Author's Notes: Here we are with more! I am sorry for the gap between updates - but the next few entries most likely will have gaps between them. I am working on finishing my original novel this winter, and that is taking up most of my time. I have been writing ficlets and drabbles when my original work stumps me, so, maybe a few of those will be posted - But! Updates are still coming, just no longer once a week. :)

Part X: "as our eyes open"

Heimdall's Observatory was still crawling with shadows by the time they reached the bridge, their weapons drawn.

Over the walls, ghostly creatures screamed in reckless abandon, their talons grasping for purchase on the bronze colored walls. The clawed and struggled for handholds and footholds, and yet it was no use.

"Heimdall," Odin's voice was a thunderclap, more powerful than even Thor's. "Who made their way through?"

"Draugr," the Gatekeeper did not blink as he gave his reply. He twisted his sword in its sheath, and the chamber rumbled ominously. But no more of the creatures made their way through. Their cries still echoed from the cosmos beyond. "They were caught in the shadows from the Álfar's travels."

"How?" this time, Odin spoke in an incredulous whisper.

"They moved past my Sight," Heimdall said. His hands flexed once about the hilt of his sword, the only sign he would give as to how disturbing the truth of his words was to him. "They walked where I could not see them go."

"Draugr?" Thor echoed. "But they have been asleep since the Great War. What you say passes the realm of reason, Gatekeeper."

Loki was silent as to Thor's words, instead looking at Odin's face. Sif watched the exchange, hating that the Allfather did not blink, that he did not look on her brother's words as surprise.

"Fine, I'll bite," Clint said from the back of the group. He was thrumming the string of his bow as if it were a harper's instrument with his restless energy – he having come upon a fight where there was no enemy to grant blows to. "What are draugr?"

"Undead Viking spirits," Tony was the one to answer Clint's question. He spoke as if reciting the information from rote. He blinked at the looks he received. "What?" he asked defensively. "Didn't anyone else do their research?"

"Quite," Thor gave after a moment, "but not quite the way your stories would tell the tale." He was moving his weight from foot to foot, unable to hold still when he wished for action – for results. Sif felt her heart clench when she thought of the Lady Jane with her eyes closed and her body boneless, her breath still as if in death . . . She clenched her own fist about her shield, sharing her friend's pain as her own. Her shield pulsed softly, whispering of foul magicks and tainted things . . . She could taste the cloying stink of dead flowers on her tongue. Her nose ached with the stench. "During the Great War, Odin breathed life into the soil of the Deathless Moon – a barren world of Múspellsheimr where the heart of Surtr is buried. He created an army from death – the draugr, to live and die as warriors who could not know pain or fear or death. And then, when their task was done, and Jötunnheimr had fallen, they were returned to slumber.""

"All but for one," Loki said softly. His eyes were glowing an eerie, uncanny green – the seiðr underneath his skin reacting to the pulse of seiðr in the air. He was picking at the calluses on his hands – a trait he had been unable to train away since their fledgling years. "Thorolf the Restless, who refused to return to sleep once bidden."

"Who now slumbers on the Morrígan's moon in a forced stasis," Odin brushed away Loki's words. "His unholy power is far from our worry."

"Slumbered, Allfather," came a deep, strong voice from the entrance of the chamber, and all looked to see where the Morrígan had followed, Annan grave and grim as she stood before her sisters. "Thorolf the Restless did so slumber."

Sif tensed at the other's words. While she herself was War; her strength and might and losses, the Morrígan were born of war and the fertility of the blood spilled upon the battlefields. In some respect, they were as sisters. In others, Sif could admit to not understanding another as she did the three fold cord of unnatural sisters.

"He has been fighting our wards since he was laid to rest, Allfather," Annan said, a tired note lining the edge of her voice. "This you have known, and yet . . . He has had help. He has been fed. Someone from the outside – a seiðrmanðr. He would need support from the outside to risk being so bold in moving the After-walkers through."

"Your bridge crawls with the stink of the Restless," Badb whispered, her voice a low rasp from her throat.

"How can you have not sensed it?" Macha asked incredulously. She looked at Loki, and raised a brow. "Or has your time on Midgard so dulled your senses, second-son?"

Thor waved a hand, cutting through their words before Loki could speak in answer. "And yet, I do not understand – how would that effect Jane?" at last, he wavered over the shape of her name. He could not keep the unease from his voice. His face, normally so expressive in joy and anger both, was twisted into the look of a child, a lost, panicked look that Sif cared for but little on her friend.

Coming up on Thor's left was Natasha. For all of the elegance of her evening wear, her hands too were fists. She bit her lip and narrowed her eyes – forcing herself to stillness, listening where she wanted movement and action. "Or Bruce?" she added, and where Thor's voice had taken on such a feeling, her voice did the opposite. She was stillness and glacial ice in that moment – not an emotion resided in her voice.

"Eir is seeing to your Lady, and your companion," in that moment Odin's voice sounded old . . . old and tired. "Of a more pressing matter is the seiðrmanðr. He would have to be close in order to summon such a force. We may still be able to give chase."

"Closer than you think, Allfather," Annan said. "The seiðrmanðr in question would have had to dine with you this eve. He walks amongst you, wearing the fair face of a friend while weaving his trickery unseen in the shadows."

A heartbeat passed. All were silent for but a moment, and Sif could feel as the animosity in the chamber turned from an outside force to one within. Loki, she realized with a pang. They would suspect Loki . . .

Surly enough, each gaze in the room had turned to Loki. Sif could feel the menace on the air, the static charge of feeling that was like the air before lightning struck.

"Of course," Tony was the one to speak first, the tones of his voice glacial. "Undead Viking zombies – it has his name written all over it."

He took a threatening step forward with his words. There was a hardness in Clint's eyes, reflected in Natasha's gaze. Steve's arms were crossed, and Thor . . . Thor opened his mouth as if to speak in his brother's defense, but even his great believe wavered. Instead, his gaze took on a look of such a pain . . . Betrayal sparked in his eyes as he moved closer to Loki's side – a hand held out as if he were unsure of whether or not he wished to strike his brother or put a hand on his shoulder.

"Loki?" Thor asked, his voice a wound from his throat, and -

Sif looked, and saw that Loki was looking at them all like a deer caught before a hunter's bow. She saw where his face flashed before drawing to stillness. And she thought only he could not. He would not . . .

Would he?

But he looked, and saw only her doubt.

She watched where his mouth opened, ready as he was to defend himself, before he closed his mouth and decided against words. She watched where he closed himself off to anyone and everyone, and instantly, she stepped forward, an apology on her lips -

No, I did not mean -

But it was too late, he stepped back from them, and disappeared into the shadows.

"Loki!" she called after him, her voice sounding desperate to her own ears. "Loki, come back!"

Thor came to her side, and he too wore his worry on his face for all to see. A dozen conflicting thoughts flashed through his eyes – worry for Jane, and worry for his brother, and underneath all, such a doubt . . . A betrayal.

"Loki would not do so," she turned and uttered her words as a truth. She dared any to say otherwise with her eyes. "There were many in attendance tonight. It could have been anyone."

Thor's mortal companions did not share her confidence, she could see. But she could not blame them for their doubts. She could only stand with her hands held as fists and believe.

"He has not left my Sight this eve," Heimdall's voice was a low rumble, heard in their bones as a defense for Loki's sake came from where she least expected it. He spoke to Odin alone. "He is not the enchanter you seek."

Tony snorted. "Of course, he is adapt at making people see what he wants them to see," his voice was all but a snarl from his lips, and Sif felt the battle-beat light at her veins. He spoke so out of concern for his companion – his brother in arms, and yet, so did she.

"Father," Thor protested. "I do not think -"

"Enough," Odin held up a hand. "Either Loki was the enchanter we seek, or we shall need his help in ascertaining who summoned the After-walkers this night. Guards," Odin looked to where the sun cloaked warriors waited upon the bridge. "Return him."

The guards bowed, and turned to do as bid. Sif watched them go, thinking that it would not be easy for them to return Loki if he did not wish to do so, but before she could ask leave to accompany them, Heimdall tilted his head.

"Eir calls," the Gatekeeper said to Odin. "Your presence is needed, Allfather."

Thor's head snapped up. "Jane?" he looked to Heimdall. "How fares she?"

"She awakens," Heimdall said after a moment. "And yet, she is not alone."

Worry, sick and bitter twisted at her throat, and Sif instead found that she was one step behind Thor and his companions as they made their way to the Healing Chambers. Behind them, deep in the crossroads of the bridge, the moans of the After-walkers sounded.



Loki tore through the ways between the ways with a wild abandon.

The restless screams of Thorolf's shades followed him as he immersed himself in the shadow realm – searching through the ether that made up all the worlds with claws made to tear. He bared his teeth to the roar of magic in the air, he narrowed his eyes, and sought out the dark threads that connected the gross creatures on the byway to an enchanter's touch . . .

He inhaled. He smelled the rot of decaying flowers and burnt flesh, and thought only, let him come.

The feasting Hall was alive with the touch of magic, and he searched through each and every spark of life that made up those in attendance. The crowd spoke in open murmurs. Worry was worn in eyes, and restlessness quivered underneath the skin of those who wished for movement and more.

Distantly, he could hear as his mother sought to control the crowd. Her powers were subtle, but they settled over those gathered like an embrace, calming nerves and soothing tempers with few even recognizing the fine way they were played. For a moment, Loki turned into the soft caress of her powers, and breathed in . . .

Only to exhale, ready to search again.

Every one of the Álfar in attendance bore the touch of seiðr about their souls. Loki searched, but could only feel the natural connection to the elemental forces that made up the world. He could not find malice. He could not find decay.

And so, he narrowed his eyes and dug deeper.

Next, he searched amongst the Aesir. He could feel the familiar raging souls; the spirits that were made of fire, set as eyes and sworn shields upon the height of the Mother's high boughs.

. . . and finally, he could feel the Yggdrasil touch her starlit boughs against his senses.

My son? She rumbled into his thoughts like thunder upon the horizon. What is it who you seek?

I seek he who thinks to set shades as insects about your limbs, he whispered. He who thinks he can walk your ways in shadows, away from the sight of all.

He could feel her stars for eyes upon his spirit. He felt as her all seeing gaze fell upon his soul . . . And he bared himself. He let her look. He let her see the desperation in his veins, the low burning anger he could feel gnawing at his bones. He let her see the hurt in Thor's gaze, how it pricked at his own skin as a blow . . . he let her see the doubt in Sif's eyes, how upon seeing so his breath came as an ache in his lungs. He let her see the question held by all.

And rightly asked, was a more piercing pain than any other thought. It was deserved. It was warranted . . .

Please . . . he whispered. Let me see.

The Mother did not reply, but he could feel as his senses stretched. He could see everything now; see the shadow-realm made light and bare before his senses. He looked, and could see what he could not before – he could see which of the Álfar gathered had brummimir's halves, he could even see a maiden or two amongst the Aesir with Valkyrie souls, yet to be gleaned by Brünnhilde for her rank of celestial warriors. He could see . . .

And he could follow the touch of the unnatural, the touch of that which was made of grave soil and dead winds. He could smell the stench of decay; taste the flavor of rot on his tongue as he pushed . . .

Only to step out of the shadows in one of the hidden corners of the gardens.

He took a moment to adjust from the shift from the intangible to the physical world before looking around, instantly expecting to see a foe to fight. But there was no one near. He stretched out his senses, hearing as one fled, but he paused from giving chase, instead looking down to find where a glowing gem had been cast in the enchanter's haste to retreat.

Raising a brow, Loki stepped forward, and reached down to where an great violet stone of an amulet had been hastily hidden behind one of the ornate benches that lined the path. The gem pulsed with power, as if it had a heartbeat of its own. He hesitated before touching the amulet, feeling the sick power that fed it, or rather . . .

This is how the seiðrmanðr has been feeding Thorolf, he realized. They were connected, the Draugr-king and this gem.

But who . . . Who in Asgard would be helping such a creature? Who, and why?

It was a question that would have to be answered at a later time, Loki finally decided. For the amulet pulsed in his hand – a brilliant, uncanny light seemed to seep through the facets of the stone, trying to escape. And, if his theory was correct . . .

He needed to get to Eir. There was no time to waste; not if they wished to find their enchanter at the cost of Thor's companions.

Loki looked down the garden path and inclined his head. Well played, he sent the thought to his cloaked adversary. But only just. Next time, you shall not be so lucky.

But the night was silent in reply, and Loki stepped back into the shadows without another glance behind.



The healer's chambers were awash with commotion when they arrived. Eir's apprentices ran to and fro, carrying everything from warm cloths to warded totems and potions and healing stones.

The Master Healer herself presided over Jane and Bruce at the front of the main chamber. Eir, born of both Álfheimr and Vanaheimr had been one of Frigg's companions to accompany her from Vanaheimr to Asgard when she had wed the Allfather as his queen. She was old enough to have delivered both the Allmother in birth and Thor himself – though one could scarcely tell from looking at her. She had a kind, maternally face, only the crinkles at the corner of her eyes betraying her age. Her skin was a warm shade of brown, and her hair the color of the soil after the rain, done into a long braid that hung as a thick rope about her shoulder. She wore the white robes of a Healer, dyed a deep scarlet about the sleeves and neck to denote her rank.

But now her brow was creased, and her gentle aura sparked with power and command as they entered. Sif paused at the doorway, feeling the brunt of the Healer's powers as they danced across her skin.

Thor had no such moment, instead marching to where Eir did her work. He stood between both Bruce and Jane, taking Jane's hand in his own even with her body spasmed violently, as if a force beyond Jane were trying to move her limbs and give breath to her lungs. Her eyes were open, but they were a glazed, grey color, absent of the warmth and glow that Sif normally associated with the mortal woman.

Sif felt her hand tighten about her shield, as she stood useless against a foe no blades could strike.

On the bed next to Jane's, Bruce was fighting the same fight, but his convulsions were more subdued. His face was a grimace, but his eyes remained closed. Sif bit her lip, and watched as they both fought. As they struggled.

"What is happening?" Thor looked to Eir, his wide eyes desperate for answers – for action.

Eir's voice was sharp in reply. "A spirit," she answered as she tried in vain to cast another charm about Jane's struggling form. A blue light bloomed over her chest, spreading as if it had wings, only to shrivel as if consumed by smoke and fade away. "He searches for succor in two holds. In your Lady's mind, and," she gestured to Bruce, "your companion. He has the ease of it in the mortal's mind. And yet, there is something in his skin that fights the transfer. It has been near an age since I have met a mortal with such a strong beast-soul, and I can do more harm than good helping him right now."

Natasha and Tony stood right at Bruce's bedside, while Steve and Clint stayed back and out of the way as best they could. Natasha was staring down with a mask of a face as Bruce struggled, but her knuckles where white when she leaned forward to brace her weight about the gilded edge of the bed. Tony's mouth was working as if he wanted to do something - anything more than he was.

Eir's eyes snapped to Odin before she gestured impatiently at the Allfather. "Here," she said without preamble. "I need your help." She placed her hand on one side of Jane's face, her long fingers touching both the curve of her cheekbone, and the dip of he temples.

Odin obeyed Eir without a word, rank forgotten between them as he placed his weathered hand against Jane's pale skin. Eir was concentrating, chanting, and Odin's eyes had taken on a bright, uncanny shade of blue, much like Loki when he worked his enchantments, and Sif watched, fascinated . . . For while his role as King tied Odin to the Mother in the most literal of ways – allowing him the full extent of her power and pride – she had scarce seen him work his magicks. Odin was their warrior king, and he subdued with a sword and ruled with a spear . . .

Jane's struggles took on a new edge. Thor was forced to back away as she thrashed, all without a sound before she sat up straight and let loose a long, keening wail, an eerie sound that reminded Sif of lost souls and searching spirits. She clenched her shield tighter. She felt the seiðr there as it pulsed in reply.

But then Jane stilled. She remained upright, her body calming from her struggles to take on an odd, jerky animation. She looked around the room with curious, detached eyes, still glazed a milky shade of grey. She tilted her head, an inhuman expression that had all in the room stilling. Eir and Odin backed away as she started muttering underneath her breath in a harsh sing-song language that Sif recognized as the Hel-tongue. The black speech of souls.

On the bed next to Jane, Bruce continued his struggles. His companions looked torn between trying to help him, and watching Jane as she looked down at her hands as if they were foreign to her.

And finally, Jane smiled. It was the eeriest expression Sif had yet seen in her long life.

"Thorolf," Odin said, coming to stand before Jane so that he looked her in the eye. The room hushed in the wake of his words. The torches flickered on the walls with the force of the Allfather's might. Sif could feel a chill as it bit at the air, and she was not sure which force within the room was to blame. "You were confined to your sleep in payment of your crimes. Why do you now walk the Realms anew?"

Jane tilted her head to the right. Her hair fell down from the elaborate coils she had worn for the evening to fall askew across her eyes. She blinked as a crooked grin stretched across her face. "Allfather," she greeted, and her voice all but slithered. It was not Jane's voice, but . . .

Thorolf, Sif realized dumbly. He was inside of her. He was speaking through her.

And the thing that was not Jane laughed. The sound crawled up and down her bones like insects. She turned, and saw where Tony bore a look of disgust. Natasha leaned forward over Bruce as if just her presence could keep the thing that was Jane from Bruce as well.

"You cannot take away life once given," Jane clucked her tongue at the Allfather as if chastising a small child. "Or did you forget? For so easily does the House of Odin fail to honor its vows . . ."

"I do not forget, Thorolf," Odin returned. "You gave up your right to a true soul when you took lives that were not yours for the taking. You walked outside of the parameters of your existence."

Jane snorted. She waved a hand in dismissal. "The last breaths of dying souls? The last flickerings of fading heartbeats? I do not consider that a theft, not when it gave us succor. When it gave us warmth. Warmth, which you denied us . . . You raised us from ash to fight against the monsters from the ice, and never once thought about warmth. Flesh and blood and souls . . ." Jane's voice had taken on a lost, wistful edge. She looked at Odin, but for a moment, her eyes saw only beyond.

Odin was silent for a heartbeat. The line of his mouth had hardened. "Your grievance is with me, Thorolf," Odin finally said. "It has nothing to do with the child here."

"The child," Jane's voice purred over the word, her glazed eyes rolled back in her head, "is she who mended the Mother's branches. She knows the paths that would lead us to warmth. She knows the paths that would lead us to sustenance. And we will drink. We will feast. We will create souls for ourselves from the light of others – we will give ourselves the souls you denied us."

"And yet," Odin returned, "no matter how gifted, her mind is still a small mind. A mortal mind. Your presence will destroy her, and with her, the paths you wish to walk."

Thorolf was silent for a moment. Jane turned her head towards Bruce, and Sif could see the hunger there. The crazed look of thirst. "Perhaps, in time," Thorolf agreed from Jane's mouth. "And yet . . . his mind is no such confined space. He too knows the ways. He too has helped the child here. His mind, Allfather . . . his warmth . . . how magnificent. Alive like new growth. Alive like a great, green spring. And for we who have known naught but winter . . ." Jane inhaled deeply as a shiver went through her body like a wave. The grey in her eyes flickered, darkening like smoke above a flame.

"Allfather," Jane whispered, "We shall bring such a winter to Asgard eternal . . ."

Sif felt a weight like storm clouds brought low over the room, settling as a haze, as a chill about them all. As Thorolf started to laugh from Jane's throat, there was a commotion from right behind them. Sif turned, and from the shadows at the entrance to Eir's hall, Loki materialized from the shadows. Sif felt her heart lift as she saw the familiar green and violet mist free him, as she watched his limbs take shape and his eyes glint the green of his magicks.

But he did not look at her, she realized after a moment. He looked only at Jane – Jane who was not Jane as they knew her, and Bruce from where he still struggled, and he stepped forward. In his hand, he held a glowing purple stone. Sif looked down at it and felt her skin crawl, even as dead to the ways of seiðr as she was.

It was unnatural, the gem he held.

"Then a winter you shall know, Thorolf," Loki said as he took Gungnir from where Odin had let the spear rest. He threw the amulet on the ground, and with the staff of Gungnir, he thrust -

- the gem did not break, but a light did shoot up from the amulet in a great white flare of power. Sif turned, and saw where Thorolf struggled in Jane's body. He screamed from Jane's throat, but the light only blazed on brighter before going out completely. And Jane slumped back against the bed, boneless. Next to her, Bruce's body stiffened, pausing with one last violent tremor before he too found stillness.

All was silent. Loki reached down with a slow, deliberate gesture to pick up the amulet, aware of the unkind eyes that were torn between watching him and watching Jane and Bruce. Eir had no such inner battle, and she rushed forward to tend to her patients, muttering diagnostic spells under her breath as she sought to see the extent of the damage Thorolf left behind.

The amulet was still whole, Sif noticed, surprised. It was just a dead gem in his hands, absent of power. It slumbered . . . for now, she suspected, for such was often the way of things.

"Here," Loki tossed the amulet to Odin, who caught it before looking down to examine the gem more closely. "Thorolf does not yet have the succor to cast his power across such a distance. He needed a focal point to send his power through – an anchor of sorts. He also needed an energy source to feed him. This – your seiðrmanðr was using this, and ran when he realized he was found. You know the mark of my magic, Allfather. This was not me."

Odin was silent for a long, long moment as he turned the amulet over. His eye was still an eerie shade of blue, seeing with the Mother's gaze before he blinked, and he was Odin again as she knew him

Tony was looking incredulously between Odin and his not-son. "Of course he knew where to find the amulet – he would, if he were the one using it."

Loki raised a brow, but it was Thor who beat his brother to his words saying, "And yet, Loki would need the aid of no such trinkets if it was he who summoned Thorolf from slumber." Thor was again at Jane's side – he had not looked up to side with his second, instead, his gaze was trained on Jane's face, waiting for her to open his eyes . . . Jane's hand was very small in his own, Sif thought. So very small.

Tony shifted his weight on the balls of his feet. He kept looking down anxiously, and Sif could see the worry that rested there. She tapped the fingers of her left hand against her thigh, anxious now that the threat had passed. Anxious and waiting.

Finally, Eir straightened from her hunched examination. Her eyes were troubled as she shook her head. "Thorolf may have been pushed back, but he has not departed. Their minds are not their own, and they sleep in Thorolf's slumber. He will . . . he will try again to break through."

"And yet, this was not his first attempt touching their minds," Loki muttered distantly.

Thor's head snapped up. He narrowed his eyes. "Brother, what do you mean?"

"Her headaches," Loki said, and there was a note of gentleness in his voice that had Sif more on edge than anything else than had been said that eve. "I assume that the doctor has been suffering the same." He looked over to Natasha for confirmation. She nodded her head mutely. Her mouth was a thin line, her jaw tense.

"Have there been nightmares?" Loki asked next.

Thor paused before answering. "Not that she would tell me . . . but her nights are restless. She does not sleep peacefully. She had said . . . she had said it was a human reaction to stress. That her healers on Midgard confirmed it."

Eir muttered a disdainful word in her mother tongue as she continued her examination about Jane.

"And Bruce?" Loki asked again, raising a brow at the Healer's pique.

"No worse than usual," Natasha said, steel lining her voice as she spoke. "He wouldn't have noticed the difference, anyway."

Odin was very still as he listened, as he processed the information as it was given. "Thorolf seeks to open the bridge then. It is as he said."

Tony stepped around Bruce's bedside. "Hold on a sec – I am having trouble following this. It's too much Dungeons and Dragons meets the Walking Dead." He gave a nervous, incredulous snort of laughter. "You are saying that once-upon-a-time, you created a race of deathless soldiers who are now ticked off about being retired . . . And they are inside Jane and Bruce's mind to . . . what, exactly? Open the bridge? To what end?"

"Thorolf has been gaining strength for some time now – since the bifröst was first opened, I suspect," Loki explained as simply as he could, glancing to Odin at first as if to ascertain his permission to speak. Odin was silent in reply; his one-eyed gaze unreadable. "He wishes for a corporeal body. A real soul. He has been siphoning off 'warmth' through that amulet there, and I suspect he has been sharing with his shades, giving them shape enough to travel."

"Travel . . ." Tony understood all too quickly. "Through the bridge, you mean? And then . . ."

"Draugr can be slain not by steel or any weapon of Midgard. They shall have the nine Realms to feast upon – they gather 'warmth' from the ether of living souls, and there will be no way to fight them," Loki said simply. "Heimdall's wards upon the byway will only last for so long. Thorolf shall have to be destroyed before he gathers strength enough to . . ."

He did not need to finish his thought. They all understood.

"For now," Odin finally said after a long, uncomfortable moment passed. "The first step is Thorolf. We may be able to use the foothold he has in your companion's mind to destroy him."

"Alright," Tony cracked his knuckles. Natasha leaned forward, eyes sharp and at the ready. "Where do we start?"

"Your favourite place, brother," Loki gave a half smile as he turned to Thor. "There are scrolls I must first review. The library has old texts about the Draugr. They must be revisited now." He looked up at Odin again, and paused when he realized that he had presumed to give action and direction. Odin met his gaze, and Loki bowed his head. Sif watched where a muscle in his cheek twitched. She could not read the thought that rested in his eyes.

"By your leave, Allfather," Loki said next. Sif listened for derision, but could find none. Instead . . .

Odin inclined his head in return. "Do your readings. We shall then decide on a course of action." The Allfather turned, no doubt to seek the counsel of his Queen and the Morrígan who waited just beyond. But her sovereign did not keep her gaze as she instead turned to look at Loki. Loki who would meet no gaze but Thor's. Sif felt a whisper crawl up and down her spine, accusing, deprecating . . . She had wounded him, she knew. She had broken faith so very easily . . . jumping away from a blade as one who had just been cut only a moment earlier in battle.

But there were larger things going on right then than bruised pride and hurt feelings. The Restless rose to walk again, and she suspected that the fate of the Realms rested on the ability of Loki to recover his old stride, his old footing . . . Along with those that Thor held as his shield and sword.

Sif swallowed, knowing the battle ahead would be fight on more than one field.

"If scrolls hold the answer," Thor rose from Jane's side. He did not let go of her hand until he had to. He looked smaller, somehow, Sif thought, his great strength turning as a question; his great confidence stolen as a breath. "Then within scrolls I shall seek. Lead on brother."

Thor inclined his head, and Loki waited a moment before turning. Something passed between them – a promise, a trust, and when they turned to leave, it was Loki who walked tall and Thor who looked behind. Sif fell into step behind them all, her shield held at ready until she could mend her blow of faith.

Behind them, Jane slept in silence, while, under her skin, the Restless crept.

End Notes

And the curtain is pulled away! Finally, I know! Now, for notes. ;)

Draugr: Draugr literally means 'after walker'. They are undead Viking spirits who possess superhuman strength, can increase their size at will, and carry the unmistakable stench of decay with them. They exist either to guard their treasure, wreak havoc on living beings, or torment those who had wronged them in life. They are also noted for the ability to rise from the grave as wisps of smoke and "swim" through solid rock,[which was how they exited their graves. In folklore, draugr could drive living people insane, and enter their dreams at will - like Thorolf here. Dragur have numerous magical abilities, such as shape-shifting, controlling the weather, and seeing into the future. Draugr are immune to weapons. So, in legends, the hero would often have to wrestle the draugr back to his grave, thereby defeating him. Although iron could injure a draugr, as is the case with many supernatural creatures, it would not be sufficient to stop it. basically, Draugr are no laughing matter - and while I have changed their origins here, they will still be much the same as those in the myths. But, we will learn more about them as the story goes on.

Thorolf: Was one of the more famous Draugr from the Eyrbyggja Saga, so I chose to give his name to the Draugr king here.