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When the deed is done he stands for a long moment on the mountain.

It is the highest point in all of the Realms: capped with snow and a biting sleet, the barren rocks plummeting downward in a sheer slide to the ocean. It is night-time and the moon is a sallow-shaped horn against the cloud. The stars have been blotted out.

He looks out at the water. There is a sound building inside of him and rattling his bones. He is breathing heavily through his nose, afraid of opening his mouth. The warm slick of blood is still running down the length of his arm; he is still holding the dagger, barely feeling where his fingers are, his body rooted to the ground and trembling like a spent horse, his heart bolting a gallop.

He can taste his own fear like a coin on the tongue. For the first time in his life, he is entirely alone – even in his exile he had felt the phantom of Thor’s existence, but now there is nothing.

A bird of some kind screams in the distance, ugly and shrill.

He throws the dagger into the sea.

--

Thor is waiting for him at the Pass of Gilgaroth. Overhead the moon is slowly rising – the faint light bleeds along the line of Thor’s shoulders, down the length of his bare arms like running water.

Thor is not armoured. Mjolnir hangs from his belt but she is silent. Her runes are unlit and still.

“You came,” he says as he approaches. Thor nods. “You did not bring anybody with you?”

“No,” Thor says.

“You should have. Are you not afraid that I shall kill you?”

Thor looks at him, then matches his pace easily up the mountain path. “I have never been afraid of that.”

Beneath them, the expanse of the Holder Sea is glittering darkly like a mirror. As a child he had been afraid of the ocean; he had read books about creatures with long, tangling arms, eyes as large as his hands. Even when Thor had landed such a creature on Asgard’s shoreline many centuries later, he had still been afraid, though he had seen for himself how harmless the beast appeared: its rubbery, vulnerable flesh; its single eye dim and clouded over in the daylight; its flimsy limbs.

He is walking slowly on purpose, trailing between the boulders like a maiden on her wedding night. He can see the slant of Thor’s shadow on the ground next to him.

He is putting one foot in front of the other; he is trying not to shake.

“Where are we going, brother?” Thor asks. It is not the light, careless voice Thor had as a boy – it is not the furious, half-muted roar on the mountain in Midgard, Thor’s palm hot against his neck. It is only tired, like they have been walking this way for millennia. “Can we not sign the treaty here?”

“Not here. There is nothing to bind us here.”

“Loki, you know that I need but your word. Your promise, made truly, would be enough for Asgard.”

“The promise of a Liesmith?” He takes the corner sharply, puts the crag of a boulder between them. “I see you have not learned anything in these past few years.”

“I have learned that you are wronged.”

“By whom?”

Thor grabs at his arm. “By me. By those who have loved you, and love you still. Loki – ”

He jerks away, his entire body strung taut as a bow.

They stare at each other across the dirt. Thor’s hand has left an imprint against his skin, right through the armour and the chain metal of his shirt. His heart is clattering inside his ribs. He thinks perhaps Thor has left it right on his bones as well – the ridges and grooves of Thor’s fingertips, on the deepest parts of him.

The cold touch of metal against his thigh and Thor says, “I have failed you.”

He hesitates, recovers. “Oh, there is no need for you to take all the credit. Leave some for the others.”

“None have wounded you as deeply as I have.”

“You have not such a hold over me, Odinson,” he spits, shoving past. “You always did believe that all the Realms revolved around you – that you were the centre of all things. It is not so.”

“But you have brought this war on us for my sake; do not think I do not know it.”

“You know nothing. You are a child.”

“I was when I let you fall away from us,” Thor says; “But now I shall bring you home.”

For a moment he sways on the brink of the mountain, his head going light. I cannot do this. You cannot ask me to do this. His breath is jagged already and the knife hasn’t even left its sheath. He is not even looking into Thor’s face. Two centuries ago, a king in Adrovir was about to be murdered by his pageboy, but the child could not do it – with the sword at his sovereign’s throat, looking into the eyes of a man who had never done him any wrong, he had faltered in the final moment. He had let the blade slip from his grasp. He had wept.

Thor’s arm slings across his shoulder, pulling him in close. He stumbles forward. Thor steadies him, a hand on either side of his jaw, bringing their foreheads together.

“Brother,” Thor says; whispers it between them. “I have brought this upon us. Forgive me.”

“No,” he says. “I cannot.”

The dagger is soundless, slipping into his hand like a fish through water. He waits until the knowledge enters Thor’s eyes. The last betrayal. Do not think. He wants to close his eyes but it is the final honour given to a warrior in battle, to watch him as he passes: I am here. I am here. I am here.

--

The plains are running crimson, dirty slush mixed with blood. In the river, bodies bob gently like the planks of a bridge, one bank to the other. Banners ripple in the freezing wind. The moans of the dying.

He is barely propped up himself, a gash above his eye turning his sightline fluid and unsure. The plates of his armour clatter noisily. He is dragging air into his lungs in the manner another man might drag fish up with a net: a slippery endeavour, a battle fought every step of the way.

His knees are in danger of giving out. He wants to sit, but he can’t.

He can make Thor out in the distance. Thor’s armour is dulled with mud and gore, hair knotted grittily. Moving slowly across the field, and wearily, but without the flinch of a man injured – there have been times when he has thought that Thor is protected, that some great sorcerer of the ages has cast a spell on his brother that deflects all things.

He does not know how long he waits. The world around him is tipping, sloshing about at the edges. He is out of sorcery to heal himself. He could not, at this point, even wipe away a bruise.

Thor catches him just before he drops. “Loki.”

“Get away,” he snaps angrily. “Do not lay your hands on me. I do not need your assistance.”

“No,” Thor says, and then suddenly shakes him by the shoulders. “It is not assistance you need. No man could offer you assistance. You are mad. Do you not see what you have done? Do you not look on this plain, on what has happened today – ”

“I have made you a present, is all. Are you not fond of war? Is this not what you desire, above all else?”

“I do not desire the death of my people – ”

“Only of mine. Very well.”

“If you would but hear me out – ”

“You have nothing to say,” he interrupts. He blinks the blood from his eyes, then wonders – as he always has – how his blood is not blue. “You know the one thing that would stop me, and still you hesitate.”

Thor’s eyes darken. “I do not believe it is the only way.”

“It is. I have consulted the stars.”

“The stars may lie.”

“Why would they?” He looks Thor full in the face, shaping his mouth into the sneer that he knows will make Thor flinch. “The stars have no attachments. They owe nothing to anyone. They are without bias, without feeling, without allegiance. They have no hearts. What need would they have to lie?”

“I will not argue with you – but I know that what you believe is not true. I know it.”

“You want to know it,” he spits. “You pray for it, Thor. That is not the same thing.”

He feels Thor’s grip on his shoulders tighten. As if Thor believes that if he holds on, if he grips tightly enough, all else will fall away. When they were children Thor had a wolf cub given to him by the princess of Pesmuril, the Ninth and final Realm; he fed it the best things from his own plate, gave it the warmest furs to sleep upon, and in the fourth year the cub, fully grown, ran away.

“I do not know what madness has descended upon you,” Thor tells him, harshly, “but I will not consent to your death. I will not be the one to kill you. You are my brother.”

“I am no such thing,” he says.

Thor shakes him again. “Loki, will you not hear sense – ”

He pulls away. There is a cold, hard emptiness in his stomach. Perhaps it is all the blood he has lost; he has left a bright smear on Thor’s cheek, though he has no idea how. He has not touched him, surely.

“Would you force my hand?” he says. His voice breaks midway. He swore once that it would not.

“I would not harm you if the world depended upon it. I would rather die myself.”

The emptiness in him swells. Thor does not know what he is saying. They are boys, and Thor is throwing words away carelessly as if they are pebbles: I would die for honour. I would die for a maiden’s hand, if I loved her. I would die in a battle so that my body may be borne away by the eagles, my ashes scattered amidst the stars that do not fade.

Oh, he thinks, like a spear through the heart: oh, my brother.

“If you would rather have peace,” he says, “then sign a treaty with me tonight.”

Thor watches him, like a half-open door. “A treaty?”

“Yes. With the stars, whom you so disdain, as witness. Or are you content with the way that things are at present? I for one do not mind them.”

“You know how I feel about the present,” Thor says. “I will sign. Name the place.”

“At the Pass of Gilgaroth. Bring no-one else.”

He is speaking as if through a very great distance. It is as if he has stepped out of his body and is looking now upon a scene in a play, script in hand. It is as if his soul has wandered off.

--

They are a day’s ride away from the Crygnal Plains when Amora comes to his tent.

“You are not resting?” she says. Her golden hair, catching the light of his candle, flickers a soft orange. “The troops are already bedded down. We have a long ride tomorrow.”

“And then a war,” he says.

She smiles at him, dagger-sharp. “And then a war.”

He has a map of Crygnal splayed out on the table. He is not actually seeing it – in any case it is already in his memory, the dips and crests of the landscape and the marshes to the west, the places where the soil is damp and soft and bad for horses. He is wandering, instead, through a different scene lit by candlelight. His feet lead him through the forests on the fringe of Asgard’s territory. He is meandering beside the sinuous curve of Asgard’s streams, brimming with fish. His mind skims the labyrinth of the palace halls, ceilings as high as a boy-child’s dream of the heavens, full of promise.

Amora’s small hand skates up his arm. Everything she ever does is forward, brutal, demanding abrupt attention. “Are you sure you will not reconsider my proposal?”

“I have already given you an answer,” he says.

“But I see the ghosts in your face. I would hate for you to be inconvenienced.”

“You mean, you would hate for me to fail.”

“Do you wonder at that?” she says, laughing. But her eyes are twin points digging into him. “Too often do these grand plans go smoothly until the crucial moment, at which they fall apart. We are all prone to moments of weakness. It is nothing against you.”

He looks at her coldly. “I see you doubt my resolve.”

“I doubt that you love him no longer.”

“Would I make war on him, if I loved him?” he says. His hands are white-knuckled where they are braced on the map. “Would I slaughter everything I know he holds dear, burn the city that he cherishes – ”

“You know that Asgard will recover. Already, she is rebuilding.”

“Not fast enough. We shall descend upon her again. I vow it.”

The mask falls from her face so suddenly it is like ripping away a curtain. Her green eyes flash a hot fire.

“Your vows are worth nothing, Laufeyson,” she spits at him. “You’ve sworn many oaths and discarded them. By mid-summer, you promised, we would be seated in the great hall of Kalaj-Rilm – but it is winter now and we have not even won Crygnal. We are not fighting; we are crawling, and all the Realms laugh at us. We have met Thor three times in battle now and you have not yet slain him, though you swore you would. So am I now to believe, like a fool, that you will slay him tomorrow?” Her laughter is no longer playful; it is hard and rough, as bright as a slap. “We both know there are better odds of me killing him.”

He folds his hands together. “Is that what you are going to try and do tomorrow? Kill Thor?”

“Tomorrow, I am going to win the war.”

“That was not my question.”

“There is only one way to win this war, and we both understand it.”

Yes, he thinks; we both do. He makes a neutral sound deep inside his throat and looks away. “So be it, then. You have my permission. I will yield Thor to you.”

It is in the instant of surprise passing over her face, when he strikes. His magic rips her apart. He does not stop when she is dead – he shreds her as Thor once shred a piece of unhappy homework in a fit of temper. Words, tumbling in scraps to the floor. Proverbs and the wisdom of ancient prophets stamped underfoot. He ruptures her at the bones and peels apart her viscera, strand by strand, piece by piece; here, the part where I promised you this, where I told you that I would sacrifice that, this sentence, that clause, this pact that we signed with the blood of others, the legends of old men dead and buried, half-forgotten, all words, all the universe just words, like a song without meaning or a life without heart.

He watches as her blood sinks into the ground. Not so long ago he stood in Jotunheim’s High Temple, at the exact place where the All-Father stole him away. I thought that you would help unite our two kingdoms.

Words, words, words, words.

--

He thinks at first that it is Amora worming her way into his head, but it is not. It is a dream all his own.

In sleep, he is honest. When his eyes are closed the terror comes over him like it used to when he was a child. He is small again, and crying in the dark of his room because of a book he found in the library: a terrible creature in the sea, many yards long, inky black with eyes that glare in the deepest parts of the water, dragging him beneath the surface. The pummelling of his heart like a knot in his throat. The slow, icy death, his lungs empty of air; fingers reaching for a sky much too far away, and fading fast.

“There is nothing to fear from such monsters,” Frigga had said, smoothing his hair gently away from his face as he rocked and cried. “They are not nearly as frightening in life as they are in legend.”

“But they grabbed my ankles, Mother, and they – ”

“You dreamed that they did. But they did not, for you are still here. Do not be afraid.”

“Have you seen such a monster before? Do they live in Asgard’s waters?”

Frigga had placed a soft kiss on his hair, smilingly. “We do have them in Asgard, my son, but they live very far out to sea. They do not come into the shallows.”

“Have they ever killed anyone?”

“No. They are harmless, I assure you.”

He’d looked up into the calm of her face. He’d felt stupid. Thor never had any nightmares; he supposed Thor knew how to fight them off, boy with a golden sword in a dreamscape, battling off dragons.

“Please,” he’d said in a small voice: “You won’t tell Thor?”

“Of course not.”

“Do you promise?”

“I promise,” she’d said. “Do not think any more on those creatures, Loki. Try and sleep.”

But now, again, they come for him with their grasping arms, seeking to drown him. They tangle him up and sink. He knows now that fear is born of unknown things – of what emerges in the imagination, murky and indefinite, larger than life. All of your childhood terrors, made into one. Thor, like a drowned man rising up out of the sea, arms weighed down by yards of kelp and hollow pearls for his eyes; these are the things of nightmares, Thor dead and his blood streaked across the grass, Thor with his body opened by vultures, Thor with his viscera gleaming.

He thinks, I cannot do it. You cannot ask that of me. I would rather die myself. I would rather have my bones pawed over by foxes, my entrails thrown out for the dogs.

We are told by all of the ballads that Thor is braver – let him live with what must be done, for I cannot.

He has been told before that the heart is a treacherous place, a broad expanse of uncharted ocean; you cannot know the depth of it. You cannot know what lies within. You may be surprised. A brave man might lose his nerve at the critical moment – a coward might find it. Beneath where the sun can reach, there is no light to guide your way; there is only the push and pull of the current, and that can lead anywhere.

--

He sees the bright point of Mjolnir arcing through the air a split second before she hits him in the chest.

He goes down spluttering. Nothing in battle is neat and he is in real fear of being stepped on, mashed into the dirt. Two feet away from his face there is someone’s severed arm. A horse, panicking and missing her rider, kicks it away – he loses sight of it, skittering somewhere through the grass.

He has managed to crack two ribs. He is pinned beneath Mjolnir’s weight; Amora is nowhere in sight. He counts the seconds as they trickle breathlessly past, snarling and pitching spells. Would you leave me to die here, brother, stabbed by a stray soldier? Gnawed to pieces by one of my own wolves? He sends one howling back into the fray with her fur on fire.

It is just like Thor, to throw first and think later. He has seen Mjolnir shatter the skull of a Ridden-beast like matchwood. But a bit more spirit in it, and you could’ve killed me. You could’ve ended the war.

Mjolnir glides off him and he pitches to the side, coughing and gasping.

“Get up,” Thor says. Shadow looming like a mountain. “I will not strike you while you are down.”

Anger spikes inside him, white-hot; he struggles into a crouch. “I do not care for your mercy, brother.”

“Then what do you care for? What would you have me do with you?”

“I would have you fight, without your holding yourself back.”

Thor blinks. “But then I would kill you.”

It is not enough, to lay the truth out to Thor as one would lay out a calf for the sacrifice. He rears up onto his feet. A horse is screeching somewhere in the muddle behind them, an animal scream that works its way into his bones.

“Are you not man enough to do the deed?” he says, tilting up his chin. “Are you such a coward, that you would throw away your kingdom for the life of a brother already dead to you?”

Thor takes a step forward, eyes narrowed furiously. “You are not dead to me, Loki.”

“I should be. You would be stronger, and a greater king, if I were.”

“That is not the kind of king that I wish to be.”

“A good one?”

“One without feeling,” Thor says. “How could I live with myself afterwards? How could I face any of my subjects? You are my brother and you always will be. If you force me to fight, I shall fight. But I will not go any further, whatever your crimes, whatever you decide to destroy.”

“What if I killed Sif?” He is feeling, already, for his knives. “Over there?”

“Loki, she has always loved you.”

“She loves you better. That is crime enough, for me.”

“Your vengeance is against me,” Thor roars, lurching forward in a half-panic. “You cannot – ”

He throws. He is not Thor. He thinks first, throws after, the blade flashing with magic to keep its aim true. Sif is battling a creature twice her size, not even looking in the right direction. He sees the shock stiffen her limbs as the knife sinks into the back of her neck like a steel tooth; and then, because Thor is watching, he twists the blade.

The creature, one of his own, sees the advantage and slices her head clean off.

No.” Thor is frozen in place. “No, you wouldn’t – this isn’t – ”

“I think you have forgotten who I am,” he says. He is not looking in the direction of her headless body. He will not look. “Still you cherish the image of the boy that ran after you in the palace, obeying your every whim, giving you all you desired – that boy is no more.”

“You cannot – Loki, I do not believe – ”

“Have I not proved it? Or would you lose another friend to your sentiment? Hogun, perhaps?”

Thor snarls, and then Mjolnir is singing through the air towards his skull. He does not make a move to dodge. He waits patiently.

But then at the very last moment there is a hitch in her path, and she misses by barely an inch.

--

He is burning the city.

Amora is beside him. She is wearing a bright shade of venomous green with a pale circlet of gems upon her hair. She has placed both her hands on the railing and they are clenched so tight they look like claws, like the talons of a vulture hovering over a carcass.

“She is burning too slowly,” Amora says. “At this rate, the fire will be put out.”

“Do you wish to rule over a city or over an ash-heap?” he asks her.

“I would have Asgard charred to her bones.”

“And she will be. But not destroyed.”

She turns to look at him. “The story is that you wished to destroy Jotunheim. That you turned the mighty eye of the Bifrost upon it, and all but shattered it to pieces.”

He pushes away from the balcony. “This is not Jotunheim.”

They are within the palace itself, scant feet away from the throne room. When they had first passed through the Hall he had kept his eyes fixed forward, not daring to look to either side.

He goes now and looks. It will all be dust in a few hours anyway, crumbled with the bones of rats and small animals, scraps of metal marking where the pillars once were. Hall of our Fathers. He half expects Thor to come rocketing out of the shadows in a crown. Aeons of stories will be buried beneath these beams. When Kalaharn died, his body had been put out to sea and his soul given up to wander the oceans until Ghorra retrieved it – he had asked, but will not his soul remember? Will not his soul come home to Asgard’s shores, navigating by the stars? For I have heard of shipwrecked men who have done so.

The All-Father had raised a hand, calling for the pyres to be lit. “The dead have no memory.”

It is the living whom must remember, whom must survive with the knowledge of what they have done. It is the living whom are fated with such a curse. The dead have surpassed it.

The last time he had stood inside of these walls, he had faced judgement.

You should’ve killed me, All-Father, he thinks. From the city below he can hear the crash of buildings collapsing and the screams of innocent men. You should’ve dashed my brains out when you had the chance. But you could not do it. You were weak.

You had not the courage, to break your own heart.

--

They are boys and they are riding through the Forest of Sidenheim.

It is the quiet sort of day on which history is made. Thor would have you think that history is made on days of fire, or on days of buffeting storms, or on days when the earth breaks apart and gaping canyons open beneath your feet. But history is a creeping thing. History is human, and like everything else that is human, it is there before you know it.

Thor rides Dram through a bramble bush, kicking and hollering. “Where is this dratted wolf? We have ridden for hours. I have a mind that the villagers lied to us.”

“They didn’t,” he says. “Did you not look into their faces? They were afraid.”

“Wolves are nothing to be afraid of,” Thor says. “I’ll split this one in half with my sword.”

“I don’t think she’ll take very well to that idea.”

Thor ignores him. “And then you will help me take off her pelt so that Mother can make me a coat. And her teeth – I will pluck out the longest ones, and wear them as a necklace. Or I shall present them to Father.” Thor tips his head, and the sun gleams off his hair. “He will like that.”

“You have never slain a beast before on your own, Thor.”

“But I am not on my own. I have you.”

“To sit on her and hold her still on the ground as you ready your sword for the fell blow?”

“Yes,” Thor says. But then Thor turns in the saddle, frowning. “You are making fun of me, Loki. Do you not believe I can do this?”

“I believe you should’ve allowed me to at least tell some of the guards – ”

“But then they would not have permitted us to go!”

“Can you fault them? But a week ago an attempt was made on the King of Adrovir’s life.”

“Oh, that.” Thor waves a hand dismissively and swivels back to face the front, digging in his heels. “I do not understand why everybody makes such a fuss. Nothing came of it in the end.”

“The pageboy has been put to death.”

“In what manner?”

“In the manner of a traitor,” he says, and ducks underneath a branch. “They will hang him until he is half-dead, and then they will take him down and cut him open. They will take out his insides and burn them before his own eyes. And then they will cut off his head.”

“And he never even made a scratch on the king,” Thor says. “To die such a death for nothing. I almost pity him. He cannot be much older than us.”

He wants to say, he is not. He is in fact younger. But Thor will not understand – in Thor’s mind, the boy is a fool for accepting such a task, and then doubly a fool for not accomplishing it.

“You would not have made a scratch on him either, brother,” he says. “They say Adrovir is a great king.”

“A great tyrant, you mean. And I heard that the boy made a pledge to see the act through.”

“A pledge is just words,” he says, abruptly annoyed. “It is easy to make a pledge.”

“So says the Silvertongue.”

No, Thor does not understand. Of the two of them he is indeed the one better able to shape a phrase, to carve language into an attractive form, to ply a sentence like a jewel – but he is also more. He has known it for many centuries. Thor is honest because Thor can afford to be honest; Thor has never needed to fight. This I will do, this I will not do. This it goes against my honour to do, so I will leave it to others. I will slay the wolf, and you will fetch me the pelt. I wish it. Therefore it will be so.

Second-born son, the lesser loved, he must be borderless. What Thor cannot do he must be able to compensate for. He must be prepared to do anything.

Thor pulls Dram up with a jerk. “Do you hear that, Loki?”

“What?”

“That noise, in the distance! Can you not hear it?” Thor’s eyes are bright with excitement, leaping in the slanting sun like two flames. “I think it must be the wolf. I am going to find her.”

He pitches forward in the saddle. “Brother, wait – ”

But Thor is gone, riding Dram at a heedless gallop through the trees.

He sighs. The morning is nearly done; they are inching toward noon. Mother or Father will notice them gone in an hour or so, and then they will be in trouble.

From his left, a sound rises up – a high-pitched whine, like a creature in pain.

He is on the alert instantly. Thor has ridden in the wrong direction, which does not surprise him at all. Where the sound has come from there is a falling-away of the ground, stilted and rocky: a yawning ravine lined with vines and groundcover, the air moist against the damp trunks of trees.

Sunlight weaves sparsely down through the branches. It is hard to make out exactly where the noise is coming from, or what is making it. He hovers in the saddle – he is not a fighter, and Feifnir cannot pick a safe way down such a steep slope. If he wished to go he would have to go on foot. If he met the wolf down there, he would have to slay her alone.

He hears the sound come drifting up again, and he decides.

He slides off Feifnir’s back. He ties her bridle to a tree. There are some in the city, the boys of Asgardian nobles, who call him a coward. He feels a clamouring inside of his chest, like the rattling of dice. There is nothing to fear from such monsters. You will not drown me this time. He wades through the greenery, feet sinking deep in the mud between rocks, pushing as if against an invisible tide. The pageboy in Adrovir looked into the face of his king and was afraid to deal the killing blow. But what of it? If you are alive, you bear the consequence; you pay the price. One foot in front of the other. In the trenches at the very bottom of the ocean, dark things may stir without your knowing – devotion, hatred, love.

He comes across the wolf at the foot of a short cliff, crying, with her forelegs broken. He stands for a long moment staring: it is the same wolf that Thor once raised as a cub.

Thor’s voice is very far away, coming from a distance above them: “Loki? Where are you?”

“I am here,” he yells back. “I thought I heard a sound.”

Clattering and stamping, Dram’s hooves snapping twigs. “Is it the wolf? Have you found her?”

He goes to the creature. She has laid her grey head down on a rock. She is a cub no more, lean and dangerous now, the terror of the village. Oh, he thinks; how my brother loved you once. How he treasured you, the epicentre of his heart. How it would break him if he saw you.

She does not move when he lays his hand on her fur, fingertips seeking the wing-beat flutter of her pulse.

“What are you doing down there?” Thor hollers.

“Do not come down,” he calls up, as bright as he can muster. “There is nothing here.”

He sits down beside her in the dirt and pulls her head into his lap. He strokes her along her ears. He tickles her softly beneath the chin in the way Thor used to, in the way he knows she likes best. Her breathing is laboured and he can smell the fear clinging to her fur, matted into it: the desperate, pining kind, the loneliness that only an animal has.

He kisses her once on the top of her head and then, gently, quietly, he snaps her neck.