Hello, dear readers. Forgive me for the rather long hiatus. Not a day goes by that I don't think of this story. It's not going anywhere, until it is complete. :) My goal is to complete this story before the release of Thor: Ragnarok, if not earlier!
Note: the name of this chapter was inspired by Tom Hiddleston's Loki song, "Poison" by Prodigy. "I've got the poison; I've got the remedy." I thought that it was apt!
"Some legends are told
Some turn to dust or to gold
But you will remember me
Remember me for centuries
And just one mistake
Is all it will take
We'll go down in history
Remember me for centuries
We've been here forever
And here's the frozen proof
I could scream forever
We are the poisoned youth..."
- Fall Out Boy, Centuries
The air hummed, the whir of the engines in the back of the quinjet.
Thor hung his arms heavily at his sides, as he paced past the healing bed where Barton lay, Natasha and Steve attending to his wounds from battle.
If only he had brought some healing stones before he had left Asgard. Now would've been a good time to use one. But Natasha had reassured Thor that Barton would be fine, despite the layers of blood-stained bandages wrapped around Barton's middle...
The archer would be fine, Thor told himself, and he needn't worry.
Turning left, he paced towards the back of the quinjet, towards an indenture, where boxes of cargo lay underneath a small window. On top of the boxes, lay a glass case.
Thor's steps slowed, as he approached it, stepping into a faint, blue light emanating from inside the case. He halted and peered inside with a locked jaw, at the relic that lay within...
Lifting his hands, he hesitantly rested his fingers on the edge of the glass...
The glass felt warm. Strange.
His brow furrowed, as he stared into the blue gem set between the two sharp blades, it's pulsating core, beating like a heart, drawing in his focus, causing him to unconsciously lean forward...
The way it pulsated, the way it disturbed the air with faint whispers...
It's like it was alive.
He suddenly felt a chill on the back of his neck, like a cold breath. It made him shiver, and curl his fingers on the edge of the case.
Then his vision blackened, overtaken by a dark vision.
He lay on his back, on the ground—on a bed of stone. He couldn't see, it was so dark. In fact, it was so dark, he could feel the darkness, in his very bones.
As he tried to get up, and move, he realized he couldn't. His hands were bound by heavy chains, so tight, they dug into his skin.
As he was about to call out for help, two torches suddenly appeared, piercing out of the shadows—
Glowing the same color as the gem in Loki's scepter. Their burning gaze shot straight into Thor.
For a moment, he could not breathe. His very heart trembled, feeling small—like he was but a child again.
And then they began to advance on him.
With hyperventilating breaths, Thor struggled against his chains, unable to escape their fiery gaze, even when he tried to shut his eyes. He was about to call out, when a scream filled his ears—and it wasn't his own.
It tore through the shadows, hoarse, and raw. It made Thor's stomach twist, his heart slamming into his ribs, as the screaming ceased, changing into a soft whimper.
He knew the voice.
Thor's vision turned scarlet, as he fought with all his strength to break his chains—to get to his brother.
Beneath the burning eyes advancing on him, a sliver of a line appeared—a white row of teeth, shining in the dark—just before the creature vanished in a cloud of black smoke.
Thor awoke from the vision with a gasp, blinking against daylight, and engines whirring.
He stood once again before the glass case, containing Loki's scepter, his breaths coming in short, sweat collecting on his brow, his hands trembling on the warm surface of the glass...
Quickly, he recoiled his fingers from the glass, and wiped his brow, regaining even breaths. That's when he heard footsteps approaching, to his left.
He glanced over his shoulder, and relaxed a bit when he saw who it was.
The soldier pulled up beside Thor, eyeing him with soft eyes, and a twisted brow.
"You alright?" he murmured.
Thor cleared his throat.
"Fine," he replied, not meeting Steven's eye, gazing straight ahead. In his peripheral, he saw Steven rest his hands on his belt.
"Well, I guess this is it," the soldier sighed. "The end of our campaign. Now that we retrieved Loki's scepter, I suppose you get to go home."
"Yes," Thor nodded. "I hope my Father is pleased with the tribute."
"Tribute?" Steven chuckled, glancing over at Thor. "Won't he be glad, just to see his son returning home?"
Thor forced a smile.
"I suppose so." Inhaling sharply through his nose, he eyed Steve, and changed the subject. "As for you? What do you plan to do, now that this battle is won?"
"Well..." Steven sighed, gazing out the window straight ahead, at the clouds passing by. "I suppose my first order of business is to go looking for my lost friend. Assuming he wants to be found."
"Your friend, Barnes."
"Yes. Buck Barnes."
"He was your friend during your youth," Thor recalled. "You fought in the second great Midgardian war with him, correct?"
The soldier's gaze turned downcast, falling to his red, white and blue circular shield, which happened to rest against the cargo, by their feet.
"H.Y.D.R.A. did everything they could to erase him memory," Steven related, in a more hushed tone. "They tried their best to break him, and turn him into a shell of the friend I once knew. I wasn't sure if the friend I knew was gone, or if I could reach him anymore. But just before our fight ended, I saw the look in his eye, that he remembered me."
Thor swallowed thickly, as he listened.
"And then he saved me from drowning...just before he disappeared. I don't know where he could be hiding, or in what kind of mental state I might find him in. All I know is my friend, who was like a brother to me, is still alive. He's still out there, so I've got to go find him..."
Steven's words trailed off, like he could've said more, but was stopping himself.
Lifting his chin, he looked over at Thor, his eyes having gone wide. His tone turned soft:
"I'm sorry. About your brother, Loki. I didn't mean...to sound insensitive."
Thor shook his head.
"Not at all...You and Barnes were close."
"I know, but It's not the same. You and Loki were brothers. Despite everything...I'm sure you guys were once really close."
"Indeed...we were." His gaze grew unfocused as he stared out beyond the sea of clouds... "Like you, I wondered whether the brother I knew had died, or if he remained hidden, somewhere deep inside the changed man I saw. I had seen glimmers. And just as your friend saved your life...Loki saved mine. By dying with honor, he showed himself for who he truly was."
A slight smile spread across Thor's features. He lifted his gaze to the clouds outside the window, his chest feeling both warm and tight.
"Because of that, I am certain he entered Valhalla's gates...and was not shut out. In the halls of Valhalla, he is joined with our mother..."
Just then, Thor heard Loki's scream, tearing through the back of his mind.
His gaze flitted down to Loki's scepter, his hands clenching at his sides, as he tried to push away the swarming thoughts, staying composed in front of Steven.
"There, no madness can plague him. Our days of warring are over. He is finally at rest."
Just then, someone else spoke up, their voice coming from across the aisle.
"Thor, report on the Hulk?" Natasha asked.
Thor faced the other end of the aircraft where she sat, next to Banner. Then, with a smile and a swing of his fists, he stepped towards them, and proclaimed boldly:
"The gates of Hel are filled with the screams of his victims!"
Natasha shot him a horrified look. And the doctor groaned, burying his face in his hands. Perhaps that wasn't the most reassuring thing Thor could've said.
He immediately backpedaled.
"But...uh... Not the screams of the dead, of course! No, no... Wounded screams."
Banner made a nod, keeping his head in his hands. But Natasha's eyes flashed, telling him...
You're making it worse.
Thor went on clarifying:
"Mainly whimpering. And a great deal of complaining." He withdrew, and set his hands on his hips, gradually lowering his voice to a mumble... "And tales of sprained deltoids...and...gout..."
Finally shutting himself up.
He avoided Steven's gaze, for he was certain the soldier was smirking at his failed attempt at consoling Banner. Instead he focused on Loki's scepter, and drew silent.
The silence didn't last long, however.
Soon, a stouter figure stepped into Thor's peripheral.
"Feels good, yeah?"
Their pilot hadn't spoken much since they left Slovakia—strange, since he was usually so talkative. He had mostly kept to the cockpit, with his hands on the wheel.
He presently gestured towards the scepter, coming to stand by Thor's right shoulder.
"I mean, you've been after this thing since S.H.I.E.L.D. collapsed." Thor showed a smile. But before he could reply, Stark leaned in and added: "Not that I haven't enjoyed our little raiding parties, but—"
"No, but this..." Thor nodded, setting his hands on his hips. "This brings it to a close."
Then the soldier took a step forward, past Thor's left shoulder.
"As soon as we find out what else this thing has been used for," he spoke more seriously. "And I don't just mean weapons. Since when is Strucker capable of human enhancement...?""
The twinkling gem caught Thor's eye again, drawing him in. There was that sensation again. A chill on his neck. And a deep, unsettling feeling—a twisting in his gut, that made his muscles tense.
Stark's voice cut into Thor's thoughts.
"Banner and I will give it the once-over before it goes back to Asgard." He spoke as if it had already been decided. Nudging Thor's arm, he asked, somewhat flippantly: "Is that cool with you?"
Thor eyed Stark, bearing no smile. He shifted his weight uncomfortably, keeping his hands on his hips...
Though his gut told him no, his head began to nod.
"Just a few days," Stark reassured him. "Till the farewell party."
Thor's gut twisted further, as Loki's screams ricocheted in the back of his mind.
"You're staying right?" Stark asked.
Thor pressed his lips tight, and lowered his arms from his hips.
"No. In fact...I've changed my mind. The scepter will be coming with me."
"Oh come on. Two days, Thor," Stark insisted. "Two days of celebrating can't hurt yah."
Thor stood his ground.
"I cannot partake in revels until Loki's scepter is returned to its proper place, in Asgard's vaults."
"He's right, Tony," Steven cut in. "The scepter is safer hands up there. We can't risk it falling into the hands of anyone else who might experiment with it, like Strucker did."
Stark glared past Thor at Steven, and shook his head.
"Always a party pooper."
"We may have questions about it, and what it was used for," Steve went on calmly. "But we can study its effects without keeping it. Our first priority should be keeping it safeguarded."
"Yeah," Tony scoffed. "Like the Asgardians kept the tesseract safeguarded, here, on earth, just so that H.Y.D.R.A. and S.H.I.E.L.D. could dig it up someday and start making weapons out of it..."
"And that," Thor breathed through his teeth, "is precisely the sort of experimentation that drew Loki to the tesseract in the first place, and what brought the scepter here." He gave Stark a pointed look. "That's why no one should tinker with it and draw other threats from across the cosmos to its power. We do not know what it is capable of...or even where it comes from..."
Steve folded his arms.
Their pilot dragged out a long sigh, before replying:
"Whatever you say, Cap. You're the boss."
Loki put one foot in front of the other, his steps unhurried as he walked parallel to the tidewaters lapping against the pebbled sand.
He pinched his hood underneath his chin, keeping it from blowing with the wind gusting against his frame. His lungs filled with wet, salty air, as he took in a breath.
Turning his head, he scanned the dark horizon for any sign of torchlight, or movement—signs that he was being followed.
A lone sea gull crooned as it flew overhead, before disappearing.
Leaves rustled, in the forest to his right—a forest that stretched on towards the mountainous terrain, that hid the city lights, and even the palace spires.
The air was quiet, save for the steady crashing of waves.
Loki glanced up, at the stars amid the twilight sky and nebulous clouds. Only the starry host shone any light down upon this deserted shore, casting a violet light upon the silvery sea, and its misty horizon as it stretched out into eternity...
His eyes fell in front of his boots once more, and his steps became slower as he came up to a longboat resting along the gravel shoreline.
The ship had no sails, and no oars. Both bow and stern curved upward, ending in serpentine swirls.
And in the belly of the boat, a pyre marked the middle, serving as a bed, surrounded by brown furs, and round shields.
And all over everything, flowers had been sprinkled. He had picked three kinds, from the royal gardens. Magnolia, bindweed, and tussilage.
The pure white petals of the Magnolias stood out in contrast with the darkness of the wood and the furs. This flower signified nobility.
Clumps of the smaller flower, bindweed, also littered the floor of the boat. This flower signified...dead hopes.
And the tussilage flower, with petals of bright yellow, signified a promise:
Justice shall be done you.
Loki sighed. He stood at the left side of the vessel, motionless, for a long moment.
Then he spread his feet shoulder-width apart, and shook off his cloak sleeves, freeing his hands.
With elbows bent, he lifted his hands, palms down, stretching out his fingers over the boat.
He rolled his eyes back, eyelids shutting, mentally reaching into his closet in the in-between.
First he fumbled past a couple of shelves and piles of forgotten objects, as he went back to the farthest, darkest corner, in the very back...
Against the edge of the vault, far away from all the shelved objects, lay a body—shrouded in a burgundy cape—motionless.
Loki's brow wrinkled; he spread his fingers further. Taking hold of the tendrils of Ydrassil, he reached through the keyhole in the in-between, for the shadowed corpse. Once enveloping it, he clenched his jaw, and pulled.
And pulled again.
It wasn't working. The body wasn't pulling through.
An ache now filled the marrow in Loki's bones. His magic was depleting.
He told himself that this was a first: storing and summoning corpses from the in-between.
There was always the possibility that if he couldn't get it back, it would be stuck there, weighing down in his mind forever...
Pushing the possibility away in his mind, he straightened, and resolved to try again.
Keeping his eyes shut, he gathered all of his dark energy. He flipped the switch again, shooting threads of energy through his fingers...
This time, the body made it through the keyhole. Loki perceived a flash of green beyond his eyelids.
Opening them, he waved his hands horizontally and watched as a body began to take form after a wave of emerald magic that rippled across the pyre bed.
An old weathered face, with a gold eyepatch and shoulder-length hair of silver materialized first. Then a breastplate. Then a crimson cape starting at the shoulders, bedding the rest of his form, with sprawled limbs that had not been straightened since Loki first found the body in the throne room.
The green light dissipated, and it grew dark again. Loki allowed his arms to fall, as he let out a deep sigh.
His eyes fell upon the blood stain on the All-Father's breastplate—it appeared fresh, having hardly dried.
The sight made Loki's ribcage tighten. And the idea of leaving the stain uncovered made him feel sick.
He hadn't brought anything to cover the body.
Then, a thought came to him.
Of a young boy, holding out a blanket to him—a navy blue blanket, embroidered with a sea of golden stars.
It had kept him warm all those months, during his stay in the dank cold of his dungeon cell. It was the only thing he had salvaged from his own funerary pyre, before the guards set it off to sea, and burned everything else from his ravaged cell...
And he knew just where he had set it down.
He shut his eyes again, and did just as before.
Listing his hands and extending his fingers, he reached into the in-between, and pulled—
His arms caught it.
Opening his eyes, he glanced down.
A blanket. Heavy, but soft. Embroidered with a sea of golden stars against the swirls of blue...
He took the blanket by its edge and whipped it up. That's when he saw the tear down the center of the cloth.
That's right. He had ripped it in half, in his grief...
Loki dug his fingers deeper into the fabric, then pulled it close to his chest, hugging it as if he were embracing a person. He breathed deeply, in and out.
Then he took the edge of the blanket in both hands, whipped it up, and draped it over the All-Father's frame.
He then reached out and with mechanic movements, began to smooth the fabric so it lay evenly. He took the edge of the blanket and pulled it up over the All-Father's chest, so it hid the bloodstain completely.
Loki paused, before reaching down to take Odin's right arm. His fingers made contact with an ice-cold hand, and it made him recoil for a moment. Setting his jaw, he gripped the All-Father's wrist, lifting the limp arm and resting it over Odin's blanket-covered stomach.
Rounding the back of the boat, he pulled up to the right side and did the same thing with Odin's left arm. He reached in, and took Odin's frigid hand, folding it on top of the other. Repressing a shudder, he swiftly pulled away, and stood apart from the boat.
Next, he shut his eyes, lifted his forearms with palms faced up. With brow pressed and mind focused, he reached back into his vault and conjured Odin's sword.
Gold and green light flashed, as it appeared, the soft metal caressed between his hands. The silver blade shone in the moonlight. He gripped the runic-engraved hilt, and carefully set it down on top of the blanketed body, so that it ran down the center of the corpse, it's tip pointing towards Odin's feet.
Loki's fingers were now shaking. He fought the tremor, as he took the All-Father's hands, and folded them around the sword's hilt, like they were holding the sword. Loki's trembling fingers lingered about Odin's hands for a moment, as he began to let them go.
His chest hurt—his heart heavy.
But the rest of him felt numb and cold...
Just like their hands.
He finally withdrew. Taking a step backward, he stood still for a minute, glancing over the ship, making sure everything was ready.
At last, he drew in a breath, knowing...
It was time—
Time to say goodbye.
His boots crunched the pebbled earth, as he went to the back of the boat, stopping directly behind the stern. Shaking off his cloak-sleeves, he gripped the lower end of the stempost, leaning against it. He dug his heels into the sand, held his breath, and pushed.
The boat creaked, budging barely. Loki grit his teeth, readjusted his stance and pushed harder. Little by little, it slid forward, cutting into the waters.
Soon the weight began to lessen, as the ship began to float, carried forth by the water. As Loki's boots began to near the edge of the seashore, he gave the boat one final push, casting it off to sea.
His feet did not move, his eyes remaining on the wooden ship sailing off into the darkness. If the waves came up to his ankles, wetting his boots and the edge of his cloak, he payed no heed.
The cold air filled him, as he watched the ship grow smaller and smaller, sailing further and further away from the beach.
Eventually, Loki lifted a hand and removed his hood from his head, so he could see the stars. He filled his eyes with them, a lump catching in his throat as his vision blurred, and he imagined...
Red banners, all along the edge of the shore. Flower petals flitting through the air. Crowds, drawing silent as the ceremonial horn blew. A fire-tipped arrow raised, shot, and arching through the air...
Orbs of light—thousands upon thousands of them. Illuminating the night, released and floating up to join the starry host above.
None of these things appeared before Loki's eyes. They could not be conjured up by illusion.
Only he gathered there, to honor the All-Father's death. Thor would not see, or ever know.
The ship was now nearing the edge of the realm—an edge marked with crag-rock, and a waterfall that cascaded down into the void of space.
He drew in a watery breath, and angled himself slightly away.
Then he cupped his hands together, drew them up to his chin, and blew in through a crack between his fingers.
Then fire—green fire.
It rose up from his left palm, as he uncupped his hands.
He glanced up at the ship in the distance, and drew a step back as he aimed...
With a strong swing, he threw the fire high. It made a giant arch across the ocean, ultimately landing in the longboat. A few seconds later, the pyre inside lit up, in a blazing, orange fire.
Loki stared from afar, without tears, at the fires that climbed higher and higher, eventually engulfing the inside of the ship.
He was too far away to feel the heat—too far away now, to see the All-Father's face anymore as flames consumed it.
Before the ship reached the end of the realm, Loki knew he has one more task to fulfill. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he lifted his chin, gazing out somewhere between the fiery pyre and the stars above it, speaking in a whisper that none in this realm would be able to discern above the sound of the crashing waves...
"Lo... det ser jeb min far."
Lo... there do I see my father.
"Lo... det ser jeg min..."
Lo... there do I see my...
He paused, inhaling a tight breath.
"Lo... de roper til meg."
Lo... they do call out to me.
His eyes lifted, searching the blurring stars, as he said...
"De byr meg ta min plass blant dem. I haller av—"
They bid me take my place among them. In the halls of—
His throat closed, stopping the words.
Eyes lowering from the stars, to the black void on the horizon, his heart sank. He shook his head, knowing...
He couldn't utter the rest.
It was not true.
Thus, he left the prayer unfinished.
With dull eyes, and a heavy heart, he watched the ship end its course, tipping just before it fell over the edge of the realm.
Just as the ship disappeared from sight, a flurry of light, glittering gold, rose up towards the heavens.
The sight stole Loki's breath, as a thousand memories crowded his mind.
First, there was light. Smiles. A glimmer—a look of tenderness. A warm, weathered hand, enveloping his...
Then, there was hunger. A heavy chain around his neck. Bellowing voices, arguing. And the look of of deep regret.
Loki did not weep as the gold dust faded, joining with the glistening stars above.
His hands had tightened into fists. The pain in his chest turned numb, until he felt...
Bowing his head, he placed his hood back over his brow. Because he refused to relax his clenched fists, he did not conjure an orb of light, like he had planned to...
Instead, he released a sigh, and turned his back on the sea. Facing the mountains ahead, he slipped into the woods, leaving the shore as a shadow—without a trace.
Jane sat cross-legged on the carpet floor, leaning against her living room couch, her laptop sitting in her lap. Her fingertips tapped against the keyboard as she took a glance about the apartment, at the cardboard boxes that surrounded her—stacked on top of each other, all taped—up and ready to go.
"What am I forgetting?" It was probably the hundredth time she had asked herself that...
Sighing gutturally, she let her fingers relax.
That's when she heard something...
Tap, tap, tap.
It came from the patio door, to her right...
Probably just the wind, she thought.
It was raining lightly outside, but it wasn't very stormy, or windy...
The knock came again.
Tap, tap, tap.
More distinct this time. She got a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach all of a sudden. The knock came against the glass door to her porch.
What if someone was there?
Quietly, and carefully, she crept around the couch, and lifted her head enough to see if anyone was there, hoping they wouldn't see her...
She saw the sky, and she saw an empty patio.
Then her eye caught something...
Movement, near the patio floor, just on the other side of the door...
Jane stared at it, with a wrinkled brow.
Then it let out a caw that made her jump, and put a hand over her heart.
Then she chuckled to herself.
It's just a bird.
Just a stupid old bird...
But then it pecked at the window again, with its beak, while turning its head so that its blue eye stared straight at Jane, like it was trying to tell her something.
And then she had this strange feeling...
A déjà vu.
Like she should know this bird...
A thunderclap sounded in the distance. Jane's heartbeat started to quicken, as the clouds outside began to gather.
The rain began to pour, before she heard another sound.
The sound of something heavy landing on her balcony, on the other side of her kitchen wall.
She quickly got to her feet, and crossed her apartment, to peek out her window...
The sight of a red, billowing cape made her gasp:
"Oh my god."
It was Thor.
He stood angled away from her, in the center of her porch. His cape and his hair hung heavily, soaked in the downpour.
He clutched his hammer in his right hand. But Jane's eyes were drawn toward what he held in his left. It was a spear, with crooked, sharp blades made of silver, with a sapphire jewel that glowed from the inside, like it was made of magic.
Jane gasped when she recognized it.
Why does Thor have it...?
Her heartbeat began to quicken all the more. She began to back up slowly...
Just then, Thor turned his head.
His dark-blue eyes found hers.
She smiled sheepishly, and began to step forward, against her better judgment.
He didn't move, as her hand went for the door latch. The look in his eyes told her she needn't fear. He was her friend. Of course he was her friend. And she couldn't let a friend stand there, shivering, in the pouring rain.
Before she could talk herself out of it, or rehearse, she unlocked the door, and pulled it open.
She was met with the sound of water slapping against the pavement, as smoggy, wet air filled her lungs.
The raven that had knocked on her door cawed before it flapped up into the sky. A nearly-identical raven stood on the balcony ledge, closer to Thor. It too, crooned, and took off, leaving Thor and Jane alone. She folded her arms, and stayed underneath the doorway. He stayed, as he was.
"Jane," he rumbled lowly.
"Hey," she replied. "You...came back."
"Aye." His gaze fell to the floor. Silence followed, Thor's eyes hidden by strands of hair, dripping with rainwater.
Jane pursed her lips, and made herself talk, despite feeling tongue-tied.
"I...I thought you had gone back to Asgard."
Thor shrugged one shoulder.
"I still plan to," he replied.
Her brows twisted.
"Well then...why'd you come back?"
His eyes lifted, and she realized she didn't mean to sound that harsh.
"I mean," she amended, "What happened? Did something happen—?"
"Jane, please listen," he cut in, taking a step forward. "I know you must think me a coward. And a thoughtless fool. You would be right in thinking so...for I did behave as such. But allow me to speak. Not for me to justify myself...but for me to apologize. After I am finished, you may send me off. But I must not leave things, as they are."
"Of course," she answered, unfolding her arms, and gripping the doorframe. "After you're done, there are some things I want to say, too."
"Very well," he nodded. Rainwater dripped from his bearded chin, as he stared off, across London. "I shouldn't have left you, without any proper explanation. It was dishonorable, to you...a lady. And it was never my intent to hurt you. Perhaps that was part of the reason why I left in silence. I feared that if I spoke in haste, my words might sting. But now I realize...my silence left a different sort of sting." His eyes fell on Jane, and there was a trembling in his lips. "Forgive me, Jane. I am truly sorry."
"It's ok," she replied, her feet carrying her towards him... "You've been through a lot. You lost your mother...and your brother..."
"That is still no excuse," he pressed, stepping towards her, coming underneath the covering of the patio. They now stood a few feet apart, the rain continuing to trickle onto his back. "There were promises I made, that I ended up breaking. You mean so much to me, Jane..."
Her heart skipped a beat, as his blue eyes fell from hers, to his feet. At the same time, her stomach began to wad into knots. He smiled, and went on:
"I shall never forget...the kindness you showed me, in the desert. I was but a stranger in your realm. But you took me in, while I was yet arrogant and blind—a disgraced, banished son. But your kindness—your generosity—reminded me where true strength really lies. It does not come from feats of strength. It comes from one's inner spirit—it comes from humility."
He sniffed, staring at the ground between them, raindrops trickling down his cheeks, and falling from his chin. Jane wondered if it was rainwater...or tears.
"If not for you, Jane," he went on, rockily. "I do not know what I would've done. I care for you, Jane. I truly you. I've delighted in your company. It's just that I...I..."
His voice stuttered and trailed off, and as that feeling again rose in her gut, she knew, just as he was about to say it. Her mouth parted with a gasp, and she finished his sentence first.
"You don't love me."
Wide, watery eyes lifted to hers.
"Is that it?" she asked.
"I..." he choked. Then he admitted, "I think of you...more as a friend."
"Me too," the words flew right out of her mouth.
Thor's brows lifted, his eyes widening again, before he frowned, dumbfoundedly.
"Wait. You...you too?"
"Yes!" she giggled, suddenly smiling.
Thor sighed sharply, a smile flashing across his face.
"Well, that is..." his shoulders fell, finally relaxed. "...such a relief."
"Yeah," she agreed.
"Then, there are no ill feelings between us?"
Her smile softened, and she reached out, touching his arm.
"Not at all," she assured him. "We're from separate worlds. I think they were separate for a reason. But I'm also convinced that we met for a reason. And you will always be welcome here, anytime you need a friend on Midgard."
Lowering her hand from his arm, she offered it to him.
"Deal?" she asked.
He eyed her hand, his brow tightening.
"I would shake on that, but alas..."
"Oh, right." She laughed. "You've got your hands full. Look...why don't we talk more inside? There you can set those...things down, and get out of this rain. You hungry?"
"Famished," he confessed.
"Good," she said, turning round and leading him inside. "I was just about to order a pizza for myself. I'll make it...five pizzas."
Thor smiled gently.
King Loki paused before the double doors which led into the healing room, releasing a slow, shaky breath, before he lifted a hand and twisted his wrist, commanding the doors to part.
He stepped into the room. Just a few torches were lit. And a candle on the desk...
There, Amora stood, angled away from him—her attention wrapped up in a book which lay flat on the desk before her. And instead of her palace garb, she had on her fur-lined, chartreuse cape, and her dark-leather, patchy, vagabond wear.
Loki stood still, until the doors thudded, and locked behind him.
Then he mentally flipped a switch, allowing his illusion to come trickling down.
"Where've you been?" she finally spoke, without moving.
Loki eyed her as he carefully rested Gungnir against the wall.
"Wrapping up some unfinished business..." he answered vaguely. He started stepping toward her. "Any success?"
She turned, facing him. Her mouth formed a slight, crooked smile.
"I'm ready to end this whole sordid business, just as much as you are."
"I take it that means you prepared a solution."
Her smile lifted.
"Indeed, I have."
Loki stood still, folding his hands behind his back, sizing her up.
"Something that won't poison me this time...?"
"Hopefully not. Unless..." She lifted a brow. "...you have any other anomalies that I should know about?"
Loki's throat felt dry, as she stared into him, awaiting his answer.
Swallowing, he shook his head, and answered unblinkingly:
Her smile lifted again, eyes flashing...
"Then we should have no problem."
Loki's jaw tightened, and he flexed his fingers behind his back.
"Show me what you found."
She turned, facing the desk.
"The answer...was here, all along," she said, softly. "Right underneath our noses..."
Loki stepped forward quietly, pulling up beside her.
"The rune," she went on, gripping the book before her. Loki peered over her shoulder, and took in the diagrams and runic wheels covering the pages. "It's what we should've been focusing on, this whole time. It is the key to unlock everything. Look..." She shut that book up without warning, causing dust to puff up, as she reached across the desk and opened another, pointing to an illustration, drawn in red ink...
Of a rune mark, on the back of a hand.
"Where did you get this?" Loki asked, as his heartbeat began to quicken.
"The archives," she answered.
"Where in the archives?" he specified.
"The forbidden section," she admitted, nonchalantly.
His eyes widened, minutely.
"Amora, you know that area is reserved for Masters of Magic, and I didn't—"
"I figured you wouldn't mind," she stopped him. "Considering that we are pressed for time, and out of all other options."
Loki sighed through his nose, his hands behind his back clenching.
"And speaking of Masters of Magic," She said. "Remember how one of the first—Ogamotto, the Great Sorcerer—once used rune magic to cast spells...?"
"A primitive way of casting spells," Loki scoffed. "But yes, of course I remember. His teachings were some of the first I memorized."
"Good. Then you'll recall what he taught of the wheels."
He suddenly let out a rusted chuckle.
"You're not seriously suggesting that we use the wheels? Why...that magic is for children. It is the kind they use to practice their touch—"
"Yes," she snapped, facing him, and speaking with increasing authority. "And it is the also the kind of magic that could very well save your life, alright?" She allowed her words to sink in. Loki's hands lowered into fists at his sides, as she continued with increased authority: "Now, there's a reason why the ancient ones used the wheels. They used them to see, and understand the connection that lies between their inner seidr and the unseen branches of Ydrassil. Every spell they would do was commanded by these runic codes. Now...you know how all runes bear either positive or negative meanings? Some signify prosperity and protection. Others, cursing and ruin."
"To the point," Loki bid her.
"This is how we do it," she proposed, spreading her arms. "We change the rune itself. We reverse the curse once and for all...by manipulating the rune."
Lips tight, Loki quietly quietly considered her proposal.
Slowly, he uncurled his fingers, and spoke in a whisper:
"You're saying...we use the back doors...to alter the rune."
Her lips curved up, her dimples showing.
"Correct. Using a runic code, we could command the rune to change itself into another rune entirely...thereby changing its malignant effects straight from damning, to blessing."
Loki's right shoulder hitched up.
"It wouldn't go away, then, would it?"
"No," she admitted, placing a hand on her hip. "But the curse would be undone. That's the important thing."
"And what if the curse returns?" he asked, with a tight breath. "Just as it did before?"
She shifted her weight, landing her eyes on his right hand.
"Well, we could try turning it into a rune that puts a protection spell around you, if that would ease your mind."
"You said something about a runic code—a keyword, for the encryption." He glanced over at the hourglass sitting on the desk. "You're nearly out of time, so it's too late to start your search now..."
"No worries." She reached into her satchel, hanging at her hip, and swiftly produced a notebook. "You don't think I would've come unprepared? It only took me all afternoon to find a keyword that should do the trick." She lowered the notebook, and stepped up to him, so that they stood a foot apart. "Go on, admit it. You underestimated your old apprentice."
"Don't congratulate yourself just yet," Loki smirked, glancing over at the hourglass again. "You've less than an hour left, so you had better get rolling."
As she thumbed through her notebook, and reorganized the books on the desk, Loki paced away, towards the center of the chamber.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked.
"Um," she murmured, with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Go...lie down on the healing table. I'll be with you in a moment."
Loki shot a glance over at the healing table. Then glared at her warily.
"Because," she huffed. "You will need to lie perfectly still as I probe the tendrils connected to the rune on your hand. We don't want to take any risks, do we?"
He bit the inside of his cheek, knowing...
She had a point.
So he turned, and stepped towards the healing bed in the center of the chamber.
As he came up to it, he froze.
Shadows of a stone slab in the middle of a dark cave suddenly gripped him, making his stomach twist.
He pushed it away—locked the memory up, in the very back of his mind.
With steadier breaths, he forced himself to inch closer.
Then he gripped the edge of the bed, and hoisted himself up, so that he sat on its edge, facing Amora.
"Before we begin," she said, as she set her notebook down on the desk, and glanced up at the time. "There is something I should warn you about. Nothing serious. I just wonder if we should take some extra..."
She turned, empty handed, and started to cross the room, his way.
"...precautions," she finished.
"I knew there had to be a catch," he rolled his eyes. "Well, what is it?"
She stopped in the middle of the room, eyeing him carefully, before she replied...
"I'm going to have to restrain you."
His eyes thinned, and his grip on the table tightened.
"Why would you have to restrain me?" he growled.
"Remember what happened to Odin?" she blurted.
That made him shut up, and tense all the more.
She continued, softer, as she stepped toward him:
"I cannot risk my own life, in an effort to save yours. I will place a binding spell over you, so the curse doesn't cause you to lash out. It will wear off as soon as we're finished removing the curse."
"Fine," he agreed. "But remember...this is your last chance, and you had better not mess it up."
"Of course not," she reassured him. "Now lie down, and we may begin."
He dragged out a sigh.
Then he lifted his legs onto the table, keeping an eye on her, as he lowered himself onto his back.
"You ready?" she asked, as she lifted her arms, with fingers spread.
He rolled his head so that he faced the ceiling, and wiggled his backbone, so that his limbs were straight, even, and relaxed. Exhaling as calmly as he could, he gave her a nod.
In his peripheral, he watched her.
Her arms lifted, with elbows bent, and fingers spread. She rolled her eyes back, and they fluttered shut. Then she uttered a phrase, in the old Asgardian tongue:
"Binde hender og føtter."
Green mist spread from her hands, like threads, or fingers stretching towards him. They arched over his eyes, and his seidr felt her magic approaching his.
He held still, and allowed her spell to bind him. The tendrils—soft as rope made out of silk—wrapped around his ankles and wrists, tightening little by little, as they tied him down to the stone bed.
When the tendrils stopped pulling, Amora dropped her arms with an exhaling breath.
"Test them," she said.
He tried sitting up. The invisible ropes kept his wrists and feet locked. With a grunt, he tried kicking his legs. Nothing. With a grunt, he tried wriggling out of the chains that bound his wrists. They did not budge.
He eventually gave up, resting his head back against the table.
"Secure," he said, regaining his breath.
"Good," she murmured, as she lifted her arms again, with fingers spread. "Now, the wheels."
She took a half-step back, and widened her stance. Taking in a preparatory breath, she focused on the empty air before her hands.
She clapped them together.
Two wheels, made of bright-green magic, appeared in front of her palms, as they came apart.
She made a gasp, and grinned, her eyes flickering between the two wheels. Loki craned his neck to see the tiny runes on the wheels, split into several registers, rotating in slow circles in front of her fingers. He strained between his eyelashes, but could hardly make them out.
Amora took in two deep breaths, her eyes locked onto the wheel in front of her right palm. Dropping her chin, she gradually reached out, and using just her index finger, pricked one of the runes on the wheel...
It illuminated yellow as soon as she touched it.
"What keyword are you using?" he asked her.
"You'll see," she answered with a light smile.
Loki sighed quietly, keeping his head rolled over to the right, to see what letter she would choose next. Every movement of hers had to be precise, for the spell to proceed without error.
So far, that was...
"T," and "H."
As her fingers worked in silence, he found that his palms were beginning to sweat. He tried to wipe them against his pants, but realized he couldn't quite reach them. So he clenched them into fists, as another letter illuminated in front of Amora's hand:
And now "A"...
His head started to reel.
"Amora," he spoke up, against the lump caught in his throat. "What are you doing?"
It's like she never heard him. At least that's how she responded. With silence, as her index finger went for the next letter...
"Amora, answer me," he tried again, between shorter breaths.
She didn't even glance down at him. His fists clenched more tightly, twisting against his restraints. He was starting to breathe more heavily.
"Amora!" he ordered her: "Stop the enchantment. Release me, at once!"
"Can't," she replied curtly, with the ghost of a smile on her lips.
A sinking feeling took hold, like a heavy stone falling down to the pit of his stomach...
Her finger touched another rune:
Loki's heart slammed against his ribcage.
"No," he whispered, before lashing out against his restraints, with all his might. "Amora, stop!" he yelled. But it was useless. He cursed himself inwardly, for foolishly allowing her to tie him down. All he could do was struggle, as he watched her reach forth again to choose another letter...
Before he had a chance to inhale a breath, pain blazed from his right hand, shooting up to his skull.
His back arched, his vision going blank.
Convulsions racked him, turning his brain to mush for several seconds, until they ceased, causing him to collapse back against the stone bed, absolutely breathless, numb, and exhausted...
"So it's true," Amora's voice came echoing in his ear.
Loki rolled his head to one side, and blinked hard to see.
The wheels disappeared as she lowered her arms to her sides. As she came up to the healing bed, and leaned over him, he saw that her face had turned white as a sheet. A shadow filled her eyes. They were shiny, and sharp as blades.
She whispered something—a single word in his ear.
She whispered a name—the only name that could make his blood run cold in an instant, sucking all the air out of his lungs, so that he couldn't breathe...
The world stopped.
He went stiff—absolutely frozen—raw, and exposed underneath her stare.
Only his right eyelid flinched, as she went on, even more sharply:
"He's the one—the one behind this curse."
It was not a question.
She somehow knew.
Loki struggled to clear his throat, a sting building in front of his eyes...
"I-I don't know," he shook his head. "I don't know what you are talking about—"
"Don't lie to me, Loki!" she spat in his face.
He felt something seize his right wrist.
He winced, her grip tight as she forced his arm up—counteracting her own spell—so he could see.
"This!" she hissed, shaking his wrist. "He did this to you! The Mad Titanmarked you, as one of his slaves...to ensure that you would never dare cross him. But you did. You crossed the Mad Titan. And because of that, he turned the mark into a curse."
With a rough movement, she threw down his hand.
"And to think you knew all along..."
"Amora, please listen," he whispered in a rasp. "You don't understand—"
"Oh, I understand!" she chortled, smiling bitterly. "For the first time, I understand...precisely what this is. For centuries, I had heard whispers—stories, of a Mad Titan who would mark his servants, for life. All it took was an entry in the archives for me to put the pieces together—for it to jog my memory. But you!" Her smile fell as she shook her head. "You remembered all along, didn't you? You tricked me, into coming here—into getting tangled up with one of the most powerful, most feared beings in all the realms—"
"If I would've told you...the truth about Him," Loki muttered ruefully. "You never would've agreed to help me."
With that, she turned in place, and began to walk away.
Loki's hands clenched; he tried to sit up.
"Wait... Stop! Unbind me this instant!"
"Or what?" she sneered, over her shoulder.
She stopped, and turned round.
She broke out into a laugh.
"Oh, I don't need you to break her out, anymore. Not when I have this..."
He stared at her with a twisted brow as she crossed the rest of the room, turning just right of the double doors, where Gungnir rested against the wall...
"No," Loki breathed. "You wouldn't...dare..."
"Watch me," she snapped in reply, quickly snatching up the spear in her right hand. She caressed the gold as she turned to face him, a triumphant smile forming on her lips, like she was relishing this moment.
He ground his teeth, his tone quickly turning venomous: "You...treacherous...little...wench! I'll kill you."
"Go ahead. Try," she laughed, landing her eyes on him. "By the time the spell wears off, my sister and I will be long gone—halfway across the universe, probably."
He slumped his head back against the table, eyes rolling back.
"You can't—you can't leave me like this, Amora."
"What?" she exclaimed. "Like how you left me...at the foot of the Academy steps, all those years ago?"
"You left me no choice—"
"I was but a child!" she yelled. "An eager child, ready to learn—to devote her life to her craft. And you stole her life from her, that day, when you told her she could no longer set foot in the Academy. You left me out in the cold, with no mother—no father to return to—"
"He will come for me, Amora," he rasped, his ribcage tightening. "And when He's finished with me—"
"I don't care," Amora shot back, gaze and voice becoming ice. "I don't care what becomes of you, Loki Laufeyson. Because of your father's war, my father died. So you can die at the hands of that Titan, for all I care. 'Cause in the end...you're nothing but frost giant scum."
Loki swallowed the sharp pain in his throat, lying still, as she faced the double doors and waved a hand, commanding them to part.
She stepped through and glanced both ways, before pausing in the middle of the hall, turning back over her shoulder. Her grey eyes stared back at him, with the faintest glimmer, as she inhaled a deep breath and set her jaw, as her hand slid down Gungnir, and she uttered, hollowly:
It was all she said, before she left him there.
The doors slammed shut, the heavy clank rumbling through the rest of the chamber, echoing the finality of her exit, sending a shiver up the stone bed, to Loki's bones.
He was alone.
Betrayed, and alone.
He breathed a series of curses under his breath, as he tried again, thrashing against his restraints, in an effort to break free. The more he struggled, though, the more he merely exhausted himself.
Slumping back down, he shut his eyes, chiding himself under his breath:
"Of course she was going to betray you, you fool... What were you thinking, allowing her to chain you up? Leaving Gungnir unattended? You deserve this..."
With a sigh, he opened his eyes and stared up at the gold, tiled ceiling, weighing his options.
He was bound, and alone.
No one knew he lay there, besides Amora. But it wouldn't be long before one of the guards would come poking around for the missing All-Father. If he called out to them...
No, that was not an option. Even if he disguised his voice as the All-Father's—even if he put up an illusion—they'd soon break down the door and try to assist him. One touch, and it'd be over. They'd discover Loki—the impostor.
The trial would be swift. It'd be the axe for him. Not even Thor would defend Loki, if he returned for the trial at all.
Even as Loki lay there, Amora was probably halfway down to the dungeons. Sooner or later, the alarms would sound, signaling that there had been a prison break. It's possible Heimdall already knew Gungnir had been taken, and that Amora was roaming about with it.
The guards would come, eventually.
It was inevitable.
Loki's tongue felt dry. Stones filled his stomach...
His tongue felt dry. With a gulp, he rolled his head over and glanced at the far wall, where he had seen the blood-red letters, scrawled across the gold tiles...
I'M COMING FOR YOU.
The words sank in, casting a shadow over his mind. He did not know the day, or the hour in which He would come...
But it was inevitable. And he had nowhere to hide.
His chest grew tight again, as he faced the ceiling, and let out a shaky sigh.
This place. He had been here before...
Lying in the dark.
Hands and feet tied down, to the floor of a cave. His throat parched, and thirsty, as he stared up at the pitch black ceiling, utterly blind, breathing in rancid air. Chains that actually dug into his skin.
Days that blended together.
And heartbeat spiking in raw terror, at the slightest sound of footsteps descending towards him...
Loki's throat shut, as he screwed his eyes more tightly, pushing away the memory, of where it had all started...
On that table, in the void.
This is where this ends.
He had no reason to prolong it—to wait in suspense.
Unscrewing his eyes, and blinking them open to the torchlight, he set his jaw with hardened resolve filling him.
He drew in a breath, and decided to speak to the empty room.
"Thanos," he spoke boldly—composed. "I know you can hear me. You sent me a message, that you are coming. Well, I grow tired of waiting. This game ends here, and now. If it's me you're after, then come...let us be done with it."
Loki waited in silence, watching the ceiling tiles with bated breath, listening.
"I'm waiting," he said.
Then he inhaled, and his breath caught.
It smelled of sulfur.
Loki smiled, even as his breathing accelerated. He clenched his fists tightly, and whispered again, unafraid:
"Come. Do your worst."
To be continued...
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