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End of a Cycle

She was sick. She was dying, and she knew it.

She coughed loudly, a hard and harsh sound that echoed in her dark chambers. A small butterfly-winged snake landed on her knees and looked up at her. She caressed its head with crooked fingers, loving the feeling of the cold scales and the tickling of its tongue against her hand.

Her skin was wrinkled and paper-thin, covered in black veins that looked like dark rivers; her eyes were gray and teary, so tired she could hardly see the beautiful iridescent scales on the snake’s body. The creature had been a present from one of her lovers a thousand years ago. It was the last one of its kind. They had killed them all to put them up on walls and because they were afraid.

She heard a faint and familiar knock on the door. Slowly she turned her old head towards the entrance to her chambers.

Her long white hair fell about her shoulders. She remembered the time when it had been long and brown, so thick she could tie knots with it. Now it was as thin as spiderwebs.

Her chambers were big, full with the tokens of lovers and worshipers, which weren’t the same, but she equally loved all of them. The ceiling was so high she couldn’t see it anymore but knew it was made with the branches of old trees. The trees had grown around her, sometimes bare, sometimes covered in green leaves and then carpeting the ground with their fallen leaves. Now she was sick, and her tries were blackened, hollow, and dying. They were stuck in their winter gear and would never ever bloom again. They would die with her, yet nobody seemed to miss them or care.

It was their fault—they who once worshiped and loved her and had now forgotten her.

She blinked around her gloomy chambers. The ground was cold stone, covered with skins and books and animals and plants, most of which were the last of their kind. A large brown egg was all that remained of dragons, a funny velociraptor - small with vicious-looking teeth - plants whose names nobody remembered and stones that had been destroyed everywhere else. There was even a tiny spring of thick black liquid considered black gold not-so-long-ago.

The quiet knocks came again.

Nobody had crossed that door in quite some time. Not since she started to wither. She was sick, and nobody wanted to see her like this. Her worshipers had taken what they wanted from her and then abandoned her. Alone, in the dark, dusty chambers that had once been so bright and full of life.

She wanted to cry, but her old eyes were just too dry.

"Go away." Her once beautiful voice echoed raw and patched. The raptor buried itself in a pile of old dusty magic books.

The butterfly-winged snake took off when the door opened.

A slim tall man stood the door. She couldn’t really see him, for he was too far away for her tired eyes, and the light hit him from behind, rendering his face in shadows. But she would know her lovers everywhere, so she knew he had sharp cheekbones, deep fiery eyes, a long and thin nose, and scarred lips. She knew his long hair was red-orange and fell beneath his shoulders in gentle waves. She knew he wore old clothing of thick wool, little leather bags hanging from his belt. She knew that in a little bag, he kept a bit of dirt, in another a bit of water, some fire in the next, and a breath from her lungs in the one that came after it. She knew he could create anything that crossed his imagination with those materials and that any creation of his would bring delightful chaos. A sword and a hunting knife in a beautifully carved sheath hung at his sides.

When he entered, he walked on noiseless feet, clad in worn boots that let him walk on air with ease. He limped as if he was wounded and in urgent need of a cane.

"Go away," she said again. "I don’t want to see you."

He kept walking, stumbling, really. When he finally reached her chair, he fell to his knees, looking up to her with the scared eyes of a child.

Cold light cut across his handsome face. He hadn’t changed at all. He was still the young lover she had taken to bed so many times. Yet all of his energy seemed to have left him: gone was the thrill, the light that shone in his eyes every time he talked about his dreams. Dreams of eight-legged horses; of little fat birds that didn’t fly. He had imagined the fire that sometimes heated her skin and sometimes bit her hand, and had created unbelievable flowers to braid them in her hair. Now his eyes were big, round, and nearly lightless.

She wanted to send him on his way. She didn’t want him to see her like this. And, at the same time, she wanted him to hold her tightly, caress her thin hair, and lie to her. For he was a master of lies as well as the bringer of life and chaos, and his lies would taste like honey in her ears.

"Why have you come here?" she asked instead.

He opened his mouth to talk. And closed it again. Took a deep breath, hanging his head. Now she saw the faint black lines that covered his head and throat. She knew he had many scars, most of them inflicted by his peers as punishment for his chaotic ways, but these were new.

"I wanted to say I’m sorry," his voice was very soft. Seeing her lover like this was heartbreaking.

"Alright. You said it. Now, go away, Mother of Monsters."

He shuddered and looked down, still kneeling before her. Hot tears fell on her bare feet. She wanted to kick him but couldn’t muster enough energy to move.

She was old and ugly and sick and dying and deserved her peace. This monster shouldn’t be allowed to disturb her.

"You’re still beautiful," he whispered without looking up, and his velvet voice was broken with sobs.

"I said, LEAVE!"

"I won’t! Not with my life untouched! I came here because I am sorry. I never thought… never dreamed this could happen. I just wanted to create something beautiful to keep you company, to amaze you, and to make you laugh." His rough scar-covered hands grabbed hers with something like desperation. He truly needed her to believe him.

Her anger rose like flames.

After everything he had done, he had the gall to ask for her forgiveness.

She pushed him away and hit him squarely in the face with such force his head snapped to one side. Her long nails cut across his pale skin, leaving red trails on his cheek. He didn’t cower, didn't raise to defend himself, and that passivity, so unlike him, fuelled her even more. She roared. She beat at his chest with what little strength she had left. "Curse you! Curse you and your lies and your creations and your gifts! You’ve done nothing but harm me from the day I met you! I hate you, Master of Fire and of Lies!"

He had created the hairless apes. He had created the giants that made the earth tremble with each step, the fire that destroyed her forests and plants. One of his brothers, whom she had loved so much, had given her the winged snakes and the singing birds and the thousand-colored flowers. The other brother had given her black-winged birds that whispered news and grey wolves that were loyal beyond imagination. But this one, the youngest, the one who had wanted to show her he loved her best of all, he had given her the hairless apes who could create and destroy like the fire, who were loyal and deceitful, who could sing like the birds and create news like the crows. He had created the fires, planted the seed of the tree of golden apples, and created the giant wolf, which ate those nasty unicorns.

She stopped beating him, sobbing against his chest.

No, it truly wasn’t his fault, it was his nature to bring death and chaos to make room for the life and order of his older brothers, and that’s why she had loved him. Because he was unpredictable and funny and, even if not loyal, he was passionate and warm.

She looked up to his handsome face.

He seemed lost now that she was about to die.

"I never wanted this to happen. You know they say that I’m a Lie-smith and that no one can ever trust a word that comes out of these lips. But, Gaia, I swear I never wanted to harm you. Kill me if you like." He pressed his hunting knife into her hand. "Cut my hands so that they may never create a single thing. Take my power from me and burn my hair so that it won’t ever grow again. Sew my lips with magic tread so that not a single word springs from them ever again. But, please, please, believe me."

Her eyes met his, and she knew it was true.

"I believe you."

His name tasted sweet in her mouth, and he kissed her. His breath was hot against her parched lips, and it seemed to bring back some of her energy. She caressed his skin and his long red hair. Her heart burst into flame, and he took her in his arms, crushing her against his body.

"I love you so much, Gaia."

And the words were like sweet honey in her ears.

She knew what was to come now. Her time was up, and everything would fall into chaos, and he would reign for a while until his brothers came back and brought new life and a new order. She knew this was inevitable, and she knew that whoever came after her would love him as much as she did. And he would show the next one that fire-bird he called phoenix, that died and was reborn again.

She caressed his face and asked him to put her to bed, for she was tired of sitting up and wanted to rest her old eyes for a bit. She asked if he would sit by her side and sing to her ballads. And for hours, he sang and told goofy stories of his kind and of the hairless apes that made her laugh. He told her of deep love and heated hate that made her eyes tear. After hours he was ready to keep going even if his throat was patched and his mouth was dry. He had entwined his fingers with hers and kept caressing her with sweetness.

In the end, she smiled and caressed his face and hair one last time.

She wanted him to know that she really didn’t hold him responsible for what had happened. It was in his nature, and she loved him for it. She had known this was to come and accepted it. She didn’t want him to think that she was still mad at him or that she hated him. That was so far from the truth! But she knew that if she forgave him, he would try and change for the next one, and she didn’t want him to change. He was just what was needed. So she smiled and said four words before her body went still, and her last breath left her lungs.

And with that, she died.

The fire-haired god kissed Gaia’s forehead, tears falling on her eyelids. After a few moments, he stood. He only took a small blue and green ball that lay forgotten in one corner before walking out of the room. He set the body aflame and then the rest of the room. The rest of her realm was already in flames.

He returned home in silence and set the ball in a small trunk hidden away with magic. There it sat beside six other balls. He remembered the names of all of them. For a moment, he wished the next one wouldn't end like her predecessors. She would. His red-feathered phoenix landed by his hand.

"Come on, let's wreak some havoc."

The phoenix twittered happily, following him out. He was sad and thrilled. This was his time, and once it was over, he would be at the start of a new adventure. Until then, he had Gaia's parting words nestled snugly against his heart: "I love you, Loki."

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