Loki was focused on an aberrant sight. He watched as the miniature planets tumbled from their mounts on the astronomical orrery that dominated the Throne Room. The painted spheres bounced and rolled on the ground, seized by tremors, an almost comical glimpse of the horrible situation they were in. Planets unmoored from their positions, worlds gone mad.
His eyes followed jagged cracks making their way across the floor and up the marble walls of the Miskandarian Royal Palace. The chamber shook with the tremendous power of Nihilator’s awakening. The observatory’s wide-open view of the firmament was startling, stars were rapidly shifting their positions in the sky. The entire planet of Miskandar was violently coming alive.
Loki’s companions were all in various states of agony, writhing and convulsing on the ground with the same manic energy overwhelming this world. Horangi was snarling. Zia’s hands were grasping at a phantom figure. Thor was on his knees, anguished.
And Skarra had that bothersome crown set perfectly on her brow, the inset dull shard of Miskandarian metal now reminiscent of her skin and fur. For the first time Loki realized that she wasn’t a meek stowaway. She’d always had a terrible and cunning beauty, which he only recognized now that she’d demonstrated her newfound power. She inhabited the room, regal and unafraid, dominating it with her presence. An invisible force centered in the crown and pulsed through her entire being.
But to Loki, it all was very curious, like a scene from a play, and not a very good one at that. For whatever reason, none of this entropic energy was affecting him. He was more concerned that the planet he was standing on had come to some kind of gruesome life, and how he would very much like to leave this hellhole immediately.
Skarra’s eyes were now fixed on him.
“You!” she cried out, jabbing clawed fingers, grasping at Loki through the air, as if she might puppeteer him with an invisible psychic force.
But nothing happened.
“Why aren’t you affected?” Skarra demanded.
Loki looked at his companions, lost in their individual hysterics, and smiled.
“Tell me, are you by any chance distorting their reality?”
“I am in their minds, plundering Skarra’s vast imagination, to show them all my might, so that they might obey their god. And now it’s your turn!” she howled, and once again Loki felt a psychic emanation flow from her that landed on him with all the effect of a soft breath.
“Yeah, no, nope. That doesn’t work on me. I’m a god, too. The one of deceit and trickery. Pretty immune to the mind-altering stuff.”
“You, a god?” Skarra laughed, her voice reverberating with a dark bass that resounded off the marble walls. “When I have you kneeling, you’ll know what a god is.”
“But . . . it’s not working.”
“Then I will crush you!” And Skarra’s face was full of the same killer rage that Loki had witnessed in battle. He had seen in combat that Skarra had a ferocious and desperate violent side. But he knew from their time together it was only because she had endured violence. Seeing her enraged like this, he struggled between viewing her as pitiful and empathizing with her.
Loki quickly played all the angles in his head, then spoke slowly, “Skarra. Listen to me. Focus on my voice. He’s with you, but so am I. And right now he’s feeding off of your rage and sorrow. I know that rage and sorrow. Do you see that man over there, my so-called brother? His father took me from my own family after murdering them.”
Loki walked gently toward her. He tried to keep his eyes fixed on her furious gaze as he regarded the others in the room, all incapacitated by the psychic torment that flowed from her. He barely noticed Thor reduced to a whimpering mess.
“I, too, know what it’s like to have your life seized and your people deposed by these Asgardians. And they made me their family, their son, they taught me how to speak like them, to even look like them.”
Her arms dropped bit by bit. He seemed to be getting through to her. Somewhere within that turbulent anguish must have been some vulnerability. He could still see echoes of Skarra’s psyche in her facial expressions, struggling inside her mind with the presence of this phantom god that had followed them across the galaxy.
“I also know what it means to be a survivor, to know your people are scattered, forsaken, broken. And just what it takes, how much darkness within it requires to live, day after day, with that knowledge. The knowledge that your family was taken from you by conquerors. Don’t let this parasite own you. Let go of him, and together...