Chapter 11:

A writer, I would fancy myself, if things would be. But take note, I do not write for others – I write for my own amusement, and my brand of storytelling is my own – I only share these worlds that I dream up.

Your ancestors called it magic... but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.

Thor Odinson to Jane Foster,

Marvel's Thor

The darkness is suffocating. It saps his lungs of air, and it snakes through his consciousness.

It is not a nightmare, per se, but it is a never-ending replay of the events that have transpired. He sees it in his mind's eye, and feels the phantom touches that linger on his skin. He feels Death stepping closer, and hears Her hold a low note. It snaps him out of the remnants of Mogul's memories, that of a broken mind, of being an oblivious puppet.

He would have jackknifed out of bed, but instinct stays his movements. Loki lies asleep, curled up on his chest within the tangle of silk sheets. The sheets are dark in the dim light, and they remind him of ominous things. He still has yet to shake off the feeling - shattering souls and cries of the damned - and the guilt of his inability sticks to his conscious like oily slick. It disgusts him, that he had been unable to save them.

something else, someone else lurks beneath that darkness

And it scares him, the possibility that there could be more suffering out there.

He hopes for the morning to come quicker.

The dawn light creeps slowly along the bannister, and slowly spills over to splash the walls in golden light. Harry does not even bother to feign surprise when Huginn and Muninn drop soundlessly from the shadowed ceiling to the top of his wingback. The stack of parchment lies on the table, arranged to perfection and tied such that the two ravens can play courier to their master.

There is not much truth within the report, and what little of it is bloated to give the impression that Harry's week long absence from Asgard was within reason. Perhaps the Allfather should have sent Geri and Freki instead, because the two ravens have a spot of trouble in clearing the bannister with their burden, and he has an unabashed affection for the lupine creatures anyway. Something that Loki has picked up on, judging by the sheer amount of fur and scent markings on his son's discarded clothing from yesterday. It's a funny thought, wolves, stag and children prancing about within the golden walls of Asgard's palace.

Loki stirs upon his shifting, and Harry sets his arm around his son, coaxing his little one back to sleep. This is no time for pondering matters of his jobs, not with his son under his chin and the drowsy warmth of the bed. He sets up barriers upon every opening to his suite of rooms, purges all matters from his mind, and falls into dreamless sleep.

It is an easy sleep, so much so that Hogun has difficulty in ridding himself of it. He wakes, and wonders where he is – soft linen under his fingers, soft conversation beyond the pale curtains, instead of… some dark and hopeless place that his mind expects.

A fair face peeks through the flowing fabric, and slides the curtain open when she discovers that he is awake. Firm hands checks his limbs, and soft voices bid him to sit up. A warm drink slides down his throat, and they send for someone before laying him back into bed.

But he knows the name, and Hogun feels his heart hammer against its cage. Haraldr Hjortrson. There is irrationality that buzzes incessantly - fear and respect and suspicion and trust that resound in his mind, when green eyes come to mind. He feels the fear start to course in his veins like a raging river when booted feet start to echo in the distance. He would run, but his legs are weak and he does not know the way out. Hogun finds that he cannot look up when more people enter the room.

But instead of a man of statuesque height, it is a child. A small one, who cannot have seen more than five springs. But he is pale, and black is the colour of his hair, and Hogun shivers.

"Hello, Hogun. I hope that the day finds you better off than yesterday," the voice is soft yet firm, and so very young. It is like the morning sun, and Hogun looks up to see green eyes that seem to be seared into his very memory, "I am Loki Haraldrson."

Bjort walks away, and Rúni turns the news over in his mind. The diagnosis is good, Rúni thinks, though it is a shame that the youth has subconsciously rejected the treatment for his throat. Rúni watches as young Loki talks with Hogun, the boy speaking to the silent teen, "What would you do with him now, General?"

"I would have him take vows of servitude and loyalty. Put him to work as a spy of Asgard."

Rúni chokes between one breath of air and the next, and the General motions for the Healers to step down from panicking. The man snorts, eyes crinkled in a smile, "What else could I wish for him, Rúni? He is an orphan, with no standing in bloodlines or riches, nothing but a will that has seen him through his ordeals. As long as he has an aspiration that does not involve squandering resources or his own life away, my coffers are open to him," there is a brief silence, "unless he proves himself to be another Volstagg. The man has been trying and failing to eat me into poverty."

Rúni laughs, because it is true, and Volstagg's girth grows more astounding day by day, and moves to talk to Hogun about the General's offer as Loki runs back to his father. At the end of the day, there is only tiredness in his bones, and the burn of regret in his throat, for doubting the man that he has looked up to for many years.

"You are sure?" It is the umpteenth time that the soldier known as Rúni has asked him that, so Hogun levels an unwavering gaze at the man until the other shrugs nonchalantly in surrender.

Yes, he is sure. Sure enough to throw away any type of apprenticeship of Hogun's choosing. It seems right, because in his heart of hearts, Hogun owes the man an immeasurable debt.

"That was your last chance to turn back," Rúni grins like there is some hilarious joke, "you have hereby lost the right to whine, complain or cry about anything related to the military from this point on, young one."

Hogun cannot bring himself to smile in response. Not with a half remembered dream of verdant eyes burning in the dark.

Frigga is glad for dark smudge that is Haraldr in her golden halls once again, because he is the safest here, and Loki is happiest when his father is within sight. He seems paler than she remembers, but the man has always been in stark contrast to his dark armour.

"I don't suppose that that the weeds have flourished much in a week, my Queen."

Frigga allows a rueful smile to pass her lips, "You would be right, Haraldr," and watches as his eyes wander to an uninhabited corner of her hall once again, as if something invisible has caught his attention. There is something that haunts him, some spectre of the mind that he has brought back from the bowels of Skornheim, Frigga thinks, which Haraldr is unable to shake off.

His heart is a cluttered thing, but the threads that he plucks from the air are the clearest yet, even more than the crystalline healing waters of Asgard. She does not know what has happened in the shaded lands of Skornheim, only that Haraldr has rid the land of the ominous veil at a great personal cost. Frigga tries in vain to weave at her loom, but her eyes stray constantly to him. He is her closest confidant, and yet she cannot be the same for him.

Eventually he leaves with a giggling son hanging from a shoulder, and takes away his crystal-like weave and black clothes along with him, leaving nothing but a dark shadow of helplessness in her heart.

Death is a constant distraction; her unintelligible murmurs and sighs are sounds that no one else can hear. She is not trying to communicate with him, Harry knows - akin to someone entertaining themselves in an extremely self-contained world - much like those who had endured far too much torture.

There is some respite, however, in the form of his not-so-tiny godson. The young Prince rushes to his side, seated between the Allfather and himself, while Loki sits on the right of Harry. Thor is a cheerful child, who somehow has lungs larger than his ribcage, but Harry still smiles and laughs at the young boy's stories.

Tonight, both his son and his godson will spend a good portion of the hour after the meal coaxing a story out of him, Harry knows. Perhaps a story about discovering one's heritage, of talking and persuasion, of talking enormous serpents out of taking lives.

He has had enough of Death today.

The pattern of the weave is an improvement of Angrboða's original work, and Harry carefully secures the length of cloth against his own body. He whispers for the magic to do its work, and sets a thick leather cord between his teeth as it does so.

The memories of his wounds begin to carve themselves into his flesh, though the pain is not as unbearable as Skornheim poison. There is no song of swinging metal blades coated in flesh-eating venom, acidic liquids, and no burning splashes of magma.

The woven fabric falls away, leaving nothing but a body covered in a map of healed wounds. Merely superficial wounds compared to the ones that he has gained over his interminably long life. No pledges of blood and glory made of tears and honour on these wounds.

Odin's blood no longer forms shackles within his veins. Duties to neither king nor kingdom, though he still has bonds. Bonds borne of heart and fondness that tie him to Asgard still; son and godson and Queen, men who do not question his intentions, people who share heartfelt smiles…

One vow still stands, even after all these years. Renewed with each turn of the decade in opulent ceremonies, spoken without guile, because the Allfather does not accept anything less.

For the good of Asgard.

There is a piece of paper tied around the base of Dáinn's horns today. The stag holds still as Loki unknots the thread, and chuffs in contentment when Loki rubs behind the velvet-soft ear as a reward for his patience. The creamy paper is thick, the ink is a sharp black against it, and Loki grins when he realises that he cannot read the message off the bat.

It is another of his father's puzzles.

The message is somewhere in between a picture and a rune, Loki thinks, fingers tracing the oddly shaped characters. And the string of characters is the first clue.

There is a commotion from somewhere near the entrance of the training hall, and Volstagg knows enough to expect something out of the ordinary soon. True to his anticipation, there is the staccato of hoof beats and the sound of laughter echoing from the main door, followed shortly by a flash of white and black.

The noise makes Hogun look up from oiling his blade, and the quirk of his eyebrow is a silent question. Volstagg laughs, remembering that the young man has not been in Asgard long enough to learn its peculiar rhythms. But the boy will know in time, so Volstagg just shrugs.

A volery of birds take flight from the forest below, and Harry leans out of the window to take a better look. There is a hint of white antlers poking out from the under-brush and Harry grins; his son is taking to the challenge like a duck to the water.

"Hmmm. Something of interest, General?" the curiosity in that voice is of a vexing kind, and Harry turns his head and watches as the vizier - who harbours hope to be Grand Vizier in the near future - flinches in response to the grin on his face.

"There is always something of interest in this life that I lead, Tarakis. Shall we return to continue the meeting?"

The meeting will be wrapped up and all the loose ends tied faster than the Council can stop to think. The treacheries of the treacherous have already been caught, though there are others that still remain. The man hides something still, and Harry is determined to find out what it is that slithers silently in the deepest recesses of the man's mind.

Loki is on his third note when Thor arrives in the dining hall for the midday meal. The coded message is the most difficult of the lot, and he has already gone through two hastily scrawled ciphers which had proved promising and then flopped uselessly when compared with his father's code.

The papers are carefully set into his inner pockets when the Prince roars his greetings to the entire hall. The guard accompanying the young Prince today is Volstagg - the Voluminous, as the jesting between guards go - and Hogun, who shadows the Guards as they go about their daily duties, observing and learning silently.

But there is someone new today, standing nearly completely behind Thor. Burnished gold hair cropped short, and with only one blue eye peeking out at him, it is something that seems familiar to Loki somehow. Not something, but a familiar face?

He stands from his seat, "Hello, my Prince. Volstagg, Hogun, and..."

Volstagg nudges the boy forward, but the boy literally jumps at the touch so Loki steps forward with one palm upturned, "I am Loki Haraldrson."

The boy swallows soundly, and Loki fortifies his smile when an unexpectedly clammy hand grasps his own, "Fandral."

Just a name, with no lineage in the introduction. Loki lets the matter be, and sets the questions away for later, because the Court seems to have finished with their meeting - his father is escorting Queen Frigga across the hall, and they make their way to the table in soft conversation.

Beyond the blue eyes and the blonde hair of the boy, Harry knows. That the boy shows that the blood from the House of Odin runs in his veins; a bastard son, though the label is something that leaves a foul aftertaste.

Fandral has been set up to gain the Prince's favour, and it will only be when the boy has made a name for himself as one of the steadfast friends of the Prince, that the father will step forward. The machinations of the Court is a cruel thing, and the House of Odin is the cruelest of the twelve in the never-ending struggle to stay in the King's favour.

To stay the top dog.

Frigga tightens her grip on his arm, and Harry turns his head to grin while continuing to escort her where the children sit, "Yes, my Queen?"

"Plotting something again, Haraldr, are you not?"

Harry gives a mournful look at her knowing expression, "Always so quick to suspect me of mischief, my Queen. I am wounded by your sharp suspicions. But... a special occasion is imminent, so how could I not?"

He sweeps her to the table before she can question him further, ruffles his godson's hair, and shares a grin with his son.

Loki laughs, delighted by the sight of his father crouching before him.

"Come on now, son of mine. I am already growing older by the moment," his father moans, and Loki jumps on the opportunity.

Literally. His father gives a loud oof, and lifts Loki up from waist to shoulders with a mighty 'heave-ho'. His hands are wrapped around his father's head, and Loki can feel the rumbles of his father's laughter against his own legs, "One day I will have to say no, little one. When you are far too big and far too heavy to ride on my shoulders."

Loki rises to thrilling heights when his father straightens, even higher than Dáinn's antlers.

"That one day is not today, Father," he points out, and is left giggling and breathless after a tickling session for his cheek.

"Show me what you have there, son."

His son grins, and Harry feels the swelling pride in himself. There is a pocket dimension sewn into the folds of his son's clothes, and Loki giggles when he pulls the items out of from the hems of shirt sleeves and inner pockets like a true magician.

First is a sulphurous rock from Asgard's healing springs, followed by a selection of stones from the crystallized caves of Asgard. The last is a long, white bone, picked clean and pocked all over with teeth marks - scavenged from the long-forgotten stashes of Odin's lupine familiars.

The smile is in his voice, "Well done."

Loki coaxes the fire to take hold, under the watchful eyes of his father. There are many other methods to produce fire - sparks to ignite tinder and subsequently kindling, friction to garner heat and smoke - but this is something on an infinitely smaller scale.

He has done this before, and he feels the slow bloom of heat and light in the cradle of his palm. His father gently guides his wrist to the flat dish where the bone lies, "Careful now. You need a little more air to sustain it. Feed in a little more seiðr as well."

Loki does so, and feels his father lift the flame to the bone. The flame grows a little brighter when his father handles it - taking well to the bone.

Father allows his hand to draw back away from the steadily growing flame. The heat of the flame is seemingly extinguished with a wave of his father's hand, and Loki looks on from the invisible shield as the white of the bone burns to the colour of midnight. His father motions with his palm, and Loki watches as an invisible hand wrought from seiðr presses upon it, the charred bone now nothing more than a little molehill of ash.

"This is known as bone black. Some of the ladies use it to line their eyes, and the artists and scribes use it for the stark black lines in their masterpieces and calligraphy. There are a great many uses for it as well, such as the removal of poisons, but today it will be none of those I've mentioned today."

Loki frowns, and his father merely ruffles his hair, "No sulking now, little one. I promise that there will be a worthy ending to this lesson."

Next are the rocks from both the cave and the healing springs, both crushed without ceremony with invisible tendrils of seiðr.

The fine powders are gathered into separate dishes, and his father shows him how to sort out the ratios of bone black to crystal to sulphur.

There is nothing magical about it, even when Loki is told to wrap tendrils around the mixture. He feels it in his mind's eye; the coarseness and grit, but then his father sends enough force between two grains to spark. He feels the ignition - sheer power in the form of light, heat and power, felt even through the barrier that his father has put up.

It is an inexplicable thing made explicable - his father telling him how some powders can become explosions, his magic as a third eye in showing him how the explosions come from the different types of piled dust when packed tightly.

There will be a celebration tonight - the start of an annual celebration that had been discontinued in the times of war. There is joy and anticipation, and Loki knows a secret. Loki runs ahead of his father, through the underbrush and onto the path that bisects the tiny plot of forest within the castle... right in front of the Queen.

Loki freezes, even though he knows that he should be greeting the Queen and her handmaidens.

There is a furrow between the Queen's brow, and Loki shrinks away from her outreached hand. She grasps his shoulder gently, and sweeps his cheek with her free hand. The finger comes away with a faint dusting of bone black, and the fingers that comb his hair comes away with more than a dead leaf, and Loki feels sheepishness at his state of presentation.

Frigga looks down onto Haraldr's son, pondering the events that could have led to the little boy turning up in the middle of the tiny orchard looking like a wayward child gallivanting in the mud and bushes, when Haraldr himself emerges from the forest looking no better. The giggle escapes her throat, unexpected but not unwelcome.

There are leaves hanging to his cloak and hair, breeches and boots stained with mud, and the same black powder staining his brow and fingers. This... Haraldr Hjortrson is a rare sight, a far cry from the immaculate General that most of Asgard normally sees, but many Realms better than the blood-stained version of the War General that Frigga has glimpsed before.

Loki escapes to his side, and Haraldr simply smirks at them before bowing. The bow is coupled with seiðr, which wipes away everything except for the wicked curve of lips and the devilment reflected in emeralds, "My Queen, and fair Ladies of the Court, pardon our quick departure, for we have much to accomplish tonight."

He straightens, leather and metal immaculate once again in the sunlight -a strong wind buffets the crown of the trees, and when Frigga looks back, both father and son have vanished along with the gust.

The young prince is now under the supervision of the scribes, and Hogun finally has the opportunity to sate his curiosity - provided that Volstagg can lift his head far enough from the spit-roasted boar. There has been nothing but excitement and anticipation flooding the halls for the entire week, and Hogun has reached his tolerance for Volstagg's knowing demeanour whenever a flurry of commotion resounds nearby.

"What... is this celebration about?"

There is a blatant smile on the elder guard's face, and Hogun very nearly regrets cracking under the strain of curiosity.

"Ah... The origin is unclear - the events happened long before my time, and there are precious few records that are allowed even to those residing within the Palace; and though we Ӕsir are long lived, but our memories are not. Some say that the celebrations are the result of a permanent truce with the Vanir or a great war won over another Realm, others say that it was the celebration of King Odin's brother coming into the world."

"There are no brothers to the King."

Volstagg grows somber, "As I said, it is naught but hearsay. It is taboo to venture further into this line of conversation - I merely share what I know of it."

Hogun's lips are pressed into a hard line, and he nods in acknowledgement.

The Prince has all the makings of a leader and a hero, Volstagg thinks, as he follows the children around on their 'adventures'. The young outlander Fandral is quickly pulled into Thor's paces as a partner in mischief and troublemaking. Loki is conspicuously absent from the adventures in the days of late, and the father-son duo have offered nothing but cryptic words and smiles to the soldiers - outside of the customary sound thrashings during the combat sessions with the soldiers.

It makes his brother in arms fearful of what is to happen as well, and Sigmarr had been exceptionally articulate in describing their thoughts: "If one pint-sized personification of Chaos has created such trouble, then I fear what Hjortrson is capable of."

He lets the two fair-haired boys run free into the Great Hall, keeping an eye on them long enough to make sure that they have reached the table where the King and Queen of Asgard are seated. His duty is done for now, and Volstagg makes a beeline for the table where his fellow guards have already started feasting.

Fandral thinks that he has never seen so much food in his life. There is an excess of it, all of the dishes seemingly competing with each other, mouth watering already just by appearance. This is not Asgardian fare, but Prince Thor seems to be used to the sheer volume and variety of it all.

The Allfather is at the head of the table, Prince Thor on one side, and Fandral right beside him. On the other side of the table sits the Queen, followed by a boy about the Prince's age - Loki, if Fandral recalls properly - and then the General Haraldr Hjortrson. The man stands out in the sheer tawny backdrop that is the great dining hall, as well as the festive colours that even the servants are wearing.

"The food is especially sumptuous tonight, Haraldr," the Queen's gentle tones draw Fandral's attention, and he directs his gaze from where Loki spears a piece of meat to feed his father, fist clenching as something in his heart tightens.

"Volstagg's critique is invaluable, despite the fact that he eats his weight in gold, and the kitchens have much experience in the mass preparation of meals, My Queen," he pays no further interest to the conversation - it is of no import in his report back to his... sire. The feast continues in its festivities, with drink and food all around - even on the floor and walls of the great hall.

Fandral has had enough of the food and sweet juices that run freely; the food sits in his stomach like a rock. But the hall quiets all of a sudden, and Fandral jerks his head toward the furthest end of the table. Men and women are looking just as confused as he, and though their mouths move, barely any sound is issued.

The Allfather stands at this moment, and makes an address to all in the Hall. His voice rings and echoes through the halls and through Fandral himself, proclaiming the might of Asgard and its peoples. The sheer prestige of standing at the top of Yggdrasil, protector of the weak and helpless.

It sounds true and convincing - but it is nothing more than a gilded lie. The weak and helpless are not present in these golden halls of Asgard to give voice to their plight; they scurry about in hidden passages and barely sustain themselves in the shadowed corners of the Realm.

The lies eventually end with the conclusion of the Allfather's speech - and the deafening cheer rises out of throats. There is movement that catches Fandral's eye then - Hjortrson's pointer finger directed towards the end of the hall.

Something shoots out, brighter than the starlight against the dark night. It leaves a falling tail of gold dust, silencing the crowd, and pings against the wall at the far end. There is something like panic and horror when the wall shudders and heaves, and there are frightened yells and shrieks when a golden bilgesnipe emerges from the walls.

It stands on thin air, shedding gold dust with each movement. It shakes enormous scaly horns, and bellows a deep guttural sound that Fandral has never heard from any creature before. Hooves thunder across the invisible platform as it rushes down the hall and out between the columns.

Everyone is frozen for a moment, but the Prince shouts and then scrambles out of his chair to follow the ethereal beast. The rest follow, and Fandral is dragged along with the Prince.

The bilgesnipe of molten gold runs.

Nimble feet pump the monstrous creature upwards, navigating some unseen cliff face. It stands at the top for a heartbeat, horns shaking at the sky, and then takes a leap. It is gone in a breathtaking shower of gold dust.

Loki counts down in his head, and grins when the first volley goes up, balls of tightly packed powder and metal dust flying higher than even the surrounding mountains. The walls are bathed in orange, and the falling lights briefly coalesce into the native creatures of Asgard. There are wolves and birds of prey that shimmer briefly, and the newer 'fireworks' quickly outshine those. There are sounds of surprise and awe as the crowd on the overhang below watch the dueling stags.

There is a hand on his hair, and his father whispers, "Looks much better than I imagined, right?" Loki giggles - it is many Realms different from the reedy scrawls that his father has drawn on parchment. Countless more sky explosions rumble through Asgard, but it is definitely the last one that is Loki's very favorite.

There is a winged serpent, resplendent in silver and emerald scales - the people cry Níðhöggr! in voices of fear mixed with awe - that flies skyward, and shatters into a thousand million silver shards, floating downward like enchanted snowflakes. His eyes are caught by two in particular; shining brighter than all the others, and Loki places his hands together to cup them. They are cool to the touch, and when the light fades, his breath is caught in his chest, as his father whispers, "These are yours to wield."

They are the half of his father's famed quadruple daggers.

It is not to say that I do not appreciate reviews or criticism - but I have had quite enough on receiving flak about my writing style. Sometimes that one review just ruins my writing mood. Transliterations is a story where there is a lot of inference and certain things in current chapters will only become clear when future chapters are posted. I insert partial plot-lines into every chapter, because that is the only way that I can keep track of them - by reading through and vetting my own chapters.

In the case that the select few have not noticed, the start of every chapter has my personal disclaimer - that this is my story, and I write it the way I see fit. I simply do not have the luxury of time to write a story that you want to read - I merely set aside time in my schedule to write things that I would have liked to read. If you do not agree, it would be best that you not return to Transliterations as a reader.

Fixed: some missing words from the first few paragraphs. I swear ffnet has been eating the words from my document. Kudos to Travis for pointing it out.