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deviation in storage by DavidFolkie

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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.”



“Agent Hoffman?”
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?”
“One, Ma'am.”
“Try two.”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
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.”
Colin's hands were shaking, had been since the attack began. He shifted the crossbow to his left hand again, staring out over the balcony railing.
“How fare our guards, Colin?”
“They're holding their own, yer Highness,” he lied. In all actuality, the darkness had graciously obscured some of the more serious breaches in the walls but the fighting was growing closer to the palace itself. This had to be it. Had to be what he was here for but what to do? He had touched three of the four runes and he hadn't the slightest idea where the fourth one was hidden. He felt useless.
“They're getting closer.”
Colin turned to see Jane, leaning on the balcony railing, “Aye, I didn't want to scare the Queen mother.”
He looked over his shoulder at Frigga, sitting in a high backed chair, Tamarin on a low stool before her, holding her hand, stroking it gently.
“She's stronger than we think.”
Colin had to agree at least in part. When one of the royal guards had come to the bedchamber to inform them Heimdall had fallen and the Bifrost was taken, she'd thanked him for his trouble and sent him back to the fighting, muttering under her breath that had she a sword and a horse, she would ride out to the bridge and reclaim it herself.
But all they could do was wait and watch.



“Loki!”
He heard his name, a muffled echo as he dropped to his hands and knees on the hard plank parapet walkway, a wave of anguish coursing through him. He felt as if his heart were breaking.
“Brother! Are you hit?” Thor put a hand at his back, “Guards! To the prince!”
Loki shook his head, “No, no. I must go to my family. Something has happened!”
“What do you mean? Stand and tell me,” Thor tugged at his arm but he yanked free.
“I should have left at the onset. Something is wrong!”
“Sire,” one of the guards called out, “The Jotunns are retreating!”
Thor leaped to his feet to gaze out over the parapet walls. Lit by the blazing light of the countless torches spread out across the field of battle, the Jotunn were indeed falling back to the distant tree lines, pursued by the guardsmen as a shout of victory rose into the air.
“They were very nearly victorious. Something is indeed amiss,” Thor turned to Loki who had regained his feet, “What do you make of it?”
“I do not know but that it might give me a chance to reach Eidra. I must beg your leave.”
“To leave now would be suicide!” Thor pointed in the direction of the fields, “The Jotunns could well be amassing for a final assault. We must hold Asgard!”
All at once, the shouts of victory were transformed into screams, the troops rushing from the forest in a mad rush toward the city walls. Behind them, swirling between the trees, creeping up their trunks to frost them in an icy shroud, came white tendrils. A line of guardsmen, unable to outrun the frigid mist, were frozen in their tracks, mouths open in cries of terror, eyes wide, unseeing.
“The casket,” Thor growled, “They are using the power of the casket.”



“I don't know what it is,” Colin leaned further out to see. Frigga's bedchamber was on the western side of the palace. Whatever was coming through the forests surrounding the city, was coming from the north, “It looks like smoke....”



“Smoke?” Lelia narrowed her eyes, straining to see as they descended the hillside, “Are they setting fire to the forest do ye think?”
“I don't see any flames,” Simon stopped, waiting for his eyes to adjust, “I see something blue and glowy but I can't make it out. It's too far away. Come on. I want to get closer.”
“Yer mad,” Lelia gasped as Simon changed direction, heading sideways down the hill toward the light, “We'll be caught fer sure.”
“I'm not getting that close. I just want to know what we're facing. Come on.”



Streaks of lightning crackled across the field, dissipating when they met the mist, leaving a heavy scent of ozone as the mist advanced, billowing upward into the sky. Thor dropped his hammer to the walkway with a roar, “Open the gates! Sound the retreat! Odin's beard!”
“Look. I see it!” Loki pointed at a brilliant point of blue light emerging from the tree line, “Guard! Hand me your spyglass!”
“Step away from the parapet walls,” Thor cried, clutching his hand to his chest, “The stones are freezing solid!”
Loki swung the spyglass about, desperate to pick the casket out of the inky darkness, “Clear the walkways before you freeze to death! Wait...I see it!”
“The casket? Who holds it? Loki?”
“Great Freyr it is Menyir! We should have taken him down when we had the chance. He is leading a group of warriors....there seems to be a wagon in their midst........”
Loki lowered the spyglass, letting it slip to the walkway with a solid thunk as he stumbled away from the wall, squatting down, his hands atop his head, “Gods, GODS! It cannot be! It CANNOT BE!”
“Loki?” Thor bent over, swiping the spyglass from the walkway, “What did you see?”
“I should have left at the onset of the battle!” Loki cried, fists banging the hard planks, “What did you care? Your family was safe, here inside the palace while mine was unprotected and now they are captive to that Jotunn scum! Do you see?” Loki leaped to his feet, grabbing Thor by the arm, “Do you see my boy at the wagon seat?!”
Thor stood there, silent. The guards along the wall, watching, waiting for his orders.
“Douse the torches,” he muttered to one of the guards beside him, hurling the spyglass out over the wall.
“But, your Majesty, they will believe we have surrendered,” the guard looked about at his fellow guardsmen at the ready in the city streets below.
“Douse the torches or I do swear by my father's crown, you will feel the weight of the executioner's axe this night!” Thor bellowed, grabbing the guard by his breastplate, “Do you ken?”
“I...ken, your Majesty!” the guard wailed, scrambling toward the nearest torch when Thor relaxed his grip.
“Open the gates of the city. Tell the guards to stand down. We have lost too much already. We must find out his terms.”



“The torches are going out along the city walls,” Colin murmured then turned to Jane and Frigga who were sitting before the fire, “They're extinguishing the torches. Is the battle finished?”
Frigga leaned back in her chair and shut her eyes, “I am afraid it is, Master Denehy.”



“No,” Fen whispered, “The gods have abandoned us.”
Stark rose to his knees from the back of the wagon to lean on the seat, “What do you mean?”
“They are surrendering, do you not see the torches going out?” Fen stood from the seat, his arms outstretched, “Asgard has fallen.”
“Nonsense,” Menyir whirled about to regard Fen, “The city still stands, and it may continue to stand if those within its walls give me what I want.”
“Liar!” Fen spat, “My uncle has told us of your kind. You revel in war, you are masters of treachery, incapable of mercy even unto those who bend to your wishes!”
“Fen, Jesus sit down and shut up,” Tony hissed, glancing back at Eidra who sat beside Helgi, her face vacant, “I don't want another death on my hands.”
“Now let the boy speak, Midgardian,” Menyir tut-tutted, “He has the right to do so for now. In any event, he tells me nothing I do not already know.”
“Fen,” came Eidra's voice, soft, low from the back of the wagon, “Sit down.”
Fen stood quivering for a long minute until at last, holding Menyir's gaze, he regained his seat. With a satisfied nod, Menyir lowered the casket and waved his hand high over his head with a chuckle, “Now we must deliver you back into the arms of your family. Is that not merciful enough for you?”



“Yer Higness, it's safer for you here in your quarters,” Colin looked toward the doors wondering if he should bar them.
“Perhaps,” Frigga drew her robe around her shoulders, leaving Tamarin to fuss with the clasp, “But I am a High Queen of the realm, wife of the great Allfather. What a disgrace it would be to our family were I to cower in fear in my bedchamber while my sons face those...those.”
“Demons,” Jane rasped.
“Demons, yes. I cannot let my family face those demons alone...Oh Tamarin stop your blubbering and stiffen your backbone. I refuse to show weakness to the Jotunns. They prey upon it.”
Frigga strode to the door with a speed defying her years, throwing it wide and offering her arm to Jane, “Come, my dear, let us not be afraid. You too, Master Denehy.”
“Feck it all,” he grunted with one last glance out the window as he followed the women into the corridor.




Thor stood, stone faced on the steps of the palace, Loki pacing back and forth beside him, his sword drawn.
“Where in Hel are they? How long does it take to cross the outer fields?”
Thor said nothing, watching the crowds mill about, anxious, waiting for the gates to open. He looked at the statue of Odin, standing proudly in the middle of the fountain, shoulders white with snow,  and shook his head.
“Silas? Do you see them?!” he shouted.
Atop the main gate, Silas pointed out into the darkness, “They are very nearly here. They have a contingent of warriors with them.”
Behind them the palace doors creaked open and Thor turned, “Mother! You should be inside, safe!”
“I told her the same thing, yer Majesty,” Colin cried, “But she insisted upon coming down.”
“It is our battle, my son,” Frigga clasped her hands before her, “And we face defeat together.”
Loki stopped beside Colin and took him by the arm, “They have Eidra and the children.”
“What?!”
But before Loki could reply, there was a shout and the tall double doors began to swing open, the guards parting the sea of people, clearing a path to the palace steps.
“Hold your place,” Thor muttered as Loki stepped forward, “And sheath your sword, by the gods!”
However, Loki seemed not to hear him as he trotted down the steps.
“Loki!” Thor rushed after him, “Do not be a fool!”
“My family is in that wagon!” Loki called over his shoulder, “You would do no different.”
“STOP!” Thor grabbed him by the collar of his cloak, laying hold of his sword arm, “The Jotunns will not hesitate to retaliate at the least aggression. You know this as well as I.”
The gates ground to a halt as Menyir ducked beneath the arch, holding out before him the casket which he lifted high above his head. Colin shivered  as he recalled the casket sitting on its pedestal giving off a cold blue light on the night he followed Trena to the reliquary.
“The Cask of the Jotunns.” Trena had murmured to him, “Were they to possess it again, they would bury the nine realms in an endless winter.”
Menyir scanned the crowded square, the women holding tightly to their children, the men with their swords, pitchforks, scythes, at the ready.
“The casket of the Jotunns has been returned to its rightful home!” his voice filled the air, the people shrinking back as his gaze fell upon them, “I now hold in my hands the power to bury Asgard and its citizens, nay, the entire realm,  in ice,” slowly he lowered the casket, staring down at Thor and Loki, “But I have come here for more than simple conquest.”
Menyir gestured for one of his warriors to step forward, placing the casket into his hands with a nod.
“And as a means to an end, I have taken the liberty of bringing goods to barter with you in return for your cooperation.”
As the wagon rolled under the arch, Loki broke free of Thor's grasp, sprinting past Menyir who merely smiled as if watching a small child to whom he had given a grand gift.
“Fen! Eidra!” Loki yelled, dropping his sword to the ground as he raced toward the wagon only to be stopped by a great pair of hands.
“Loki!” Eidra cried struggling to rise to her knees, “Loki, oh please let him go!”
“LET ME SEE MY WIFE!” Loki roared throwing himself forward straining to break free from the warrior who had stopped him, “LET ME GO!”
“Not yet, my brother,” Menyir laughed, “We have much to discuss before I can release your precious brood.”
“Let him go, you sonofabitch!”
Stark had leaped down from the wagon and was now striding toward Loki and the guard, “It's his goddamn family. You've got the game ball so give the losing team some slack.”
Stark stopped before Loki, giving him a wink as he pulled a short round object from his pocket, “Might want to brace yourself.”
With a nod, Stark jammed the object into the Jotunn's wrist. The Jotunn stiffened, his teeth bared as he dropped to his knees, releasing Loki from his grasp.
Hobnir grabbed Stark, tossing him against the open gate where he fell to the ground in a heap.
“Stark!” Chase cried, leaping from the wagon and rushing over to where Stark lay gasping as Loki reached the end of the wagon, barely catching Eidra as she tumbled to the ground.
“Eidra! I tried to reach you but we could not hold the Jotunns back!” He looked up into the wagon bed, holding his arm out to Cait and Astrid who secured themselves about his neck with great sobs, “Thank the gods you are safe...where is Brynn?”
“He is gone!” Eidra wailed, clutching the front of Loki's armor as he stumbled back against the wagon, “They broke down the door to the manor and frightened him so he had an attack...I could not save him! Forgive me!”
“We tried,” came Beth's choked reply, “I did all I could. I tried Cpr but it was no use.”
“What?” Loki whispered, staring up into the wagon where Helgi and Ingrid sat, “Gone....”
“There was nothing we could do,” Helgi touched the shroud as Fen covered his face with his hands and curled forward in the wagon seat.
Loki climbed into the back of the wagon where he crawled to Brynn's body and drew the blanket from his face, touching his cheek.
“My brave boy. My brave, brave boy,” he stroked his cold brow, letting out an anguished roar which echoed across the square as he gathered his son in his arms.
He began to rock back and forth, his cheek pressed to Brynn's temple as Eidra pulled herself back into the wagon to slump against him. The sounds of weeping could be heard among the crowd until at last Menyir nodded to the warriors behind the wagon.
“Return him to his place.”
“NOOOO!” Loki shrieked as two Jotunn warriors lifted him from the wagon bed.
“LEAVE HIM BE!” Eidra screamed, reaching for Loki's cloak but the warriors shook her free, carrying him to Thor where they dropped him to the ground.
“I grow tired of this. There is much still to be done,” Menyir squatted down level with Thor who stood over Loki, his rage driving him to the edge of reason.
“Jotunn scum! Cowards! Hiding behind a lady's skirts! You are unworthy to tread on the same ground as the lowest beggar in the realm!”
Menyir nodded, “Nevertheless, here I am and you will bring me into the palace where we will discuss terms of surrender.”
Thor knelt down beside Loki, “Brother, to your feet. We must to the Great hall so we might free your family.”
Loki rose to stand, staring at the ground, swaying in place until Thor locked his arm into Loki's elbow and glared at Menyir, “Follow me.”
“Bring the prisoners,” Menyir called to Hobnir, “Sulyir and Eris as well. We must fulfill our bargain.”
Stark had regained his feet as well and was now at the back of the wagon, holding his hand out to Eidra.
“I cannot leave Brynn alone. I cannot.”
“Up child,” Helgi lifted her arm, glancing up at Sulyir as he passed by on his way into the palace “the Jotunns will carry the wagon inside.”
“Hobnir!” Sulyir yelled, “Bring the wagon into the palace and be gentle about it!”
Eidra hesitated until at last Tony was able to ease her to the ground.
“What are they going to do with us now, Master Stark.?” Ingrid whispered as she jumped down from the wagon.
“I don't know,” Stark stared in the direction of the palace doors, “I honestly don't know.”
Colin felt the hairs prickle at the back of his neck as Thor paused, reins in his hand waiting for the royal guard to reach him.
“Your Majesty! A battalion of Jotunn are on the move in this direction. They appeared at the longhouses. Longhouse one has been destroyed. Longhouse two still stands but it is not clear what they are doing with it. Our men stayed only long enough to gather intelligence before they left for the city. The encampment has been routed!”
Thor looked up at Colin who could only stare at him open mouthed.
      What about the agents? The technicians? Civilians? Was Chase alive? They had to be safe? The great Tony Stark? Had to be alive. It was inconceivable.
“I must go to my family!” Loki brought Agathon about.
“No, I need you here,” Thor took hold of Agathon's bridle, “I will send a contingent of guards to the manor. We must secure the city gates! Sound the bells, raise the call to arms! I want all able men and women to our walls. Children, our elders, bring them inside the city. Send a courier to ride the roads!”
“I cannot stay here while Eidra is alone with the children!” Loki cried, jumping to the ground, “The Jotunn are ruthless! They will lay ruin to the towns and their people just as they did before!”
Thor fixed him with a stare which passed as swiftly as it had arisen, “The guards will ride and be there before nightfall, I assure you but we need to focus on the coming horde, do you ken?”
Colin had slipped down from Blackberry's back and was now running out of the stable to the south courtyard. He raced up the steps to the parapet and shielded his eyes from the sun as he looked to the southwest. His stomach clenched as he spied a distant plume of smoke on the horizon.
“The longhouses?” came a voice beside him.
Colin glanced at Loki, “Aye, most likely. Fuck! Fuck!”
“Indeed,” Loki leaned out over the wall, “The Jotunns are barbaric. I hope they saw fit to spare some of your people. Pity is not in their nature.”
“For their sake, let's hope.” Colin watched the smoke shift direction with the wind.
“What a great loss it would be were my adversarial friend to come to harm,”
“Adversarial friend?”
Loki crossed his arms before him, “Why the great metal man, Tony Stark, of course.”
“Every time you meet up, yer at odds. I was of a mind you hated each other,” Colin backed away from the wall to stare at Loki.
“Quite the contrary. He has dealt fairly with my family though I am often loathe to admit it. He procures medicine for my son, watched over Brenna when she was on Midgard, he has warned me against turning my back on the Midgardians who command the portal project therefore the enemy of the enemy is my friend. A quote Brenna taught me while in school. It holds true here does it not?”
Colin looked down into the courtyard where guards were assembling, checking their weapons.
“So it does...”
They stood looking out over the city as horns began to sound, watched citizens stop their daily routine and hurry inside their cottages and shops only to emerge a short time later with swords tied at their waists, long bows slung over their shoulders.
“I should have ridden to the manor to collect Eidra and the children,” Loki muttered, turning from the sight to descend to the courtyard below, “I have no faith in those who are not invested in their mission.”
“How so?” Colin trotted down the steps behind him.
“The guards are loyal to a fault but they go to retrieve my family,” Loki glanced at him over his shoulder, “Would you die to protect a family not your own?”
They had reached the ground now and Colin surveyed the courtyard, spying Gunnar within the ranks, Silas at the front, barking orders.
“I don't know, to be honest. I can't say as I've ever been very brave,” Colin replied as they started for the palace doors.
“Then perhaps you have never loved.”



His hands stung, so cold they felt like they were on fire.
“Mister Stark! Jesus are you okay?”
Shivering, he was lifted back to his feet by Chase and Kenworth. He stuck his hands beneath his armpits, wincing at the needles as his skin reacted to the warmth of his jacket. He stared about at the remaining agents, the few techs who had been allowed to leave the encampment, most of them in plain shirts, a few, Chase included, lucky enough to have worn their suit jackets and for the hundredth time that day, he cursed himself for leaving the Mark XVII locked away in the sub levels below Stark Towers, for playing nice and not defying Coulson and Fury.
“I'm fine. I tripped, that's it.”
“Keep moving!” came a roar above his head as they stumbled forward along the road.
Further ahead, walking beside the leader of the battalion of insurgents, was a sight he still hadn't quite been able to comprehend. When Eris had stepped outside of the longhouse as the giants swarmed the encampment, Tony was quick to assume coincidence. It was easier than accepting failure but she had walked up to him and smiled.
“Mister Stark, the richest man in the world....well on Earth. Don't know about here. I am Eris Carter, the woman you misplaced.”
“Uh, I'm thinking you had a lot to do with it, I can't take all the credit.”
She had laughed at him then though she was quickly moved to the side as one of the giants approached, kneeling on the ground before him.
“Where is the Midgardian you call Simon Foster?”
“Who?” Tony had tapped his chin.
“Do not think to play me for a fool!” the giant had roared and Tony found himself staring up at the sky, holding his hand to his chest as Eris cried, “Don't kill him, fucking A! We won't find Simon if the only people who have any idea of his whereabouts are dead!”
Unsure as to what Eris had told this giant, whom he was informed was Menyir, ruler of Jotunheim, he continued to maintain his ignorance of Simon's location. Not a lie, really. He wasn't certain exactly where Simon was. If he'd known, he would have fetched the man himself. At last Eris seemed to convince Menyir to move along to the palace and leave longhouse two alone so they had rounded up the remaining staff who'd survived the initial attack and started their march to Asgard.
The city loomed large on the horizon, the sound of bells and horns rending the afternoon air when at last their party stopped and the warriors began to form ranks along the dormant royal fields and Chase moved beside Tony.
“What are we going to do? We can't just let them attack.”
Tony gestured about them at the remnants of the encampment, “Look around you, Agent. We're unarmed, outnumbered, outsized. The best we can hope for is that Thor is going to bring the thunder.”
Chase backed away from him, “You're Iron Man. You're the hero of the attack on New York. Are you telling me all we can do is watch?”
“That's exactly what I'm telling you!” Tony growled, “Under the provisions of this project, I was to leave all armaments at home in the toybox! I argued for months when I found out the agents were bringing their service revolvers but I was told I had to play nice! Why? Because I'm a rebel. A loose cannon. Call me what you will but don't call me a hero, not here, not now!”
With a roar, the Jotunns started for the city walls, the siege had begun.



Eidra had begun singing softly to Brynn, a vacant expression on her face as they rolled on toward the city. Beth clamped her hands to her ears, hiding her face in Gretten's chest. Every so often, she would hear Fen's quiet sniffle as he sat in the front of the wagon, guiding Willow and Lilac along the road. Beth peeked across the wagon bed at Helgi who sat with a vacant stare, her cheek pressed to the top of Eidra's head. Ingrid had hefted Astrid into her lap, managing to rock her to sleep while Cait and Edie had curled together about her legs. For the first time since arriving in Asgard, she felt truly terrified. Absently, she rubbed her thumb along the bottom of her right ring finger. The feel of her grandmother's ring always gave her a little comfort. All at once she sat up with a gasp.
“I left my grandmother's ring in the kitchen drawer,” she whispered in Gretten's ear.
“It will doubtless be safer there,” Gretten pulled her back beneath the crook of his arm, “Stay beneath the blankets and keep warm.”
Anger quickly replaced frustration. How could she have left the ring off her finger? Then again, perhaps it was providence she'd left it off. What if the monsters had tried to take it from her? She gave a faint smile. They'd have had to pry it from her cold dead finger. Frightened she may have been but she was no weak willed woman. She wouldn't surrender without taking a few blue boys with her.



Brenna's eyes flew open, expecting to see Willow's soft muzzle brushing against her forehead, instead she was met with a bushy tail twitching at a languid pace in front of her nose.
“Clancy!” she cried, reaching up and shoving the yellow tabby off her pillow.
The cat rolled onto the mattress, stood up into a long stretch and sauntered off the end of the bed, leaping to the floor.
“Furry bastard,” she grumbled as she sat up, rubbing her face. Snatches of the dream she'd woken from danced about in the corridors of her mind. Her horse, the bitter sting of snow beneath her hands, a distant horn which faded into the whoot-whoop of a cop car gliding along the street below.
Brenna stepped to the floor, shuddering as her feet touched the cold hardwood, and lifted her robe from the end of the bed, wrapping it around her shoulders.
An early morning stillness permeated the apartment, comforting Brenna as she walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Clancy leaped onto the counter to stare inside as if doing so would compel her to open the crisper drawer and take out the sliced cheese. Instead she slid out the bottle of orange juice and shut the door.
“No cheese for you, your highness,” she yawned as she lifted a cup from the hooks below the cupboards and poured herself a glass of juice. Beside her, Clancy pawed the refrigerator handle with a soft mewl.
“Get down,” she picked him up and dropped him to the floor, shaking her head as he bounded back up to stare at her.
“It is not I who shall suffer Sophie's wrath. Do as you like,” Brenna sat down at the small kitchen table and drew aside the curtains to stare out over the rooftops at the lights of the city. An uneasy feeling pervaded her thoughts though she shrugged it off as echoes from her dream. She was eager to return home. She missed her mother and father, her siblings. She even missed sweet, serious “I-am-a man-in-boy's-clothing” Fen, maybe most of all. He had always been her champion. She smiled to herself.
Clancy jumped up into her lap and put his paws on the windowsill, curious to know what was of more interest on the other side of the glass than fetching him a piece of cheese. She touched the Uruz at her chest. Tomorrow she would take her leave of Sophie and return to Asgard to meet Chase. Maybe she would stay the night in the encampment with him then to home to see the family. Perhaps she could convince her mother ride to the palace with her and see how Jane was faring. She pushed Clancy to the floor, set the empty cup in the sink, returned the juice bottle to the fridge and headed back to bed, feeling a sight better than she had when she'd awakened. She was ready to go home.




Simon rubbed his eyes, praying he was hallucinating as they leaned forward onto the outcropping of rock, staring at the scene in the distance.
“We've not seen the likes of that cold hearted sword fodder since before me Da was born!” Lelia hissed, “How in Odin did they get into Asgard?”
Simon clutched the strap of his backpack, “What are they?”
“Our brothers from Jotunheim,” Velos crouched down beside Simon, “They come from a land of perpetual winter. They have been ever eager to expand their influence about the nine realms.”
“Like the Romans,” Simon crawled higher onto the outcropping, watching the perimeter of the city in dismay, troops of guardsmen swarming the great blue giants who towered over them, knocking the guards away, slashing at them with immense swords. The parapets of the city walls lined with archers, more guards waiting to take their place in the melee. To the left of the city, near the main road into the gates, Simon could see movement among the trees where he supposed a base camp must be set up for the Jotunns. Where was the King? He expected Thor would have been in the thick of it all, swinging his hammer, clearing a path for his troops.
“This is a one sided battle,” Velos stood up, glancing back the way they'd come, “I should go back to Muspelheim for help.”
“It's not exactly next door. It'll take a few days to get there,” Lelia cried, “Yer mad.”
With a wink, Velos took Simon's hand and shook it, “In my present form yes but as I truly am, I should make the border in a day and a half at the very most. I will bring my warriors to the battle.”
“By then, the war may be lost,” Simon watched one of the giants fling a pair of guards high over the city walls.
“Or won, depending on whose side you take but I must try to help my friends. Stay hidden until relief arrives,” with a nod, Velos was off, his form growing with each step until he was swallowed up, a flash of red between the green of the forest.
“We can't stay here,” Simon patted his backpack, “I have to reach the palace with these two rune stones. I don't know where else to take them.”
“I ken, Simon but 'tis safer to wait till nightfall so we can move neath the cover of darkness,” Lelia put her hand on his shoulder, “I'll not let ye risk yer neck any longer and make no mistake, I will tie ye to a tree this time. Let's find a spot where we can see the battle without being seen.”
They searched for a few minutes along the rocky ridge till they found a crag, protected from the chill wind which had begun in earnest, and settled in beside one another, keeping close for warmth. Simon opened his pack and drew out the last of the venison pasty's Anna had added along with the cold roast beef and loaf of bread she'd insisted on packing for them before they left Martin's house. With a grunt, he broke the hard pasty apart, handing half to Lelia. He trained his attention to the pasty, holding his half up to his nose with a smile. Addle brained though she might have been, Anna was a fine cook.
“I hope your parents are okay.”
Lelia gazed out at the distant battle, “They've a shelter in the woods around the fields for the likes of this. Da built it when I was a wee lass. He dug it into the side of a hill and fortified it, I recall dragging long branches and pine boughs to him which he used to cover the whole lot. Over time, the vines grew, hiding it so well, no one could find it save us. I was charged with cleaning the shelter each moon, clearing out the mice and other vermin who thought they could take up housekeeping there but I would often spend time in the shelter, playing with me dolls. The family is more than likely there now. Sure and me Da is in among those blue terrors, fighting for the kingdom.”
She hung her head, “We should have headed for the house when we arrived in Asgard if only to tell me Ma I was alive.”
Simon slid his arm into hers, “I'm sure she knows you're okay. Mothers know when something happens to their babies even if they're a world away, trust me. Our job is to get these stones back to the palace, I'm sure of it now. Seeing what's going on, I'm even more certain.”
Lelia lay her head on his shoulder, “I wish we were back in Melos.”
He responded, giving her arm a squeeze, keeping to himself his fear that they might never see the little village in Alfheim again.




Eidra had stopped humming and now sat there in the back of the wagon, a vacant look upon her face which unnerved Fen even more so than had her endless lullaby. As they drew closer to the city, the sounds of battle grew louder. The cries of the wounded, the shouts, clash of metal, flashes of lightning throwing the horizon into sharp relief against the darkness of dusk. These were the sounds Fen covered his ears against now as he followed the Jotunns walking in the road ahead of him. The runners on the wagon had stuck once or twice along the way as waxing them had been the furthest thing from his mind when they started out. The Jotunn warriors had lifted the wagon out of trouble as if it were a toy and they had continued on, to where he knew not. The cottages, farms they passed seemed well deserted though upon looking back the way they'd come, he'd spied a candle rise into one of the lower windows of Council member Wellan's manse.
At last, as the last light of the day disappeared into the starlight, the Jotunns turned into a vast clearing, illuminated with blue stone pillars of light. Surrounding them, were stone huts made from the same material, creating an encampment of of blue glowing mounds, which might have been quite lovely, were they not the shelters of Asgard's dire enemies.
The sounds of battle could not be ignored now, as close as they were to the city and Fen heard Astrid start to cry, soon joined by Cait. Edie sat wide eyed beside Ingrid, spared the horrible clamor in her silent world.
Fen pulled the wagon to a halt before one of the larger shelters when Hobnir held up a hand, “Stay where you are. I will fetch the King.”
Sulyir, who had returned to his Jotunn form, leaned down to Fen, “Do what Menyir says, for the sake of your family. He is quick to punish dissent.”
Fen said nothing, only looked straight ahead, taking in the lay of the encampment to relay to his father when next they met.
“Get out of the way!” came a voice from a group of warriors to his right, “I'm pissed off just enough!
Fen glanced about the encampment, spying two men striding across the hard packed snow followed quickly along by two Jotunn warriors as the others in the group roared with laughter.
When he realized who the two men were, Fen fairly leaped from the wagon, stumbling, uprighting himself.
“Mister Stark! Chase!” Fen cried as Stark grabbed him by the arm to keep him from falling.
“Fen! What the hell is going on? Who's in the wagon?”
“Oh Mister Stark, they came to the house, broke the door, Hal is dead and....oh, I cannot say it!” Fen wailed, not caring how like a child he sounded.
“Where's Brenna?!” Chase hurried to the wagon where Beth had risen on her knees to stare at them over the sideboards.
“She's still in Midgard,” Beth called to him, “She's safe.”
“GET BACK TO THE GROUP!” growled one of the Jotunn's who had been chasing after them.
“Hey, fuck you pal,” Stark shot over his shoulder as he followed Fen to the back of the wagon, “Take it up with my secretary......ah shit!”
Eidra, upon hearing Stark's voice, looked up, rising unsteadily to her feet and speaking the first words she'd uttered the entire trip as Gretten leaped up beside her.
“Mister Stark! Please help me! Please! Brynn is sick!”
She took a couple steps forward, dropping to her knees in the hay, holding Brynn's covered body out to Stark who took the boy in his arms.
“He needs his medicine,” Eidra cried, “You must hurry!”
Fen took his mother by the elbow as she climbed down to the ground and Stark lay Brynn's body on the hay, removing the blanket from his face and pressing his fingers to the boy's neck.
“Jesus Christ,” Stark muttered as Fen tugged at his sleeve.
“She does not believe he is gone. Please help her, Mister Stark. I fear she is mad.”
Chase had taken Eidra's other arm now and was endeavoring to help her stay upright, his lip trembling as he stared down at his feet.
With a short nod, Stark turned to Eidra, willing his voice steady, “Eidra, Brynn is beyond help, do you understand?”
Eidra shook her head, slowly at first, then with more determination, “No, you can help him. You have always helped him!”
“I know,” Stark took her by the shoulders, “And I would do everything in my power to help him now were it possible but its too late.”
Eidra looked at Fen, then to Chase, at Helgi in the wagon bed, her face hidden behind her apron, her sobs muffled, Ingrid, holding Cait and Astrid tight, whispering to them and all strength left her legs.
“NOOOO! NOOOO! MY BABY!” she wailed as Stark gathered her into his arms, “MY SON, WHAT WILL I DO? WHAT SHALL I TELL LOKI? MY POOR BRAVE BOY!”
“I know,” Stark murmured, angrier than he'd been in a long time, “A brave boy, a good boy and we will take care of him like we should but you have to see to the rest of your brood. We're in a tight spot here and they're scared. Hell I'm a bit anxious myself but you have to be strong.”
“My boy,” she whispered, her face buried against his chest, “my boy....so sweet....so gentle...,”
Stark nodded at Fen, “Move him. Get her up in the wagon, cover her up with blankets before..”
“SILENCE!” boomed a voice above them, “Move away from the woman that I might see what weakling my brother has chosen for a wife!”
“If I move, she's going to fall over!” Stark spat, “You can see her well enough.”
All at once, he was being jerked backwards by the collar of his jacket as Eidra tumbled to the ground with a scream.
“I said MOVE!” Menyir roared, kneeling down before Eidra to tip her face upright.
“How dare you touch my mother!” Fen howled but before he could reach her, Menyir had shoved him backwards to sprawl in the freezing slush about the wagon.
“I do as I please, whelp! And it pleases me to afford a better look.....OWOOO!”
Menyir yanked his hand away from Eidra as she slashed at the air once more with her dagger, her eyes wild as she scuttled to Fen who had begun to pick himself up.
“Am I surrounded with FOOLS?” Menyir held his forefinger tightly, the blood dripping down to darken the snow behind the wagon, “Did no one think to remove their weapons from them?”
“Sire, it was Sulyir entered the hovel first. He should have seen to it first off,” Hobnir gestured to Sulyir who glared at him.
“He is no warrior. 'Twas you should have thought to do so!”
“Your Highness? What's happened?”
Fen, lifting his panic stricken mother to her feet, turned to see a beautiful woman step out of the large shelter.
“Eris,” Sulyir bent down, doing his best to shuffle her back into the shelter, “Go back inside. It is too cold for you out here.”
“Bullshit. I was raised in the north country. This is nothing. What the hell is going on?”
Fen was taken aback. The woman was Midgardian. Before he could address her however, Stark was back on his feet again.
“You want to know what's going on? Your friends are murderers! Sick, black hearted murderers! They pulled these people out of their home, killed this woman's son.....!”
At this admission, Eidra let out a screech, endeavoring to free herself from Fen's grasp for another slash at Menyir.
“....and are now waging war on a city full of innocent people! All because of you!”
“Sulyir,” Eris cried, “You promised me! You PROMISED no one would get hurt!”
“It...it...was not my doing,” Sulyir stammered, “Hobnir is the culprit!”
“ENOUGH!” Menyir bellowed, startling all into silence, “Hobnir, ready your warriors! We have what we need. We ride for the city.”
Eris had never been more terrified than she was at this moment as Menyir lifted her wrist up to his face.
“All you have to do is press your finger to this bracelet and we will be able to pass through these portals?”
“Yes,” Eris fought to steady her voice, “But if you go in there swinging, you're going to destroy what you need to build more portals. If you don't want anyone to come after you and kick your ass, you need to take the portals themselves down. The techs and scientists, especially the men named Tony Stark and Simon Foster. Simon is the man who created the portal technology, Stark built them.”
Menyir let her wrist go, “These....techs as you call them. You know who they are?”
“The people you're going to find when you enter the longhouses. They are techs. Take as many of them as you can. Remove the equipment from the longhouses then destroy the portals,” Eris sighed, feeling as though she was talking to a child, “I can't help you  because I can't come through until your boys are all in or the portal will close. Do you....do you ken?”
Menyir's smile was as cold as the ground they now stood upon, “We will do what we must to secure our safety. You will tell us what we must know when you arrive. Sulyir!”
Sulyir stepped forward, “Your Majesty.”
Menyir crooked a finger at him, bending down as he approached, “You know where my brother's family resides do you not?”
“I do. I have passed by it often on the way to market with the farmer on whose farm I stayed.”
“Then you are charged with bringing them to me.”
Sulyir stumbled back, “But what if the dark prince is with them? He will doubtless not come easily.”
Menyir dismissed Sulyir with a wave of his hand, “You will have a contingent of warriors at your command, you fool! He is one against many and he will be desperate to protect his brood.”
“And after we manage to capture them, then what?”
Menyir withdrew his sword from its sheath, “Then you will bring them to the palace in the city of Asgard for we will have taken it by then.” For emphasis, he turned to the warriors lined up waiting behind him and raised his sword to the sky, “Then will Jotunheim rule the nine realms ONCE MORE!”
A roar rose from the wasteland as Eris reached for Sulyir's hand, “Do you think they'll be able to pull this off?”
“With the casket, yes.”
A sudden thought made Eris squeeze Sulyir's hand, “Don't hurt them.”
“What?” Sulyir glanced at her.
“Loki has children, babies. I don't want them to get hurt.”
“Why do you care? You are set to take from them their father,” Sulyir snorted.
“And leave them their mother,” Eris hissed as Menyir started to turn toward them, “Promise me.”
Sulyir nodded though he didn't respond. Menyir had sheathed his sword and was now lifting the casket into his hands.
“We are ready. Open the portal!”



Tony's head bobbed to the desk once more. This time he sat back in his chair and stretched, groaning with relief. Going through the duty roster was as boring as it came but he was required to do so once a month and make changed as needed. At the end of this month, some of the techs were going home with the second group and he was going to have to fill in the gaps.
He sat forward again and began to read through the names.
“Flint, George. Fleer, Adam, Foster, Simon...”
Tony paused. He hadn't looked at the grid for some time. In all honesty, he was of Colin's mind. Simon was probably dead. He hadn't held out much hope from the beginning. The man was neurotic in the best of settings, likely he'd died of fright. He slid the duty roster toward the trash can at the side of his desk, watching as the hologram crumpled up into a glowing ball and dropped inside. He spread his hands out again over the desk, opening up a topographical map, the words “ASGARD” and “ALFHEIM” pulsing in large green letters over the landscape. He leaned forward to stare at the map, a slow smile growing on his face as he spied the red triangle he'd assigned to Simon.
“Enhance, sector one zero four.”
The triangle grew larger.
“Enhance again.”
The triangle became larger still, moving ever so slowly across the green grid and it was heading in the general direction of the city of Asgard.
“Estimate distance to Asgard city limits at present rate of speed.”
“At present rate of speed,” Jarvis's voice filled the office, “...target should reach city limits in approximately eight hours allowing for difficulty of terrain along current trajectory.”
Tony pushed away from the desk, rushing from his office into the longhouse proper, “Where's Kenworth!”
“Not on duty yet,” called one of the techs standing at the bank of computers below the portal ramp.
“Right. I'll be back,” Tony trotted for the longhouse door, “Don't open the door for strangers, honey!”


Tony hurried along the lines of tents, turning to his left near the middle of the section and stopping at a gray tent halfway down the row on the left.
“Kenworth!”
Kenworth's massive head popped out of the tent flap, eyes bleary with sleep, “Sir?”
“Get dressed. I have a job for you,” Tony pushed his head back into the tent, “I want Ardsley along too.”
“Yes, sir,” came Ardsley's muffled voice, “What.....uhn...is the assignment...”
“You're going to be the welcoming party.”



The technician watched Mister Stark out of the longhouse before he slid his lunch pack out from beneath the table and sat it before him. He'd agreed to cover the extra shift for Burns yesterday but that meant waiting until suppertime to eat. At the very least he needed a snack.
He unzipped the pack and flipped open the lid. The scent of cheese danish wafted up at him and he grinned. Stark had chosen well when he hired staff for the mess tent because he would have to eat the same food and he was very particular so the tech had been told. He took the napkin from atop the danish and set it the table next to the pack.
The shrill beep caught him off guard and he twisted about in his chair, glancing at the two other techs in the bio scan section to his rear but they were busy staring at the screen before them. Another beep and the tech swung about to stare at his own screen.
“Uh...um the portal's been activated....guys?”
“We see this Gorman....one of the bio techs called to him, “Just monitor the power output.....this can't be right...,”
Above him, the blocks had begun to hum, vibrating against the base, “I've never sat in on a portal transfer. What do I do?”
“Just what you're doing, Jesus Christ, it's an unregistered marker!”
Gorman stared at the blocks. When anyone passed from Midgard to Asgard through the portal, the first thing they would do would be to register their bracelets to them and record it in the database.
“Who the hell could it be then? Do you think it's the director?”
One of the bio techs jumped from his chair on a dead run for the longhouse doors, “I've got to find Stark. We need agents in here now.”
Gorman swiveled about to look at the remaining bio technician who was now gawping at the portal, “No one has unregistered markers. We assign every one as they arrive. The extras are locked in Stark's cabinet. Who would have an unregistered marker?”
The bio tech stood from his chair, “The only person we couldn't register was the chick who got scrambled coming through with the first group....”
Gorman turned to the portal as the cubes shot into the air...


“Mister Stark! Mister Stark!”
Tech Strainer was on a dead run toward him. He held up a hand to Kenworth and Ardsley.
“What is it? I'm sort of busy right now.”
Strainer skidded to a halt in the snowy slush, nearly falling into them, “There's been a portal activation!”
“Okay?” Stark gestured for Kenworth and Ardsley to follow him as he started up the row of tents, his eyes on Longhouse One, “That's not usually a case for widespread panic.”
“No sir,” Strainer panted, “But the marker comes up as unregistered.”
Tony's pace increased, “That's odd. Where was the source of the activation?”
“We don't know. It was off the grid...,”
“Meaning?”
“Meaning, sir, the activation wasn't coming from any of the charted realms.”
A loud crackle like a massive surge of electricity rent the air, stopping them at the end of the row. Tents started to open as agents and techs emerged to stare about the encampment.
“Look!” Kenworth cried, “What is that?”
The facing wall of Longhouse one was glazing over, growing hazy as layers of ice began to build on its exterior, cracks forming in the whitewashed stones. The faint high pitched sound of screams spurred them to run.
“What the hell is going on?” Kenworth breathed.
“We have visitors,” Tony shouted as the wall to Longhouse one split with an explosive crack.


“What are you after?”
Beth slammed the kitchen drawer shut, pivoting about to face Gretten, “Oh nothing, I was just...counting.....the...silverware. Yeah, I wanted to write down how many place....”
“Beth,” Gretten put his hands on her shoulders, shifting her to the side and sliding open the drawer, “You are a poor liar.”
Beth and Gretten peered into the drawer at the ring, nestled beside the knives, its soft blue gray light illuminating their faces.
“I was going to ask you where it was but I knew you'd tell me come time,” Gretten picked the ring up, “You should not take it off your finger. It is too valuable.”
“But Gretten, look at it, they'll ask what's wrong and what am I going to do? Tell them what that crazy fortune teller told me? It's been getting brighter for the past week, what do you think it means?”
Gretten had opened his mouth to answer when a faint rumble shook the heavy glass panes of the window above their heads.
“Did you hear that?” Beth stretched up on tiptoe to gaze out over the snow covered fields.
Gretten threw open the kitchen door, “'Tis not the season for storms. The sky is clear.”
Beth joined him and they searched the horizon until Beth grabbed him by the arm and pointed at a plume of dark smoke rising into the air, “What's that?”
“A fire somewhere, I suspect. Come on inside. The mild weather has dispersed till planting time.”


“Mother, this is woman's work!” Fen whined as he folded the sheet over the coverlet.
“Well Ingrid is busy with the little ones, your sister is still on Midgard and my back pains me so I needed your help which I do so appreciate, Fenris.”
“Mother! I hate being called by my full name!” Fen snatched the pillows from the dressing table chair, tossing them on the bed.
“So you do, yet you call me “Mother” upon propriety even in our home therefore I shall continue to address you accordingly,” Eidra shot him a beatific smile as he leaned over the bed burying his face in the coverlet.
“But I am a man. Mama is a word for infants to babble.”
“And I have beseeched you to call me so if only here in our house because you will be forever my baby boy. Is this too much to ask?” she set the pillows in their place at the headboard.
“Mmmmm, Father will chide me if he hears,” came his muffled answer.
“I will take care of your father, of that you may be certain,” she patted the top of his head.
“Yes, Mama,” Fen stood up, his face pink, a shy grin on his face and Eidra was once more aware how handsome he'd grown, the very image of his father.
“Ah, it sits so much softer upon my ear. Tell me, upon your travels to the palace with Papa, have you seen Lisle or has your ardor cooled with the winter snow?”
“I have seen her a handful of times,” Fen looked away, his cheeks growing darker, “She tells me she will ask her father to have me to their cottage for the evening meal soon.......Mama?”
Eidra smoothed the coverlet down, “Yes, my love?”
“Look.”
“Fen was at the window. Eidra moved to join him and they stood looking out over the dormant snow covered fields, past the distant tree line to a dark smoke plume rising into the sky.
“Fire?”
Eidra took her sleeve, wiping the condensation from the glass to clear it, willing her eyes to focus. Near the column of smoke she saw flames flicker above the tree tops then movement. She pressed her nose to the glass.
“Mama? Mother....what do you see?”
She watched, waited, standing back from the glass, her hand melting a print into the frost outside the window.
“What is it?”
Eidra turned to him, “I do not know. Perhaps a fire in Cole. We will ask your father when he comes home tonight. Now be a dear and see how Helgi is doing. I will be along in a moment.”
“Yes, Mama,” Fen whirled about, wrapping his arms about her neck in an unexpected hug before he raced from the bedchamber.
When he was out of the room, Eidra returned to the window, her fingers brushing the lump at her thigh. Every morning, as she'd been taught by Loki, she strapped to her leg the holster which held her dagger. As the top of a dark haired head glided along the treetops, she gripped the hilt. At last, she took a deep breath, reset her smile, the most direct route to the cold cellar below the manor mapped into her head as she headed out into the corridor.



Sulyir stared down the lane to the manor at the end, lazy tendrils of smoke rising from the chimneys, snow on the roof glittering in the sunlight.
“What do we wait for?”
Sulyir held up his hand, “We wait for me, Hobnir. I am going to reason with the lady of the house. Perhaps she will come willingly.”
Hobnir slammed his pike into the frozen slush of the road, “And perhaps you have spent too much time in this realm of weaklings.”
Sulyir pivoted about, his teeth bared though he knew his aggression must seem laughable in his present form, “I promised Eris I would try to persuade the family to surrender peaceably and that is what I shall do!”
Hobnir smiled then though there was no mirth in it, “....taking orders from a Midgardian as well? Pitiful.”
Sulyir faced the manor again, “Until my signal, you are not to approach the house.”
Hearing no reply in the negative, Sulyir started up the long lane.



At the knock on the door, Eidra, glanced up from her sewing, her heart fluttering like a sparrow's wings as Helgi's knitting needles slowed. Before the sitting room fire sat Astrid and Edie playing with the carved Noah's ark, their favorite toy, Cait in Eidra's chair with her baby rag doll. Brynn was cuddled up between Helgi and Eidra on the divan, dozing, tired from a night spent upright, wheezing.
Fen was sitting in Loki's chair, a book in his hand half closed as he peered around the chair back into the foyer where Hal was opening the door.

“May I help you?”
Sulyir peeked behind Hal into the foyer, “Ah, I would speak to the woman of the home. I come to her with urgent news.”
“Whom may I say is calling?” Hal gazed imperiously at him.
“A friend.”
A condescending smile broke out upon Hal's face, “The Lady Eidra has many friends. I must know your name if I am to properly introduce you.”
With a growl, Sulyir shoved Hal aside, striding into the foyer, scanning the large room, the stairs leading to the second floor.
“I BEG your pardon!” Hal cried, taking hold of Sulyir's arm, “How dare you enter this home without invitation!”
Sulyir yanked his arm from Hal's grasp, drew back with a fist and was halted in mid punch at a voice behind him.
“I would ask you not to strike my staff. Hal, thank you. I shall speak to our guest. Will you please take Fen to the cold cellar and empty the tall cabinet as I requested?”
“Milady?”
“Please, I will be fine. Do as I asked.”


Hal hurried out of the foyer into the sitting room crooking a finger at Fen as he passed on his way through to the kitchen. Fen jumped from the chair, trotting to catch up with him, “Who is at the door? Where are we going?”
“Into the cold cellar. Your mother requested we empty the tall cabinet.”
Hal pushed open the door to the kitchen, startling Beth and Gretten who were standing together before the large fireplace.
“Goodness gracious!” Beth exclaimed, staring at them, “What is going on?”
“We have a visitor,” Hal knelt to the floor at an iron ring beside the stone sink, “Gretten will you come with us....blaaast this heavy door! We need your help.”
“Help with what?” Gretten lifted the door for Hal, leaning it against the wall.
Fen held a finger to his lips, “Mother told us to empty Father's weapon cabinet.”
At once, Gretten's face grew hard. He shuffled Hal to the side, descending into the dark cold cellar, his voice echoing up to them, “I'll hand things up to you. Be ready.”



Sulyir tilted to the side where three small pairs of eyes watched him from before the sitting room fire.
“What is your name, good sir?” Eidra slid sideways to block his view.
“Sulyir.”
Eidra wrinkled her nose, “Is that not a Jotunn name?”
“It is,” Sulyir bowed slightly, “And in that light, I come here to beg your indulgence. You must come with us to the palace.”
“Us?” Eidra looked about the foyer, “You are alone, are you not?”
“There are others with me waiting at the road into the city. I have come to plead with you. My brethren stand ready to transport you to the city. Ready your wagon and come with us.”
“Are you from Muspelheim?”
“What? NO! I am from Jotunheim!” Sulyir shouted, “Think you they would venture into this frozen land, forsaking their sweltering valleys? We have the casket and our numbers now march to the city, to the palace where you too must go. Our warriors are more given to drag you from this house but I alone hold them at bay. Please say I might go to them and tell them you will leave without trouble!”
Eidra slipped her hand into the right pocket of her dress, through the slit, wrapping her fingers about the hilt of her dagger, “I fear you must return to your warriors unsuccessful for I will not step foot from this house. My family is here...”
“And will not be safe!” Sulyir grabbed for her arm, stepping back as she withdrew the dagger, brandishing it at him, “You fool, you foolish woman! Menyir will throw the countryside of Asgard into endless winter with the casket and you will freeze to death, do you not ken? Your family will die if they stay here!”
Eidra regarded him though she kept the dagger weaving about between them, “If we go with you, how can you assure our safety?”
“The warriors are at my comm.....”
With an ear rending crack, the front door splintered inward, taking a chunk of fieldstone out of the wall above where it had been.
“NOOO!” Sulyir turned about, hands in the air as Hobnir ducked inside to stand, his sword drawn.
At Eidra's scream, Hal and Fen raced into the foyer, Hal rushing at Hobnir with a roar, a heavy sword held up in front of him with both hands, “Get out! Out of this house you troll!! How dare you burst in here like this!”
With a laugh, Hobnir swung his forearm to the side, catching Hal across the side of the head, knocking him against the wall below the upper balcony where he crumpled to the floor and lay still.
All at once, the house was chaos, the children screaming in the sitting room, Helgi calling for them to come to her while Eidra ran to Fen as more warriors crowded into the foyer.
“I told you I would bring her out!” Sulyir screeched, “Idiots! Foolish idiots!”
“We have no time to wait for your negotiations,” Hobnir laughed, gesturing to Eidra who was struggling to stop Fen from raising the crossbow, “Woman you will come with us or we will cut your family down.”
“Fen, please,” Eidra cried, “Please, listen to them!”
She could feel her firstborn son's heart hammering beneath her fingers, his eyes hard flint, face red with rage, “Fen!”
Time stopped, pivoting on his decision but at last he gave way, his body mirroring his defeat, his shoulders slumping as he lowered the crossbow to the floor.
“Eidra!!” came Helgi's cry from the sitting room, “Come quick!”
Eidra started from the foyer only to be grabbed by the arm by one of the warriors at a nod from Hobnir.
“You are to come with us, now!”
“Eidra! It is Brynn!” Gretten appeared in the archway, a sword in his hand, “He needs his medicine with all haste!”
“Let me go!” Eidra flung herself forward, pulling the warrior off balance as she fell to her knees, “We will do as you say only let me care for my son!”
“Hobnir! LET HER GO!” Sulyir roared, “Or Menyir will hear of your refusal to listen to my orders!”
With a scowl, Hobnir waved his hand at the warrior. As soon as he released her arm, Gretten lifted Eidra to her feet rushing her into the sitting room where Brynn sat on the divan struggling for each breath. Behind the divan stood Ingrid, hands clapped across her mouth in terror as if stifling a permanent scream while Helgi stroked Brynn's clenched fist, cooing softly to him. Eidra dropped to the  floor before him, patting the pocket of her dress wildly searching for the little green inhaler, lifting it out, fumbling it into his lap before finally putting it to his lips. He opened his mouth and she depressed the canister, watching his face relax for a moment.
“There my brave man,” Eidra murmured, “Be not afraid. You are well.”
Beth rushed from the kitchen, a hot mug in her hand, “His tea. Maybe it'll help?”
Eidra took the mug from Beth with a grateful smile and held it up to him but he simply sat there slumped against Helgi, eyes wide as he fought for each breath.
“We waste too much time!” Hobnir called into the sitting room, bending forward to clear the archway, “We must leave!”
At the sight of Hobnir, Ingrid stumbled backward into Beth with a scream, her hand searching blindly for Edie who had run to her, cowering into the folds of her skirt. Gretten stepped forward, his sword at the ready.
“The young prince is sick, do you not see this? We will leave when we can and no sooner.”
Upon instinct, Eidra covered Brynn's trembling body with her own, “Let me help my boy!”
“Eidra!” Beth bent down, “I think he's going into shock!”
Eidra sat back on her heels, Brynn's eyes had taken on a dull quality, his breathing shallowed, lips taking on an alarming blue tint.
“Brynn? BRYNN?” Eidra wailed, bringing the inhaler up to his mouth again, “Come on, open up, baby, please?!”
All at once, Brynn sat forward, vomiting down the front of his tunic, a weak dribble which ended as he began a violent shudder, his eyes rolling back beneath his lids, his body stiffening under Eidra's hands.
“Let my son ride to the longhouses!” Eidra turned to Hobnir, “The physician can help my boy! Please, I beg you!”
“The man-child could ride but he would find no one there. The Midgardians have been removed from the camp to march to the city,” Hobnir shook his head, “Their longhouses are under our control as the city shall soon be.”
Eidra's face fell, “Then we must hurry to the palace. My son is very sick,”
Eidra rose to her feet and bent down ready to gather Brynn in her arms until Helgi cried, “Gods help us! He has stopped breathing!”
Beth scrambled around the couch, pulling the boy to the floor, knowing before she wiped his mouth clean and pressed her mouth to his, that it was too late. She breathed into his lungs once, twice, watching his chest stay flat. Her eyes brimming with tears, she put her hands over the boy's sternum and began compressions, counting to herself.
“What are you doing?!” Eidra yanked at her arm, nearly collapsing her on top of Brynn. She yanked herself free with a bellow.
“I'm...one-one thousand... trying to save..two-one thousand... his life!...three-one thousand.. He's not getting any air!”
She kept up the compressions to a count of thirty and dropped back down to breath into the boy's mouth willing his chest to rise but it was useless. She sat back, tears rolling down her face, a hand to her stomach as she felt the baby flutter about, “I'm so sorry, so goddamn sorry, Eidra.”
A high keen rent the air of the sitting room as Eidra pulled Brynn's body into her lap and began to rock with him as the room erupted, Astrid running to Eidra, shaking Brynn's lifeless hand.
“Wake him up, Mama! Wake him up!”
Ingrid held her apron to her face, grief twisting her features as she gathered Edie to her waist.
“You did this!” Fen screeched at Sulyir who had entered the room behind Hobnir, “You frightened my brother to death! You killed him as surely as if you had stabbed him with your sword!” He advanced toward Sulyir but a couple steps before Gretten's arm wrapped around his throat.
“And you will kill your mother if you follow him. Stop this, go to her!”
As if a light had shown into his mind, he dropped the sword, turned and knelt beside Eidra, enfolding her in his arms, holding her as she sobbed, her cheek pressed to Brynn's.
“You!” Hobnir pointed to Gretten, “Gather the others outside. We must go.”
“You are all of you dogs! Can you not afford the lady of the house time to mourn!” Gretten cried walking to Hobnir, peering up at him, ignoring Beth's hissed warning to return to the group.
“She has the rest of her life to mourn. It is our time which grows short. Now do as I say dwarf or I will use you as target practice!”
“We cannot go on foot,” Gretten pointed behind Hobnir at the snow swirling into the foyr through the broken door, “It is deep into winter!”
“What care I?” Hobnir drew himself up to his full height, his head nearly grazing the ceiling as the other warriors laughed, “My people have lived like this for millenia.”
“If you let your prisoners freeze to death, what will happen to you?” Gretten sneered, pleased at the momentary confusion on Hobnir's face.
“Hook up a wagon,” Sulyir glared at Hobnir as he nodded to Gretten, “We will prepare the household to leave.”


A light snow had started to fall as Gretten and Ingrid lifted Eidra into the back of the wagon, tenderly placing Brynn's body, wrapped in a woolen blanket, into her arms.
“Perhaps we should bring another blanket to cover him,” Eidra whispered, her voice hoarse, “He suffers so from the cold.”
Fen reached up into the wagon, his voice cracking as he patted her boot, “I will fetch one, Mama.”
He hurried inside through the broken door, stopping to stare at Hal's body, dusted with snow, before he sprinted up the stairs to his parents bedchamber, grabbing an armful of coverlets from atop the trunk at the end of the bed.
At the bottom of the stairs, he laid one blanket over Hal, “Thank you for your bravery, your loyalty,” he closed his eyes, “May you sit beside the Allfather in Valhalla.”
When he stepped outside, he surveyed his family, sitting, broken, in the back of the wagon. Helgi, her arm about his mother as she lay her head on Helgi's shoulder, Brynn in her lap. Astrid, Cait and Edie piled around Ingrid, holding her with a grip forged in iron. Beth and Gretten side by side, holding hands, Beth's face red, eyes swollen from crying. If ever he had missed his older sister before, he wanted Brenna home so badly he could scarce think of it but tears sprung to his eyes. Father was at the palace with Colin and no one knew what they would find when they arrived. Would the city be at war? Would the palace be taken? He was frightened, moreso than he'd ever been in his young life.
From the cover of the dark arch, Eris watched the two guards standing together talking at the entrance to the reliquary. She couldn't hear exactly what they were saying  though they seemed relaxed. Skiver and Gundrun had likely not been found yet. Eris smiled at the thought.
Now what to do about the two guards before her? How would she get inside the reliquary? She couldn't just walk up and open the doors and there were no visible windows through which to climb and once she were inside how would she get out, knock?
Her mouth dropped open. Knock. It was certainly a way to get in. She started for the guards, keeping her footsteps as light as possible, stopped at the door a few feet behind them, raised her fist and knocked on the heavy wood.
“What in Odin was that?” One of the guards muttered.
“What was what?” his colleague looked about the small courtyard.
Knock, knock.
“That!”
They turned to stare at the door.
Eris bit her lip.
Knock, knock.
“There is someone inside!”
“By Mjolnir, how? 'Tis impossible. We've been here all evening!”
Knock, knock. “Come on you morons, open the door and check!”
“What do we do?”
The guard who'd first spoken withdrew his sword from its scabbard, “Open the door.”
“Finally.”
The second guard unsheathed his sword as the first guard took hold of one of the iron rings and with a grunt pulled the massive door wide. The two guards rushed inside, swords at the ready, Eris sauntering in behind them to stand off to the side, waiting. Men were so simple to fool.
Guard one put a finger to his lips, pointing with his sword, directing his colleague to the left as they began to search the large room. At first Eris hesitated, momentarily overwhelmed by the profusion of treasure displayed about the reliquary on tall podiums, in wall niches, short tables. Glittering gems, gold, silver, copper met her gaze everywhere she looked. There was a gold glove encrusted with what looked like rubies, emeralds and diamonds. A glowing blue square encased in a glass cylinder. Was this the casket? Upon further inspection, she decided it was likely not. The design wasn't what Sulyir described to her. She began to move into the room. Upon a velvet pillow sat a silver bracelet, four holes  along its surface where she surmised something valuable must have been inset.
“There is no one in here,” grumbled Guard two behind her.
“Was someone playing a trick on us then? There has to be someone in here.”
“The Guardian would have alerted us. All the relics are in their place, the Tesseract, the Gauntlet, The Casket.”
At the mention of the casket, Eris glanced over her shoulder to see Guard two gesturing to a podium draped with black velvet sitting at the end of the room. Upon it was a shimmering blue glass block encased in what looked like an ornate filigree of black iron. Two handles stood out from it, one on each end.
“Very well. We will tell Cais and Eron when they relieve us. If the incident warrants action, we will alert the king. Come, they will be here soon.”
Eris watched the guards trudge up the steps through the reliquary doors, shutting them with a bang. How was she going to get out after she'd picked up the casket? She inched closer to it until the details themselves began to solidify. The ornate workings across its surface were not iron but delicate undulating lines across the surface of the glass. From within, there was a blue light, pulsing, bright, dimming, growing bright again. Was it the same material as the smaller blue box further down the aisle? The ends of the box were encased in iron handles and a faint high pitched whistle like listening to the wind howl through a pain of glass.
Eris scanned the room once more. Those doors were the only exit she could see. Maybe if she lifted the casket, an alarm of some sort would sound and they would rush to investigate, then she could just walk right out as she'd walked in.....well, run....there would be no walking until she put this casket in Sulyir's hands. She lifted her skirt, feeling about the waistband of her panties until she felt the gloves right where she'd stuffed them that morning at the tavern. She slid them onto her hands, a bit of a job since her palms were slick with sweat, then held her hands, hovering beside the handles.
“I do not know what will happen to you when you touch the casket as you are not of Jotunn blood,” Sulyir's admission resounded in her head, “However, I know it is the only solution. The only way to give us both what we want.”
She screwed her eyes shut, held her breath and grabbed the handles, waiting to freeze over like she'd been dipped in liquid nitrogen but she felt nothing. The metal was cold, she could feel it through the gloves, likening it to touching a car door handle in winter. Now to see how heavy it was. Giving it a tug, she found it slid relatively easy over the velvet drape. Finally she lifted it from the podium and smiled. It felt like maybe ten pounds all told. The handles had to be the heaviest part of the object. And no alarms, no death rays, no....
A low scraping sound came from the dark wall behind the podium. Eris was rooted to the spot unable to react as the wall slid aside and a pair of glowing ruby eyes peered at her from the darkness. She took a step back from the podium, nearly stumbling as the Guardian emerged into the Reliquary, moving with unexpected speed to the empty podium, sweeping aside the velvet drape with a growl. Eris moved to her right as the Guardian strode past her, his massive head swinging from side to side, searching the room. Eris's arms were beginning to ache, no matter how light the casket might be but if she let go of it, the Guardian would know where she was.
The doors of the reliquary burst inward with a bang startling Eris so that she had to swallow a scream as the guards rushed in.
“What has happened?!” Guard one cried as the Guardian roared in frustration, turning to stare at the empty podium.
“The cask of Jotunheim is missing!” Guard two breathed as they all stood there, shock rooting their feet for a moment, long enough for Eris to race up the stairs and through the reliquary doors. The moon was low on the horizon, affording her little light as she ran for the cover of the archway. Behind her, a loud low blat from a horn rent the night air. She reached the door into the palace and stopped, she would have to set the casket down if she were to open the door. Her hands were a bit full. Panic striken she set it on the cobblestones, fumbling for the handle, sure at any moment someone was going to swing the door wide and discover her unconscious on the walkway but as the door opened, she found the corridor dark. She bent down, hefted the casket again and started toward the servant's quarters, at the end of the hall nearly bumping into a group of guards who passed her on a trot heading for the reliquary. In the servant's quarters the heavyset servant was now talking excitedly to another servant in a rumpled night dress, a gray haired tall thin woman.
“Volsa, did you hear the horns? Whatever is happened?”
Eris sidled around the other side of the table glad of their banter as she made the long corridor to the outer wall of the palace. As she reached the door, she let go one handle of the casket, her arm screeching in protest at the weight, grabbed at the iron ring and pulled the door open. It didn't matter now if they saw it. She was there. She was in the city. She felt like flying. She had done it, she had stolen the casket and kept her head. She'd even helped Sif escape in the bargain. She paused, turned and looked up at the palace spires, the parapets, turrets where torches were starting to blaze to life. The whole palace was coming alive. Eris lifted the casket to her shoulder and began to make her way through the streets.



The stag's head rose from the brush, its ears twitching, steam rising from its nostrils like smoke in the early morning air. He held his breath. If he moved, the stag would surely see him. After a minute, the stag returned to his foraging. Ever so slowly, he reached into his quiver and drew out an arrow, notching it to his bowstring with a smile. It felt wonderful to be able to draw a bow again.
“Take care, boy,” came a whisper in his ear, “His tail is waggin' like a yenta's tongue. He'll run for certain at the least movement.”
His gaze slid over to Chris who was leaning forward, holding himself upright with one hand against the trunk of a tree, “I shall stop his tail soon enough.”
“See to it you do. I'm all but spent for the day and the ladies will be wondering why we've been so long about this expedition.”
He pulled the bowstring back, knuckles grazing his cheek as he drew a deep breath, sighted his mark.
“Make haste, son. It's nearly time to waken!”
His tension on the string loosened as the stag raised its head again, looked directly at him and let out a bellow that filled the sky....


His eyes flew open, his hand, upon instinct, searching beside him in the bed for someone who was not there. Silence, then the distant blat of the horns echoing over the city. Loki threw the coverlet off, struggling to free himself as another blat resounded, closer now. He made the floor, his feet slapping the marble as he threw the heavy drapes aside and rushed out onto the balcony. In the courtyard below, there was assembled a phalanx of guards, with more arriving. Off to the left, a glow as if from a hundred torches, lit the far end of the palace grounds. Was the palace on fire?
He retreated back inside, yanking his robe off over his head, reaching for the tunic and breeches he'd left on the chair before the fireplace, hurrying his pace when a muffled roar reverberated through the hall.
“What? IMPOSSIBLE!”



Colin stared at his door, exchanging glances with the servant girl who was on her feet, wide-eyed.
“What the hell is going on?”
“I have no idea, Master Denehy,” She trotted to the door, opening it a crack to peek into the hallway, “I see guards at the door to the King's bedchamber.....oh the Queen Mother is with them....Loki is running to her.”
Colin heard the heavy clack of boots as he searched for his own which had slid beneath the bed. Another blat from the horn drifted to them through the drapes.
“Something is wrong,” the servant girl looked over her shoulder at him, “Very wrong.”



The casket had grown exceedingly heavy as she continued through the quiet streets. Feeling safely distant from the palace, Eris had ducked into an alley where she'd spied a length of rope strung up between two buildings. Upon it swung a woolen blanket which she'd taken, placing the casket inside and tied it up to form a sling. Now she looked as if she were merely carrying goods, or a small baby though it was hard to imagine anyone would be out with a child at such an early hour. The horizon was beginning to lighten, however and soon she would be beyond the walls of the city and on her way to Sulyir. Still, to be safe, she would slip through the city gates unseen. Why risk being caught at such a late point in the game?
A distant chorus of horns was drifting over the city, drawing residents out of their cottages and hovels in their robes to stare in the direction of the palace, speculating what was possibly wrong. In any case they were not paying attention to the strange woman, her face obscured by the hood of her cloak as she headed in the opposite direction.



Colin blessed his long legs, keeping stride with Thor and Loki as they hurried through the palace corridors flanked by a brace of guards including Silas to whom he now spoke.
“I want couriers sent out to the High Council. They are to be assembled by dawn,” Thor growled, “If need be, we will form a delegation to Jotunheim!”
“How do we know the Jotunn's have taken the casket?” Loki countered, “The nine realms know where it was stored and there are others who would wish to wield its power besides Jotunheim.”
“Who else would dare attempt to steal it?!” Thor roared, straight-arming the door to the Reliquary courtyard emerging into the middle of another large group of guards who immediately came to attention as they hurried down the path to the Reliquary itself. Two guards stood off to the side, their faces fraught with fear as Thor stopped before them.
“How did this happen?”
One of the guardsmen stepped forward with a deep bow, “Your Majesty, we were waiting for our relief, Cracas and myself, when there came a knocking from inside the Reliquary. We entered and searched but found no one, nothing so we returned to our post to wait for our relief...”
“AND YOU THOUGHT THIS INCIDENT DID NOT WARRANT ALERTING YOUR KING!” Thor bellowed. To the guard's merit, he stood solid.
“Your Majesty, we deigned to leave our post until our relief arrived because of the nature of the disturbance. If something had happened to my second while I was absent, the Reliquary would have been completely unguarded.”
Thor frowned, glanced at the Reliquary doors, “Come with me. Tell me what you saw.”
The guards swung the doors open and Colin was reminded of his visit with Trena.  Thor and Loki sailed down the steps behind the two guards but when Colin stepped forward, he was met with a leather gloved hand at his chest.
“You must stay here,” one of the group assembled in the courtyard peered down at him.
“He may accompany us!” Loki called, waving the guard out of the way.
Colin sidled by the guard, catching up with Loki at the bottom of the stairs where he slowed to stare down the length of the reliquary. The Guardian stood behind the empty podium staring at the space where the casket had once set, plated arms hanging lifeless at his side.
If the Guardian recognized him, reacted to him in any way, there was going to be a lot to explain but it was too late as Thor approached the podium, lifting the velvet drape in his fist.
“How did this thief manage to avoid the Guardian? HOW?”
Thor threw the drape to the floor as the Guardian looked at him, shook his great head.
“Your Majesty!”
They turned as a group to see Silas running down the stairs, “Your Majesty, there has been an escape from the cells!”
Thor looked at the podium again, “It could not be! It cannot be!!”
Silas stopped, bowed, “Two prisoners, your Majesty. A thief from the streets and the Lady Sif.”
Thor moved forward, clapping a hand on Silas's shoulder, “Hasten to the queen's side, do not leave until I am returned. Send sentries to guard Prince Lorioi's bedchamber!”
“At once, your Majesty.”
As Silas raced up the steps, Thor turned to the two guards, “You will remain here with the Guardian until the Lady Sif is found. Let no one inside upon pain of death do you ken?”
The guards came to attention, their armor clanking, “We do, Your Majesty.”
“We are going to speak with Skiver. Has everyone forgotten how to do their task this night?”
At the top of the stairs, Colin looked back as the Reliquary doors closed just in time to see the Guardian raise its hand to him.



Eris was exhausted, frightened. Every footstep, hoofbeat, creaky wagon that came to her ears was a precursor to her capture but no one ever stopped her. She had slipped, unseen into the countryside, wishing she'd stolen a horse instead of a blanket but it was too late for what ifs. The rise where Sulyir would be waiting at the trees was within sight. As she neared, she saw movement at the edge of the road and prepared herself to duck into the snowy brush until she spied a blue scarf, the scarf she'd given to Sulyir the evening before. Sulyir met her halfway down the hill, putting his arm around her shoulder to support her as they plowed their way through the snow to the portal. Once they were far enough from the road, Eris set the blanket down in the snow, untying the ends and throwing them apart to reveal the casket, its cold blue light illuminating their faces. Sulyir dropped to his knees, his hands hovering above the glass.
“I take it I got it right,” Eris watched  Sulyir break into a grin. All at once, he leaped to his feet, pulling her into a fierce hug.
“You are amazing! Were all Midgardians as talented as you, Asgard would lose its place as ruler of the nine realms!” he kissed her cheek, “Come, Menyir is waiting for us!”
Sulyir gathered the casket into the blanket again. Tucking it beneath his arm, he held out his hand to Eris and together they stepped through the portal.
The frigid air hit her all at once and she covered her mouth with the edge of her cloak. The sun was shining brightly in a clear sky but the warmth could scarce be felt even on her face. Spread out before them across the wasteland of snow and ice they'd crossed when first she'd visited Jotunheim were amassed lines of Jotun warriors, clad in armor the color of gunmetal, swords hanging at their hips shields slung across their backs but before all, his ruby eyes locked onto the blanket covered casket carried by Sulyir, stood Menyir.
Sulyir knelt down to the ground, tossing the blanket clear. As soon as his hands touched the iron handles, he began to change, his skin darkening to midnight blue but Menyir lifted the casket from his grasp, holding it high above his head as the warriors let out a deafening roar.
“You have brought the casket back to Jotunheim! You have done as you said you would!”
“Of course we did,” Eris scanned the legions behind Menyir, “I don't understand the welcoming party, however. What are they doing here?”
“Your task is not quite finished,” Menyir squatted down to stare at Eris, “Now you will open the  Midgardian portal.”
Eris blinked once, twice, “What?”
Menyir nodded to Sulyir, “The bracelet on your wrist, it will open the portal the Midgardians built, will it not?”
Eris instinctively reached for the ever present band on her wrist, her original fail safe, “Yes it should but why would I open it? If I step out into that longhouse, I'm as good as in prison, or worse.”
“You will not be alone. You will hold the portal open as my warriors make their way into Asgard...”
“Sulyir?” Eris cried, “You lied to me! You bastard!”
Sulyir was suddenly before her, holding her face in his hands, “I did no such thing. I swear to you, we will deliver on our promise. You will have the Prince!”
“How? I mean this doesn't look like a friendly house call.”
A snowflake drifted down between them, then another, and another until the sky was gray with snow, swirling about in a shifting frigid wind. Eris stared at Menyir who held the casket in his hands, a maelstrom issuing from its surface.
“It is an invasion, one you have helped to begin,” Menyir laughed, “One you will benefit from if you help us.”
“Why can't you just use the portal we came through?” she pointed behind her with a trembling finger.
“We need a much larger hole to enter through and we need to stop the Midgardians from coming to Asgard's rescue,” Menyir brought the casket down to his waist where she watched the storm rage beyond the glass, “You really have no alternative. Either help us and be rewarded with your heart's desire or perish here in Jotunheim.”
Eris groped for Sulyir's hand, found it as she stumbled back against him, feeling helpless for the first time in her life. Her power wouldn't help her here. Even invisible she'd freeze to death in short order. There was no other choice.



“Yer Majesty,” Skiver wailed, “'Twas dark magic!”
Skiver and Gundrun stood before their table, Skiver wringing his hands together, “The thief the square sentries brought in, she disappeared, vanished! At first I thought the Lady Sif was to blame for the deception because she tricked us, made us open the cell to search for the lass but when the keys was snatched from me belt and the door shut, I knew the wench had played us. We watched the keys float across to Lady Sif's door and when she was free, she, too, vanished before our very faces. I canna explain it!”
Thor's hand shot out, grabbing Skiver by his leather vest, “Who was this thief? Did you know her?”
“Nooo, she was an off worlder. Ye could hear it in her speech. She was a comely lass with a fine shape, dark hair..,”
Thor shook him, “Did she have a name? We must search the city for her. 'Tis possible Sif will be with her if they left together.”
“Aye, she'd a name but yer Majesty, I didna' see them leave together, I didna' see them leave a'tall.”
“Yet they are not here,” Thor gestured toward the cells, “Her name?”
Skiver looked at Gundrun whose face was contorted in thought, “Ah, 'twas an odd sort of name.”
At last Gundrun tapped Skiver on the shoulder, “It's in the ledger, Skiver!”
“Och, yer right!” Skiver cried, tearing away from Thor's grip, whirling about to pull the thick tome across the table to him. He threw open the ledger, flipping through the stained, dirty pages until he found the last entry, pointing at it with a stubby finger, “There it is. She said her name was Eris.”
All at once, Colin, Loki, and Thor stared at one another.
“Begging yer pardon,” Colin raised his hand, “You'd recognize her if you saw her right?”
“Aye,” Skiver nodded, “Why wouldn't I?”
Colin backed toward the stairs leading up to the palace proper, “I'll be right back.”
“Surely you do not believe it is her, Colin.” Loki exclaimed as Colin took the steps two at a time.
“I hope not,” Colin called over his shoulder, “I really hope not.”
When Colin reached the corridor, he spied three guards heading straight for him, followed close behind by a shrieking woman whom he recognized as the nursemaid, Bruna.
“We must speak with the king. Have you seen his Majesty?” The guards halted before him as Bruna continued to cry, “He will have me executed! Odin's beard, where could he be?!”
“The King is down in the cells talking to Skiver. What's wrong?”
“Prince Lorioi is missing!” Bruna shrieked, “The entire household has been searching for him!”
Colin glanced at the doorway to the cells, “And the Lady Sif is gone too.”
“AHHHH!” Bruna fell to the floor, her forehead pressed against the marble, “She has surely fled with the Prince! It must be so! I am for the sword now!”
Colin watched the guards lead the hysterical nursemaid down the stairs before he continued on to his bedchamber at a sprint.
When he at last returned to the cells, his tablet in hand, he found Thor sitting in Skiver's chair, face in his hands, Loki leaning against the wall, arms crossed. Bruna and the guards were nowhere to be seen, Skiver was still prattling on about his innocence in the whole affair while Gundrun looked on, still too terrified to say much.
“Skiver,” Colin handed the tablet to him, “Is this the woman you had in yer cells?”
Skiver stared at the tablet, “Och aye, the very same. How did ye come to have her picture? Is it more Midgardian magic?”
“It is,” Colin rasped, “Yer sure it was her? Positive?”
“Aye, I am,” Skiver pointed to the picture, “Who could forget such a bonny face?”
Colin put a hand to his forehead, “I've got to get to the encampment. How the hell did she slip through the screening process?”
“Screening process?'” Loki held out his hand, “Let me see your tablet.”
“Aye, Eris is obviously a mutant,” Colin handed the tablet to Loki, “...but we disqualified mutants from the program for good reasons, this being one of them. She must have never registered as a mutant or we would have had her on file. Damn!”
As he gazed at Eris's file photo, his mouth dropped open, “This woman. I know her.”
Thor looked up, his eyes rimmed with red, “What say you?”
Loki tapped the screen, “She came to fetch tributes of wine at Mabon. She was a dancer in one of the city taverns. The Oak and Thistle I believe. She was quite bold.”
“It would seem we didn't lose Eris in the portal after all,” Colin groaned, “I've got to get to Stark, see if we can't find out where she is now.”
Thor shot up from the chair, grabbing one of the guards, “..And you are to go to the Oak and Thistle. I want the proprietor and his employees in the throne room before the sun hits its zenith!”
“Yes, your Majesty,” the guard bowed deeply before rushing up the stairs, his men close behind.
“Yer Majesty,” Skiver mumbled, his hands clasped before his round belly, “It was a mistake. I swear we didna' mean to make such a mess a things.”
Thor regarded him for a moment, “For your loyalty all these seasons I shall pardon you this time but in the future, if ever you come across such odd circumstances, follow your instincts and come to me at once. Do you ken?”
Skiver grabbed Thor's hand, pressing it to his forehead as he wailed, “Aye, oh aye. I'll no' fail ye agin, yer Majesty! If I do, I'll be the one to set my neck in the hangman's noose!”
Thor looked at Colin then, “We must hurry to the encampment for I fear this is all connected.”
I've not died....I am writing.....making jewelry.....going through the process for SSD......but I'm still here....looked at my old journal and thought I should let you know.....still looking for a cover designer for my second Loki fiction while I have some money....yup same old, same old.
  • Mood: Suffering
  • Listening to: my mother, blah blah blah...
  • Watching: the computer screen, geez

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funygirl38
Deborah Austin
Artist | Hobbyist | Photography
United States
Current Residence: upstate new york
Favourite genre of music: most kinds
Favourite photographer: Carl Heilman, Mark Bowie
Operating System: windows xp
Shell of choice: Alaskan King crab
Skin of choice: golden O_o
Favourite cartoon character: GARFIELD, Peanuts
Personal Quote: "Where are we going and why am I in this handbasket?"
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OneTrueSai Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2014  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thanks for the favorite! Heart 
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Valentine345 Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2014
Hello!
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funygirl38 Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Greetings!
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Valentine345 Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2014
How are you?
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funygirl38 Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Oh I'm doing alright and yourself?
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Sillybilly60 Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2014   Digital Artist
Thank you so much for the fav! :hug:
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Thank you for +fav  Hug 
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AdmiralDeMoy Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
:wave: Thanks for the new Loki fave! :hug: 
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funygirl38 Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
My pleasure. Always great to see your work!
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:aww: :XD: 
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