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Eris was thoroughly exhausted. They'd entered Jotunheim through the hidden rift in the forest, starting the trek back to Menyir's fortress across the frozen landscape. She'd tried to keep pace with the warriors but she was far outdistanced in a short time. Shivering with the cold, she'd stood there waiting to see if anyone noticed her absence. True to form, Menyir, Loki and the contingent of warriors paid her little mind as they continued on toward the distant towers bathed in cold blue light as they loomed over the horizon. The only member of the party to notice before they'd gone very far was Sulyir who returned to fetch her, hauling her onto his back and carrying her the rest of the way. For some distance, his stony silence doused all attempts at small talk though she wasn't sure whether his reticence was due to their proximity to the group or simple frustration.
At last she lay her cheek against the hood of his great cloak, “I'm sorry you had to come get me. I'll never get used to this cold.”
“You should not be here,” he muttered, “It was a fool's endeavor from the start.”
“Hmmph, a bit too late to worry about that. It was your idea from the get go.”
She felt him stiffen, “I am cursed to destroy all I touch. Must you remind me of my error?”
“What error,” she shrugged, “You've gotten what you wanted. You're the golden boy, back home in Jotunheim from the conquest of Asgard with two great big war prizes. You're a hero.”
“And 'tis you who will suffer for my selfishness.”
Eris frowned to herself, “How do you figure? I'm the mistress of a prince....or I will be. Why should you care?”
Sulyir glanced over his shoulder, twirling about like a lumbering ballerina until he realized he would not be able to look her in the eye and she stifled a welcome giggle, a momentary vision rising to the surface of her mind. The two of them lying in her bed over the Oak and Thistle, laughing in the glow of the lantern light, running her fingers through his shaggy mop of dark blond hair, the memory so poignant she bit her lip to stifle the angry tears forming in her eyes.
“If I did not care, would I have protected you? Would I have convinced Menyir to listen to us?”
“There was no us, remember? You threw me out of the room while the two of you had your little parlay and by then the ball was already rolling.”
“I know! I KNOW!” Sulyir growled, “This is my fault!”
Up ahead, the group had slowed. Menyir and Loki stood watching until Sulyir and Eris drew even with them.
“Is there a problem, Sulyir?” Menyir purred, “You seem quite put out at the moment.”
“No, my King,” Sulyir rasped, giving a short bow which brought Eris's head up to stare at Menyir.
“Very good. Now put the Midgardian woman down and let her walk. She must grow accustomed to this world and the bridge is not far now.”
Eris shuddered, recalling the bottomless chasm as the group started again to march onward. She proceeded to follow suit, expecting Sulyir to leave her to herself, however, he stayed even with her, taking smaller steps, his former silence returned with a vengeance.
Muffled footfalls were soon replaced with the heavy clink clank of metal on stone. She looked straight ahead, refusing to so much as turn her head to catch a glimpse of the endless void until they had reached the other end of the bridge and still she couldn't bear it.
When they at last neared the iron gates of the citadel, there were shouts and cries of joy from the windows, the walkways, towers, the gates making a thunderous rumbling sound as they swung wide to let forth battalions of fellow warriors, servants, women far smaller than their male counterparts, all coming to greet the returning conquerors, surrounding Eris, poking and prodding at her, laughing until Menyir clapped his hands together and the throngs parted ways to allow them entrance into the fortress.
Eris hung back, at first hoping to remain by Sulyir but now Loki would have none of it, catching her at the back as they filtered through the tall archway.
“Move your feet, wench! I desire a full chalice and a place to rest my head.”
If she had any chance of speaking further with Sulyir, it was quickly extinguished as Loki hurried her along further into the recesses of the fortress. Far from the loud clamor of the Jotunn mob, out from beneath the oppressive eye of Menyir, through the corridors , her eyes catching and holding on to little details, mental breadcrumbs with which to find her way back to the beginning of this insane journey.
They stopped before a set of carved granite doors which opened as if on cue.
“My prince,”a servant, a young Jotunn bowed deeply, backing away from the entrance as Loki passed, oblivious to his presence. When Eris passed by the servant, however, he regarded her with barely suppressed disgust and so as Loki shoved the door shut, it was with no small measure of delight that she watched his face disappear from view.
Her delight was short lived as she turned to face the room and spied Loki, his arms outstretched at his sides, glaring at her.
“Don't tell me they do Tai Chi here too, shit,” she brought her arms up to mimic his pose.
His arms begin to tremble.
“Undo my belt.”
She stared at him for a moment, dropping her arms to her waist, “What?”
“I wish to retire. You will attend to me. Undo my belt,” he growled.
“Make him feel at ease!” screamed the voice in her head, “shut your goddamn mouth and dance to his tune!”
She walked up to him and began to work out the knot in the braided cord, his loud sigh hastening her efforts until finally she was able ease it from around him.
“Okay, now what do I do with it?”
It was an honest question but he grabbed her arm, dragging her across the room to a door set into the rough hewn wall.
“Here is where all garments are kept. You will learn where to....” he paused, the expression on his face fading from anger to confusion as his scarlet eyes scanned the room, looking for what, she didn't know.
But she had an idea.
“Having another episode?”
His hand slipped away from her arm, “Epi....”
“You're a bit glitchy tonight,” she leaned over to stare up at him, “You need to have a sit down.”
Over the past couple of days,though they were still present, the torrent of visions had slowed to brief flashes as evidenced by his responding snarl.
“Do not presume to tell me what I need,” his hand was back on her arm, “Do as I say or suffer for your disobedience!”
“And risk pissing off your brother? He charged you with taking care of me! If yo....urgk!”
There was no time to react as the palm of his other hand connected squarely with her sternum, sending her to slide across the floor, skidding to a halt beneath the blue stone set into the wall.
“Menyir charged me with your care!” he roared, “He did not dictate to me how such a charge was to be carried out! Now rise and continue your chore in silence lest you lose your tongue for your impudence!”
She sat up, glaring at his back as he unfastened the cloak about his neck. The scales had tipped at last. She was returning to Asgard even if it meant spending the rest of her life in prison.

Simon sat in his reconstructed tent, smiling at the stack of crates beside the entrance flap. When Menyir and his contingent had departed for Jotunheim, Simon was quick to discover that, save for the lead warrior, Hobnir, he was basically in command of the entire encampment. He'd no idea what garbage Eris had fed them but at each turn, his word was been accepted as law by the remaining Jotunn warriors. He had freedom to roam about the compound, albeit under the watchful eye of the guards. He had put Kenworth in charge of seeing the tents were raised again, a senior agent, Miss Carter-Boylan was seeing to the mess hall.
As soon as Simon had a free moment, however, he was off to Longhouse one on a mission.
When they had first arrived in Asgard with the supplies to assemble the portals, Tony had taken him aside to where sat one large wooden crate surrounded by ten or so smaller crates. He'd guided Simon over to the larger crate and told him to peek inside.
“What do you see?"
Simon shrugged, “Nothing, really. It looks like metal....steel.”
“Exactly. It's a steel bunker. Not just any steel either, triple thick plates lined with nanofiber.”
“Whatever do we need this for. Are you not telling me something?”
Tony had laughed, “It's my own personal brand of insurance and I'm naming you as beneficiary. See the little baby crates all around the big daddy crate? Well the big daddy crate is going into a specially dug hole beneath the longhouse floor...”
“And the Asgardians, they're not at all going to question why you want to install a steel bunker below the longhouse?”
“They already have. I told them it's where I'm going to store some dangerous chemicals and stuff.”
“Yeah, the little baby crates, only they're not as innocent at they look. Each crate contains enough C-4 to level these longhouses. Every agent here knows how to wire up the detonators, it's part of their training so you won't be lacking for help.”
“Wait a minute! did you...what are you thinking? We were told no incendiaries. Bloody hell, we had to beg for the rubber bullets. How did you manage this and why?”
Tony sat down on one of the smaller crates, “I told the pencil pushers back home the same thing I told the Asgardians, I needed safe storage space. Come on, I was only half lying. It is safe. As for the C-4, this came in my own personal caravan. The whyfor is called playing the odds, splitting up your eggs between baskets or what have you.”
Simon had stared at him until he waved his hands in the air, “Okay it's a fail safe. If anything happens, my suits aren't equipped with portal generators, which is a thought mind you, and I hate being caught with my britches down.”
“Right but why are you telling me about this? I'm not an agent.”
“No, but you are someone I trust and that's enough.”
“But why do we need any of it? You said yourself that nothing's going to go wrong.”
Here Tony had fixed him with a hard stare, “If you forget everything else I tell you, remember this. It's the agenda you don't plan for that will always fuck you up.”
Simon sat a bit straighter on his cot, pride swelling his chest. Tony had trusted him with a secret that was going to make things a whole lot more difficult for the Jotunns.
“Mister Foster?” came a whisper outside the tent. It was Kenworth.
“Come in, come in,” Simon stood from the cot as Kenworth ducked beneath the flap.
“What did you need, sir?”
Simon spied faces peering into the tent behind Kenworth.
“Bring them all in, hurry.”
Kenworth stepped aside, allowing Agents Carter-Boylan, Benlaw and two other agents Simon wasn't familiar with, file into the tent.
“In the beginning of this project, Mister Stark had the wisdom to prepare for just such an incident as the one in which we are now faced with. He entrusted me to safeguard his secret and through his foresight, we have the ability to level longhouse two when the time comes.”
Kenworth glanced at the crates to his left, “With the C-4 in those crates, we'd be able to level a whole lot more than just the longhouse.”
Simon stared at him for a long minute, “How? How did you know....what...”
“I know what C-4 smells like.”
Simon sniffed the air, noting the faint odor of motor oil, “Ah.”
“But Thor surrendered Asgard to the Jotunns because they've got that blue ice box,” Benlaw formed a square with his hands, “Blowing shit up is only going to piss them off isn't it?”
Simon thought of the runes back at the palace with Colin, “The Jotunns won't always have the upper hand, trust me. We just have to be ready for that moment.”
The agents looked at one another until finally Kenworth stepped forward, “Okay, chief. Tell us what to do.”

Bruna heard the footsteps outside the door, looked to the children asleep upon their beds. As the door swung open, she had to clamp her hand across her mouth to stifle her scream. Eidra eased herself into the room, shutting the door behind her gently.
“Milady!” Bruna whispered, hurrying up to her with a deep curtsey, “It is so good to see you. The children will be over the moon! They have been inconsolable! Shall I wake them?”
“No, no do not disturb their dreams for they are far preferable to reality. Let them sleep. I will sit and wait for them to waken if it is all the same with you?”
Bruna scurried over to the fireplace, pulling a cushioned chair about for Eidra, “Oh by all means, Milady.”
Eidra eased herself into the chair, wrapping her shawl tighter around her shoulders as Bruna set a heavy fur robe across her legs.
“The nursery is powerful drafty this time of year. Can I get you anything, Milady? A posset, some mulled wine?”
Eidra shook her head, “I fear I could not stomach it. No, Bruna, thank you. All I need is to be here with my children.”
Bruna sat back down opposite Eidra and picked up her sewing again, glancing up every so often to look at Eidra's face, illuminated by the firelight. She seemed to have aged ten seasons in the space of a few days. She was gaunt, her cheeks hollow, dark circles had taken residence beneath her sad eyes. Bruna frowned to herself. All the woman needed was good hearty fare, a long bath, a few days in the sunshine. No, she needed far more than that. Bruna paused, staring into the fire with Eidra. She needed her family returned to her, whole again.

“Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh ha'olam, hagomel lahayavim tovot, sheg'molani kol tov”
Colin had been on his way to find Brenna but the words drifting out of the palace library as he passed by made him stop. He stood there inside the tall archway watching Mister Mindel who was standing at the end of one of the long tables in the center of the massive chamber, his hands held high, eyes closed. Seated  on either side of him were a handful of men, mostly of advanced age though there were a couple of younger boys as well, the whole scene illuminated by the light from a multi-tiered candelabra in the middle of the table.
At a mumured “Amen” from the men around him, Mister Mindel opened his eyes and gave them a gentle smile.
“Good, good.”
Colin cleared his throat, bringing Mister Mindel's attention to bear upon him.
“Mister Denehy! Come in, come in!” Mister Mindel waved him over, “Have you come bearing good news?”
“Depends on what your idea of good news is Mister Mindel.”
“Avrum, please. No need to be so formal. Sit with us a while. We were just praying.”
“Praying?” Colin regarded the men who had now turned to face him.
“Oh yes. In the time I've spent here in Asgard expanding my mind, it would seem I've expanded a few myself.” Mister Mindel clapped his hands in delight, “Or in the very least I've given them something to think about.”
Colin gave a slow nod, grimaced,“I'm sorry yer return to Earth has been delayed because of this incident.” The word, “incident” seemed almost an insult to their present situation.
“Sorry? So who's complaining? Out of our group, I can think of a handful ready to return to the sickness that is terra firma. Even Garth has found his calling in the stables. He loves working with the horses. He won't get that chance back home. We are all content here, well mostly save for this disagreement with the...Jotunns?” the men nodded their assent, “Jotunns, yes. Now please join us, tell us what news you have. Sit.”
“I can't,” Colin scanned the nearly empty library, “I have to find Brenna.”
Colin pivoted about to go, paused again, “Avrum, what were you saying before I came in?”
“Ah, it's a blessing. The Birkhat Hagomel is said after one survives illness or danger and I woke up this morning still alive so I think it counts.”
“It does,” Colin smiled for the first time in what felt like forever, “Can you say that prayer for a Gentile?”
“Of course, my friend, God is there for us all, Jew, Christian, Gentile, Asgardian....”
“Say it for me then, will you?” he called over his shoulder as he disappeared into the corridor.
The night was growing old by the time Colin returned to the bedchamber he'd been given and flopped down upon the bed. He reached beneath the frame, feeling the canvas flap of Simon's backpack. The Uruz was still inside. He could, in all actuality, simply take the Uruz without Brenna knowing though he wanted to talk to her before he left, tell her he was the Protector, reassure her everything was going to be alright but what if she didn't believe him? He rolled over onto his back, laughing. Of course she wasn't going to believe him. He wasn't sure he believed him. He closed his eyes.

“Colin! Colin where have you been?”
He opened his eyes to see Brenna and Chase standing over him.
“We have been all over this palace searching for you this evening. Tony wants to see you!”
Colin sat up, rubbed his eyes. How long had he been asleep? “What time is it, fer fuck sake?”
“Almost midnight,” Chase tapped his wrist, “Come on, Mister Stark has a plan. We're going to try to sneak out of the city, make it to the encampment.”
Colin shook his head, “No, no. Then what are you going to do?  We don't have any weapons. You'd be going to slaughter with the likes of those warriors.”
“Stark said he's got an ace up his sleeve, whatever that is. He claims he's not waiting around for some legendary strong man to show up from the cosmic circus. He's talking about leveling the encampment.”
Colin swung his feet out over the floor, “And what about the agents and technicians still left? There's also the matter of the Bifrost. The Jotunns control that too. You take out the portal and yer liable to find a giant icicle shoved up yer arse from the cavalry. How would you get out of the city anyway. We're surrounded by the remains of Menyir's battalions.”
Brenna wrapped her arms about her waist, “There is a way to leave the palace without using the main gates. In my father's old bedchamber, near his wardrobe is a hidden door. He showed it to me. It leads down a tunnel to the eastern wall of the city. The Jotunn forces are concentrated at the entrances to the city. We may be able to slip away undetected.”
“Wait, what's this “we” shite? Yer not stepping foot out of this palace!” Colin stood up.
“ 'Twas my necklace brought this upon Asgard. I should make things right, would you not do the same?”
Colin shot Chase a look, willing him to protest but he stood there gazing at Brenna in adoration.
“It was more than the necklace, more than the portal, this was no one's fault. Chase, go fetch Stark and bring him here to my room.”
Chase hesitated, glanced at Brenna who nodded and was off like a shot out the bedchamber door. Colin dropped to his knees beside the bed and yanked Simon's backpack from underneath the frame, frantically clawing at the strap.
“Colin, you did not answer me. Would you not try to make things......what are you doing?”
“I've not much time to explain this, Bren. I want to be long gone when Stark gets here. I need to use the Uruz but I didn't want to take it without yer permission,” he pulled the necklace from the depths of the pack and held it up to her.
“To what purpose? You are not returning to Midgard are you? Tony said all options must be exhausted first before we open up our realm to your military forces.”
“Fer feck sake, Brenna. I'm not going to Earth,” he slid the necklace over his neck before she could reach for it, “I'm going to end this conflict. I'm going to Jotunheim, find your Da and the casket and bring them back to Asgard.”
“What?” Brenna swayed on her feet, put a hand to the footrest of the bed to steady herself, “How? Are they not still in this realm?”
Colin walked to the chair in front of the fireplace, lifted his cloak and satchel from the back, fishing out the halogen clip to drop in his pocket, “No, they've already returned home.”
“But how do you know.........Oh, Odin wept!” her hands flew to her mouth, “When you awoke from your dream speaking the tongue of the ancients, how could I have been so blind? But it cannot be! You are a Midgardian agent, a friend, you hail from the Land of Eire....”
Colin stared at the floor, unwilling to meet her eyes, “It doesn't make sense does it? It didn't make sense to me either but there you are.”
He felt her hand at his chin, tipping his face up to hers, “You became a part of our family. You were able to befriend one of the most difficult men of this realm, you are on the cusp of becoming a citizen of Asgard. Mama always claimed you were different, special though I doubt she could have imagined the accuracy of her statement.”
There was the sound of a slamming door somewhere in the corridor and upon impulse, Colin shoved his satchel into Brenna's arms.
“Take care of this until I come back. My journal and a few other things are inside. If you have to tell them where I've gone, don't tell them what I am. I've a ma and da on Earth who don't need to be subject to the agency's brand of questioning. Try to keep them away from the encampment but if you can't, try to slow them down. Tell them to wait for the right time.”
He lifted the Uruz from his chest, fumbled it, lifted it again, “Jotunheim,”
“Colin! Please be careful!”
“Take care of yer Ma,” he closed his eyes, trying to block out the images that flashed through his mind. The footsteps were outside the door now. He stared into the inky blackness of the portal, took a deep breath and stepped through.

Her feet were numb, painfully so, the discomfort drilling into her head, weakening her concentration as she hurried about the halls of the fortress with its vaulted ceilings and dimly lit recesses. Sulyir would be in his Jotunn form, no doubt, wherever he was in the fortress. What if he wasn't in the fortress at all but somewhere amongst the dwellings she'd spied through the narrow fortress windows but during their trysts, he'd not once mentioned having a family back home, whether deliberately or because he was truly alone, she didn't know.  She only knew she wasn't returning to Asgard without him, not if she could help it. She stopped, backing into a niche in the wall where she could rest and think though she dared not let herself become solid again.
She'd waited for some time, only moving off the fur covered pallet Loki had remanded her to before he retired when she was certain he was deep asleep, at last slipping out of the room to search for Sulyir.
She sat there, rubbing her arms to encourage blood flow. What had he said to her when she'd been made to go with Loki?
“I will not be far from you.”
Had he meant literally or figuratively? No, he was a literal man. She'd lost count of the times she'd had to explain to him something she'd said, not because he was stupid but because he was clueless about metaphors. Nope, when he said he'd not be far, he meant it but what was far to a Jotunn? A few rooms away? Over in the next village? In the same realm?
Two warriors passed her on their way through the hall and she tried to get a good glimpse of their faces, swearing to herself at the horrendous blue lighting present all about the fortress. She was growing tired. If she stayed where she was, they'd find her frozen to death come morning. She longed for the warm robes she'd left on the pallet, cursed herself for not bringing one of them with her. A few more warriors, accompanied by a couple of smaller females appeared, laughing, chattering in that strange language. She looked at their faces, felt like crying as they moved off down the corridor. They were nearly out of earshot when she heard it. One of the warriors had said his name, he'd said Sulyir. She stumbled out of the little niche, hurrying on unsteady feet to follow them. There was little else she could think of to do. Through the cavernous halls she followed the group until her legs ached from the strain of trying to keep up with their long strides. As last, they stopped before a heavy door, one of them banging on it with a fist. Slowly the door creaked open and Sulyir's face appeared from the gloom. She had to cover her mouth with her hands to keep from screaming. The men spoke to Sulyir for a few moments, quite obviously trying to draw him out of his quarters as they tugged on his arm but he shoved them off, waved his hands about in wild gestures. Damnit, what was he saying?
She surveyed the route to his room. She would have to zig zag about the members of the group and try to slip by Sulyir before he closed his door again. She edged forward, keeping close to the wall, freezing in place when one of the women began to dance about as the warriors laughed, pointed to her. At one point, the woman's hand passed inches in front of Eris's face. She kept on sliding toward Sulyir but before she could reach the door, the men waved at Sulyir and started down the hall again. Time was up. Amassing what little strength she had left, she sprinted toward the closing door, slipping inside moments before it slammed shut.
Sulyir had retreated to his bed, sitting down upon it with his head in his hands. Eris looked about the room. It was a spartan affair with a stone table and a carved stone stool. A blue stone lantern glittered atop the table. She stood there wrestling with herself. Would he return her to Loki out of loyalty to his king? Would he refuse to go with her, perhaps send her off on her own? A rush of adrenaline kick started her heart. She could never find her way to the rift alone, she'd die on the frozen tundra. She'd die here too either from the cold or because she couldn't shut her mouth. She drew close to him, ready to step back if he stood up quickly.
His head snapped up, “Eris?”
She let herself grow solid, glad of the great smile on his face even as it faded, “What are you doing here? You should be with the prince!”
“Well I'm not. I'm here with you.”
Sulyir stood up.
“You do not belong with me. You do not belong to me. Why do you want to leave?”
“It didn't work out like I thought it would so I'm heading back home.” she pouted though she felt more like crying.
“And yet you are still here.”
She waited, could see him wrestling with himself.
“Very well. I will bring you to the rift but we must move swiftly before you are discovered missing. Menyir believes you are too valuable to let go.”
“If I wanted out of this stone prison, I could have wandered about all night until I found it. I wasn't looking for you to help me escape,” Eris murmured, “I want you to come with me to Asgard. Hell, maybe even Midgard if we could swing it.”
At any other time, the look on Sulyir's face might have seemed comic but Eris's heart skipped a beat as he shook his head.
“Leave the realm?”
Eris nodded, “Yes, leave the realm with me.”
Sulyir rubbed his mouth with his hand, stared about the room, “And if we were to escape, what then? What if Menyir was to come searching for you?”
“Then we run until we find someone with bigger guns. All I know is that I'm not staying with that megalomaniac. Whether or not you come with me, I'm still leaving,” she turned toward the door, praying with all her might that she'd made the right choice. With each footstep, her heart dropped further and further until it seemed to sit atop her stomach.
“Eris, wait!”
She stopped, glanced over her shoulder to see him hurrying toward her.
“I will go with you, the gods forgive me! I will follow wherever you lead me. I have been wretched ever since I handed you over to Prince Loki.”
“That makes two of us. I'm so happy you changed your mind,” she stole a glance up at the door handle, eye level with her, “Besides I don't think I could have opened this door by myself.”
Sulyir chuckled at her coy smile, “The door poses no problem but we must get out of the fortress without being caught.”
“Leave this to me,” Eris giggled as she faded away.

“Tell me you're lying!”
Brenna winced at Tony's sharp tone, “I cannot. He told me everything was going to be alright and that he would bring back my father and the casket.”
“So you let him take your necklace and whisk himself away to Jotunheim?” Chase cried, “That's suicide! What if the Jotunns get hold of that necklace? They won't need the portal or the bridge!”
“How could you believe him?” Tony had started to pace the floor, “Damnit, Brenna. He's a field agent, a diplomat. What did he expect to do, negotiate them to death?”
Angry tears stung Brenna's eyes and she bit her lip. She'd promised not to say anything to them, “And how do you know he will not do what he says?”
Tony strode through the room, throwing aside the heavy balcony drapes, stopping at the railing to point at the glow from bonfires which had been set up in the fields outside the city walls, “Because he's from northern Ireland and he will freeze to death just like those soldiers out there, just like any one of us when Menyir uses that casket on him. He's lost his mind. He's been here in Asgard too long.”
Brenna put her hands to her mouth, “I am sorry. What could I say to him?”
“How about no?” Tony slapped his hands on the marble railing, breath ghosting in the frigid
air, “Okay, alright. We can't call his cell and tell him to come home. He's on his own and we have to get to the encampment. You said you have a way out of the palace?”
“Yes,” Brenna hurried to the bedchamber door, “Follow me.”

“This was my father's old room,” Brenna whispered, “He showed me a hidden door near the wardrobe which leads to the passages below the city to the outer walls.”
“Your mother is on the other side of that door, Bren,” Chase nudged her, “Along with Helgi. What are we going to do, excuse our way on through?”
“They will be asleep by now and nothing short of a miracle will wake Helgi.”
“Okay, door beside the wardrobe. Out the passage through to the city walls. Got it,” Tony took her by the shoulders, moving her to the side, “Wish us luck.”
“Indeed I shall,” Brenna muttered, “For you do not know where to push upon the wall for the door to open, nor do you know which passageway to take for the outer wall. You could be lost for days.”
“And if I lose you,” Tony squeezed her shoulders, “What do I tell your mother?”
“Tell her I went with you for the good of Asgard. It is no lie,” Brenna bent down to peer through the keyhole and blanched. Where was her mother? She eased the door open ever so slowly. Helgi was slumped in the chair before the fireplace, her slack features cast in an unearthly red glow.
Chase pointed to the empty bed but Brenna shrugged, waved them forward. On foot they'd be lucky to reach the encampment by dawn but they had to try. If Colin was worried about them making forward progress with any speed, he had nothing to worry about. Brenna slunk up to the bedside and lifted the lantern from the side table, lighting it with trembling hands. When they reached the wardrobe, Brenna panicked for a brief moment, wracking her brains for the spot her father had showed her a hundred times before. She looked down, saw the worn spot on the wall where it met the floor and pushed it gently with the toe of her boot. There was a muffled click as the door swung open to reveal a black, damp passageway. She ushered the men inside and shut the door behind her. In the bedchamber, Helgi snorted, adjusting her position as her knitting slipped to the floor and at last all was quiet again.
He pulled the coverlet over him, for the briefest moment thinking he was back on Earth in his bed in Helen's Bay until he heard Brenna's voice, low and soft.
“The Protector hasn't been called upon for countless generations.”
Colin huddled further beneath the blankets, feeling the hard wood of the cot frame against his feet. He couldn't recall having laid down for the evening.
“Brenna, you said all the runes aren't there and even if they were, they don't know who to give them to. How can you depend upon an ancient fairy tale?”
Colin opened his eyes, frowned at Chase's voice.
“Because we believe and it is no fairy tale. My...Papa has told me of countless times the runes have saved the realms. I trust in their power.”
“Yeah well I believe we should use your necklace and return to Earth. We'll have all the help we need.”
“No! You heard what Tony said. I will not prevent the destruction of my world to usher in a new contagion!”
“Thanks, thank you. I can really feel the love here.”
“Chase, you know what I mean. Do not take personal offense to my remark. I wish Asgard to remain as it is. Would you want the Asgardians to force their way into Midgard and destroy all your technology in favor of a more pastoral existence?”
“Now there's no saying that's what would happen here.”
Colin listened to the short silence, smiling as he imagined Brenna's deadpan stare.
“Okay, alright, fine then,” Chase replied again, “we sit here and wait until we're either frozen to death or the rest of the nine realms are conquered by giant blue meanies.”
“Oh Chase can you not believe in...”
“In what? The power of magic? When the fate of my universe is on the plate?”
If he didn't rescue the situation it was going to explode into a full blown shouting match and much as he wanted to see Chase get his eye blacked, now was not the time for infighting. He rolled to his back and sat up....

Colin opened his eyes, the afterimage of a thousand scenes fading from sight. He was kneeling on the marble floor before the fireplace. His hands were tingling as if they'd been asleep but his mind, his body...they felt as if a switch had been flipped.
“Colin are you alright?”
Brenna had her hand on his back and was now squatting down beside him, “Gods, you were speaking in the tongue of the ancients, pacing the room. What were you saying?”
“You mean you couldn't understand him?” Chase cried.
“They do not teach such an archaic language to us!” Brenna spat, “It is used only by the gooar and only at ceremonies. No I do not ken it!”
Colin shook his head. Scenes, voices were coming to him from far away, miles,...Simon, telling one of the agents to lay out tarps for the bodies....the bodies! The Jotunn who had once been his friend growling at Eris, saying she would follow him to Jotunheim......Still further, realms....his mother sitting at the kitchen table reading one of her sainted tabloids with a hand to her mouth.....Director Fury standing before the president's desk, hands clasped behind his back promising a response as soon as contact was re-established....Pepper Potts sitting on a couch in a lavish suite in New York, phone in her hand forgotten as she stared into space.....Hank McCoy speaking to...Ororo Munroe, names of the unknown shouted into his head as if they were on loudspeaker....still more...Noni knocking on the door to his parent's home......
He lay his forehead on the floor, “Jesus, make it stop!”
“Colin, stand up,” Brenna pulled on his arm, “Please. Let me help you.”
He sat back on his heels so abruptly Brenna stumbled backward to be caught by Chase. Lines, gossamer webs began to form like a roadmap before his eyes, scenes telling him what he was going to do, what was going to be done for him and yet there were blind spots, visions he couldn't see. Were they as yet unscripted? His heart was a hammer in his chest.
“Colin, are you alright? Whatever came over you?”
He nodded, shook his head, nodded again.
“I'm...okay now....,” his voice sounded foreign to him, “We're all okay.”
What harm could be done by a white lie?
“We're going to be okay.”

Eris tore the edge off the pouch of freeze dried strawberries, tipping the package to her mouth, allowing the tart sweet pebbles to roll across her tongue. As long as she lived, she would never be able to touch another strawberry without thinking back to this moment.
Sulyir had searched the encampment for something for her to eat, coming across agents restoring the mess tent. They gave him what they could find, preserved goods stored for the winter. The strawberries, dried soup in a hot packet, just open, add water and in two minutes she had a pouch of beef barley soup, and a sleeve of crackers. It tasted like heaven after the hard nutty grains the Jotunns had called tunberries. When they'd handed her a bowl of thin green moss, she was ready to hurl it back at them. If she was going to Jotunheim, she was going to have to pack a lunch.
If she was going....
She tipped the pouch down to see Loki staring at her from across the shelter, “What?”
He sat down upon the cot, “The smell of your foodstuff sickens me.”
“Sorry, a woman has to eat.”
“You will find no such detritus in Jotunheim,” he withdrew his dagger from its holster and began to polish the blade with the edge of his cloak, making her shiver.
“Detra...what the hell did you say?”
“Refuse, trash you ignorant wench,” he sneered, “If you are to serve me, you will learn to eat what we do.”
Eris poured the remaining berries into her hand, her next statement a knee jerk thought which she wanted to take back as soon as it was uttered, “And what if I wanted to stay here on Asgard?”
His resulting laughter sent chills racing through her.
“Menyir has commanded you to return with us to his fortress. He feels you are still of value to our cause. It is no longer your choice to make. He will not allow you to remain here on Asgard. You will follow us to Jotunheim or you will die.”
Eris swallowed hard, the berries stinging her throat, “You make a very convincing argument but I did what I said I would. I don't see how I'm going to be of any more help.”
When Loki rose from the cot, she fought to stay on her stool by the grate. Her first instinct was to run from the shelter screaming.
“Come now, did you not wish to be concubine to a prince of the realm?” he was before her now, hovering, pointing at her with the tip of his dagger, “Is this not why you conspired to steal the casket for my brother?”
Eris nodded mesmerized and terrified all at once, felt the tip of the dagger at her chin, lifting her face up to meet his gaze.
“Foolish Midgardian.”
She winced as he flicked the dagger upward, scraping her skin. She brought her hand to her face as he returned to the cot, flopping down upon it.
“We will return to Jotunheim on the morrow.”
She set the remains of her meal down on the ground and closed her eyes, blocking him from her sight. She had made her decision. She had to undo what she'd done.

Colin paced the halls of the palace, desperate to avoid contact with everyone, especially Loki's family. Faced with Brenna's insistent questions after the incident in the bedchamber, he'd claimed to be just as shocked as she though he could see she wasn't quite convinced. He'd excused himself then, saying he was going to take a round, clear his head, another lie since he didn't think his head would ever be clear again. The Jotunns had Asgard where they wanted it and so everyone was relatively safe for the time being, strange as it might sound. Safe enough, in fact, that clean up of the battlefield outside the gates had begun albeit with loud lamenting from the families of the departed who walked  beside the wagons and litters upon which the dead were borne through the city gates, some of them having to be chipped from their tombs of ice. With some small relief as he stood watching from the wall the morning before, he'd spied a familiar face among the soldiers. Lily's husband, Garik had survived the onslaught though he too had donned armor and joined in to defend against the Jotunns initial attack. He had considered going to speak with Garik but his resolve had crumbled at the thought of facing so much death.
His wanderings at last brought him to Eidra's bedchamber door where he stopped to listen. All was quiet. Steeling himself, he knocked, waited.
The door creaked open a bit and Helgi's eyes appeared along the crack, “Who is it?”
“It's Colin.”
Helgi pulled the door open, ushering him inside, “Come in, my son. What troubles you? 'Tis late.”
Colin looked to the bed where Eidra lay, “I was...I wanted to talk to Eidra.”
Helgi peered at Colin then at Eidra, curled up into a ball in the bed, dark circles beneath her closed eyes, lowered her voice, taking him by the arm, “I fear she will waste away. She would not allow the children into the bedchamber today to see her, wailed at the mere mention of their names. Cait and Astrid are heartbroken, desperate to be with their mother.”
“Aye, I was with them earlier. Children are more resilient than you might think. Once this is over, they'll bury it deep. It's the older ones I worry about.”
 Helgi nodded, “Brenna and Fen, I see their distress, particularly Brenna. She feels the burden of responsibility more than the others because she is the eldest.”
Colin tilted his head toward the bed, “Is she up for conversation?”
“You might talk to her all you wish but she has said little since...,” Helgi's face crumpled, “Oh dear....since her world turned upside down.”
Colin rested his hand on Helgi's shoulder, bemused at how solid the old woman still seemed, “Well maybe I can set her upright.”
  Helgi shook her head, “I am not certain anything short of a miracle will restore her but I beseech you, whatever you say, give her hope.”
She guided Colin to the chair at Eidra's bedside.
Nothing. For one horrific moment, he stared at her form, searching for movement until she opened her eyes, slowly, as if awakening from a dream.
“Eidra? It's Colin.”
Her eyes slid up to his, full of pain, grief, and he was at a loss. He'd had the words in his head, had walked the halls to her room knowing what to say to her but now, sitting here before one of the noblest creatures he'd ever met, he was struck dumb.
Colin felt the tears tumble forward onto his cheeks and he brushed them away with the sleeve of his tunic. He'd never felt more inadequate than he did at this moment. He took a deep breath and bent forward.
“I came here to see you, intending to apologize, to say I'm sorry about what's happened but sorry will never be enough, not even if I lived a hundred lifetimes.”
She closed her eyes, burrowing further beneath the coverlet.
“...and I accept that. But I'm going to make things right, I swear....”
Her hand snaked out from beneath the coverlet and he grasped it like a lifeline, “I'll restore Asgard to the Asgardians....”
“You are but one man,” she whispered, “There is naught you can do against....” here she faltered and when she regained her voice it was thick with tears, “ husband....and his people.”
White hot anger flared within him as he squeezed her hand, “I can and I will. Trust me.”
He glanced up at Helgi who was sitting before the fire staring into the flames, her hands clasped  in her lap. The last thing he wanted to do was announce to the entire realm what he was. There was but one person to whom he need reveal himself because he had no other choice.
Eidra let his hand go, “I cannot bear to lose another soul to this tragedy. Stay out of harm's way.”
Colin paused, cleared his throat, “I think we're all in harm's way, Milady.”
“The children need you now that they are alone,” her voice was barely audible, “Promise me you will protect them.”
“I can promise to protect them,” with great effort, he rose from the chair, “but they need their mother far more than they need a junior agent from Helen's Bay.”
Eidra closed her eyes, covered her face with her hands, “I cannot...”
“You can and you will,” he bent down to stroke her hair, his hand hovering over her head a moment before he pulled it back, turned away and strode from the room past a startled Helgi.
“Odin's beard!” Helgi dropped her knitting from her lap as she rose to her feet, “Wherever is he going?”
She looked across the room to Eidra's bed and put a hand to her chest.
Eidra was sitting up.

Colin reached underneath his cot to pull out his satchel, grateful that, for the time being, the large bedchamber was empty. When Brenna had insisted they bring their cots into one of the large rooms reserved for visiting dignitaries so as to remain together in case of further trouble, he'd agreed just to soothe her fears. Now he pulled the cot closer to the low burning fire, tossed a couple logs from the wood box beside the hearth upon the flames and sat down on the cot where he opened the satchel and drew out his tablet, pressing the front of the screen. When the screen flashed to life, he was dismayed to see the battery indicator had less than half its charge left.
“Setting up the solar charger was the last fecking thing on me mind these past couple days, damn it!” he muttered to himself, his words sounding harsh in the silence of the room. Out in the corridor, footsteps hurried past the door.
He sat staring at the screen, feeling the room grow warmer as the flames licked about the wood. At last, he  brought up his journal and began to write.
“She's coming around.”
The words were muffled, as if her head was underwater. She lifted a hand to her temple, the ache inside her head so great she felt ready to vomit.
“Open your eyes, Brenna.”
Thor! It was her uncle. She tried to obey him, blinking hard against the morning sunlight streaming into the throne room. 
“Good girl. Guards! Fetch a litter.”
Brenna stared about at the people standing over her. Simon, Lelia, Thor, Jane, struggling to comprehend what Thor had said.
“Your father is with the Jotunns now. He is no longer one of us. Your brother, Brynn is dead, your siblings and your mother are here in the palace.”
She rolled to her side, gagged.
“She had a nasty knock on the head when she fainted. She likely has a concussion.”
She wanted to nod in agreement with Simon but her stomach convulsed, taking all thought save that of spilling contents of her meager meal onto the marble floor. She rose to her hands and knees, wracked with dry heaves, felt hands at the back of her neck, pulling her hair away from her face.
“Why did you come here to the palace? Can you not see we are compromised?”
Was he talking to her?
“I came here to bring you this,” there was a dull thump, the rustle of fabric, “For what purpose I've not a clue.”
“You returned to a city under siege to bring me a satchel? Have you taken leave of your good senses?”
“No, no. God no. Open the satch...the backpack.”
All at once the floor before Brenna's eyes danced with multi-colored light. Above her came Jane's voice, “What in the hell...?”
“The Rune Elementals. I traveled all the way to Muspelheim for the Rune, the cup...”
“It cannot be!” Thor cried. 
Brenna brought her head up to see Thor lifting the chalice out of the backpack, then the ship's prism.
“The Rune Elementals have returned!” he drew out the Uruz, stared at Brenna, “You carried this upon you for so many seasons.”
Brenna nodded weakly, sat back on her heels as he reached inside the pack again, “There are four runes, yet you have but three. Where is the final rune?”
“That's the mystery we hoped you could help us solve,” Simon rubbed the back of his neck, “It was purely chance we found the others.”
“No,” Thor set the chalice into the pack, picked up the prism, his face cast in an eerie green glow, “If you set out to find the runes, you were meant to do so. The runes come together in Asgard's darkest hour. Are you the protector?”
“I don't think so. Harmand believes I'm the gatherer. I did bring them....well most of them... together.”
“Then therein lies our dilemma,” Thor set the prism down, “Even were we in possession of the fourth rune, we do not know who to give them to and time is quickly running out. I say again, Simon Foster, you should not have come here.”
“I couldn't very well traipse around the realm with the runes on my back while those bastards took over the city, not knowing if I could have been of some help had I returned. We're in this together. I didn't ask for asylum only to change camps when the odds were in someone else's favor!”
Simon felt Lelia take his hand and squeeze it. He pulled her closer to him.
“You do not ken my meaning,” Thor waved his hands impatiently at Simon, “Menyir has made two demands upon us. First he desires our allegiance, our acknowledgment that he rules the nine realms, including Asgard but also has he demanded that you be surrendered to him.”
“Wait a minute,” Simon staggered backward as Lelia cried, “No! “NO!”
“What do they want with me? I...I'm a scientist...I don't have the runes if that's what they're looking for. All I well.....nothing except a little cottage in the town of Melos. Honestly, it's not worth much...I...”
“They want you for your ability to build the portals.”
Simon stopped, his mouth hanging open, “Ah....I...I know how to build them but if we don't have the material, all the knowledge in the world isn't going to be of any use. Can't you tell them that?”
“They won't be reasoned with, “Jane added, “They believe you can build the portals which will give them the ability to travel through the nine realms untouched.”
“That's insane. We'd need markers, at least one base in each realm to act as a bridge. What if we don't give in to their demands? Can't we explain to them how difficult it would be?” Simon studied the group who'd fallen silent, “I..I mean it would be impossible for me to go it alone.”
“They will not be put off. If we fail to deliver upon their demands, they have threatened to use the casket upon Asgard and the rest of the realm.”
“The casket? What is..?”
“The casket?” Brenna interjected, “From the reliquary! However did they come to possess it? The reliquary is watched over by the Guardian!”
“I would say magic but 'tis too kind a word. It was sorcery. The Midgardian woman you lost in the portal was not so lost as you were led to believe. 'Twas she who formed an alliance with the Jotunns, delivered the casket unto them,” here he nodded to Brenna, “...cast a spell upon your father so that he does not know himself.”
“No, no. Eris Carter is dead....or floating about in some other dimension. I saw her disappear as she stepped through the portal...”
Thor shook his head, “She is one of Midgard's mutants. Her ability to disappear is her advantage.”
“Good lord, it was deliberate, wasn't it. Oh god,” Simon clapped his hand to his mouth, “All registered mutants were banned from applying for the program.”
“But not all mutants are registered,” Brenna added, “There were a number at the school who refused to register, saying it violated their civil rights to be forced to do so.”
“And now she has brought upon us the destruction of Asgard. If we do not surrender to their demands, we shall perish along with the other realms.”
“But how? What is this casket you're talking about,”
Thor's face grew grave, “It is the sacred relic of the Jotunns, brought here by my father to prevent them from doing what they now endeavor to do. The casket possess the power of endless winter. Death to all who need warmth, the sun, to survive. They will open the heart of the casket, covering the realm in ice. If they cannot rule Asgard, they will bury it.”
“Your Majesty!”
Everyone turned toward the archway where Silas's fellow guard now stood, his face white against the dark silver of his helmet, “The Jotunn leader Menyir and a delegation of warriors stand at the gate demanding entrance.”
Thor nodded, turned to Simon, “Take the runes and find a safe place to stay hidden. Keep them safe and I will try to buy us more time. We may yet hope for a miracle.”
Thor had taken Silas aside and was now giving him instructions, “Send word about the palace, tell the High Council to assemble in the Great Hall. Bring the Jotunn delegation there so that we may deliver our response.”
Simon knelt to the floor, securing the flap to his pack. If the Asgardians didn't meet the demands of the Jotunns, everyone he knew would be dead. His friends, Lelia, the light in his darkness. Whoever was left alive at the encampment, the citizens of Asgard, the royal family. What then would stop them from laying waste to Alfheim, Harmand and Wickett and the good folk of Melos. Then on to Muspelheim, Earth, Niflheim. If they didn't have the portal, they had the Bifrost and if they found a way to make it work for them?

Colin jerked awake, scanning the nursery. Cait, who'd been sitting in his lap, clutching her rag doll tightly, looked up at him.
“Are you tired, Colin?”
He drew a deep breath to hide his responding yawn, “Aye, a bit.”
Cait burrowed further beneath his arm, “I want to see Mama.”
Colin glanced over at Bruna who sat, rubbing Astrid's back, upon one of the nursery beds. As their eyes met, her face crumpled and she turned away.
“Mama needs her rest right now, sweetheart,” Colin shifted position stretching his feet toward the fire. He felt useless, sitting here in the nursery playing babysitter while Asgard teetered on the edge of Armageddon.
“When will Papa come back?”
His stomach did a flip, “I don't know....”
The creak of the nursery door drew their attention and a whisper from Fen had Cait dropping to the floor, “Is everyone asleep?”
“I am not!” Cait called as she hurried to greet him and Colin stood from the chair.
“Then I have a surprise for you. Look who has returned!”
Brenna slipped inside the nursery, eliciting a squeal from Cait which brought Astrid's head up from the pillow.
“Bren! Oh Bren! Papa is gone away! Mama is ill! Brynn is....oh I cannot think of it! I want to go home!” Cait wrapped herself, sobbing, around Brenna's waist. Astrid had seen Brenna as well and was now standing in bed, arms outstretched, wailing.
“Brenna, when did you get back?” Colin lifted Astrid from the bed, carrying her over to Brenna.
“The morrow before last,” Brenna murmured, taking Astrid to her hip, the other arm about Cait's shoulders, “Colin, what happened?”
“It's a frightening long story, luv. Do you recall the Midgardian we thought we'd lost in the portal? Well it seems her disappearance was deliberate. She hid from us in Asgard, formed an alliance with the Jotunns, stole their casket from the reliquary and delivered your father to the leader, Menyir.”
Brenna buried her face in Astrid's hair, “I should never have left for Midgard.”
“Now you can't say that,” Colin set his hand gingerly upon her shoulder, “Nobody knew this was going to happen.”
“At the very least, I would have been here for my mother. For the men at the encampment...for Chase...”
Colin took his hand away, suddenly self conscious, “Ah, he's here in the palace with Stark.”
“He is safe?” Brenna cried, “Thank the gods!”
“Excuse me, I hope we're not intruding.”
Colin looked behind him to see Simon with a lovely, red haired woman at his side They'd entered the nursery and now stood just inside the door.
“Simon! Jesus Christ, it's a damn reunion! Good to see yer back! You've come at a right terrible time though,” Colin strode toward them, clapping Simon on the shoulder and giving him a quick hug, “We're in a tight spot.”
“I know. I know. Listen, I haven't much time. Might I speak to you alone?”
Colin shrugged, rubbed his temples. A curious buzz had started in his head, “Aye, let's step out into the corridor.”
When Lelia made to follow Simon, however, he took her by the shoulders and turned her around, “You go with Brenna. This is important. I have to talk to Colin by myself.”
“Too important to share with me?” Lelia cried.
Simon bit his lip, praying that just this once she would choose not to throw her usual tantrum.
“It is a serious matter. Do this for me, just for me. Don't question my reasons.”
Lelia opened her mouth, faltered before grabbing Simon's hand, pressing his knuckles to her lips in a long kiss and at last hurrying to Brenna's  side as they slipped out of the nursery.

Loki glanced at the Midgardian woman keeping stride with him down the long corridor to the Great hall. Menyir had insisted she come with them that morning so as to identify Simon Foster when they acceded to his wishes as he expected they would. Loki was not so certain the Asgardians would comply. He was not certain of anything, in fact. When he'd awakened that morning, his mind seemed to have quieted but from the moment they stood at the edge of the forest gazing at the massive gates of the city, his head was filled with images, flashes of nameless faces, smiling, laughing. Visions of himself facing a young Asgardian warrior in a torchlit arena, standing at the bottom of an immense pile of wood. If he were to turn his head, he could see the Asgardian King, Thor holding his hands out, lips moving in silent blessing. Still others, walking through the corridors, opening a door to reveal Odin's used up mate, Frigga, and yet more, the woman with the dark hair whom the Midgardian woman had given the name, Eidra....Eidra sitting in a chair by the fire in a vast bedchamber,  Eidra hiding behind the tall velvet curtains waiting to spring out and surprise a small child...
He shook his head hard enough to make himself dizzy.
“What's wrong?”
He grunted at the Midgardian woman, deigning to give her a full reply, suppressing the urge to backhand her off her feet when she mumbled, “Well fuck you then.”
He looked up at Menyir, tall, his face a mask of pride. When they returned to Jotunnheim there would be time for questions, learning all he did not know. For now he would struggle to adopt the same posture, ignore the wild gallop of his heart as they neared the entrance to the Great Hall.

Simon set the backpack on the floor at his feet, “I need your help, Colin. The barbarians are at the gates as it were.”
“The Jotunns are here?” he felt as if he were standing to the side watching the exchange take place.
“Yes, and they doubtless want an answer. I'm going to give them what they want,” Simon squatted to the floor and undid the strap of his pack, flipping open the top, “But I need you to keep these safe for me.”
Colin stared into the backpack, dumbstruck.
“They are the Rune Elementals. Well three of them anyhow. We can't find the fourth...”
“It's my grandmother's ring. I'll have to ask someone why it does that.” came Beth's voice in Colin's head. He could fairly see the moonstone ring dancing before his eyes.
“Colin, are you feeling well?”
“Aye,” he nodded, hoping Simon wouldn't notice he'd broken into a cold sweat, “Only I've never seen anything like them....”
“They are special. I'm entrusting them to you. Keep them hidden.”
“Hidden,” he whispered as Simon stood up.
“...the Protector has but to touch each Rune and he will be imbued with their power. Unfamiliar though the Protector may be with his new found ability, he must trust the Runes to guide him, to show him what he must do. Only then will the realms remain safe under his protection...”
The words enveloped him, reverberated in his skull until he could hear nothing else. 
“Stay out here in the corridor until I'm long gone.”
Simon's request broke Colin's attention for a moment, “Gone. Where the hell are you going?”
Simon put a finger to his lips, “For god sakes, keep your voice low. She's got ears like a bat. I'm going to buy us more time than the king ever could. We need to find the fourth rune and get the runes to the Protector before the Jotunns win this war.”
“What....,” the words “am I supposed to do?” stuck hard in his throat.
“Brenna will explain everything to you,” Simon gripped Colin's forearm, “Take care of Lelia for me until we meet again.”
“But where are you going?”
Simon tilted his head down the corridor, “To surrender myself.”
“Yer daft,” Colin mumbled, looked again at the bag at his feet.
“Perhaps but I've a plan and I have to play the odds for Asgard, for our people left at the encampment, ” Simon glanced toward the nursery door, “And for her. After this is all sorted out, we'll have a pint and laugh about it, won't we.”
Simon clapped his hands together, turned and started down the corridor.
Colin watched the spot where Simon had been for some time before he bent down with trembling hands to open the pack again. At the top of the pack sat the chalice. The last rune. It glowed far brighter than the others. He glanced up and down the hallway, making sure it was deserted, reached into the pack, his fingers grazing the surface of the cup.
The corridor, the torches with their flickering light, the nursery door, all disappeared as he was enveloped in a pillar of light. Bright, white tendrils snaked along his skin, through his body, twining and twisting, threading themselves along bone, sinew, muscle, penetrating every molecule. His heart was a thunder of drums in his ears. He could have run to the manor and back without breaking a sweat. He felt on fire, cold as ice, all sensation combining as one to wash over him and all at once, he was standing in the corridor again, unbearably dizzy, his mind racing with new knowledge, thoughts, history. The palace, the city, the nine realms, their wonders, secrets, laid bare inside his head. And something more, something growing, transforming like a butterfly inside its cocoon. He slid down the wall beside the nursery door, head in his hands watching the door swing open and Lelia poke her head outside, “We're going to see Brenna's mother now....where's Simon?”

With every step toward the Great Hall, Simon became more confident of his decision. Portal one was destroyed. Likely the data along with it. What they might have salvaged, if they were smart enough to do so, would still have to be sorted. Of course there was the fact that portal two was now online unless they'd damaged Longhouse two as well. If it was intact, there was still the matter of the solar cell banks located between Longhouses one and two. The power needed to be drained to the main battery every evening to store the power they'd amassed  and the portals needed to draw power from the entire bank for their little parlor trick. It was a certainty they were now dead. They would need at least a week to draw enough power for a portal activation even with Stark's super cells, if in fact they hadn't been damaged  He'd done a test at eighty percent capacity with minimal success. Any less than eighty percent and there was no guarantee that anyone could pass through and come out the other side alive. Yes, he'd be going with the enemy to the encampment, facing the remaining agents, techs, ordering them to prepare the remaining portal but there were so many different ways he could slow them down, he could hold them up for two weeks at the very least. He almost started to whistle as he reached the open doors of the Great Hall, stopped himself at the sight of the Jotunn delegation standing before the table where the High Council was seated, Thor at its center. He squared his shoulders and crossed the threshold.

“Mama? Mama open your eyes,” Brenna whispered,“It's Bren. I'm here.”
“She's been drifting in and out of consciousness,” Stark put his hand on Brenna's shoulder, “She's traumatized. I wish I had some valium. Maybe it'd reset her, give her some relief.”
“She needs none of your Midgardian potions,” Helgi grumbled from the end of the bed where she sat rubbing Eidra's leg, “She needs her family mended.”
“Mama,” Fen leaned over, “Brenna is here. Please wake up.”
When they received no response, Fen turned to Brenna, “What if she never awakens again?”
“Do not say that!”
Brenna retreated from the bed, regarded the room, Beth and Gretten standing hand in hand at the foot of the bed, Fen's worried countenance, Lelia's tear stained but resolute face, Colin with Simon's backpack slung over his shoulder, a strange blank stare directed at no one in particular, Stark, his eyes looking anywhere but at the people around him, Helgi gazing at her mother as if willing her to arise.
“I sent Chase for food a little while ago, he should be back soon,” Stark nodded at the door which flung open as if on command.
“I asked the ladies in the kitchen down the stairs for something to eat. Make the best of it,” Chase called over his shoulder as he backed into the room with an overladen tray.
“Chase!” Brenna cried nearly causing him to drop the tray to the floor, saved only by Gretten's strong hands as they took the tray from his grasp.
“Bren! Jesus what are you doing here?” he wrapped his arms around her neck as she gave a sob of relief.
“Looking for my mate, you fool!”
“Oh god, don't tell me you went to the encampment.”
“Of course I did after I saw what had happened to my home, I had to find someone to help me. I did not know the Jotunns had attacked the encampment as well.”
Chase stepped back from her, “You remember the woman we thought we'd lost coming through the portal in the second group? Well she wasn't so lost after all. She was with them.”
“So I was told. How in the nine realms did she disappear and why was she aligned with the Jotunns?”
Chase shrugged, “I have no idea. I only know they were looking for Simon Foster at the encampment.”
Brenna nodded, doing her best to avoid looking at Lelia, heard her sniff loudly, “I knew it not then but I know it now. Simon was with us, he and his mate, Lelia.”
“Mate?” Stark interjected, “What the hell are you talking about? Simon's here in the palace and he has a girlfriend?”
“He has a mate,” Brenna corrected him, “They do not use such labels here in Asgard.”
“Mate, wife, fiance, old battle axe, I don't care what you call it. Where is he now?”

Divided Chapter 88
The Protector awakens 
EDIT: After a long few days of writer's block, I discovered what was really bothering me about what I had down on paper as it were and so I was compelled to change the structure of this chapter. I feel much better. Now maybe I can move forward again.  Sorry for the scramble but I promise this will work better in my head.
“How can we give you someone we have not yet found?” Thor banged his fist on the table, temporarily distracting Loki from the voices in his head though they returned with a vengeance.
...“To honor the spirits of my ancestors who sit on high in Vallhalla, to honor my father, to take my place among men, I give thanks to you for your sacrifice, great auroch. Let this kill serve as a symbol of my passage from boy to man. This I ask in the name of the mighty Allfather.”...
... “I would not wish for another child. I would not exchange one life for another only imagined. I could not survive losing you again.”....
“You have not looked for him!” Menyir roared his response. Through the haze of static in his mind, Loki noted a couple of the Council members cringe in their seats and he grinned.
“How can I send my warriors to search for Master Foster when you stopper up my city and barricade the roads? I ask for more time...”
“The Queen is with child.”
“I can afford you no more time! I will soon return to Jotunheim to gather my warriors. We have an empire to build and if you cannot help, you are but a hindrance!”
“...There will soon be an heir to the throne of Asgard.”
Loki looked to his right. Nearly even with him was a short man with a sandy blond shaggy hair and a short beard. He glanced at Loki as he passed, slowing to stare at him, eyes wide before Menyir's thundering voice filled the room.
“Who dares interrupt this parlay?!”
The man turned away from him, looking ahead to the table where the High Council sat, “I am the Midgardian, Simon Foster. I have come to surrender myself to the Jotunns.”
At a nod from Menyir, Eris emerged from the line of warriors beside them and the man called Simon swayed on his feet, “You? How...?”
“This man is who he says he is,” she glanced up at him but for a moment before melting back into the line of warriors to hide in the shadows.
“I forbid it!” Thor leaped atop the table and jumped to the ground, striding toward the man, his hammer pointed at him, “You sought asylum here in Asgard, a request which I granted, therefore you are under the protection of the realm!”
“I am also free to make my own choice,” Simon rasped, “And for the safety of the realm, I sacrifice my freedom. I will go with the Jotunns...good lord!”
Menyir had drawn his long sword, bringing it down to block the oath between Thor and himself, the metal clang echoing through the Hall.
“Taken in comparison to the Allfather, you are a poor ruler! You would sacrifice the lives of countless of your subjects in this realm for one single Midgardian? Think better upon it.”
Thor stopped, glaring at Simon over the edge of the sword blade, the silence dulling even the noise in Loki's head as the room waited for their King's reply.
“You will end the siege of the city?”
“I will. I am a Jotunn and true to my word. Of course I will leave a contingent of my warriors at the Bifrost. I cannot have you stealing away to other realms for help. All that remains for you to do is to declare your allegiance to Jotunheim.”
Thor's gaze slid up to Menyir's face before regarding the members of the High Council behind him.
“It is done.”
The sword rose into the air as Menyir nodded to one of his warriors, “You will see the wisdom of your choice soon enough.”
Sulyir herded Simon away from Thor as Menyir clapped his hands, “We will return anon with our requirements.”
As Loki turned to follow Menyir, he caught Thor's hard stare, stopping him in his tracks. His initial reaction sickened him, the urge to remain in the palace beside the fair haired fool near overwhelming. Instead he drew his dagger from the holster at his thigh, brandishing it at the King.
“Were it in my power, I would dig your eyes from your skull!”
“Would you?”
He felt Menyir's eyes at his back, “With greatest joy.”
“Eidra mourns for you.”
The dagger felt impossibly heavy in his hand, his grip faltering, “I know not of whom you speak. Tell her I need no Alfari woman's lament.”
Thor's face split into a wide smile as he stepped closer, “Why would you think she is not of Asgard? My brother yet lives inside of you!”
Loki raised the dagger, anger white hot enveloping him as he leaped forward, “I am not your BROTHER!”
The dagger stopped, hovering above the surface of Thor's upraised hammer. Loki stared into Thor's eyes as something akin to grief flooded over him.
“I will not have such conduct by a prince of Jotunheim! Return to your place!”
Loki lowered his dagger, averting his gaze as he turned without another word to Menyir, falling in step beside him as they made their way out of the hall with Simon in their midst.

“Where's Simon? I don't see Simon,” Stark muttered as he and Brenna hurried through the arboretum doors.
“He is at the fountain with Colin and Lelia,” Brenna huffed, feeling her stomach drop as Lelia appeared at the head of the path, staring at them.
“Where is Simon?”
“That seems to be the sixty-four dollar question today doesn't it?” Tony made his way past her to where Colin was now sitting up hands laced behind his head.
“He said he was going to look for ye, so!” Lelia cried.
“Well we haven't seen him,” Tony sat down beside Colin, “How's wonder boy doing?”
“Mmmm,” Colin raised his head, “Like I've been run down by a Guinness truck.”
“Where's Simon?” Lelia grabbed hold of Brenna's arm, “Is it lost in the palace he is?”
“He may well be. I will send one of the guards to look for him but first we must help Colin.”
“What do ye propose?” Lelia stole a glance at the path out of the arboretum.
Brenna shook her head, “I do not know.”

Eris kicked at the sides of her horse in an effort to spur him forward with little effect. When they had summoned horses for herself and Simon, she'd groaned. In all her time on Asgard, she'd barely mastered a trot and now she was going to be traversing the countryside on horseback. She'd be lame by the time they reached the encampment. Simon, however, had climbed into the saddle with ease, his face a mask of grim determination.
At last her horse lurched forward into a light canter and she drew even with Simon, steering the horse close to him.
“They're not going to hurt you so you don't need to be afraid,” she murmured, “They need you.”
When Simon deigned to acknowledge her, she spoke again, this time a bit louder though she kept her eyes on Menyir and Loki, a few yards distant, “I said, you don't have...”
“Don't talk to me.”
Eris drew up straight in her saddle, “Excuse me? I'm simply saying you don't have to be afraid.”
“Don't I?” he turned to her, “Don't you?”
He seemed to be about to say more, closed his mouth, opened it again, shut his eyes.
She had plenty to be afraid of though she wasn't going to tell him, “You are going to build the portals for them. What are you worried about? You're nearly as valuable as that casket of theirs.”
He was gripping the reins of his horse so tightly, his knuckles had turned white, “I don't know how you managed to turn that little trick of yours with the portals and I couldn't care less to be honest. Do tell me, what are you getting out of this underhanded little deal?
“Freedom,” her voice came out in a tremulous squeak, “and....”
She looked ahead of her at Loki. She'd figured out long before that morning where she stood with him. She'd lost control of the entire situation, if she'd ever had it in the first place.
“And what else?” Simon leaned over to her, “Money?”
At once she was angry, defiant, “Love! I am Loki's..” she bit her lip as Loki pulled back on the reins of his horse and his head shifted a bit. He'd heard her.
“His what? His girlfriend? His whore? This is not the Loki I knew. I don't know what's happened to him but he's certainly suffered for your acquaintance. Now let me set you straight to rights. I can indeed build the portals but I'll need manpower and not just lackeys. I'll need technicians, my other scientists, Stark. I'll also require equipment, materials, more solar cells and where do you think it's going to come from this time? Certainly not Earth, they're not big into funding interstellar invasion forces. You've no idea what you've done.”
“What about the remaining portal?” she felt numb. She searched the line of warriors for Sulyir.
“If it hasn't been smashed to hell, it's the only one I can promise them but I don't know how much damage I'm going to find when we reach the longhouses.”
He fell silent again, his shoulders slumped forward, leaving her to fret alone.
She slowed her horse's pace, dropping back to follow along behind him. Before she drew her cloak over her head, she saw Loki twisted about in his own saddle, staring at them and she fingered the marker band on her wrist. Prison was starting to look pretty good.

When they at last reached the encampment, it was well past noon. Trying to ignore her growling stomach, she followed Simon as close as she dared, her trepidation growing with each remark he would make.
“Half the bank's gone, bloody hell...!”
“Wire's going to need replacing...”
“Going to need to restart the cells...”
At one point, she saw Sulyir staring at her and she gave him a nervous smile though he didn't return it. She couldn't tell if he was angry with her, worried, anxious. She would have picked angry if it had been her choice. She'd royally screwed up. They'd be lucky if the other portal worked at all.
Upon entering Longhouse two, Eris moved closer to Sulyir. The technicians, agents who had been spared to help the Jotunns stopped what they were doing and stared at Simon as he strode past them to the base of the portal.
“What's going to happen now?” Eris muttered, hoping he could hear her, wishing he'd transform back to the handsome young man she was so familiar with.
“Menyir will return to Jotunheim with Loki and the casket to gather more warriors. He has grandiose plans for the realms and for this he will need an army.”
“But what if the portal doesn't work like he wants it to?”
Sulyir shrugged, “We have the Bifrost in our control. It is less than ideal being a fixed point.”
“Why? Doesn't it work the same way the portals do?”
“Yes, but with the portals,” he gestured to the base, “We can build them in different realms. With the Bifrost we will have to travel from Asgard and it gets unbearable in the summer.”
“Sometimes, you have to take the bitter with the sweet, huh,” she mumbled watching Simon as he leaned over one of the technicians sitting at the computer bank beside the base.

“I've been bleeding the remaining cells. We have enough stored power for portal activation but it'll take twice as long to regenerate the power without the full bank.”
Simon touched the screen in front of the tech, “And you have to draw on the bank to run the computers and the lights. We have to take that into consideration.”
“Sir,” the technician lowered his head, leaning closer to Simon, “We aren't really going to do what they want are we? I mean....we can't open the portal and let them invade Earth. That's like treason  or aiding and abetting isn't it?”
Simon glanced at the young man, “A solution is on its way. I'm not going to let them do anything of the sort if I can help it. They don't know the first thing about these portals and I'm counting on that to give us the time we need.”
“For what, sir?”
Simon patted him on the shoulder, “Just follow my lead.”
He stood upright and turned to Menyir, nearly giving in to the panic which was simmering below the surface, “I...that is to say, we have to build up enough power to use this portal, your Majesty. As for building another portal, It's going to take some time. I'll need another longhouse built for shelter and I'll have to have the technicians released into my care.”
“Time? How much time?” Menyir fixed him with a hard stare.
Simon held his trembling hand up to tick off his fingers, quickly dropping it down again, “Ah, at least a month before base completion.”
“A month? What mean you?” Menyir scanned the warriors around him until Sulyir spoke up.
“A month is a moon, my king. They do not count their time as we do.”
“An entire moon!” Menyir gestured toward the portal, “Why can we not use this one right now?”
“The solar cells need time to draw enough power,” the technician pointed to the computer, “At least....a week?”
Simon fought down a smile as he nodded in agreement, “And we need to repair the encampment so we can have shelter and prepare food. You do eat do you not?”
Menyir stood there. Simon could see his jaw working back and forth until at last he waved at Simon, “Very well. I am leaving a contingent of warriors here. They will obey your commands. Upon my return, this portal will be ready and you will open it to Midgard upon your life.”
“Of course, your Majesty,” he bowed with a smirk, “Upon my life.”
With a grunt, Menyir turned about, ducking through the longhouse door followed by Loki, Eris and the rest of his warriors. Only then did the agents, technicians swarm Simon with countless questions until he had to clap his hands loudly in the air.
“Oi! Oi! Listen to me! We are not tits up yet. We're going to do everything we can to hamper this operation. Right now we need to get this facility up and running again. We need shelters erected, a proper kitchen set up...”
“It's not going to be as simple as that, sir,” came a voice from the crowd. Simon looked about, relieved to see Kenworth at the back of the group.
“Nothing will be simple from here on out, no..”
“It's not that, sir,” Kenworth moved forward, “We have to take care of our men. They wouldn't let us gather the bodies of the people who died in the initial attack. We have to  find a place for them until we can bury them.”
“Dear god,” Simon moaned, “Yes, yes of course.”
He shuddered at the memory of the rows of tents, mangled, flattened, his grief quickly changing to anger, “Alright then. We've a job to do. Let's get on with it.”

Divided Chapter 89
Success! This chapter is being submitted from my Samsung phone. I am a happy girl! That being said......a surrender and a ruse...
First off I'd like to apologize for the lack of chapter updates on my story Divided. The holidays and writer's block have taken my feet out from beneath me. I've been suffering from a flare up of fibromyalgia which weakens my body and fogs my brain...what's different now, you ask? Nothing only my determination to finish what I started.  On that note I am also going to find an artist to commission for the cover of Ascension. I've been sitting on this for well over a year now and as my New Year's resolution Ascension will be on Kindle by summer....I'm also going to work to get Divided done...thank you to all of my readers still with me....I'll figure this thing out soon enough...
  • Mood: Optimism


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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