Alright, this is it. Thank you all so much for coming along with me on the journey that has been this story. I said at the beginning it could be an epic... and it actually became even bigger than I had originally dreamed. Thank you all so much for your support, your kind comments, and your favourites and follows. You have all been a part of this story's creation.
Siglax is a very simple creature. His life has been, thus far, defined by the needs that pull his body through the leafy undergrowth of his home. The need to eat propels his body through the thick, dark mud that sucks at his sleek, fleshy sides. The need to sleep sends him deep into the thickets. The need to wander sent him slipping from his mother's side pouch. The need for company occasionally draws him to the gatherings of his kind under the bright, full moon.
These gatherings are the events of Siglax's life, punctuating what would otherwise be an existence too lacking in meaning for a species that borders on sentience. The gatherings are a celebration, a time and place of exchange. They sing stories to each other in their haunting, lilting, lonely voices about the sights they have seen and the places they have been. Most are simple tales of where to find the best things to eat, the sweetest waters to drink, the loveliest flowers to smell. Others are of stranger things. These are the stories of the fires in the sky, the falling lights, the dancing heavens. Of them all, Siglax has the best, and he is always asked to tell it. It has become known, quite eloquently, as "The Last Story of the Night."
It begins, Siglax hums, in the moonlit waters of the river Trule. There is a terrible splash, as if the water could never be still again. Then a sound so rough and jagged that it almost burns in his ears. The water is disturbed, again and again, by a pair of beings so strange that Siglax is forced to extend his blinking eye stalks out of his resting place in the ticket. The creatures are split apart into branches like the trees, wobbling and teetering about in the shallow water on twin stalks rather than sliding along on their bellies in one good solid piece like a sensible creature. Their eyes are small and set into their heads, but are alight with a joy that even Siglax can relate to. Whatever they are, and wherever they have come from, they are filled with a carefree happiness that warms and winds its way through the whole jungle. The small slits that must pass for their mouths open and shut, emitting more of the strange, jagged sounds. Expressions of happiness, though they lack the music of Siglax's own kind.
By now, the circle of Siglax's companions has pulled closer to him. Their low hums of curiosity, wonderment, and excitement support the solo of the story. Siglax brightens, his voices deepens ever so slightly. He tells how the pair reach their branches out towards each other, gather each other in close. How their mouth-sounds fall soft and gentle now. How they press their mouths close, how they bow and bend into each other so that the strange moss that covers their heads touches. Siglax sings his most secret words: the strange creatures are filled with a love so deep that it holds shadows and dark and light and secrets told and then once more forgotten. He tells how the creatures lingered for perhaps only a moment, filling the jungle with feeling and the river with sound and life, then disappeared.
The hum of the circle falls into a sigh. They don't know what these creatures may have been, but their story fills them with a wonderful sensation. They are not alone in the jungle under the darkened sky. They share it instead with creatures strange and fantastic. Creatures filled with joy and love. Creatures that give them hope in the driest, coldest, brightest times of the year. Hope that the warmth of the dark season will return. Hope that the jungle will fill once more with its thick mud and fragrant flowers. Hope that the river will swell and sing again, and perhaps, be moved again by the strange creatures that do not sing their joy, but share it somehow anyway.
Kril't Ibreza is seven seasons old when she first meets the aliens her father announces as Lord and Lady of Chaos. She turns her head to stare at them with inquisitive yellow eyes as she gnaws on a toy. The tips of her needle-like teeth are beginning to grow in, and the pain is distracting to say the least. But she never forgets the way they look at each other. Sly green eyes meet clever brown, and they share a smile so secret that she wishes she could ask them what they find so amusing. But Kilkethians do not learn to speak until after their teeth have grown in. They cannot make the sounds of their language without them. So she watches in silence and waits.
It is years later that Ibreza realizes that Loki and Jane are silently laughing at them. Ibreza, though she is often accused of being entirely unfeeling herself, is a prodigy at receiving and interpreting the emotions of others. Which is, perhaps, the only reason she doesn't leap to her feet and throw the platter of roasted Pik'lok fish directly into their smirking faces. Because she can feel not just their amusement at the sometimes overtly descriptive titles her father concocts for them, but also the deep love they have for him. They are mocking creatures, mocking even each other. It is no measure of their love or respect. They speak before they think. They feel before they process. They are as changeable and as temperamental as the wind.
But their love for each other seems to know no boundaries or borders. There's no limit to the depth of that feeling. Every time they visit, Ibreza looks upon them, waiting for them to show signs of boredom or neglect or remorse or resentment, or any of those painful edges and endings of love. They never do. They curl around each other, leaning into each others space, catching and finishing the threads of each others ideas.
After three failed love affairs and her eight-sixth season of life, Ibreza wonders if perhaps it is simply an act. The great, perfect lie spun by the universe's greatest liar and his mistress. The lie that love can be real and deep and true for all of eternity. They are, after all, collectively known as the rulers of chaos, the destroyers of established orders, the judgment of the ancient gods. They are a king and a queen, though they have no realm, no world, no subjects to call their own. They are deeply suspect in Ibreza's calculating eyes.
When they return in the midst of Ibreza's ninety-third season of life, she realizes that she cannot hold her own lack of love against them. They are deeply flawed, horribly broken creatures. They are, in fact, the only members of their kind. And they are, in fact, of one kind. Though she suspects that the Lady Jane is entirely unaware of the bronze and gold in her once simply-brown hair, or of the wicked sharpness of her once-flat and straight teeth. They are too much of each other. They have nothing else. It's hard for Ibreza to hold that against them, especially after the misplaced comment of Lady Jane's that suggests that there is no reason why a Queen should need a king to rule for her. Especially after the Lord Loki rolls his eyes, bumps his lady's shoulder, then stills and regards her with strange, sly, green-eyed gaze. He winks at her. Only once, the smirk back on his lips.
The Lord and Lady of Chaos both attest at the Tribune of Succession, just as they did at her father's and his father's before him. Ibreza gives them a needle-toothed smile. She suspects that they will have a hand in the royal succession of Kilketh Prime for a very long time. She also suspects that they had never planned to have such an influence upon it. But as the first female ruler of the Kilkethians, Ibreza does just fine. She also finally admits that one need not be ruler of a single realm or people. After all, Loki and Jane are rulers of hearts and minds and ideas; things much bigger and longer-lasting than worlds or people.
The dark king sits in his blackened castle. It has grown hollow with the lack of things. Lack of sunlight, lack of feeling, lack of people in its halls. It has grown still and cold, where once it was filled with light and life. All the living things within it have long since been chased or drawn away for fear of being choked out. The very air has grown stale and sour. It holds no music, no laughter, no stories or songs. The castle sits still and sorrowful, holding vigil over a still and sorrowful realm.
The dark king sits still. He has no movement left within him. There is no laughter left in his lungs, no light in his eyes, no love in his heart. He has given everything for what he had long ago convinced himself of as right. Now he sits, alone and lonely, and reconsiders the wisdom in his own actions. It is entirely possible, now that he has the time and the quiet and the consequences to consider, that he may, perhaps, have made mistakes.
There is a twitch in his left index finger. It is a summoning motion, though there are none who will answer those summons left. Even his familiars, bound up into his own existence through bonds of blood and magic, have long ago ceased to answer. He knows where they are. Knows and cannot act. He is bound within his own realm. They cannot enter, and he cannot leave. The All-Father besieged in the dying coals of the golden realm that once was Asgard.
There is a shadow in the corner that has caught his attention, however. He finally acknowledges that he has grown weak. Or perhaps he is merely weary of this state of siege. Whatever the case, the shadow is dark and deep and sings a song of sorrow and lost potential that wraps around his imagination.
He loses himself in the slipstream of remembered time. For a moment, he is holding the hands of his sons in a golden hall, telling stories and holding their love and respect in the palms of his strong hands. His hands are now so empty, so frail. They are nothing more than the spotted, worn carcasses of alien creatures. He looks at them, and they are not his. They have done things he cannot bear to admit, not even to himself. He dives again into memory, into the smashed crystal of a broken and battleworn realm. His hands, once again strong and full, hold a tiny child within them. His son, who is not his son, who he thought would be safer at his side. Safer for who, he wonders now. And safer how?
"Hello, Father," the son who is not his son says. His words are quiet, but sound loud in this empty space that has heard no voices for over a century now. Even Frigga has long ago left his side. Love cannot last forever. Some burdens are just too much to bear.
"I thought," he begins, so slowly. The words pull themselves from deep within him, tainted by the dark shadows that lie still within empty earth, "That I would never hear you say such a thing once more."
The shape within the shadow in the corner slips closer. "You are still the All-Father," the shape says, his tone as flippant as it ever was. There was no teaching this one about honour or the value of being straight-forward. "Aren't you?" he mocks.
Odin lifts his head, regards the son who is not his son with his single good eye. Loki, for even Odin knows that the creature he raised as his own has long denied his own parenthood. The arrogant runt of a frost giant has set himself atop his own pantheon. No last name required for forces of the universe.
"There's no pantheon," he says, his tone dry. Odin lets something between a snort and cough escape him. He isn't certain if Loki can now read minds, or if the silence has left him so addled that he has taken to thinking aloud…
"You are," he says, answering the question before the idea has even finished forming. "You are, in fact, the most pathetic being left in this universe." There's a twitch of something in the end of that statement. The bitterness dies before it has even truly begun. Replaced with… pity, perhaps. Which is rich, indeed. Loki, once incapable of escaping the boundaries of his own hurt, capable now of pity for the father he denies.
Odin's single eye waters. The figure near him blurs into a smudge of emerald and starlight. The first bright thing in this place in what must be a small eon. The smudge shrugs, "Yes, I feel pity for you," it acknowledges, "What else is there left to feel?"
"Why have you come?" Odin demands. There is still the ghost of a command about his words, and for this he is grateful. He is eternal; a force of good within the universe; a thing without end. He won't have such truth be denied.
"Nothing lasts forever," Loki says with a lilt in his tone that suggests the memory of his laughing smirk. "And you're wrong, in any case. You long ago ceased to be about anything good. You were a force of order. Order imposed upon the chaos."
There is nothing wrong with order…
"But there is," he hisses, cutting off the thought, or the words, whatever it is they are. "Because life is chaos. Stifle that and what have you left but death?"
Odin never expected to hear truth from the poison lips of Loki.
"You know why I am here."
Odin shifts now, the titanic movement of a mountain shaking. There is still so much rage within him, so much anger, so much pride. This is not the end.
"This is the end."
But why this son who is not his son? Why should Asgard fall into the hands of this one? This is not, could never be…
"You really believe I still want this sad little realm?" His voice is almost warm now. He is mocking him still, but with the kindness afforded to children or animals. "There is nothing here for me."
"Then why are you here?" he demands again, anger flavouring the words he knows he says. He can hear them echo against the hollow stone walls of the tower.
"Because I am the killer of kings," Loki says quietly, "I am the slayer of old gods. I am the end of things. You were the one who gave me Ragnarok."
"Then this is the end…"
"Your end. The end of your universe," the bitter note is back, familiar as an old friend. "You gave me destruction as my birthright. I did not have to do it your way."
The ancient mouth is dry as dust. He cannot swallow against the sudden fear. The All Father has not felt fear in such a long time. Even a century of this lonely siege, even the loss of his closest allies, even the slow disintegration of his golden Realm Eternal, have not brought him fear. But here, alone in the dark with his son who was never (could never be) his son, he faces death. He faces the end of things as he knows them. There is nothing to come after. There is no heaven for a fallen god.
Perhaps the dagger between his ribs is a relief, for there is a sudden clarity to the world that he has been lacking for most of the past millennia. He can see now, that Loki's eyes hover above him, luminous green in a face so pale it may just be tinged blue. A nervous tongue licks chapped lips, and Odin can see the razor fangs in his mouth. Light, from who knows where catches the raven feather quality of his hair, blues and blacks almost glowing. But what forces the breathe to catch in Odin's throat is the sight of wetness upon Loki's cheeks. Those wickedly emerald eyes glow with the tears he sheds. So no one cries for the loss of the All Father but one who slays him.
Odin closes his one good eye. Perhaps this is a good death, after all. Perhaps the empty eternity of nonexistence is absolution. Perhaps this is the better way.
Loki slips back through the doorway between worlds. He steps out into the sunlight of a world that he does not know the name of, does not care to know the name of. This is over. The cycle continues, the wheel spins on. He sheaths the dagger that still drips with sluggish, blackened blood. He won't bother to clean it now. It will discarded. There are no old kings left for him. His part in this has been played through. There are other roles for him to take on now. Things must change for them to grow.
His fingers tighten for a moment around the cold metal of the spear. For the briefest instant, power flows between it and him. There is the faintest memory of a span of days in which he ruled the Realm Eternal, and the power of Gungnir was his. He could take the throne, could rule the universe in this most secret of ways. The fatherless becomes the father…
Emerald eyes scan the gathered crowd, snag, and get lost in the warm caramel that drinks him in with a love he doesn't deserve. His body knows where he belongs, even if his head can get confused. The fingers that curl around the spear loosen, his arm relaxes, the muscles move and tendons pull. The spear flies sideways through the air, fierce tip directed at the sky. His golden brother, who isn't his brother, but is after all, catches it with wide eyes. Loki doesn't bother to watch, his now free hands have wound their way around Jane's waist, pulled her close to him. His lips catch hers, kiss her until she is breathless.
"Hey, you," she whispers when he finally pulls away. There are amber lights in her eyes that dance with the joy of having everything she loves safe and close. He runs a hand through the soft curls of her hair. She has changed from what she once was, but he can't find any fault in it. She is someone meant solely for him. And that is far more precious than being a king.
"It is done, then?" Thor calls, his eyes jumping between the spear in his hands and the embrace between the two aliens he counts among his dearest friends and family.
"It's done," Loki replies, his eyes never leaving Jane's. These things take too long. He has missed more than he would have wished. He doesn't intend to miss a single thing more.
"Just like that?" Sif barks, her voice tense and taunt, as if she still fears Loki's betrayal after this, three centuries of fighting to put Thor onto Asgard's throne.
"Just like that," Loki smirks back, his eyes finally sliding sideways to regard the royal family. "It's a bit more responsibility than I'm looking for, you know. And, really," he turns his head to recapture Jane's gaze, "It's a bit of a fixer-upper," Jane smiles in response to his words, borrowed from the people she has outgrown, but never stopped loving. "We have more pressing concerns," Loki continues, winking at Jane and then smirking at Thor, "Don't you think?"
Thor shakes his golden head, hangs Mjolnir at his belt. His now free hand curls protectively around Sif's shoulders as the other tighten around Gungnir. "Are you not ready to be Queen, Sif?" he asks playfully.
Sif snorts, tossing her dark hair back. "I'm just ready for this battle to be over," she bites.
And then Thor's laughter rolls over them all. "I never dreamed I would see the day you would say any such thing, my love," Thor cries, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes, "You have always been my Valkyrie."
Loki watches as Sif sighs, leans deeper into Thor's side. Whatever words she says in retort are lost, meant only for her husband's ears. At his own side, Jane presses close. "I think this is our cue," she whispers, "I doubt there will be another chance to slip away…"
Loki turns, runs his hands over the swell of her belly. There's a glow of something in his eyes, a fire of protective fervor, of love, of having something he will never let go. He presses his lips to the crown of Jane's head. "Then let's leave them be," he murmurs. Jane curls closer to him, gives him her brightest, most secret smile. His lips curl into an answering smirk. Even weighed down with their child, Jane can run, and she does so. Hand in hand with the being she loves best, into the nearest wormhole. Theirs is a story that doesn't really end.