Chapter 11: In Which I Fight Fire with… not Fire
The thing was, Muspelheim was freaking hot.
After Loki's revelation regarding the state of his magic, we lapsed into silence. I was thoughtful and a little guilty, whereas Loki seemed to be completely focused on going forward. I did silence okay. Awkward silences, comfortable silences, need-to-science-so-don't-talk-to-me-right-now silences, all of it I was used to. I didn't even like Loki that much, let alone want to talk to him, so in normal circumstances, silence between us was great.
But Muspelheim was hot.
I didn't really notice it at first because it wasn't in your face Angelina Jolie kind of hot—okay no, that's a lie. It was. I realized it was hot the first moment that we landed here. But it was much more than that.
Ever been in a desert? Yeah, me neither. But people liked to describe deserts as scorching graves, and this is kind of what it felt like now. Heavy, sultry hair hung over us, making it hard to draw breath. What breath that was drawn burned my lungs.
I'm pretty sure I would have broken into hives by now if I hadn't been bitten by a radioactive spider. I wasn't Scottish by any means, but I was still a pale and skinny kid who'd never done too well in the sun.
Eventually, all I could come to concentrate on was how unpleasant I felt. The distance between Loki and I was widening, and it wasn't because he was picking up the pace. I was slowing.
And there were no real distractions to help out. The only sounds that accompanied us was the faint hissing of steam and gas from the cracks on the plains of the realm. Creepily enough, there were no signs of life, even though I knew they had to exist somewhere.
I think I lasted about half an hour before I began talking again.
"So, uh," I tried, "how'd you know that the other guy was here, anyway?"
I received no response.
I thought, like anyone would, that maybe Loki didn't hear me. So I tried again. "Loki?"
The look I received in reply was pure poison. There wasn't even an attempt to hide the snarl quickly forming at the other man's lips, and the glare in those eyes dared me to speak again.
I held up my hands in surrender, conceding.
Silence reigned again.
I tried to distract myself with creating algorithms for my current project, but even that was hard to get into with this kind of environment. I would have reminisced about home, but those thoughts I actively tried to avoid. If I started missing Gwen and Aunt May now, I wouldn't be able to stop.
Still, it did work for a while. Even after being stuck in Asgard for over a week, Stark's projects had enough variation to stimulate the mind. I let that take my attention off my body as I walked.
I'm not really sure for what stretch of time we walked, except that it was longer than the first. I felt my body slowing, lagging behind, and it was a struggle keeping up with Loki. My breathing became harsher and harsher. The scenery changed little in the distance that we trekked.
And then I tripped.
I fell flat on my face, sending up little tufts of dust as I did so.
Loki paused. The look he sent back was one of unadulterated scorn.
Panting, I struggled to push myself up again. It was a lot harder than it should have been, and I couldn't comprehend how I'd fallen in the first place. I'd had perfect balance ever since the spider bite, and even if I had somehow managed to trip, I should have been able to catch myself.
"S-sorry," I croaked, years of holding up my teammates in gym class making the response automatic.
The word scratched across my throat. I winced, a hand rising to the base of my next in an attempt to sooth my larynx. Normally I'd have welcomed sounding rougher and manlier, but not when I was feeling—
And then I realized why I had tripped.
Loki acknowledged my apology with a sour look and was already beginning to turn away again. My mouth opened once again, but this time it was not to seek conversation, "Oi—"
I had noticed that I'd slowed considerably from the beginning, and every breath I took was becoming harder, but I hadn't attributed it to anything. Stupid, stupid, so stupid.
Just what kind of science nerd was I supposed to be?
Biology 101. Every living thing needed water. Extreme heat caused living things to run out of water quickly. Ergo—
"Is there any kind of well around here?" I asked as I tried my best to wet my mouth with saliva. "We'll dehydrate at this rate, and forget about finding my 'companion', we'll just end up dead."
This time Loki's pause was more thoughtful. He stopped mid turn, so that all I could see was his profile.
"No," he whispered softly. "You would end up dead."
For a moment I didn't understand, "What—"
And then it came to me. Loki didn't seem in the least bit hot. He was as composed as ever, even in that large green coat of his.
It'd probably been that image which had prevented me from seeing that I was quickly on my way to a sunstroke.
Loki seemed to have deciphered my wide eyed look of comprehension, because a sneer spread across his lips then, "Do not think that the Aesir would be as weak as your race, mortal. Did I not inform you of your fate if you could not keep up? It was not I who foolhardily attempted a journey I was not prepared for."
Oh, oh that was it. Sure, I liked the guy's brother, but I was getting tired of all his insults.
"Would you stop with all that crap about humans?" I asked hotly, no pun intended. No seriously. I was burning with good humour at the moment. "Look, I get it. You're mad that I tagged along, but I'm not the only one at fault here! I've already explained, I didn't know what you were up to. But you know what, even if I did, I would have followed."
Loki's expression remained the same as he gazed at me disdainfully, "Oh? And why is that?"
"Well I couldn't let you lose the guy, could I?" I snarked.
The sneer on Loki's face finally fell. What remained was a look of pure, unadulterated anger. "I would not have lost him. He would not even be found were it not for me!"
"Yeah well," I snapped. "I have considerably more invested in finding him than you do. He has something with him that could cause a lot of damage back on Earth. I need to make sure that's destroyed or recovered too."
"It's hardly as if that matters," Loki sneered. "You mortals would damage to each other even without whatever your companion has with him."
Loki had proved my case completely. All I had to do was point it out to him.
Instead, what came out was—
"What is your problem?" I yelled. "Look I know. I know. I know already that you hate the parallels between you and us! I've figured it out already, so you don't—"
Loki's eyes had gone wide with rage, froth practically building up at his mouth. "You know nothing! Nothing! Whatever your diminutive mind thinks it understands about me, let me assure you, it does not. Simply because you are a child who doesn't want to face what he is does not mean that I—"
"Oh yeah, sure," I snorted. He was going on the attack, but I wasn't going to fall for it again. "Because I'm the one who won't acknowledge that everyone on Asgard except Thor and maybe Odin hates me."
"Even if I'm hated, I'm still better than you."
"In what sense? At least I have friends back home!"
"Will you let up about the mortal thing already! I think we've already established—"
"We've established nothing! Just because you think you—"
"I don't just think! I know! You know it too! I'm sick of you—"
"You're sick? You're sick? I'm the one who's—"
"—I'm sick of you defending yourself by attacking humans! If you just stop that—"
"You cannot tell me what to do!" Loki screamed. "This is my journey, my quest!"
My mouth was open to snarl out a reply, but surprisingly, someone beat me to it.
A low, rumbling laughter broke out across the plains. Loki and I both stiffened, and turned as one towards the source.
There, near the crevices of the cliff side, were a group of bubbling crimson… beings, for lack of a better term. They were humanoid in shape, except that they were about three times bigger and had no definite features save for their soulless black eyes. Their bodies looked to be made of magma. One was standing a little ways in front of the rest, and that one I presumed to be the leader.
Loki went absolutely still, and that was when I knew we were in trouble.
"You seek a quest, Aesir?" The being at the forefront hissed. Its voice was lined in ancient hatred. "On our grounds? You dare?"
Loki instantly changed, switching moods like quicksilver. The rage that'd so consumed him before was completely gone, leaving nothing but polite respect in its place. Loki bowed, deeply, "Gracious Fire Giants, I meant you no offence. I did not come here to disturb your lands, in fact I wish to help you—"
"Help us!" The lead fire giant roared with laughter. The others of his command were quick to join him, until the earth began to quake with their amusement.
Loki was cut off entirely. A flash of something sour crossed the green eyed god's features, but it was gone as quickly as it came.
When the fire giants finally calmed down, Loki once again opened his mouth to speak, but the lead fire giant did not let him.
"I am Trisaphalti," the magma warrior hissed. "And I am sworn to tear apart any Aesir that comes across my path, just like the rest of my peoples. Who are you, Aesir, to speak of helping us, when your very existence is an offence?"
And okay, wow, I had thought Loki's attitude towards humans was bad. I felt some of my earlier anger dissipating. Clearly I needed to put some things into perspective when dealing with these mythical beings.
I saw Loki consider talking his way out of this. I saw him make the choice to defend what he was. I thought I might have been partially responsible. I had practically goaded him into it, after all.
"And who are you, mere Fire Giant," Loki whispered softly, his hand moving to his waist to draw out twin sets of thin gleaming blades, "to dare threaten the Aesir?"
Trisaphalti laughed. It was strangely chilling despite their surroundings. He turned to me then. "You, Midgardian. You are not part of our ancient hatred. I know not why you are travelling with this scum, but you are free to leave."
"Oh." I blinked. That was a weirdly kind offer. I actually hesitated, turning to look at Loki. His eyes were blazing, knuckles white as he gripped the hilts of his daggers. Damn it, I couldn't leave the guy to be torn from limb to limb.
As if sensing my answer, Loki's eyes slid to me. His voice came out in a low hiss, "I do not need your help."
"Really?" I asked, honestly curious, cocking my head towards the group of fire giants. "You really don't want some help right now?"
Loki made a noise of disapproval, but did put a hand around my wrist. He was looking at the fire giants. "You are unarmed. I can reproduce your armory via magic, provided you give my magic a mental scope on which to work with. Imagine your weapons with as much detail as you can, leave nothing out. I do not expect much from you, but even you should be able to picture a sword."
Green sparks danced across Loki's fingers, but what I pictured was not a sword. I had spent hours and hours working on my web shooters—knew the design inside and out. The chips, the wires, even what was in the cartridge… all of it was engraved in my heart.
Green sparks coalesced around my wrists, and my old friends returned.
Trisaphalti's eyes darkened to liquid pools of obsidian ash, "Very well, then you shall die with him."
I didn't even get the chance to say something back, because it was then that the fire giants surged forward. I had about a half a second to organize my attack plan before suddenly I was fighting for my life again in a way I hadn't for half a year.
It was a lot like riding a bicycle. Danger. Threat of Pain. Actual pain. Good things you never really forget.
Loki moved more fluidly than the most seasoned martial artists. His silver daggers gleamed under the glaring volcanic sun, flashing every now and then as he drew thin lines across the bodies of the fire giants while he weaved past their blows.
"We will destroy you," Trisaphalti was hissing, his spear echoing flashes of red light from how quickly he was attacking.
Loki bared his teeth, dodging just as instantaneously, though even so he was being pushed back. "We have existed for millennia, and will exist for millennia more, no matter the jealousy of the other races."
"Jealousy?" Trisaphalti said darkly, slamming the end of his spear towards the slender Asgardian. The green eyed magician blocked it with his daggers crossed. "Do you think it is mere envy which drums for the destruction of your blood? You, who were not yet in swaddling clothes when the Aesir and Eldjötnar clashed? You know nothing of our history. You know nothing of our hatred."
And then my attention was diverted again as one of my opponents hurled a fireball at me (yeah, seriously) and I was forced to hurriedly leap to the side to avoid being singed. The fireball splashed against the wall, raining down bits of debris where it smashed against the rock face.
We fought. At some point his companions joined him and it seemed to no matter how many Loki and I downed there would always be two more to take their places. I was slowing—I was already not at my best from the heat and I was fighting at a serious disadvantage with not being able to really touch the things lest I was willing to let my limbs be burnt off—and I could see that even Loki was tiring.
My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach.
It was no use. There were too many of them and not enough of us. We couldn't win.
I scanned the area for something—anything—that might even the odds. My eyes alighted upon the patch of stone that had been disturbed by one of the fire giant's attacks, and an idea came to mind.
When I next dodged my opponent's strike, I slid beneath him and looped my web around his wrists. I quickly judged which part of the rock face was the weakest and, flinging out my other arm, shot a strand to the other side of the gorge. Already I could see my web melting off the giant's arm, so I wasted no time.
With all my might I pulled myself towards the point I had captured, using the circular momentum to hurl the fire giant as I did so. He howled in outrage, but I wasn't done yet. I stuck to the wall and then faster than one could blink I shot out a series of sticky web matter towards him.
He hit the wall with an ominous crack, but he wasn't allowed to fall back to the ground. My webs kept him in place and there was only one thing he could do if he wanted to escape.
With a howl of rage, the fire giant ignited. My webs shrivelled and died with the intense heat. The surrounding rock fared far worse.
but I had no sooner let go of him than I shot a web to Loki.
The fire giant fell back to the ground. A low rumbling echoed through the air. I stuck myself to my side of the wall quickly and aimed both my wrists towards Loki. My web caught him as he sliced open Trisaphalti's arm. A boiling hot mass emerged rather than blood.
Loki staggered at my pull and was jerked unceremoniously into the air just as the other wall collapsed.
For a moment there was nothing but grey and dust. I coughed, my muscles straining from the extra weight. Finally the air cleared enough for me to make out the ground and the distinct lack of fire giants. Eyes watering, I lowered us back to the ground.
The grin that spread across my face was entirely unintentional. But what the heck, I deserved it! Where before one rock face had stood proudly beside the other, now only a pile of rubble existed. The fire giants hadn't even had time to roar in fury before they were buried.
"Okay," I said as I turned back to Loki. "Sorry for uh, not warning you about this, but it would have given it away."
Still, I had done pretty good. I mean, we'd just won against impossible odds.
But Loki's eyes were wild with rage, "What have you done?"
My cheer and relief shattered. I could only stare at Loki incredulously. I couldn't believe it. We had just fought together and got out of a crazy situation together. And he was still determined to fight?
"What have I done?" I asked through gritted teeth, heat rising to my cheeks as anger flared through me. What right did he have to criticize me for saving both our lives? What right? "I won us the stupid ambush that you got us into!"
"A coward's way of winning," Loki hissed.
"The only way of winning!" I shouted back.
And it was then that my danger sense came alive.
I shoved Loki as hard as I could. The pile of rubble directly before us burst open as Trisaphalti erupted, letting out a roar of pure hatred as his arm aimed directly towards Loki's heart. He got me instead.
Pain exploded in my side as a burning claw pierced the soft tissue. I screamed. Sheer agony flooded my being as the smell of burning organs saturated the air. My brain short circuited and dark splotches clouded my vision. I thought I heard a cry of 'Peter!' but that couldn't be right. Anyone who cared enough to call me by name were on Earth. Huh. Maybe Earth was beneath Asgard and I could find it there. And I fell down, down, down…
I woke to the scent of musk and the feeling of warm moisture on my skin. I peeled my eyes open, and was greeted with a large expanse of flat grey stone floating above me. Groaning, I pushed myself up to a sitting position. Pain flashed at my side, but it was manageable and I wanted to know what the heck had happened to me.
We were in a cave of some sort, with one end smooth and rounded out while the other led to a darkened area I could only presume to be the exit. In the centre of the carved out room of stone was a small round globe, white light shining forth from within it and illuminating the place. Loki sat on the other end, reading a book that he had been carrying who knows where.
His head snapped up as I made a sound. His green eyes were narrowed, and seemed to be spiting fire under the dim lighting.
"Don't move too much," Loki told me with an air of annoyance. "Your wounds were hard enough to deal with without you reopening them."
"How am I still alive?" I croaked. I winced at the husky tone and raised a hand to rub at my throat.
"Magic," Loki said tightly.
"Oh yeah?" Illusions. Portals. And now healing. "Is that like something of a catch all?"
Loki's reply was full of disdain, "Magic is only a tool of the universe, not a rule. It cannot do everything."
"Oh." I said. I fiddled with the edge of my shirt. I sighed. "Thanks."
There was a brief moment of silence, and then—
"It was only fair repayment," Loki's response was stiff. His hand clenched at his side. "Why did you do it?"
I stared. "Huh?"
The corner of Loki's mouth seemed to curl, although it was hard to tell under the lighting. "Why did you jump in front of me? Do you not hate me?"
"Oh." I shifted uncomfortably. "I—I don't hate you. I know we disagree on a lot of things, but you're still Thor's brother and—"
"Ah I see." Loki's lips had twisted upwards, into something resembling a mixture between a sneer and terrible understanding. "It is for Thor. Of course it was."
"You're Thor's brother," I continued with no small amount of stress, "and you're not a bad person. You could have abandoned me at any time and you haven't."
"—doesn't have anything to do with this and you know it!" I interrupted in frustration. "I don't understand why you're so adamant on having me hate you but I don't!"
Loki hissed, his green eyes swirling with molten heat, "You like to think you know everything about me."
"And you like to think I know nothing. The truth is we're not that different, are we?" I argued back.
Loki's face twitched into a snarl, "There's a world of difference between you and I, but I can see that I won't be able to change your senseless mind. Idiots apparently cannot learn."
My jaw clenched. I was up before I could help myself, scowling heavily at him, "You think—"
My words were cut off as a sharp stab of pain flared through my side. I gasped, stumbling forward. Loki moved like lightning, surging to his feet and was at my side in one swift motion. He grabbed onto my forearms before I fell and helped me back into a sitting position with surprisingly gentle hands.
"Did I not tell you to not move?" Loki snapped. "I should have known that your mortal brain couldn't comprehend what a fragile state you're in!"
I could only stare at him. The shadows which had half hidden the trickster god were gone now, and the glint of worry behind his eyes was much clearer at this distance.
This close I could see how pale Loki was. There was a faint tremor in his body that I had never seen on any of the Asgardians before. He looked exhausted.
I realized then that he must have paid a much higher price for the magics he'd used to heal me than he'd led me to believe. My stomach churned bitterly. Loki was right. I did know very little about him.
"Sorry," I blurted out. "I'm sorry for inviting myself on your quest. I know that you would have found the guy. It was a mistake to come and I didn't trust you when I should have, and I didn't want to admit I was wrong." I was blabbering and I could not help it. I winced. "Sorry."
Loki on his part, looked utterly flat footed by the confession. He glanced away.
"It matters not," he sighed, sounding tired. "This quest was a foolish venture at any rate and likely doomed to fail from the start."
The realization hit me with the full weight of a semi.
"It doesn't have to end here," I breathed.
"My father will soon be aware that we are gone," Loki said bitterly. "Perhaps he would not care if it were just I, but you have come too. He will be here."
I shook my head. I wanted to say that his dad wouldn't have left Loki out to be hung dry, but truthfully I had no idea. As much as the thought galled me, it was entirely likely that Loki wouldn't have run into the fire giants at all if not for me, or at the very least he could have escaped easily.
"Then we'll have to be quick about it," I said firmly. I met Loki's suddenly scrutinizing gaze with calm and the slightest hint of a challenge. "You're the god of mischief aren't you? We don't have to be completely well to play a trick."
A/n: The third Avengers trailer was awesome enough to warrant an update. I'm not sure what the heck I'm going to do with the next chapter though. Does anyone have an idea of what kind of trick they can pull? I am otherwise pretty brain dead from this semester of University.