A/N: Here's the next chapter! I am so sorry about the wait, but Midterms are coming up, and I still can't believe I survived the combined forces of Math and World History homework. I will try to post the next chapter as soon as possible, but please be patient with me. Until then, please read and leave a review telling me what you think, along with any questions or suggestions you might have about the story. Bye!

The doors of the relics vault were large and built of sleek, thick wood. Thick ropes of gold twisted and knotted along the surface of the doors, shaped and spun in intricate patterns. To the average onlooker, it would appear as only a decoration, a small clue at the power and beauty that resided within the room. I, however, recognized that the vague shapes and runes that were formed in the golden design. Layer upon layer of spells and enchantments clung to the grand wooden doors, thick like a woolen blanket. Most of them were shielding charms. Others were alarms.

I stood before the doors, on arms stretched out in front of me. I twitched and moved my fingers slightly, feeling the small forces and disturbances in the air where the spells were formed. My eyes were closed, my brows knit together in concentration. If you were to invoke the power of the Tesseract, this would go much faster, said a small voice in my head, but I shooed it away. I dared not access the hidden power within me now. This close to the Aether, the energy spikes would surely overwhelm me, and I would be useless. The mere thought brought a faint itching sensation back to my chest. I ground my teeth in irritation. The Berkana was slowly withering away, and soon, the pain would come again.

Besides, I could not risk falling under the Gem's thrall again. Surely, if I lost control once more, Volstagg would kill me without a second's hesitation. I wasn't even sure if Sif would allow for me to go on.

I huffed wearily as I felt the spells push my power further back. I should not let my mind wander while trying to undo the enchantments spun into the door. They were simple indeed, but powerful and in great numbers. I would need all of my concentration to unweave the web of magic that guarded the relics behind the wood.

Just as I refocused my mind, a loud and obnoxious voice hammered against my ears, shattering my concentration. "What is taking so damn long?" Volstagg demanded.

And just like that, all of my focus disintegrated. The spells rebounded on me with such a force that I stumbled backwards. I was snapped back into the present, and my eyes opened.

I saw Sif and Volstagg standing a little to my left. Sif held her sword in her hand, keeping her eyes down the hall, the epitome of vigilance, whereas Volstagg stood beside her, his axe held absentmindedly in one hand as he eyed me suspiciously.

It took all of my self-control not to go for his throat right then and there. "You thick-skulled worm!" I hissed. "If you would just give me some quiet, then it wouldn't take so long."

The warrior's eyes blazed, but he seemed to think better than to start another fight. "The longer we stick out here, the more of a chance we have at being spotted," he growled at me, a little too loud.

I winced and cast a wary glance down the hall. Seeing no one, I turned to glare at him once again. "You know what else might attract attention? Bellowing our presence to the entire palace," I said. "Now shut up for a minute and let me do my work." I turned back to the door and stepped a little closer. Before I started, I looked back at the two warriors and said, "Undoing these spells is going to take time and concentration. I need complete silence. As soon as the alarms are lowered, we need to act quickly and quietly. If my focus is disturbed for even the slightest of seconds, then the alarms will come back on and we'll be trapped in the vault until the guards get here."

Sif nodded her understanding, but Volstagg merely snorted. "Do you take me for a fool, Loki?" he asked.

I rolled my eyes. "I'm not going to answer that." I didn't give him time to retort before I closed my eyes and focused my mind.

As my senses expanded and my magic took effect, a map formed in my head, a map of the layers energy that shrouded the door. I saw the wall of shielding spells that smothered the power behind it. To any lesser sorcerer, it would have appeared impenetrable. I, however, could make out all the little cracks and seams between the blocks. Thin as they were, it was enough for me to get through.

I lifted my hand and felt out the tiny chinks, filling them with my own magic so that they swelled and grew. It was much like picking a lock, worming my magic through the nooks and other openings until the enchantments fell aside, disarmed and dormant.

Finally, I had made a clear path through. Now, all I had to do was maintain my hold on the spells long enough for Sif and Volstagg to go inside and retrieve the Aether. I kept my eyes closed and spoke quietly, so as not to disturb my concentration, "The doors should be open now. Go in there quickly, and be careful not to touch me."

The warriors did not respond, and I did not open my eyes, but I did hear them walk past me. I heard them open the doors –

A wave of nausea suddenly hit me. I felt as if hot magma was rushing through my veins. A thick, sickening heat traveled from my chest and up my neck, choking me. My eyes snapped open, but my vision was warped and red. Immediately, the charms smashed back together, the barrier rebuilt within seconds. A shrill alarm filled my ears, splitting my skull, and I knew that I had failed.

Sif and Volstagg were already in the room, but they whirled around to face me as soon as the alarm sounded. Several expressions flashed across their faces, from shock to betrayal to rage. "Sif!" I tried to shout her name, to tell her to get out of there, but my voice was hoarse and broken. She seemed to understand, though, and the she-warrior dashed forward, trying to exit the room, but an invisible force blocked her path. She and Volstagg were trapped.

I pitched forward, my knees suddenly weak, and I met the ground with a jarring force. A choked scream tore from my throat as the flesh on my forearm sizzled and hissed. Thin fingers of smoke curled up from my flesh as the Berkana was slowly and painfully burned away. A white-hot hand gripped and twisted my heart and lungs. I could neither breathe nor speak. Everything spun around me in a whirlwind of scorching red.

I felt the Tesseract's energy crackle within me. While before it had energized me, now it felt like it was obliterating my organs, swelling and stabbing my insides until I felt I would burst. Apart from my tormented body, my mind drifted. I saw myself writhing and gasping on the floor as if it were somebody else. Of course, I thought, gravely realizing my mistake. The enchantments had been shielding me from most of the energy spikes given off by the Infinity Gems. Now that I have disabled the spells, there is nothing to protect me from receiving the full power of the Tesseract and Aether.

And it is tearing me apart.

This was worse than anything I had ever experienced. Being stabbed or beaten against the floor of Stark Tower was nothing compared to this. Surely there was no torture Helheim could concoct that could rival the absolute agony that the Infinity Stones forced down my throat. Not even the Chitauri had brought me this much pain.

I tried to stand up, to force my legs to move, but the best I could do was to make my limbs flop around uselessly. Finally, I managed to lift my head and search for Sif with glazed eyes. I made out her shape, what must have only been a few meters in front of me, but what seemed a million miles away. "Get…Aether…" My voice was guttural and animalistic, barely understandable.

The she-warrior only snarled in fury and banged on the invisible wall with her fist. Her mouth moved, and I could tell that she was speaking, screaming threats and curses at me, but no sound met my ears. Sound-proof. Damn. We had minutes, seconds before the guards would get here, and Sif thought that I had done this on purpose, that I had betrayed them. If I could only talk to her…

A fresh wave of hot agony wracked through my body, and I writhed, screaming until I felt blood well up in my throat. My back arched and my fingers curled. I spasmed and convulsed, feeling skin and muscle tear like paper beneath the power of the combined Gems.

I didn't have long, I knew. I cut my eyes over to Sif. She wore an expression of confusion mixed with horror as she watched me scream. Volstagg was shouting at her furiously, but their words could not reach me. A flicker of bright red caught my eye, and I recognized the dark glint of the Aether's energy. It was encased in something that resembled a lantern. I wanted to shout, "Behind you! It's right there," but I could only manage to swing my arm in its direction, pointing with trembling fingers.

Sif seemed to understand. She looked behind her and caught sight of the Aether. I saw her say something to Volstagg, and together they rushed towards it.

Suddenly, I heard pairs boots thud against the floor. I lolled my head in the other direction and saw guards coming towards me. Were there six? Seven? I could not tell if I was seeing double or not. They held their spears out cautiously. "By the Norns! Is that Loki?" I heard a voice say. It was layered and twisted, like my vision. No

It was all falling apart. I was discovered, Sif and Volstagg were captured, the Allfather was in his Odinsleep… I felt like I was being drowned, held underwater, kicking and thrashing.

A sudden thought came to me. These guards were the only people, besides Sif and Volstagg who knew I was alive. If I could keep them from getting away…

I raised a hand towards them. They backed away, tried to run, but everything seemed to slow down. For just one second, the pain was gone, replaced by the electric rush of the Tesseract. I was inside of myself, and I held onto something with a tight and desperate grip. What it was, I couldn't completely place. My control, my sanity, my sense… It didn't matter so much in that moment. Right then, it was just the thing holding me back. I found my voice and screamed as I let it go.

For a moment, I was nowhere. Everything was black and silent, but then the heat came to me. Then a ringing filled my ears. Then my vision returned. The pain suddenly hit, and once again I was nothing but a broken form lying on the stone floor. My nostrils were filled with the rank stench of scorched flesh and burnt metal. Through my daze, I heard voices – Sif's and Volstagg's. The burst of energy must have shattered the force field keeping them in the relics vault.

"He killed them. He killed them all." It was Volstagg who said that.

Then came Sif's voice: "We need to go. We don't have much time before more guards get here."

"And where do you suppose we go? No world will take us. I know of no place where we can hide the Aether."

A pause. "I know of a being who resides on the edges of the galaxy. He does not like getting involved in worldly affairs, but he is fond of collecting artifacts. If we take a ship, we could hide the Aether with him," said Sif

Approaching footsteps, and Volstagg's voice saying, "We can't afford to delay! Let's just go!"

"Well we can't leave him here!" Sif objected. I felt soft, slim fingers touch my skin for the smallest of seconds, but then there was a sound like searing flesh, and Sif cursed, jerking her hand away from me. I didn't say anything. I couldn't. I could only lie down limply as agony destroyed my insides.

"Sif, please," Volstagg urged. "We must make haste."

Another brief moment of silence, and then Sif sighed heavily. I heard her get up and leave with Volstagg. I wanted to cry out like a lost child, Please! Don't leave me alone!

But they were already gone.

I was left on the floor, and I stayed there, tormented, until I gratefully fell into darkness.

I found myself in a dream, though it was very different from the one I had before. I was in my cell, lying on the bed. The broken pieces of glass and furniture were scattered around the floor. I was clothed only in my trousers. My chest was bare, revealing the long and ugly rope of swollen flesh that ran down the center of my chest. I stared up at the ceiling, unable to move.

"My child…" The voice was so soft that I barely heard it, but still I turned my head to my left. Frigga sat in the chair beside me. She looked just as she had when I last saw her, clothed in her blue and silver gown, her golden hair brushed away from her face.

"Mother," I tried to sit up and take her in my arms, but my limbs were heavy, and I could only squirm slightly on the bed. "Mother, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Hush, dear." Frigga placed one delicate hand on my head and stroked back my hair the way she did when I was a child. "You mustn't exhaust yourself. You've been gravely injured," she said.

I laughed without humor. A lump formed in my throat and my stomach twisted into knots. "It will get better. Now that the Aether is away –"

"I wasn't talking about your chest," she interrupted. She stared meaningfully at me with her grey-green eyes. She had looked at me the exact same way when I told her she wasn't my mother.

Before I knew it, tears were sliding down my face. "I'm sorry," I whispered. She tried to hush me, but I silenced her with a look. "No, hear me." My voice broke. "It's my fault. I lead the Kursed to your door. I had been blinded by my hatred, that… If I hadn't been so selfish, then you wouldn't be…" I couldn't continue.

"I wouldn't be what?" Frigga asked softly.

"Dead," I finished with a hiccup.

She gave me a sad smile. "Oh, my child. I am not dead. I'm right here."

"You're not real, though," I insisted. "It's my fault…all my fault…"

"No." Frigga bent down and pressed her lips against my wet cheek. I felt so small, like I was a child. "I live still in your heart. Yours and your brother's. As long as you remember me, I shall never die."

I shook my head. "I miss you so much."

"I know, my child. I know."