Rating: R for violence and sex (but mostly violence).
Pairing/Characters: Loki/Sigyn, Asgard & Co.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not profiting. Don’t sue.
Summary: It dawned fair and clear, the day they sewed Loki’s lips shut.
Link to Chapter 1: Here
Loki dreamed. It was a lucid dream, a half-aware dream. He knew he was between two guards, stumbling through the halls—but his mind was not with them. A cold wind blew in his face, chilling and refreshing in equal measure, and in the darkened depths before him he heard whispers, faint and echoing, and in no language he knew.
His body stumbled again, and Loki felt himself fall. A horn sounded in the distance. He expected the floor to rise to meet him, expected the sharp wash of pain to bring him awake, but instead he continued to fall into the black, tumbling downward into that cold, rushing wind. His chest tightened in fear, and he reached for any handhold, but his fingers scrabbled against the empty air.
The longer he fell, however, the slower his progress seemed to become, until, to his wonder, he was floating downward as soft as a new-fallen leaf. He pried his eyes open (he wondered when he had shut them), and he found he was not in the dark, but floating through a tangle of roots, the largest more vast than he could compass and stretching farther than he could fathom, and the smallest finer than a strand of his own hair. All around him they coiled, knotting and twisting in a bewildering chaos the likes of which he could never possibly recreate, merely strive for.
He floated, and ahead he saw a shimmer, as of light reflecting from the surface of water. Curious, he willed himself closer. He sank through the net of roots, eyes focused on the light.
It resolved itself into a pool of water, covered in a layer of white scum and nestled at the confluence of three mighty taproots, each standing three times as tall from the earth as Loki himself before humping up to plunge downwards into the loam. He made to press closer, curious to see the pool, eager to return his feet to the safety of solid ground, but just before he did something caught against his limbs. He looked around, and found himself caught in a tremendous, knotted web. Looking closer, he saw that each strand was thick around as his littlest finger. He yanked against them but they held, and the more he struggled the tighter they pulled him into the snare.
“One cannot escape one’s fate, Niðingr.” Loki flushed at the slur, and craning his neck, searched for the speaker. A woman stepped into view from behind a curtain of trailing moss. “The more one struggles, the greater the pain will be when it exerts its will.”
Loki stared at her, confused, and she gazed placidly back at him before stepping up to the pool. Her hair hung loose and straight where it spilled over her shoulders. She dipped her hands into the water, ignoring the mud that clung to her fingers, and cupped out a handful to pour on the root closest to her. She massaged the bark where the water soaked in.
“Urðr,” Loki croaked, surprising himself with his own voice.
“Yes.” She stood and met his gaze, and he saw that her eyes were impossibly deep wells, seeing through the universe and all the dimensions at once. Urðarbrunnr was not the pool of water, he realized.
A tremor through the web caught Loki’s attention, and he turned to look. A massive spider sat hunched on the far edge, its limbs bent and gnarled under its great weight. Strings of venom dripped from its chelicerae. Loki started; he had no great fear of spiders, but this was large enough to shock even the hardiest soul.
“Your fears follow you, Seed-of-Laufey,” Urðr said, staring at the spider. “You fear to fall; know that if you fear too greatly you will certainly fall.” She glanced downward, and Loki followed her gaze. Below him was Nothing. An endless drop, a soundless echo, a sightless vista. Ginnungagap. Void, in a way the void beyond Asgard could never be. His gorge rose, and he clamped onto the web with all his strength. His struggles drew the attention of the spider, and it raised a foot, laying it down on the web as though testing its strength.
“Please,” he whispered.
Urðr’s gaze was dispassionate. “You come to me, Odin’s Foundling. You force your presence upon my repose and that of my sisters. This is not your domain, nor is it for your eyes—and yet you see. Look, then, on your folly.”
She swept her hand over the pool of water, and it stilled to glass-like perfection. Scenes of his childhood reflected back to him, and he saw himself tussling with Thor, laughing with Thor, braiding together wildflowers and crowning Thor with a riot of color. His brother had been a gracious liege, that day. “Brother-by-Choice, you are foolish. Thor gives love openly and greatly, and seeks humble reunion—yet you cast him aside from injured pride.
“Know you are small.”
She waved her hand again, and he saw the accomplishments of his youth. He saw his frenetic absorption of magical knowledge, the inventions, the immense breeding program that had produced the greatest horse Asgard had yet seen. “Sleipnir’s Sire, do you not see the Allfather still prefers your creation over all other steeds? Do you not remember, Clever Fingers, your mother’s pride with each childish token? She keeps them still, in a cabinet in her chambers.
“Know you are willfully blind.”
Her arm swept over the water a third time, and Loki saw Sigyn’s face. “Sigyn Njallsdóttir risks much to be by your side. What do you risk, Traitor-Prince?
“Know you are cowardly.”
Loki was trembling, and every tremor lured the spider closer. He bowed his head before the Norn. Her fingers were cool as she forced his chin up. Her eyes were breathtaking in their lack of concern. “There is a fork in your path, He-Who-Lies-Even-Unto-Himself.” Her voice was as heavy as the weight of responsibility. “One path leads to endless warfare and the despair of your people. The other leads also to destruction and sorrow, for that is unavoidable, but so, too, does this path bear hope. The crux of the fork is this: does Loki of Asgard face his fears, or does he die a cold death in bed, denied the warmth of Valhalla?”
He stared into her eyes, deep and dark and depthless, and he saw visions in them as he had seen in the pool—but this time he watched them play out on the mirror of his soul. Images of Glaðsheimr toppling. Images of the Bifröst roaring once more into the black. Images of Sigyn being raped in front of him, her deadened eyes locked on his, and he gave an involuntary sob. Images of himself clinging to his mother, images of a tiny black flower sheltered in the ice. Images of Thor, bent and broken, baring his neck to the executioner. Loki’s heart wrenched. Images of two young boys, twins, each with mad, curly hair and snapping green eyes, racing down the palace halls. Images of Loki standing on the broken end of Bifröst while the Guardian looked on.
Urðr let go of his face. She returned to the spring and resumed watering the roots about her as though Loki no longer existed. Loki hung his head, horrified, and wept.
A tremor on the web drew his attention, and Loki looked to the spider. It was closer, almost halfway along the web. He looked down, at the yawning Void beneath him. Of the two, the spider was the more attractive option. He had no great fear of insects, but the stomach-pulling, breath-stealing arc of free-fall—that choked in his throat.
The spider hauled itself closer. Loki had no weapon, nor could he so much as move to defend himself from it. Its jaws clacked, and venom slipped down to soak in its coarse fur. Loki’s stomach churned, and he looked down.
Urðr’s words returned to him. Know that if you fear too greatly you will certainly fall. Was it a riddle? Most sagas told of riddles that the hero had to puzzle out before he could move forward. Loki wasn’t sure whether to laugh through his tears at the irony. Him, a hero. He was petty. Blind. A coward. He was no hero, there was no riddle here; it was simple choice. Did he prefer to die upon the teeth of the fears that spun him close? Or did he prefer to face them, and be free from the beasts in his mind?
He looked to the spider, and with a cry he tore his arms free from their snare.
He dropped like a stone. The weird light of Urðr’s domain faded fast into the swallowing black, and Loki once more found himself alone and cold and filled with regret. This time, though, his heart was lighter.
He awoke with a gasp, as a drowning man might crest the surface of a lake to take his first breath of life-giving air. His panic and terror shredded from his mind in the clean white light, and in their wake he thought he heard the whisper of a woman’s voice saying, You have crossed but the first obstacle, Odinson. Can you make the same choice in the light of day?
He shook his head, confused, and a frantic babble of voices met his ears. A small hand pressed to his forehead.
“Loki, are you alright?”
“Get fluids in here, he must be dehydrated—”
“—need an analysis of the residue, it’s everywhere—”
That last voice cracked through the chatter, and Loki opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was Sigyn, bending over him, and he stared at her blankly. Where was he? He looked around, and the sterile confines of the healing wing swam into view. Behind Sigyn stood the spare frame of Lady Eir, the chief healer. Loki blinked.
“How are you feeling, Highness?”
He answered without thinking. “Like the underside of an old boot, thank you.” His eyes widened, and he ran his tongue over the inside of his lips. They were smooth but for raised, stinging scars. Glancing to Sigyn, he raised a hand to his mouth. The vartari was gone, and his fingers brushed only skin. He sucked in a ragged breath, then covered his mouth with both hands as he opened as wide as he could. The joint cracked in protest. Beside him, Sigyn stifled a giggle.
“The Allfather decreed your punishment was sufficient,” Lady Eir said. “It was well done, too, for we would have had to remove the sutures anyway.”
Loki looked up from wiggling his jaw back and forth and stared at the healer. “Why?” His lips felt rubbery, stiff from disuse, and his mouth tasted like things best not discussed.
“Why? We might have needed to induce vomiting, you idiot boy. As for the Allfather, that is something you will have to ask him.”
A thought struck Loki at that moment, and he reached inward for his magic. There was no sickening roil, no wrenching twist. It leapt to him with the eager joy of a puppy to its master, and goosebumps trailed over Loki’s skin as he felt it fill him. “He returned my magic,” he croaked. It was weak, barely enough to light a candle, but it was there.
Lady Eir sniffed. “Indeed. I have never held with magical binding, the body never responds well to having its energies restrained.”
Loki ignored the healer, reflexively stroking his magic like a miser counting his coins, and turned to Sigyn. She was sitting quietly by his side, mindful of the healers, and she was staring at him, her hands knotted together in her lap. Her hair was more wayward than usual, curling out of her braid in a messy, sooty halo.
He remembered the way he had seen her, only hours earlier; the lines of her face had been highlighted by the drug in his system, their symmetry and underlying bone structure traced through with her energy, and the whole had been glorious. She had been glorious. He could still see a faint outline of it even now, though it was much faded. The scar on her lip played into the whole, marring the perfection of her face just enough to keep it grounded.
She blinked, inhaling, and Loki realized the healer had been talking. “Can I go?” he asked, cutting Eir off.
She pulled short, and glared at him. Loki stared back. Lady Eir was no mean enemy, but she put up with a great deal before deciding she didn’t like you. Loki had, thus far, managed to stay more or less in her good graces. She snorted. “That would depend on you, Prince. You were the one who ingested a foreign entheogen; do you feel capable of leaving?”
Loki didn’t bother to respond, choosing instead to push himself upright. He was lying on one of the beds in the common ward, he saw, one of those closest to the healers’ station. They hadn’t even bothered to crack the sheets, merely laid him across the top of them. His clothes were as intact as they had been after the battle, and even the remnant smears of his spell dotted his skin. He must look a fright. Sigyn handed him a glass of water, and he accepted it gratefully, washing away the foul taste in his mouth.
He was never eating peyote again.
“The Chitauri?” he asked, handing the glass back, and the guard hovering at the end of the bed answered.
“They fell apart after you took out the third leviathan,” he said, tone respectful and eyes burning with awe. Loki squinted at him. He was not one of the usual guards, and was wearing the armor of the city division rather than the palace division. “The Crown-Prince is supervising the parties responsible for hunting down the last of them. But…” He trailed off.
“It was a ruse,” Sigyn finished softly. “Heimdall sounded his horn as soon as the battle was over. They used the attack on the City to divert attention from their invasion force.”
The bottom fell out from under him, and Loki swore he was falling once more. “What? Where?”
“Our southernmost promontory,” the guard replied.
Lady Eir answered. “Over a hundred and thirty from the City alone, though they’re still coming in. Most of the refugees got to Æðey safely, there were few civilian deaths, but the snipers on the skiffs took their toll. As for the south… We don’t know, yet.”
Loki sagged sideways into the pillows. Never in the entire, long history of the Æsir had Asgard been invaded—until now, and he, Loki Silvertongue, was to blame. Guilt threatened around the edges of his mind and he smashed it back, unwilling to accept it.
“A page came,” Sigyn said. “Before you woke up. The Allfather requested your presence in the War Room.”
“What, so he can hurl accusations at me?” Loki muttered.
The three clustered about him exchanged glances. “I’m sure that’s not it, Loki,” Sigyn said.
Loki sighed, then nodded and pushed himself back up. Colors swirled together, and he blinked them back. Gentle hands pressed against his back and arm, steadying him. They were small; Sigyn’s, then. He didn’t brush them off.
Leaning against her as subtly as he could, he made his way down the ward. Beds were filled with injured soldiers, and more lined the walls and warmed chairs. The smell of antiseptic couldn’t cover the reek of burnt fibers and flesh, or of blood and sweat. Loki swallowed and pushed on. The guard followed. Loki let him. He, at least, followed out of some modicum of loyalty.
The corridor beyond was organized chaos. Stretchers lined the walls, each with a body on it and a rune drawn on his forehead. Healers and novices bobbed to and fro, dispensing water and medicines and occasionally crumbling a healing stone over a gaping wound. Some unlucky few had their pain deadened, their wounds cleaned and tended, and their families and a skald summoned to sing them to Valhalla. Loki’s eyes skittered away from these.
The guilt he refused to acknowledge clenched around his stomach. He gripped Sigyn’s hand in his, and she squeezed back, and he staggered through the triage lines to the quieter halls beyond.
He collapsed before he could make it past the formal banquet hall, breathing like he had sprinted down the Causeway and his limbs trembling with exertion. Sigyn and the guard eased him down to the floor. He knocked his head against the wall in frustration.
Sigyn knelt beside him and pulled out a small apple from her pocket. Its skin flashed gold in the dim light. Loki blinked.
“Now where did you get that?” he asked, amused.
“From a healer,” Sigyn answered, giving it to him. “I asked nicely.”
Loki snorted, rolling the apple in his palm. It was cool against his skin. He raised it to his mouth, opened his lips, and sank his teeth into the crisp flesh.
He groaned. Idunn’s apples had always been the form and truth of all apples condensed into a single fruit, and it seemed to Loki that he had never truly tasted any apple until that one, that day. It was the blessing of food combined with the sheer physical pleasure of chewing and swallowing, of feeling something on his tongue and tasting it, that sent shivers trailing down his spine. His head swam with the surge of energy and vitality the apple imparted.
He ate everything, even the core, and sucked the juice off his fingers when he was done.
“Let’s go,” he said, pushing himself to his feet and straightening his shirt. He looked down at himself. “Oh, this will never do.” He reached in to that miniscule tendril of magic and swept it over himself. The crusted, flaking paste vanished, the wrinkles and stains in his clothes disappeared. He ran his fingers through his hair, smoothing it down. He looked to Sigyn; she stepped forward to lace up his shirt, then nodded in approval.
The guard glanced between them, but Loki ignored him. Appearance was as much a weapon as any other, both to bolster the self and to demoralize the enemy, and any soldier who failed to understand that was a foolish one. He conjured his surcoat and boots, longing for his armor but not daring to conjure that, too, and strode down the hall. Sigyn and the guard followed by his side.
The War Room was behind the Hall of the Noble Dead, in the south wing of the palace. It, and the adjacent barracks, housed the tactical might of Asgard. Leaving Sigyn and the guard outside, Loki flung open the doors and made his entrance.
“Ah, you have arrived,” was Odin’s reply. Immediately Loki felt childish for his display, and girded himself with anger. He sketched a derisive bow.
“Allfather,” he said. Odin’s goðar, arrayed around topographical display, exchanged glances.
“Brother, you are well!” Thor stepped up, his face split open on a massive smile, and clapped a massive hand on Loki’s shoulder. Loki staggered, and cursed his weakness. He let Thor’s hand rest somewhat longer before pushing it off, however.
“I am fine. What did I miss?”
Thor’s face grew grim. “The Chitauri have taken Mjóifjörður and Eyrarbakki, and blockaded the Gléra north of the delta. That would not be so bad, but they are encamped farther inland than our ships can fly. They were prepared for our defenses.”
Loki refused to hang his head. What was done was done, and no one at this table could possibly have done differently in his position. He stared down Goði Bölverkr, daring him to speak.
He did, the fool. “They chose precisely the weakest point in our defenses. Any ideas how that might have been, Kinslayer?”
“Surely it was you, great one, for you would sing like a bird to any wandering ear who had coin to fill your mead-horn.” Loki savored the intake of breath from around the table.
“That’s enough,” Odin said mildly. “We will have time to bicker after this crisis is dealt with. Heimdall. What can you see of them?”
Loki’s gaze jerked to the Gatekeeper, heretofore unnoticed, where he stood in the corner. His head looked strangely small, without his helmet. The curved guard of his sword jutted from over his shoulder. “Their movements are chaotic, Allfather,” he said. “Nor do their divisions follow any sense of order. I can make no sense of them, nor make count, for they are constantly shifting. The most I can say is there are sixty leviathans.”
Odin turned to Loki. “You have had the closest contact with them. What information can you give on the movement of their troops?”
Loki bristled at his father’s presumption, but he answered anyway. “I knew them to be a highly organized force. This chaos you describe is unknown to me.” His eyes flickered to Odin’s ravens, perched on the back of his empty chair, and Heimdall. His gaze skittered from the other’s golden stare. “It is possible they know the far reach of our sight.”
Odin nodded, looking suddenly weary in the lamplight. Loki wondered when he was due for another Sleep. Maybe they would be so fortunate as to have him collapse mid-crisis once more.
“If I might be so bold,” Loki said, cultivating disinterest like a gardener breeds roses, “Why doesn’t the Allfather use his Odin Force to remove this stain upon our realm? Surely he has not grown so old as to lose his mightiest weapon.”
Furious murmurs once more slipped through the room, and this time Thor answered. “Father was forced to expend the Odin Force summoning dark matter to send me to Midgard,” he said. “It has not yet replenished itself.”
“Ah. And of course the tesseract is caught in powering the Bifröst research.” Loki stepped up to the table, at the map of Asgard rising from it. There, the City, perched on the border of sea and land. Shining, even in the artificial, absent sun of the model. And there, at the other end of the continent, a stain of red indicating lands held by the Chitauri. Loki swallowed, but masked his guilt. He looked to Odin. “Not that I’m not… honored, but why do you want me, here?”
Odin looked at him, and despite the lack of an eye Loki felt his gaze keenly. “I would have your service,” he said. “Neither the Ravens nor Heimdall can see the enemy’s movements, nor have our scouts succeeded in infiltrating their networks. You, however, might have that power.”
Loki couldn’t stop the way the blood drained from his face. “You would have me walk into their encampment, bold as day, and—what? Ask politely for their plan of attack?”
“Not quite so boldly as that.”
Loki sputtered. “They would as soon kill me as tell me anything.”
The Allfather swept his hand through the rendering of a mountain, toying with the energies that made it. “This is true. But you are no longer as helpless as you were.”
Realization flooded through Loki’s veins, thick and bitter. “Oh, I see,” he said. “It wasn’t any deed of my own that convinced you I was worthy of the right to use my own magic, it was just an effort to appease me into acting as your cat’s paw!”
“Loki, that is enough,” Thor said. “Father returned your magic because he hoped you would see defending Asgard a nobler purpose than spiting your family.”
“That’s easy enough for the Mighty Thor to say, he hasn’t got a price on his head!”
Thor scowled, crossing his arms. “My head would be just as forfeit as yours, walking into that camp, and I would be dead twice as fast, for I don’t have the leverage you do. Or your silver tongue.”
Loki swallowed his retort and turned to Odin. “I presume I will retain my magic only on the condition that I cooperate?”
Odin’s face didn’t change a whit, but his eye seemed suddenly sad. “No, Loki,” he said. “You will keep your magic, for it is yours and should not have been taken from you. But I would ask that you consider my proposal.”
Loki narrowed his eyes in suspicion, but he could see no deception in his father’s face. That did not mean it wasn’t there, however, and Loki’s skin fair prickled with the charge of his distrust.
“You would let him keep his magic, after Ancients only know what he tried to pull tonight?” Bölverkr, again. “His guards were brought drugged to the healing wing. That means he ran amok through the palace, wreaking devilry we can’t even begin to fathom.” Loki bared his teeth at the man, but could say nothing without condemning himself.
“I was with my brother last night,” Thor cut in, and Loki jerked his head to stare at him. “When I wasn’t, the Lady Sigyn was with him. We will vouch for him. There was no devilry.”
Bölverkr’s eyes narrowed. “I distinctly recall his taking down a leviathan with magic he shouldn’t have had.”
Thor stood resolute. “Would you not take up a sword, if someone threatened your life?”
“It was counter to the Allfather’s command!”
The Allfather cut in. “A command I have now rescinded. The events of the past night may remain just that: past. Loki.” He turned to where Loki stood, dumfounded. “I ask once more. Will you assist us?”
The room thrummed with tension, all eyes focused on him. Loki felt it keenly, and found he hated it. He stared down at the map, mind racing. Unbidden, Urðr’s voice rose to him. Does Loki of Asgard face his fears, or does he die a cold death in bed, denied the warmth of Valhalla? “Give me a day to consider your proposal,” he said, and his heart beat with fear of the fall.
Odin inclined his head. “So be it.”
Loki glanced at Thor, then left the War Room. He had some thinking to do.
But first, he needed to rest. He could feel the weariness tugging at him, now that the adrenaline of meeting with his father’s council had faded. He looked about; Sigyn rose from the settee on which she was perched.
“I sent the guard home,” she said. “He needed to be with his family, not trailing after us.”
“Good,” Loki replied, and took her hand.
She squeezed his gently. “How did it go?”
Loki shook his head. “Later. Now, I just need to sleep.”
“Your rooms or mine?” Sigyn asked, and a mischievous grin crept across her patrician features at his look of surprise. “I’m not letting you out of my sight, Loki Odinson, because every time I do you get yourself into worse and worse trouble.”
Loki sighed. “Your rooms,” he said. “I don’t… sleep very well, in mine.”
Sigyn nodded. “Alright. Mine it is.” She led him by the hand through the quieting halls of Glaðsheimr, up the staircase to the Third Tier and to her apartments. She let them in, speaking softly to the servant who came to greet her, and brought him into her room.
Loki wished he could have had looked about, examined Sigyn’s private world more closely, but he barely had the presence of mind to divest himself of his clothes before tumbling into her bed.
He was asleep before his head touched the pillow.