Colin felt numb. He'd failed. He'd failed the whole project, failed Loki and his family. Those of the High Council who had still been in attendance before the attack, stood in a group talking with one another at the far end of the Great Hall. Members of the Aesir were milling about speaking in low whispers to one another. On their way through the hall they passed Trena and her new aide and he had to suppress the urge to clamp his hands around her throat.
“Protector my arse,” he mumbled, looking away.
When Menyir entered the Great Hall behind them, all conversation seemed to cease, the only sound to reverberate off the walls Astrid's soft crying as she hid her face against Eidra's neck.
As Thor approached the council members, he leaned in to speak to them, letting Loki to stand alone and Colin thought for a moment his friend was going to collapse to the floor but he kept his footing, muttering under his breath like a man possessed as Thor turned to Menyir.
“State your terms.”
Menyir tilted his head, “State my terms? You have not offered me a seat, refreshments. And they call us barbaric.”
“State your terms,” Thor growled, “You will receive no hospitality from me this day or any other.”
“Very well,” Menyir sighed, “I would we could have conducted ourselves properly and with mutual respect toward one another.”
“Respect!” Thor roared, raising his hammer in the air, “To thieves, to bloodthirsty, power mad maniacs? Never!”
“Thieves?” Menyir countered, stepping closer, “How now thieves? Your father stole the casket from Jotunheim! He took from us our most sacred object and locked it away in his palace as a memento of his savage invasion of our realm!”
“Because of this,” Thor gestured about the hall, “Because the Jotunns were intent upon using the casket to rule the realms. Is that not what you now intend? Do not insult me with further lies.”
A smile grew on Menyir's face as he regarded the faces staring up at him, “I must confess it is but to avenge your father's larceny, his overblown, far reaching influence upon the realms far more than my own wish to rule and therein do I come to my first request. I require the Midgardian you call Simon Foster.”
A murmur arose through the crowds gathered in the hall as Colin felt his stomach drop.
“He is not here,” Thor looked about him, “But even were he here, he would not be mine to give. Why do you seek him out?”
Menyir frowned, “Suffice it to say I am told he is wise beyond measure and that is all you need know.”
“And all you need know is that he does not dwell in Asgard. You will not find him.”
“We shall see,” Menyir chuckled as he bent down to stare at Thor, “I have captured a number of your Midgardian friends and not a one of them are the man called Simon Foster though I imagine they would be happy to point him out if it meant their freedom.”
“How would you know they were telling the truth,” Colin spat, “Have you ever fecking seen him?”
Menyir's eyes flickered to Colin, “I confess I have not though I trust the word of one who has. Eris?”
With a young man at her side, the black haired beauty sailed past him, past Stark, Eidra, the children, and he was sure that had he his revolver, he would have happily put a bullet between her eyes.
When she stopped beside Menyir, she caught sight of Colin and smiled though he was certain there was fear in her eyes.
“It would seem the Midgardians have some small measure of honor for before you stands our deliverer. It was she who placed the casket in our hands, restored our ancient relic. It is she who will warn us if you seek to deceive.”
“Impossible!” Thor cried, striding up to Eris, “How could a mere Midgardian break into the reliquary and steal the casket.”
“You forgot escaping your prison cell,” Eris cooed, “And freeing that poor forgotten woman you kept locked away.”
With a bellow, Thor reached for Eris's throat only to close his fingers about nothing.
“I think you have your answer,” came a whisper in his ear as he pivoted about, his fist punching the air.
“You see,” Menyir laughed as Eris reappeared at his side, “It is well nigh impossible to prepare for every contingent. Now I repeat my request, give me the man known as Simon Foster.”
“He is not here. I told you. He left on a journey some moons ago and has not been seen since. I know not whether he be alive or dead.”
Menyir's face darkened as he stood up, “Then I do suggest you find him.”
With a flourish, he stepped aside, nodding to Loki, “Go to your family.”
Loki rushed forward, enfolding Eidra in his arms once again, clinging to her with a cry of relief.
“How touching,” Menyir clasped his hands behind his back, “A family reunited. Ah, which brings me to my second request.”
Menyir swung about to glare at Thor, “Return my brother to me.”
Lily looked up from her tablet to the young technician sitting at the desk to the right of the ramp, a neon green hologram hovering in the air before her, “Yep?”
“The portal on Asgard didn't respond to our pings.”
Lily set the tablet down on the desk, staring at the power output levels, “Did you ping Longhouse one or two?”
The screen blinked, showing a graph for the portal at Longhouse two the bars flat across the graph, “Well what the hell? Did you receive any reports for scheduled maintenance? Any power blackouts?”
“No, Ma'am but neither portal is responding.”
Lily reached up and tapped the screen, “How often do the computers ping the portals?”
“Every half hour,” the technician peered at the screen, “As required.”
When was the last good ping?”
The technician slid another screen from behind the first one, drawing it in closer, “According to the chart, the last returned ping was this afternoon at seventeen hundred hours but since we received no alerts, I assumed it was maintenance myself ,” she looked up at Lily, “Should we alert the Director?”
“No, let me take the bridge home and see what's going on. They're probably doing repairs or tests or something and didn't let us know. Stark is famous for that. I'll report back when I find out.”
Lily stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the flight deck. She hated to travel this way. The portal was one step, the bridge involved calling Heimdall, walking the bridge to the city, getting a horse and riding to the longhouses. When the elevator door slid open, letting a blast of cold air inside, she groaned. There was a storm coming up the coast and the wind at the landing pad would likely be gale force. She'd had nightmares about being blown off the top of the building and it was with no small amount of fear that she forced the pad door open and stepped out into the sunlight. She hurried to the center of the pad, holding her dress down at her thighs as she looked up into the sky.
“Heimdall, open the Bifrost!”
Seconds ticked by.
“Heimdall!” she yelled, “Open the Bifrost, please?!”
She felt a tingle of adrenaline shoot down her spine, “Heimdall!”
She stumbled a bit as the wind buffeted her hard, “What is it, tea time? Heimdall!!”
Silence. All at once, she pivoted about and hurried for the flight deck door, her heart racing. Something was very wrong.
Eris moved closer to Sulyir, frightened and angry that she felt so. She'd worked so hard to reach this point, she'd wanted more than anything to succeed yet now as she watched Thor rail against Menyir's request while around Loki, his family clamored in fear, all she wanted was to excuse herself and slink away to the tavern to start her shift. She knew she'd never walk through the tavern doors again, however, and she groped for Sulyir's hand.
“This is wrong,” she whispered.
“Stop it,” Sulyir hissed, “Stop saying that. Asgard has ruled the realms with an iron fist, treating my brethren as exiles...”
“But tearing him away from his family, his children.”
“You knew. You knew he had a wife, family and you were still willing to go through with this.”
“Well then I was wrong,” she let go of his hand.
“And there is nothing for it now.”
“Loki is a prince of the realm!” Thor was crimson with rage, his hand curled about the shaft of his hammer in a white knuckled grip, “And brother to me alone! You are not worthy to speak his name let alone call him one of your own.”
Menyir shook his head as murmurs arose from the crowd, “He is brother to you by mere circumstance. Why do you struggle so in the face of truth? For pride? Fear that your subjects will reject him when his true origins have been fodder for gossip in the streets of the city for ages?”
Menyir turned to Loki and crooked a finger at him, “Step forward.”
Loki felt Eidra stiffen against but he was numb, watching the scene before him with frightening detachment. It was the only way to keep from losing his mind. His world was unraveling. He thought of the countless times he could have told Eidra of his origins, the whispers she must have endured, the laughter hidden behind hands as she passed by in the court yet never once asking him if the rumors were true. Soon after Brenna's rescue on Midgard, she'd urged him to tell Eidra.
“What if Mama found out people were telling the truth all these seasons? I have seen it, Papa, I have seen everything and I still love you. She knows of your past, the attack on New York and yet she is by your side to this day. Why have you so little faith that revealing what you are will give her cause to think any differently?”
“Consider this. Your family is not yet free from my influence. Now step forward.”
“Loki, no, please stay here,” Eidra whimpered, “He is mad.”
“Did you not hear him?” Loki murmured, unclasping her hands from around his neck and guiding her to Fen's arms, “Do not ask me to stand by and watch as he further destroys all I hold dear.”
He turned to face Menyir, his gaze flickering behind the Jotunn to Thor, his face, his body tense with the rage of battle, Frigga, her hands to her mouth, eyes brimming with tears, Jane staring hard at the floor, Colin, eyes hard as flint, mouth set in determination.
“What do you wish of me, Menyir?”
“Eris, come here, bring your gifts.”
Eris stepped out from the shadows with two bracelets in her hands and approached Loki, willing herself steady as she halted before him. When his eyes locked with hers, however, she had to avert her gaze. Here before her stood a man capable of incredible cruelty, an infamous butcher, a seasoned warrior, yet also was he a devoted father, loving husband, benevolent adviser. Nothing she would ever deserve to enjoy even were she to live a thousand years. She was scum of the earth, scum even on Asgard.
Menyir scanned the hall, “All within the sound of my voice, heed my words,” he then peered down at Loki, “Before Eris bestows upon you my gifts, know this. You have lived with the Allfather's lies long enough. You were not left to die in the temple of the Ancients, you were ripped from our mother's arms. I saw it all unfold before my eyes from beneath her bed where she'd told me to hide. I watched as Odin ran our mother through with his spear, swearing to the gods that he would end the reign of Farbauti. I expected he would run you through as well but instead he spirited you away, to what purpose I did not realize until I came of age for the throne of Jotunheim. Without a successor, without a brother or sister to maintain the continuation of our line and no offspring, I have had to defend my right to rule each cycle in contest against my contenders but I grow old. It is inevitable I will soon lose to one stronger than me. Now, however, with your return, my brother, there will sit at my right hand, a successor with a reputation to match the fiercest of Jotunns.”
Loki closed his eyes to shut out Frigga's anguished face, “I am Loki of Asgard, son of Odin and Frigga, brother to Thor.”
“You are Loki of Jotunheim!” Menyir roared, “You belong among your brothers! You will one day rule our realm after I am defeated by death!”
“I am Loki of Asgard, son of.....hhnnn!
Menyir's hand had struck him dead center, knocking the wind from his lungs as he flew backward, tumbling to a stop at Eidra's feet.
“Monster!” she screeched, dropping down beside him, “Dokkalfar! Do not touch my husband again. You have had your answer! He will not bend to you!”
Menyir bent down until their faces were even, “He will do all this and more.”
At a wave of his hand, Hobnir stepped forward, pulling Eidra to her feet, separating her from the group.
“Mama!” Cait leaped forward, the skirt of her dress snatched at the last by Tony who yanked her back to hold her, thrashing and screaming against his chest as Fen lifted a sobbing Astrid to her shoulder.
“Let her go!” Loki fought to regain his footing, “LET HER GO!”
“Submit to me and I will release your family,” Menyir gestured to Eris who held up the bracelets in trembling hands, “I will take you away from this pain, this tragedy and restore you to glory.”
“Loki, no!” Thor cried, “Menyir, you have our surrender, you have the casket...”
“At the first I meant to crush your will, now I will rip out your heart, Eris?”
Eris opened first one bracelet and held it out to Loki, “Please. He won't stop until he gets what he wants. Think of your children.”
“You have no right to speak of my family, whore!” Loki hissed, “Do as your master commands you.”
With a final look over his shoulder at Eidra, he held up his wrists.
The first bracelet snapped shut and Eris pried the other one open, listening to Loki's sharp intake of breath. As she fastened the second one and stepped back, she nearly dropped to the floor. As held his hands before his face, watching the color of his skin darken to a brilliant blue, he staggered backwards with an animal howl.
When Menyir nodded to Hobnir with a smile, the Jotunn warrior released Eidra, laughing as she rushed to Loki who had slipped to his knees. She grabbed his wrist, tearing first at one bracelet, then the other, tears blurring her vision, her shrieks of frustration echoing through the now silent hall, unwilling to admit defeat until she chanced to look up into his face.
“No, no, no,” she raised a hand to caress his cheek, “Loki, take the bracelets off!”
Bracelets. He looked down at his wrists then back up into the face of the Asgardian woman kneeling before him. His head buzzed with images, sounds, scents, pulsing and fading away like flashes of lightning. An Asgardian baby, squalling in his arms....a rotund man with white hair and a beard, laughing....the soft brush of a muzzle, the smell of hay....the fury of battle...standing at the shore of a vast ocean....kissing....smiling.....
“Loki! Take them off!”
And then there was nothing. He was in a room filled with strangers, enemies. He looked past the woman to a face, hovering over him.
“Better, much better. Rise, brother.”
He stood to his feet and all at once, the woman was before him again clutching at his arm, “Loki! Oh Gods! Loki!”
With a growl, he shoved her to the floor, “Away from me, wench!”
He watched the bearded man rush to help the woman, heard the boy cry out, “Mama!”
“They are beneath us,” came the voice of the Jotunn who was now speaking in a language once familiar to him. He screwed his eyes shut, the words were buried so very deep.
“The enchantment which Odin placed upon my brother has been broken!” Menyir roared to the crowds, “He is no longer your relic, your possession. All that he was has been destroyed so that he may learn all he might be,” he turned to Thor then, “You have two dawns to turn over Simon Foster. If you succeed, you will be spared by my benevolence as ruler of Asgard. If you fail, your realm will perish in an endless winter.”
“What of the prisoners?” Hobnir gestured to the group now surrounding Eidra, forming a wall of protection around her.
“What of them? They have served their purpose. We will retreat to our outpost to wait,” Menyir gestured Loki to his side, “I have much to discuss with my brother.”