Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 16 of 19

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To Cleave the Stars

Song(s) of the chapter: The Last Man, by Clint Mansell...Mother, Mother, by SOLA-MI...and Can You See Jane, by Patrick Doyle

She'd known going into this that Jotunheim was the home of the frost giants, and it stood to reason that it would be cold. Colder than Tromsø had been, perhaps. But knowing something cerebrally was not the same as experiencing it, and nothing could have prepared Jane for those first few breaths her desperate lungs heaved in after slipping between the realms. How the wind itself seemed made of razors that sliced her chest into ribbons, cutting the nerves to her diaphragm as it stole the air from her. Ice and snow scoured her exposed face, stinging like a slap until she lifted the hood of her cloak and buried her face far back in the depths of it. The thickly furred edges of it gave her just enough respite from the howling gale to catch her breath once more, and as she huddled into the warm embrace of it she thanked Frigga a thousand times over. This was so much worse than Norway, than anything she could have prepared for on her own.

Thor and the others seemed to scarcely take note of the conditions, snapping to attention the moment they all stumbled onto the frozen ground from the bridge Jane had created. Hands clutched at the hilts of various weapons, wary and alert. As far as Jane could tell not a living creature stirred in the lonely maze of ice, tumbled about in rough blocks and boulders as if a great igloo had crumbled. Dotted about were broken columns, spires that had cracked and collapsed beneath the relentless gnashing teeth of the wind and snow. The only sign of anything intact that had been created by hands was a towering seat carved from the frozen landscape in the distance, with wide uneven steps hewn up a slope to it. Beside it some sort of lights flickered around a hole punched into the cliffside that rose like a frozen wave, looming blue-green over the rough plain they stood on.

"We search for Skadi," Thor said as he set off in the direction of that wintry throne, without the slightest sign of doubt that everyone would follow. Jane supposed that was partly what it meant to be the crown prince. Always expecting unquestioning obedience. Had he treated even his own brother in this same brusque manner? She wanted to believe he hadn't...but what little she'd been shown of their relationship spoke otherwise. The rest of the party fell into a practiced formation, ringing around Jane with Thor in the lead as their long legs picked an easy path over the rough ground, forcing Jane into an undignified scramble as she struggled to keep up.

As they drew closer, she began to see that some of those formations she'd thought columns had eyes, ruby studs set in their hairless blue faces that focused hungrily on the approaching party. Her heart began to hammer even as the jotun simply watched the Aesir pass, for they were each half again as tall as Thor, the tallest of the group, and their oddly angular physiques were heavy with muscle.

It was a nerve-wracking gauntlet for Jane, and beneath the cover of her cloak she clutched at the satchel that held her bridge generator, as if just the promise of escape could keep her safe. She didn't doubt that Thor and his friends would do their best to protect her, but against creatures as enormous and powerful as these? A single blow would end her. She couldn't for the life of her reconcile these giants with the lean form of Loki, even as tall as he was. It was no wonder that they had found him deficient.

There was a figure lounging in that seat, a woman with white hair and crimson eyes and cut-glass features, whose hungry smile belied her nonchalant posture. There was no token of rank, no crown that sat upon her brow, but it was obvious from the way the other jotun looked to her for cues that this was their queen. Thor lead them fearlessly to the base of those steps, his golden hair standing out from the shadowy azure surroundings like a shaft of sunlight piercing the ocean.

"Skadi," he called up, and Jane winced at his blatant omittance of her title even as Skadi narrowed her eyes. "It has been six weeks. I demand the return of Prince Loki, who has served his sentence as agreed."

Lazily Skadi unfurled her lean frame from the seat, looking primal and wicked in her fur-trimmed armor. Ropes made from teeth and claws clattered about her neck as she slowly descended, gleaming bones that had been torn from countless beasts. Jane shivered at the size of them all and prayed she never met their creatures of origin.

"Certainly." She tilted her head thoughtfully and snowy hair spilled in an avalanche over one shoulder. "Such devotion to one who is not even kin should be commended. Would that you felt as compassionate towards all jotun, Thor." Those unearthly red eyes swung about towards Jane and seemed to pierce the dark depths of her hood easily. "Or perhaps you simply make a habit of collecting strays. Such an odd taste in pets the Aesir have developed."

Thor made no motion save the slightest twitch of his hand towards Mjolnir, but it was enough to have the rest of the Aesir start for their own weapons. "I will brook no insult aimed at Jane in my presence, Skadi." The low growl of his voice held a promise of violence that lifted Skadi's brows.

"You would war over a mortal?"

Thor's eyes were flat with distaste. "I would gladly spill your blood over even less pretense, but that is neither here nor there. I have come for Loki, and will not be distracted."

A musical laugh drifted from Skadi as she turned from them towards the tunnel that yawned in the cliff beside her throne. "Very well. Know this though, little doubting prince - I keep my vows." She beckoned to them before setting off, plunging into the shadowed mouth of the cavern.

"I do not like this. It reeks of a trap, Thor," Hogun broke his silence to point out, and Sif murmured her agreement.

"Perhaps." Thor shrugged. "But what choice do we have? She would not be suicidal enough to make any real attempt on our lives."

They marched behind Skadi and Jane twitched at the feeling of being swallowed by some vast beast as they passed into the passageway, amongst the icicles that reached like tusks towards each other. The close walls of the tunnel were oppressive even to someone of Jane's stature, the walls seeming to press together in their wake. That feeling was only relieved when the passage ended in a doorway that led to a large room, perfectly domed as if a bubble had been trapped when this world first froze.

It was dim, lit only by some indistinct source of light that trickled down from far overhead, but what Jane could make out set her heart plummeting, careening painfully off each rib as it fell. Her eyes told her brain what they saw but it couldn't seem to make sense of the picture, the whole scene a jigsaw that had been rearranged all wrong.

That couldn't be Loki, sagging pale and motionless in those cruel shackles, green scales sliding about his neck in nauseating patterns.

Hanging like so much empty meat.

The mirror-finished floor nearly tripped her up as she ran across the distance that separated them, terror a thistle in her mouth she couldn't speak around. Behind her she heard Thor's voice rise in fury.

"What have you done to him?"

"Nothing he did not deserve," Skadi spat back. "Fear not, he lives still. Again. For the moment."

The comment contained a puzzle Jane couldn't be bothered to solve at that moment. She slid to a stop just as the serpentine necklace Loki wore raised a head and hissed death at her. This close she could just see the shallow rise and fall of his chest. She swallowed her fear so that she could speak, the spiny lump of it scratching her throat raw as it went.


There was no noise but the quiet rustle of the others drawing closer behind her. She held her breath until spots swam before her eyes, terrified that the slightest sound might drown out any faint sign of response from him, but he never spoke. The black lace of his lashes never stirred against the ivory of his cheeks. Jane's fingers burned with the need to reach out, but the snake's heavy head danced figures in the air between them, so she balled them into fists at her sides and tried her hardest to draw a full breath.

At first she thought the serpent was agitated by her presence, weaving to ward her off. But the snake kept rising, high and higher until it towered over both her and Loki. It wasn't until that great mouth gaped and fangs snapped forth that the sick surety of what was about to happen punched her in the gut. Like lightning from the heavens the creature struck, burying those daggers of bone deeply into the white column of Loki's throat.

He jerked into motion at that, his back bowing as the tendons of his neck tried to crawl out from his skin. Eyes flew open, wide and unseeing and glazed with agony. Something that might have been a scream weeks ago tore from his ruined throat. It was only a shadow of itself, but even that ghost of a cry made her want to claw at her ears. She knew now, if anyone ever asked her, what sound a soul made when it bled.

The snake stayed fixed there, pumping venom into Loki's veins as he thrashed like a broken puppet beneath it. Webs of grey spread across his skin as the poison sowed death in its wake, mapping out the slow ruin of a life. She heard vaguely, over the sound of Loki's misery, Thor's own cry of horror.

The dagger at her side sprang into her hand before she'd even realized she'd drawn it. Without a thought, without hesitation, without regard for how monumentally foolish it was, she raised the blade and brought the little knife down on that hateful serpent's head.

She'd hoped that at best she might draw it away, give it a new focus and prod it into releasing Loki. Maybe then one of the others would have a chance to kill it. What she didn't expect was for the needle point of the dagger to fall upon the polished black eye of the snake. For the keen metal to punch through the orb and thin bone below. For it to bury itself up to the hilt in the eyesocket of the snake with the sickening slide of metal into flesh.

She only knew she couldn't watch as another grain of Loki's life fell through the hourglass.

The head tossed upwards, ripping her hand from the grip of the knife as the snake hissed with pain, the motion flinging drops of venom about to smoke on the polished floor. Some of it spattered across Jane's hands when she flung them up to shield her face, as the snake fell like a cut rope from Loki's neck to thrash about on the ground. It burned with an exquisite sort of agony that stole her voice entirely, denying her the release of crying after her first scream. A pain so bright and brilliant it exploded in constellations behind her clenched eyelids. Once, in college, she'd spilled a stray drop of sulfuric acid on herself and thought she wanted to die. This was a thousand...a million times worse than that had ever been. A stray loop of flailing serpent tripped her as she staggered and she fell heavily to all fours, retching on the meager contents of her empty stomach as the pain and the extent of her stupidity kicked in.

Thumbing her nose at Death once was enough for anyone. She didn't want to start making a habit of it.

"Jane!" Thor cried, and the toe of his boot hooked beneath the writing snake to fling it across the room. It hit the far wall with the sound of wet clay being punched before sliding down into a motionless mass at the base of the wall. Skadi's screech was an awl driving into Jane's ears as she dry-heaved, nausea still twisting her stomach in its vicious grip. If this was what it felt like to merely touch the stuff, she couldn't fathom how Loki survived the poison coursing through his veins. Every breath was a battle fought against herself, against the urge to curl into a ball and whimper. She collapsed with exhaustion, tangling in her cloak as she rolled onto her back and stared up at Loki's bowed head, the pain gradually draining to tolerable.

At the sound of her tearless sobs his face lifted. The eyes that he turned on her were as flat and dull as two pebbles set in his sockets. No hint of lucidity lurked in their stony depths, no spark of recognition. But the fingers of one of his hands twitched, almost as if reaching towards her before they were checked by the band clamped about his wrist.

Light flickered strangely off the smooth ice around her, a reflection of the blue witchfire crackling about Skadi's fingers. "Leash your pet before I avenge mine, Aesir!" Skadi howled, her white hair stirring in the storm that sparked about her.

It was Sif that hauled Jane to her unsteady feet and stood tall before her as Thor rounded on Skadi, a newfound respect on the Aesir shieldmaiden's face. Jane didn't blame her or the others for the surprise that lifted their brows - she'd never in a thousand lifetimes know how she'd managed a strike like that, nor would she probably ever be able to repeat it. She simply thanked God she hadn't managed to somehow stab her own self.

"Your parlor tricks hold no fear for me," Thor growled, one hand wrapping tightly about Mjolnir. "Enough games, enough stalling. Release Loki, now!"

"I can't," Skadi shot back, a macabre grin stretching the skin of her face.

"Explain yourself." Thor's voice rumbled like distant thunder, and even Skadi fell back a step as he advanced on her.

"No spell of mine holds him in bonds any longer. The only thing holding him here is himself, now." Triumph set her red gaze gleaming. "Those shackles were never made to hold a jotun. All he has to do is drop the Aesir mask long enough for them to crumble."

"You violate the spirit of your oath, if not the letter!" Thor raised Mjolnir, and from somewhere far above them, through the layers of ice, they heard the crack of lightning. "You ask the impossible."

"All I want is for him to admit to the betrayer that he is," Skadi hissed. "To stop hiding behind lies! To stop pretending we are simply savages to be culled!" She pointed a finger at Loki, one that trembled with the rage and grief that Jane suddenly saw swamp Skadi's face. "I lost everything at his hands. Parents. Husband. Child. Is it so wrong for me to want him to understand that he is not above us? I wanted to break him, and he resisted. I wanted to use him, and he resisted. This is all I have left, petty as it is."

Beyond the arguing pair, Jane saw motion in the darkened tunnel that had led them to this room. A row of guards filed into the room, blocking their exit. Around her the Aesir drew their own weapons, but no one made motion to attack, not yet. She could see the battle playing out in Thor's darting gaze as his desire to fight warred with prudence, and his knuckles grew white around the grip of Mjolnir. If a skirmish broke out, here and now...what would happen to her? To Loki?

She struggled out from Sif's hold on her and lurched over to Thor, laying a blistered hand gingerly on his free arm. Beneath her fingertips his muscles were inflexible, flinty with anger and tension, but he spared a brief glance down at her.

"Thor," she said quietly, urgency lending force to her words. "Maybe he can do it. It's worth a try. Just ask him." Just the thought of imploring Loki to reach willingly for that part of himself he hated set her insides churning again, but she didn't want to see this all devolve into violence.

His stance softened as he looked down at her, something akin to resignation fanning across his face. "Very well. But...I think it best if you try, Jane."

"I..." She looked back at Loki to find those empty eyes still fixed on her, and the protest withered on her tongue. "Ok."

He'd been insensate as time crept slowly onwards, cognizant only of the relentless march of minutes that measured the abbreviated span of his lives. Death came, heralded by the dry whisper of scales against skin that drowned out everything else. The rut of repetition had ground him down until he was unable to see or hear anything outside of his trench - not the approach of Skadi as she'd taunted him day in and day out, nor the strange pack of visitors that broke the graveyard peace of his prison. Fortune's wheel rolled on inexorably, lifting him only to crush him beneath its rim once more.

But this time, as the moment of his end drew a swan song from the tuning fork of his bones, the notes jangled and soured. Fell away, and the voice that sang in a chorus of agony wasn't his own. That alone was enough to stir something akin to interest, the brief reprieve drawing him slowly from the fortress he'd carefully built out of memory stacked upon memory, those things that had reminded him he'd lived once outside this pit of despair.

The rush of discovery as he'found some new path twisting amongst the stars.

Nights bent over parchmentink swirling across the paperspilled rainbow bringing life to imaginings.

Eyes brown as coffeewarm like chocolatethat saw past illusion and didn'flinch.

Eyes like the ones that peered up at him now, that belonged to a name he couldn't remember how to form, but the syllable echoed in his pulse - in the quiet space between one heartbeat and the next.

He tried to recall how the envelope of his soul worked, how it had once been more than just an anchor. There were words falling upon his ears, familiar sounds that repeated the same pattern softly, one he realized at long last was his own name.

He crept further from the safe walls of recollections.

A figure stood before him, one that spoke and smelled and looked like his friend. Only it couldn't be, for while his friend was beautiful she looked nothing like this one - resplendent despite the pale hand of pain that pinched her features, garbed like an Aesir in his green and brown. Not a trace of blood to be seen.

Maybe madness had finally come to rescue him from this horror.

But the fingers that brushed his sweat-matted hair from his eyes felt real enough as they smoothed over his gritty forehead. Hope forced persistent roots into the cracks of his doubt and spread the gaps wider.

"Loki," she said again, and he couldn't stop himself from meeting her eyes anymore than the compass could swing elsewhere but true. "We've come to take you home."

That word, it meant something too. The glint of gold, and flowers heavy on the wind. Bittersweet. A lush apple rotten at the core. Lips and tongue moved of their own accord, and though the sound they produced was the barest of whispers, it was still an achievement. "Home?"

Her smile was a string of pearls, precious beyond belief despite the line that creased between her brows. "Yes, home. But there's only one way out of these bonds." She paused, and her eyes slid sideways. An unhappy truth it was to be, then. "As a jotun."

His frayed body recoiled at the thought, and fear greased the rusty joints of his voice. "No, no, no, no, no." It faded into a moan, and madness winked flirtatiously at him, opened wide its forgiving arms. That first step would hurt, but the rest would be so easy... "I cannot. The ship of the north calls, and the wildlings mutter war outside. The wolf howls with the wind, and the gnash of his teeth is white, red and white like splintered bone. They all wait, they all circle, they all sing. All hail the king...long live the king."

He broke off abruptly as a black thought surfaced, a waterlogged corpse bobbing up from the riverbed at last. "Did she send you? Are you even real?" His desperate eyes sought out Skadi's hateful face, and though he gibbered inside his head his voice came out monotone. Conversational. Conspiratorial. "She wants to use me, you know. They all want to. Even you, Jane."

"I don't, I don't!" Her denial was vehement and immediate. One slim hand came up to dash away the sudden tears that gathered on her lashes, her fingers blistered and angry. It was the raw redness of them that convinced him, more than any words ever could have, that he hadn't conjured this all in a fever dream. "I'm sorry I ever even thought I would," she said brokenly, and somehow he felt her sorrow as if it were his own.

"It is alright." He tried his best to reassure her, wanted nothing more desperately than to see the treasure of her smile again. "I am but a tool, forged on Fate's anvil. The sword that cleaves the stars. What other purpose do I have than to be used?"

If he thought to calm her, he'd thought wrong. Her tears froze into anger, and her narrowed eyes grew sharp enough to cut.

"That's stupid," she spat. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, Loki. You're not some weapon of destruction. Fate doesn't exist, and there are no prophecies except those we fill ourselves. Where in the stories does it say your sorry self gets rescued by a human?" The challenge in her eyes melted once more into sadness. "Please try, Loki."

How could he deny her when she blazed before him so?

Hesitantly he reached for that cold hard center that had been buried in his infancy, the kernel of ice that slumbered in reversal of a true seed. Waiting out the eternal summer of the Aesir, sleeping until winter called once more. Skadi had almost reached it with the clumsy spade of her magic, but Odin had sown it too deeply to be ripped free so easily.

He felt as frost traced through his veins and stole the flush from his skin. As those hateful ridges rose like welts over his body. Squeezing shut his eyes, he rode out the moment of blindness as they bled to red. So close, nearly there - but he trembled at the lip of the chasm, couldn't force himself to take the last step that would swing the seasons fully from one to another. Fear worried at his ankles like a wolf, dragged him from the precipice.

"You shouldn't rescue me," he whispered. He couldn't even open his eyes, coward that he was. Couldn't bear to see the disgust that would surely be written on Jane's face. "Leave me here, locked away. A new vault for the same old relic."

Her sigh of exasperation slapped him. "Despite what you want to believe, the only person who doesn't seem to give a damn about you is yourself. Do you think I just hauled my cookies halfway across the universe for the fun of it? Look at me, Loki."

He shook his head mutely, but the fervid motion was stilled by the tight grip of fingers against his cheeks as she cupped his chin. They burned like fire against his frigid skin and startled his lids into lifting. Jane's face filled his vision as she lifted onto her toes and forced his gaze down to meet her own.

"Look at me," she demanded, and her brown eyes seared into his. "If you can't be bothered to care about yourself, then I will. And I'm not. Leaving. Without you."

"Jane..." Her name whispered out with his breath, as if it was the shape all air in his lungs defaulted to.

A tiny smile crinkled the corners of her eyes even as her teeth chattered, and he felt her hands tremble against his face. She pressed a careful kiss against the whorls that marred his forehead, and when she drew back her lips were as blue as his own, but her smile never faded. "The world will not end, I promise. Have I ever lied to you?"

There was something wrapped around his throat, squeezing his torso, but it wasn't the least bit painful. It clambered over him like a flowering vine, bolstered his nerves and lent his faltering limbs strength.

He thought it might be faith.

"No," he said softly, and he knew it was the truest thing he'd ever spoken.

He kicked away the cur of doubt, and took that last step.

Winter washed over him, and he was suddenly aware of the subtle ebb and flow of moisture in the air, of the rivers that rushed below the skin of Jane and Thor, of all the Aesir. He could stop it with a thought if he wanted, not even seidr so much as possession. Water called out to him, begged him to halt its frenzied pace, and he curled his fingers against the urge to comply. Deep within the metal that wrapped about his wrists and ankles he could feel the subtle flaws, the stray wisps of moisture that had been worked into its creation. It was but a thought to seize them, grant their wish, and crack the fetters like so much riverbed stone.

But his strength was only an illusion, and without the support of the cuffs he crumpled to the ground, weak as a kitten. Jane yipped with surprise as he fell heavily atop her, managing with every last shred of will he could gather to hold himself up on one shaking arm and keep from crushing her beneath his frigid self.

Thor hauled him up by one arm, heedless of the way his fingers turned white and waxen with cold. Without a care for Loki's appearance or what it might do to himself, Thor crushed Loki in an embrace that stole what little breath he had left.

"Brother," Thor murmured, in a voice that wavered about the edges. "Truly you are the bravest amongst us."

Over Thor's shoulder he saw with a sinking heart as jotun drifted closer. Jane scrambled to her feet, and fumbled a palm-sized device from her satchel that tilted his mouth with pride even through his weariness. She'd done it, after all. Clever girl.

The advancing guards were halted by a sharp gesture from Skadi, even as Sif, Hogun, Fandral, and Volstagg drew closed about their princes and Jane, weapons brandished in a bristling circle.

"He has fulfilled his sentence," Skadi called out in a tight voice. Her blue face was a precise mask, even as her crimson gaze burned into his own. Bitterness lurked in it, as expected...but there was resignation as well, laced with sorrow. "Loki is free to leave Jotunheim."

It wasn't triumph though that Loki felt upon seeing her disappointment, nor even hatred. He hung limply from Thor's grip and tried to scrape up anger...rage...something for the queen of Jotunheim, but all he found was a well of exhaustion. And somewhere, at the bottom of it, maybe even comprehension. He inclined his head in silent acknowledgement and was rewarded by the startled blink of her ember eyes.

Just before darkness unfurled its blessed wings over his aching body, and he succumbed to its sweet grasp.

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 16 of 19

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