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The guards made their third circuit of the narrow hallway outside of his prison in as many minutes. Their eyes, unsavory and lecherous, increasingly lingered on his huddled form as the days, weeks, and months passed without an appearance from his purported family. Despite Thor’s recurrent proclamations of eternal brotherhood during Loki’s farce of an invasion, he had yet to sully himself with a single visit to the dungeons beneath Asgard. The Allfather had refused to allow him a true trial, had ordered that Loki remain muzzled and voiceless. And his mother…

Frigga had kowtowed to the authority of the Allfather at every point. She had stood beside the throne, silently sanctioning Odin’s pronouncement that Loki should proceed directly to eternal imprisonment. Despite the austere tightness in her expression, he had nurtured a shred of hope. Her perpetual reticence notwithstanding, she had always been the one person who would listen to his side. Surely, she would see the myriad of hurts physically bowing his body and wonder at their origins. Surely his mother, a renowned sorceress in her own right, would perceive the lingering influence of the Mad Titan. She should be able to delve past the illusions that concealed the layers of damage, to divine the weeping sores both physical and mental that were screaming for discovery.

But she spoke not a word in his defense, had barely deigned him with a meager ounce of attention before she fled the hall. And so, he had been cast into the depths of the dungeon without being permitted to speak even a word in his own defense. After months and months of planning, it was all reduced to naught in nary an instant. While he had learned of his glorious purpose within the Void, he had devoted the curdling dregs of his sanity to planning the words that would assure his pardon. He had fantasized endlessly of how he would fold the truth within the lies, how he would assuage the heavy warding that had poisoned his mind while revealing to his mother the nefarious destiny of the universe.

He would stop it.

Everything.

And finally, perhaps the Allfather might pronounce him worthy.

Instead, he languished in his cell, unable to speak about the horrors that he had endured, unable to scream as the Mad Titan deduced his location, and unable to whimper as the Other began to press hooks anew into Loki’s shriveled mind. The constant bombardment meant that present consciousness was fleeting, but in the last few weeks, he had sporadically managed attention to his physical body.

In the past, despite his proclivity for mischief, there had rarely been proof of his misdeeds. Therefore, the majority of his punishments had been less formal, clandestine, and violent. His infrequent jaunts to the dungeons had been brief while his status as a prince had been intact. No one had dared touch him when that would risk retribution from the royal family. In addition, the threat of his seiðr had also contributed to maintaining some level of deferential uneasiness from the guards.

But now, their covert whispers about his suspected preferences had become overt. And as the weeks passed without any consequences, they began to gain confidence.

Muttered jeering transitioned into outright mockery. They discussed openly their plans for him and began to test the constraints of cultural taboos. When consequences remained nonexistent despite Heimdall’s famed limitless gaze, they began to toe the line of perversion. Their touches began to linger, first along his jaw when they removed his muzzle during mealtimes, and then glancing across other parts of his body when he endured in silence, only occasionally aware of the liberties that they were taking. They insisted on accompanying him at all times—when he bathed, when he relieved himself, when he changed clothes.

Yesterday, they had removed the muzzle and had never replaced it.

He knew that it was a matter of time. He had always been different—too thin, too pale, and too shrewd. It was a simple transition from freak to curiosity to conquest. Either the guards would make a move on him or the Mad Titan would come for him. He could not afford to dither and discover which would materialize first.

He had a single hope: in his seiðr lay both desecration and salivation.

Thor had locked shackles upon Loki’s wrists that were intended to keep his seiðr completely inert. A gift from the Allfather, their presence assured Odin that his authority over Loki’s magic was absolute, so absolute that the Allfather had never uncovered the negligible reservoir that Loki had warded within his body. Even as the manacles constantly burned through the dredges of seiðr that his body obstinately produced, seemingly trivial dregs seeped into his hidden cache. After months of constant torment, he thought that he might have accumulated just enough for his escape.

Today was his chance.

He hadn’t felt so present since before his tumble through the Void. Several days of effortful concentration had allowed him to glean the guards’ schedules. The shift change was coming, and typically, they were distracted for a few moments with conversation. It would provide him with his opportunity for flight. He needed to cast a spell to shield himself first, so that they wouldn’t see the bracers alight with the use of his seiðr, so that Heimdall could not track him, and so that he could break the hooks that were driving ever further into his mind. His remaining threads of seiðr would have to be enough to launch him away, to propel him anywhere else.

His ears strained from where he hunched upon his thin mattress, intent on discerning the sound of the heavy doors opening and the subsequent portentousness of armored footsteps. He felt dizzy, wondered idly if the sensation was due to a lack of nutrients, anticipation of what was to come, or fear of his failure.

After what seemed like hours but was perhaps mere minutes, the hinges creaked, and the thud of the double doors hammering against the wall thundered within the confines of the otherwise silent floor. Footsteps followed the straight path past his cell. There were two sets, more than he had anticipated, but not enough to derail his plans.

He shut his eyes tightly, endeavored to exaggerate the exhausted curves of his body and conceal the coiled tautness of his trembling muscles. Words reached him, his name among them, but he registered only the jeering tones. He concentrated on gathering his seiðr into his palms. His window of opportunity would be so very small.

He counted the seconds—twenty—before they moved away. It was another ten before the whispers that he had expected reached him from across the hall. Furtively, he recited the words in his head. Silent spellcasting was a rare skill, one that neither the Allfather nor the Allmother knew that he had learned. The shroud that descended in response stuttered at first, seiðr slipping past his shackles initially as a trickle and finally as a cascade. At long last, the voices in his head were silent and he could no longer feel the weight of Heimdall’s infinite gaze.

He pulled in a sharp breath through his nose, dizziness progressing rapidly enough that the possibility of impending collapse became a certainty. He desired fervently for a few moments of rest before he gathered himself for the next step. But Heimdall would have already noticed that he had faded from his sight, would surely be running by now to inform the Allfather. Time was a commodity that he did not possess.

And yet, when he collected himself for flight, his remaining seiðr wasn’t nearly enough. Mere drops remained, and they could not transport him across the room, let alone to safety. He had but one option left: blood magic. It was a tainted practice, and he had utilized it only one time—to seal away the core of himself from the Mad Titan in a last ditch bid to maintain his sanity. It was dangerous and unpredictable. It could easily backfire on the castor and render one inert.

He hunkered to better shield his face from the guards, prayed to the incessantly cruel Norns for elusive good fortune, and pressed his mouth against the soft underside of his arm. Blunt teeth tore into his flesh. His casting required an abundance of blood fast, but his freedom was worth the curse that would undoubtably ensue. Blood magic was corruption itself, power at the price of life, the path toward madness, the final ingredient in his devolution.

It was his only hope.

A surreptitious glance at the guards revealed that they remained distracted, heads bowed together, laughing enthusiastically at a joke that one of their indistinguishable number had shared. He ducked his head for his other arm. The result was carnage, could be easily mistaken as the rendering of a rabid animal. Yet it was tame compared to what lay beneath the glamour that he had managed to cast before Thor had locked him behind his bindings.

He watched as blood seeped from his skin. It was nearly enough.

The guards noticed at last. Distantly, he heard their shouts and the resonant ringing of their boots as they rushed for his cell. The dissolution of the barrier was the final ingredient that he had required.

It was finally enough.

He smiled the same mocking smile that he had worn when he arrived on Midgard as the guards faded from sight. He was away.

Colors whizzed by at a dizzying pace, jagged edges of realms tearing at his broken body as he passed. He had walked the paths between worlds countless times, but never like this—rudderless, powerless, and desperate above all else. He hurtled past a dozen exits, portals to various locations in Asgard. But it wasn’t far enough. Asgard was too small, and he would be defenseless at the completion of his casting. They would discover him within the hour.

And yet, he could not endure for much longer. Even with the augment of blood magic, transportation between worlds required a profusion of power that he could not sustain. Failure was a familiar outcome for him, and the flood of desolate despair a frequent accompaniment. Months of planning, all for naught. They would find him, capture him, imprison him again, and the torment that they had been promising for so long would finally come to pass.

But then he saw it. A fleeting yet familiar expanse of towering steel that gleamed enticingly in the sunlight. A cacophony of noises, the bustling of movement in all directions, the symphony of vehicles blasting displeasure, a multitude of languages overlapping. It wasn’t what he had hoped, but it was better than he had feared.

The site of his most covert success and paramount failure. A place that would never welcome him with anything other than a death sentence. Home of Stark Tower and the Avengers. Loki tumbled into New York City.