11.0 Mask Removed

The bright sun glanced off the surface of the ocean, a stiff warm breeze blew, and the waves crashed in a peaceful rhythm on the side of the Cantonar as Captain Gracholm prepared to receive the envoy from the Steward, Aiden. Although it was a beautiful day, Captain Gracholm was nervous. He usually received more advanced notice about envoys from Asgard. This did not bode well.

The envoy consisted of several court officials as well as Thor and his band of warriors, all led by Lady Sif who was acting as a Regent for the king.

“We have come to inspect your operations, Captain,” said Lady Sif flatly.

Captain Gracholm could deduce the nature of this visit by the individuals in the party. These were warriors, not bureaucrats. His mind worked quickly as his eyes looked at each face.

“An inspection is not scheduled until next year,” the Captain said, “what has precipitated this interest in our colony?”

“Indeed,” said Lady Sif, “this is unscheduled. However, the Steward has received reports of illegal operations being undertaken at this facility. They are grievous in nature, and therefore the Steward wishes to undertake a thorough investigation.”

“The Steward does not have authority to order such an investigation,” the Captain said, hiding a smile.

At that, a quarrel broke out about whether or not this was true. Thor ran his fingers through his hair in exasperation as voices rose in heated argument.

All at once, the booming voice of the All-Father himself was heard on deck. Everyone looked about.

Odin, himself, stepped from behind a pillar and strode toward the Captain, saying, “My Steward does, indeed, have authority. But there is no need to undertake this inspection – I have seen your treachery myself, Gracholm. I have seen your magma mines! You have broken the treaty. Your treason would put an entire world at risk for your own profit! Lay down your compass, Captain. You are unworthy of Asgard, and you are forthwith banished!”

There was a stunned pause, and then Gracholm slowly removed the compass on its chain from around his neck. He could not disobey the All-Father. He had almost dropped the compass on the deck when he changed his mind. In a desperate move, he suddenly hurled the compass at Odin!

Loki had the reflexes of a cat, and he caught the compass as it flew through the air. But it was enough to break his concentration and the illusion fell for a moment. A split second of bewilderment struck those gathered about, and then, with a cry of rage, several of those gathered about lunged forward toward Loki who appeared to be Odin. But as quickly as they rushed forward they were repulsed back. A bubble of energy shielded Loki, who then dropped the illusion.

For a moment, they all stood in a silent ring around Loki and his energy shield. Then, before they could charge against the shield again, Thor jumped in front of them all.

“Brothers!” he yelled, “Consider well your actions! Loki carries the staff of the All-Father, and he wears the ring of the rulers of Asgard! Whether it be by Odin’s will or not, Loki wields a power that we cannot hope to overcome!”

They all started to yell in response, but Gracholm’s voice rose above the rest. “Where is your spine, Mighty Thor? This imposter has always been a foe of Asgard! The treason is his!” With that, most of those gathered rushed at Loki, and a brawl ensued as Thor and his friends tried to stop Gracholm and the others. However, they were outnumbered, and Gracholm’s followers trapped Thor inside a large energy crate, his hammer clattering uselessly outside it, just outside his reach! The others faired similarly – Lady Sif and the rest were chained to pillars as a squall suddenly overtook the ship.

Although Loki wielded the staff of the All-Father, he had not learned how to sustain the energy, especially against the weight of the rage of the Asgard forces. Eventually, with a brilliant flash of light and a loud crack, the great staff of the mighty king broke asunder, and shards flew across the deck.

Thor fell to his knees, gazing in agony at the smoking piece of the staff lying before him, the symbol of the Asgard he knew and loved, the power of a mighty people – broken. And beyond, he watched, tears mixed with the rain running down his face, as some of the best of Asgard dissolved into a rabble of raging beasts, intent on destroying his brother.

In their crazed rage, they sized Loki, stripped him of his armor and turned him over to one of Gracholm’s crew known as Shamus the Serpent Slayer. He strung up Loki by straps of snake skin between the pillars of the ship. They all stamped their feet and chanted, “Kill the Joten!”

“This is madness!” Thor yelled, to no avail. Thor and his friends continued to shout, but were drowned in the noise of the storm and the chanting.

“Burn him alive!” the mob shouted, and Shamus licked his lips with his forked tongue, torchlight flickering on his dark features.

He then took one of his poison arrows from his quiver, dripping with an orange liquid that glowed and sizzled, and fitted it in his crossbow. “Let’s see how the Joten sustains the snake bite!”

When the bolt struck Loki’s chest, he gave such a cry that the whole ship shook and creaked. Thor, in desperation, began throwing himself against the walls of his cage. Sif gazed on in agony, recalling the last time she had conversed with Loki, and weeping bitterly.

Night had fallen and even those in the dungeons were slumbering. Except for Loki, who remained awake, his mind more tightly confined than even his person.

All at once, the gate at the end of the dungeon hall clanged, followed by soft footfalls. Loki harkened and his heart leaped in spite of himself. These were not the heavy steps of the guards. Both anxiety and excitement gripped his heart. He knew that step intimately.

A slim figure in a dark dress approached and stopped in front of his cell. Her gown flowed in long, black furls about her limbs, and was tied snuggly around her middle under her full maiden breasts. Just the sight of her made Loki’s mouth water. For a moment she simply stood there in silence.

“Hello, Sif,” Loki said, breaking the silence.

She made no reply, but lifted the sheer black veil from her face. Her expression was grave, and her eyes full of sorrow. They gazed at one another for a long moment.

“The All-father has,” she began, and then hesitated on the word, “discouraged anyone from speaking to you.”

“And yet here you are,” Loki replied. Carefully, he placed his hand on the screen between them and wove his fingers through the mesh.

“I could not sleep,” she said, approaching the screen. She reached out and touched her graceful finger tips to his. She then modified her statement, “I could not stay away any longer.”

“Have you come here to give me a tongue lashing?”

“Would it make you feel better if I did?”

A sudden smile spread across his serious face, and raising an eyebrow, he said, “to tell you the truth, Sif, it would.”

She gazed at him in silence for another moment, and then said, “I am sorry, Loki, but I am not angry. I am disappointed. I want to know,” she said with passion seizing her voice and drawing her close to the screen, face to face, “I want to know why?” The agony in her eyes and voice was heart-wrenching.

For a moment, Loki did not look at her, but just looked at their hands, gently caressing her fingertips. Finally, Loki said seriously, “is it so hard to understand, Sif? I dare say you would feel rage too if you discovered that you had been deceived for the first five hundred years of your life! And then, to work so hard to show your worth, and to still be rejected by the man who raised you because you refused to become his political pawn! You will find my bitterness is well justified!”

“But why take out your rage on the innocent people of Midgard?!”

“Midgard is merely the collateral damage that inevitably comes of pursing glory,” Loki scoffed. “The only difference between my actions and Odin’s actions when he battled the Jotens on Midgard is that he succeeded.” The rage welled up in Loki as he said this and at the last two words, he slammed his fist against the mesh of the screen.

“’Collateral damage’? ‘Pursuing glory’?” Sif asked in disbelief, dropping her hand from the screen. “Who are you? And what have you done with the man I love?”

Loki sighed, his face relaxed, and the fire in his eyes calmed. He looked wearily at her. In a soft voice, he replied, “he died along with Odin’s odious lies. I was sired by a monster, and all I will ever be is the very monster you were taught to hate, and fight, and destroy. I have been to hell, Sif. And there I remain.”

She gazed at him with her head tilted, sorrow filling her heart and eyes. A tear escaped and ran down her face.

“I have been in mourning ever since we thought you perished. It would seem that you have indeed perished. And I will continue to mourn your loss,” she said softly, lifting the veil over her face again.

 

Now, after he had proven his loyalty to Thor on Vaneheim, and they mourned for his loss again, he returns alive! Her joy was only matched by her sorrow as she was powerless to help him against his prejudiced, treacherous, murderous foes! She clenched her teeth in frustration and strained against her chains.

Advertisements