Continuing Tales

Fallen Star

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Alydia Rackham

Part 17 of 27

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"Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect.

The wisest know nothing."

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Loki wrapped his bloody fingers around the chains, arched his back and screamed. The cry wracked his whole body. His consciousness flickered as the iron links rattled against the wet stone. Agony needled into the base of his neck and seared across his shoulders.

Another black drop fell. It hissed as it struck the bare skin of his left shoulder blade. He wrenched back and howled through his teeth. The shackles bit his wrists. Dark blood trailed down his forearms.

He blinked away the sweat from his eyelashes and shot a glance up. His eyes could barely focus—but there, in its niche in the rocky wall, curled the massive, gleaming black snake, its immense head hanging several feet right above Loki's, its mouth lazily opening and closing, its red eyes leering, its fangs oozing obsidian poison that trickled downward over the crag.

Loki stood on a floor of jagged rocks wearing only his trousers, his wrists bound by chains to two natural pillars, his arms stretched above shoulder-level and held out to either side. Straight ahead of him, in a little grotto, bubbled a clear stream of fresh water—water he could never reach unless he tore off both his arms.

Loki's eyes caught motion overhead—his heart hammered erratically as another drop of venom hung poised on the edge.

He ground his teeth, closing his hands into white-knuckled fists as he pulled down on the shackles, trying to break the chains. The sharp metal chewed into his flesh. He did not care—the poison was worse. The poison—

It fell. It hit his right shoulder.

It was as if a red-hot shaft of steel had plunged straight down through him, penetrating his bones and lungs and gut. He thrashed, gasping a lungful of cold air, his eyes going wide. Smoke rose from the new wound and stank. Three more gasps tore through his chest, then sharp grunts tightened his abdomen. His stomach turned over—he knew he would soon be sick. His knees felt like water, and the muscles in his back and arms shivered uncontrollably.

"What—can't you bear your punishment?" a rough voice taunted from behind him. "The great Loki the Cunning, simpering like a woman!"

"Never thought I would see the day," another voice answered—they belonged to the two guards that stood a way behind him in the canyon, making certain he did not escape.

"You had better keep silent, you sons of dogs," Loki rasped, twisting his head toward them. "Or I swear I will murder you both when I am free."

"More to add to your list?" another voice cut in—but these deep tones sliced straight through Loki's heart. He jerked his head to the front again and bit the inside of his cheek. Just then, another drop of venom struck his spine.

His teeth snapped together as his arms twitched—his footing slipped on the stones. Blood filled his mouth. And for the first time, hot tears tumbled down his face.

"You think you deserve less, little brother?" that same voice thundered as heavy footsteps came up behind him. "How could you do something like this—to all of us?"

"You think I meant to kill him?" Loki gritted, blood spilling from his lips and trailing down his chin. "Truly, that's what you think. After all the ages we've known each other—you think I am a murderer."

"What else am I to think?" Thor roared. "You confessed!"

"I confessed to letting an arrow off the string," Loki said, spitting blood onto the stones. "That is not the same."

"How do you fathom that?" Thor demanded. Loki hung his head and closed his eyes, knowing that the next drop of venom loomed.

"You wouldn't listen if I told you. You are beyond listening," he muttered. Thor scrabbled around him, ducking under his arm and coming to stand in front of him. He was breathing hard.

"Try me, Loki," he pleaded. "Tell me why you killed him."

Loki lifted his watery eyes—to see that Thor was weeping too. Silver tears trailed from his blazing blue eyes and dripped into his golden beard. He wore no armor, and Mjollnir was nowhere to be seen—he was garbed in a long, thick tunic of white and black trousers and boots—and his face looked wan. Loki blinked, his tears tumbled, and more came.

"You were at the tribunal—you heard the evidence. You've already made up your mind," he said flatly, his voice hoarse.

"I have," Thor nodded, swallowing hard. "But I cannot believe it myself. None of your tricks ever harmed anyone—even Sif's hair was gotten over, but you…" Thor stepped closer, looming over Loki's head. "Tell me why."

Loki shivered, and met his brother's eyes.

"I did it to save you."

Thor's eyes flashed, and his lips parted.

Then the venom hit.

Loki hissed, his muscles in his left arm clamping so hard he had to stand up straight—his elbow bent, and his wrist spasmed against the bindings.

"Gaahh…" he choked as his quivering muscles released and the waves of pain radiated outward from his new wound, then faded to throbbing. He staggered sideways, but was caught from falling by the chains. When at last he opened his foggy eyes, more weak tears falling, he saw Thor had gone pale. Thor's brow twisted.

"I don't understand."

"And you won't," Loki sighed. "So leave me here and let me try to die with some dignity."

"No," Thor stepped toward him menacingly, and grabbed the Mjollnir necklace at Loki's throat. He bared his teeth, his eyes burning into Loki's. "No, you'll not give me an answer like that and then dismiss me. What do you mean, you did it to save me?"

Loki swallowed hard. The blood in his mouth turned his stomach sour. His vision clouded.

"Thor, I can barely see," he confessed. "And I cannot…" He swooned, then stumbled to regain his footing. He squeezed his eyes shut. "I cannot even think well enough to tell you..."

"Bear up!" Thor shouted at him. "Tell me!"

"I…" Loki started—and then his gaze jerked upward. A large droplet of venom waited just there. His whole frame shuddered.

"What?" Thor snarled. "Loki, you speak to me—"

Loki's mind lost its reason. He twitched backward, flinging his head back, trying to escape the venom. Thor's hand still grasped his necklace—his arm was pulled forward.

The venom struck Thor's arm.

Thor howled like a wounded lion. He let go of Loki. Loki's eyes snapped open and he lurched forward again, gasping.

Thor had fallen back, pressing his left hand to his right forearm, hissing through his teeth, staring at his injury.

"Are you…Are you hurt?" Loki managed.

Thor's wide eyes flew to Loki's. Loki's filled with reflexive tears. They mortified him, but he no longer had any fortitude—it had been shattered.

"I'm sorry—I shouldn't have moved," Loki rasped. "Are you all right?"

Thor's eyes raced across Loki's upper body.

"What is it doing to your shoulders?" he asked, stricken.

Loki swallowed again—his throat was parched.

"Please, brother, just go," he whispered. "Leave me here before you're hurt further. Please."

For a long moment, the brothers just stared at each other—and Loki held his gaze, studying the lines of his older brother's face, memorizing them, even as more venom teetered on the edge. It would be the last time he laid eyes on Thor—the last time he would actually see him looking back at him before his eyes shut forever and his body burned on a pyre. Loki shivered as the snake gnashed overhead, but he stayed still, and did not turn.

Thor's jaw clenched. He glanced up. Loki braced himself, fear swelling inside his chest. He clamped his hands around his fetters, determined not to make a sound this time—though his legs felt on the verge of collapse. He began to tremble as his stomach clenched. He screwed them shut, his lips quavering.

Swift, heavy footsteps sounded. A shadow fell across him. Loki blinked his eyes open—

To see Thor towering over him—and he held out his bare hand and caught the venom in his palm.

A great shudder ran through his body, and his expression twitched. Loki stared at him, stunned.

"Guard!" Thor shouted, his voice only a little unsteady. "Give me your shield."

"But my prince—"

"NOW!" Thor shouted, and the rocks shook. A guard raced up behind Loki and handed him a circular shield. Thor lifted it up, and held it over Loki's head like a bowl—

And the next moment, a drop of venom struck the metal with a dull thud.

Loki never took his eyes from Thor's face.

Thor set his feet in a strong stance, holding the shield up with both his thick arms. He lowered his head, and looked right at Loki.

"Talk quickly," he said. "I'm already tired of holding this up."

Loki's bloody lips parted, his breath jagged in his throat. But he nodded once, glanced around and tried to gather his thoughts.

"On the…On the night before Balder's coming of age," he began, trying to make his ragged voice work. "I couldn't sleep. I was walking through the palace, counting torches—as I usually do."

Thor nodded, impatient. Loki went on.

"I came across someone in the armory—it was the middle of the night, but I heard bellows pumping, and I smelled fire and magic. I went to see who was working so late." Loki took a breath. "And then I saw it—a short sword that looked like a comet. It lay on a table near the fire, so bright it lit up the room by itself. And I could feel it. Like an adder curled in the corner of a room. It was powerful, and wicked, meant for a single, swift stab. I stood staring at it, trying to understand its purpose—and then he found me."

"Who?" Thor demanded.

"Our little brother," Loki answered. Thor stared at him. Another drop of venom thudded against the shield.

"Go on," Thor ordered, though his voice sounded weaker.

"He pinned me against the wall," Loki said. "And put a knife to my throat. He told me that if I told anyone what I had seen, he would kill me. I told him I wasn't afraid of him. Then he said that he knew what I truly was, and if I didn't keep silent, he would tell everyone the truth."

Thor frowned hard.

"What you are?" he said. "What does that mean?"

"I don't know," Loki muttered, his heart twisting. "But it alarmed me. And so I demanded to know what he was doing. And he told me." Loki's throat closed. He took a deep breath, gazing at his brother. "He said he was going to kill you."

Thor's frame faltered.

"What?" he whispered.

"Yes," Loki nodded. "I told him I didn't believe it. He called me gullible, and a fool, just like all the rest of Asgard. I grew desperate. I warned him that Heimdall could see him—that even if I stayed silent, he would not get away from this unscathed." Loki's voice lowered. "He told me he had prepared for that."

Thor did not move. The venom hit the shield again.

"What did you do?" Thor asked, his brow tightening.

"Everything I could besides revealing what I knew," Loki answered, his fingers twining around the chains. "I followed him, I watched him—and I swore I would intervene if I ever saw him come near you in a secluded place. But then his dreams started."

"His dreams about dying," Thor remembered. Loki nodded.

"And the…The request he made to Mother. About magical protection," Loki said, closing his eyes and fighting against a sudden wave of unconsciousness.

"Loki?" Thor let go of the shield with one hand and grabbed his elbow. Loki blinked hard and took a breath, then kept speaking. Thor let go of him.

"He persuaded her to put that spell on him—the Mother's spell, protecting her child from—"

"From stones and spears and spells and all manner of sharpened blade," Thor finished.

"Yes. It made him invincible," Loki said. The venom dripped into the shield again.

"I thought we were undone," Loki admitted. "My last hope was the giantess in the mountains, the one who helped me make the Lokistones I gave everyone."

Thor nodded, watching him. Loki fought to keep going—his strength and voice were failing him.

"I flew to her, using my best invisibility spells, and confessed everything. She told me that the bonds of a mother's love are impossible to break, except by way of a little plant called mistletoe. And so I found some—just enough to make an arrow like the ones we used to shoot at each other when we were boys." Loki shrugged, a crooked smile crossing his face. "It wasn't even that sharp. It shouldn't have…But Balder was always fragile, and he…" Loki's throat locked. He lifted his eyes to Thor's. His brother wept.

"I didn't mean to kill him," Loki swore, his voice harsh and broken. "I never meant to break Mother's heart or make Father tear his clothes." Loki rattled the chains. "I meant to end the spell so you could defend yourself. But it went through and hit his heart and there was nothing I could do but scream."

Thor lowered his head, his breathing rocky. Then, he lifted his face again and searched his brother's.

"Why didn't you say this to the tribunal?"

"Recall," Loki said coldly, lifting an eyebrow. "They hardly let me say a word. They had already decided."

"Then where is Heimdall?" Thor demanded through his teeth.

"In the dungeons, in the fifth cell on the right," Loki answered. "When I came back with the mistletoe, I realized Balder would try to kill him too, and most likely blame it on me. And so I took Heimdall—who knew everything—down below and made him safe. I told no one."

Thor stared at him a long moment.

"We will get him out," he decided. "And we will bring him here to see if you are telling the truth. Where are the keys?"

"There are no keys," Loki said. "Just words."

"What are they?"

Loki took a breath.

"Thor lives."

Thor swallowed. Then, he lifted his voice.

"Danehall!" he shouted. "Go to the dungeons, fifth cell on the right. Say the words 'Thor lives,' and bring the cell's occupant to me. And bring me Mjollnir!"

Loki heard footsteps instantly dart off in the direction of the palace.

"Mjollnir?" Loki repeated. Thor leveled a look at him.

"If you are telling the truth, I'll break the chains," he said. "If you're lying, I'll kill you myself."

Loki clenched his jaw. There was no more to say.

In a matter of minutes, the guard returned with Heimdall. His golden presence filled the canyon. But still, Loki looked nowhere but at Thor.

"Mjollnir, your highness," the guard said, stepping up and handing the hammer to Thor.

"Hold this over the prince's head," Thor commanded, passing the shield to the guard, who did as he said. Thor hefted Mjollnir, glanced at Loki, then gazed past at Heimdall.

"Speak, Gatekeeper," he ordered.

"You must release Prince Loki," he said, his voice deep and smooth.

"Why?" Thor asked.

"Because even though he has caused the death of one prince," he answered. "He has saved the life of another. One of your brothers was willing to kill you. And the other is willing to die for you."

Terrible silence hung in the air. Pain coursed up and down the inside of Loki's chest.

"It's…It's true, then," Thor's brow twisted. "Balder meant to..."

"He did, your highness," Heimdall answered. "And he meant to execute Prince Loki, after he had been blamed for your death."

Thor staggered sideways, and fell against the wall. Loki hung his head. Long silence stretched between them.

"Go back to Father, Heimdall," Thor said faintly. "Tell him everything you've told me."

"Yes, sir," he answered, and strode out of the canyon. Thor righted himself, and turned the hammer in his hand.

"Move," he muttered to the guard. The guard stepped away, taking the shield with him.

The next instant, Mjollnir shattered the chains, vibrating and shivering them until they split apart. The shackles fell from Loki's wrists, and the links clattered onto the rocks. Loki lurched backward, shaking them loose, then thudded into a sitting position several feet from the venom fall. He looked down at his hands. The skin of his wrists had flayed open, and his hands and forearms were covered in blood. His shoulders burned as if scalding water had been poured over them, and his entire frame was sick and pale and filled with poisonous ache.

Thor stumbled out in front of Loki, then, his breathing short and labored, he spun and hurled his hammer, letting out a bone-breaking wail. Loki's head came up just in time to see Mjollnir crush the snake's scull. The long, slithering body writhed and twitched, then tumbled like spilled water down onto the stones with a sickening splatter. The hammer slapped back into Thor's hand. He tried to heft it, then let it slip from his grasp.

It clanged to the ground. Then, Thor sat down hard and leaned back against a rock across from Loki. He made a choking sound, and covered his face with his hand.

Thunder rolled overhead. Cold drops of rain struck Loki's broken skin. He leaned his head back against the black rock and closed his eyes. Soon, the rain pelted down on the brothers, soaking them to the skin, drowning their hearing in a roaring rush. For what seemed like longer than eternity, neither brother moved or said a word—they just sat and tried to keep breathing, letting the rain cool their burning tears.


Loki, cloaked by the midnight shadows, hid from the blazing torchlight. He stood behind an alabaster pillar in the rear of the palace, just beside the constructed cove where the small royal boats were tied within marble slips. He wore the blackest attire he could find—with sleeves that came down to his wrists, and a collar that covered his neck. The rest of the court stood upon the paving stones out in the open. Loki's family gathered on a raised platform next to the port side of a small, narrow ship. Loki could see them clearly, for they faced him, but none of them sought him out. Their pale faces stared down at the wooden bed that sat in the center of the ship, its head pressed against the mast—and the pristine young body that lay upon it.

Balder, draped in white and gold, rested with his hands folded across his chest—his delicate fingers hiding the fatal wound. A silver circlet sat on his flawless brow—his long lashed eyes were closed. His perfect features looked like a countenance carved in marble. His sunshine hair wreathed his head, gleaming in the firelight.

Loki's gaze lingered upon each member of his family. Thor, his strong arm around their mother, wore the same white clothes, his expression listless, his eyes dim. Frigg, her long hair undone, clung to Thor, but her gaze was fixed in horrified disbelief upon the face of her littlest. Tears ran down her cheeks. And Odin…

Odin did not weep. He was beyond that. Such penetrating sorrow, anguish and regret had carved themselves into his face during the past day that Loki did not recognize him. He had aged—his shoulders bent, his head seemed heavy, and his hair had gone white as snow.

Loki watched, his chest constricting, as Odin slid his hand out of Frigg's and shakily stepped down into the boat. He hesitated a moment, then edged closer and leaned over Balder. He stretched out a rugged hand and rested it on his son's pale brow. For a moment, all was still. Then, Odin's frame shuddered. Loki swallowed hard, and a tear escaped his guard. It trickled, cold, down his cheek and fell from his jaw.

Odin bent down, and pressed a kiss to Balder's forehead. A strangled sob escaped Frigg's lips and she clawed at Thor. Thor turned and wrapped his arms fully around her, almost picking her up, so that he could press his face down against her shoulder. She flung her arms around his neck and wailed. Loki leaned sideways against the pillar, reflexively wrapping his arms around his middle, fighting to draw breath.

Odin slowly crawled out of the boat, and came to stand behind it. Thor managed to pull away from Frigg's embrace—a broken Sif stepped in and took hold of the queen instead. Unsteadily, Thor came down the steps, and Loki could see his tears now. Their father turned to one of the guards bearing a torch, and took it from him.

The entire assembly stood still, holding their breath, watching their king. Odin faced the ship again, then stared at it as if he was suddenly seeing something he could not understand. His gaze searched for his wife a moment, lost. Thor put a hand on his shoulder. Then, Odin straightened, and threw the torch.

The image of the whirling fire burned itself into Loki's mind. The fire struck the fore section, the torch rattled, and the wood burst into flame. Then, the mighty Thor stepped forward, pressed his shoulder to the aft of the boat, took three steps and gave a single great heave.

The boat slid out into the water, waves rippling around its bow and rushing in duet with the hiss and crackle of the flames.

Icy wind gusted down from the heights of Asgard and filled the sail. The boat enlivened, and swept out to sea. Loki's eyes fixed upon the gnawing flames as they surrounded Balder's bed and began climbing up his draped garments.

And then they swallowed him—enveloped him completely in white-hot tongues. And strands of his shimmering hair severed and took flight, like weightless leaves of gold.

Then, strange flecks of ice began drifting down from the highest sky in legions, to meet the smoke—they dotted the cloaks and heads of the onlookers—silent and subtle, chilling the air. And for the first time in all eternity, it snowed in Asgard.

Loki turned away and closed his eyes, pressing his forehead to the icy column.

They all knew. Some believed. Some did not. His family acknowledged the truth about Balder, and about what Loki had done. But nothing could assuage their grief, regardless of the evidence. Instead, it made it raw, reasonless. Inconsolable.

One touch of Odin's hand and Loki's wrists had been healed, leaving only faint scars behind. But nothing could erase the black, ugly lines that trailed down his back and shoulders—and nothing could restore ruddiness to the pallor of his skin—the snake had marked him with a look of death for the rest of time.

Loki lifted his clouded eyes and found his little family again—Frigg had come down to stand in Odin's arms, pressed close to Thor. All of them gazed out at the gradually fading ball of flame that headed toward the pale light on the water.

Then, Thor turned his head and looked at Loki.

Loki did not recognize him, either.

And in that moment, something inside his heart cracked and broke away, and was lost forever.

Fallen Star

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Alydia Rackham

Part 17 of 27

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