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Rise From Ash

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Loki falls.

It's a long, long descent, long enough that the primal terror of falling itself begins to pall. Terror, Loki has time to realize, is an illusion, a prediction of the mind of pain to come - but if there is no end to the fall, there is nothing to fear but the endlessness itself.

The bright vision of Asgard, framed against the background of stars and nebulae above, has long since flickered and faded from his vision, and yet there is no ground below to be found, no rocks on which he can dash himself to drive all sense from his head as it has fled from the universe around him. He falls, and falls, and yet there is nowhere he is fallingto - just... away. Away from light, from life, from anything.

No, Loki. Those two words burrowed down into his chest like termites, eating channels in his heart and nerves until he was hollow, weak and brittle. He let his hand slip from the haft of the spear because he could not bear it, because he wanted it to end, why will it not end?

He comes to realize that it was unwise, perhaps, to choose this method to end his life. He wanted to be free of heartache, of guilt, of this hollow nothingness in his chest that eats up all his heart and his lungs until he can no longer breathe, but by slipping away into this void he has given himself far too much time to dwell on it.

He should not have sent the Destroyer after Thor, Loki decides. That was his mistake. He should have left his brother to the mortals in peace; if he had not sent the Destroyer, Thor would have had no opportunity to display his idiot courage, and the hammer would never have returned to him along with all that followed. (And that is the only reason he regrets it, Loki is sure; not that he is sorry to have hurt his brother, surely not.)

He was so close, he thinks, so close to the completion of his glorious plans. Just one more hour alone with the bifrost and it would have been complete; then he could go to Odin and say, see how clever I am, that I won your war without a drop of blood being spilled; see how loyal I am, that I would kill even my own kin-father for you - all for you.

No, Loki. And with just two words Loki understood that he was wrong, that he will always be wrong, that there's no going back - ever. He would always know just what he is, just what he's capable of, and he'd see it every time he passes a mirror - every time he sees himself in their eyes. He would hear it hissing under every word, every breath:monster.

Do monsters strive, Loki suddenly wonders, as men do? Do they have monster-peers who judge their performance in pillage and murder, monster-parents whose approval they seek by laying prizes at their feet? Do monsters realize their own evil and worthlessness and strive to overcome it, or do they know nothing but the primal purity of their own monstrous urges, no past or future but only the base satisfaction of the now?

If they do, then Loki almost wishes he could become such a monster, forget all the regret and anticipation of pain and live in blissful ignorance. That he cannot, that he can still not loose himself of the fetters of expectation and resentment and lost hopes and guilt and bitter, bitter disappointment, means that he is neither monster nor man; he is nothing, then, at all.

How long he falls - hours, days, years - he does not know; but in time the grief and pain and rage that Loki feels is too much to be contained only with himself. It boils out to spill on those around him, calling ghostly images from his mind of the parade of those who had betrayed him (the loved ones he had betrayed.)

How dare Odin look at him so, after all Loki had done, after all Loki had sacrificed for him, only him? How dare Frigga shrink away from his embrace as though he were some filthy creature from the swamp, she who had always claimed tolove him, she who of all people should have been on his side? How dare Thor act like he was some sort of hero, some sort of bigger man, he who had sworn to 'kill them all' all throughout his childhood and yet a week ago still thoughtnothing of murdering any man, giant or mortal who stood in his way?

Those mortals! Loki saw only glimpses of them from his seat on Hlidskjalf, the golden throne from which the king of Asgard watches over all the universe; he'd gotten little more of a sense of them on his one unofficial sojourn to Midgard. But he calls them out one by one to his mind, to brood over them and craft dreams of rage and vengeance. The dark-haired man in the oh-so-tidy suit, who had the hubris to imprison a God. The white-haired grandfather who'd taken Thor out of there and, of course, promptly went and got him drunk, with little idea of what disaster he courted in a drunk and rowdy God of Thunder. The whining child with the dark-rimmed glasses framing her face. And, of course, the seidkona herself who had bewitched Thor, and caused him to forget his home and family and all the truths he'd grown up with, who had broken him into putty and remolded him into but a caricature of what he'd once been: her name alone did he retain, Jane Foster, Jane, Jane.

How had she done it? She must have enchanted Thor somehow, woven spells about him of a foreign witchcraft that Loki had not been able to see. The magic of Midgard has grown drastically away from its counterparts in the other Realms; Loki had been able to sense it while he was there, humming in the walls and foundations of their homes, growling in the engines of their carriages, but he had not been able to recognize it. How do they do it?

Midgard itself has changed much since he'd last been there. He recalls the tiny little town seated on the wide, unforgiving desert plain: their buildings all of sharp corners and hard edges, their roads burning black under the sun and reeking of chemicals, strange tubes and wires running above and below the houses to ferry in water and air and magic. He sees again the bright, cold white lighting of the military base, lights shining veiled through the flimsy walls of plastic and wire they thought to guard their fortress -

Abruptly he feels the change around him, the endless fall that suddenly shifts in direction and speed, the sudden roiling jolt as he passes from one state to another. He had not noticed the lack of wind, sharp and tearing and whipping about his face and hands, until it returns to him. No more is he drifting, he is falling.

What he sees before him now, some would call darkness - but Loki knows true darkness now and there is no comparison. The stars spill their light against the terrain below, giving faint hints of definition to rocky crags, uneven horizons. The wind roars in his ears with increasing violence, and Loki realizes with a sudden jolt of panic that he really is falling now, and there will be a hard and unforgiving landing at the bottom.

He fumbles for his seidh, his hands and tongue numb from their long disuse, sluggish to come to his aid. It is harder than he would have liked to stir the tendrils of power to bind into his will, when he is free-falling through the atmosphere towards a target veiled in shadows with not a point of familiarity anywhere to ease his disoriented brain. At the last minute he manages it, gasping out an incantation which unfurls about his body like ghostly wings, beating back against the dreadful plunge and slowing his descent.

Not a moment too soon; he had underestimated the speed of his fall, and overestimated the margin of safety. He still feels the crust of stone shatter beneath him, hears the report that would have brought anyone within miles to investigate. But he is of Asgard and no mortal, and when he hits the ground his body is only bruised, not broken open like a smashed melon on the stone.

For a long time Loki only lies there, stunned from the impact, staring at the shadowed stone before his eyes and tasting blood against his teeth. As unpleasant as they are it is the first sensation - true sensation - that he's had since he slipped from the bridge, and his body does not know whether to welcome them or not.

At last he wills his limbs to move, and pushes himself up to his side so he can roll onto his back. It is night, and stars cluster thickly in the sky overhead, brilliant in their clarity with no moon to outshine them (but not, of course, as brilliant as the stars above his home.)

All the realms change, some faster than others, but the skies above them do not; and Loki knows the stars in this sky, the constellations he spent years studying when he first began learning to world-walk. A strange hysteria tickles in his throat and Loki begins to laugh, regardless of the pain it inflicts on his half-crushed ribs and lungs. He cannot stop.

Midgard. It is Midgard to which he has fallen, and the irony of it all will not release him. What kind of mad coincidence was it that the Bifrost should break, that he should fall, in exactly such a way that would bring him back to the very same place where all his plans were undone? Thor had spent his exile here; and now Loki will, too.

Somewhere out there in the endless sky is Asgard, he knows; uncounted years by the span of light, yet only moments away by the power of the Bifrost. For those who know the dark paths, such as he, it is less than an hour's trek between the folds of reality.

But the bifrost is broken, and even if Loki could walk the dark paths back to Asgard, there is nothing left for him there. The gulf between him and his family (not family, not family) is so wide that it might as well be all the light-years of this night sky.

I can never go home again.

Perhaps this is fate. What else can it be? He and Thor have changed places; he was a king while Thor was exiled to this barren rock. Now Thor will be king and Loki is nothing, fallen out from Asgard's gaze entire, given less regard than even the dead.

But no. He is not dead, however much he might have wished for it in his moment of overmounting despair. He shouldn't have slowed himself, should have let his body dash upon the rocks - but he did, and he didn't, and it's too late now to choose otherwise. He lives, he lives and he is here in the place where all his plans came to ruin; he will not just lay down and die.

The sky at the eastern edge of the horizon has begun to lighten in anticipation of the coming dawn, by the time Loki can make himself stand from the hollow in which had fallen and look around him. In the distance he can see the glimmering lights of a settlement, and he staggers in that direction even as he begins to call on his seidh, conjuring clothes for himself that will let him walk unnoticed amongst the mortals.

Midgard is one of the Nine Realms under the rule of the King of Asgard; that much has always been true. But if they have truly changed so much that they no longer recognize their own gods when they walk among them -

Perhaps... perhaps Midgard is in need of a new king.