A/N: Here I am doing something I told myself I wouldn't do: posting chapters of a story I'm not finished with yet. I'm always going back and correcting earlier chapters, and I'm a perfectionist, so I prefer to start posting only when the story's complete. Buuut anyway... Here's me trying not to be such a perfectionist, and just writing a story for fun and not thinking about it too much. Hope it doesn't come out crappy! ;)
(To all of you waiting for the sequel to Ex Nihilo- no worries! I'm still working on it, just thought I'd work out my writer's block by trying some other stories.)
Important Note: This takes place about 900 years before Thor, so Thor and Loki are a little over a hundred years old. My headcanon is that Asgardians/Aesir (and Jotnar) mature a lot slower than us- but only mentally. So they still look like adults, but they're mentally in their late teens to early 20s or so.
Warnings: none this chapter, future chapters will contain: some torture and blood (but I don't think it's that bad, you'll have to be the judge, though, I read lots of scary stuff), Loki-whump (sorry Loki, I'm mean)
Disclaimer: I don't own Thor or any of the characters therein, although the new characters in this story are mine. If I did own Thor and Loki, oh dear, I'd feel bad for the guys. XD
- Chapter 1 -
Of Brothers and Brigands
Thor was bored. Very bored. He was bored because he was on Alfheim, lingering in some gods-forsaken forest watching his brother pick plants for whatever reason. Thor had asked him what they were for, only to be bombarded with sarcasm regarding his inability to comprehend were it even explained to him.
Plants. There were plants everywhere. Why did Loki need these particular ones? For his experiments? His sorcerous concoctions? Thor didn't really care, he just wanted to go home- or go anywhere but here.
The light elves were good enough company, but unfortunately, there were none to be found in this ominous and oddly quiet forest.
The trees here were taller than any Thor had seen, even on Asgard, their dark trunks wide, a few as wide as houses. The evergreen air was misty and hung about in a strange quiet, with not a single gust of wind to move the shadowed leaves. The ground was sporadically covered in grass and fallen leaves, the bushes and other myriad groundcover large enough to hide behind. Barely a sound made it through the great trunks, even the birds seemed asleep, despite the hour being somewhere around midday.
Thor had been sitting on the ground, cross-legged, leaning on a nearby tree for nearly an hour, watching Loki pick through several branches which he had gathered into a neat sort of line at the center of a clearing.
Always so meticulous, brother, Thor mused.
"Loki, how much longer?"
The trickster didn't look up. "We've only been here for two hours, Thor. And if you recall," he finally looked up, a gleam in his eye, "I didn't ask you to come along." He returned to his plants.
Thor rolled his eyes. No, you didn't... But he wasn't about to give Loki the satisfaction of saying it. It was, in fact, Thor's idea to follow his brother to Alfheim. Loki had been travelling to other realms quite frequently of late, and Thor was becoming worried for him. 'A prince of Asgard, traipsing about the Nine Realms without an escort? It could be dangerous,' Thor had said earlier that day while following Loki to the rainbow bridge. 'Well,' Loki had said. 'You're one talk. Who was it that had to retrieve a drunken thunder god from some backwater tavern on Vanaheim? Oh yes. It was me, after you had disappeared for days on end without telling anyone where you were going!' Thor had shrugged, smiling, not about to give up. The truth was he was also a little curious to see exactly what his younger brother had been doing on these trips, which usually lasted little more than a day or two. Loki had said it. 'You'll be bored, Thor.' And how he hated it when the trickster was right. Always right, Thor grumbled to himself.
He sighed loudly but his younger brother pointedly ignored him. Thor started picking up stray leaves and throwing them around, then sighed again.
"Stop that," said Loki suddenly.
"Stop what?" Thor asked in earnest.
The younger god looked up in annoyance. "That sighing. It's distracting." He picked up a small pile of leaves and put them in a small leather pouch which he hid away in a larger cloth pouch on the ground.
"Distracting?" Thor wished he had a distraction. Anything would do right now. "Well would you prefer I start hacking at a tree trunk again?"
Now Loki sighed.
After the first hour here, Thor had removed his sword and started sparring with a tree trunk, half out of boredom and half out of a desire to annoy Loki, as he knew it would. His brother had, impressively, ignored him for several minutes, but of course, had yelled at him to stop or he'd turn Thor's sword to ice. Thor was certain Loki didn't have that ability- not yet, anyway. Although the thunderer disapproved of Loki's insistence on continuing this pursuit of such a womanly art, Thor supposed that at least his younger brother was good at it. His spells so far mostly consisted of creating simple illusions and concocting potions from reagents gathered, but he was improving- and very quickly. His practicing in the battle ring had suffered, but Loki had quickly become bored of training with weapons after he started studying magic more earnestly.
Several more hours passed and the two princes had moved from place to place, stopping whenever the mischief god needed to sift through whatever plants he had collected.
Thor was even more bored, if that were possible, but the younger god continued ignoring him however much his older brother whined.
"Brother," Thor said, trying for the hundredth time. "The sun will go down soon; should we not return?" Loki glanced at him as he picked a grey looking- and fairly ugly -flower. "Or at least we should stay the night in a town. Sleeping out here seems...unwise." Thor looked around, hoping his slight nervousness didn't show on his face. A strange fog had settled nearby, but hadn't quite reached them yet. And the sounds- or lack of sounds was even more eerie with a mist lingering so close. They walked side by side, slowly as if they were taking an afternoon stroll through Asgard's golden streets.
"'Unwise', Thor? Since when do you think before-"
Thor heard a strange whistling sound and pushed Loki aside- and himself -just as an arrow flew between the two gods.
The trickster fell to the ground from the momentum, falling on his back. "Thor-?" But Thor was running, already having traced the flight path of the arrow.
"Stay here, Loki!" he yelled while running headlong in the direction of the archer. Possibilities ran through Thor's head, but he had little time to think since he caught sight of a brown hooded cloak at the edge of the mist. He gave chase, only stealing a glance behind to where Loki was a moment before entering the edge of the fog. His brother was on one knee now, staring wide-eyed in his direction, just as Thor entered the mist and everything disappeared behind it.
It took Thor almost two minutes before he realized that the attacker was not in front of him. After he had passed the wall of fog, he could still see the edge of the attacker's cloak, but soon after his elusive quarry had disappeared.
Stopping, Thor stood still- and near a tree for potential cover -and listened for any footsteps ahead.
A subtle rustling of leaves to his left caught his attention, but that could just as well be an animal, running from the sounds of his pursuit. Still, it could be the attacker... Thor's head was spinning. Who would attack us? he wondered, walking a few steps forward, suddenly lost in a darkening maze of trees.
He sighed quietly. I've lost the archer. Wonderful. He'd never hear the end of it from Loki- Loki! A sudden realization hit Thor. He had left him there. And how long had he been running? His mind went back to the possibilities he had tossed aside in his frenzy to catch the mysterious bowman. What if it was just a distraction? Perhaps there was more than one? A single assailant to distract one prince while another-
A distant scream broke Thor's thoughts, shattered them into a thousand pieces as his heart was clenched in a violent grip.
No... It was Loki's scream. Thor would recognize that voice anywhere- he even knew what Loki's sneezes and coughs sounded like, even from afar.
No no no no. Thor was already running, his legs moving without permission, toward where he had left his younger brother. Please be a joke. One of Loki's jests, a trick... His mind raced alongside his legs, throwing hopes around that promptly fell to the ground, discarded, as soon as he reached the clearing where he had left Loki.
There were leaves and dirt scattered about- a clear sign of a struggle.
Thor was frozen, he couldn't move. He could only stare, and breathe. Drops of blood littered the ground, and he saw one of Loki's daggers covered in it. Another of his daggers was embedded in a trunk across the clearing- something like cloth, brown, caught at its tip. Loki had fought back. Good, but it was a small comfort. One arrow stuck out of the ground, one more had landed in a trunk. A single long blood smear, still dripping, painted a trunk near Thor, as though someone's hand had pulled against it-
Thor didn't know what to do. Should he go after them? Who are they? What would they want with Loki? Did they know the two princes, or was it a random attack by brigands? And if the former was true, how much would they have to know about Thor to be assured that only he would run after the archer and not Loki as well?
His mind was swimming, he felt dizzy. He briefly contemplated running back to the Bifrost site, but it was too far and it was getting dark- he didn't want to leave Loki here, not knowing what purpose the kidnappers had for him. What if they meant to kill him? No, Thor thought, if that was their intention they would have killed him here. Still, there could be nothing good about this, Thor had to get him back- and soon.
He moved into the clearing now, heart beating like a drum inside his head. His instinct was to run, just run and hope that he could catch up to them. But it was foolish, he knew, and exactly the kind of thing Loki would scold him for. Think, he told himself. Look, see, observe...
He could track them. Yes. They would have left a trail and Thor would be able to track them. Nothing would stop him from getting his brother back. Nothing.
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
The first thing Loki's mind registered was that he was upside down. The next thing was that he was moving, walking, no wait, walking? No, he wasn't walking, someone else was. Someone near... The next- and very sharp -thought was that of pain. Pain radiating out from his right shoulder, spreading across nearly his entire body. He tried to move, reach out, do something, but his arms weren't listening to him. Well, he realized, they weren't so much not listening as tied up. They were behind his back; his left wrist was tied near his right elbow, and his right wrist tied near his left elbow. The position was extremely uncomfortable. His ankles, too, were tied together. And he wasn't upside down, he was being carried- his body having been thrown over someone's shoulder. Someone wearing a dark brown cloak that Loki could see trailing in swift movement before his eyes, the leafy ground passing by quickly beneath.
The last thing he noticed was that there was something in his mouth. He felt with his tongue and lips, something roughly round and cloth- a gag. He had been silenced. Well, Loki thought, do they gag me because they know I am a sorcerer? Or is it to silence me from crying out for rescue? The latter possibility he much preferred, since it pointed to the idea that these were mere highwaymen, perhaps looking for ransom? The moment he thought it he knew it was ridiculous. Clearly these men were sophisticated enough to use divide and conquer tactics, and their fighting prowess, while fairly primitive, was more than effective. They had blitz-attacked Loki, catching him off-guard. They had used the fog to hide their approach, then when near enough, they attacked with arrows first, then with spears. One of the arrows had caught Loki in his shoulder and the assailants had pounced on him, ensuring he could not recover from his fall to the ground. The rest he remembered very little of, except that the arrow hurt much more than he remembered arrows hurting.
If these men indeed knew that he was a sorcerer, then it was unlikely they would ever remove the gag; in which case, Loki had little hope of escaping on his own. Words were necessary to cast spells- at least at his current skill level -and slurring or mumbling would never work.
Well, whatever these thugs had in store for him, Asgard would know what they had done. Heimdall would- Oh no. Loki suddenly remembered why this was one of his favorite realms to visit. There were natural- supposedly natural, anyway -pockets of magical cover that would mask the sight of any seer, even one so powerful as the gatekeeper. There was another much smaller area near here that had the magical barrier, but none Loki had discovered so far were as large as the one in this wood.
He internally scolded himself for such foolishness, he simply had never thought...
Loki had one hope, that Thor had figured out what had happened, and was now searching for him. His brother was an expert hunter and should have little difficulty in tracking the group of men- unless they've masked their trail, somehow... He shook his head, refusing to give up his single hope.
"We should make camp," said a slightly muffled voice nearby.
"No," said another muffled voice, the one who was carrying Loki, he guessed. "The other could be close behind. We are not stopping until we reach safety."
Safety... Loki felt a small smirk twitch his lips. Do they fear Thor, then? Loki had counted at least six men while fighting, did they not think they could take on one thunder god? It, unfortunately, added to the evidence that these men were organized and disciplined, aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. It was true, six men- such a small number -would be no match for Thor, even were the thunderer weaponless, and even more so if he were angry. Especially seeing what they had done to Loki, he would make short work of them.
His hope growing, Loki fell back into unconsciousness, blonde hair and a red cape skirting the edges of his dreams while his captors hurried along.
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
Night had fallen several hours before but Thor was determined not to stop for the night. It was nothing new, as he frequently skipped resting while pursuing especially clever prey on hunting trips.
Before he had left the clearing where Loki had been taken, he collected both of Loki's knives, tucking them into his boots. He meant to return them to Loki since they had been a gift from Thor and their parents. Thor had wondered if he should have taken one of the arrows- Loki had a strange fascination with odd items, and the fletching on the arrows were strangely colored and different enough to be eye-catching.
Considering gifts? his own mind mocked him. Is that how you intend to make it up to him? But what was there to make up for? That he had left him alone, told him to 'Stay here, Loki!'? Would it have made a difference? Thor's heart sank. Yes. Yes it would have. The two princes complimented each other perfectly in skills. Thor the berserker, the melee fury of blunt power and force, throwing himself into the fray with nary a thought to hold him back; Loki the thinker, the magic-wielder, ever the careful strategist, a mind sharper than glass, a razor's edge slipped between ribs before a breath was taken. But this whole mess, everything that had happened could not be thought through because Thor had not thought first. Let us run straight for the enemy, Loki! What could possibly happen? And the nagging thought that Thor had acted rashly out of boredom was certainly not helping.
This forest was even stranger at night. During the day it was quiet; even a whisper seemed able to topple the tallest tree. But here, in the oppressive dark, suddenly there were too many sounds. Thor couldn't help but wonder why his footsteps on the soft grass and leaves made such a noise. Why his breathing seemed so labored and much too loud when he felt his chest move with practiced ease, not strained at all. And was there an echo? He was certain every noise he made was repeated somewhere, as though the air itself felt it necessary to mock the prince of Asgard, whispering like vicious children who snickered at your back and remained silent when you turned.
He wanted to yell at the air, tell it to be silent. But he did not wish to alert any who might be near of his approach, if indeed he was anywhere near them. It was too dark to see clearly, but Thor couldn't quite make himself stop. Something, something about the air, the feel of the ground, the leaves that seemed disturbed before he stepped upon them told him he was on the right path. Perhaps his instincts were guiding him, perhaps it was chance, perhaps something else, whatever it was it didn't matter; he would not stop.
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
"We should stop, Seren!"
"Shh!" said the man carrying Loki. "Be silent!" His voice was whispered, agitated, almost...afraid?
The night was cold and Loki shivered, and yet he somehow felt glad of being carried. His back and arms were cold, but being carried meant he could share in the other's body heat, even if he'd just as soon be colder if it meant he could walk himself.
During their brisk travel through the darkening forest, Loki had noticed- with slight nausea -that the arrow that had struck him was still embedded in his shoulder. The men had removed both ends of the arrow, but had not taken it out, to the trickster's growing apprehension. Why haven't they removed it? Loki had thought. But after a while he realized why. The wood splintering his nerves was agonizing, but there was something else about the wound that made Loki lose consciousness continuously. He wasn't quite certain what yet, but whatever it was worsened the pain every minute by small quantities, spreading out like a poison. Poison? He wondered about that, too. It could be a poison, but there was no way to know for certain without being able to examine himself.
"Seren!" said the muffled voice of the groups' most nervous member.
Loki felt his carrier stop. "If I must tell you to be silent again, Arn," came the harsh whisper, "I will leave you to the Blackwings in short order!"
Blackwings? The word sounded ominous to Loki and was apparently enough to quiet the other men. Even so, the air somehow seemed louder now than ever, their steps nearly echoing off the tree trunks, their breaths like scratching sandpaper. Why is it so loud? It was, but it wasn't. The forest itself seemed quiet enough, but every noise the travelers made was amplified in some way, as though they had all been cast into a small box without any of them noticing.
As if they noticed it as well, "Seren..." whispered someone; not Arn this time. "The sounds..."
"I know," said Seren in just as quiet a voice. "Ignore it, you know that."
"No, no, no," croaked out Arn the Nervous One.
"Arn..." Seren said in warning, he was their leader Loki had already concluded.
Another man spoke, one that had not before, "Seren, we should have stopped... the sounds-"
"The sounds are nothing," said Seren quietly. "Control yourselves."
Some time passed as they walked quietly across the forest floor, their footfalls as loud as walking on broken glass. Loki was again about to lose consciousness when a startled yelp jerked him back to awareness.
"Arn!" yelled their leader as quietly as possible. "Stop- do not remove- Feriel, stop him!"
Seren was moving about, his jerky movements agitating Loki's injuries and causing the arrow to move a little when the man's back collided with it. Loki gasped in pain and hoped Seren would stop moving soon. But instead, the agitated noises made by his captors was increasing, as the sounds of a scuffle could be heard- and quite easily heard given the way sound moved in this place.
"Arn!" said Seren again. Several other men yelled his name as well. "Leave it off, no! It doesn't matter now, just stay back- No, stop him-!"
A piercing cry broke the air and Loki jerked his head this way and that, trying to glimpse who had made the horrible sound. He felt his head pounding from all the blood already flooding it, his stomach clenching and his breaths quick and strained. What was happening?
Then suddenly Loki felt himself being thrown to the ground. He had no time to look around to the frantic men, though, since there was a sharp and throbbing pain in his head.
If he had looked up, the trickster would have seen his blood on a rock next to his head.
Loki passed out before he saw one of the men approaching.
A/N: So a new story for ya guys. Any good? I must admit I feel a bit annoyed with myself; posting chapters before I'm done *sigh*. I hope there aren't any logical inconsistencies or plot holes. But if there are, please point them out to me! And as always, please inform me of any grammatical errors if you see them.
I'll try updating every week. I'm afraid my habit of updating sooner when there are any cliffhangers probably won't be happening with this story, mostly because I need time to complete chapters. Sorry! ;)
Also, I apologize in advance if I get some writer's block and stop updating for a while- but reviews might encourage me to keep going! *wink wink* *nudge nudge*. I also apologize for my tendency to write ridiculously long author's notes. X3