There was a sorcerer up on the roof of the palace again, cape spread under him like a blanket. There was no telling how he had gotten up there or what he was thinking. If someone had managed to get close they would have found his face blank, his eyes gazing sightlessly out into the distance where birds circled, cawing.
“Lokiiiii!” came a shout from below. “Loki, come down here!”
If the boy heard it, he didn't react. He remained sprawled where he was like a dead thing, bangs shading his eyes.
The sorcerer's brother was hanging dangerously far out a window below, hair streaming like a banner in the wind. He couldn't even see Loki, but Heimdall had assured him he was there again. Just like every time that Thor had sought him out in his rooms or the library or his practice tower for the past month. Once, Thor had even sat down beneath this windowsill and concentrated, focused, meditated, until the sky rumbled ominously and the clouds grayed. But he could do no more than that—although his father had pronounced him God of Thunder long ago, he'd never worked at it—and the prospect of rain alone wasn't enough to drive Loki indoors.
Instead, Thor stomped all the way down the palace stairs to the training grounds, grabbed his sword, and attacked the training pole with everything he had. His blows glanced off of it and shook his limbs until finally an especially hard blow wrenched his blade free of his grip and sent it skidding across the clearing. Thor collapsed onto his knees, panting and sweating.
“You're losing to a pole,” came a voice. Thor didn't need to look up to recognize Sif, especially when she was speaking in that particular tone of voice that no one else dared use on the young Prince. “Loki still sulking, I take it.”
“Men do not sulk, Sif,” said Thor, finally regaining his breath and pulling himself up, “They brood. And he has good reason to.”
They had lost of one of their dearest confidants through betrayal, after all. Thor himself could not be said to be happy, but Loki had reason to take it harder. Thor would not let anyone think badly of him for it.
“I know.” Sif stood from where she was leaning against the doorway and walked up to him. “That is exactly why you need to give him more time.”
“It's been three months! Besides, I'm his brother. I should be able to help him.”
“You can't fix everything, Thor.”
Thor looked at her with what Sif would surely describe as a sulk or a pout or something else unmanly. “It's been long enough, Sif. I have to get him down from the roof or he'll be stuck in his head forever. You know how he is. He needs me. There must be something I can do to get his attention, something that would distract him from all that's happened.”
Sif did not reply, but she did look down and away in a manner that gave Thor his answer.
“You've thought of something!” Thor had gone from sulking to attentive in an instant.
Sif raised her hands. “No, no, I haven't.”
“Come, Sif. Please. I'd do anything.” He focused his sky blue eyes on hers. Sif always seemed to be immune to his charms, but his earnestness was genuine. He was at his wits' end, and Sif could surely see that.
Sif sighed. “Just do what you always do and act the idiot.”
Thor's pleading expression dropped off his face at once. “What?”
Sif leveled her gaze at him and crossed her arms, entirely serious. “Whenever you run off to do something stupid, he follows to make sure you don't get hurt. He's always taking care of you.”
“He is not! Just who do you think is the elder brother, Sif? I am!”
Sif only shrugged.
“I keep telling him he should let you get hurt,” said Sif to Thor's look of bafflement and outrage, “That it's the only way you'll learn.”
“So good to see you think so well of me, Sif,” Thor ground out between his teeth. And she was supposed to be his girlfriend!
Thor turned his back on her. The silence drew out long and awkward between them, but eventually Thor remembered is goal and his anger subsided.
“Still ...” said Thor, “It is true that Loki always follows me on my adventures, even though he hates them and is a great coward.”
At this, Sif heaved a huge sigh and turned her eyes heavenward for some reason.
Thor contemplated the sky. “So all I have to do is make him think I am in danger?”
“No, Thor,” said Sif, “This is why I didn't want to say anything—”
“Perhaps another quest. Something harmless.”
“Thor, your father will die of worry. Then kill you. Have you learned nothing?”
“This may just work! I'll forget your insults for now, Sif.”
“You're not listening to a thing I say, are you?”
* * *
At the top of the castle a breeze was constant, ruffling Loki's hair and getting under his clothes, making his body feel inappropriately light and airy. The sun was baking the tiles beneath him, and he couldn't help but think of when he and Thor were much younger, when Thor would slip away before Sif could find him and drag Loki off with words about how they didn't need some disrespectful girl tagging along on their adventures.
Their adventures extending to the palace gardens and a risk of heat stroke, most times.
But that was when they were children, and they were certainly not children now.
Loki shook his head, the wind scattering his hair in even less flattering directions. He had lost focus. He should get something to eat and start again—
It was a good thing he'd brought lunch.
“Loki, you won't believe what the Warriors Three have told me!”
No, he probably would not, after seeing their idea of a quest.
“They say a dragon has escaped into Midgard and is terrorizing the helpless mortals!”
That didn't sound likely.
“Do you hear me, Loki? It's perfect! The mortals are gravely in need of our help—”
He could not be serious.
“—and Midgard isn't dangerous at all! They worship us as gods there!”
Loki broke his silence, sitting up and leaning down towards the window. “It's still forbidden, Thor!”
“Nonsense, Loki! Once father sees the head of that dragon, he'll realize there's no need for such a silly constraint!”
“More like he'll realize there's need for more, and he'll have you in chains. That is, if you're the one to bring its head back and not the other way around!”
There was a pause from below. Loki began to get up, wondering if Thor had run off. Maybe Sif's honesty policy would not work for him after all. Or maybe he was simply being too harsh with everyone these days, wrapped up in himself.
“You wound me, brother.” Thor's voice sounded less enthusiastic but at least he was still there. “Don't you have faith in me? I only wished to hear if you had read anything, if you knew anything that might help me in my journey. But if that is how you feel ... ”
And this time Loki could hear the sound of Thor's footsteps under the sound of the wind, if he strained. Loki bit his lip, grabbing his things and sliding down to an overhang. He should grab father, but he knew full well that if Thor were serious, he would be gone before they could catch up. It was hard enough just to climb down safely thinking of it.
“I have every faith in you, brother,” muttered Loki to himself, “Every faith in you against that dragon. Every faith in you against every dragon in the world. Every faith in your ability to cause trouble worse than any of my mischief.”
* * *
Thor held his heart in his throat for a long time as he strode purposefully down the stairs and past the guards and out the doors. He couldn't hear Loki behind him, but Loki might take some time to get down or might be hiding—Thor glanced around himself but saw nothing—or he could be rousing the guards—no, Loki wouldn't do that. Would he? If Loki shouted “Stop my brother, he's doing something stupid!” the guards wouldn't interfere. Would they? It was only three months since his last disastrous idea of a quest. What would he do if they did try to stop him? Fight? Run? Let them escort him to his father and try to explain himself? None seemed like good options. Fighting frost giants and valkyries was one thing, explaining himself to his father another.
Of course, he would have to explain himself in the end. But it would be different if it worked.
Thor got all the way to the docks with no sign of Loki. He stepped aboard and got ready to sail as if he were expecting no one, though he glanced under his long bangs from time to time, searching out his brother. He had had the forethought to get a quick lesson in manning the thing—well, actually, the man he had talked to had asked him “Do you even know how to sail a boat?”—and finally, he was ready to leave.
Committed, he untied the ship and cast off, trying not to look as grim as he felt and most likely failing. But as he turned around to walk to the ship's wheel, resigned to going out a little ways and then returning, he heard light, hurried footsteps behind him and turned to see Loki catching up. Thor got the impression Loki had been purposefully lurking until the last second in the hopes Thor would stop and turn around. Thor couldn't imagine how Loki managed to hide himself, but he always did somehow.
Loki's hands hit the slightly ephemeral waters of the edges of Asgard, and the surface froze instantly, creating a grasping surface that reached out to Thor's ship. Loki ran across the ice, somehow finding perfect purchase, diving at the end from the impromptu dock and catching onto the edge of the boat. Thor lifted his dripping body from the drink with an irrepressible grin, all worries instantly fading as he plunked his brother down next to him. Loki shot Thor what Sif would call a pout but which Thor would call a scowl, mainly because it had an edge of threat to it. Loki was also literally steaming in order to dry himself, which helped the effect.
That was another thing. Loki had always adored him so, but lately he was terse and his affection seemed forced, faked to placate Thor's concern or his ego. Maybe Thor was imagining some of it. Surely whatever sullenness was simply Loki's depression and not anger at Thor. Otherwise, would he be here?
So while Loki scowled, Thor beamed, and eventually Loki sighed and strode forward to the front of the boat.
“Do you know where it is? Midgard is over fifty times the size of Asgard, you know.”
Thor did not know and tried not to look shocked. He thought he recovered quite well. “Of course I know! I've got the exact coordinates.”
Thor strode up to the compass and proudly explained everything he knew about working the ship. Loki soon looked interested and even impressed. He examined the compass himself, hand at his lip as he concentrated. Thor had a feeling he had just lost any advantage he had over Loki, expertise-wise, but he beamed happily anyway. Loki was enjoying himself.
They landed on Midgard without a hitch. It looked no different from Asgard as yet, but from here they could see only a forest and some mountains. Thor pointed them off in the proper direction, and they began their hike. It took roughly ten minutes for Loki to become obviously disenchanted with it.
“You realize Hogun isn't here to assist us in pathfinding this time,” Loki said.
“What of it?”
“Neither of us have been in the wilds on our own before. We could easily be lost.”
“Loki,” Thor chuckled and shook his head, “We came from the sea, and we head towards the mountains! How could we become lost?”
Loki said nothing further but Thor could feel his doubt. Still, he was getting excited now. He had spoken truth when he had said the Warriors Three told him of a dragon. Perhaps it was just a fable, but perhaps it wasn't. Thor had dreamed of fighting a dragon since he was a tot on his mother's knee. It was the epitome of heroism to save a plagued land from roaring, flying, eyebrow-singing terror.
“Thor. Thor, please wake from your dream, however pleasant it may be,” said Loki, “There might be a dragon close.”
Thor might have groused over his dignity being poked, but Loki's voice had an edge of fondness, so it slipped off his back and left his good mood intact.
“My pleasant dream will soon be a reality, brother,” said Thor, grinning viciously.
Loki snorted amusement, smiling, but as he opened his eyes again his face slackened. Thor waited briefly for him to talk before turning to follow his gaze.
At first glance it appeared to be some sort of bird, perhaps a heron judging by the neck and long legs. Then Thor realized the shapes of the wings were too jagged and the legs weren't legs but a tail. Then he realized the silhouette was drifting through the clouds, much, much higher than he had thought it was.
Thor caught himself breathing again, caught his heart beating again.
“Th—Thor, it's too large. It wouldn't even feel a blade!”
He caught himself smiling, realized he had been smiling.
“That's assuming we could even try, Thor. It's skimming the clouds!”
The thing was beautiful. It was moving as much like a kite on a string but it seemed to know just where it was going.
“You're not even listening to me, are you?”
“Let's follow it.”
It took almost until the end of the day for the dragon to finally touch down. Thor had brought a pack full of food (and he tried not to be offended that Loki seemed so obviously surprised at the simple foresight) so they were not hungry, but they were still uncomfortable by then, and Thor's excitement had long died down.
Still, as they crunched towards where the dragon had descended, Thor's weary boredom shook itself off to be replaced again by excitement.
“Thor ... ” Loki tried again.
“What do you expect to do?” said Loki heedlessly, as loud as before.
Thor ignored the incredulous speech from behind him. “In the stories there's always a loose scale of some kind.”
“Stories are stories, Thor. Dragons are winged serpents, are they not?”
“Of course,” said Thor.
“Have you ever seen any of the serpents in the gardens with a loose scale? Do they not, in fact, shed their skin all at once rather than by scale?”
Thor frowned at this. “Dragons must be different. They're too large to shed like that.”
Finally, they pushed out of the trees and into a sandy, rocky area. The openness seemed to have quelled Loki's constant prattling at last. It was not long before Thor was peeking around a ridge at a lake across from where the dragon bathed.
It was smaller than Thor had expected but larger than Thor could comprehend. Beasts simply were not meant to be so huge. Even at its thinnest points, its tail and its webbing, it was like the mast and sails of a giant warship. Thor's excitement was overwhelming, blooming in his chest and blossoming into a broad grin.
Thor became aware that Loki had a very tight grip on the end of his long, blond hair.
“I'm not just going rushing in!” Thor hissed.
Loki looked at him and then back at the dragon. He kept his grip.
Thor ignored him for the moment, turning back to study the dragon. He had to admit—though not aloud—that its hide was one seamless, shiny pattern, better than the best mail he had ever seen. It looked impenetrable yet flexible, and he wondered if he could bring home some of its skin for armor of his own. Likely not—when he brought things back into perspective, a single scale was as big as his entire face. They would not fit quite so seamlessly on him.
Thor glanced at the webbing of the dragon's wings, but cutting that would likely do nothing but ground the dragon here with them, furious and defensive.
But there was the dragon's throat. It was a puffy pouch that looked soft or at least softer than any other part of the dragon. It was easy enough to guess where to strike in order to bleed it out. He just needed to avoid those teeth.
“You're not serious about this, are you, brother?” Loki whispered.
“I have a plan,” said Thor, grinning at his brother reassuringly.
“No, Thor,” said Loki, “You are not—”
“—going to draw the dragon into the middle of the lake so you can freeze it there? Good idea!”
Thor ran off as Loki shouted after him.
“Stay there!” Thor called, running around the beach towards the dragon. The dragon loomed up more and more impossibly colossal in Thor's vision as he grew near. The thing blinked at him lazily as he ran up, its eyelids meeting sideways rather than up and down.
“Have at thee!” shouted Thor, leaping towards it and unsheathing his blade. He landed on the thing's forefoot and stuck his sword between a pair of toes each larger than he was. The dragon screeched and reared up, sending him flying into the lake. He surfaced to find it shaking itself and glaring at him and realized there was no way he could maneuver quickly enough in the water to avoid being eaten.
But he didn't need to maneuver himself—the water did that quite effectively for him, tugging him away from the dragon with a wrenching grip that sent him hurtling across the entire length of the lake and past his brother on the opposite shore. Thor skidded onto land, rolled, and faceplanted into a bush. He spat out a mouthful of dirt and looked up, planning to ask Loki what happened to his being the subtle one, when he saw the dragon charging across the lake at them. Loki was still crouched on the beach with his hands just alighting on the water's surface.
For a second, Thor wondered why Loki had not frozen the lake over once Thor was clear, but he soon realized that the water around the dragon was not splashing up just from the dragon's movement alone. The water was curling around it, pulling it under, enclosing it, and it was only when the dragon was fully screeching wet that its prison began to turn to ice.
“Leave its neck free!” Thor shouted.
As Thor directed, the frozen tomb that began to solidify around the dragon left an open gap under its jaw, more than large enough to attack. Thor was already sprinting across the lake as it finished freezing, and by the time he had reached the lake's center, cracks were already appearing under his feet. He jumped from the dragon's foot to elbow to shoulder as the ice around the dragon's open mouth exploded into steam and fire.
“Thor!” shouted Loki from behind him.
Thor ignored him, clambering up to the dragon's shoulder and launching himself into the air, sword brought high and then swung low through the dragon's jugular. He landed as the dragon was breaking free and taking the ice with it, his footing slipping out from under him. Thor went tumbling into the lake and struggled under the ice for a moment before finding a place to resurface. The water was turning pink, and the dragon was thrashing, clawing at its throat. Thor looked around for the shore—he guessed that Loki couldn't see him from here—and made his way for it, dodging the dragon's spasms as best he could.
Loki ran up to him as he reached the beach, fingers turned to claws and an expression on his face that made it clear that the only reason he wasn't screaming at Thor was that that all the expletives he knew were trying to get out at once and had gotten stuck in his throat. Thor couldn't help but laugh at his red face and slap him on the back, which only made Loki appear more determined to strangle him just as soon as he was physically able to unclench his hands.
“Look, Loki!” said Thor before Loki could regain the ability to speak or, worse, touch his hair, “The dragon!”
Thor pointed behind his brother where the dragon was finally slouching and stilling with a few last thrashes of its tail.
“We have done it, brother!” said Thor.
Loki caught him by the elbow. “Careful. He may only be injured.”
Thor huffed but waited, catching his breath. He looked down on his sword and found it—and his arms halfway up his forearm—covered in ichor. His shirt was splattered red and the end of his braid had been soaked and was already solidifying.
“Ugh! I'll be forever working to get this out of my hair!”
“I could shave you if you like.”
Thor frowned in Loki's direction. Maybe Sif was right, maybe men could sulk.
After some time Thor was satisfied the dragon was dead, and they made their way across the ice to examine it. Its head was far too large for Thor to bring home, so he pried one of the more luminous scales free as proof of their bravery. He washed the blood off as quickly as he could, and they began to try to find their way home.
“We came from that direction,” said Loki, “But it's getting dark. We shall have to stay overnight.”
He sounded weary and not at all celebratory. Perhaps he was thinking of how unlikely it was that they would be home before their father noticed them gone.
“We still have a little light,” said Thor, marching in the direction Loki had pointed, “We can make progress. And then we can be home early tomorrow. Think of how proud father will be of us! The stories they will tell of us!”
“Yes, that is what I am afraid of,” Loki mumbled.
Thor slung his arm around his brother's shoulders, refusing to let things spoil. “Come now, Loki. We have shown initiative. We have fought, and we have triumphed. We have protected these hapless foreigners from a menace they could never hope to rise up against!”
Loki smiled at him a little in a way Thor was fairly sure meant his brother was humoring him, but it was an improvement.
“We shall hold a feast!” Thor declared, “And we shall have it announced to everyone across the Nine Realms that we are no longer boys but men! Men more dangerous than any serpent! Men of Asgard!”
Loki chuckled, which was not a response Thor would have accepted but anyone but him (and perhaps Sif).
“Somehow I do not think father will invite us to this feast,” said Loki, though he was still smiling, “Somehow I think we'll be on bread and butter if that.”
“You worry far too much, Loki. Why, you didn't think we could kill one silly dragon.”
Loki just sighed and shook his head. But then new voices interrupted them, seemingly from nowhere.
“What was that?”
“You're responsible for this?”
It was only due to the voices that Thor became aware that there were people among them, more people than he could guess. They seemed to merge with the trees and could likely pick him out in the darkness much easier than he could find them.
“It's true!” this voice was, worryingly, behind them. “They've killed Akaten! They've left him to rot like an animal!”
“Impossible!” came another voice, seemingly from beside them.
“It's true!” That was yet another one, also behind them. “See! He has carved off a piece of our lord!”
There were shouts of outrage as the voices recognized the scale tucked under Thor's arm. They seemed to come from everywhere, but Thor could still only make out a few faces. Angry ones.
“Friends, not fiends!” said Thor, raising a hand, “Nor devils!”
“Then why do you carry a scale torn from the God of Harvest?”
“God...?” said Thor, looking down at the scale, “You think that dragon was a god?”
Thor tried at different tack. “I swear to you, we are Midgardians just as much as you are.”
“What is that?”
“It must be a kind of devil.”
Thor was beginning to think he had completely lost control of this conversation. He tried in vain to come up with something that would calm them without admitting to anything, but he was having trouble. Wasn't that Loki's job?
Just where had Loki gone anyway? He had been at Thor's side just a moment before. Had he sidled off out of harm's way again, or had one of these mortals dared lay hand on him?
The voices were still talking, growing more and more like the sound of a mob. “Let it not be said that we failed to do what's right. We may die against such a powerful fiend, but we'll die fighting for our god!”
Thor drew his sword, ignoring the fact that he still couldn't see most of the people talking. “Have at thee, then! Perhaps a sound beating will teach you better than to worship monsters!”
A shape came at Thor from the right, and Thor met a sword and sent it flying. Another stroke with the flat of his blade and the shape went flying possibly even further, accompanied by a painful-sounding litany of snaps and crackles. Another shape attacked and went skimming over the ground like a stone skipped on a lake, the difference being that the ground no doubt gave him permanent gravel burns. Thor blinked in confusion. With the next attack he tried his best to parry gently, but the figure nonetheless vaulted into the sky as though the laws of physics had been suspended.
“What the devil is this?” said Thor.
“Devil!” the people cried out, some of them moaning.
“Not me,” said Thor.
“They're Midgardians, Thor,” said Loki out of thin air. “They're not just weaker, they weigh half as much.”
“Truly?” said Thor and then, caught off guard, accidentally piledrove someone into a tree. “How am I to shake them off without butchering them?”
Thor waited but there was no reply. He tried dodging for awhile, but he was surrounded, and there were so many of them. Besides, regardless of how easily he was winning he was achingly tired. It had been a long day for him.
“Fall back, mortals! I do not wish to hurt you!” said Thor and knocked two people over with the dragon's scale.
“Do you people want to die?” said Thor, “You're terrible at this!”
But even as he spoke a chain shot out from the darkness and curved loops around Thor's middle, pinning his arms to his sides. He shouted as his breath was forced from his body, and a cheer went up from the people in the shadows.
“Quickly! Start the pyre!”
“Revenge for Akaten!”
“With his death, our god shall be reborn!”
“It was just a dragon!” Thor argued, struggling as he was dragged by a line of men towards the fire. He dug in his heels and tried desperately to weigh more than the twice as much as a mortal that he did.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Loki was just going to have to accept that his brother had gone completely and utterly insane.
He had began to suspect something when Thor had decided on this little quest in the first place, given how their last quest had gone. But not only was Thor being reckless and thoughtless, Loki was getting the unnerving feeling that Thor was actually listening to him sometimes. Which made Thor sound like a terrible person, but truly he was just oblivious once he got excited. The idea that Loki could put him off with mild grumbling suggested disturbing things about how badly damaged Thor's ego might be. But in that case, why were they doing this stupid quest again? Another desperate attempt to bandage Thor's recently wounded ego?
Still, Thor had to be mad. This was just far too thoughtless.
“They worship us like gods,” said Loki to himself, “Slightly off there, Thor.”
He sighed to himself. He had found a safe perch up a tree. Fortunately, even the villagers' sharp eyes could not pick him out of the shadows, so it was easy enough for him to slip away and watch things develop. Thor should've been able to handle it. Instead, he had lost his footing and was being dragged away face-first. His face was going to be permanently darker than the rest of him after this.
The villagers had already piled on the wood and kindling and were now trying to get Thor tied to the thing without being kicked in the face. In Loki's opinion, his brother was making it far too easy on them.
“'Gods', they keep saying,” said Loki, grinning, “Well, if it's gods they want...”
* * *
Things were not looking up.
The chain that bound him was far stronger than it really ought to have been, and his attempts to free himself were cutting his belly on his own sword. While he was trying to find a way to pull free they'd managed to get him tied to a stake and now someone was bringing a torch along. He could finally see the mortals' faces, and they were not looking especially pleasant.
He couldn't die here. He'd be so embarrassed.
He strained to think of something and finally closed his eyes, trying desperately to meditate. This was not exactly the easiest thing to do—especially as he couldn't help but open his eyes every so often and peek to see how high the fire was getting—but just when he thought he would pull something somewhere in his brain, the sky rumbled loudly enough to set the villagers to crouching.
“You hear that?” said Thor, “'Tis the gods growing angry with you!”
Or something. The fire was still growing higher. He tried to keep pulling at the skies. He thought he could smell rain.
“What if it storms?” someone asked.
“Yes!” said Thor, “You'll have to--”
“We'll just cut off his head instead.”
Thor swallowed. “No! The skies are telling you not to! Be more superstitious, mortals!”
“Aha! So you admit that you're a devil!”
Thor looked up at the skies a pained expression.
It returned it.
The villagers screamed. The face of the dragon was coiling out of the thunder clouds Thor had summoned. The lightning from within them was creating odd shapes within the manifestation as it coiled its way downward at them. There was a mass confusion between people trying to run and people trying to kneel and people trying to do both at once.
“I just can't take you anywhere,” said a voice in Thor's ear.
Loki had him out of the chains quickly, and Thor tried not to be annoyed as the worshipers ignored them completely in favor of faceplanting before their ghost dragon god as humbly as possible. He and Loki took off at a brisk trot before anyone could take further umbrage with them.
Thor let it go for some time before talking. “That was you?”
Thor frowned. “I didn't know you could make illusions.”
“That's what I've been learning these past months. You didn't think I was just sulking, did you?” said Loki. He was still walking away briskly, face obscured and voice unreadable.
“Of—of course not.” said Thor.
Loki stopped, and Thor stopped too, almost running into him. Loki sighed, still not facing Thor.
“Thor ... I know what you were trying to do—”
“You do?” Thor's voice had gone a little too high and he tried to swallow it back down.
“—and I appreciate it. But you can't fix this, Thor.”
Loki looked down at his feet, hands clenching. Thor had a bad feeling that Loki was imagining the moment he had wielded Surtur's sword. Thor had a bad feeling Loki often did this.
“...Loki...” Thor walked up to his brother and put a hand on his shoulder. “I should be able to help.”
Loki gave him an oddly sad smile. “If you can help, I will tell you how.”
He started to walk away and then turned and added, “But this is definitely not it.”
They continued on in silence. It seemed to take much longer to return to the boat, either because they had to take a longer route from the pyre or because they were so tired. But Thor was fairly sure his brother wasn't mad at him, just weary and worrisome, his mind perhaps on how their father would react when they returned home.
Best not to think of it.
But finally they reached the shore and turned to follow its edge towards their ship. Here, at least Midgard was peaceful. The sun was long gone and dawn still hours away, but the horizon glowed with a peaceful light yellow, like the warmth of the stars relaxing for the night. The waters lapped against the shore quietly, and he could almost ignore the overwhelming smell of seaweed and dead fish after a while. Still, he wondered why Midgardian shores must be so pungent.
“There it is,” said Loki, taking off. He had been paying attention where Thor was not, and ran towards a shape around the bend. Thor followed, ignoring the way his muscles protested, because it wouldn't do to complain to Loki even if Thor was the one who had done all the running around today.
Loki stopped, squawking
Thor caught up easily enough. “Brother?”
Loki was staring at the ship. Thor followed his gaze and immediately realized why his brother had stopped. The figurehead had been roughly torn from the ship. As they clamored on board they found that everything that might be valuable had been raided.
“Thieves!” shouted Thor. He drew his sword and charged into the ship to search it, a task which took him barely a minute given the thing's size. There was no one except Loki following behind.
“You know, I'm beginning to think the mortals don't think of us as gods at all,” said Loki.
“Enough sarcasm, Loki! I take this as a personal affront.”
“I'm sure they didn't realize it was our vessel, Thor. Otherwise they would have lain in wait to try to set fire to it with us inside.”
Thor paused and then ran back up and out to the deck, but there was no one in sight. He sighed relief, though he had to wonder if Loki was just being his usual negative self or if he were messing with Thor on purpose. Both perhaps?
“Thor.” said Loki, and his voice sounded so strained that Thor dropped all thoughts that his brother be playing games. He turned to see that Loki's face was similarly strained and his hand gripping the handrail tightly. “They took the compass.”
“The compass?” Thor repeatedly dumbly.
“We can't find home without it.” said Loki.
“What—what good would that do them? Without a ship that can sail the Nine Realms?”
“Absolutely none, but it was shiny so they probably thought it expensive.” said Loki grimly.
Thor swallowed. Stranded in Midgard with its mad mortals and nothing left of their supplies. The dragon scale was looking like small recompense now.
“I suppose the Warriors Three will tell father where we are,” said Loki, looking at Thor out of the side of his eye for confirmation.
“Of course they will! Besides, you and I, brother, have just proven we can take on anything, have we not? There are only nine realms. Even if we had to sail blind we'd be sure to hit Asgard eventually.” Thor slashed the air with his sword and raised its point to the sky. “To adventure! For Asgard!”
There was a long moment.
Loki sighed heavily into his hand. He took a long, deep breath. He pointed towards the sky, smiling a wry grin.
I've left this a bit open because I have ideas for a sequel that I probably won't write. But for those of you who want a more concrete ending, I have written one for you:
And then Odin found them and gave them so many spankings that Thor became very strong and Loki became very evil.