The Art of War

Chapter One: Strategy

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The tiny comet shot through the air, leaving a streak of brilliant orange against the navy of the evening horizon. Landing on the floating platform in the distance it blossomed swiftly into a blaze on the gentle waves. The ship burial was to represent Loki though his body had not been recovered in the other realm; the custom would still be fulfilled. The stone ship was filled a crystal effigy of the 'dead', it's thin glass offered an optical illusion of a fire much brighter than the flames would actually burn. A fitting tribute for a master of deceit.

The afternoon had been open for people to show whatever feelings they would or pile any offerings around the statuette that had been constructed to represent Loki's body in it's absence. There were very few, almost none compared to the many gifts that he'd heard had been left for his mother. Unlike the whole of the city turning out to watch the pyre of the queen there were pitiful few mourners for the son.

Thor of course had come, he had been the one to insist that there be a burial at all. The blonde uncharacteristically stoic as his cerulean gaze reflected the burning casket. Of course, the fool failed to see the truth – the very man he would honor stood nearby, on the post of honor. Loki resisted the urge to smile, it would put his disguise in question to allow visible amusement during such a serious moment. The dourness of dear old adopted dad was one of the negative points of sitting as ruler of Asgard.

Nearby his half-wit brother stood the pups that were normally so happy to follow at his heels. The warrior's three were most likely considering this whole ceremony a waste of time. Fandral kept glancing at a few young female Asgardian's that had come to attend and the women were whispering conspiratorially about him as opposed to watching the retreating glow. Volstagg was respectfully silent but he kept glancing at the doors where a feast awaited. It was as much a custom to celebrate someone's life after the funeral as it was to have the parade itself. Hogun hadn't been in attendance as he was still on his own world trying to deal with fixing the wars there.

Of the people in attendance; Sif was perhaps the most amusing to watch, she didn't bother to hide the fact she was annoyed to be there. Her glances at the human on Thor's arms gave away the jealousy within the female warrior clearly. He filed away that stare for later, he could certainly work Sif's envy into his plans one of these days.

The observance was nearly complete, the raging fire had already settled to an ember by the time it reached the endless falls on the edge of Asgard. Unaccompanied the image was swallowed by the foam of the sea, and that too was fitting in it's own way. Loki always did things alone.

"Well, that's over now, let us go celebrate his life." Fandral didn't waste any time once the ceremony had ended. The blonde patting Thor on the back and smiling despite the distaste on Thor's face at the inappropriate outburst. "Come now Thor, think of Loki, would he really wish us to remember him with such depressed expressions. He was the god of mischief, let us enjoy ourselves..."

"I'm not sure he would agree." Thor stated more seriously, but allowed himself to be pulled a step away before he realized Jane had let go of his arm. "Jane?"

"It's fine...go ahead...I just wanted to stay a little longer." Jane said with a reassuring soft smile, patting Thor's shoulder and waiting just long enough for him to nod to look back out at the sea. Without Thor's warmth she tugged the fabric around her shoulders tighter – apparently even Asgard got chilly in the evening. She returned her eyes out toward the edge of the sea – though she couldn't be sure where the fire had fallen over the edge.

Despite knowing all the horrible things Loki had done to New York, he had saved her life in the end. Before he'd died he'd done something good – he'd nearly died himself pulling her out of the way of the weapon that sucked in all the matter around it. He'd saved Thor from the beast that had been beating him...and he'd ended up apologizing. Could he truly have been so horrible? There was a lonesomeness in his green eyes she remembered at the end when he kept repeating apologies...

She sniffed and pulled up a hand to wipe tears from her face.

"You didn't know my other son." Loki spoke with the deep voice of his father, his own curiosity had been peaked when she'd seen the woman's tears. She had no reason to mourn him, was it just some womanly hormone forcing her tears. "Why would you cry for him?"

Jane froze, it wasn't often Odin spoke to her but he'd frightened her most of the times he had. This time though it just felt so cruel, his 'other son', and the entire ceremony Odin had seemed bored or as if this was some chore.

"He was your son wasn't he? Why aren't you crying for him?" She realized a moment too late her voice was a little harsher than she had intended and she slapped a hand over it. This was a god, and the ruler of the realm she was in...this was Thor's dad. She really had to start trying to get along with the in-laws.

She didn't expect the flicker of surprise that crossed the old man's face at her outburst, then she blushed and looked out at the sea again, the sadness returning to her expression. "I'm sorry. I don't know what your family life was like. But...I guess I'm the only one that will cry for him but I think Loki deserved a few tears. I know Frigga would have cried for him so I guess I can do that much for her. In the end, I can't believe he was completely evil, he..."

Jane paused mid-explanation, when she turned around to speak again Odin wasn't there. She frowned a little, sighing at the sudden disappearance. Had the all-father hated his adopted son so much he couldn't stand to watch even one person mourn him? Well, she knew that wasn't the whole truth, Thor mourned his brother most of all. It was him that managed to get a ceremony done at all, apparently Odin hadn't planned on giving Loki a funeral at all.

Even after all the dark things Loki had done to her friends, to the earth, she knew there was something in there worth grieving over. She shivered as a breeze came through and glanced up at the party – it was already getting started in earnest judging by the cheers she could hear echoing from within. She shook her head slightly and walked back inside out of the cold, instead of celebrating she headed back to her room. Perhaps it was custom here, but she didn't particularly feel like a party.

Loki glanced after her, frowning as he did...she had to go and mention his mother. Who was she to state she could shed tears in his mother's place? He took a steadying breath, he'd planned to use part of the evening spying on the warrior's three in another form but now he was confused. Why would the woman that had slapped him on their first meeting languish his demise? Because he'd helped her in the field of battle? It had been nothing but a reaction, a calculated risk to step in. If he saved her and Thor watched then perhaps his brother might have let him out of the prison. If Thor caught him sitting on the throne he could bring up that he wasn't only thinking of himself at all times – he'd saved Jane Foster.

Loki still frowned, his plans were going well and if he wasn't wary they could all come shattering down around him as smoothly as the glass that had been his effigy. Father was already trapped in a cell below, magicked to look like some other prisoner and constantly kept unconscious. It was the perfect hiding place, no one would think to look there and the old goat wouldn't be taking back over anytime soon. Thor however, still needed to be punished, to suffer for failing to get to Frigga in time. For failing to save her when he was so intent on saving everyone else. That's where Jane Foster came in, the girl's bleeding heart was a path he could take. Loki didn't want to kill her, murdering the mortal would have made his mother's sacrifice mean nothing and he was unwilling to do that. What was the next best thing? Stealing her heart away from the brute – Thor had given up everything for Foster...if he could see the young woman with Loki instead what justice would that be?

He grinned to himself as plans began to come together in his dark mind. The human would be returning home before long and he wanted her to be the one to find and rescue him this time. Perhaps it was time to miraculously resurrect himself. He could play many roles at once, he was a master of illusion, he could certainly run the theater without anyone realizing his fingers reached to every puppet – now he just had to tie off a few strings.

End Chapter