Continuing Tales

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 13 of 33

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The Blood-Dimmed Tide

There is a tree growing in the centre of the labyrinth.

This is the first thing that Darcy notices when she stumbles out of the darkness. The tree is larger than any she has ever seen. It is immense, its branches seeming to reach high enough to brush against the stars themselves. Its trunk is pale and glowing, as though it is bathed in moonlight, though there is no sign of the moon in the sky. Its leaves whisper against one another, the sound like a thousand voices whispering secrets.

The centre of the labyrinth is not large: a rough square perhaps several metres across. One entrance on each side of the square leads back into the labyrinth. Each of the walls appears identical, the same objects slotted together to form the solid structure.

Darcy has taken a step towards the tree when she hears someone behind her. She turns just in time to see a man stumble from the labyrinth. He falls to his knees, his robe billowing around him as he collapses. His spine arches, as though he is fighting nausea or pain. He stays taut for a few seconds, and then he gasps and rocks back onto his heels. He pushes the hood of his robe back and Darcy sees the gleam of his scalp in the thin light cast by the tree.

He stares at her, though she doubts that he's seeing her at all. His eyes are bloodshot, ringed by shadows. His scalp has been shaved bare, and inexpertly, several deep nicks above his ears still oozing thick blood.

It is only something in the set of his mouth that makes her realise that she knows him. "Max?"

He blinks rapidly, as though to clear away tears, though his eyes are so dry that she can hear his eyelids scrape against his corneas.

Darcy takes a slow step towards him. Realises that she's moving with the kind of non-aggressive movements people use when they expect to be attacked. She arranges herself into something that she hopes looks vaguely casual. "You don't remember me, do you?" She is unsurprised by that, to be honest. Most men rarely bother to look higher than her chest to recognise her, and right now that's covered by a half mile of black fabric. "Darcy Lewis. We met in the guard room beneath Stark Tower." Max blinks, his eyes focusing, unfocusing. "Darcy, also known as the idiot who actually went through to the cell and got lumped with babysitting duty."

Max pulls himself to his feet. His eyes focus, finally, and he smiles, his cheeks straining, tight and dry. "Of course. Of course. Darcy." He swallows, and she can hear the dryness of his throat. "You traded your food for…for…" His smile fades.

Something tightens in Darcy. It's the same kind of feeling that she got when she saw the Destroyer. The sense that something is very, very wrong, and something bad is approaching, fast.

"Your daughter," she says. When Max says nothing, she continues. "She was sick. Vitamin deficiencies, I think? Is she getting better, with the food and medicine?"

Max does that rapid blinking thing again. He wavers on his feet. "I can remember her, but I can't remember her. Like it happened to someone else, like I'm watching a film with no sound, like everything is numb." He rubs a hand over his scalp, pausing briefly, as though he has forgotten that it had been shaved. "It was dark. There was a voice. Did you hear her, too?"

The memory of that velvet darkness wraps around Darcy, and some of that tight wrongness eases, unwinds. She wraps her arms around her ribs, presses her fingers against her ribs. "I heard it. I was back…back…" She realises that she's bracing herself physically for the familiar wave of pain that always comes when she thinks about her family. That house.

This time, the pain doesn't come. Just that soothing darkness, rocking her, holding her.

It's like looking at someone else's life, a black and white image in a world full of colours. She remembers all the facts, but it as though it happened to someone else. A fairy story, a half-remembered film. No pain. No trauma.

"She took it away," Max says. He smiles slowly, and she can fairly see the tension drain from him as he looks up at the tree. Its light gathers in his eyes. "My daughter. Even with the food, the medicine, the doctors all said it was too late. Too much damage done. Time to make her comfortable." He draws in a deep breath, releases it in a sigh. "I just walked out. I had to move, to walk. I didn't know it, but I was looking for Ozy. Looking for this." He smiles, a beatific light in his eyes. "Everything is going to be okay, Darcy. It really is."

He flings his arms out wide. The movement pulls his sleeves up, and Darcy sees that there is a mark on his right wrist. It it etched in black, raised like a keloid scar: an abstract pattern of lines and angles, strangely beautiful for all of its dissonance.

Darcy can't look away from it. It is blacker than any tattoo she has ever seen, as black as the velvet darkness.

"What is that?" she asks.

Max stares at his arm for a moment. "In there, I felt something moving against my skin. Like a needle. Like ice." He pushes his sleeve up to display the whole pattern. Its shape echoes the imprint of someone's hand wrapping around his wrist. "It's a mark of initiation."

That feel of wrongness twists in Darcy again, surging stronger than the darkness. "Into what? The crazy hooded robe cult?"

"There is no need to keep up the facade, Darcy," Ozy says, emerging from the labyrinth. He walks upright, seeming taller here, his hood pushes back from his face. In this light, his hair looks silver, his eyes grey. "Here, you have no need for masks."

"Masks? I don't know what the hell you're talking about-"

He raises his hands, and her speech is cut off, her throat tightening. At the same time, a band of cold wraps around her left wrist.

A thread of fear tightens in her as she pushed up her own sleeve. Her mark is shaped the same as Max's, though hers reaches further up her arm, almost to her elbow. Her design is lacelike and flowing, like waves lapping at her skin. She rubs at it, but the black does not budge. There is no pain or bruising, just an odd numbness, as though the raised skin has been cauterised.

Ozy grasps their marked hands; his own cuffs ride up, and Darcy sees the edge of black marks on both of his wrists. His fingers are heated against hers, as though he is burning with fever, though his face is cool and unflushed. He says nothing, just smiles at them.

"Can I do it again?" Max asks. "There's so much weighing me down. I want to be free of it all."

Ozy's smile widens. "The labyrinth may only be entered on the night of the new moon."

Max's face droops in disappointment, the kind of exaggerated response that Darcy expects from a child, not a grown man.

Ozy leans close to Max, his voice a conspiratorial whisper. "But, my brother, this night is not yet over. There are a few moments left, and the labyrinth is still open."

Max needs no more encouragement. He turns and runs headlong into the nearest entrance and is gone from sight.

"Do you think that was a good idea?" Darcy asks. "I think maybe he needed some time to think about things. He sacrificed his memory of his daughter. I don't even think he's going to be going home."

Ozy is still holding her hand, his grip so tight that she can feel her bones grinding together. "He has found his home now, supplicant."

That word again. She shudders.

"You sacrificed, too, Darcy," he says, tracing the line of her mark with a finger. "You gave up your own past readily enough."

"That was…different."

"Your pain is greater than his, you mean?" Ozy asks. He lets go of her hand abruptly, crosses to the tree. "Do you know that scholars argue whether Yggdrasil was an ash or a yew tree? I like to think of it as a yew. One must dare poison to gain something great."


"The World Tree? Norse mythology? The gods who walk amongst us?"

"I know what the damn World Tree is. I read the picture books like everyone else. But they're not gods. They're aliens."

"With their powers, how is that different to being a god?"

Suddenly Ozy's gaze is too intent on her, and she stumbles back from him. "Can I just get out of here, please?"

Ozy arches an eyebrow at her use of please, but he presses a fist to his chest and dips into a bow. It is oddly reminiscent of Loki, and she finds herself reaching behind herself again without thinking. She catches the movement halfway. Does she actually want him to be here?

Ozy claps his hands together, and the world flickers, flows away to grey. There is a momentary glimpse of figures in the grey, people fluttering like rice paper in a breeze, and then the labyrinth is gone.


The stars are beginning to fade from the sky, the sunrise streaking the sky with violent crimson and purple. The light washes over the park, over Darcy, Ozy and Max.

The three of them are standing outside a small ramshackle structure. Like the labyrinth, its walls are constructed from detritus, but unlike the labyrinth, here the bicycles, books and furniture have only been loosely stacked. There are only four walls enclosing a space smaller than Darcy's living room, and the lopsided space serving as an entrance barely reaches Darcy's waist.

"Where did the labyrinth go?" she asks. Glancing at the other two men, then down at herself, she realises something else. "And those creepy robes?"

Ozy just smiles.

Darcy turns away from him. The rest of the park has changed, too. The makeshift gates, the chemical lights, the tables holding refreshments are all gone. Even the cars stacked as barriers along the road are gone, only a few vehicles scattered about, the horse carriages parked back near the entrance.

Two men approach the labyrinth. At a nod from Ozy, they each grasp a corner and pull. It only takes a slight movement, and the whole structure crashes down with a sound like a sigh. The men set to work gathering the detritus and carrying it out of the park, where more people load it onto the back of a truck. Soon, everything is gone, only the pressed-down grass evidence that anything had been there at all.

Not just that. There is a sapling growing in the centre of the space the walls had enclosed, pushing up through the thick grass. The tree is a thin, fragile thing, its stem so pale it is almost translucent, only a few leaves sprouting from it, still half curled and tender.

Max hadn't moved the whole time the men had been disassembling the labyrinth. He is standing stock still, his profile to Darcy. She moves around so she can see his face, and immediately regrets it. His skin is waxen and pallid, his cheeks gaunt. His eyes do not blink, and they are empty.

That feeling of wrongness curls tight in Darcy again, looking upon Max's face. "Is he…is he okay?" she asks.

Ozy rolls up Max's sleeves, his fingers delicate on the fabric. Both of Max's wrists have been marked with the black patterns.

"Some sacrifices are hard," Ozy says. He traces a finger over the black, and Max shudders lightly. Ozy waves over one of the men from the truck, and guides Max to him. "Take him back to the building. Find someone to watch over him."

The man nods and leads Max away. Darcy watches them go, shivering lightly in the chill morning air. The colour is fading from the sky now, the light of the rising sun dulling to something grey and thin. On the other side of the sky, thick clouds are rolling in. She suspects that there will be snow soon. An early winter. It seems fitting.

She slides a hand into her pocket. The battered iPod Beth had given her is there, along with her Stark phone. Both are drained of batteries.

The truck's engine starts with a growl. Darcy watches as the men jump onto the back, perching themselves amongst the items that had been used to build the labyrinth. She has a glimpse of Max sitting in the cab, still staring, before the truck rolls off into the city, the sound of its engine quickly vanishing into the silence.

Ozy moves over to the sapling, squats down and touches one of the curled leaves with a finger. "Yew, do you think? Or ash?"

Darcy turns from where she had been looking down the now-empty street. "I don't know anything about trees."

Ozy stands again, brushing his hands over his trousers. The movement pulls at the collar of his shirt, and Darcy sees that not only are there black marks on both of his wrists, but also on the skin beneath his collarbone. His eyes fix on hers, the corner of his mouth lifting, and in a single movement, he pulls off his shirt.

His entire torso and both arms are all covered with the black marks. Dozens of smaller marks mesh together to form a design that is at both angular and wave-like, undulating across his ribs and down his abdomen. All of the black marks are raised, and unlike Darcy's, Ozy's marks are angry-looking, as though they are indeed brands.

He shrugs into his shirt again, turns and begins to walk away. He is a dozen steps away from her when he pauses, speaks over his shoulder.

"The labyrinth will open again next new moon," he says. "One month from today. She can take all the pain away, all the badness, everything. Think about it."

"She?" Darcy asks. "Who is she?"

He does not answer.

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 13 of 33

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