . he did not struggle. As understanding set in, the light from that timeless orb was as a scourge against his skin. Pointedly, he turned away from that one red star, determined to ignore it.

    Loki walked forward confidently, only to glance back and see where Ullr was careful not to take a step in any direction, unwilling to trust the safety of the 'floor' they stood upon. His eyes were wide, both with wonder and an edge of trepidation that spoke of respect - for which Loki was pleased to see. The child clearly did not share his father's brash arrogance in assuming that his sovereignty in Asgard would carry over to every other world they visited . . . or, at least, that was how Thor had been once . . . long ago. Sif did not look at the celestial radiance of their surroundings, he noticed then, but rather, at him, and her gaze was searching.

    “It is a floor of firmament you stand upon, but it will hold you,” Loki took a moment to assure the boy. An unwitting amusement filled him when Ullr flushed, as if shamed by his hesitance.

    “I have told my feet so, but they have yet to move,” Ullr muttered, and Loki chuckled – a sound that echoed oddly in the thin air around them. Huld's keep was cold, unnaturally so; its chill settled into their bones and turned their skin to parched. When Sif took her glaive more firmly in hand, the leather of her gloves made a tight, dry sound in the silence. The play of the cosmos danced over the silver plates of her armor, turning through every possible colour as solar systems and whole galaxies wheeled beyond them.

    “Would you call forth our host?” Sif inclined her head. Her mouth was pursed, having but little liking for the between-worlds; better had she ever preferred realms that were more solid underfoot.

    “Whatever you may think of me, some powers are not to be summoned. We wait milady Huld's indulgence,” Loki inclined his head to the shadows, feeling as eyes blinked from the stars above them. A presence filled the chamber before drifting down to look on them . . . considering . . . watching.

    Sif too looked, her sharp eyes picking out where a line of stars floated in a blue-black expanse, not quite unlike a halo of hair. Their light flickered to illuminate the smooth line of a throat and the pale shape of a brow. The stars blinked, and when she smiled, their light shone on the sharp points of her teeth.

    “I had forgotten your silver tongue, Laufeyson,” Huld spoke. “Indeed, it has been much too long since you last walked my ways.”

    “Star-keeper,” Loki would not kneel, but he knew to bow his head to a force even more ancient and powerful than he.

    The nebulous gasses shifted, and when next they blinked, there was a throne sitting at the long end of the hall. A woman sat there, her form not wholly corporeal, but rather swimming in washes of silver-blue brilliance. The cosmic light painted an illusion of court finery, of formal robes and a great mass of ebony hair, floating on the nonexistent wind around them. Whenever he tried to focus on her face, he could not make out one single shape as Huld picked between the visages of the souls she kept, never completely content with the one she chose before moving on to the next.

    They approached her throne slowly, walking only steps before the room shrank in on them, causing them to stumble before her throne like penitents before a monarch. Loki felt his mouth set; Huld was feeling formal today.

    “What a most pleasant surprise this is, Loki,” Huld all but purred his name. Her voice, like her face, was not one tone. She spoke with the borrowed voices of her souls, and within her words he could hear both man and child and woman all at once. His bones thrummed with the sound, and he had to fight not to wear his revilement open upon his face. “Did you know that when last I expected to see you enter my realm, it was when I joined the other Keepers in bidding for the chance to become your warden after your . . . failed attempt at taking Midgard? Yet, the Allfather was lenient when deciding your fate . . . Odin was kind - the old, indulgent fool that he was. And yet, he paid the price for his softness of heart, did he not?”

    Her stars for eyes burned, and yet, Loki beheld them without blinking. “As always,” he inclined his head, “yours is a most charming presence.”

    Huld raised a void-dark brow. “It is not I who am known for my words of honey,” her form rippled, as if shrugging. “Such verbal grace has never been my claim to greatness, Liesmith.”

    “Yet, you have never spoken anything less than the truth, have you not?” Loki tilted his head. “Perhaps we can speak now of truths – for I come, not for myself, but for another.”

    Her eyes weighed him. When she stood from her throne, it was not the grace of a woman she bore, but of an animal, hunting and hungry. “Many come before me speaking on the behalf of kin,” Huld said carefully. “You would not be the first.”

    “I come to plead for the soul of Thor, son of Odin, it is true.” Loki formed his words to come out strong. “He is the head of one of the Nine Sovereign Realms – King of the Realm Eternal, at that. It is quite a gem you have snared for your collection.”

    Huld waved an incorporeal hand. “I bear loyalty to no one realm, as much you know. I deal in souls – a tricky business, might I add, with both Valhalla and dear Lady Hel in the same market as I.”

    “You do well enough,” Loki forced himself to look up at the ceiling of captured stars – souls – feeling as they stared down at him.

    Huld snorted, and he picked out the sound of a fighting man from her tone. “Black souls,” she muttered. “The dregs of the universe, so vile that even Hel would think twice before feeding them to the pits of Náströnd. Black souls fill my prison . . . along with those foolish sorts who still think that they may return to bodies and lives anew.” She smiled a sharp smile - fanged and fork-tongued. “Even the Mad Titan is claimed by Death, and yet, it suits me to keep him in his place. I will not let him go.”

    “Just as you will not let Þjazi go?” Loki countered.

    Huld looked at him for a moment, contemplating. “Pure souls, like the Thunderer's, are a rare commodity. They are precious to me . . . sacred, even. I would give up much of what I hold for such a light to grace my ways.” Her face shimmered before settling on one shape, that of a woman just barely out of girlhood, with sad, dark eyes. When she turned to look past him, her eyes settled on Ullr. “The souls of children are an even more valuable currency, if it is his you wish to deal for Thor's . . .” She turned a hopeful look on him as her face morphed to one heavy with age, pitted and creased by time.

    Just barely, he stepped to the side, putting the boy directly behind him. “Perhaps next time,” Loki spoke lightly, as if commenting on the nonexistent weather, but he could feel his eyes narrow with a pointed green power – warning her.

    Huld stepped back, resigned. “What is it you have to deal, Kings' Bane? You have come empty handed . . . unless, you care to offer your own soul for that of your brother's?” she snorted, but a glimmer of consideration shone bright in her eyes. “You would not be the first to do so for a loved one.”

    “Alas,” Loki inclined his head, “I would rather keep my soul attached to my body for the time being. No, I come to offer you something more than that. Something greater.”

    The Star-keeper paused, waiting for him to continue. Her face flickered and shifted in the silence that stretched.

    “The sons of Ölvaldi were not wholly successful in capturing Thor's soul, were they not?” Loki asked. “Elsewise, they would be here already. I can feel Þjazi stare down at me; I cannot yet feel Thor.”

    “You ask questions, yet I hear only statements from your mouth,” Huld said. The starlight glinted off of her teeth.

    “Gangr and Iði used a stone . . . a green stone to control the wraith,” Loki looked over his shoulder to see where Sif narrowed her eyes. He felt a sharp surge of satisfaction flicker through him, for had she continued to try to keep that significant piece of information from him . . . He sighed, and pushed those thoughts away.

    “Perhaps they did,” Huld said carefully. “Yet, there are many ways to capture a soul.”

    “True as that may be,” Loki did not quite agree, “the wraiths have been extinct for several millennia now – or, at least, they were. There is only one force in this universe that could summon a wraith anew. It would take an Infinity Stone, and not just any Infinity Stone. It is the Stone of Souls they wield.”

    Huld snorted. “You and those gems,” she sneered in distaste. But her voice was that of a child, thick with greed and want. “One would think that you learned your lesson with the Tessaract. That power did not grant you ownership of the Earth, and then - foolish child that you are - you nearly tore the Mother from her roots when you tried to wield all six, Gauntlet or no Gauntlet.”

    “Yet,” Loki disagreed, “my gambit worked . . . or does Thanos not sleep within your hold?”

    Sleep is a fine word for it,” Huld muttered, her voice taking on the shape of an angry king. Her face darkened, even as her stars for eyes brightened and took on a shade of red. “He fights me . . . for he can feel your presence here, and great is his rage in reply.”

    Loki swallowed, and told himself that the cold lance of feeling that pierced his gut was not fear. He was greater than such a base emotion – he was more than it. He would instead remember those final moments when Thanos was torn from his place, rather than falling, falling, and, when he was caught -

    - but he called himself to order, even as he felt Sif's eyes rest heavily on his back. He held up his head, not wanting to let her see how much that memory could still cripple him if he but called it to mind. He could feel a burning sensation underneath his skin, and fought to keep that contained, lest Thanos sense that too, and double his fight to escape . . .

    . . . for that was most certainly a fight he refused to fight this day. His pieces were not yet set in place upon that particular board.

    Composed once more, Loki continued, “The stones shattered when Thanos was defeated, and their shards are now strewn far and wide across the known universe. The brothers may have thought that they had the completed Stone of Souls, but they do not, I would wager. With even the smallest of pieces missing, they would be unable to keep Thor's soul long enough to travel to you, and they most certainly would not be able to control the wraith. They must first find that missing piece before completing their trade – and that is what delays them.”

    Huld was very silent before him; she held herself unnaturally still. “What is it you say, Worldslayer?”

    Loki let the moment draw out, pregnant with anticipation. He let her hunger grow, weaving his web and waiting for the exact moment when . . .

    “I say,” he pronounced his every word carefully, purposefully nonchalant as he brushed an imagined wrinkle from his cloak, “that the Lady Sif and I shall complete the stone, and give to you not only the souls of Gangr and Iði for your collection . . . but also the Soul Gem in payment for Thor's life.”

    Behind him, Sif started. He could feel her furious eyes, and he tensed, ready to speak a word of power to keep her to her place. But, after taking one marching step forward, she stilled. He could still feel the threat in her gaze – the war . . . but she stayed her hand. She would hear his reasons first.

    Careful, he thought ruefully, for she just may leave you with Huld and take both the Stone and Thor when this is through . . . The idea was not a comforting one.

    “The Stone of Souls . . . you would do this for me?” Huld breathed. Her figure flickered and morphed, and where once she had been untouchable before her throne, now she stood only a breath away from him. He looked, and held her stars for eyes without blinking, staring to find the universe within.

    “I would do this for Thor,” he countered, for that was not wholly a lie. “I am not known for going back on my word, am I?” Even when it was whole worlds he gambled and bartered with . . . he always upheld his promises.

    “No, you are not,” Huld at last exhaled. And yet, her eyes narrowed. She tilted her head, clearly wanting to trust him, but wisely hesitant to do so. “And yet, I know better than to trust your words themselves . . . I do not have your brother's soul, but when I do, I may trade him. I will give you the Thunderer's soul for the Infinity Stone and the brothers' souls. No more . . . and no less.”

    “No more,” Loki agreed silkily, “and no less.”

    “It is a deal then,” she said, and he could hear every one of her souls speak through in her words. Thanos' voice was a low base from the back of her throat, and he shivered at hearing the all too familiar sound of the Titan's soul. Huld's form grew vast around them, intangible as the starlight beyond. “This I vow, and swear to keep.”

    “And to this I also give my word,” Loki promised, feeling his pledge settle in about him like shackles, binding him with the weight of his oath. Now, he felt a familiar thrill fill him, the game has truly begun.

    “With that pesky business settled,” Loki stepped back to remark pleasantly, clapping his hands together once. “There is only the matter of that missing shard . . .”

    Huld presence shifted, as if she were tilting her head in consideration, before she constrained her form into something vaguely flesh and boned once more. This time, it was the body of an impossibly beautiful woman she wore, with stars outlining the curve of her waist and emphasizing the red slash of her mouth. When she reached out to touch his face, her fingers were absent the feel of flesh, but her touch was warm – too warm for comfort, really.

    “I only do this for you because I like you, Laufeyson,” she breathed before floating down and kissing him. He could feel light fill him as the not-shape of her mouth turned devouring over his own, and for a moment he saw as she saw. He could see the universe alight and alive with too many living beings to name, each so close, and yet so far out of her reach to claim. He could feel her hunger - that gnawing emptiness she ever tried to feed – like a star burning on its own heat until it at long last burnt itself out. Dizzy, he followed that hunger over the Mother's branches and along her deep roots to see . . .

    Ah, he thought with a flicker of satisfaction. How fitting.

    When she drew away from him, it was only back enough to share his breath – had she been a being who breathed, that was. With a gross pantomime of a lover's closeness she leaned in close to his ear to whisper: “Do not fail me.” She spoke each syllable of her words with a different voice, from child to woman to warring man and back again. “If you do . . . just imagine what I could do to you . . . what he could do if you shared a place in my Keep. Imagine all that I could take.”

    “I understand, Star-keeper.” He held her gaze, knowing then her reasons for sharing a glimpse of her hunger. There was a threat in her vision, and he understood the stakes full well.

    “Good,” she breathed, and when next he blinked, she sat upon her throne once more, an untouchable distance away. “Time is of the essence now,” she waved her hand in a dismissive motion. “If the brothers find the missing shard before you do, your chances of defeating them just may expire.” Her face was hardly visible then, defined only by the light that outlined it in whispers of vapor.

    “So we understand,” Loki did not turn away from her. Instead, he backed up until he stood with Sif and Ullr once more. The boy's eyes were wide, and Sif's gaze was hard and level, cut as if from stone upon her face. Yet, she stared not at him, but at the Star-keeper.

    “And remember,” Huld said when she was little more than the stars and darkness once more, “I am a sensible being. I can be reasoned with - dealt with, even. Yet, the wraith cannot be . . . he is cruel in his hunger, and he is deadly.”

    “It will matter not,” Loki whispered, his words lost to the stars as they faded from view, “for so am I.”






    End Notes:

    Huld Stjarna: Huld is an Icelandic name meaning 'hidden,' or 'secret', and commonly used to denote the witch or villainess of a tale. Stjarna means 'star', which I thought a fitting name for this particular entity. Her creation, and that of her prison, is my own - inspiration came when the myth said that Odin put Þjazi's eyes as stars in the night sky for punishment, and the rest spiraled out of control from there.

    (For a Tolkien side-note, when I was doing my research, there was a star named Aurvandill (Venus in the night sky, to us), and in Old English that name was translated to Éarendel.

    And this was the poem that went with the name:

    Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,
    over Midgard to men sent,
    and true radiance of the Sun
    bright above the stars, every season
    thou of thyself ever illuminest.


    Sound like Eärendil, huh? [face_batting] I found that too cool not to share. [face_love])

    Faradei: Marvel's version of Legolas. Just put longer ears on him, really. :p Gandalf was indeed a Norse name before Tolkien borrowed that one too. ;)

    Infinity Gems: Aaaaand here is where I show my geek self. I have no shame. ;) There are six Infinity Gems in total, each one with a different color and power. We saw the blue stone, the Tesseract, in the Avengers; the red stone, the Aether, in Thor II; and the purple stone in Guardians of the Galaxy. I also prefer to use the backstory for the gems we had in Guardians of the Galaxy - with the stones being left over from six singularities that existed before the universe's beginning, compressed into concentrated forms with the birth of the cosmos.

    The green stone - the Soul Gem, is argued to be the most powerful. It allows its user to steal, control, manipulate, and alter souls - living or dead - and it is the gateway to an idyllic pocket universe. The Soul Gem is sentient and has a hunger for souls - thus making it the most dangerous and corrupt of all the gems. True mastery of this gem allows its user control over all living life in the universe. . . . Which is why it is probably not the best idea to let Huld have it.

    Using all of these stones together, with the Infinity Guantlet, is the only way to defeat Thanos - which I assume is what the Marvel movies are leading up to. Seeing how Loki has wielded each of these six gems successfully in the comics, it makes sense that he can handle the wear and tear that comes with wearing that Gauntlet, and I assume that his master-plan centers around these gems and Thanos' defeat. (Especially as we already know that the Guantlet is in Asgard's vaults - you could see it in Thor). But, more about that later. ;)


    Now, until next time! [:D]


    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
  11. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Oh that was sheer superlativeness! You are a mythos-creator of tremendously great proportions. ^:)^ =D= =D=
     
  12. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Nyota's Heart: Why thank-you so much! [:D]

    Now, here we are with more! I have a few notes for this plot arch, but I will add them at the end of the next chapter, that way I do not spoil anything. ;)

    That said, enjoy! :)






    Part V

    The starscape of Huld's Keep gave way to a world of silver mists and violet skies.

    They appeared next to a bubbling river, shallow and swiftly flowing over a rocky bed beneath. Massive willow trees threw dancing shadows over the water, while tiny, golden lights glittered against the fading blue sunlight above. In the distance, the marshlands gave way to a pine forest, which swept over a ragged range of mountains – some of which even floated in the distance, given the moon's odd concept of gravity.

    “Where are we?” Ullr was the first one to ask. “Is this another between-world?”

    “Hardly,” Loki answered. “We are on a moon - a satellite of Niflhemir, I would guess, judging by the mist.”

    Sure enough, fog billowed in cool curtains all around them, taking on wispy, incorporeal shapes before shifting and reforming again. The mist caused water to bead against their skin and dampen their clothes. The air smelled of rain-soaked flowers and heavy dew, sweet and wet and clean all at once.

    “This moon is familiar,” Sif commented, glancing at her surroundings. “Have we been here before?”

    Loki narrowed his eyes at the mists, and set his jaw. “Once,” his answer was clipped. “And that is an experience I do care to repeat.”

    He did not say anything more before setting off, walking in an easterly direction along the river. The dancing golden lights flickered before following them, and on second glance they turned out to be small winged creatures – sprites, with delicate faces and large eyes peering out from underneath long eyelashes. Their light swam turned from gold to shades of blue and violet as they skipped over the surface of the water, trailing a strange, bell-like song in their wake. The sprites chattered against his senses, curious for his presence, but they paid him little attention when they realized that he would not reply. Instead, they floated back to tug at Ullr's cloak, their voices chirping all the while. One even tugged on a lock of his hair, while another looked in the child's ear as if searching. The boy merely smiled before brushing them away, his eyes alight for their song.

    Wisely, the sprites let Sif be. She walked with her mouth pursed. Her brow creased with a heavy contemplation. Loki did not ask her of her thoughts, and they travelled largely in silence for some time.

    “How do you know where you are going?” Ullr asked.

    “I can feel a leftover of Huld's gift,” Loki tapped the side of his temple in answer. The words came easily to his mouth, he did not even have to think for his falsehood – that was, until he was stopped by a long line of steel at his throat. He looked to his right to see where Sif had halted, her glaive extended and her eyes as hard as her weapon.

    “I do not believe Huld to be so gracious,” Sif challenged. She glanced over to Ullr, who watched them both with a poised, careful expression. She inclined her head to where a creek broke off from the river, and said, “The sprites have a nest just over that ridge. You may follow them, Ullr.”

    Ullr was smart enough to say nothing in reply. He turned without a word, and the sprites chattered in excitement to follow him. Loki swallowed against the blade at his throat, and felt the steel flush cold against his skin. Slowly, he raised both of his hands, showing his willingness to listen.

    “You wish to talk, I see?” he shaped his words pleasantly, even as he raised a dark brow in question.

    Sif did not bother with glaring in reply. Instead, her voice was as falsely saccharine as his own to say: “Now, Loki, you are going to tell me all that you have been holding back."



    .
    .

    Sure enough, there was a hollow tree holding dozens of the small faerie-folk just some steps away from the river. Ullr sat on a half-rotting stump to watch the pixies twirl and spin, trailing light and laughter in their wake. They were playful creatures, curious and innocent, and he wondered over their fascination with him before deciding that they simply did not have many travelers passing their way. His face must have been as strange to them as theirs were to him.

    Time passed, and he skipped flat, smooth stones where the creek emptied into a small pond to appease his restlessness. The pixies amused themselves by catching the stones before they sunk, and then returning them with their bell-like voices soaring - reminding Ullr of Hogun's baying hounds when they went to fetch sticks.

    Then, with such time allowed to him, he let himself think.

    Generally speaking, his mother did not keep much from him. For as long as he could remember, she was open when she spoke of the tasks she completed at the Allfather's behest, and he had grown on her stories of renown and far off worlds. Few of the tales she shared were free of peril and close calls, and yet, she had never kept anything from him – stressing for as long as he could remember that secrets and falsehoods were a cancer to any healthy relationship. She did not hide anything from him, and thus, he never hid anything from her.

    So, when she emerged from speaking with the Allmother long into the night, and then silently donned her armor and picked up her arms - saying that she would simply return later, with not a word spoken as to where she would go or what she intended to encounter, Ullr knew that it was no simple mission she took. This was no mere quest, no routine task, and he feared for her. If his mother felt the need to hide from him . . .

    So, he followed her. He reached deep inside of himself, and called upon that one part of his being that he was told to use only in shadow and secret to walk the path that remained open in her wake. It had been exhilarating to pull back the stars and find his way across the Mother's branches through his own might, his own power. Walking the ways between ways had been a thrill akin to travelling across the bifröst for the first - rushing and exhilarating and star-bright. It had felt good to use that part of himself - natural, even - and now . . .

    Ullr felt his expression dip as he thought of the strange man his mother went to find. Loki. Like every other child in Asgard, he knew that name well – each fireside tale, every curse and foul slur, seemed to both start and end with his name. Loki - the sorcerer who slayed Titans, who destroyed entire worlds and tarnished Odin's name to the point where it was hardly ever remembered that he had been raised as the Allfather's own. Thor's stories, however, painted a different picture – one not free of trickery, perhaps - but one that was different, one that was more, and Ullr was inclined to believe Thor's tales over the whisperings of the court. The court had much to say about many things - especially where he and his mother were concerned. No matter that Sif thought to shield him from what she could, he was no fool. He knew their words.

    He knew that their words . . . the low thrum of something else within him, something more . . . and this man whom Thor called brother were all connected. Ullr knew his mother, and he knew her well. He knew that sometimes her gaze would fall on him, but her eyes themselves would be far away - seeing someone else in his face and words. He was used to that expression, he was used to the pang of anger it brought - for he felt hurt for her hurts, and for years he'd held nothing but a fierce rage for whoever caused that hurt. And, yet . . . he had not once seen that expression upon her face this trip. He had not seen it, because a shadow of it was there constantly. He did not have to wait for it to appear, for it had yet to leave since the start of their journey.

    . . . and while his years were few, Ullr was not foolish . . . not in the slightest.

    He threw the next stone with more force than he first intended, and the sprites chattered, alarmed, when it sank without skipping. Anxious, they spun over the surface of the water as if they could return the stone by force of their words alone. Two of the sprites pushed at each other before a third succeeded in dunking them both. The pair flew back up through the surface, soaked and bickering, but the stone held triumphantly between them. Ullr smiled, amused for their antics.

    “Well done,” Ullr praised, and the sprites flocked over to him, their colours flickering between gold and blue and violet. Their bell-like song took on a higher pitch as they floated around his face, and for all the world he felt as if they were asking something of him. Yet, he could not understand their words. He was dumb to their wishes.

    “What a curious sight this is,” a warm voice said from behind him. Ullr started - he'd heard no footsteps approach, and his senses had been alert all the while.

    Ullr turned, surprised to see a tall man cloaked simply in green. The stranger had sharp, fae features - beautiful, as such nature spirits commonly were. His eyes were as deep and blue as the forest pool, both piercing and thoughtful at once. His dark brown hair was worn long down his back, and it curled in loose waves, as if it had recently been wet and left to dry. He held a pipe made of willow bark in his hands, and at his appearance, the sprites retreated back over the water – their voices softening as if in expectation.

    “Normally, they are a shy folk when it comes to travelers,” the man – the being, Ullr better thought - said. “They do not sing for just anyone.” The stranger had a musical voice, both soothing and lulling all at once, and the sprites seemed to sway in time to it.

    “I find that hard to believe,” Ullr answered, the corner of his mouth turning upwards. “They have scarce let me be since I arrived.”

    “Most intriguing,” the man said. His fingers tapped against the holes of the pipe he held, as if he played a tune, even when the instrument was silent. “Few are the travelers who pass this way. This moon is not a well known spot upon the Branches.”

    Ullr rolled his shoulders, feeling strangely lulled by the stranger's voice. He had to blink for his eyes to remain open. “We are here by necessity,” he answered, trying to speak through the sudden haze that had fallen over his senses. “We search for a stone of great power – or, at least, a piece of that stone. Finding this stone will save the soul of someone very dear to us.”

    The man's features turned down at his words, the beauty of his face splitting with a fey anger. “I believe that know that which you seek,” he said, and Ullr could see the sharp points of his teeth. “It rests not far from here, and mars the waters of my home with its poison.”

    Ullr blinked against the man's words, feeling a flare of feeling break through the cloud blanketing his mind. “You know where this stone is?”

    “Most certainly,” the man answered. A moment passed, heavy with expectation. “I could lead you to it, if that is your wish.”

    Distantly, a voice inside speaking from deep inside whispered for him not to trust the words of such a being. Magic existed in many creatures, and not all of them were fair. Yet, the stranger's eyes were blue and promising, and Ullr frowned as if trying to hear the chords of some far off song. A voice inside of him spoke again in warning, but the exact shape of its words seemed to be very far away. Ullr saw no reason to hesitate.

    Slowly, he felt himself standing, curiously drawn to the man at his side. Behind him, the sprites had gone very quiet. He could no longer see their light reflected in the pond.

    “Yes,” Ullr said, his voice strangely muffled, as if he spoke through a wall of water. “That would be most helpful.”

    “I am here to serve,” the man said, bowing low from the waist. This close, Ullr could see that his hair was not hair, but rather, a thin, kelp-like mass of strands. The shoulders of his cloak were dusted by what looked to be river-sand, left to crust and dry. Something tickled the back of his mind, and yet, that warning seemed to be very far away. “If you would care to follow me . . .”

    In answer, Ullr turned, ready to follow. The stranger in green waved a hand, and led the way.

    Ullr took one step, and then two. Then, with the last bit of clarity in his mind, he found it within him to ask, “What is your name?”

    “Nihhus,” the man answered after a long moment. “My name is Nihhus.”

    And, with that, he lifted his pipe to his mouth, and started to play.



    .
    .

    “Really, Sif, enough with the theatrics. You know as well as I that you do not have it within you to follow your threats through.”

    “Do I not?” her voice was a low, furious slash of sound – one that, once, Loki knew well enough to let be until she cooled from her rage. Yet, they did not have that luxury now, and he had not of the words that would satisfy her.

    The flat of her blade pressed against his throat. For a moment, he found it hard to breathe. “Would you believe me if I said that I was telling the truth?” even still, he forced his voice to remain pleasant and calm.

    “Do you take me for a fool?” Sif retorted, her eyes flashing to match the heat of her words.

    Loki swallowed, and tasted metal. “You did once,” he pointed out, and there was nothing false or light about his voice then. “Trusted me, I mean.”

    Her words were bitter in reply, “Look how far that got me.”

    He met her eyes, and batted the blade of her glaive away as if it were a child's toy. “I cannot answer in a way that will satisfy you,” he warned.

    “Then, just give me answers,” Sif returned. “I am used to finding little joy in your words.”

    “Sif,” Loki sighed, her name a weary sound from his mouth. Yet, she then surprised him – flicking her blade to slice at his neck, just barely nicking skin, but tearing the collar of his tunic and severing an unfortunately placed strand of hair in the process. He understood the motion for the warning it was, but he was more worried for what it would reveal – and he turned with a thoughtless gesture, waving a hand so that roots would pierce the ground to tangle over her feet, keeping her in place.

    But she knew him better than that, and she sidestepped his endeavor, even while she slashed at the slender branches of the willow trees when they rushed forward to seize her. At the same time she advanced forward and shoved him back with the flat of her shield – and with that one misstep, he stumbled over the stones framing the side of the river and fell back most unflatteringly into the shallow water. The cold of the river stunned him, giving Sif the moment she needed to march into the water and place the tip of her glaive at the skin of his neck again. Yet she did not press her advantage. Instead, she moved the collar of his tunic aside.

    “What are you trying to hide?” she whispered, understanding his attack for the decoy it was. Even so, her brow creased in confusion when she saw a black rune tattooed onto the skin between the base of his neck and his collarbone. The mark was new to her eyes, and the raised skin beneath the rune was most certainly something she did not recognize.

    Yet, if she did not understand what she saw, he was in no hurry to explain. Annoyed now, he waved a hand, and was pleased when the river sloshed angrily in reply – rising at his command to converge on her in a massive wave of white water. He scrambled away while Sif bit back a curse, raising her shield just in time to protect herself from the force of the onslaught. Yet, water was water, and War though she may have been, her feet were still swept out from underneath her with the force of the tide. She just barely kept herself from being washed down the river by sticking the blade of her weapon into the cracks of the riverbed, and holding on with a fierce tenacity. A moment later, he ceased the onslaught, and let the river calm again. He did not quite want to drown her, after all . . . not yet.

    Sif was soaking wet by the time she found her feet again, and limp stands from her ponytail stuck to the shoulder-plates of her armor. Her eyes, though - this he noticed with a flicker of pleasure that was completely out of place - were quite furious indeed.

    “Cheater,” she spat at him. Once, there would have been fondness in the accusation.

    Not now, though. Even still, the glint of challenge in her gaze was familiar enough. He only had his set of long daggers, but they would be enough. He drew one in each hand, bowing mockingly in order to show his intention of honoring a fair fight, and she did not waste a moment before charging him.

    After centuries spent fighting together – and against each other - he knew her, and knew her well. He knew that she would feint striking right as she charged, and he instead turned to his left in order to block her first blow. He knew that she liked to lead with her shield - surprising a foe with her brute strength when she was expected to use speed and flexibility as a woman. He caught the full brunt of the blow between his crossed blades, even as he ducked to the side in order to avoid her helm connecting with his forehead. That would have been a truly nasty blow - and an even worse headache later.

    “Predictable,” he taunted as he spun out of her reach.

    Angry now, she charged again, the long reach of her glaive having the clear advantage over his knives. Even so, he was quick, both dipping and spinning around her blows rather than returning them. He knew that he was vexing her, he knew that she wanted him let go and just fight her – for her words could provide an outlet only for so long, and he expected their time together to deteriorate to this, even if he did not have something to hide. With that thought in mind, he continued their dance. It was like their time in the training rings as children all over again as he remained just beyond her reach, well aware that he was coaxing the flames of her anger higher, but knowing that then, and only then would he have a chance with her making a mistake. Such as -

    He saw a gap between her defending and striking, leaving her vulnerable when her footwork left her off-balance for just one open moment. Viper-quick, he lunged, only to have her close in on that gap – she had lured him into it, he realized, wanting to kick himself as her shield flared gold and angry for her moment of 'weakness'. He then found himself facing the brunt of his own spells as he was thrown halfway across the clearing from the force of the angry wards.

    His body skidded to a halt, and his head hit the ground with a sickening thud. He blinked back black spots, but found his vision slow to focus. Queasy, he forced his body to right itself, determined to stay conscious as his vision spun - he had to, for within the blinking of an eye he felt Sif kneel, her knee digging into his chest to keep him still. He struggled for only a moment before she growled, “Hold still. You do not want me to miss.” Instantly, he stilled, feeling where his own dagger ripped his collar open further, before digging shallowly into his skin to reveal -

    "Hel's teeth, Sif -" he cursed at the bite of the knife, and Sif exhaled a sharp breath.

    With a start, she backed away from him. Thus freed, he did not know whether or not he was more annoyed by the wet puddles her body left, or by the stinging sensation that came from the gash in his neck. He could feel a sick surge of power roll through him when the foreign object beneath his skin was revealed to the light, and he hastily slammed his shields down over the shard before it drew every power-hungry beast on the moon their way.

    “You cheated,” he informed her crossly, sitting up so that he could rub at the knot growing on the back of his head. “Admirably so, might I add.”

    Yet, Sif ignored him in favor of staring, dumbstruck, at the shard of a bright orange stone - brightly glowing from the ruined nest of his skin. Understanding widened her furious eyes as her gaze snapped back to him. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked.

    “That depends,” Loki returned sullenly. “What do you think it is?”

    “An Infinity Stone,” Sif snapped. “Or, part of one. What . . . what madness . . .” her eyes then focused. Her gaze sharpened. “How many?” she demanded, War pulsing in her words. “How many do you have . . . hidden away like this?”

    He considered a lie, and yet, found no reason to do so. If he pushed her, he had no doubt that she would simply claw each one from his skin - she may have been glad to do so, even.

    “Five shards,” he answered. “So far, that is.”

    “So far?” Sif repeated, dumbfounded. “To what end? Is this a bid for power, for control, or do you again -”

    “ - because I have proven that power is my sole reason for existence, it's true,” Loki interrupted harshly. For just that moment, her lack of faith was as a wound itself - for he had never wished for a crown or godhood or omnipotence or any of those ridiculous things that were now attached to his name. He had once thought that she understood that – that he had proved that in those final days against Thanos, even. Yet, now . . .

    “Do not take that tone with me,” Sif returned harshly. “You know that is not what I thought of you, nor it is what I think of you now. And yet . . .”

    He saw it in her eyes – the accusation, the betrayal – and he felt himself swallow against it. That was rich, coming from the likes of her, a low, vicious part of himself could not help but think. For her to speak of betrayal, of wounds . . . All he had done – from leading the Chitauri against the Earth, to binding Thanos in chains - had been a series of events, each done to mend one mistake after another. For he had fallen, fallen from the bifröst – unable to bear the hurtconfusionlove in Thor's eyes and the regretdisapointmentnothingness in Odin's expression - only to land in Thanos' hold, far beneath the Mother's roots. And those days following . . . oh, those days . . .

    Loki would speak to no one of the things he had seen whilst in the Mad Titan's grasp, not even to Sif. He could not . . . he would not.

    “You do not understand,” he all but hissed the words. He touched the blood dripping down to stain his torn collar, and grimaced. “You do not know what I have seen!”

    “Then tell me!” Sif exclaimed, exasperation fighting with the hurt in her voice. “Always, always, you hold these fears inside yourself until they turn as poison - rotting your heart of all good emotion and fair intention. If you would but share with another, trust another - ”

    “Do you want to hear of what I saw after my fall, Sif? Do you truly?” he challenged her. He was slow to stand again, but when he did, he advanced on her. He had but little height over her, and her ridiculous helmet stood taller than him, but he still used his slight advantage to stare down into her eyes. He watched where their hazel color flickered, taking on a shade of grey, searching . . .

    “No,” he breathed a moment later. “You do not wish to hear. Not even you, with all of the war in your veins, could stand to hear my tale. I would not burden you . . . not with this.”

    He watched where she swallowed, where she refused to blink. The orange light from the jagged shard of the Time Stone pulsed between them, playing an ugly counterpoint to the hazy purple and grey landscape around them. He watched the flickering shapes the stone's light cast against her skin, and exhaled.

    “I would help bear your burden, if you but trusted me,” still Sif insisted. There was steel enough in her voice that, for a moment, he wanted to believe her. “You claim that I do not understand, and yet, the only one who can fix that lack of understanding is you.”

    “It does not matter,” a long moment passed before he could bring himself to step back from her. He felt as the silver mist billowed to fill the space he left. “This time, not only will I subdue Thanos, I will destroy him. I will return him to Death as he is sworn to her, and let her have her most adoring servant back in pieces.”

    “Yet, this is too much!” Sif returned, stepping forward and destroying the boundary he created. Her words were hot with the fervor of her belief, and yet, he could not tell whether or not she spoke in fear of the power he would try to control (the power he would control), or fear for him. The last thought was a dangerous thought – one that promised only pain as its reward, and so, he forced it away.

    “This is something that no one being should ever attempt to wield,” she continued to insist. “It almost destroyed you last time, and that was with the Gauntlet aiding you. No . . . no. I will not watch as you tear yourself apart. I will not let you do that again!”

    “And that is why I am doing it this way,” Loki gestured to the still open gash at his neck. “The Gauntlet is destroyed, but if I absorb the Stones slowly and accustom myself to their power bit by bit, then, by the time Thanos breaks free of Huld's Keep, I will be ready to face him.”

    “You will destroy yourself,” Sif returned flatly. “You will destroy yourself, and you may just take the Mother with you through your arrogance in chaining such a force.”

    “If that is the price I must pay,” Loki returned, his voice free of feeling to match, “then so be it.” For he always fixed his mistakes, he always paid his debts, and this would be no different.

    A moment passed, long and terse with silence. Sif looked at him as if she could not understand his being, as if she could not recognize his face. For a moment, he wished that she would simply turn her steel on him again and save him the weight of such a stare.

    “Is that why you agreed to help me?” she asked after a long moment. Her voice sounded nauseous, as if her stomach turned in expectation of the answer she would hear. “Did you ever intend to help me return Thor to his place? Or did you simply need . . .” she swallowed, and had to try again. She gave a dry, brittle laugh. “Of course, you are only aiding me for the Stone. It was foolish of me to expect anything else. By the Mother, Loki, but, just this once you could have - ”

    Yet, her angry words – her hurt words – gave way when her eyes sharpened. Her gaze turned with a frightening intensity as she tilted her head to the side, listening for something in the distance. Just as quickly, Loki understood what was wrong. A cold feeling lanced through him, taking a shape he had thought himself dead to feeling for many years now.

    “The sprites no longer sing,” Sif said, a terrible iciness in her voice.

    “The boy,” Loki sighed, seconding her realization, and he was only a step behind her as they turned and ran in the direction Ullr had disappeared.






    Soooo . . . I did not intend for this story to have so many cliffhangers. Neither did I plan on all of this bickering. But, apparently, these two have a lot to get off of their chest. ;)

    Until next time. [:D]


    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
  13. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    On the bickering -- lot of misunderstandings and silences to wade through I would imagine. The emotions between these two are such a humongus thorny tangle...

    I love the depth and wisdom and insightfulness of Ullr's scene =D= Nihhus seemed such a harmless sort until :eek: - but the sprites and entire moon in general - very inviting and enchanting.
     
  14. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Nyota's Heart: Why thank-you! A humongous thorny tangle really is the best way to put it. :oops: And, to add to that . . . [face_mischief]

    Here we go . . .







    Part VI

    The idea was a vague, distant one, and yet, Ullr felt as if he should be searching for something. Only, he could not recall what that something was.

    It was hard to think about anything more than the slow, sad song the stranger played on his pipe. The tune was simple, haunting in its plea; the melody ever lifting and falling . . . lifting . . . and falling. Ullr's eyes drifted shut as the song matched the slow, lazy pulse of his heart. Every step he took fell in time with its rhythm, seconding his every breath.

    Ahead of him, Nihhus walked, not a word spoken as he coaxed his song from the pipe. He did not once look back, and the mists seemingly parted for him and his song. Ullr stared at the stranger's back, struggling to keep his eyes open and alert as he studied the long sway of his hair; the billowing green folds of his cloak. He tried to focus, knowing that he should remember something for the kelp in Nihhus' hair . . . for the curious flash of hooves underneath the hem of his garment. Yet . . . Ullr blinked, and found his thoughts as slippery as river stones. He could not grasp them.

    He tried once, and then twice, to make use of his voice. When he at last found his voice, it was as if he spoke from far away to ask: “Where are we going?”

    “Do not worry, child. We are nearly there,” Nihhus answered, only pausing his song for a note's time. In those few seconds, his mind tried desperately to sharpen, while something, something seemed to spark inside of him, rising to touch the underside of his skin with a thousand flaming fingers. Something built underneath his bones, as if looking for a way out through his pores, through the thin places in his skin. He sucked in a deep, clean breath, ready to -

    - but the music returned, and Ullr then found himself slow to remember what he searched for . . . to remember those he left behind . . . and what he even now held within him.

    And still, Nihhus continued to play.



    .

    .

    At first, Loki was not sure how to define the sharp, sick sort of emotion that rolled through him. Oh, he had felt fear enough in his time - in the form of a child's awe and respect for his once-father; in the form of terrified wonder for the power that once ran unchecked and wild through his veins; and even as terror for the things he had seen, the things he had leashed and felt bite and endured in return . . . This, however, was different. This was more.

    Even so, it was not a crippling fear he felt. Rather, he felt the overwhelming urge to act, to strike. His bones were restless, and his fingertips burned with the power he had to forcibly hold at bay. In that moment, his anger was brighter than his fear, and he glanced to see that same fury reflected in Sif's eyes. She was battle brilliant in that moment, as if preparing to lead an army onto the field of war. Her every movement was poised; her strength rippled from her as something tangible, with her might ever the fierce entity that drew soldiers to pray in her name and steel to sing in her honor.

    It had been years since he last saw such a look on her. For a moment, he stared - drawn to her as all warring beings were - before turning his attention back to their path.

    It took them but moments to reach the hollow tree where the sprites lived. The tiny faeries were buzzing anxiously, their gentle light popping from shades of bright orange to the bloodiest of reds. Loki only had to mutter a sharp, “Show me,” before the sprites hurried to reply.

    Their song was discordant, but their meaning was clear as a few dozen of the small creatures raced ahead, illuminating a path for them to follow. Those who stayed behind tugged at his cloak and tunic and hair, as if trying to draw him on faster, even when he needed no such coaxing. Wisely, they let Sif be, caring little for the steel lining her body and held naked in her hand.

    They raced down the path the sprites illuminated, and it was not long before he could hear a strain of music in the distance. It was a low, haunting melody; one of hunger and yearning, causing his blood to run cold in realization.

    “That is not . . .” Sif's voice was a swift sound, but even he could hear the note of a mother's denial underneath her words. They looked down, and saw the faintest impression of hoofprints in the damp ground, behind which Ullr's smaller step trailed, hesitant and slow. Her hand tightened about the hilt of her glaive.

    “There are many beings who sing so as to lure children, and not all of them bear ill intentions,” Loki said, unsure if he spoke to her fears or his own. “It may not be - ”

    And yet, his words were made empty when they rounded one last bend in the path to see a vast green lake stretching before them. The still waters by the shore were covered by lily-pads and spongy moss, and yet, he looked over the water to where the mists billowed in dancing shapes over the waves. For just a moment, they could glimpse a parting in the mist, and what appeared to be -

    - a horse, he realized with a sinking sensation. A water-horse, diving beneath the surface of the lake, and with him -

    “Ullr!” Sif screamed, her voice a horrible, raw sound to his ears. She wasted no time in rushing forward, as if preparing to dive into the waters then and there – armor and all.

    “Sif!” Loki exclaimed, trying to reach her. “Your steel will be useless here,” he lunged, and grabbed her wrist, holding her back. For a moment, the strength of her stride drew him forward, and he dug his feet in the ground to halt them both. “Sif, stop.”

    She turned wild eyes on him. For a moment, he did not think that she was truly aware of his presence. And yet, when her gaze focused - when he was sure that she would be still – he released her. He then wasted no time in reaching up to undo the tie of his cloak. He would not need its weight holding him down underneath the water.

    “What is that beast?” Sif asked. Her voice was more of a snarl, and she brandished her glaive as if she had a foe to strike.

    “An each-uisge,” Loki answered crisply, moving to undo the ties to his leathers next. “More malevolent than their kelpie cousins, they play enchanted songs to lure young women and children to the water. They can take many forms: from man to bird to horse. As a horse, they are harmless enough to ride upon the land, but within the water . . .” he let his voice taper off, not needing to say anything more than that. She understood.

    “Can you defeat it?” was all Sif asked. She tried to keep her voice level, but it stuck in her throat.

    “If I had his name, I could do so easily,” Loki answered, hating the note of frustration that filled his words. “Such creatures do not use seiðr in the way I do. He is an elemental spirit, and to defeat him when surrounded by his element - ” he shook his head, and forced away his scowl. There was no time for a lecture in the more inexplicable things of the Realms. He had but seconds as it was.

    Once his boots were off, he quickly moved for the shore of the lake, only to be halted by Sif's strong hand wrapping around his wrist in a vice-like grip. He looked, and saw where the hazel of her eyes was more amber than brown; shining with an anxious, desperate determination.

    “Please,” she had to swallow as she said so. “Please . . . bring my son back to me.”

    He did not have time to reply, but he did reach over to cover her hand with his own. He squeezed once, and she then let him go.

    At first, the water was shallow. He waded through the lily-pads and seaweed, before taking in a breath and diving. The waters turned deep where the sand of the shore gave way to sudden drop off. Underneath the water, Loki could not tell the lake from the great depths of an ocean – there was simply blackness beneath him and a hazy light above him as the grey sunlight shimmered down through a massive forest of underwater plants. Fish swam, their scales flickering, but they quickly dove down when they felt a telling pulse of power. Loki glanced at one of the scaled creatures, and with a resigned sort of sigh, he called on his bamrammir's spells. Shape-shifting was always a tricky business, especially when it was only a small part of his body that he wanted to transform. He would do well to focus, lest he come away from the lake completely covered in scales.

    A moment later, he felt the wet sensation of gills rippling from his neck. The fishy, green taste of the murky water filled his mouth, and he gulped in disgust - knowing he would bear that aftertaste for the next day, at least. He took a moment, letting his body acclimate to taking in oxygen through the water, rather than the air. Defiantly, his body fought the unnatural occurrence, before giving in to what the water offered, and reluctantly accepting its aid. To think that he had first been proud of himself when he figured out this particularly tricky bit of spellwork – he had most certainly surprised Thor, at least, flapping up from the fountain in Frigg's gardens . . . but, that was an old memory, one that had little meaning in the here and now. And so, he set it aside.

    He did not have to worry for Ullr drowning – not yet, he thought grimly. The each-uisge would see to it that he breathed . . . at least. for now.

    As soon as the thought crossed his mind, he looked up, finding what first appeared to be a horse underneath the surface of the water. A great bay horse swam near the surface of the waves, shades of blue and green and violet shimmering in the dark colours of his coat and fins. In both face and neck he was a horse, and he bore an equine chest and two front legs - where, upon his hooves, long, spiny fins grew. The creature's back slopped into a strong, serpent-like extension, before flaring out in a massive fishtail. The thin membranes of his fin were nearly translucent, flashing in shades of blue and green near the base, and violet and red at the tips. The being's mane was all kelp and seaweed now, and his blue eyes were alight with an ancient, elemental power as he continued to sing. He sang, and in reply . . .

    Ullr floated just before the each-uisge. His arms were out at his sides, as if he wished to swim, but had no need to. His eyes were open and wide, unblinking as they reflected the blue of the creature's power. Ullr breathed with the enchantments binding him, but Loki's relief was cut short when he noticed that each exhale the boy gave was in turn inhaled by the creature. It was not merely his life's breath the boy gave, but his life's force, he realized with a piercing sort of sensation. He could feel the child's soul rise to the surface of his skin, answering the creature's call – as it would continue to answer, until he had nothing left to give.

    Loki did not realize his intention to move, before he was, letting the currents of the lake take him up until he was eye to eye with the beast. He could not simply take the child, he knew - not without losing however much of his soul Ullr had already given. The magic binding the boy to the each-uisge was tight, at that. Loki was not sure that he could harm one without harming the other.

    Yet, while he puzzled out a solution to the situation at hand, perhaps he could slow the transfer down . . .

    You have gone too far, creature, Loki could not speak with his voice beneath he water, but he could let the water speak for him. His voice reverberated in the current; it whispered from the kelp forest, it caught on the sunlight from above.

    Slowly, the each-uisge turned to him, the light in his eyes terrible to behold.

    The child is my prize . . . the being returned in kind, his voice rippling like waves upon the shore. He is a tasty little one . . . so bright . . . bright, bright, bright . . . He could hear my song before I sang, and I am hungry . . . so hungry. Hungry, hungry, hungry . . .

    Discreetly, Loki felt along the bonds tethering the beast to Ullr. He looked for a weak-point, for a crack, but could find none. Distantly, he thought that he could move the water of the lake itself, pushing in on the each-uisge until he let the boy go. But he could just as easily harm Ullr by doing so. Yet, if he could force the water-horse to the surface . . .

    He concentrated, letting his senses find the exact shape of the lake, from the sand of its cradle to the rhythm of its current . . . He felt the waters as they danced, and he reached out to coax the levels of the lake to rise, wondering if he could -

    - No! The creature screamed. You are a thief, a nasty thief, thief, thief . . . I found him, he came to me – he answered my song, and you shall not steal him . . .

    Just as Loki tried to summon the water, his hold on the lake turned on him. He felt the current swell, and that was his only warning before a wave of water slammed into him from the side, forcing him down – down. He fought back against the water's hold, yet he was only able to slow the tide before it slammed him into the lakebed far below. He kicked back against the current, trying to spin the enchantments to answer him, but the water was not his element – it never had been, really - and the each-uisge held the clear advantage.

    Mine, mine, mine . . . the water continued to sing, and Loki felt anger flare thick and bright within him. The anger helped him – it gave his power a sharp edge, a desperate edge, and that was all he needed in order to let instinct through. He felt a verdant glow fill his eyes as he summoned the water, as he ordered it to push – to push and push and push against the creature, forcing him up. But, the each-uisge was smarter than that, and he moved Ullr to take the brunt of the current. Loki instantly pulled back, not wanting to snap the youth's neck with the force of the water, while the beast merely laughed at his efforts, as if his paltry display of power only amused him.

    Loki summoned the current again, but his moment of hesitance had cost him, and the each-usiage batted him away as if he was little more than a vexing gnat. Loki felt the tide strike him again, and he grimly held on, trying to bind the current to his will once more.

    Even so, he was slammed into the shelf of an underwater canyon, the force of his body breaking through the ancient formation of stone. He felt dizzy with the aftereffects of the blow, and he placed his hands down against the sharp points of the newly defined rock, trying to steady himself when he felt it . . .

    . . . when he felt it.

    Almost instantly, a massive flare of power burgeoned his senses. It was a bright power, a verdant power, glowing with the heat of a star beneath black depths of the lake. It was the power of souls he felt, and he looked down to see where a dull green glow made it through a crack in the bottom of the underwater canyon. It was there, there . . . if he could only figure out a way to free it from its prison of stone.

    This was the last shard of the Soul Gem, Loki realized – and with it, he also understood the power of the each-uisge, his abnormal hunger at last making sense. While these creatures were known for feeding on their victims as such, there was a nearly crazed hunger about this particular being - one that Loki had not first understood. Now . . .

    He looked down, and was nearly tempted to simply grab the stone and flee. Sif would never know what became of him beneath the surface of the water, and would most likely assume him dead . . . Huld would most likely assume him dead, that train of thought continued, whispering its siren's song. Thus unburdened, Loki could then continue his quest for the rest of the Infinity Stones in peace – peace, and quiet. Once, there would have been no thought to the choice. No question.

    Loki swam down to reach for the stone, only thinking that it was close, so close . . .

    . . . and yet.

    He then thought of the wide, eager way that Ullr took in anything and everything around him. He remembered the curiosity in his eyes, and the fearlessness in his step. He remembered the terror in Sif's voice; the heartbreaking plea she had turned on him before his descent. True fear had shone in her eyes, and he had felt her fear – her pain – as his own, feeling empathy for another being as he had not in much too long. In that moment, he had wanted nothing more than to sooth her pain in any way he could, and he had been determined to bring Ullr back from whence he was taken.

    But now, with the Stone just beyond his reach . . . He moved forward, ready to find a way to free the shard from its prison of earth, when he felt the each-uisge shine even brighter in the water above him. He was feasting, Loki knew, and soon, it would be too late for Sif's son.

    Sif's son . . . Thor's son.

    In one way, the knowledge was a pain of its own – for he had ever feared that he was little more than an amusement to her, a placeholder in her affections until she could move up to claim the ultimate prize that Asgard had to offer. He had long resigned himself to the enormity of his devotion – for him there would be her, and only her, even when she would inevitably move on to claim what had long been hers for the taking. He had thought to accept that, and then knew how wrong he was when he saw the fruit of that long expected union standing real before him. It had been a pain greater than any of Thanos' cruel amusements, and for a moment, he had not been able to breathe.

    Even so, he now felt an ache of a different sort, knowing that his actions would condemn her to the unthinkable heartache of mourning a child. He next thought of condemning Thor to that pain . . . of heaping the worst sort of suffering upon both of their shoulders. Perhaps, once, there would have been a sweet sort of vengeance in doing so - a petty sort of bandage for the ache of his own bruised feelings . . . but he had come far since those days, and such an idea only wearied him now.

    He would not . . . he could not put them through such an agony. Not by his own hand.

    Frustrated by the weakness of his heart, he kicked up from the lakebed once more. Up and up he swam, drawing the currents and forcing the water to yield to him, to obey . . . The lake raged from its cradle, and the waves above bubbled over with white foam. Still he called the waters forward, forcing the depths to bend to his will.

    Release the boy, this time he shaped his words as a command. The lake flooded with his power, eating at the strands binding the each-uisge to the boy. He would not be moved, not this time, and he watched where the each-uisge slipped with holding his spells. He faltered.

    And then . . . Ullr blinked.

    Ullr blinked, and the hazel of his eyes filled with green . . . such a bright, familiar green . . . so much so that Loki felt something deep inside of him twist in understanding. Where Loki had to force the water to take on a shape pleasing to him, the child simply raised his hands, and the lake halted in answer. It calmed, swirling around them with a gentle ebb and flow. The power in the single motion was chilling with its unspoken might - nearly as chilling as the ancient sort of knowing the boy adopted as he stared at the creature. Slowly, he inhaled, taking back what he had given of his soul, even as the each-uisge struggled and kicked – unable to ignore the child's call.

    Slowly, Ullr tilted his head to the side, and the corner of his mouth lifted in an expression that could not quite be called a smile. In that expression, there was familiarity too.

    “Nihhus,” the water sloshed and foamed at the command, speaking Ullr's words though the might of their weight. “Nihhus, I name you, and bid that you cease.”

    At the sound of his name, the each-uisge gave an ear-shattering shriek in reply. Just that simply, the spells connecting him to the boy gave way. They snapped. With their severance, Loki wasted no time in taking advantage of the calm spell Ullr had brought upon the water. He summoned the waves once more, a black rage filling him as he pressed against the creature with everything he had. He pushed and pulled and found both tender flesh and delicate gill, sending the water to fill, to drown, as the creature had done to so many others. The force of the current became as a hand underneath his control, and he squeezed, he twisted.

    In the end, there was little left of Nihhus to send to the lakebed below, where the sands would cover him and the kelp forests would thrive as they grew. And yet, Loki could not bring himself to feel pity, not when he watched where the child now faltered from the vast amount of power he had just recently controlled. Ullr's eyes flickered shut – his gaze now the same, familiar hazel of Sif's eyes, and tiny bubbles dotted the water by his mouth. With Nihhus gone, the spells that allowed him to breathe were gone as well - and Loki knew from experience the weariness that came after handling too much raw power when so untrained. Ullr was not able to swim for himself, and, unconscious, his body reflexively gulped in water while trying to find air.

    With that thought in mind, Loki wasted no time in swimming up to Ullr, taking the youth in his arms and kicking mightily for the shore.

    What took but seconds seemed as hours instead. As soon as he broke the surface, he was aware of Sif's strong arms helping to pull them both from the embrace of the lake. He took her hand, and allowed her to pull him to his feet; then, together, they pulled Ullr to the shore.

    “Is he . . .” Sif's voice was a hoarse sound as they laid the boy down on the sand.

    Loki shook his head. “His soul is his own,” he answered, bending over so as to catch his breath. With a moment's thought, he righted his own flesh once more, feeling as his gills fell into his skin and his body reverted to its natural order. There was an odd moment of air once again filling his lungs, and he swallowed away the unpleasant taste of algae and fish.

    “He is simply recovering from swallowing too much water,” Loki explained once recovered. That was fixed by pressing down rhythmically on the youth's chest, coaxing Ullr's body to cough up the water he had inhaled. Sif watched anxiously, touching her child's face as if to make certain that he was whole and unharmed.

    “Why does he not awaken?” Sif asked next. She bit her lip, her eyes furiously searching for some harm they may have missed, for some wrong she could set to right.

    “That,” Loki answered slowly, “is more difficult to answer.” He felt his own throat burn with his words, as if he still spoke around a wall of water. For a moment, he could not speak with the enormity of their meaning . . . with the certainty of their implication.

    “I was not the one to break Nihhus' spells,” he finally said, feeling as a stone settled in his stomach. “Ullr was . . . and, as with many a young seiðrmanðr who attempts to harness a power beyond their control, his body is merely exhausted. He must now recover.” He felt his words harden, his eyes turn cutting as he looked over to find a still, blank expression on Sif's face.

    “So, I shall ask you again, Sif,” he forced his words to remain as pleasant as they could. “Is there anything else about your son that you wish to tell me?”







    End Notes:

    Each-uisge: Pronounced ach-ish-ka, the each-uisge is a creature from Scottish lore. Celtic mythology is full of water-horses, but this one is of a more malicious nature. He would indeed lure women and children to ride on his back on land, but upon reaching the water, his skin became adhesive, and he would then drown and eat his victims. Such spirits could be known by the kelp in their hair, the sand on their clothes, and the hooves hidden beneath their hems. I mixed Nihhus' character with a Nix (Neck, Nøkk, Nixie, Nicor etc.), which is another water-horse that can take the form of a beautiful man or a massive bird. Some Nix are even said to have the form of mermaids, depending on which version of the tale you go with. The Nix is not always malevolent, and they love playing their songs for women and children. When a Nix does get 'hungry', they can be defeated simply by speaking their name. 'Nihhus' is the Old High German word for Nix, and also their word for 'crocodile', which I found more than fitting. :)

    The Moon: Niflheimr translates to 'Mist-home', so I designed a moon of Niflheimr around billowing mists, and the rest grew from there.

    Loki's Shapeshifting: This was his most often used trick in the myths, believe it or not. (One that got him into trouble, more than it helped, it always seems. :p) He was said to have transformed into a salmon more than once in the legends, so I figured that it would be a simple thing for him to give himself gills for a moment. Bamrammir is an Icelandic term that I found in the Sagas that refers to shape-shifting, so I borrowed it here. :)

    . . . speaking of! The whole underwater battle – talk about something I never imagined myself writing, and kind of muddled my way through as I went! 8-}:oops: I hope that it came across clearly to read. It was much clearer in my head. :p

    But now . . . until next time. [face_mischief]

    [:D]



    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
  15. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superlative details and gripping! =D= I really cannot tell where your original conceptions begin - they merge so gorgeously with the mythicness. @};- @};-
     
  16. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Nyota's Heart: Thank you so very much! It has been interesting weaving all of the bits and pieces together, that is for sure. 8-}[face_love]


    Now, for something a little more heart-to-heart than bickering, per say . . . I hope that you enjoy! :)




    Part VII

    So, I shall ask you again, Sif,” he forced his words to remain as pleasant as they could. “Is there anything else about your son that you wish to tell me?”

    His words hit like stones against her ears.

    Grimly, she set her mouth. She took in a deep breath, fortifying herself as she met his eyes – finding them cold in color, like chips of green stone. He knew, she understood then . . . perhaps, he had always known, even if he did not always understand his knowing himself.

    Sif squared her chin, and turned away from him. Loki knew, and they would have this conversation, but first, she had her son to worry over – their son, she forced her mind to amend. His need for explanations could wait.

    Above them, the blue sun did not set, so much as darken. The purple skies flushed with night as three great moons appeared overhead, sisters to the satellite whose face they walked upon. The mists billowed, giving tantalizing shapes of the cosmos overhead, but with the darkening of the sun, the temperature dropped to match. The moon already bore a cool climate, but the cold now prickled at her skin as frost blew its delicate breath upon the land. She did not care to see what else the moon had to offer in the way of foes, and instead of answering him, she said: “We need to get Ullr somewhere safe for the night. And warm.”

    Loki's glare was still hard, but she watched where he swallowed. He blinked, understanding what he had been prepared to ignore in order to hear her words. Ullr's skin was still pallid; sickly pale and cold to the touch. Yet, he was breathing peacefully, and his heartbeat was strong and sure underneath her searching fingers. In their youth, she had seen Loki work himself into such comas while learning to control his gifts; but while her rational mind knew that Ullr would awaken once more, the sight of him as such was still a blow to her.

    Her son had never seemed frail to her eyes. Even when he was born – small, so very small, as if he were some faerie creature rather than her flesh and blood – there had still been something hardy underneath his softness, whispering of his heritage and his years of greatness to come. As he settled into her arms, it had only taken a moment before everything she felt up until then – regret and terror and such a bruising sort of pain – disappeared, replaced instead by the fierce urge to protect, to cherish the child she held. Ullr became her life's meaning and driving force, and now . . .

    Sif touched Ullr's face one last time, and swallowed away her mother's worries in favor of those practical. “We need some place out of this mist,” she stated, looking to Loki for an answer. He too was staring down at Ullr, and his eyes snapped back to her almost guiltily, as if she'd caught him doing something he ought not.

    “Yes,” he shook his head as if to clear a haze. “Of course.”

    Loki stood, and dried himself with a wave of seiðr. He then donned his forgotten boots and leathers, not once looking away from her and their son. “There are caves not far from here,” he said as he tied his cloak around his neck once more. He gestured to the west, where the marshlands gave way to the start of the mountains.

    Sif nodded as she strapped her shield to her back. She next shortened her glaive to fit within its holster, before kneeling down to scoop Ullr up in her arms. Loki knew better than to ask to carry the boy in her stead, but he did touch the child's brow, drying him with the same unspoken spell he had used on himself. After a word of power whispered aloud, Ullr's weight turned light in her arms. Yet, when she went to thank Loki, he had already turned from her, and walked ahead.

    They journeyed in silence, not having to travel far to find where the river picked up from the lake and wound through a series of steep waterfalls and jagged crags. One of the rocky supports for the waterfalls was obliging with a cave both deep and tall enough for them to pass the night in. Loki waved his hand, drying the ground of its puddling water, while another muttered word warded the mouth of the cavern with a dancing green barrier, protecting them from any unwanted visitors during the night. Once, the routine had been a familiar one between them, and she bit her lip as her memories threatened to crash over her. Stubbornly, she shrugged her thoughts aside, needing not of their weight.

    Ullr lost his pack when Nihhus took him, so she instead moved to unfasten her own cloak for him. Yet, she was beat to doing so when Loki undid his own cloak for the child to sleep on. The garment was voluminous enough to protect the boy from the cold stone of the cavern floor, while still covering him for the night as well.

    Sif stared, and his gaze fluttered away after a moment. “I handle the cold better than you,” he muttered in explanation. “It is in my blood.”

    Loki said no more than that as she settled Ullr in for the night, but she watched as he touched Ullr's chest, enchanting the cloak covering him for warmth – as he once would have done for all in their group when the nights spent far from Asgard turned cold around them. In the beginning, he had done so without their knowing, and she had thought it due to her own tenacity that she slept warm and comfortable no mater where she rested her head. Later, as they grew older and at last understood the weight of his magicks, the enchantments became routine between them. Even the Warriors Three would stay their tongues and accept Loki's seiðr in this way – if in this way alone.

    She squared her jaw, needing not of her memories . . . not now.

    Yet, Loki was blind to her inner turmoil. Instead, he was still looking down on Ullr as if the child was a riddle, a fascinating thing. He settled the cloak about Ullr once more, making sure that the he was as comfortable as could be. Loki touched his face, he smoothed back the unruly curls of his black hair, the tips of his fingers lingering in wonder as he studied the small features in a new light. While his eyes were shadowed, he did not fight the soft sort of look that furrowed his brows, that touched his mouth in the faintest of smiles. He was then a father tucking his son in for the night, and the knowledge of the many such nights lost between them was as a blade between her rib-bones.

    He would have made an excellent father, the thought ghosted across her mind, unwanted and unspoken. She brushed it aside, hating the way her eyes burned, the way her stomach turned hollow with the weight of her regret, with the weight of her wanting. It was a fruitless yearning, one that she had hoped to fade in time . . . and yet, it still had not.

    The lost years – all of them, even the disgruntled ones before his fall – settled on her chest like a weight, and she found it hard to breathe.

    She stood then, suddenly unable to sit still. Without a word, she stepped through Loki's barrier, and went beyond the cave to collect wood for a fire. Thankfully, the cold air sharpened her senses to a near painful degree as she took her time alone to think. She needed a moment to process, to decide what she would say when she returned. Truthfully, she had been rehearsing this speech for decades, and she had done all the more so since Ullr first followed her. She knew that Loki would find out eventually, and yet, now . . .

    Her task was completed much too quickly, for the underbrush was thick with fallen branches and stray limbs. She did not have to worry about the damp wood as she normally would have, for Loki waved a thoughtless hand, and an orb of green light turned into a dancing tongue of verdant flame as it settled upon the kindle. The wet wood popped as the water evaporated underneath the heat, and she started with the first loud sound in the quiet. She had some rations to feed them, and she could find game in the glen beyond if she needed to, but she was not hungry, and Loki did not look to be, either.

    Instead, he sat before one side of the fire while she sat opposite of him, the heat growing between them and painting dancing shadows on the walls. Ullr still did not wake, and Loki stared at the flames as if to keep himself from turning to stare at the boy again. She watched where his mouth clenched, where he gathered his words.

    And patiently, Sif waited.

    At long last, Loki gave a deep sigh. His voice was soft as he muttered: “His seiðr? Does he have a mentor?”

    She swallowed, not expecting this first. She blinked, for she had prepared herself for anger, for bitter barbs and furious accusations. She had prepared for his pain, for the way he would lash out as an animal backed into a corner and showing teeth so as to hide a wound from a predator. For that, she was more than ready. She was not sure how to handle his softness . . . his whispers.

    “Faradei knew the truth about Ullr, and his gifts, without me having to speak a word,” Sif answered. Her throat was dry; she had to fight to find her speech. “He has seen to Ullr himself whenever he can find the time away from his crown. For when he cannot, he has sent Áldís to Asgard – to aid Eir in her duties, officially – but she is there for Ullr, and Ullr alone.”

    The ancient elven woman had tutored Loki when he was fostered on Álfheimr, all of those years ago. She watched where a line in his throat turned tight, where he had to work for his breath. He nodded. “That is good,” he muttered. “Does . . .” he started awkwardly, but he did not need to complete his sentence. She understood.

    “No one else knows,” she finished for him. “Thor knew from the beginning, and what Thor knows, Jane knows as well. Ullr fascinates her, truth be told, and she tries to understand his magic in the small ways her human sciences can explain . . . But that is it. It has not been easy to keep his seiðr a secret, but any of his . . . flares have occurred far from the public eye. So far, I have been able to shield him from any unkind attention.”

    But only so far, she knew, for the truth about her son was ever just waiting to be exposed. It would only take once for even the dumb eyes of Asgard to understand without her having to say a word. She sighed, feeling the weight of her decisions – past and present – press in against her with many pains.

    “It is better that way,” Loki inclined his head. “Even without my name . . . Asgard is not a kind home to mages.”

    There was a simple truth to his words, no bitterness or anger, and she could not disagree with him, not even to defend the home she loved and spent her every breath serving. For all of its gild and glitter, Asgard was old and set in its ways; and sometimes, its immortal staleness was wearying with its deepest flaws. It had been difficult enough to support Loki through Asgard's prejudices, even before certain . . . revelations about his heritage had been made. Even still, she had not completely understood the weight he endured under until it was her son who faced the same criticism . . . the same scorn. She merely hoped that Ullr's love for arms, when combined with his abilities as an enchanter, would stay the unkind tongues waiting to wag in the days to come. It was a thin hope, but one she constantly prayed to.

    She bit her tongue, wanting to say that she once would have been proud to bear his name, to give her son that same name, even. Even now she wished that Ullr did not have to learn his magicks in the shadows; that he did not have to seek afar for a teacher in the mystical arts. Rather, Ullr would he his father's son as much as he was her own, and Sif would stand as both vanguard and shield for them both against any unkind mouth who would dare say otherwise. Yet, she had waited too long, and since lost her chance. With the ignorance of her younger years, she had so desperately wanted to make her own name, to forge her own path without it being said that she bore her renown due to her involvement with a prince. She already had to fight the whispers about her fast ascension through the ranks due to her friendship with Thor, and she had not wanted to add fuel to those flames with it being known that she took the second son of Odin as a bedmate - let alone binding herself to him as a spouse.

    . . . long ago, she thought Loki to understand her reasoning. She thought him to accept and support her decision to keep their long affair hidden in the shadows. But, in later days, when his mind collapsed in on itself and turned as poison against his heart, she had often worried for her decision being yet one more arrow to add to a quiver of such doubts and pains. She had long since wondered, in dark, lonely moments . . . had she been bound to him in every way . . . if they were already married, if they already had a child, even . . . would he have reacted the way he did when confronted with the truth of his changeling identity? If she could have soothed his mind in those earliest of days, before things had turned from rain to tempestuous storm . . . could his course have been swayed?

    While she knew that no amount of actions on her part could ever truly mend the fractures in his spirit – such things would have to come from within himself - she had played her own role in his fall. She had played her part, much as they all had, this she could bitterly admit. For Loki to instead think that she hid out of shame, or worse – that she was merely biding her time until she could finally turn Thor's eye her way . . . She exhaled, knowing that what at first was a fracture was now as a gaping chasm; one that she was unsure of how to bridge, one that she was unsure if even could be bridged.

    “Why did you not tell me?” Loki finally asked, his words barely audible over the crackling of the flames. A line finally entered his voice, hard and hurt, but this she knew how to better handle.

    Sif drew her eyes up from the purple base of the enchanted flames, and forced herself to meet his gaze. “Things were a bit sudden in those days,” she started. “By the time that I found out that no, I was not suffering from some rare form of poisoning, you were already long gone from any place that we could find.”

    She took in a breath, trying to gather her words. She had grieved his death twice in her life; once with his fall from the bifröst, and once again when Thor announced him slain on the dark sands of Svartálfheimr. Each time she had let her grief fill her, before accepting her loss and carrying on by throwing herself into the violence of her work. Odin had not been the same following Frigg's death, and she had thought that, when coupled with the loss of a son he had never made peace with, to be the reason for his strange change in behavior. Even so, she had loyally followed her king, traveling from one end of the universe to the next, searching out rumors of great power. Her hunt had been for the Infinity Stones, she now understood – for she had played her part in Loki's web of schemes the same as they all had.

    . . . perhaps, she should have suspected from the beginning. Perhaps, in her heart of hearts, she did suspect. She should have known solely from the way Allfather's eyes lingered on her . . . and lingered not in a way that the father of the two men most dearest to her life should ever look. Even the court had noticed Odin's glances, and they had whispered over the possibility of Odin taking a new bride, of fathering a new heir in answer to Thor's disinterest in the throne. Only on that final, fateful day when the cosmos trembled underneath Thanos' approaching step, when all of the Realms banded together at Odin's – at Loki's – command had she finally understood.

    Sif could still remember the exact moment when Loki's spell fell away with her accusation - for he no longer had a reason to hide. Odin's tired, careworn face had shimmered, the illusion falling to reveal Loki upon Odin's throne; Loki in Odin's place; Loki alive where she had once again grieved and mourned him for dead.

    His expression had been smug . . . so very smug. She could still remember the hot feeling that flooded through her veins at the sight. She had only thought of wiping the arrogant, pleased expression from his face – the same expression he always wore when she unwound one of his threads of mischief. She had stalked across the throneroom with the intention of doing him a true harm, but he had not moved from Odin's throne as she stood before him, and -

    . . . she had not intended to kiss him, and she most certainly had not intended to let things escalate from there. She had meant to strike him – and she would still do so later. Yet, in that moment, all she felt was hurt and fury and an all consuming relief. He was alive - alive - where she had once again grieved and thought him dead. The years apart - the years of watching him tear himself apart while she convinced herself that she felt nothing, absolutely nothing - filled her as she shoved her hands into his hair in order to keep him from pulling away. In the end, she did not have to force him to do anything as he recovered enough from his surprise to return her kiss with a violence of his own. It had been a battle of a different sort as her hands tugged and his mouth turned demanding, but war it was as they came together in a furious clash of anger and need. There had been little tenderness between them, but her eyes had burned as she closed them in a travesty of pleasure, hiding her grief from his gaze. Once, after the heat between them retreated to a dull glow and she then realized the discomfort of her position – the soreness of her knees against the unforgiving gold, and the bruises at her hips - he had brushed his mouth against her neck and whispered her name in a way that was more exhale than speech. But that was only for a moment, and then the moment was gone.

    It had not taken long for him to reveal the whole of his plan, as she was then powerless to stall his gambit. Rather, she could only aid him - for Thanos himself was coming, and the Mother fairly shook in the wake of his approach. The mad Titan wished to offer the very universe to Death as he adored Her, sacrificing more souls than sickness and mortality could ever hope to reap on their own. With the six Infinity Stones, such an offering would be possible . . . the six Infinity Stones Loki had collected, specifically for the Titan's downfall. This she quickly put together as he spoke, at last realizing her own agency in his plans. She had been the one to recover the Soul Gem in the first place, fighting side by side with a being named Adam Warlock in order to accomplish the Allfather's ends. It was all or nothing that Loki gambled with to the highest degree, she had realized, all but overwhelmed with the enormity of his stratagem.

    He needed Odin's name and title for access to Asgard's armies, he continued to explain. But, more than that, he needed Odin's ability to command all of the Realms into action. Through his political manhandling, Loki had managed to bind the Aesir – the Einherjar, the celestial forces of the Valkyrie, and every farmer with a sickle – together with each Vanir and Elf and Dwarf and even Jötunn who would answer his call. Thor's human comrades from Midgard joined the fight, along with the far off denizens of the galaxy - from the forces of Nova, to the Guardians, to the Elders, and even the Eternals (who wanted their wayward kinsman chained more so than any other). All of them joined forces with every race and being and entity who had suffered underneath Thanos' iron rule for far too long. Silver words and guile had been all Loki had needed to weave them all together in a vast tapestry, even as he used Odin's name to slip into Asgard's Vault and find the Infinity Gauntlet hidden therein . . .

    There are other ways, she had still argued as they raced through the halls together. Her rage swam black and electric underneath the fervor of alive, he is alive that she still could not wholly suppress. Yet, she had scorned, unable to hold back her biting words, you must take the showman's way, and play us all as pieces upon a board, rather than simply speaking -

    - and who would have listened to me? Loki had returned, still straightening his clothes as they went. He gave an exasperated sigh when he realized that she had torn his collar in her quest to more quickly reveal the skin of his neck. Would you have believed me? . . . would Thor have? Do not bother with a lie, Sif, you have not the talent for it.

    And so, she had fallen silent . . . for he was right. She would not have believed him.

    The battle had passed so quickly after that, everything rushing by in a blur of lives lost and saved across a hundred battlefields the whole universe wide . . . She had moved and fought and warred as she was the very essence of, and when Loki had at last donned the Gauntlet, and moved against Thanos himself . . .

    She did not have the words to describe her horror and wonder for the power he had wielded . . . she did not then, and she most certainly did not now.

    “After the battle, Thor tried to find you,” Sif continued, swallowing to wet her throat enough to form her words. “Not to try you for your crimes, or anything else you might have thought, but to find you . . . He wanted you there when he took the throne; he wanted you by his side, as he ever has.”

    “And you?” Loki carefully asked. “Did you wish for my return?”

    She set her mouth, pushing down her thoughts lest they shone too brightly from her eyes. “I rehearsed what I would say if you returned,” she answered simply. “If you would have came, I would have told you. You deserved that much.”

    Loki was silent for a moment. He opened his mouth, and then closed it. “I would have -”

    “ - married me?” Sif finished sardonically. “Provided my bastard son a father and preserved the delicate thread of my reputation? Please, I needed not of such protection.”

    “No, you do not,” his throat worked. “And yet . . .” he faltered, his great gift for words failing him.

    She sighed, feeling her weariness reach down to touch her bones. “I did not want you to chain yourself to Asgard – to me – because you felt that you were forced to,” she said dully. “I wanted things to be different; I wanted you to find peace, not because you had to as a husband or a father, but because you wanted to. I would not have bound you to a life you could not bear. Worse, I would not have that bitterness later turn towards me, or towards our son. You, more so than most, know full well that what a father does and does not say may do more harm to a child than good.”

    She looked, and saw a flashing in his eyes. For, even when he was at his worst, she did not have to doubt whether or not he would do right by his son. Rather, his wanting to do so had been her greatest fear.

    “You were still so angry, even after Thanos' defeat,” she continued. “When Thor asked you to return Odin to his place, you still chose barbs and curses, rather than trying to sooth over the wounds in your family. There was so much venom in your heart, and rather than bleeding the wound of poison, you were content to let it fester and rot.”

    To steal Odin's throne, Loki had placed his once-father in the illusion of a Jötunn child dead to magic, and sent him to Jötunnheimr to endure on his own – to understand the chains that he had forced on others. When Thor confronted Loki after the battle, just as wounded and relieved as Sif to know the truth of his 'death', Loki had been all to happy to recreate the relief in Odin's eyes when told about the death of his 'son'. At first, Loki had not known how he was going to confront Odin before his reaction, and when he saw not a glimpse of love or regret in Odin's eyes, but rather relief and satisfaction . . .

    Of course, Loki's words were Loki's words, and Sif still did not know if it was his own pain or Odin's feelings who held the truth in the end. With the murder of his much beloved wife, and the glaring failure of his dealing with his fostered son, Odin turned his restless feet to wandering the Realms when Thor took the throne – having little to say as to Thor's reign, and even less to say about the human woman ruling at Thor's right hand, all but 'tainting' the line of Búri with her presence alone. Since then, he was seen every now and again, mainly to visit his grandchildren. Yet, they had not heard from him in nearly a decade. Sif set her mouth, and inhaled a breath to fortify herself.

    “You held so much rancor within you, so much bitterness and hate,” she said on a whisper, unable to look up from the green glow of the fire. “You were as a wound to yourself, and as such, I was determined not to let my . . . weakness for you harm our child. I would not let you harm my child, even when you would not mean to do so. I could not.”

    Loki snorted, and she looked over to see his eyes sharpen, flickering to match the dance of the fire. “Fine words, Sif,” he praised in a mocking tone. “And yet, I am not convinced when you left out the simplest of truths. For, could it be that you were simply ill to acknowledge your progeny as the son of a Jötunn-monster, the son of a traitor and a liar and usurper – or whatever flattering titles they are adding before my name as of late?”

    She set her mouth in reply, but even expecting his words was not enough to sooth over the sharp lance of annoyance that pierced through her. “You twist my words,” she quickly took to ire with little provocation. “And I grow tired of your self-pity and the woe-is-me eyes with which you view the world. Have you ever stopped to think that it was not the revelations of your heritage that brought anger and disgust from me, but rather, your actions in response to that knowledge?”

    “Still your view is so simple,” Loki shook his head, as if dealing with a child's innocent concept of the world around them. “The eyes of the Aesir are haughty indeed if -”

    “ - forgive me, but did my eyes not see murder? Did my eyes not see the yoke of a dictator placed against the peoples of Midgard?” Sif returned hotly. “I may agree with you when you say that you were sinned against; I would second the legitimate woes you have to place at Asgard's door, and even acknowledge my place in those wrongs; but never, ever, can such a debt be paid by innocent lives and still be called just.”

    Innocent,” Loki snorted the word, but his anger had a dull edge. Time had killed the potency of his rage, and he instead sounded weary to her ears. “The cost of war, I do believe was the term Búri Firstfather used when he initially roped the Realms into subjection. Collateral damage was what it was called after each and every quest Thor set himself to for nothing more than the thrill of battle and the honor of war.”

    “Thor has learned full well the error of his ways, and has only grown from his mistakes,” Sif snapped, having little patience for his finger pointing – never mind that this was the first they had truly spoken of the matter since the long-ago events of Thor's ruined coronation. There had never been time to air out the differences between them; he had never allowed them that time. “Why must you stand still, even when the likes of Thor grow wise with the passing of time? Why do you still prefer to simply wallow in the unfair cast of your days, rather than rising above them as I know you can?”

    “And that is what you thought my actions to be?” Loki's eyes flashed. “Simply wallowing?”

    “Like a child,” Sif hissed, “denied of their way.”

    Conqueror . . .” Loki muttered, his words turning hot and quick as he spoke. “Dictator . . . even you would apply those words to me, when once you knew me better than any other. Yet, you know nothing. I worked my words in order to preserve my soul alive when Thanos found me falling through the void. Why else would I march on Midgard? Thanos was turning to the Earth for the Tessaract, with or without my involvement. What would have happened if he sent one of his other lackeys to subdue Midgard in my stead? Could you imagine the likes of Ronan unleashed upon the mortals, or any one of Thanos' stolen offspring? They, the twisted and morphed little butchers like Gamora and Nebula, sent with chains in hand . . . can you fathom it, Sif? Or, better still, can you imagine the unholy offspring of Thanos and Death, Rot himself, descending upon the earth like a black cloud, leading the Chitauri to victory when the sun no longer shone?”

    He snorted, the green cast of the flames turning the look grotesque upon his features. “At least I could lead the attack, and keep it contained. I know you; you must have been puzzled with my confining our entry point to Manhattan alone. Ask yourself, why would I tie my strength to an outside source of power, while using my own magicks for little more than costume changes? I could have turned New York to rubble with little more than a wave of my hand . . . did you ever wonder why I did not? As War, you must have found my strategy odd. You know me; such a no holds barred, barbaric show of bullying is not how I would move to subdue a world.” There was a low, fervent look in his eyes, one she could not look away from if she tried.

    “Even if I was battling at my true potential,” Loki continued, “I knew that true victory over the Earth was all but impossible – not when faced with the tenacity of the humans who live there. Yet, that did not matter. I let Thanos believe me to be a turncoat, and when backed by his promises of unfathomable pain and eventual death should I fail him, he thought himself to find a fairly useful pawn in me. While I, meanwhile, knew that I would fail and Thor would safely take me back to Asgard in chains – where it was only a matter of time before I was able to slip free and continue my quest for the Infinity Stones in peace. Malekith provided me that perfect opportunity, and so I died - I died - so that even Thanos would think me gone, thus allowing me to continue my reparations in secret.

    “Yet,” Loki gave an unkind smile, his lips pulling back from his teeth as he spoke, “Do you know that when Thor first found me on Midgard, he believed me eager to subdue the Earth after no more than a few spoken words on my part? What a desperate dog you must have thought me to be, pathetically barking at Odin's heels for even a sliver of the same respect and adulation that came so easily to Thor. Was I jealous of Thor, and how easily everything came to him when I had to fight and claw for even the smallest of encomiums? Yes, absolutely. Did I wish for a throne, for godhood, for omnipotence, as it is so commonly believed now? No, I never have. I would have been a poor choice for ruling absolutely, and even I knew that – as I have ever known. Yet, so hard a truth is that to believe of the angry and bitter second son.”

    In reply, Sif could only shake her head. She clenched her jaw so fiercely that her teeth trembled. Her eyes were wet and burning, for even though she had long since wished to believe such things true of him, it was quite another to have her own suspicions confirmed. Slowly, a knot loosened in her stomach, even as another one tightened.

    “And yet,” her voice was a dry sound as she found her voice, “why did you fall, only to land where you had to take such desperate means to escape Thanos in the first place? Even before you knew about your heritage, your actions on the day of Thor's coronation resulted in the deaths of those who fell when the Jötunn slipped through your pathways. How do you explain their blood on your hands? How do you reason away that guilt?

    “You say that your actions were to prove yourself to Odin,” she gave what she meant to be a laugh, but it came out as bitter, broken sound. “Yet, you almost killed me when you sent the Destroyer to Earth in order to keep Thor out of the way while you worked your schemes in Asgard above. Rather than confiding in us, rather than trusting us to still love you, you lied and plotted and played us all without feeling. You would have shed Thor's blood in your desperation to prove a point that never needed to be made, and such was your madness that you would not have noticed until none were left standing around you! That is the Loki I do not recognize; that is the Loki I hate within you now. Everything that happened after your letting go from the bifröst - rather than taking your family's hand, and letting them pull you up - all stems from this one, awful reaction. Yet . . . you do not see that, even now.

    “So, no. I would not allow that Loki anywhere near my son, and I took pains to prevent that from ever happening,” Sif continued, her words taking on an awful tremble as she spoke. She did not cry, but she could feel the wet cast of tears growing in her eyes. She fought desperately to keep them from falling. Even for the fierce cast of her speech, she hated the way her words dug into him as blades sawing through bone. She watched him flinch, she watched her meaning settle in deep . . . and yet, such words needed to be said. She could no longer leave them unspoken. “Somewhere, deep inside, you understand that as well as I do.”

    “So, you wished for me to return home, where I was barely tolerated and openly reviled, even when I was the full-blooded son of Odin?” Loki returned scornfully. Even so, he had to take a moment and gather himself before he replied. She watched as he forcibly shaped his words. “Forgive me for caring but little to abase myself before the unthankful masses of Asgard once more, especially after I preserved their souls alive . . . again.”

    Sif raised a brow, she leaned back with an ease she did not feel. “And how do you know what Asgard's popular opinion is now? Yes, our home,” this she said firmly, “is steeped in flaws, and set in its ways. Yet, the Aesir respect strength; they respect glory in battle, which you certainly demonstrated to an inarguable degree against Thanos. You had loud voices who were impressed, even fearful in their awe for the sheer amount of power you controlled. Yet, you left. You were not there to give those voices actions in which to continue their support, thus allowing the nay-sayers to win out once more. You speak of pains inflicted by the masses, but, Loki, you have never shown them the man I know you can be. You have always been aloof and condescending to the people, and when that is coupled with a power they cannot explain, or even begin to fathom . . . Rather than fighting this battle, you would sit back and claim a wound instead of confronting the public's opinion with the tenacity I know you to bear.

    “It . . . it hurts when I cannot defend your name as I wish to. Their words against you are as wounds against me, and it hurts to endure them. But I would have done so gladly by your side, if you would simply come back and fight that fight together. It is a battle, I think, that would not be as long and bloody as you think it would be.”

    Loki simply snorted in answer, little convinced. His eyes turned from her – his thoughts closed off and his ears unhearing. He had nothing further to say, she understood, but, even still, she could see where a muscle high in his cheek worked. She hoped that he was considering her words – that he let them sink in this once, even if only this once, rather than turning himself cold and unfeeling to all around him once more.

    He did not say another word, but she did not expect him to. She was weary then, weighed down with a past steeped both with his sins as well as her own. She did not know what more to say in penitence that night - honestly, she was not sure if anything could ever truly be said, the same as she was unsure if he even wanted to stitch the wound that had been so deeply gouged and then inflicted upon others in turn.

    Sif then turned from the fire, and placed her pack down over her shield to use as a pillow, her glaive within arms reach in case something transpired before the morn. She was quiet as she laid down on the stone floor of the cave to rest her head for the night. She was not sure what sleep she would find before Ullr opened his eyes once more, but she could at least ready her body for the fight they would have upon the morrow – for she did not once forget the reason they were here, nor was the disturbing revelation of Loki's plot with the Infinity Stones far from her mind. Yet, for now, she was only weary, and wished to rest.

    Loki did not lay down his head, not yet, but she watched as he placed himself between the opening of the cave, and both she and her son – unconsciously protecting their child from any harms the night could bring. Her chest constricted for his actions, for her heart was still tender where he was concerned . . . a part of her feared that it ever would be.

    “You would have made an excellent father,” was the last thing she whispered, her words so low that she herself could barely hear them. But she did not miss the way Loki stiffened. His hands curled into fists, and he exhaled deeply once, and only once.

    But Sif paid no more attention to him than that. She simply fixed her eyes on her son, and waited for the dawn to come.



    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
  17. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Fantabulous! Her candor and articulateness .. the things she needed to say and he to hear -- hopefully they sink in and germinate and bring something good to fruition. [face_thinking]
     
  18. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Nyota's Heart: Thank-you so very much! There is so much history between these two, both for the good and ill, so it was quite the mountain to have them work a chunk of that out in one sitting. But, hopefully, some of the words took root, as you said. :)


    And here we go with more . . .





    Part VIII

    Sif was awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of a sharply inhaled breath.

    At first, she did not understand how she had slept so to begin with. Normally, if she slept at all while on a quest, it was a shallow and dazed rest - not the deep, fitful slumber she had just known. She blinked, but found her senses sharpening almost immediately, piercing through the telling green haze that had first blurred her vision.

    Her suspicions confirmed, she looked to the other side of the now banked fire to see Loki absent. But she next saw that the wards protecting the entrance of the cave were stronger than before; rich violet and the brightest of golds dancing through the more familiar washes of green. Her brow furrowed, wondering what had called Loki away to the point where he thought it necessary to bespell her sleep - when she realized the reason for her awakening in the first place.

    “Mother?” Ullr's voice was groggy, and she looked over in time to see him blinking bleary eyes against the shadows of the cave.

    Sif felt full alertness rush upon her as moved to kneel by her child. She pushed on his shoulder when he tried to sit up, preventing him from moving with a shushing noise. A pang of worry pierced her when Ullr did not protest, instead laying back down as if his bones were liquid underneath his skin. Yet, the color was returning to his cheeks, and his breathing was strong and steady. His hazel eyes were alert, even thoughtful, when she took stock of his gaze.

    “My limbs feel heavy,” Ullr said as if unsure how to phrase his body's rebellion. His brow furrowed, and he frowned in frustration.

    “You had quite the encounter with an elemental being. Perhaps you should thank the Mother for your heavy limbs being the worst of it,” Sif commented dryly. She reached over to her pack, and took out a skin of water. She handed it to Ullr, and helped him sit up enough to drink his fill. He did not protest her aid, and she frowned at his compliance, unseen by him.

    She was about to question him further when there was a shimmer of green light at the mouth of the cave. She stiffened instinctively, still not at all pleased by the enchantment he had placed on her sleep. She turned to see that Loki had returned, curiously dripping wet with lake water, wearing a mad, wild sort of look about his eyes.

    “Loki?” she asked carefully, her ire fading in the face of such an expression. “Where have you been?”

    “It is gone,” was his cryptic, clipped answer. He gestured, and dried himself with a thoughtless wave of power. “It is no longer there.”

    “What are you talking about?” she asked, her voice turning sharp. “What is no longer there?”

    Loki's eyes snapped over to her, as if he were only then aware of her presence. The harsh lines of his expression smoothed over, and he took in a deep breath, steadying himself.

    “The Infinity Stone,” he answered in a more subdued tone. “The last shard of the Soul Gem . . . I found it in the bed of the lake during our encounter with Nihhus, but now it is gone.”

    Sif instantly tasted bile as it filled her throat. “The brothers?” her voice was dry to her use. “Did Gangr and Iði . . .”

    “No,” Loki shook his head. “I would feel the wraith if it were anywhere on this moon. I cannot yet sense its presence.” Yet, the one word lingered on the air between them, ominous in shape.

    “Then, what else could have been in the lake?” Sif asked, her mind instantly skating over to the next possible answer. “The each-usiage - he did not seem the type to share his territory . . .” her brow furrowed, and she stared at Loki, puzzled.

    “I imagine that many a creature was drawn by Ullr's show of power,” Loki theorized, reasoning their possible answers aloud. “And, with Nihhus no longer there to frighten away some of the lesser evils on this moon . . . it was only a matter of time before the stone was claimed, really.”

    They each fell silent after that; Loki clearly puzzling through what he knew about the moon, while Sif squared her jaw and tried to fight away the rather fierce urge she had to hit something. Frustration boiled within her, for they did not have the luxury to leisurely search the moon. Rather, it was only a matter of time before the brothers and the wraith arrived and turned their hunt into more of a race than it already was.

    “We do not have time for this,” Sif said her thoughts aloud, running a frustrated hand through her hair.

    “Which is why I am trying to think,” Loki snapped, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. His eyes were clenched firmly shut, opening only when Ullr's small voice filled the air.

    “I think . . . I think that I may have felt something else down there, when Nihhus was destroyed.”

    Loki's eyes flew opened, and he narrowed his verdant gaze at the boy. Sif tensed, knowing that Ullr's well-being was the one thing that had kept Loki from diving back in and claiming the shard of the Soul Gem in the first place. She narrowed her own eyes, readying her words should he comment aloud on that fact.

    But, Loki swallowed back whatever barb had built on his tongue, and instead asked: “What do you mean?”

    “There . . . it was something small,” Ullr's brow furrowed as he tried to recall the glimpse of sensation he had known while controlling his power. Sif felt a pang fill her when she realized that, in thought, his expression was an exact mirror of Loki's from only a moment ago. “It was something small in form, but bigger . . . as if he were keeping himself to that size.” Ullr paused, clearly hesitating. “This is going to sound odd, but his soul felt molten . . . almost like the spirit of a Dwarf . . . Did you not feel it?”

    “I was a bit distracted at the time,” Loki muttered wryly, but his form lost its rigid edge, and he took his seat by the waning fire with a defeated sort of motion. “Of course it would be him,” he muttered, distaste filling his voice, even as his expression turned thoughtful.

    Sif frowned, still not sure if she should ready herself for a fight, or if she could relax her vigil once more. “Who is he?” she asked.

    He is proof that the Nornir have an ever twisted sense of humor,” Loki said in a voice filled with anything but humor. “You may relax, Sif. Our foe will keep until morning – especially as the boy is not moving anywhere until then.” He turned to look at Ullr, and something about his expression softened. “Recover your strength, child. You shall need it.”

    Ullr frowned, but set his head back down without complaint. “I am not so very tired,” he protested in an undertone, his face furrowing in frustration.

    “These blackouts befall even the best of seiðrmanðrs,” Loki remarked dryly. “There is no reason for you to know shame.”

    Ullr's eyes turned curiously, and he bit his lip before asking, “Has this ever happened to you?” He shaped his words carefully, as if unsure of whether or not this was a subject on which he could speak.

    “More than once,” Loki admitted ruefully. “I think the worst such occurrence was when I was first learning the Bamrimmir's enchantments. I had mastered shifting small parts of my body, but I was determined that I was ready for the more advanced spells before my instructors deemed me ready to do so. For my recklessness, Odin ordered that neither Frigg or the Elf-mages could help me change back, so that I would better learn my lesson. As a result, I spent six whole days stuck in the form of a horse. and the only reason I was able to shift back was that my body all but collapsed underneath the strain of holding such a foreign shape. Afterward, I believe I slept for nearly a sennight as . . .”

    And his story continued on. Sif could remember that time well; back when she was still a long-limbed child, with a head crowned by golden hair. Thor and she had slept in the stables at night with Loki, both teasing and keeping him company at turns. She felt a bittersweet ache fill her for the memory, an ache that was only compounded by watching Loki interact with their son. While his expression was polite enough, she could read the guarded edges about his mask. There was something almost hungry about his eyes, as if he were taking in and studying every detail that he may have missed before. Her heart hurt with the expression, heavy as it was as she watched both father and son.

    In reply, Ullr had wide, wondering eyes for Loki's tale – eyes that grew heavy and heavier still as he was lulled to sleep again. She could feel the note of power Loki wove through his words, encouraging the boy to rest and recover his strength.

    She let him work his enchantments without interrupting, even as she puzzled over the latest development of their quest in the back of her mind. Her thoughts were taken to the point that she did not realize the exact moment when Ullr was lulled back to sleep again, and she blinked sharply at the sound of Loki calling her name.

    “Andvari,” Loki repeated again. “It is Andvari we seek.”

    Sif sucked in a breath, and looked over to see the green in Loki's eyes very bright in the shadows of the cave.

    “Andvari?” she repeated, and then gave a sigh. “I knew this moon was familiar.”

    “Unfortunately so,” Loki rolled his shoulders, his voice steeped with a delicate distaste. “Just when you think that the story is over . . .”

    He set his mouth, and stared into the embers of the green flames. With a wave of his hand, he coaxed the fire brighter, once again filling the cave with both heat and light. She let him tend to the flames as she gather her thoughts . . . and her warnings.

    “Tomorrow,” she started, her voice firmly set. “With the stone . . .”

    “You need not fear,” Loki interrupted in a neutral tone. “I meant it when I said that I would help you, and I mean it still.”

    A part of her wanted so badly to trust him. Yet, that part of her was ever bruised and weary, it ever being pushed back down every time it was allowed to surface. She let her gaze harden, not quite taken by his words.

    “Help us with this,” she said in a quiet voice, filled with stone, “and we shall be out of your life as cleanly as we entered it. Yet, if you plan any sort of sleigh of hand with the Infinity Stone . . . if, while furthering your own agenda, you do anything to put Thor's life in danger - ”

    “ - you shall do what, Sif?” Loki's smile was cruel in the green light from the flames. “Would you kill me?”

    She simply fixed a level gaze on him, and let him grow uncomfortable with the silence that stretched. “Best would it be if you did not let it come to that,” she answered, her words as blades as they echoed off the walls of the cavern.

    Loki had no reply for her; not that she much expected him to. Instead, she settled down to pass the rest of the night in an uneasy sleep, filled with glimpses of strange, half-remembered dreams.



    .
    .

    They awakened before dawn the next morning, and set out into the thick fog now covering the land.

    A full night's rest had already done Ullr good, and though his step was more subdued than normal, he kept up with the brisk pace they set, following the rocky ways that lined the river. Not long had passed before Ullr tilted his head curiously, and asked, “Where are we going?”

    It was Loki who answered: “There is a race of Dwarves, called the Nibelungs, who are native to the moons of Niflheimr. Andvari the Careful One is who we seek. He lives behind one of the larger waterfalls, further into the mountains.”

    Ullr's brow furrowed in a thoughtful way. “Are they kin to the sons of Ivaldi?” he asked, a bit of anticipation creeping into his voice.

    Loki made a face, one that Sif could not completely fault him for, and said, “They are less . . . cultured than the Dwarves the Aesir are allied with. The Nibelungs do not care to leave their moons, and they have little interest in forging their crafts for others. They care only about their own hordes, their own wealth, and they have been known to take . . . drastic measures to ensure that their gold remains their own.”

    “Master Egil has been showing me the secrets of his crafts,” Ullr said slowly, as if unsure if this was a proper time to share such words. Yet, there was an eager light in his eyes, this a part of her ached to see. She could already see respect and admiration growing in her son's gaze, and she bit her lip at the sight, hoping that these few days would be enough to sustain their inevitable parting to come. “He has shown me how to work enchantments into the metal as you shape it, and I have learned much by his side.”

    Loki's eyes widened. “It is a fine boon you have won. The Dwarves do not often share their secrets with any but their own kind, and even then they are frugal with their wisdoms. Master Egil must have taken a liking to you.”

    Ullr proudly held up his wrists to show his vambraces, the dark grey metal gently etched with silver lines, depicting the great boughs of their Mother Yggdrasil. “Egil helped me forge these,” Ullr said, his cheeks flushed as he said so. “He said that someday I may even be able to craft the likes of Mjölnir, if I keep to my arts.”

    Loki raised a dark brow. “Both shared wisdom and words of praise from the tongue of a Dwarf?” he muttered, huffing out a breath. “Ragnarök must be nigh.”

    With the narrow pass in the rock allowing her, she subtly elbowed Loki as she passed, her slanted eyes warning him to say no more. Even though she could still remember the feel of golden twine underneath her fingers as she cut the stitches away from his ruined mouth, Ullr had no such quarrels with the Dwarves, and she did not intend to sully his joy. She set her mouth and looked at Loki, not having to say that the mentors Ullr had available for his seiðr were in part due to him and his absence. Thus, he had no right to cast stones against the replacements they found.

    Yet, Ullr was too lost in his own joy to notice Loki's sullen reaction. “Do you know any of such enchantments?” he asked, eager to talk about a subject he had long been silent over. “Have you ever practiced this art?”

    Loki was quiet for a moment, and Sif could feel a burning sensation between her shoulder-blades as he glanced her way. “Only once,” he replied in a quiet voice. “I was the one who enchanted your mother's shield.”

    Her step did not falter, and she did not look back, even as her shield turned warm upon her back. Even so, she could all but hear the way Ullr's eyes lightened as he said: “Truly?” His voice was a quick, gushing sound. “I have felt those enchantments before, and I even tried to untangle them once, hoping that I could duplicate them. But the spells . . . well, they bit me when I meddled too much,” Ullr admitted with a flush. “The strands were woven, it felt like – unlike Mjölnir or Gungnir, where the enchantments come from the heart of the metal.”

    There was a question in his voice, waiting and expectant, and she looked over to see Loki unblinking as he stared at their child. He swallowed, and she watched where a muscle high in his throat worked.

    “Perhaps,” Loki said when he found his voice, “when this is done, I shall show you my trick.”

    Ullr smiled at that, his mouth stretching until it all but split his face. She looked at Loki, unnoticed by Ullr, and set her gaze in an expressionless mask. Do not make promises you cannot keep, she let her eyes say without words. A moment later, Loki looked away.

    “Now, as for Andvari,” Ullr said, “you speak as if you have known him before. And mother clearly knows the way to the Andvara-falls,” this his sharp eyes easily espied. “What is the history you share with the Careful One?”

    A flash of approval for the child's perception touched Loki's gaze before he blinked it away. He set his face in a tight look as he started his story. “Years ago, when I was not much older than you, I walked this moon with your mother, Thor, and our fa – with Odin,” he quickly amended his saying so, swallowing his syllables as if their taste was ill to his tongue. “While here, we enjoyed the hospitality of Hreidmar, then the Chieftain of the Nibelung Dwarves. While fishing in the river, there was an otter Thor killed for its red-gold skin, and when we showed our catch to the Chieftain, we were rather alarmed to learn that the otter was in fact Hreidmar's son - who had the shape-shifter's gift, inherit to many of the Nibelung Dwarves. Hreidmar demanded that a bone-price be paid for the spilled blood of his son, and I was selected to fill the otter skin with gold in stead of Hreidmar taking the blood of one of Odin's sons as reparation.

    “Now,” Loki said. “There was rumor of a Dwarf with a vast treasure living nearby – Andvari, son of Óin – who was a Dwarf shunned by his kin. He was cursed by the Nornir to always yearn for the water and the streams – which is contrary to a Dwarf's very nature, as they were born from the rock and stone in the beginning of all things. And this is how I caught him – swimming in the form of a pike by the waterfall of his home.”

    Sif watched Ullr's wide eyes as he listened to the tale, eager as he was for each word as they fell. She sighed at also seeing Loki's eyes alight, he having a liking for the telling stories that she did not know to be matched by any other. His was a skill, she thought with some amusement, that could only be surpassed by Volstagg's exaggerated tales of valor when he was well into his cups.

    “I offered to reverse his curse in exchange for enough gold to fill the otter's skin,” Loki went on, “but Andvari was a greedy Dwarf, and he did not care to be parted from even a small amount of his treasure. He proposed instead a game of riddles - of which he soon found himself the looser of. He still did not wish to give of his gold, and when I filled the skin, only a whisker's space remained empty at the top – for which Andvari held back a ring of his own creation . . . a golden ring, heavy with enchantments to bring its bearer further wealth and riches. This ring was Andvaranaut, of which I trust you have heard?”

    “Andvari's Gift,” Ullr recited dutifully. “Though a gift, it rarely happens to be.”

    “Indeed,” Loki gave a tight smile. “So angry was Andvari for being tricked from his treasure that he cursed the ring, saying: Now shall the gold that Andvari once had bring their death to brothers twain, and evil be for heroes all; for joy of my wealth shall no man win. This ring had a mind of its own, it was an evil thing; so much so that I decided not to give it to Hreidmar for fear of its curse. Yet, when Hreidmar saw the whisker’s length of skin not filled, he demanded the ring in payment, and I was obligated to give it to him. Yet, I warned him of the curse, saying: Worse is this that methinks I see, for a maid shall kinsmen clash; heroes unborn thereby shall be, I deem, to hatred doomed, and death be sworn.”

    “Did Hreidmar listen?” Ullr asked, his eyes rapt for the story. “Or did he bring the curse into his family?”

    “The death of the 'brothers twain' turned out to be Hreidmar's surviving two sons,” Loki said with a sigh. “Fáfnir killed Hreidmar his father for possession of the gold, his heart being too weak to resist the call of the ring, and Fáfnir would have slain Regin his brother if he did not flee for fear of his life. Fáfnir turned into a dragon to protect his horde as it grew underneath the ill council of the ring, and his evil was not ended until he was slain by Sigurðr, the mortal man – whom Regin raised just for that purpose. Yet, fool that mortal was, he brought the cursed ring into his own family when he used it to propose to Brünnhilde, his Valkyrie love – who, prior to this, was banished from Asgard and denied her place in Valhalla with her sisters, for her refusing to turn the tides of a battle where Odin favored. As such stories go, the unfair events of that tale resulted in the tragic deaths of he, she, and all they both loved and held dear. For the ill deeds the ring inspired, they rest in Hel's domain now, and only She may show them a peace and mercy denied to them in life.”

    A moment passed, heavy with sober respect for the weight of the story. “And the ring?” Ullr asked carefully. “Where is Andvaranaut now?”

    “We do not know,” Loki said simply. “Some legends say that Andvari has recovered the ring - that he stole it back from the ashes of Brünnhilde's funeral pyre to recreate his own wealth. Other stories say that the flames turned so hot and fierce when they touched the hearts of Sigurðr and Brünnhilde that the inferno melted the evil of the ring into the earth. We do not know which tale is true.”

    Silence following the end of his tale, for which Sif felt her heart turn heavy in her chest. Before earning Odin's ill favor, Brünnhilde had been the Captain of the Valkyrie, and an encouraging voice in her youngest days, supporting her when she was just beginning to learn the art of the sword. Brünnhilde had hoped to recruit her for the celestial ranks of the Valkyrie – the proper place for any Shield-maiden to be - but Sif had refused to give up her choice of ever being a wife and mother by taking the Valkyrie's vows. Furthermore, she had been ill to forsake her place on Asgard itself, just to bear arms as every boy-child around her was so blithely given the chance to. The Valkyrie had only one purpose in life: to serve the slain warriors in Valhalla, and aid Odin their lord in reaping more souls for the far-off promise of Ragnarök. Sif had wanted more from life, and no promise of wings or glorious battle had been enough to sway her decision.

    She could still remember Brünnhilde's sad smile as she admitted that she wished that she had half of that bravery for herself. For all of her otherness – the pointed tips to her teeth; the great golden wings that sprang so awesomely from her back; her uncanny elegance and dangerous grace - Brünnhilde had been a woman then. Not much later, Brünnhilde earned Odin's ill favor when the prince she was ordered to slay she instead spared – this prince ironically being the father of the man who would later win her hand. For Brünnhilde to finally obey the desires of her heart, only to be rewarded in such a cruel way . . . Sif closed her eyes and muttered a silent prayer to Hel, once again hoping that the Dread Lady was keeping the soul of her friend safe and content until she could at last walk free from the bonds of death once more.

    Sif blinked, and found her eyes burning behind her closed lids. Yet, Brünnhilde would not want to be remembered as she was at the end, so Sif thought of her with her wings catching on the glory of the sun, and let her mind fill with memories of her might before turning on again.

    At her side, she was not the only one lost in thoughts, with Loki silent, and Ullr still puzzling over that which he had learned. Finally, he looked up and said, “Yet, if Andvari so quickly found the shard of the Soul Gem . . . could the cursed ring have led him there?”

    She looked, and there was no mistaking it – pride and surprised pleasure were bright in Loki's eyes. “Clever boy,” he muttered in approval, before answering: “Yes, this I fear to be so. If it is just Andvari we have to contend with, the Dwarf can be reasoned with. And yet, if Andvari is in another form . . . a less hospitable form, you could say . . .”

    “A form like a dragon . . . a dragon life Fáfnir?” Ullr swallowed. “Is that why he felt so big to my senses?”

    “Well reasoned,” Loki approved, even as he raised a long fingered hand to rub absently at his temples. “Just once, if we could see a quest through to the end without having to slay one of the irksome beasts . . .”

    Ullr tilted his head. “But . . . if he is a Dwarf . . . a Dwarf does not seem too bad to contend with. If he does not feel threatened, then he shall not have to turn into a dragon,” his voice tappered off, and he looked thoughtfully at Loki. “We shall just have to try not to make Andvari angry,” he reasoned, his brow pinching in a troubled way. “But . . . if Andvari already knows you, then . . .”

    “Andvari shall start out very angry indeed, and there will be no reasoning with him,” Loki agreed. Yet, there was something about his eyes as he said so, and Sif did not at all like the considering way Loki was looking at her . . .

    “No,” she found herself protesting automatically. “No.”

    “But Andvari does not know you,” Loki brushed her concerns aside as if they were nothing. “All it shall take is a bit of acting on your part . . . and a disguise or two, of course. If you can distract the creature, while I search his horde . . . it is a clean, simple solution.”

    She narrowed her eyes in reply, liking the simplicity of his plan not. “Would that we fight the dragon outright, and be done with it.”

    “And if but a moment of trickery and guile can win us the Soul Gem without bloodshed?” Loki returned in a hard voice. “You would not take it?” She could clearly see the warning in his eyes, the double words holding a meaning of their own.

    “Do not group me in with the rest of Asgard,” she spoke to the heart of the matter, as always. “You know that I am not as they.”

    “What then,” Loki asked, a false pleasantness leaching into his voice, “do you protest?”

    Sif did not much like the thought of being caught inside Andvari's cave when he learned of any lie they were prepared to give. Such intrigues always had a way of backfiring horribly, and when there was more than just her own well-being to consider . . . She looked, and could not tell if Ullr's eyes were alight with the opportunity to see Loki's spellwork in play, or to encounter his first dragon. She sighed at either thought, once again feeling as if the Nornir were punishing her for her own rather . . . rambunctious childhood.

    “We do not have the time to slay a dragon with as much might and power as Andvari,” Loki continued to reason in a thin, neutral voice. “And, if all goes to plan, this will take no time at all.”

    “And if this does not go to plan?” Sif countered. “What then?”

    In reply, Loki's smile was a sharp, wicked thing. “Then, it seems that you shall get your opportunity to slay the dragon anyway.”






    End Notes:

    Nibelungs: This group has maaany possible meanings, either as a race of Dwarves from Niflheimr, as I used here; or as the same family Sigurd marries into in the Völsunga Saga, based loosely on the real life royal line of the Burgundians.

    Andvari: The Careful One is much as he is described here, though I tweaked some small bits of the Otter-skin story to more fit Marvel's world. Loki's words in italics are actually from the [link=http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe23.htm]Reginsmol[/link], where Regin tells the tale of his family to Sigurd to convince him to slay Fáfnir for his gold.

    Andvaranaut: The Ring that inspires gold-lust and brings only death and heartache to its bearer. Sound a lot like Tolkien's inspiration for the tragedies that befell the line of Durin, and the One Ring in general? That's what I thought too. [face_mischief][face_thinking]

    Brünnhilde & Sigurðr: Also known as Brunhilda and Sigurd, two of the main characters in the Völsunga Saga, who were further made famous from the likes of Richard Wagner's operas, and even Bugs Bunny's Viking-opera skit. :p Theirs is indeed a tragic tale, and if you wanted to read more of it, you can purchase the whole lay at most bookstores. They are normally right next to the Greek and Roman epics. :)



    ~MJ @};-
     
  19. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Enjoyed very much Loki's tales and Ullr's quick perceptiveness. =D= Yup, I was reminded of the Ring of LoTR also. [face_thinking] The plan they've worked out sounds doable with Sif and Loki's skills and Ullr's too. But you never wanna ask: What could go wrong? [face_laugh]
     
  20. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Nyota's Heart: Once again, I have to thank you so much for reading, and taking the time to leave your thoughts! I always, always appreciate your doing so. [:D]


    I am still chugging away at this one. I hit a 'writing cramp' with the dragon, but I've worked it out now. So much so that this chapter had to be split in two parts for the length, which is always a good sign for the muse coming back. :p

    That said, enjoy! :)








    Part IX

    They traveled well into the foothills of the mountain range; where the rivers fell over great cliffs, and the paths were lined by steep slopes and sudden drops. In the thin, rocky soil grew tall, blue evergreens, while the same mist from the marshlands continued to billow and cloak the land in a spectral dance. They followed the water, traveling higher and higher, until they came to a horseshoe of massive waterfalls, tiered in three plunging layers to form a truly awe-inspiring formation. The water glittered in shades of jeweled blue and pale purple from the flickering sky above, while the moon's mist danced with the spray created from the power of the falling water. These were the Andvara-falls, Ullr understood when Loki and his mother came to a halt, and beyond one of the main veils of water lied the entrance to Andvari's forge.

    Ullr stopped behind them, watching as Sif simply held her hand out to Loki, her face set into the neutral mask she normally wore when standing as a sheathed blade beside Thor's throne in warning. She raised a brow – a challenge, Ullr saw, one that Loki did not back down from answering as he took her hands in both his own. For a moment, nothing happened. They were both perfectly still - but then, Ullr blinked.

    When he next looked on his mother, she was not Sif as he'd long known her to be.

    She was shorter now, with her tall, warrior's body traded for a back bowed by hard labor, and a soft, shapelier form - one hidden by a simple, homespun dress and a kirtle of a rough, grey-blue weave, rather than defined and accented by her silver and burgundy armor. Her great cloak of fur was gone, and she instead wore a shawl of a woven wool about her shoulders, the tassels on its boarder and the simple bronze clasp at her throat her wardrobe's only decoration. Her crowning mane of glossy black hair was no more; in its place was a braided mass of pale blonde hair, simple and common to look upon. Her porcelain skin was now freckled and pink from many days of tending to flocks and fields under the bright sun, and her hazel eyes were traded for a nondescript shade of brown. Ullr looked, but could no longer see her glaive or shield, only a well-worn, sturdy pack about her shoulders, and an undecorated staff of yew in her hand.

    Sif raised a now pale brow, and fingered one blonde braid with what Ullr could only describe as distaste. “Are you trying to be clever?” she asked Loki, who looked as if he were trying not to chortle in reply to her displeased expression.

    Loki kept himself from smiling, but amusement was nonetheless bright in his eyes as he replied, “For old time's sake, no? I thought that you missed your fair golden tresses.”

    Sif rolled her eyes – an expression which lost its weight with her new face, her new body – and sighed. “Ullr,” she ignored Loki in favor of turning to him. “You are next.”

    After a moment more spent staring, Ullr stepped forward, curious as to the schematics of such an enchantment. The same as he had for his mother, Loki took his hands in both of his own, the expression in his eyes oddly bright. Ullr watched as the green light within flickered, before feeling the telltale tingle of seiðr pulse through his body.

    These were not the bamrammir's spells, he thought as the magic found its place and took root. Those spells changed you to the core of your being, while this . . . this simply 'anchored' on key parts of his body, not changing him outright, but rather altering what other eyes would see when looking upon him. He looked with his inner-eye, wondering if he could manipulate the illusion - or, better yet, duplicate it himself in the days to come. The magic was bouncy in reply to his probe, reacting in an almost playful way to his interest – already obedient and ready to answer him should he wish to manipulate it.

    When he blinked, and looked with his physical eyes once more, he found that Loki was watching him closely, a queer look in his gaze that Ullr could not define. A muscle moved high in his throat, as if he wished to say something - ask something - but he then swallowed thickly, and the moment was gone.

    “This is merely an illusion,” Loki answered his question before he could give it a voice. “Andvari is a creature of magic; he would sense any more complex a spell. Yet, this should be just enough to pass as that which is innate within the blood of the Vanir.”

    “Is that what we are to be?” Ullr asked. “Vanir?”

    “You certainly may pass for one,” Loki replied. He gestured to the calm water of the river, rippling in a still eddy this far away from the thunder of the falls. “See for yourself.”

    Curious, Ullr walked to the riverside, and looked down to see his reflection much altered. Like his mother, his black hair was gone in favor of a pale blonde swath of hair, growing over where the sides of his scalp were shaven, and the first of the Vanir's life-marks were inked into the bare skin over his skull. His leathers were nowhere to be seen, and his clothes were simple and homespun to match his mother's. Even so, Ullr touched his wrists, and could still feel his vambraces, no matter that he could not see them. This was an illusion that fooled the eyes, and nothing more.

    “This illusion shall not fool Andvari if he chooses to look any more closely,” Sif pointed out, just as the thought crossed Ullr's mind.

    “Then,” Loki's eyes glittered, “You must not give Andvari a reason to know suspicion.”

    Sif sighed, and her hand tightened over her 'staff'. “I shall do my part, so long as you do yours – and quickly. We have not the time to tarry with games.”

    “My lady, when have you ever known me to dawdle? I will not steer you wrong,” Loki replied, bowing his head and touching a hand to his heart in a courtly gesture.

    She merely leveled a stony look at him in reply, and when Ullr glanced to Loki for his reaction, he found that the enchanter had already disappeared. With but a thought, he cloaked himself away from any seeing eyes, and now waited in their shadows for his chance to make his move.

    Sif did not linger to say anything more. Determinedly, she turned and continued down the path with a strong stride. After a heartbeat, Ullr followed.

    The entrance to Andvari's home was set in the middle tier of waterfalls. There was a strip of dry rock where the water cascaded over a shelf above their heads, thus creating a pathway behind the veil of falling water. They kept to the thin shelf until they were in the heart of the falls, looking for something only Sif knew to find. When she paused and placed her hand against a jut of stone that looked no different from any other, Ullr did not at first understand. Yet, after a moment, the stone pulsed a soft silver and blue, the colours dancing with the refracted light from the underside of the waterfall. Ullr could feel it then - a spell within the stone answering her request, and then there was naught to do but to wait.

    Not more than a moment passed before their call was answered, and the stone opened in the shape of a door at the coaxing of their host. Andvari – whom even Ullr looked down to see.

    At first, he was surprised, for the Dwarves he knew in Asgard were a sturdy, noble people, wearing their crafts and riches around their necks and wrists and fingers and through their ears for all to see. Their hair and beards were always ornately braided, and their clothing was of the richest of weaves, studded through with precious stones of their own mining – for never did a Dwarf wear a trinket that was not of their own hand, or from their own forge. They were children of the deep places of the universe, and their greed was not for wealth, but rather for the crafting and creation of the beautiful things found in the bellies of the worlds.

    Yet, Andvari was simply garbed in a rough brown weave, over which he wore a smith's apron and gloves, sloppily stitched together from pieces of unmatching dark green and brown leather. His only ornamentation was a pair of iron bands worn about each of his thick forearms, and the smith's hammer he wore belted at his waist. He wore a monocle with several lenses before his right eye, designed to assist with the finer details of his work, and the chain connecting it to his pocket gleamed of a dull, unremarkable metal in the dancing light. Instead of lying glossed and braided about his head, his wild mane of brown curls flew in every direction, while his beard grew long and untamed down his chest. His skin was dark and swarthy, though Ullr could not tell if it was from mine-dust and forge-soot, or the natural complexion of his skin.

    Andvari's expression was sour, and his eyes were small and beady – suspicious and ill at ease for travelers appearing on his doorstep, that was for certain. But while everything about Andvari was dull and unremarkable, the colour of his gaze was the shifting blue and green of deep water, spelling out his curse of old as clearly as any spoken word aloud. Ullr remembered the presence he had felt in the lake – a massive presence, as molten as liquid ore - and knew to pay heed to that, rather than the simple appearance of the dwarf before him. There was a powerful magic in this creature, a great spirit of enchantments and forge-fire, the same that he knew from the likes of Egil and the other such Master-smiths.

    Yet . . . there was also a sense of otherness about this dwarf . . . as if a bright, blinding light was dancing about his spirit in the same way lightning would fork through the blackest of stormclouds. It was that sensation that had Ullr pausing, knowing well to watch that aura closely.

    “What business do you have seeking out my door?” Andvari's gaze did not soften, and his gruffly spoken words were as grating as stones against stones. “Speak your purpose quickly, or be gone with you.”

    Ullr stared, taken aback by the dwarf's rudeness, even when his mother did naught but blink in reply to his inhospitably. Sif inclined her head, meek to the point of docile, and answered: “We are travelers from Vanaheimr, Stone-lord, seeking a path that would lead us home from this moon.”

    “Vanaheimr?” Andvari raised a thick, bushy brow in dubious question. “That is quite a ways from here.”

    “A great being gave my lord husband a path to follow, promising him that he would there find glory beyond merely tending the fields of our Jarl,” Sif inclined her head, becoming her story, even as she spun it – weaving just enough truth with the lie to make it believable. “Yet, we encountered a creature in the Andvara-lake, and my lord drowned while slaying it. I care not for the fame he sought, and only wish for my son and I to return to the Second Realm. The tales of Óin's son are great, reaching even as far to Vanaheimr, and it was my hope that you could grant us respite from the road, and point us homewards.”

    Andvari gave a sharp bark of laughter in reply to her tale. “Your misfortunes are no concern of mine. I am not here to give party to ill-led fortune hunters, and I will not receive you here.”

    “I could pay you for your troubles,” Sif waited until the last to play her greatest card. “I expect no charity; I seek only a service rendered.”

    The glass worn over the dwarf's one eye glittered in reply to her words. The lightning forks of greed and want within his spirit flickered, and Ullr watched, knowing exactly when the dwarf made his decision. Still frowning, Andvari nonetheless stepped aside, inviting them into his hall.

    “Why did you not first say so?” Andvari asked, ire and annoyance thickly coating his voice. He shook his head, sending his snarled curls flying as he did so. “That is another matter all together.”

    “I am pleased my lord thinks so,” Sif said, letting just enough relief and satisfaction into her voice to be believable. “We do not have much, but I hope that what we do have is to your liking.”

    “Yes, yes, we will discuss payment once I decide just if I can help you,” Andvari looked her up and down, a questioning glimmer still worn deep in his gaze. “What is your name, good-wife?”

    “Hildr Reynirsdottir,” Sif answered easily, the name sounding natural on her mouth. Ullr blinked, recognizing her first name as a token of fame given to the greatest Valkeries – and the title which they in turn called his mother by. Yet, rather than giving away her true identity, the name only amused Andvari when worn by a simple farmer's wife.

    “And the boy?” Andvari glanced his way, but his gaze did not long linger upon him.

    “Vetr,” Sif answered for him. Simply winter. “Son of Gaukr.” At her saying so, Ullr could all but feel his shadow shift, pulsing in a pointed show of annoyance. When Sif blinked, he saw where she had to quickly conceal the satisfaction in her eyes.

    “Gaukr?” Andvari repeated, not without humor. “What an unfortunate name,” was his blunt opinion.

    “There was a reason my lord wished to add glory to such a name,” Sif explained, her voice treading between grief and hard bitterness with a delicacy Ullr would have not first thought to attribute to her. Gaukr, which meant fool, or simple-minded. It was indeed an unfortunate name.

    Andvari only snorted in answer, but her story was enough to amuse the dwarf; amuse him enough in incite his aid - for a fee, at least. He waved a hand, and the stone passage opened more fully behind him. He did not bow, or bid them enter first, but he did turn, and the door remained open to them.

    Ullr met his mother's eyes, and her smile was slight in answer. An invitation, then.

    They walked down a long and dark hall, lit by a constellation of dimly glowing blue lights to either side of them. After many twists and turns, the corridor eventually emptied out into a moderately sized cavern – simple and unassuming, at first glance. The walls were made of stone, carved out of the mountainside itself. The main chamber was central and massive, containing a small area for sitting and a small, open fire-pit for cooking and warmth. At the farthest end of the chamber was a simple forge, with a three walled hearth and a weary looking hood of roughly-worn stone overhead. There were bellows to the right-hand side, while an assortment of tongs and hammers hung to the left. The soft glow of embers emitted from within, even though no project was seen at hand. There were two exits from the room, one leading to Andvari's quarters, he would wager, and another, wider hall that led further back in the mountain and then down into the mines that no doubt riddled the range.

    Surprisingly, Andvari's home was empty of finery. The chairs were hard and unadorned by cushions, and the one table was a massive piece of bland slate. Everything was grey and droll, and the ground underneath their feet was hard-pressed for sweeping. Harsh, geometrical patterns were cut into the walls and engraved on the pillars that held up the room, but they were not the grand work Ullr would first think to associate with such a name as Andvari's.

    Still grumbling underneath his breath about the rudeness of unannounced guests, Andvari ushered them to sit, and put a kettle over the open pit's coals for tea. He had tin mugs he set out, and simple biscuits to go with them. Ullr helped himself to one pastry, not wanting to appear rude, while the dwarf watched as if tallying up every charge he could think to add. Ullr resigned himself to not taking a second helping.

    At last, Andvari too sat down, though he fiddled his fingers together – as if restless without a task to complete. Or, Ullr thought uncomfortably, his fingers simply sought out that which was no longer there. He watched their host, ill at ease in his presence, no matter the simple, humble appearance of his home.

    While his mother and Andvari spoke about the differing paths one could use to leave the moon behind for Vanaheimr, Ullr cast his gaze about the hall, feeling as if he'd missed something in his initial search. Something tickled his senses, giving him the disquiet notion that there was something else . . . something more, just beyond his ability to see. He blinked, feeling as if there was a haze about his eyes, yet, he could not peer through it, no matter how he looked.

    “Is your boy simple?” Andvari's harsh voice cut through his thoughts. Ullr started, coming back to himself to see their host offering him a steaming mug of tea – a mug he had ignored for too long, it would appear.

    “He mourns,” Sif answered for him. Though her expression was meek enough, he could see the way her eyes flashed in question. “His father's loss is still fresh to him, and his grief makes him slow.”

    Slow was an underlined word, marked with emphasis, though Andvari did not appear to notice. Curious, Ullr cast his gaze subtly about, not seeing where Loki could be searching at that moment – especially within ear-shot. Andavari's halls were empty and nondescript – absent of the great wealth and untold wonders that were rumored to be horded therein. There was nothing to search through; nothing to find.

    Ullr took a sip of his tea, and found it bitter and strong. But its warmth was comforting, and so he drank and drank deep as the dwarf turned to matters of payment once their road was decided upon. Ullr frowned, feeling as if their time spent in distraction passed much too quickly. When he handed his empty mug back to Andvari, the dwarf's skin was warm for the coolness of his hall, and Ullr thought to feel -

    Metal? He wondered, worn about the dwarf's first finger, though he could see no ring with his eyes.

    . . . he could see no ring with his physical eyes, Ullr at last understood – the sense of wrongness about the hall suddenly snapping into place, and making sense. He took in a shallow breath, doing his utmost to remember the principles behind Loki's altering his and his mother's appearance as he opened his eyes and looked at the walls surrounding them once more.

    And, this time, he saw not of nondescript stone and humble lodgings, but rather, a vast and seemingly never-ending maze of caverns and hollowed out stone, in which was crammed with every sort of treasure imaginable. Gold, silver, copper, bronze; wares in every precious metal were formed and fitted with thousands of priceless stones. Coins, jewelery, pottery, dishes, cutlery, statues, armor, crowns; all of that and more was piled in haphazard heaps that glittered and glistened in the far off light from a river of molten fire – lava, flowing from the heart of the moon, Ullr understood. Far beyond the gleaming piles, Andvari had a hall of great forges built for the crafting of his wealth, using the fire from the mountain as his bellows and the natural rise of the stones as his forge-hearth. His eyes widened, wondering just how Loki thought to search through such a never-ending collection in the scarce amount of time they would be able to buy.

    It was a beautiful and mesmerizing sight, the greatness of Andvari's treasure-halls, but Ullr quickly quelled his curiosity, seeing where the caverns were large enough to house a being much larger than Andvari . . . a much, much larger being. In places, many of the stalagmites and stalactites had been broken due to the great cast of some massive creature's wings, while the stone ways bore the marks of claws, gouged deep into the rock. A chill came over him, remembering that this pile of gold was also a dragon's cradle, and not a treasure to be approached lightly.

    Ullr frowned, not able to sense where Loki was amongst the treasure, but wondering if he could feel the Soul Gem as he had been able to feel Andvari the day before. When fighting the Each-uisge, he had felt alight with the power he had harnessed. He had felt as if his veins were full fit to bursting, and his pores all but leaking with the great might consuming him. It was as if he'd opened his eyes to see with the Mother's gaze; as if he made fists of his hands and closed them over Her branches as Her roots pierced through his spirit to make him all that She was. That same power was now one that seemed to linger, just beyond of his reach. It was there, waiting for his summons to fill him once more, and he tentatively reached out with his senses to touch it – aware where his sixth sense ached as if from the overuse of any physical muscle. He had overextended himself the day before, and he was still recovering from that overflow of power. But now, if he could simply . . .

    He reached out, seeking for the shard of the Soul Gem . . . and frowned when Andvari reached up to hold a hand over his breast . . . or rather, over the pocket sewn inside of his apron, where something small and deceptively unassuming was kept, and now burning due to his search.

    Ullr sucked in a breath when Andvari's dark eyes suddenly filled with suspicion, that flickering tongue of storm-light about his spirit suddenly forking with ill intention and newly stoked rage.

    Andvari stood, and with a sharp gesture of his hand, Ullr felt a pulse of seiðr hit him like a hammer-blow – destroying not only the illusion upon the hall, but also the illusion that cloaked both he and his mother.

    Sif immediately felt where the spell gave way. Where one moment she sat with a meek and courteous posture, simple and plain in a poor traveler's garb, she stood in the next with with a warrior's strength and a noble-woman's posture as her armor and tri-pronged helm glittered in the golden light from Andvari's horde. Resignation was deep in her gaze as she placed a hand on the hilt of her glaive, ready to draw both it and her shield with but an untoward movement from Andvari.

    . . . Andvari, whose eyes were even now filling with fury, a fury that only grew as that mad, crackling light about his spirit turned fit to swallow. Andvari breathed in deep, not even trying to control the furious strain of his power as it danced over his body with a now visible light – all, Ullr noticing with a sinking feeling, stemming from the now visible golden ring he wore upon his first finger. Advanuranaut – it was the ring Ullr had felt, rather than something within Andvari's spirit, and now . . .

    “Thieves,” Andvari hissed. “I should have known.” He took a step towards them, unhurried and dangerously slow in his movements. At his throat, Ullr could see the tell-tale gleam of scales touch his skin, while his teeth had sharpened to points within his mouth. And, his eyes . . .

    “Tell me, shield-maiden,” Andvari carefully tilted his head to the side, blinking eyes that were now filled with the slit-eyed gaze of a serpent. “Where is that thrice-cursed Trickster, and what does he want with my horde?”



    .

    .

    At first, Loki was having little luck with his search.

    It was relatively simple to cloak himself in the shadows and slip in behind Sif and Ullr unnoticed, and it was child's play to see beyond Andvari's craftily arrayed spells to steal into his horde. Once within, he walked with light feet over the shifting masses of gold and jewels, silent and soundless as he sifted through ropes of priceless pearls and cast aside great stones who held strange, otherwordly lights within their crystal casings. He passed over ornate weapons and gilded treasures, feeling where all pulsed with a static like magic for their so long sitting underneath the belly of a dragon. These pieces sang a siren-song, tempting an unwary hand forward, but Loki was careful not to touch that which he did not need, lest he aggravate a testy spell or two and thus alert their host of his presence.

    Even so, he could not keep his eyes from widening when he came upon things he did not know to be within Andvari's horde - priceless things, such as Tyrfing, the sword forged by Durin, the Father of the Dwarves, who had been trapped as soon as he awakened from the stone, and his skills ransomed in return for his freedom. The metal of the sword gleamed like fire, and it bit against his senses, even now carrying a curse for Durin's insult and outrage at his ill-treatment. Loki carefully passed the sword aside, knowing acutely of the rather . . . gruesome fates of all who had dared to wield it since then.

    He picked up and placed aside Bragi's golden harp, noting with some dark amusement that the crafts of the dwarves always seemed to find their way home. A gifted skald and the Father of Bards was Bragi, but a canny card-player he was not, and for such a priceless artifact to find its way here . . . Loki shook his head, and with more interest picked up the tarnhelm, which gave invisibility to its wearer. This he placed down more carefully, keeping it in mind should worse come to worst and Andvari turn into a less hospitable host.

    More carefully, he passed aside tomes completely made of sheaves of gold and bound with ornate rings, wherein runes and spells were beaten as magical grimoires both dark and light. In vast chests, there were the ornate, nail-shaped reginnaglar, which of old, mankind had used to ward their temples when worshiping his kindred. Next to them, in more ornate chests, he cautiously passed over the gold-gilded bones of giants and whales and dragons and sea-serpents, upon which runes of all sorts were carefully inlaid and set with power. Any other time, his itchy fingers would have wished to explore and peruse at leisure, but whatever the original properties of the spells, they had long served as a dragon's bed, and there was no telling what enchantments laid upon them now.

    There would be no better way than to alert Andvari to his presence than by setting off one of the spells in a rather impressive display of power and light – as such spells were known to be . . . eccentric after the passing of so much time, and that without a dragon's influence.

    All the while, he kept half an ear to the proceedings beyond – holding his tongue when Sif named him Gaukr, and even more so holding back his appreciation for the fine way she played her role as the tired and bitter good-wife. All were players who decorated the court of Odin, and he had long found it laughable when she claimed no such talent on her part. While it was true that she was crafted for blunt truths and honest blows, there were many a time when her tongue had helped them out of a tricky situation as much as his own words had. And now . . .

    One last time, he told himself, but even that thought was hollow, and the weight it held was empty. He bit his tongue against his moment of longing, and swallowed away his wanting until it was as a shadow to his thoughts – wispy, and far away.

    And still he searched. The last shard of the Soul Gem was here, just beyond his reach. He could feel it brush against his senses, disquieting as a whisper in the night, but it was not in here, he was starting to fear. No, Andvari would keep his dearest treasures close.

    He sighed, for while he had hoped to find the shard amongst Andvari's treasures, it was most likely on their host's person – which would certainly present an interesting dilemma to come.

    And yet, just as he wondered how to steal into Andvari's pockets, his thoughts were cast aside when he felt a flickering sensation travel up and down his spine. The sensation searched, it sought, and with a groan of frustration, he realized that the foolish boy was trying to break through Andvari's wards of illusion. Or, Loki acknowledged, Ullr was trying to search around them – but rather than proving himself helpful, the child would simply -

    - even as he thought so, Loki felt the exact moment where Andvari too felt the search. With a resigned breath, he turned from the piles of gold to look in on Andvari's dwelling – seeing where Sif stood, ready for battle, and Andvari looked on both mother and son with a dragon's gleam in his gaze.

    “Tell me, shield-maiden, where is that thrice-cursed Trickster, and what does he want with my horde?”

    It was time to intervene, then.

    Still soundless over the shifting piles of gold, he slid down one of the gilded slope and walked easily into the false setting of Andvari's halls. With a wave of his hand he dropped his own shield of invisibilty, and smiled charmingly at the clearly irked dwarf before them.

    “Ah, my lord Andvari,” Loki greeted on a cheerful voice. “It has been much too long since last we crossed paths.”

    Andvari's slit-eyed gaze was quick to find him; piercing and harsh in shape. “And yet, not long enough, it would seem,” the dwarf looked him up and down with a derisive stare. “You are the colt-ish boy who stole into my horde no more, it would seem.”

    “Three meals a day at Odin's table for a few millennia have their own way of paying off,” Loki gave with a smile that he knew to aggravate any onlooking from long experience. “Well, until the last five decades or so. Give or take a few years.”

    Andvari snorted. “Yet that tongue of yours has grown no grace, I see; nor your manners any courtesy.”

    “To the contrary,” Loki did not quite agree, “I have been told that my words are an exceptionally fine weapon. It is others who do not often seem inclined to listen, unfortunately. And, as for courtesy . . .”

    “ - you want something,” Andvari hissed in interruption. “You always want something; thieves, every last one of you are, sneaking around my mountain for what is rightfully mine by my own craft.”

    “And yet,” Loki lowered his voice to a flat threat of sound, “you have something upon your person that is decidedly not yours. Return it, and we may leave in peace. We wish for no quarrel.”

    “The same way you left in peace, so long ago?” Andvari returned. “You took the gilded best of my horde as a thief, not allowing - ”

    “ - forgive me my faulty memory, but was it not true that you agreed to the terms of our barter?” Loki's voice hardened as he reminded him. “It is a poor gambler who cannot settle his debts, and, in the end, it was you who refused equal recompense. I could have reversed your curse in payment for that paltry ounce of your treasure I took. Yet, you could not think for yourself beyond the ring you bore. You allowed it to heighten your greed to the point of unreasonableness. And now . . .” Loki paused, seeing what he had missed until then – seeing it both worn upon the dwarf's finger, and feeling it as static as storm-light against his senses. “Ah . . . I see that you still bear the Andvaranaut . . . The tales tell true; you did reclaim it from the ashes of Brünnhilde's pyre.”

    “Any mere flame cannot destroy that which was forged in the heart of my mountain,” Andvari hissed, “And the ring has yet to lead me wrong. Indeed, I am pleased that you chose to grace my horde again, for too long have I gone without paying the Sly One back blood for blood. If you want what is 'so rightfully yours', then take it. You need only find your way around me.”

    The light in his slit-eyes was a bright, blue-white heat. Loki felt his mouth turn down at the warning. “Andvari,” he lowered his voice to give a warning of his own, infusing his syllables with a deadly rise of power, “It is with peace we wish to part. Do not force us to do otherwise.”

    “The steel of Týr's daughter?” Andvari gave a snort of laughter. “The Trickster's sleigh of hand?” He touched his ring, twisting it upon his finger until it suddenly glowed as an ember in the half-light of the mountain hall. “Would you wager them as equal to a dragon's might?”

    “I have felled worse than dragons before,” Loki promised in a low voice, feeling his own seiðr rise and spike in answer to Andvari's threat. “And it is a fool who disregard's Sif's steel. This would not be the first time she has whetted her blade with dragon's blood.”

    In reply, Andvari simply laughed. What began as a high, hoarse sound soon deepened - as if his lungs were suddenly hot furnaces, and his mouth a great dark chasm, empty and wanting. For, soon it would be so - with the light of the ring rising to envelope him, stretching out his diminutive form for that which was massive, for that which was more.

    There was always an unparalleled elegance and beauty that came with the might and splendor of a dragon, Loki could not help but think. Behind him, he heard where Ullr sucked in a deep breath, looking up at the unveiled might that was Andvari's favored form – more true to him than his dwarven bones and dwarven hands ever were. Loki set his jaw, backing up to the piles of gold to grasp what had been so thoughtlessly left amongst the treasures there.

    “Put this on,” he commanded in a voice that allowed no argument, tossing the winged helm to the child. He would not have the seiðr to spare to shield him, and the tarnhelm was a powerful magick. “This shall keep you unseen. Stay back until we are finished.”

    He did not tarry to see if Ullr agreed or disagreed, instead turning from the boy to stand back to back with Sif. It was a place he settled into easily; centuries of fighting together more of an instinct than their years of fighting apart. She accepted his place with little more than a nod, looking up as Andvari completed his transformation to stare down at them with mad blue eyes, the crystal lights of the mountain-hall dancing over his red-gold scales like newly applied enamel. Underneath the great weight of his claws and the mighty thunder of his wings, the piles of gold trembled. The mountain moaned underneath their feet, bowing to the creature who had once again taken up his throne on his sea of treasure.

    And yet, they stood firm, refusing to yield their ground as the dragon bared his teeth and gave a low, trumpeting blast of sound, glorying in the power and stretch of his form as it was let free once more.

    “Well, my lady, did you or did you not want to slay a dragon?” Loki smiled a sharp smile, full of teeth. His eyes did not once glance away from the dragon now dominating their view.

    From the corner of his eye, he watched as Sif simply set her gaze in a cross glare in reply. Then, grimly, they moved forward as one.



    ~MJ @};-
     
  21. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Marvelous contests of wills and illusions. Ulrr's curiosity was definitely understandable but not hidden well enough. [face_thinking] Getting the item Loki wants will indeed prove a dilemma. :eek:

    =D=
     
  22. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Nyota's Heart: There certainly is a difference between power and experience that Ullr is learning here, that's for certain. It'll be good for him in the long run, though. :p And, for now, getting that shard of the Soul Gem is definitely turning out to be a wee bit of a pickle. :oops:8-}

    As always, I thank you so much for reading, and hope that you enjoy this next update. :) [:D]







    Part X

    At first, Ullr had not quite known what to expect from the dragon. Thor's stories painted them in many different shapes: from massive and cumbersome, to sleek and fast; winged and unwinged; some with arms and some without; some tiny and some larger than even the tallest spires in Glaðsheimr. Once, Thor had even mentioned a Were-wyrm from the moons of Álfheimr; a man with bronze skin and ruby eyes who, with his two siblings, transformed into a great, three-headed dragon. Ullr had seen rainbow colored eggs in a nest high in the Trúfinr mountains of Asgard, but his mother had pulled him on, not wanting to disturb the unhatched ones from their slumber. When they came to the plunge of a deep canyon, they saw the mother dragons – relatively small and fiercely quick things soaring on the turbulent mountain winds – hunting in ornate and glittering patterns, singing to the morn. Once, Sif had told him, the Aesir had horns that mimicked the dragon-song enough to bond with a mount and ride them into battle, but their arts had been lost over the centuries. The song of the dragons was more beautiful than any melody of harpstrings and woodwinds Ullr had ever heard, and they had stopped to listen for the better part of the day. Their song continued well into the night, and it was something Ullr still heard in his dreams.

    But, this dragon . . .

    Andvari was more long than vast; his form snake-like and sleek, capable of darting easily through the deepest waters or fiercest winds. His snout was long, and his skull was topped by two massive horns, sweeping back from the crown of his brow. A tall crest of elegant spines and thin, leathery skin lined his long back, the colours molted from a rich red-gold to the darkest of blues and violets near the tips. His red-gold scales danced in the light from the torches, appearing to be jewels enough to match the massive horde of treasure underneath his fearsome claws.

    Andvari did not seem capable of speech in his dragon's form. Instead, he loosed a trumpeting bellow, the sound still musical in its cadence at it rattled his bones and seemingly settled behind his heart. This creature was a creature of old enchantments, and Ullr's sixth sense flickered like a candle in the wind underneath the shadow of his presence.

    Safe in his hiding place, Ullr watched as his mother ducked the dragon's claws, dancing with his massive limbs to strike with her glaive. Yet, the steel merely glanced over the diamond-hard skin of his scales - dwarven though her weapon may have been. With Loki's spells the scales softened, but Ullr instantly understood why he'd insisted that they did not have the time to engage such a beast – the process would be long and violent, leaving both his mother and Loki depleted in strength and power for when they finally faced the brothers and the wraith that still held Thor's soul in thrall.

    Ullr ducked further into his hiding place, making sure that the tarnhelm was secure on his head as he thought . . . and thought . . . and thought.

    And he wondered . . .

    In the form of a dragon, Andvari's ring had grown to fit around the first of his five massive talons on his left forepaw. Even now he could feel the curse of the ring dance with a static light around the dragon's power, marring that which should have been elemental and mesmerizing. The ring was the reason for the madness in Andvari's eyes, he knew, just as the ring had been the reason for the suffering of so many, for so long. If he could find a way to take the ring from him . . . from there . . .

    No mere flame could melt the ring, Andvari had said, for it was crafted from the heart of his mountain. And yet . . . Ullr looked back to the forges, and found the river of black lava that Andvari used for his crafts. If he could get the ring, could he then . . . ?

    Ullr frowned, reminding himself that it was his fault that Andvari had seen through their farce in the first place . . . again he had been as an impediment, rather than an asset, and if he endangered Thor's soul through his foolish efforts once more . . . He felt a hot flush of shame for his inexperience wounding their endeavors in such a way, before feeling his resolve harden as tempered steel. He would simply be very, very careful this time, he resolved.

    Very careful, the thought struck his mind when the dragon's tail knocked into the crest of the pile he had been hiding behind, sending down an avalanche of coins and precious stones.

    Gold and gems rained down on him as Andvari struck and counter-struck again and again. With the shield of shifting treasure cloaking him, Ullr was able to come closer and closer, all the while keeping his gaze on the ring. There was no way he would be able to pull the ring free with the dragon's weight resting on his paw, and neither did he think he could cut the whole talon off – his steel was Ivaldi-forged, but even the thin scales about the dragon's claws would resist any blow he could think to make - and his strength was still the strength of a man not yet grown, at that.

    He narrowed his eyes, thinking, watching as Andvari used his wings for short, fast bursts of speed as he took to the air and came down again just as quickly. The dragon did not need to take to the yawning spaces of the mountain caverns, for he clearly relished engaging his foes at their level. But, when he did fly . . . even for those small moments . . .

    Ullr could feel his heart hammer in his chest, so wild was the idea, but he swallowed his apprehension away and made steel of his resolve. It was his fault that Andvari had spooked, and it was his fault that they faced the dragon now; just as it was his fault that Andvari had stolen the shard of the Soul Gem from Nihhus' lake in the first place. He would do his part, and maybe, just maybe, his efforts would put them that much closer to returning Thor's soul home.

    Walking with silent feet, he moved with the shifting piles of treasure, coming closer and closer to the dancing limbs of the dragon. He had to duck Andvari's thrashing tail, and side-step being trod upon more times than he cared to count, but he was small and fast and his reflexes were sharp. He needed only patience and time, and then -

    - when Andvari's step shifted a dune of golden coins, Ullr let himself slide down onto Andvari's claw, his slight weight indistinguishable from the weight of the treasure the dragon disturbed. He took in a breath, and settled his hands upon the now massive shape of the ring. His palms buzzed and his fingertips sparked with static for touching the Andvaranaut, feeling as the ill-forged spells hissed at his presence, but he paid them no heed. Ignoring the burning sensation that bit his skin, he poised his hands underneath the lip of the metal, watching . . . waiting until -

    - the next time Andvari gave a mighty flap of his wings – thus leaving the ring free and unencumbered from the great mass of the dragon's weight - Ullr was ready.

    This close, the gust of wind from Andvari's wings was as a gale in a storm, and Ullr ignored the stinging in his eyes and the flapping of his cloak and hair as he braced himself against Andvari's claw and foreleg in order to push the ring free. He gave as much strength as he had to give, feeling his limbs thrum with a formless sort of power as he thought only free and now, now, now -

    And suddenly, the ring gave way. It slipped free, and Ullr tumbled over the dragon's claw and fell down with it.

    By the time he landed on the dune of treasure and slid down, the ring had already transformed to a size more fitting his own hand. Ignoring the now furious lashing of power within the metal, he made his hand a fist about the ring, aware of Andvari's knowing of his loss by the horrible, keening noise he unleashed. The dragon swiped an angry claw through the shifting mass of treasure – searching, seeking, and almost knocking Ullr aside in his fervency to do so – his mouth snapping as he bellowed out his anger for his loss.

    Where before there had been something almost playful about the way Andvari fought Sif and Loki – as a cat would toy with a mouse – there was now only an unmitigated rage in his cloudy blue eyes, and his body was tight with a fearsome anger. Aware of the fury he had unleashed, Ullr turned and ran as fast as he could to the river of black lava that fed Andvari's forge.

    Yet, the sea of treasure was undulating as with waves for the way Andvari was thrashing about. Ullr dodged what he could, doing his best to pick what safe path he could find, but it was all for naught when he had to stop to avoid where one massive stone pillar was knocked loose by Andvari's slashing tail. Ullr ducked and rolled, but while doing so the tarnhelm – which was already too big for his brow – was knocked aside. It rolled free of his head, and vanished underneath the shifting mass of treasure.

    Ullr held his breath, and clenched his hand even tighter over the Andvaranaut, telling himself not to look as the dragon turned very, very still behind him. Andvari saw, and Andvari knew, and Ullr . . .

    Ullr told his suddenly quivering limbs to run, and did not look back.

    With every step, he expected to feel the dragon's hot breath on the back of his neck. He expected striking talons, he expected slicing wings as Andvari tossed his head in fury and opened his mouth with fire – and, at last, Andvari did strike. But, he was countered.

    At first, Ullr did not understand the low, awful tremor that filled the mountain hall. The walls vibrated and the ground trembled as if preparing to open as a maw and swallow the whole of Andvari's horde. Yet, it took Ullr a moment to realize that it was not the mountain that cried, but the treasure itself that buzzed with movement.

    The treasure - all of it - every singly coin and gem and priceless piece shuddered, trembled, and then rose as if summoned by an unseen hand. The whole of Andvari's horde rose to dance on the air like some terrible storm of gold, glowing faintly green about the edges as it thrust forward to counter Andvari mid-flight, breaking as a wave upon the shore of his scales. Andvari sputtered from the force of the blow; he spun, his control lost, and the mountain shook as his body collided with the stone walls of the cavern.

    “Andvari, to me,” a low voice, laced with power, filled the air with its terrible breadth and depth of might. The dragon's head snapped around to face its bearer in reply, his cloudy blue eyes filling with a black cast of hate.

    Ullr managed to sneak one glance over his shoulder, and saw Loki with his hands held out and his palms facing up. They were filled with dancing coins, the few pieces he manipulated mirrored the massive jets of shifting treasure just beyond. His eyes were filled with a bright green light, and Ullr could feel as his power danced in the mountain hall like storm light, alive and alight and terribly deadly in potency. Even so, his spells were a familiar sensation to Ullr, a kindred one . . . one he knew as a mirror for how his own enchantments would build - sometimes so quickly and so intensely that he thought that he would lose himself underneath all that his power was and yet still could be. It was green and soaring and knit tightly from the Mother's roots, so much so that She at times seemed to grow up from his own soul, and he . . .

    He stared, wide eyed and amazed as Loki swept his hand, and the treasure moved to mirror his movements, battering into Andvari like a war-hammer, sweeping him aside as if he were a sparrow caught in a spring-storm. Andvari trumpeted out his anger, but he could not find his feet, he could not flap his wings against the curtain of dancing gold. His teeth snapped, but they had no bite. Hot fire grew from his lungs, but the gold that was struck merely turned molten, and Loki manipulated that too. Ullr's fingers twitched, so familiar the spells were to him, no matter how great their scale was, and he then knew -

    Ullr,” he heard his mother's voice hiss, and suddenly Sif's gloved hand was about his wrist and pulling him forward. “You have not the time to watch.”

    Thus reminded of his purpose, he shook his head to clear it of the haze that had taken him – the understanding that had struck him – and he set his mouth in a determined line. He turned away from Loki, and with Sif as a shield at his back, he ran.



    .

    .

    “It has been many years since we faced a dragon together, my lady, has it not?”

    “I could have gone a century yet without facing another,” was Sif's reply, tight and forced between her teeth.

    “Oh?” his voice was cheerfully bright in answer. “If I do recall correctly, there was a time when you and Thor would look through my scrolls for the sole purpose of finding some poor creature to bother. I was dragged along more than I ever care to recall, and even lost my first set of throwing daggers against that ridiculous six-headed beast - ”

    “Brandr,” Sif gave in a clipped voice as she spun away from the dragon's reach. Loki spun with her, keeping to her side as easily as vines twining together over stone. Before she moved to strike at Andvari's neck, he gave a blow with his own spells, chipping away at the scales so that her steel would find purchase. “Brandr was his name.”

    “Brandr,” Loki made a face at the name, as if its syllables were ill to the taste. “Yes, Brandr.”

    “I have grown since those days, as has Thor,” she still found the time to reply – the implication of who had stood still clear as polished crystal to hear. “I have developed sense; and sense insists that dragons should not be prodded unless they first prod.”

    “Which,” Loki saw fit to point out, “Andvari most certainly did . . . Unless you'd have rather left the shard with him, and let bygones be bygones with dear old Thor - ”

    Her next swipe with her glaive came very, very close to the side of his face. Loki wisely took a step back, knowing better than to anger War when War was so engaged. But, even so, he could not deny the low, base sort of thrill that thrummed through him in that moment. While he had never rejoiced in the glory of battle, nor much saw the merit in attributing encomiums to the strength of arms alone, he had always enjoyed moving in unison and perfect sync with her. They worked well together in a dance they had honed over centuries – for Thor's violence and ferocity often pitted him as a solitary player in the field of battle, and Sif's short range when combined with Loki's long reaching spells and thrown weapons had often made them a logical pair.

    The years had not been so many that he did not remember this – the flex of her muscles and the sway of her body as she engaged her foe. He knew about her weak spot on the left, between the reach of her glaive and the cover of her shield, and he knew how she favored switching hands in the middle of a battle to throw her enemy off balance. He could be water about her strength, liquid and flowing, and, together, there had been few who could best them.

    . . . there had been, at least. Now, Loki could tell where she had spent years from him – moving in new ways that he did not first anticipate, becoming self-aware of her own weaknesses and compensating for them on her own, rather than waiting for him to act as a shield at her back. He was not needed, not now - not ever, really - but he nonetheless felt where she paused, and made room for him. He swallowed, and resigned himself to taking what little War could offer, understanding the gift for the form of trust it was.

    And so, the battle took them. Andvari was an old foe, an ancient magick, and the battle would be long and wearying before he was defeated and the shard of the Soul Gem was their own. Frowning, Loki gazed around the cavern, wondering what he could use to speed things along – for he did not wish to be completely depleted by the time they engaged Gangr and Iði - when he felt it . . . when he understood just what the foolish, brave, stupid boy was doing underneath the cloak of the tarnhelm.

    “There is no questioning that Ullr is your son,” he hissed at Sif, just as Andvari howled in pained outrage – shaking his right forepaw and screaming as the Andvaranaut was taken from him. Loki could feel as Ullr ran, his prize in hand, even as Andvari blindly struck at the foe he could not see.

    “Such foolhardiness is not merely mine own,” was Sif's reply – her voice was deceivingly unaffected, but Loki could feel the sudden, tense cast of her body as she narrowed her eyes like a hunting bird, searching for her child amongst the gold.

    It did not take long for Ullr to become visible with the turmoil of Andvari thrashing about above him. Loki saw where Ullr stumbled, where the tarnhelm fell, and -

    “Sif,” he pointed, but he had not needed to.

    “I see,” she was already running forward, trusting him to watch the dragon overhead as she raced through the rolling sea of shifting gold to where Ullr was recovering himself.

    And Loki did not think. He saw only Andvari's blue eyes narrowing, taking on a bright cast of flames and crazed gold-lust. He could feel the dragon's lungs fill with fire as he snapped his teeth around suddenly hot air, his intentions all but screaming from his skin. Loki felt his own limbs fill with a similar fire, a matching heat. He bared his teeth, and felt equal to the wyrm in that moment.

    “Andvari!” he let his challenge ring out, filling the mountain halls and reverberating from the stone. “To me!”

    The dragon's head snapped around, searching and finding him with violence and hate dripping from every mighty movement of his body. Loki answered him in kind, feeling his eyes fill with such a light as his fingertips thrummed and his bones burned with power, all but screaming for an outlet, for a purpose. And so, he held his hands out, he placed his palms up – and he let it go.

    It had been many years since he had needed such a raw outpouring of seiðr . . . it had been many years since his power burned through his veins with such a pure and righteous energy, at that. But he only knew that it was his child - his son, admitting such was a bright, intoxicating forbidden idea, a dream made truth - who held the dragon's dearest treasure, and it was Sif – SifSifSif – who stood as a shield over his back. Loki had not held on to such a determination to shield – to protect and destroy all at once – since he fastened the Infinity Gauntlet about his wrist and watched as Thanos burned, barely holding onto his sense of self lest he and the Mother herself burn as well.

    Andvari struck, but it was as a lightning bug trying to outshine a star. Loki flicked a hand, and the dragon's own horde rose as something living to batter him and send him flying. Andvari breathed his flames, but he only managed to melt and singe his own wares, and the molten alongside the white-hot Loki turned on Andvari. The dragon's skin was impervious to such flames, but it was a discomfort to his open eyes as much as it was a danger within his open mouth – for a dragon could breathe fire, but swallowing fire was quite another thing entirely. Loki could have destroyed him through that alone, before Andvari became wise enough to save that weapon for another time. He closed his mouth, and instead lashed out with his great claws – claws that could even do Aesir flesh, a Jötunn body, harm if truly struck.

    And so, Loki met him blow for blow, all the while keeping an eye out for Ullr with the Andvaranaut in hand, and Sif standing wary at his back. Until, at last, he felt Andvari roll through the verdant cast of his power to sink into his mind with a dragon's musical lilt of eternity and power. His mind's voice danced up and down his bones and settled behind his heart, allowing Loki to understand his words more than hear them outright.

    You care about the child, about the woman, Andvari mused, still striking and floundering about the storm of gold and treasure. You could have long taken this pretty green shard from me and been on your way while I dealt with the thieves in my nest. And yet . . .

    They too are mine, and I will not leave without them, Loki answered in the simplest way he knew how. They are not yours to do with as you would.

    A bright, chiming noise amongst the screaming coins and clamoring jewels was the dragon's laughter. Then you too understand my lust, my need for all you see around you. This is my treasure, mine, and you never understood the pain you inflicted when you stole from me. But now . . .

    He felt where Andvari's eyes turned; where he looked away. He turned his back on Loki to find . . .

    He is a bright child . . . a special child. He burns against my senses like star-fire – even brighter than you were at that age, Andvari mused. But he too can burn, as all things can burn -

    Andvari turned, and Loki went to intercept the fountain of dragon-fire. The split-second between understanding and reacting had cost him, though, and he struck in time to prevent the second blow, but not the first. He watched, and felt relief fill him when Sif caught the first jet of fire underneath the cover of her shield, tucking Ullr in close to her side and grimly setting her teeth against the heat of the unnatural flame badgering down on her and her son. The enchantments on the shield shuddered, but held, safely protecting them both.

    Loki felt a white hot, violent rage fill him, wishing that he could twist his fingers and tear the dragon's scales off one by one to find the more tender skin underneath. He settled with turning his power to the mountain itself, calling the rocky formations lining the ceiling to fall and the stone floor to shake, turning Andvari's aim useless until he took to the air, where his wings struggled to steadily flap against the maelstrom of gold and gems surrounding him.

    But Andvari was smart, and he ignored Loki in favor for turning on the pair racing for the river of black lava just beyond. In such close quarters, Loki had to be careful with how he aimed his blows, and his caution cost him precious seconds that Sif paid for by taking with the brunt of her shield. So far they were lucky, but it would just take once – only once -

    And that once came when they arrived at the maze of walkways and bridges that would take them over the river of lava and then to the forges beyond. Andvari gave up on striking at Sif and Ullr, and instead aimed for the bridge itself.

    For one terrifying moment, seemingly occurring in slow motion and crawling across his senses with barbed little claws, Loki saw the bridge give way. He saw the Andvaranaut glimmer golden, sensing its impeding death in the black river below, but due to Andvari's insanity and violent impulses, it would -

    - Loki reached out a hand to forestall the inevitable, but Andvari was faster, and it only took a well-aimed blow from his mighty claws for the bridge to give way, and with it -

    A horribly desperate sound came from his throat, torn from his mouth and wrenched from some place deep inside of him. He closed his mouth over the outcry, clenching his fists and trying to control the suddenly black sense of power and the overwhelming urge to destroy and ruin that was growing at his fingertips. He would take the mountain itself down, he decided with enraged, deadly certainty, and he and the dragon both would go with it.

    Yet . . . the image then faded. It gave way. The bridge found its death in its molten grave, but the last image he had of Sif and Ullr falling glimmered green about the edges. The illusion danced, and the illusion broke -

    - the image then shattered. It disappeared . . . as if it never was. For it had been a lie all along.

    And Loki then heard Ullr call out from one of the higher crossings, “Andvari!” He was holding a hand out over the river below, and in his hand the Andvaranaut glittered gold before it fell.

    Andvari spun his head around, shocked and enraged, while Loki stood there, staring dumbly at the child. For he had . . .

    By the Mother . . . he could not first process what he had seen. That little, son of a -

    - well . . . me, Loki thought with no small amount of bewildered amusement. Such illusions and double-feints were normally his favored specialty, and now he stood, letting his rage and unthinkable, overwhelming pain go with his next exhale of breath. His limbs felt weak, and he was then glad for the dragon's moment of preoccupation, for he did not think that he would have then been able to lift a hand to defend himself had Andvari struck -

    - and then it did not matter, for the Andvaranaut landed in the river of molten lava below, and with a shudder and a hiss the gold gave way to the heat that had forged it. Loki inhaled at the black breath that filled the air from the ring's death throes, able as he was to feel as the foul enchantments howled and struggled against their fate before finally succumbing in a terrible rush of wind and whoosh of dying breath, causing the mountain itself to shudder as Andvari turned in on himself and screamed -

    Unable to hold onto his second form as the ring died, Andvari seemed to collapse before their eyes. The mighty limbs of the dragon shrank and gave way to a small, dwarvish build, while his thundering voice turned to little more than broken sobs, hidden as the dwarf now was within his towering piles of glittering gold.

    For a moment, no one moved. His own limbs were uncooperative to his use, and his step was unsteady in the aftermath of his thinking to lose Sif and Ullr both in one fell swoop. His heart was still thundering, not quite believing the stillness that had settled after the storm. Warily, he made his way through the now still piles of gold to find the dwarf huddled in a small ball and softly, pitifully crying.

    Frowning, Loki knelt down next to him, and pushed Andvari's shoulder to turn him over. The dwarf went without protest, but he did not have the strength to sit up any straighter than that. Even so, Loki could tell a curious softening about his features. His eyes were bright and unclouded when he blinked, and when he spoke . . .

    “For so long,” Andvari whimpered. “It has been a part of me for so long . . . and now . . . I do not know how to exist without the ring . . . for it was me.”

    Andvari's voice was now a warm, pleasant tenor to hear. His limbs seemed less made of stone, and his breath came easier in his lungs, no matter that he now cried for his loss. Loki settled the last bits of anger and violence in his own limbs, looking up as Sif and Ullr came to stand next to him – Sif with little pity in her expression, and Ullr with a wide-eyed gaze, wondering for the repercussions of their destroying the force that had so long rotted the dwarf's mind.

    With a shaking hand, Andvari reached into the pocket of his smith's apron, and withdrew the small, green shard of stone. Loki could feel the fragment of the Soul Gem pulse next to his own heartbeat, his body remembering what it had felt like to control all six, complete Infinity Stones as one. He swallowed the memory away, and waited for Andvari to speak.

    “Take it, and leave,” Andvari whispered as he pressed the remaining piece of the Soul Gem into his hand. Slowly, wearily, he closed his fingers over it. “Someday I may thank you. But, today . . .” a sound fell from his mouth, inhuman and pained.

    Loki looked up at Sif, and tilted his head in question. She simply blinked down at the dwarf at her feet, staring for a long moment before something about her features softened. Without another word spoken, she stepped past Andvari and made her way to the entrance of his hall, intent on exiting. A heartbeat passed, and Ullr followed her.

    Loki was slow to follow suit, instead looking down at the huddled form before him, feeling only an abstract sort of understanding for the broken creature's pitiful whines and suffering. Perhaps, years ago, pettiness and improper pride would have demanded more in the sense of retribution, but years had passed, and he felt only weary in the aftermath of their victory. But, he settled with reflecting, Andvari would heal, and someday, perhaps, he would be the better for it.

    Inhaling, Loki turned from the wealth of the mountain and the broken sobs of the dwarf, and walked back into the day.



    ~MJ @};-
     
  23. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Fantastic! =D= The action and the skills Ullr is displaying. [face_thinking] The whole enslavement to the Ring and the release after its destruction -- riveting!

    Loki and Sif do make a grand team, working in perfect sync. @};- Eagerly awaiting the next part when Thor is "rescued" and then what of S/L? :)
     
  24. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Nyota's Heart: I have to once again thank you for reading, and taking the time to leave your thoughts. There is never a time I do not appreciate your doing so! [:D]


    We're nearing the end of this tale now. Two, maybe three parts are left, and then it's onwards to other projects. [face_love]







    Part XI


    They stepped outside to see the purple twilight illuminating the cascade veiling Andvari's home. Carefully, they picked their way down from the Andvara-falls while they still had the light, heading further downriver to where caverns catacombed the rock and the water spilled over the cliffs in calmer patterns than the thundering horseshoe falls.

    “Now what do we do?” Ullr asked as they walked. “Do we take the shard back to Huld for Thor's soul?”

    “I believe that Huld expects the entire stone,” Loki answered grimly. “And she may not yet barter that which is not her own.”

    Ullr frowned, little understanding his words. “Then . . . you are waiting for the brothers, for Gangr and Iði? We wait to complete the stone, to defeat the wraith, and thus free Thor - ”

    “ - more or less,” Loki answered. So simple did the boy make it sound, with all of the brightness of youth, and -

    “ - yet, why did we seek out Huld's aid in the first place?” Ullr seemed frustrated by their debt to the Star-keeper. “If she was not needed to free Thor's soul, then why -”

    “ - Huld pointed us to the last shard of the Soul Gem, else-wise we'd still be searching the deepest holes of the cosmos one at a time,” Loki replied. “For her to do so, we had to promise her that equal in return. And, if our day goes to ill, and we do lose Thor . . . well, it would be quite prudent to have the Keeper in our good graces then, would it not?”

    Loki watched where the smaller face twisted, Ullr little liking the answers as they were given to him. Loki glanced to Sif to see her carefully observing their interaction, uncharacteristically silent as she merely listened to their conversation without joining in herself. For a moment, he wondered if that was because she simply had nothing to say, or - a more troubling thought to think upon - she was simply giving him this moment, as many such moments as she could, before -

    - sharply he inhaled, feeling a curious sort of pain clench his chest at the thought. But he simply closed his eyes against the sensation, and carried on.

    “Then, the brothers and their wraith . . .” Ullr continued thoughtfully. “How do we find them?”

    “We do not,” Loki answered simply. “Rather they will find us, drawn by the call of this.” He brandished the shard of the Soul Gem, letting it shine bright in the twilight before tucking it away in a pocket of the void, summoning the shadow and dismissing it with a wave of his hand.

    “How soon?” Ullr asked.

    Loki tilted his head to the side, even now able to feel the low, cold sensation of a summoned spirit tickling the edge of his senses. He exhaled. “I do not expect to pass this night through without them finding us,” he replied honestly. “They are on the moon, but until they find us -” he gestured to one of the larger caves ahead, pleased to feel the low warmth of an underground waterway running through this particular cavern.

    “Here there are hot springs in which to clean up, and a sheltered place where we may rest,” Loki continued. He glanced to Ullr, noticing how the tired child carefully picked his path through the sharp rock and piled stones, mindful of the heaviness of his step. He should not have been summoning spells so quickly after their encounter with the each-uisge, Loki knew, and this time, he was quite certain that the boy would have to stay out of the way when the brothers came upon them. He looked, and saw Sif's sharp gaze espying what he did in much the same way. Her mouth was a thin line when she glanced at him, but just as quickly her gaze fell away.

    They sent the boy off first to the hot springs, and easily settled into the once familiar routine of setting up camp for the night – he using his seiðr to clean and dry the ground while she left to gather wood for a fire. Once returned, she undid their bedrolls while he took out the rations from her pack to see to their supper. He did not trust Sif to boil water without mishap, and he was quite certain that their years apart had done but little to further her skills. More than that, it was a habit, no matter how long it had been since last they'd worked together as such.

    Loki frowned against the silence that was, however, not characteristic of those bygone times, and told himself that he did not feel her lack of words as a wound. He simply squared his jaw, and looked down at his task, refusing to meet her eyes as she busied herself around him.

    By the time Ullr returned, the smell of boar – pre-cooked, but glazed in the mead from Sif's decanter to roast anew - filled the small place with a pleasant, homey aroma. He was sautéing the mushrooms in the boar's drippings when Ullr looked over with a barely veiled interest, and he gestured to the hard black bread and soft goat's cheese he'd already unwrapped. Ullr needed little more encouragement before fetching one of the wooden bowls and gathering quite the substantial plate for himself. His appetite, Loki mused with some droll amusement, was unquestioningly Aesir in shape. Of that he had little doubt.

    Sif watched her son for a moment, assuring herself that he would eat enough to restore his depleted energy, before announcing: “I will take my turn now,” without meeting his eyes. The lines of her body were tense as she gathered her pack for the hot springs, and he watched her openly, understanding only after a moment that it took effort on her part to trust him alone with her son – with their son. He bit the inside of his lip at the thought, and tasted blood.

    Ullr, however, was ignorant to the silent exchange going on above his head. When Sif looked over to level one hard glance at him, Loki ducked his head underneath the pretense of removing the boar from the flames, rather than meeting her eyes. Once, he thought with little humor - his memories once again biting against the tender tissue of his mind - he would have ignored her leaving to bathe as if he could care less of what she did and when, before waiting for the exact moment when Thor and the Warriors Three would have enough of their ale – encouraged by Loki, truth be told – to care not if he left for one of his 'moody wanderings in the wild'. Really, in truth, he would follow her, and their nights spent away from Asgard would then turn quite pleasurable indeed. He frowned against his memories, unsure if he missed the hungry way she would take out her last remnants of battle lust upon him, or the ease between them when he would wash and braid her still damp hair for her, marveling in its heavy texture and black, black color as he ever did. Perhaps, most of all, he missed the trust in her eyes, which was present and warm enough to burn throughout all of those stolen moments.

    He looked up, wondering if she'd turned back to meet his eyes at the last possible moment, but found that she was already gone.

    Loki moved aside when Ullr reached for another helping of the boar, and then took a bowl out for his own supper. He ate mechanically, however, more because his body needed the sustenance, rather than any true appreciation for the meal. He finished eating quickly enough, and breathed a word of power over the remaining food so that it would remain warm until Sif returned.

    His task finished, he laid down on his back by the fire, and took out the last shard of the Soul Gem to curiously examine. Carefully, he held the small chip of green between his thumb and first finger, taking in the jagged edges and brilliant color, brighter than any mere emerald could ever hope to compete with. It burned with a light of its own, even when sundered from the rest of the stone, and Loki could feel the hungry, ravenous cast of its power, even in so small a shape. Out of all of the Infinity Stones, it was this one that had caused him the most unease when he donned the Gauntlet all of those years ago. For this one even tried to swallow its sister-stones, greedy and wanting as it was. Loki frowned and pressed his finger down, feeling its sharp edges bite into his skin, wondering . . .

    “I remember how the rest of the stone felt with the brothers; how they used it to summon the wraith,” Ullr said into the silence. “I did not care for the feel of its power then.”

    Loki glanced to see Ullr staring, not at him, but at the shard in his hand. The light of the Infinity Stone mixed with his own green mark in the enchanted flames, clashing discordantly in the growing dark of the cavern and casting queer shadows over Ullr's face in their turn. Loki blinked, and looked away.

    “There is wisdom in trusting such instincts,” Loki replied. “Especially where beings such as the wraith are concerned. I would never risk such a summoning myself, truth be told. Trying to force such powerful creatures into servitude always seems to have the tendency to act in . . . surprising ways.” He then remembered Thanos for the barest of moments - the way the prismatic flames at last grew to swallow the cruelty in his eyes - and fought not to smile sharply at the memory.

    Ullr was silent for a long moment, and Loki could feel the weight of his stare leave the stone in favor of turning to him. At last he said, “There are some stories that say you wanted the blue stone – the Tesseract - to subdue Midgard for your own.” His voice was shaped carefully, as if he knew to be poking a slumbering beast with his words. Once, the thought would have brought a thin smile to his mouth; now he simply set his teeth together, weary. “Yet,” Ullr continued, “other stories say that you schemed and plotted to collect all six Infinity Stones to slay Thanos himself. Few know which stories are true, for they all differ so greatly.”

    “And you?” Loki asked quietly. “Which story do you believe to be true?”

    Ullr pondered his answer for a moment, before saying, “I think that the truth is made up of many stories; not merely one.”

    Loki gave a wry grin in reply. “Then you are wise beyond your years, child.”

    Ullr gave a small huff of breath, and when Loki glanced at him, he was staring ponderously into the flames. Slowly, Loki sat up once more, turning his gaze to the fire as if he too could find answers to match the child's own.

    “I do not feel wise,” Ullr at last whispered. “I feel bumbling . . . awkward. On this journey alone I have been more of a burden than my keeping is worth, and that truth shames me.”

    Loki raised a brow, feeling a low prickle of memory for the youth's words – for they seemingly came from his own mouth, a lifetime ago now. If he blinked, he could first see Frigg and then Sif sitting silent and supportive beside him as he whispered with the utmost certainty that he would never be enough, knowing that he would never be what his father wanted. He would never be Thor, until, finally -

    He sighed, and carefully considered his reply. “Even were you not few in years, just now learning to harness an uncomprehendingly vast power, I would tell you that you have amazed me more than once on this journey . . . and I am not one so easily moved by the actions of others these days.” Loki found his tongue thick in his mouth, having imagined these words from Odin's throat so often that there were times he'd thought to dream them into existence. “Your power humbles my own, and it has been a true privilege watching you thus far.” For that was the honest truth, in the simplest way he could think to phrase it. He thought more than he said – the Mother knew that he felt more, even – but he bit all of those words away, instead settling for saying: “You are a pride to your mother . . . never, ever doubt that you are.”

    For in such doubt was the root of a great many ill things . . . this he knew better than most.

    “It is for her that I wish to do well . . . to do better, to do more,” Ullr was quick to reply, and Loki could hear the mingled awe and frustration in his voice. “She is strong, stronger than she has to be – for me, for Thor, for the Realm . . . If I can be one less burden to her, if I can instead be a pride to her name, thus lightening the load she caries . . .” For a moment, Ullr was silent, and Loki felt as if his eyes were as weights upon him. There was a blow aimed in his words, one that Loki was slow to understand.

    “She is happy – we are happy,” Ullr at last said, his voice strangely turning into a colder, more tactical shape. “I am not trying to say that she is not content. But she holds herself upright underneath the weight of a great many things, just as she stands as a shield for so many. I only wish to be a shield in kind for her, and protect her as I may.”

    For a moment, Loki felt his breath come shallow in his lungs as he understood the warning in the boy's voice – not a threat, but a warning, nonetheless. He held himself carefully still, understanding then without words that Ullr had seen, and Ullr now knew . . . How? When? Loki baffled to wonder, and yet . . .

    He knows the same way you knew, a small, scornful voice whispered from inside of him. Your little display of power in Andvari's hall – how could he have not guessed, and from that guessing, known?

    Loki frowned, and turned to find the boy's eyes – Ullr meeting his gaze boldly and without blinking. He recognized Sif's fierce jaw in his expression, but the defiance in his narrowed eyes . . . it was like looking into a mirror, and at the last, Loki exhaled, releasing a tension he had not first realized to hold.

    What did he want? he wondered then. I want a hundred, impossible things, he knew the answer almost immediately. But, did he want enough . . . was there any way for that want to be returned? Perhaps, could he -

    Yet, anything he could think to say in reply – any of the hundred things he needed to say in reply – was cut off by the soft step announcing Sif's return. Ullr's face immediately brightened as he looked to his mother, and Loki too turned to stare, his eyes immediately finding the damp mass of her hair and tracing where a stray strand hung down into her eyes, where another fell to touch the delicate shape her collarbone made. She wore only her thin grey tunic and her soft leather leggings, opting to carry her heavy leathers and armored plates in hand – though he had no doubt that they would be donned while the night was still young. For now he simply appreciated the long, lithe strength of her body as it was displayed underneath the simple layers she wore, feeling as if he looked on her for the first time in what felt like far too long.

    He felt a familiar warmth and an even older fascination fill him – one he held since they were children, really, when Lady Gná arrived from Vanaheimr to introduce her daughter to Queen Frigg, and Thor rudely asked why she did not wear a dress like the other girls her age. As soon as their parents' backs were turned, Sif pushed Thor into the fountain and asked why he did not wear a dress, while Loki laughed until he felt fit to burst – and Thor pulled him into the water in retaliation, at that. From that moment on . . .

    Sif caught his stare, and instead of the raised brow and almost impish challenge he was used to receiving in reply, she simply looked unsure. She bit her lip in a gesture he had not known of her since girlhood, and it was the insecurity in her gaze that had him drop his own eyes, and stare back at the fire again.

    “I did not eat everything,” Ullr announced proudly, either oblivious to the tension in the air – or, Loki rather suspected, speaking in direct defiance to it. “I managed to save you some.”

    “You honor me with your restraint, child,” Sif said wryly in reply, taking the moment for the respite it was. “Yet, I am used to supping with Volstagg in the wild; I've become accustomed to dinning on what I may.”

    “Yet,” Ullr said sagely, “you and Thor are as useless as asking a Bysen for directions when it comes to cooking. If he had such fare as this tempting him . . .” Ullr tilted his head to the side, and thoughtfully touched his chin. “Perhaps we could keep him, mother? For this reason alone, of course.”

    Sif blinked, taken aback by the jest, while Loki let out an uncomfortable snort of laughter in reply – silently amazed at the boy's ability to change from subtly threatening to innocently cajoling with but a breath. “Well, I must confess that this is the first time I've been wanted solely on the basis of my culinary skills,” he tried to quip, but the words came out forced to his own ears.

    Sif did not look at him as she gathered her portion for supper, muttering, “If only that was all you had to offer,” in a voice that Loki did not know if she intended to speak aloud. She then ate with terse, mechanical motions, much as Loki had earlier.

    “I shall take the first watch,” she said in a way that was more statement than suggestion, washing down her boar with a swig of mead.

    Ullr perked his head up at that, and said: “I may as well. You showed me how, and I can -”

    But Sif shook her head, just as Loki was gathering his words to disagree as well, “No. You are still recovering.” She frowned, untouched by the dismayed look Ullr turned on her. “You need to rest.” She glanced to the side, and upon catching the mulishness in his gaze, she said lightly, “Do not force me to ask Loki to assist you in sleeping.”

    “He could try,” Ullr set his mouth, but there was acceptance in his gaze as he went over to his bedroll and gave it a dubious kick with the toe of his boot.

    “Come now,” Sif smiled. “Honor your mother in this.”

    Ullr looked over, and there was warmth in his eyes when he smiled. “I do,” he nonetheless promised, even as he settled down for the night with a long-suffering sigh.

    Sif watched him for a moment, and when Loki later did touch a hand to the child's brow to ensure that he rested and rested well, he said, “He is a good child,” in a voice that was filled with more feeling than he'd first cared to reveal.

    “He is the best part of me,” Sif simply agreed, a heartbeat passing before her reply. “He has been a blessing.”

    Loki inclined his head, feeling the terse, strained feeling return to the air between them. He could once again feel words and thoughts and wishes welling up within him, all the greater for their being pushed aside for so long. Even at the dawn of the day he'd been determined that he could go back to his solitary existence after their quest was complete. He had thought himself to stand well enough, strong enough, on his own . . . and yet, these few stolen days, allowing him but a teasing glimpse of what everything could be . . .

    He was greedy, was the simple truth of the matter. He had always wanted more than was allotted to him, and he was ever prepared to go to extreme lengths to see that wanting fulfilled. Now, here he was for that greed . . . alone with his name reviled and held in fear the whole universe wide. Yet, if he but opened his hand again . . . if he but reached . . . This time, would he fall?

    He felt a pang, thinking of that awful, terrible moment in Andvari's halls when he thought to lose both Sif and Ullr in one fell swoop. He had not been able to breathe then, more painful had those seconds been than all of Thanos' inflicted torments combined. In the moment he realized that they were safe, that they still lived, he'd wanted so very dearly to reach out and take what even now could still be offered to him. He'd wanted so dearly that it was as a burning within him, and now . . .

    “Sif,” he said her name lowly, with more feeling and warmth than he had felt – or shown – since long before Thor's ruined coronation. He did not yet know what he would say, but he knew that he had to speak - elsewise he'd go mad with all the words rising up to overwhelm him.

    And Sif, as ever, knew his thoughts even better than he. She looked at him, not with softness held behind her eyes, but with a sort of fear that he'd once believed to be foreign to her in all things. She reached out to put a hand on his arm, and he could not tell the gesture for affection or restraint. She swallowed, and had to try twice to find her words. “Do not . . . Please, do not,” she bid of him, her voice a tremulous thing where he'd ever known nothing but strength from her mouth. “Please, first think about the words you mean to say. Do not speak them emptily . . . for I do not think that I could bear . . .”

    She blinked, and her eyes hardened. War returned to her mouth when she said: “When this is done we shall speak. I ask you to consider your words, but not to give them a voice until then.”

    “Just as you shall think on what your reply will be?” Loki returned. His voice was soft, and his throat worked oddly over the unfamiliar tone, so long had it been since such words were needed in his mouth. He looked down on the strong shape her hand made about the leather of his vambrace. Without thinking, he covered her hand with his own. He had missed the long shape of her fingers, he thought; he had missed the surprising softness of her skin, the telling lines of strength she ever held mapped so clearly about her body. With his fingertips he traced one long scar that ran from the webbing of her thumb over the back of her knuckles, remembering first wrapping that wound for her when they were so, so young, thinking themselves to be giants amongst mere men – true immortals, unfellable and unbleeding. He remember how he had then kissed the source of her pain and thought: I will love this woman for the rest of my days – knowing the truth of his heart even before he'd dared to tell her about the great, terrifying shape of his devotion, so new was his understanding of it then.

    She flinched, and drew her hand back from him. He looked, and could not tell hesitation from want in her eyes; fear from desire. It was all too muddled together, and when she blinked, there was just the hard hazel stare he had so long known her to hold for her foes upon the battlefield.

    And so . . . he understood. He drew back; he did not press the matter, and he did not pursue.

    Sif, in return, made a hard line of her mouth and said: “My reply will be the same as it has ever been waiting to be. Yet . . . I no longer have only myself to think of, and you should think of him too when making your decision. You are not the only one who will go to great lengths to claim what they believe to be unfairly denied, and I make my vow to you now: I will be no Frigg patiently waiting and wanting for you to become the man and father you have the potential to be. I will destroy you at the first sign of your being a toxic influence in my son's life – in my life. Do not think any love I bear you to be stronger than that truth.”

    “And,” still he could not help but push, he could not help but hope, “If I am not . . .” he exhaled, and could not find his words.

    When she stared at him, there was softness enough alongside the strength that he swallowed, suddenly awed and overwhelmed by her all over again. “If you are not?” she repeated. “You mean, if you finally think yourself ready to be the are the man I have ever known you could be? Then . . . I would tell you that Thor has ever not been the only one looking to your shadow, and wanting for you to be returned to your place.”

    She bit her lip; she shook her head. “But we have more pressing concerns this night,” she said, turning her gaze to the mouth of the cave, her eyes hardening as if she could spy out their foe from beyond.

    Loki set his own mouth, feeling only the great, yawning presence of the wraith the brothers controlled as it came closer and closer. The shards of the Soul Gem's sister-stones trembled from where he'd already absorbed but few of them, recognizing the call of their kin.

    When Loki looked up, he could see the green light from his gaze reflected in Sif's eyes. He smiled, and felt his teeth bare with the gesture. “Get what rest you may,” he said, gesturing to the bedrolls. “For they are almost here.”



    ~MJ @};-
     
  25. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Love the Loki with Ullr talk. =D= The Sif/Loki was just brimming with great feels!