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One moment the bridge of the ha'tak was clear, and the next, a human form sprawled at the base of the stairs leading up to Ba'al's throne.

The exiled System Lord rose to his feet, waving back his guards as they reacted with raised staff weapons. "Jaffa, Kree!"

For the man-- if man it was-- had not appeared with the white flash characteristic of Asgard transportation beams; and if he had used a Goa'uld system he would have been diverted to the ring room set to accept incoming transmissions. Instead, the arrival had been accompanied only by a burst of varicolored light, and what looked like an incomplete knotwork pattern suddenly etched into the dark shine of the polished floor. Whatever technology had brought the stranger there was unfamiliar, and powerful indeed to pierce through the ha'tak's shields.

Ba'al let his eyes linger on that pattern as he walked down the steps; he did not recognize it, though it seemed vaguely familiar, perhaps from the months he had spent hiding amongst the Tau'ri. Endlessly inventive creatures: though he deplored their continued independence and current status as the major power in the galaxy, he admired their ingenuity and depth of culture. The Goa'uld had stagnated badly under the long rule of Ra, and had been playing catch-up, as the Tau'ri would put it, since the moment the inhabitants of the First World had finally put an end to him. As clever and adaptive as Ba'al knew himself to be-- moreso than any other System Lord, as events had borne out-- even he had eventually been defeated, and, as far as the Tau'ri knew, made an example of.

They should have expected that he would have one last clone prepped for such an eventuality. But as it was, Ba'al had been forced to retreat to a shadowy corner of the galaxy, with no access to a Chappa'ai and only one ha'tak's worth of loyal Jaffa with which to rebuild his realm. He could not afford to ignore any potential source of power that might offer itself without at least attempting to assess its worth.

The limp form stirred slightly as he descended the steps, attempting to turn on his back. Good; it was hard to question an unliving intruder. Ba'al nudged him with the toe of a boot to encourage the motion, though he kept a finger on the controls of his personal shield in the event that the disorientation was feigned in order to cover an assassination strike.

Uncurled, however, the man proved to be a tall specimen, human to all appearances, hands empty of weapons. From the rich fabric of his clothing, with its deeply vibrant hues and metallic accents, and the closely formed and clearly personalized armor, he was a wealthy man in his own realm, likely of high status; and thus, unlikely to be from a world previously under the control of the Goa'uld. Perhaps the Ori; though from what Ba'al had seen of that hierarchy, none save the Orici and her priors had been allowed such marks of eminence. Yet he bore none of the signs Ba'al knew to expect of such a one. He was pale, but did not possess the facial scarring common to priors, and his dark hair was neither as close-cropped as most Tau'ri kept it nor frosted with white.

"Arise, intruder, and greet your god," Ba'al announced, infusing his host's voice with the echoing overtones often used by his species. Unlike other Goa'uld, he had never deluded himself that he truly was an omnipotent being, but he well knew the value of first impressions.

Eyes as green as his cape slitted open, and the being-- Ba'al was suddenly not so certain he was human-- slowly lifted himself to a half-reclining position, elbows braced behind him. He moved as slowly as one weary or wounded, and yet with unhesitating strength and grace. Ba'al could read such eloquent body language more easily than the common language of the Ta'uri; had he not spent the millennia of his lieutenancy to Ra practicing such for the day he would become a System Lord in his own right?

"How strange; I was about to say the same thing," the intruder drawled, as though upon a couch in a throne room of his own.

A sudden chill shot through Ba'al's body, curled up around his host's brainstem... for the being had spoken not in the common vernacular, nor any of the Tau'ri languages he had become accustomed to, but in the hisses of the mother tongue, uttered only when a Goa'uld was without a host.

His First Prime could no longer restrain himself. He stepped forward and struck at the man with the butt of his staff. "Silence, fool, for you look upon the Lord Ba'al!"

The staff was caught casually, almost effortlessly with the palm of one hand; the stranger tugged, and the Jaffa went sprawling. Then he sat up further, freeing his other hand to skim up the length of the weapon, examining its form. "Fascinating," he said, then flicked his gaze back to Ba'al. "I know that name; or should I say title? A reference to any number of minor ancient deities on Earth. If that is your origin, then perhaps you know my name as well."

Ba'al arched an eyebrow at him, gesturing to the other Jaffa in the room. They fell upon him en masse, rather than singly, retrieving the staff and pulling him to his feet-- but again, Ba'al was left with the impression that he was more than he appeared, allowing the restraint rather than submitting to it.

"Enlighten me, then," he said, stepping into the other's personal space and allowing his eyes to flash yellow, "including why I should care what name you bore on that primitive, insignificant world."

The green eyes facing him did not glow; but they grew more animated at Ba'al's approach, their corners crinkling in an unsubtle smile. "Primitive, yes. But insignificant? Hardly, as I think you well know. I am Loki of Asgard, little god. Imprison me if you dare."

Ba'al did recognize that name; but to his knowledge, it belonged to a small, grey being whose race had committed mass suicide, leaving their collected knowledge in the keeping of the Ta'uri.

"You lie," he sneered in the false Loki's face.

Laughter rang out in unexpected reply-- but not honest amusement; it held a wild, cruel edge. "Of course. For even the truth becomes a lie in the mouth of the god of lies, does it not?"

Ba'al's scowl deepened at the evasion. "Tell me how you came here," he demanded. "How did you bypass the shields? Were you sent to assassinate me? "

"Hardly," Loki replied, dryly. "And you could say that I... failed of my purpose." His eyes narrowed speculatively at Ba'al; then turned to roam the bridge of the ha'tak for the first time since his arrival, visibly noting the guards' worn armor, the flickering light panel in the corner, and the map of worlds-- mostly marked in red-- visible on one of the control screens. "And unless I miss my guess, you seem to have failed of yours as well."

Ba'al studied him a moment longer. Whatever his name, this being would bear close watching-- but there was no fear in him at all. It was clear that the measures used against ordinary prisoners would be insufficient.

He would need to send word to the last of his Tau'ri supporters in search of information about Loki's claimed identity, strengths, and weaknesses. But until that time, the appearance of cooperation might yield more information about his source of power.

Ba'al waved the Jaffa back once more, then crossed his arms, warily. "Then it sounds as though we may have common enemies," he said.