Please note that chapters have been consolidated, though they remain the same as before. I felt that the sections were too short and choppy, so hopefully this will give them a smoother continuity.
Thank you to everyone who has read so far and also to those who have reviewed. All feedback is very welcome and appreciated indeed!
Loki was loathe to leave the winding maze of catacombs. The swallowing darkness afforded him protection from unwanted eyes and ears, its stifling silence barely touched by his light tread over stone. The cool air had a lingering dank scent as it whispered its way through the columned halls, but he breathed it in deeply as he stepped through its lazy subterranean currents.
Reaching out to feel his way through the chamber, his hand brushed against a column and he paused, realizing where he was. Extending his fingers, he ran them across the smooth stone, until his hand dropped once more to his side. A sharp memory stung his mind and he instantly fought to keep it at bay, but found too late that it had melted through his defenses. Distant voices broke through the breathless quiet, young boys' voices…his and Thor's voices. Giggles from a hiding game behind the columns, triumphant shouts of discovery, the scuffle of the childish fight that always ensued. How many times had they defied a father's rules to stay out of the vaults? Thor was always the first in trouble as Loki cloaked himself in spells to stay hidden. But justice found him swiftly, with Thor later pouncing on him when he least expected before pummeling him into the ground.
Loki's mouth twitched, half amused. Escape required constant vigilance, as he had learned, lest worse retribution find him instead. As his harmless tricks turned treacherous over the years, caution and distrust became his most constant of companions.
The scuff of footsteps interrupted his reverie.
Turning, he lazily glanced at Sigyn and envisioned the branches of her thoughts. Focusing, he saw that the purple tendrils still whirled about her head just as fervently as before, her mind still alert.
Glad you could join me, Loki tossed the thought in her direction. Full-throated voices would be too dangerous in the echoing deep beneath the palace.
You know this place better than I, snapped the voice in the back of his head. You move too fast.
I thought you were escaping your engagement this evening. Perhaps you could do so with a little more speed?
There was a pause. What engagement?
The banquet you were to attend for Odin. The one he told me to make sure you attended. Loki rolled his head up toward the ceiling. Not that I'm obeying orders.
Sigyn shrugged. It was a ruse. I consider my work with the Chitauri to be mercifully finished now.
Loki raised his eyebrows, but continued to study the caverns above them. There's no escaping them until they've wrenched every last drop of usefulness from your hollow carcass. But I wish you the best of luck in the endeavor.
He felt her eyes boring into his back. Then they must not be finished with you. I would be surprised if Burvek cared enough to search for me now, but you, on the other hand…
Again, Loki broke the silence, this time risking a whisper. "I'm flattered by your estimate of my worth, but my chance has passed. I do not see how useful I can be to them now."
"Very," came her low response.
Something in Sigyn's voice snagged Loki's attention, but he dropped his chin and looked straight ahead, brow furrowed. He shook his head and started forward, his stride lengthening as he wound between the now familiar columns. The talk of Chitauri wearied him, and he did not need reminding, least of all from her, that they would tear the realms apart to punish him for his recent failures. They would find him— he had never doubted that. Almost unconsciously he picked up his pace as he counted the last column that marked the way out of the catacombs. A sharp turn right and down a slope, and he suddenly felt uneven rock beneath his boots just seconds before the sun struck his eyes, causing spots to swim before his vision. They would find him. If only he could gain the time to strike first—
A hand reached out to clutch his elbow and Loki wrenched violently away from it, effectively throwing Sigyn to her knees beside him. He stared down at her as a sharp irritation ignited within his chest.
"Do not touch me again," he growled.
"I was trying to keep up," Sigyn replied between gritted teeth.
Loki rolled his eyes and reached back to clutch a fistful of his cape. He held the material out to her at arm's length, his mouth hard. "Then follow."
Sigyn stared in shock at the brazen gesture. It was common custom that only servants handled the capes of their masters. Her eyes locked on his as she reached up to clench her fingers around the proffered cloth. Then she pulled hard, using Loki's counterweight to pull herself to her feet. A venomous spark shot through Loki's eyes as he felt the cloth tear beneath his shoulder plates, but Sigyn ignored it as she released the cape and watched it flutter unevenly behind him.
"I will follow at your side, but not behind you."
Loki was visibly nonplussed. He stared at her for a long time, his right hand slowly clenching and unclenching as he fought the anger rising in his throat. His vexation, however, gave way to surprise as the sound of a harsh, croaking call sliced through the solemn air.
It took only a moment before the realization struck him. "Back! Get back!" Loki hissed, snatching at Sigyn's wrist and dragging her back into the darkness of the caverns. They collapsed on the dirt floor behind a large column, and Loki hastily cast an ethereal pall about them, its dark netting pressing close against their skin as it pushed them toward the ground.
Sigyn had recognized the sound seconds after Loki, and now fought the confines of his cloaking device to gain a better view of the cave's entrance. Loki grunted as she pushed a palm into his stomach in her effort to climb over him, which forced a low growl from his chest. "What are you doing?"
"Covering our tracks." With a flick of her wrist, a violent wind swept up outside the cave, throwing dirt about until it hissed against the stones outside. Clouds of dust rose to choke the sunlight as the rush of air extended beyond the mouth of the catacombs until it whipped through the surrounding trees and dissipated like a wayward afternoon gust through the rustling leaves.
"Are you certain you didn't attract attention instead?" Loki glowered up at her.
"Better than leaving a definitive scent behind," Sigyn retorted. "Hiding isn't everything."
A deep squawk rent the air and was joined by another caw, its voice closing in on its companions'. Sigyn froze as two ravens flapped into view and lit upon the ground on the threshold of the cave. The pair cocked their heads in interest as they stared into the dim light, then overtook its shadowy border with clawed steps.
Loki pulled Sigyn behind him, but halted her momentum with a strong hand around her right shoulder. His eyes were wide and when she glanced at him, she saw his mind already calculating the next move. Their forms caught the sunlight shining through a crack in the rocky ceiling, and Loki noticed with a stab of alarm their huddled shadows extending before them. Loki's eyes scanned the tight mesh of magic about them and suddenly his fingers flicked into frantic, blurred motion as he deftly began sewing wispy black threads between the gaps of the net. With one hand he tugged Sigyn closer at the waist as he jerked the woven fibers with the other hand and pulled the cloak impossibly tight around them. Their shadows disappeared, leaving only sunlight shining on an empty floor.
A croak echoed closer and reverberated through the hollow halls, as the ravens rounded the farthest column and paused a few yards away. The smaller bird, the one Loki recognized as Muninn, fluttered closer and caught his eye for the briefest of moments. In the inky wells of the bird's pupil he saw Odin's one eye stare back at him, then look around, as if searching for something. Loki's breath seized, but he remained entirely still, barely daring to breathe.
Then Huginn and Muninn were hopping away, disinterested, and took to the air to explore the rest of the caverns. Loki let out a ragged sigh and threw a glance over at Sigyn, who had now turned her attention to studying the airy substance of the net. She extended a forefinger and plucked at a taught line, and Loki shivered as the reverberations of the illusion ran up his spine and tingled through the nerves to the core of his mind. His fingers clenched involuntarily around her waist, and she looked up to see his look of warning before she quickly withdrew her hand to her side. They crouched for what seemed like hours until the whirring of wings overhead announced the departure of the two black birds as they wheeled out into the fresh air and rocketed with unearthly speed toward the distant western hills.
Loki relaxed his fist and the cords of magic snapped backwards and dissipated in the dusty air. He stared ahead, unmoving. "I did not believe he could control Odin's ravens."
Sigyn pushed herself up into a sitting position and leaned her head back against the smooth pillar. "And why not?"
"They only respond to the Allfather's commands."
"And why shouldn't they now? You don't expect the dumb beasts to discern a disguise, do you?"
Loki shook his head. "They can see all the world, but not the true face of their master? No, they must know."
Sigyn snorted softly. "They're birds."
"They are Thought and Memory," Loki corrected, remembering Muninn's knowing look only moments before. "They traverse the Nine Realms to divine the secretive minds of men and gods, and return with the knowledge to the Allfather's ear. They see and hear all, and commit every action, every word to Odin's recollection. They are his chief spies, and we are now their chief prey."
Sigyn risked a sideways glance. "Would it not be easier to kill them?"
"That creature Burvek would know immediately. Huginn and Muninn return every evening without fail."
"Do you think they saw us?"
Loki shifted to give her a dour look. "I'm sure your little wind storm certainly caught their attention."
"Really? Would you say they could follow a scent?" Sigyn countered.
"Yes, these could."
"Then consider our tracks confused. I tried to make it as natural as possible."
"So you can control nature, is that it?"
Sigyn shrugged. "Vanir. Earth and fertility." She narrowed her eyes. "And what about you? What was that…web?"
Loki tapped his fingers against his knee and threw her a haughty glance. "An illusion very useful for hiding, though I dare say I was not prepared to have to stretch it so tightly."
Sigyn caught the disdain in his voice and felt a twinge of fury stab her chest. "I never asked you to!" she barked back. "You never gave me the chance to fend for myself."
"If I did, you'd still be wandering these caves in the dark."
"Getting momentarily lost and protecting oneself are completely different things!"
"Without the competence to do the former, I thought you would prove unable to perform the latter," Loki responded coolly.
"Typical 'all or nothing' Aesir mindset," Sigyn snapped, her brown eyes glittering. "Do you really see your world in black and white?"
Loki regarded her from under hooded eyes. "I cannot answer for my adopted realm, but a Jotun's world is very black and white."
"Then what am I?"
Loki flashed her a curious smile. "Gray."