Wow…. I honestly didn't realize how long it had been since my last update. I am SUCH a bad person! I'm so so so sorry to all of those who are enjoying this story, awaiting and update.
Uni work has piled up suddenly and I'm flailing/drowning in it. Curse animation for being so time consuming!
Anyway, I hope this chapter finds you all well and I'm sure that the gap between the next update wont be so lengthy.
"And you're sure we won't spontaneously combust? Our atoms won't be scrambled into mortal smoothie?" Tony questioned, shivering in the cold, pre-dawn air.
Thor scratched his head, one eyebrow crinkled in thought. "I do not think so Son of Stark." he shrugged nonchalantly. "Loki really was far more informed about the effects of the bifrost." The thunderer held out his hands to Steve on his left and Natasha on his right. "It is improbable that any significant damage should happen to you. I'm sure Heimdall would have mentioned it otherwise."
The group of humans glanced at each other nervously, not at all comforted by the demigod's words. They reluctantly joined hands, forming a connected circle.
"Are you sure you got a lid on it?" Steve asked, looking directly at Banner.
The scientist nodded, taking deliberate, even breaths. "I gave myself a shot to regulate my pulse, and I'm as mentally prepared for this as I could ever be."
Thor smiled encouragingly. "Hold on to each other tightly. I am told that beings unused to space travel may find it a bit jarring. I would rather not loose any of you along the way."
"Great." Hawkeye muttered, gripping tighter to Black Widow and Bruce. "If either of you lets go of me I will personally plant an arrow in your eye socket."
"I doubt it." Stark muttered, his calm mask slipping in anticipation. "You'd be dead."
And with that last, unsettling remark, the five mortals and the demigod were sucked up in a blur of rainbow light and hurtled away, past the far reaches of their galaxy.
As they travelled Steve had to remind himself that this wasn't some bizarre dream. The saturated light around him was so intense he felt cheated by the colours on earth. Whole constellations he knew flashed by in seconds and in the blink of an eye they had already left their humble Milky Way. Time seemed almost suspended as they travelled, each second slowing down just enough for him to appreciate what he was looking at. The sights before his humble eyes were places never seen before by humans, beyond even the feeble reach of their most advanced telescope. The sheer size of space was daunting, overwhelming in it's magnificence.
He idly contemplated how unfair it was that humans were gifted with such a short life time - it would take thousands of years to explore such a vast dimension. He couldn't even begin to imagine all the phenomenal worlds unexplored by their people, worlds they would probably never have the chance to set foot on. If the Asguardians, who had thousands of years beneath their belts, still hadn't discovered all the life forms in this universe, then what chance did a human who only had a good sixty years before old age slammed down?
Across from the Captain, Bruce Banner was thinking the same thing. As a scientist his natural curiosity drowned out any fear he felt while being flung across Yggdrasil.
Stark, ever the mathematician was similarly contemplating how to reproduce the vacuum they were being sucked through, unparalleled intellect struggling to determine the amount of energy needed to perform such a feat.
Clint and Natasha, on the other hand, were more focused on holding tight to the people next to them and keeping their heads despite the insanity of their mission.
Then, suddenly they were in Asgard.
The five mortals felt as though they had been slammed down by a giant fist, hurled without warning onto a hard, multicoloured platform. None of them landed on their feet, but lay sprawled on the strange piece of architecture, breathing heavily.
After a panicked pause, Clint, Tony and Bruce promptly coughed up whatever was in their stomachs. Retching may have been unpleasant, but all of them were relieved to be otherwise in one piece. Black Widow slumped back, gripping her stomach and trying to breathe deeply through pangs of nausea. Steve, more immune to the disorientating travel, checked on each of them in turn.
Thor grinned sheepishly as his companions slowly struggled to their feet.
"I told you it would be fine." he announced cheerfully. "A little ale and you'll all be back in good spirits!"
Tony, still looking a little green around the edges hiccuped at the thought of putting anything in his churning stomach. "I'm gonna have to call a rain check on that one big fella." he groaned, then belched in an ungentlemanly manner. "I never thought I'd say this, but no alcohol. Not until I can look at you without seeing two heads."
The others murmured in agreement.
Thor only roared with laughter at their pale faces, then gestured grandly at the city before them. "I am sorry for your discomfort, but regardless, welcome, my friends to Asgard."
The five human, who until then had been preoccupied, looked in unison towards the great towers of gold in the distance. It was a surreal moment, a life changing experience, looking upon the exotic city for the first time. Despite Thor's proud boasts, no words could have prepared them for the intense beauty before their eyes.
Loki shuddered in the shadow of a fallen tree. He pressed his body into the comforting side of Slepnir, who curled around him protectively. Warmth from the great horse permitted the air, but still the demigod shivered. His fingers grew steadily stiff with cold, making it difficult to grip the mane of his child. Slepnir nudged him gently beneath the arm, a small whicker working up his throat. Loki managed a smile, leaning his head against the horse's neck. Slepnir's breath tickled his cheek, caressing the cold skin with the warm, sweet, air.
The sun finally slipped behind the mountains and the three companions immediately felt the clutch of night around them. Wrapped around Loki's stomach, Jörmungandr recoiled at the temperature drop. The cold blooded snake didn't thrive well in the chilled air and sought out the warmth of his father's body. Loki felt the reptile's discomfort and stroked him beneath the cloak reassuringly.
"We'll find somewhere to settle soon my children." his breath puffed from his lips in pale wisps. "I promise this won't be all we have."
As of yet it was too risky to light a fire. The trickster doubted the Aesir troops would even know where to start looking, but there was still the chance of campfire smoke being spotted.
Loki was sure that he was safe in the Black Mountains. No one ventured here, not even his brother. Only the God of Mischief had ventured into the gloomy forests, and it wasn't out of curiosity, but for refuge.
As a child Loki and Thor were chalk and cheese. Thor exulted in warrior coaching, spending all his waking hours training for the wars he knew he would one day fight. For the thunderer's eight birthday he was gifted with a sword, then a mace, and eventually, on his sixteenth, Mjölnir. Conversely, each year Loki was given another spell book, or a selection of herbs from another realm. The Yuletide that someone finally thought to gift the skinny, dark haired boy with a weapon, it was a bow, which until now had sat lay under a thick layer of dust beneath his bed. Loki didn't try to pretend to fit in.
Needless to say, while Thor was praised by his peers for being brave and showing great skill in battle, Loki was shunned for being small and timid. His elder brother was vigilant in his duty to protect the younger sibling, but Thor couldn't be with him all the time. The other court children loathed the boy for being different, which was only bolstered by their jealousy. Loki may have been sickly in appearance, but his prowess with magic surpassed people his own age and older. That made him a firm target for bullies.
Loki endured taunts and beatings from the children enough to leave him with a bruised ego, but more often than not he was able to dodge their attacks, hiding in the fringes of the Dire Mountain forest. The other children baulked at the idea of stepping foot between the twisted trees, childhood stories sending them reeling back from the dark depths. Loki, however, had no qualms with the eery place.
He felt at home in the shadowed glades. The creeping, glaucous moss that carpeted the floor was akin to a spongy blanket. The crystal clear streams of water that trickled along smooth stones was only water to wet his parched throat. Any animals, though timid, had grown accustomed to his presence and didn't flee at his approach. The sorcerer child was smart enough not to eat the red berries, looking out instead the smaller, yellow fruits.
He knew to hold his breath when a blue mist slunk across the ground, all too aware of it's hallucinogenic effects. He avoided the trees with the silver trunks, identifying them not as plants, but predators. Their snake like roots squirmed through the soft clay, seeking, always seeking warm flesh to harvest. And when the danger lilies closed their petals or the green throated larks went silent, Loki knew to keep low and become one with the landscape, lest he be devoured by a Star Wolf.
However, even though this area of the forest was as familiar as the back of his hand, the demigod knew that the wilderness changed drastically as soon as he hit the foot of the mountains. The gentle, undulating hills he was camped in now were relatively tame. People didn't venture into them, but anyone who knew the dangers could get by without much hassle.
And yet, the plant species altered drastically as the altitude climbed and the animals he had grown up around merged into new breeds that possessed a different array of threats. Over the span of Loki's life he had made numerous trips deeper into the unexplored land, mapping out ridges and valleys where no intelligent soul had set foot. Each foray into the unknown had been a new experience, the trickster stumbling across ancient, undisturbed ecosystems that tested his survival skills. Though Loki rose to meet the challenges and continued to return home, triumphant and made wiser by his journey, he was also burdened with the scars of many close encounters.
It never ceased to surprise him that he had managed to escape the clutches of the mountain, but at the same time the rush that came with it drove him back again and again over the centuries.
This time though, was completely different.
For one, he was totally unprepared. The meagre supplies he had scrounged for in his haste to escape the city limits would last him a week at best. On top of that he has physically unfit. Two years of being undernourished and allowed little exercise had left him vulnerable. He knew that if it came down to a brute strength battle with a predator, he was going to loose.
But worst of all, he was cut off from his magic. It was the simple things like being able to snap his fingers and make fire, or turn invisible in the presence of danger that had given him the edge he needed. Being able to store things away in a virtual bank meant he could travel without carrying baggage. Sensing water, luring prey into his traps, having blades that never dulled, those were the essentials the demigod needed to survive. And his magic was the key to unlocking them all.
It would have been unbelievably simpler to remain where he was. Here he could scrape together a living, possibly even without his powers. But Loki knew he couldn't dwell inn these outer fringes. The relatively placid foothills were no protection for an interstellar criminal. With a decent tracking spell and a mediocre rag tag team of guards the Aesir prince would find him, undoubtedly. The tricksters only hope was to forge ahead deeper into the perilous landscape, and pray to whatever Gods still favoured him that his brother wasn't brave, or foolish enough to venture after such a loose end.
"Oh, mmmmm, I've died and gone to heaven!" Tony cried, taking another swing of the sugar-spice wine. "Thor, if we somehow manage to survive the wrath of your brother a third time, I'm emptying your cellars of this brew and taking it home to Earth!"
Thor laughed along with the engineer, clinking their glasses jovially. "Aye, it is a marvellous is it not!?"
Natasha rolled her eyes, nibbling hesitantly on a piece of unleavened honey bread. It was so soft against her lips she was reminded of being a child, at a fair, a fist full of fairy floss and sweetness melting on her tongue.
Steve, opposite her, was picking at a bowl of diced fruit. The vibrant coloured flesh glowed in the golden bowl, glistening in the brightly lit room. The captain marvelled with each mouthful. It seemed that modern day fruits were descended somehow from Aesir species, perhaps the gods had planted their crops on Earth to share with primitive humans? However he was pleasantly surprised to discover that the harvest in foreign realm provided a far greater range of complexities on the palette.
Steve speared a particularly delicious hunk of peach and pressed it into his mouth eagerly. A small line of juice ran down his chin and he flushed, embarrassed.
"Oops! This peach is so juicy, it's unbelievable!" he remarked happily, but was puzzled to see a dark expression shadow Thor's face at the mention of the fruit. He was immediately curious as to what had upset the demigod so, but let it slide rather than risk upsetting the emotional man.
"So, when do we get a tour of the city?" Tony asked, enthusiastic to learn more about this new world.
But Hawkeye shook his head. "We don't have time for a tour. Every second we waste in this palace Loki's trail grows colder."
"I have to agree with our archer," Thor joined, waving a meaty bone with one hand, "my brother is probably nearing the foothills of the Dire Mountains as we speak."
Bruce, very quiet since they arrived spoke up, "I'd rather think first about what we are going to need for this little excursion."
Thor raised one eyebrow, chewing thoughtfully. "Hmmm… Usually I'd suggest a map."
"What do you mean usually?" Natasha probed, plucking a grape delicately from her plate.
Thor shrugged good naturally. "Well, because there are no maps of the wild lands, only stories and rhymes about the perils we may face. The only person known to venture into such unchartered territory and return in one piece, his wits intact was my brother."
"Wits intact? Might want to rethink that Thunder Boy." Tony teased.
Thor brushed off the slight towards his sibling. "Well regardless, if anyone were to have a map of the Dire Mountains it would have been Loki. Presently then such a document is not available to us."
"What do you mean? Surely we could search his room, perhaps he has a diary that would help. We're bound to find something!" Steve countered stubbornly.
Thor's expression turned sad. "Nay my friends. Since the day my brother faked his death and fled our realm his chambers have been impenetrable to all but him. The doors, now sealed, will open for no one. Not even me."
There was a tense pause in which each of the Avengers glanced around the table at each other.
"So we're on our own then?" Barton denounced.
"Aye." Thor confirmed, voice heavy, "That we are."
"Thor? Thor I'm lost! Please brother, find me!"
The Thunderer flinched at the panicked sound of his siblings cries, whirling around in the dense forest, trying to spot the source.
"Loki! Little brother!"
He saw a thin track leading through a thicket of dense brambles and stumbled towards it. The spindly plants grew over his head like a roof, dampening the thin moonlight. Beams of watery light illuminated small patches of the track ahead, twisting like a ribbon through the thorny mass.
"Thor! Save me!" the anguished shriek sent thrills of horror through the Aesir prince. He pushed along the tunnel-like pathway, which shrunk in size with every step. Roses began to bloom beside him, silvery in the starlight. Their soft centres released a gentle scent.
"They're coming to get me!" Loki screamed, "I can see them!"
Thor sprinted along the winding track, feeling the clutch of clawed twigs snatching at his clothes. Brittle branches snapped as he swung his blade, severed petals falling like snow. The crushed flowers smelt strong, but not enough to hide the tang of blood permeating the air. The perfume of it was enough to make the Thunderer gag.
"Where are you!?" Loki's voice continued to cry, "You promised me you'd never let them hurt me!"
"No!" Thor bellowed, struggling through the claustrophobic tunnel. Soft, blue mist seeped around his feet, slithering up his legs in tendrils. "Loki hang on! I'm almost there!"
The mist was all around him now, blurring the spiderweb lacing of thorns, masking the wilting roses. It cloyed up his nose, making it hard to breathe. The sound of Loki's screams were loud in his ears, clashing with the thudding of his heart. He gasped once, trying to draw oxygen in through the thick air. Limbs heavy with muscle suddenly turned weak and his strong legs gave out.
"Brother," Thor croaked, clawing at the dirt, twisting his fingers through lifeless petals, "I'm sorry…"
Far away Loki's wails were abruptly cut off.
"No!" Thor screamed, wrenching himself out of sleep. He clawed at the sheets twisted around him, ripping the damp fabric in a frantic bid to escape it's grip. "No I promised! I said I'd never… I'd never…" he broke off into sobs, clutching his head in his hands. Each ragged breath was loud in his room, echoing in the dark.
The dream had been too real. The panic that has entrapped the Prince within his mind was still sending jolts of adrenaline through him now. Thor felt as though he could still feel the sharp scratch of thorns across his skin, hear the desperate cries of his brother.
"It's just a nightmare…" he whispered to himself. "Loki is safe, he is in Asgard. He knows those forests better than anyone. No harm could come to him. And once I find him, I will be able to return him home. And I'll keep my promise. I'll keep him safe."
The demigod breathed deeply, trying to quell the anguish tearing at his heart. His sobs quietened until he was still once more.
But still there was the faint scent of roses, lingering in the air.
To be continued…..
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