Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 31 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

Loki was in his rooms, sketching out dvergmál arrays and feeling vaguely frustrated that he wouldn't be able to test them. He wasn't used to having to ask someone if he'd got a spell right instead of trying it for himself, although this habit had lead to a few troubling incidents in the past when he hadn't. The miniature rose bush that had started running around on its roots and lurking in shadows to jump out and latch onto people's ankles for instance. That one had finally been caught after jumping out at Sif, who had tied it into a plant pot with twine and left it in his bed.

There was the sound of someone taking a step, of them brushing against the pile of books stacked beside the table. The door hadn't opened and Loki's hand went to his sleeve while his mind reached for a quick spell, but neither a knife nor magic could be found. He looked up and saw a silvery being, tall and knobbly with a strangely elongated face, managing to look both ugly and ethereal.

'I don't believe you have permission to be in my rooms,' he said, sitting up straight and setting his notebook aside.

The elf bowed. 'I do not come to attack you,' he said, voice high and whispery. 'I come to warn you of danger to Asgard.'

'Considerate of you,' said Loki dryly. He should point out that he was not currently acting in affairs of state and a warning for Asgard should be taken elsewhere. 'Say what you came to say, then.'

'Malekith's bonds are weakening. Queen Alflyse has felt it, and she regrets that she misjudged, but she cannot take back her gift.'

Loki inhaled sharply. 'I am not the one with power over him.' Not that he wanted them to go to Jane, that would be unpleasant for her. 'You should tell Odin this.'

'Queen Alflyse does not believe that he will act. To do nothing has often been his way. My apologies, to talk of your father so.'

'He is not my father, but he is still my king.'

The elf bowed again, the air around it shivering and shimmering in a way that gave the impression of nervously beating wings. 'If he does not act Asgard's heart could be in danger. Otherwise Queen Alflyse would not permit me to speak so. You are wise in the ways of magic, you found our roads when none other could. We do not want Malekith to destroy the peace between our realms, but swift action must be taken. And it cannot be taken by us against one who has been made property of Asgard.'

Loki swallowed. Asgard's heart. Did they know what that was? Did Malekith? The thought of the garden broken, the golden apples scattered, made him clench his hands into fists to stop them from shaking. 'Even if I would act on your word, I cannot.'

The elf stepped forwards, one cold, long fingered hand touching Loki's left wrist. Loki did not flinch, or lean back, instead he leant forward, looking the elf in the eyes. 'Do not touch me without my permission.'

The elf drew back. 'The spell that holds them closed is simple. I could undo it and unless you chose to open them no one would know. You may prefer to obey the edict of your king, but if you must act it will be worse for all of us if you cannot.'

Loki stared down at the bracelets. Shackles. But they kept others safe, he knew that, without them he could have hurt Jane badly when they'd first met. He was getting better, though, everyone said so but no one could say when he would be free of them. This would only make it his choice to wear them, he didn't have to take them off. Would have to keep them on, in fact, since the spell to keep them on would be recast if anyone knew. But to have access to his magic in an emergency…to know that he could be free. 'Do it.'

The elf reached out, fingers brushing over the catch of each bracelet. 'Queen Alflyse admires you greatly,' he said softly, as he worked. 'If you wish to truly be free, you would be honoured among us. If you must act and Asgard does not understand.' He stepped back.

The bracelets felt the same as before. Loki twisted one around and looked at the catch, resisting the urge to try it. There were spells monitoring his vital signs built in, someone would panic if they suddenly stopped as the bracelet came off.

'You should still talk to Odin,' he said. Odin had the power to do something without risking his place in Asgard over it.

'You are warned. You may choose to warn others if that is your preference. But you alone do we trust,' the elf replied, and then he was gone, stepping out of Loki's rooms and back, presumably, onto the elf paths. Loki shivered.

Later he sent a message to Odin, asking for an audience. 'A formal audience,' he added, just to make things clear. The reply was prompt and Loki set out for the throne room.

This time, as the doors swung open for him, Loki saw that Frigga wasn't present; Odin sat on the throne like a king, not a yearning father, and the guards remained at their posts. Odin inclined his head with all due formality, and his hand moved minutely along Gungnir's shaft. 'Prince Loki,' he said, instead of my son, and the words didn't pluck at Loki's heart and nerves even though they depended on the unsaid ones. 'Speak your concern.'

'I was visited in my rooms by an elf,' Loki began and, aware that that was probably going to cause concern by itself, hurried on, 'and told that Malekith's bonds are loosening. Queen Alflyse has sensed this, but since he is in our possession doesn't consider herself able to do anything. I was told Malekith was plotting to strike at Asgard's heart.'

Odin listened to this attentively and then pinched the bridge of his nose, eyebrows drawn together. Loki thought he caught a muttered curse, but the ravens were grumbling and he wasn't certain. 'If Queen Alflyse refrains from meddling out of courtesy,' Odin said dryly, 'it will be a new thing in Alfheim. I checked Malekith's bonds myself when he arrived and will do so again, and I think we shall change your rooms. Thank you for informing me.'

Loki paused. Was that all? What had he expected, though? It wasn't as if he didn't believe Odin would check.

'Was there more?' Odin asked, his eyebrows going up slightly. 'Did your visitor do or say anything else?'

'No. Jane told me earlier that Malekith was being ominous, though. I was only concerned.' Loki bowed. 'I shall leave then. To, ah, the library, I suppose, since I no longer know where my rooms are.'

Odin cleared his throat slightly, and Loki had the sudden wild suspicion that he was trying not to laugh. 'If you know of ones without an elf path leading to them, I would welcome the recommendation.'

'The only elf path in the north wing of the palace leads to the pantry,' Loki answered, and wondered afterwards whether he should have answered less truthfully. Just in case.

'The pantry.' Odin blinked. 'I'll have a suite prepared in the north wing, then. If you wish to return to your current rooms in the meantime, you may do so, but not alone. Even if your visitor came in good faith, we cannot assume it of others.'

'As you wish.' Loki wanted to add, please check on Malekith quickly but it wasn't as if Odin was going to put it off. Loki's own presence here was probably the thing delaying him. That being the case the best thing to do was leave, which Loki did. He opted to fetch the books from his room and go to the library where he spent a while unable to focus on them. Would Odin tell him what he found? He hadn't asked to be told.

Eventually, Jane slid into a chair across from him. 'So,' she said, folding her arms on the table and leaning forward to speak quietly, 'I'm supposed to tell you there hasn't been any change in Malekith's bonds.'

Loki wasn't sure whether to feel relieved or not. He should be relieved, but if Malekith's bonds had changed Odin could have either fixed them or sent him back to Alfheim. Since they hadn't...or hadn't in any way Odin could detect... 'Did he tell you about the messenger?' Loki answered, equally quietly.

'He said an elf had popped up in your rooms and raised some concerns.' Jane shuddered. 'And that you were okay, but still...'

'I'm fine. It is a little disconcerting, to think they could have done that at any time. I didn't realise there was an elf path there.' Or he probably would have asked for rooms elsewhere. Just as well he hadn't, though. 'You said, before, that Malekith was taunting you. Do you think Odin is sure about the bonds?'

'He seemed to be. Although Malekith spent the whole time looking amused, which was just...' She bit her lip and shut her eyes for a moment. 'I remember wondering, after we - found out about him, if they could just walk in, but I figured - that couldn't be a problem in people's bedrooms and now I can't remember why...'

'They don't usually show up in people's bedrooms.' He couldn't really reassure Jane about her own bedroom because he didn't know where it was. 'They don't actually want to invite war with Asgard, so they come and go but do usually observe enough propriety not to make us feel too threatened. They must have been desperate.'

She laced her fingers together and rested her chin on them, huddling in on herself. 'Desperate. Or - do you trust the messenger? I mean, if it was somebody who didn't like the alliance, they might not worry about being polite about it.'

The question jolted him. He did trust the messenger, far more than he really should, because he'd been given something he wanted by them. He tugged at one bracelet and then dropped his hand quickly, before realising that a new reason for an old habit wouldn't be visible. 'Maybe. I suppose I have no proof he even came from Alflyse. Mostly I distrust Malekith. Even bound.'

'Can't blame you for that,' Jane said on a sigh. 'He's too damn smug for somebody who's supposed to be in trouble. He answers all our questions, but I'm starting to feel like I'm still asking the wrong ones.'

'I did offer to help you with him. Maybe we should try asking together.'

'You've been helping,' she pointed out wearily. 'But yeah, maybe you'd do better in person than I do.'

'We could try now. I wasn't doing anything.' The messenger's warning that they'd need to act fast rang in his head. Maybe it hadn't been true, but he didn't dare dismiss it.

Jane sat up, looking rather alarmed. 'I didn't mean now...'

'Why not? What do we gain by doing it later?'

'I don't know, time to think?' She shook her head, looking a little hunted. 'I wasn't planning-'

'If something is wrong I'd like to find out before it happens rather than after,' Loki said, leaning forwards.

Jane bit her lip. 'I really don't think he's getting loose.' And she probably didn't want to talk to him again. Loki couldn't blame her for that, but she must see it would be better to know. She glanced around at his handlers, then said, 'But if you have some ideas for what to ask him...'

'I assume you've tried the obvious. But sometimes it's just a matter of finding the right wording.' He reached for her hand, touching the back of it lightly. 'I'd feel better for trying. The messenger said he intended to strike at Asgard's heart, and I - I can't do nothing.'

Jane smiled wanly at him and, rather to his surprise, turned her hand over and gripped his briefly before standing. 'Let's give it a shot, then.'

Loki followed her to Malekith's room, noting with approval the magnetic barriers around the outside, although they were far enough from the room not to bother its occupant. Malekith's room had a few chairs, a desk, a bed and not much else - it made Loki realise how well furnished his rooms were in comparison, even if they contained rather less than his usual ones. His attendants came with them, looking a little wary about this but not actually objecting. Since he'd been helping Jane with Malekith from a distance, perhaps they had no reason to mind him doing so more personally.

Malekith was seated at the desk when they entered, writing smoothly and constantly with the shadow of a scowl on his face, as if he didn't want to express himself quite so far. Or perhaps he was only concentrating. The expression smoothed away as he lifted his head and arched elegant eyebrows at them, although his hand continued to move. 'Why, Jane,' he purred, 'back again so soon?' He smiled pointedly at Loki. 'Let me see, either you can't get enough of my company, or you've tired of me altogether.'

'I've been tired of you all along,' Jane said. 'Loki wanted to talk to you.' She glanced back up at Loki. 'Answer him truthfully and without deceit.' It was a good command. Not perfect, but to answer without deceit was significantly more limiting than merely not lying.

Loki walked around the desk to stand in front of Malekith with it between them. 'Are your bonds loosening?' Obvious, but it was a place to start. Malekith's answer might give him a clue where to go next.

Malekith sighed dramatically. 'Sadly, not as yet.'

'Are they going to?' No, wrong question. 'Are they going to soon?'

Malekith glanced down at his paper and began a new line, then looked up at Loki again, with no evident disruption to his handwriting. 'I do sincerely hope so.'

Loki tensed, but that could mean anything. 'Do you expect them to break soon?'

Malekith's eyes glittered up at him. 'You know, I think I do.' There was an odd exultation in his voice. What was he expecting, that he could tell them about it and still sound so gleeful?

'What can be done to prevent it?' Loki asked. He wasn't expecting a straight answer, it was too predictable a question and Malekith too confident.

Malekith smirked. 'Nothing.'

Loki rested one hand on the edge of the desk, the bracelet catching the light and making him feel oddly exposed. His heart was beating in his throat, and he told himself not to take Malekith's words at face value. Even if it was both true and honest, maybe that didn't mean everything was lost. Maybe there would be a way to recapture Malekith or to prevent whatever harm he was planning. 'What will you do if they do break?'

Malekith laughed, loud and rather wildly. 'I will do as much damage to the heart of Asgard as I can without jeopardising my own interests. I will make you my plaything in revenge for the threats you offered me, child, when you thought you could hold my leash. And then I will go home and leave Asgard to believe you and I are allies.'

'You did just say that in front of witnesses.' Loki's voice came out dry and ironic. It reminded him of standing up to the Other, not refusing to break so much as refusing to admit he was broken. It was that comparison that made him realise how scared he was, because while having said that in front of Jane and Loki's attendants might make it hard for Malekith to convince anyone Loki had been his ally, the rest of it sounded horrifyingly likely.

Malekith flicked the hand that didn't hold the pen. The other kept on writing. 'Once I have you, do you really think that will matter?'

'You aren't that good,' Jane said. Her voice was shaking, but there was fury in it as well as fear. Courage, wrath, passion. 'Loki, I think we should leave. Tell Odin what's going on, what he said.'

Malekith smiled at her. 'Of course you should. And if you do, he will come and inspect my bonds again. Have you make me submit to it, again. Find nothing to fear, again. He's an old man, you know.'

Old. Loki didn't want to think of Odin that way, but he was. How many of Loki's own tricks had passed him by? Odin had not guessed who had let frost giants into the vault. Had not realised Loki could hide from Heimdall, or visit other worlds without the Bifrost. Loki kept his eyes on Malekith. 'What would stop you? Not stop you escaping, stop you harming anyone. Harming Asgard. What would hold you other than your bonds?'

Malekith's smugness faltered at that, finally; his mouth still curved upward, but there was hate in his eyes. 'Other bonds like them, oath and geas woven with iron and silver under the light only of distant suns. The dwarves make them best.' Oh, hewouldn't like that part. 'Mind-spells of sufficient power and skill. You lack the skill, and your shepherds lack the power. Death. Paralysis. Fire, short of burning to death, but forming a barrier too strong to pass. Ice likewise. Magnetism to hold my body or to torment my mind past concentration.'

Loki glanced towards the door. They had magnetism, but probably not in sufficient quantities to hold Malekith completely. Certainly not to the point he'd be willing to rely on it. Ice, though. Malekith had said he could do nothing, but did he know how much ice Loki could summon? Did the elves know what Loki was?

Malekith continued his litany, offering a variety of magical solutions that were largely impractical at the moment, although they were somewhat interesting, and finally grimaced. 'Little else comes to mind. Was that enough?'

'Tell us how you expect to escape,' Jane said. Direct, anyway.

'Iron has its weaknesses, even as I do.' Malekith leaned back in his chair, stretching. 'I hate to admit it, at my age, but I learned quite a bit from you and your resistance.' He laid the pen down and rubbed his hand. 'And kindness. Is she not kind?' he asked Loki, smiling again, and rose from his chair with an expression of intent concentration. 'So considerate. She even allows me to take, how did she put it, breaks.' He raised a hand and hooked his fingers under the collar, smirking.

'Stop,,' Jane said sharply.

Malekith did. But only for a heartbeat, and then he pulled at the metal again, an exultant light in his eyes.

Loki grabbed at the catch of his own bracelet, not sure yet whether he needed to act, or how fast he needed to act, but sure he needed to be able to. He tugged them off one after another, dropping them on the table in front of him, and the sense of magic around him flooded in, overwhelming after months without it. He could feel Jane, the dim little spark of life that made mortals seem so easy to disregard (no, they may feel small, but there was more to Jane than that, just as a quiet melody was not necessarily simpler) and the crystalline feel of Malekith, alien but not completely so. The familiar Asgardian pulses of his dismayed guardians as they closed in behind him - he pressed his hands down on the bracelets, reversing the spell, and felt them drop into slumber behind him.

The spell felt strange, like strong drink on an empty stomach, leaving him elated and a little dizzy in its wake. Malekith's hand was still under his collar, there was no time to fetch Odin - and there was a triumphant undertone to that thought, that Loki would be the one to stop this and everyone would be forced to understand why he had had to do this. A wave of ice washed across the room, avoiding Jane and the sleeping handlers but encasing Malekith completely. He couldn't harm anyone if he couldn't move.

'Loki-' Jane looked around wildly, at the ice, at his felled handlers, up at him. Her voice was unsteady but obviously reaching for calm; it rose in pitch and volume nonetheless as she continued, 'What are you doing?' She took a step closer, then stopped, indecisive.

'I had to. You saw he was about to break it.' Loki's own voice was rising. He'd thought she'd seen, that she could help him explain this.

'Okay, stupid question.' She swallowed and looked at his handlers again. 'I don't know how you - never mind. We'd, we'd better wake them up and-'

There was a loud crack from where Malekith stood frozen, like ice breaking in a sudden thaw. Loki felt it break, a strange sharp pang. Jane jumped and turned back toward him, stepping closer to Loki, and then the ice shattered and flew apart in knife-edged shards. Jane shrieked and ducked; Loki swept a hand up and deflected everything, feeling the fragments as if they were somehow part of him. He saw that his hand was frost-blue, faltered, and nearly missed the handful of metal shards Malekith flung at them, laughing again. 'I told you iron had its weaknesses!'

Loki threw more ice, unable to think of anything else to do, any other way to stop Malekith, but without the casket there was a limit to the ice he could draw on. He'd been trying to help, trying to protect Asgard, but why should his intentions matter? Each wave of ice was broken into glistening shards and thrown back, forcing Loki to use more magic to protect Jane and his handlers from them. He was wearing himself out rapidly, the spells a drain on his still healing body and his mind raw with the effort.

'Loki, I don't think this is working,' Jane said, glancing uneasily back toward the door. Loki wondered if it would help if she ran, if she would think of it. Malekith gestured idly toward her feet, and she swore and stooped to wrestle with a sticky silver thread that suddenly wound around her ankles.

'You lack skill,' Malekith said, pacing forward against Loki's onslaught and taking his concentration again, winding it around waving fingers like a spindle. 'I have greater command of the ice than you do, little frost-born.' He shook his head, twisting his features into mock regret. 'Perhaps if you had not listened to Odin and denied your heritage so long, or let your powers be bound - Odin again, of course - you cannot expect a limb to be at its full strength when you've not used it for so long.' He snapped his fingers, and there was a golden apple in his hand, shining. 'A shame. My dear sister might make a formidable king of you, given the chance, but I cannot say it's my own interest.' A smile. 'Do you remember, I answered you truthfully and without deceit...'

Loki's eyes fixed on the golden apple and couldn't look away, he could taste bile in the back of his throat, and images were pouring into his head. The tree stripped bare, the fountain dry, the birds on the ground, feathers and gems scattered around their broken metal bodies. No. He was struggling to think, the world blurring around him, trying to remember why something about this certainty was wrong.

Malekith laughed, the sound grating, terrifying. All Loki could think about was stopping him and the ice wasn't enough - nothing would be enough. He lunged anyway, throwing himself at Malekith, hands clawing at the apple.

Malekith stepped back and let it fall into Loki's hand, and it withered from gold to bruise-black at his touch, frost-blight spreading from his fingertips. His other hand fell on nothing where Malekith's throat should have been, and he stumbled and fell through the elf. 'That will do, I think,' Malekith said critically - no, said through his illusion-double, he'd known the elves knew that trick - and faded from view.

Loki dropped the apple, doubling over and clutching at the table to stay upright. He willed the frost back from his skin, sinking into his Asgardian form. Malekith was gone. Idunn's Garden (bare branches and scattered leaves and dead animals) was damaged and it was his fault. His breath misted in the air, still cold from the ice now melting at his feet and reflecting the bruise black of the dropped apple back at him from its surface.

'Loki?' Jane grabbed his arm, almost before the blue had finished fading. The thread at her feet was gone. Her eyes were wide and her gaze darted around the room nervously, but kept coming back to him. 'Are you okay?'

He laughed. It sounded dreadful, choked and painful. 'It's broken. I can't fix it.' He didn't have the knowledge, wasn't sure anyone had the knowledge. Could Asgard survive without Idunn's Garden? 'It's my fault.' They'd never forgive him. For the first time he understood the story he'd been told, that he'd let go and thrown himself into the void. If he'd been hanging from the Bifrost now he might have done the same. 'I - I have to get away.' I can't face them. On the edge of his raw mind he could feel the tesseract. A way out.

'What - okay, look, we screwed up.' Jane looked at his sleeping handlers again. 'But I really think it'd be best to just wake everybody up and - ah, tell the guards in case he's still around here somewhere, I guess maybe that should come first...'

Loki grabbed her wrist, wrapping his fingers around it and holding on tightly. 'No. He's gone.' She couldn't tell the guards, they'd fetch Odin. Loki started dragging her towards the door, they had to reach the tesseract so it could take them...take them where? Alfheim, maybe, Alflyse had made it very clear he'd be welcome. Was that suspicious? Her messenger had started this...he could have been acting in good faith, though, and Malekith had been plotting something already. If Queen Alflyse refrains from meddling out of courtesy it will be a new thing in Alfheim. Had he been used? Clearly, but by both Alflyse and Malekith?

Jane went with him easily for the first few steps but tried to balk when they passed his handlers. 'In that case where are you going?'

'Away. I told you. I have to be gone when they find out.' He carried on walking without slowing, the brightness of the tesseract's light the only thing in the palace that felt entirely real. He was shaking, every sound of the people in the palace going about their routine the sound of imminent discovery - no one must see him. The thought made him realise that Heimdall could, if he looked, if he realised something had gone wrong, and Loki threw the spell that would hide them from Heimdall's gaze around himself like a cloak. It made his own steps falter and he realised how close to the end of his strength he was.

'What - no - listen.' Jane tried to dig her heels in again; Loki kept walking, though it was more effort than it should have been. She gave up in frustration and jogged a few steps to keep from being dragged off her feet, wrapping her free hand around his arm. 'Listen. It's not - okay, it's not good, but it's not as bad as you seem to think. Nobody wanted Malekith here anyway. Just calm down and think for a minute!'

'No! You don't - what is it you don't understand? He's taken the apples, broken -' Loki's voice choked off and he felt like he couldn't breathe for a few seconds. The treasure chamber wasn't far now, he didn't know where he was going but maybe the other end of the universe would be far enough.

'I have no idea what you're talking about! What apples?' She caught her breath. 'Wait, Idunn's? But why do you think he -'

'Because he had one.' Before I destroyed it. Loki didn't give her a chance to answer, pulling them along the last corridor at a pace that wouldn't let her catch her breath enough to speak as panic overtook him completely. At last they were at the doors and he pushed them open with a mixture of relief and despair.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 31 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>