(noun.) a sudden turn of events or reversal of fortune; the point of no return
Loki falls in a fall that lasts for centuries, his fingers skimming past the shining branches of Yggdrasil, a hundred million stars rushing past him in the silent stillness of the universe.
Realms above him, Thor paces the halls of the palace at night, his breath frosting in the air.
They never had a body to bury; that is the thing. Thor looks out over the broken bridge stretching over the end of the world, and the golden city hums; quietly, innocently, beneath.
They are children, and Loki is reading over his scribblings with a frown. The bronze walls of the library soar a hundred feet into the skies, the sun outside falling in long, lazy rays through the tall windows. Thor is sitting with his chin in his hands, his eyes half-lidded. He is half asleep.
“Thor,” Loki says, exasperated. “If the Vanir knew that the Prince of Asgard could not tell the past from the present, the great hall would burst from laughter come the visit.”
“I don’t see why Father insists on these studies.” Thor says gruffly, his head dropping into his hands. “They are beholden to us and we conduct matters in the common tongue, besides—” he grins up at his brother. “There is another prince of Asgard to sit in on the councils of old men. I am meant for the field, brother.”
The light from outside brings a hint of colour into Loki’s pale cheeks, the angle of which are beginning to sharpen into points and edges. They are growing into men—this is a truth that all of Asgard knows; that all of Asgard celebrates the way only immortals can. The emergence of new blood, of young blood, is golden after the Great War. Asgard is healing—its towers re-emerging, blood and gristle a distant ringing in their collective memory. The city is lavish in its affections, and Thor laughs while Loki thinks.
Loki’s fingers splay over the rest of Thor’s childish writings, and his other hand runs through his dark hair with a slight tremble. Thor blinks up at him, confused. “Was it something I said, Loki?”
His little brother is never still. He has not the gift for stillness; for staunch unmoving as Thor does. Where Thor towers, Loki shifts his weight; where Thor throws his opponents to the ground with a bellowing of a laugh, Loki darts until they tire; where Thor’s hands close still and resolute around the hilt of a sword, Loki’s fingers are never still unless they are wrapped around a pen. Now his little brother’s fingers fold and bend the piece of paper between them, and his mouth works.
“They have come to discuss the deployment of our troops.” Loki says lightly, never looking up at his brother. “They fear the Jotunns are rearming. There might be war yet, brother.”
Thor laughs, and leans back. “So we shall war. What threat can they pose, with the loss of their power? We’ll decimate them; destroy their planet for good this time. They cannot be so foolish as to pick another fight with Asgard.”
Loki looks up sharply. “We barely triumphed the last time, Thor. Father lost an eye, our forces are depleted, we have not the resources for another war—”
Thor waves a hand. “Asgardian courage and Asgardian warriors are the most formidable of all the realms, Loki. All of Yggdrasil knows that. It shall be sport for the summer, a mighty hunt, and they shall sing songs of the princes and their warriors for centuries to come.”
(He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t think, Loki’s teeth close in on his bottom lip, and he is hit with a sudden chill. A thought strikes him, like a bolt of lightning, and it makes him still in his chair.
Loki catalogues the shock, files it away for future reference. He has always been able to read words in the lines of his own fear.)
Loki does not reply, and amused, Thor looks up at him.
There is something unspoken in Loki’s bright eyes, something desperate like the keening of an animal. Then, his brother’s dark lashes sweep over those green eyes and Loki hands Thor’s homework back to him.
“Fix your tenses.” Loki murmurs.
The city of Asgard is only ever still in the darkest hour. In the day, the streets bustle with the tongues of men and women, Aesir and Vanir, jostling for space on the great avenues, the air alight with a hundred thousand tongues. At night, all is still.
Overhead, the branches of the great Tree stretch across the vast emptiness of the universe, millions of stars glistering on their ends, a hundred million worlds beyond their reach. Thor’s fingers fold over one another, and he leans over the balcony of his room.
There is a small jut of metal and wood around the bend to his right, stretching out unsupported into the air, three hundred feet above the streets. When they were children, Loki used to hide there beyond his sight; used to spend his nights tracing the tops of the palace, evading the guards.
At the edge of Asgard, beyond the broken bridge where Heimdall the Gatekeeper stands, keeping guard over the realms, the waters of the Realm Eternal flow and fall into the abyss at the edge of space. Thor remembers staring into his little brother’s eyes as he let go, remembers the great loss of weight, remembers only now that he had searched Loki’s face for the boy he had known. He remembers only now that he had not found him.
Loki had let go; this Thor remembers in vivid, terrifying detail.
“We must all bear the burden of this loss,” Thialfi the Elder had told him after Loki’s fall. “We must all carry the weight of him like a stone. Prince of Asgard he might have been, but Loki took the easy way out.”
Thialfi had not seen, as Thor had seen. He had not seen the blankness of Loki’s eyes or the silent line of his mouth in his last moments. Loki had not been still until he was dangling off the edge of the world.
They are children, and they are lying on the roof of the palace, four hundred feet above the streets below, looking up at the stars.
“Skoll and Hati,” Loki says, pointing up at a tangle of shining lights that dot the night sky. Thor could not differentiate them for the life of him. “And there, the tail of Nidhogg.”
“Do you believe the stories they tell about the end of the realms?” Thor whispers aside to his brother. Rarely does he regard a need for the lowering of his voice, but somehow, up here, while Asgard is hushed and still beneath them, the air seems sacred somehow. Silence seems like the dues paid in reverence of the stars. “About how the wolves shall devour the sun and the moon, how the serpent will break the roots of the World Tree?”
Loki’s eyes dart between the tail of the serpent and the jaws of the wolves. The pale light of the moon casts a white glow over the planes of his face, puts a shine in his eyes. Thor can almost hear him think, one day I shall travel there. One day I will be looking down at Asgard from those stars.
“I don’t know,” Loki says simply in reply.
“Volstagg told me that if I continued ruining his tales in the dining hall, Skoll would come down and devour me in the night.” Thor says. “I told him I would slay the beast in my sleep.”
Loki snorts. “Volstagg would also have you believe that he singlehandedly defeated Laufey in the Great War. Defeated the boar on his plate in the ensuing feast, more like.”
Thor guffaws, claps a hand over his mouth. His entire body shakes; Loki allows himself a small smile. A comfortable silence falls between the two of them, and Thor stretches on his side of the roof, an arm hitting Loki in the chest.
“If Skoll could devour Sol,” Loki says quietly after a bout of silence. “Then he could swallow Asgard whole.”
Thor turns his head, watches the lines of his brother’s face. Fear is not a trait encouraged in either of Odin’s sons; it is something that must be beaten out of them with steel on the battlefields and tomes of ancient knowledge in the palace’s libraries. Kings cannot be afraid; their Father had told them on more than one occasion. “If the ruler of the nine realms exhibited the faintest trace of fear,” Odin had said, “the people would flee. There would be no realms to speak of.”
Thor trusts Loki. There are things beyond armies and steel, Loki would say to him, years later. The universe holds unspeakable, unshakeable things. Things that burrow in our dreams and will stand for aeons after our bodies turn to ash. And those things we must be wise enough to fear.
Thor trusts his brother. Thor knows that Loki is clever to harbour his fears.
“I would not let them,” Thor says now; a promise, an oath. He has never understood the power of words. “When I am King, I will rule over these creatures. I will lead a great hunt; you, me and Sif and the Warriors Three will hunt the wolves down, so we need never fear the Ragnarok.”
Loki turns a small smile to his brother. “You would conquer the End itself,” he says, and there is a wry humour in his voice.
Thor frowns. “You are laughing at me. I do not understand, brother—I mean every word.”
Loki laughs, up, into the night. His spine follows the air rushing from his lungs. “I know,” he says. “I know you do, Thor.”
Life after Loki—for that is what he is calling it. Life after his brother; life after earth; life after the loss of his own shadow—is a life that pulsates with two small words. It is a life that blinks in and around the two words pounding in his head.
What if. What if. What if.
His father, older, greyer now, had pulled him aside after the burial of the empty casket. “It was not your fault. The burden is mine to bear.”
This is a burden that they all bear, whether they know it or not. Loki’s fall and Loki’s loss weighs upon them all, on some infinitesimally, on others like the giants of myth. On still nights, Thor paces the halls of the palace, his hands tracing over the carved walls and over tapestries, his steps following old laughter and old memories—on those nights, Thor feels the weight of centuries on his back.
He is following the ghosts of their younger selves through the halls. The Thor and Loki of centuries past chase each other through the corridors, and Loki weaves giantesses with horns and wolves with teeth the size of swords for them to fight. Their voices echo back to him, and Thor stands unmoving, listening to their laughs.
They are children, and they are led by the hand to the oldest, most secret room in Asgard. The air is alight with trepidation on both their parts—Thor all but trembling with excitement, Loki’s held quietly, shaking, in check.
“I have dreamed of this day for my whole life!” Thor had exclaimed that morning, bounding into his brother’s room. “Loki, we are about to walk amongst the victories of the brave and fallen—we will be within touching distance of all the relics of the realms—”
Loki had looked up from his books. “Thor, I’m reading.”
“Are you not excited?” Thor asked, his entire body bobbing up and down on the balls of his feet. “Loki, I have waited for this day since before I can remember—”
Loki had rolled his eyes. “You only heard of this chamber six months ago, Thor. Contain yourself.”
“They say that the Casket of Winter resides in that room, Loki!” Thor bounded forwards, clapping Loki’s book shut. “All the relics of the lesser realms, held within the chamber, and—”
“Out,” Loki had said flatly, not without amusement. “I shall meet you in the hall.”
He carried on talking until Loki pushed him out of his room. He remembers he had paused a moment outside Loki’s door; it had not been closed. He had watched his brother’s hands smooth nervously over the front of his tunic when Loki was sure Thor was gone.
In time, Thor will remember this day in painful clarity, every detail etched into his mind.
“Do the Jotunns still live?” Loki asks now, his eyebrows rising in a mixture of fear and excitement. It is clear to the court of Asgard already that the younger son, clever though he may be, will never match the elder in the arts of war. His strikes are not as forceful, his lunges not as quick, his blood does not hum in anticipation of the fight. Loki finds his excitements between the musty pages of old scrolls, his limbs trembling upon certain passages; when he reads of old, dead cities and new magic.
Thor had watched him, on quiet nights, curled up on the ledge beneath his window, his entire body set alight by a certain combination of words in dead languages.
Thor grins at his brother. “When I’m king,” he says; promises. “I’ll hunt the monsters down and slay them all.”
Later, outside, Loki nudges Thor.
“I know.” He says, grinning. “I know we will.”
In time, Thor remembers the moment with painful clarity, with aching detail.
He remembers the way Loki’s grin crooks, remembers that his brother smiles without teeth, looking up at him with those bright eyes that dart. It was not the first time he had called the Jotunns monster; it would not be the last.
The members of the court tell him that Loki’s last days had been filled with increasingly erratic behaviour. They tell him stories of how his brother had stalked the halls, had glared over the horizons of the shining city. There were entire days when he went missing, a lady of the court had whispered to him in confidence. He sent us all away.
It was the arrogance in him, the Elders say. He was a boy who could not be trusted, who grew into a man who could not be believed.
Thor wakes up sweating in the dark, wakes up with his hands stretching for his brother. He wakes up terrified.
The sweat pastes his hair to the back of his neck, and he had never understood, he had never thought—
He had never known, not until now, what it meant to feel fear.
How terrified he must have been, he thinks on quiet nights. They had never seen Loki afraid. They had never known it was possible.
I’ll hunt the monsters down, the ghost of his younger self whispers in the dark. I’ll hunt the monsters down.
On the frozen planet of Jotunnheimr, a Frostgiant wraps his fingers around Loki’s arm.
He feels his skin prickle and curl. He watches his skin turn blue with frost.
He is hit with a sudden chill. A thought strikes him, like a bolt of lightning, and it makes him still.
I'll hunt the monsters down, his brother whispers in his ear; into the juncture of his throat. And slay them all.