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The Nameless Thor AU
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: This particular iteration of Thor and Loki belong to Marvel.

AN: For rayemars, because she harassed me into writing it. Inspired by this art by wantstobelieve.

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- Two -
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The barbarians come with sword and flame and heavy axe, yet there is caution as they slip through the winding corridors, care taken to avoid traps and pitfalls and rune-wrought ills, and Loki crouches amongst the galleries and watches with narrowed eyes as they trespass through what once was his home.

Unlike in the stories, they take care to leave the tapestries undisturbed, and a foreign priest ducks his head over the sacred fires and feeds them with the perfumed wood carefully taken from their stores.

Perhaps not so savage as he had thought.

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Even bereft of food and drink and treasures, the invaders are no fools, and Loki clings to the shadows as they settle into the abandoned temple.

The tongue they speak is not unfamiliar, just strange, and Loki watches, waits, and in cover of blessed darkness, steals cured meats and honey cakes while their supply-keepers sleep.

A small well bubbles behind the largest of the statues in the holy of holies, and he cups his hands into its coolness and sips it slowly, wishing there were enough so that he could bathe the death-stench off of his skin, but the bathing pools are all occupied by strangers, and the ash in his hair is a reminder of what has been lost.

When darkness falls, he sings of death and hate, soft and slow and ember-bright, and in the morning smiles to see the guardsmen stumble, weary-eyed, from chasing his songs through the night.

* * *

He has been a fool, he has been clumsy, but he has not been caught--

Foolish, he knows, to have risked going out in the daylight, but the hunters had gone to fetch their game, and he knows how to slip around those who carry neither sword nor shield, and he had not thought--he had not imagined--

But there he is, a great brute of a man, blood-splattered, bearing a pelt over one shoulder, who has chased him across the great hall, through the galleries and down into the sacred spaces, and Loki has run out of places to hide.

He looks familiar--a leader of men, Loki thinks abstractly, but he bares his teeth and his blade regardless.

"You have led me a merry chase," the warrior says, his voice rough with some strangeness, an accent Loki does not recognize despite his hours spent eavesdropping, "I had not thought that any of your temple's keepers remained."

"Why think you I a temple-keeper?" Loki retorts, "I merely hid here to evade your army, nothing more."

"Our scholars have made study of your people," the man returns, casting a long glance down the length of Loki's body--whether or not he recognizes the robes, Loki is unsure, but at least he has the courtesy to look back at Loki's face when he continues. And then, oddly, he smiles. "Much was said of the skill of this temple's acolytes, but naught of their beauty."

Oh.

The stranger thinks him beautiful.

He is not blind, then, and Loki may yet be able to turn this to his own advantage. He lowers his blade slightly, dips his head, and eyes the stranger through his lashes.

"I thank you for your flattery, stranger, but I am afraid you are mistaken. I am merely a dancer, one left behind when my troupe fled."

The gold-maned warrior seems to wrestle with the desire to laugh for a moment, then leans over to place his burden on the ground. "Strange for a dancer to know so many secret passageways, and to sing his grief to the dark," the barbarian says, and Loki swallows down a sneer. He has not been singing grief, that soft and pitiful emotion, but spite, sacred and unending.

The brute crouches, but it does aught to hide his bulk--does he think Loki a child, to cower before him? Ludicrous, but then, if it is seduction he seeks... well, he is fair enough, for a barbarian, bright-haired and bright-eyed, with a pleasing shape, and his voice is a pleasant enough rumble when he speaks, even slurred with that unknown accent as it is.

"I know of your people's love of your gods. Should not a temple-keeper be safe within the citadel?"

The stranger is suddenly much less appealing.

Loki bares his teeth, grip tightening on the hilt of his blade. "Should not the conqueror be out pillaging instead of dallying in the wake of his victory? There is naught left to claim here--this temple's masters left with all of its riches, and even the food is gone."

"I dally at my own pleasure," the barbarian retorts, a laugh clear in his voice, and perhaps they are not so hideous a race, then, if this one is so sweet-tongued. "And a temple-keeper is ever more precious than any dancer could be."

Loki draws back with a hiss, raising the blade higher. The armor is well-designed, and his is a deft hand, but sliding a blade through the ribcage takes precision, and the barbarian is much too far away. "So you seek baubles where there are none to find. Move along, stranger, there is nothing left in this place to be claimed."

"I seek a healer and scholar, temple-keeper, that is all," the brute says, and though he smiles, there is a spark there, one that Loki mislikes the look of. "Though I do not deny that I am quite grateful that it is you that I have found. Will you not come with me? I should hate to force you, though I will if I must."

Loki's eyes narrow to slits, and in a quick flash of motion, he raises the blade to his own throat. "Try it," he snarls, leaning into the blade just enough that his flesh parts beneath it, "and your prize will be nothing."

The brute rocks his weight back on his heels, but his eyes are blue and clear and considering. "...are you so prideful, to take your own life rather than have it claimed by another? Or are you bound by duty to your gods?"

Loki laughs, too loud and too bitter, and it echoes eerily in the empty space that once was the holy of holies. "I have neither kith nor kin in this place, stranger," he snarls, "and if I be kept from my revenge than I will die in this place to honor those that have gone before me."

"Is this your people's notion of honor?" the brute asks, and Loki's eyes narrow, considering.

This one does not speak as a common soldier, nor as a commander, and though he can see no signs of rank upon him, he is of a foreign people, of a foreign land.

Loki can use that.

"Aye," Loki says, and knows his smile too sharp by the way the barbarian's eyes widen. "I shall spill my blood and curse this place and those that left us to die, and no one who has dwelled in this space shall walk another day on this earth without suffering."

"...you have been abandoned to us here?" the stranger asks, and there is a darkness there, slow and deep and gently unfurling, and Loki hides his smile.

"I have been left to the slaughter here," Loki corrects him gracefully, "as the last of the sacrifices to keep your people out."

He tucks his legs beneath him and gestures with his free hand at the sacred fires burning behind them, and the encampment beyond. "The cows at first, whose blood should bind intruders out, then the finest stallion, then the youngest of our brethren, then the loveliest, and then the most prized."

"--your people--"

"A pity, then, that naught came of it, don't you think?" Loki hisses. "If I die here it is of my own choosing, by my own hand, for my own cause, and no one else's, not even yours, stranger."

The brute tilts his head in consideration. Ever less savage, Loki thinks, and had he the time or voice he would howl his rage past the heavens. "I can offer you a warrior's death, if that is what you so desire, and yet I mislike the thought of a temple-keeper, a scholar, lost."

"'Tis not my scholarship you would miss," Loki snarls, "I am not a fool, to think a prisoner should be treated kindly at the hands of his keeper, no matter how noble your blood."

"Why should I not treat you kindly?" the barbarian asks, and oh, isn't that telling, the lack of response when Loki called him nobly-born. "When your rage against your own people far eclipses mine?"

Still too far away to stab. "You would think me a traitor?" he spits, "I who lost everything to your brethren?"

"Nay, stranger," the brute says, brow crinkling in what cannot possibly be sympathy, "from what you say I think 'twas you who were betrayed."

It's a pretty turn of phrase, to be sure, and coming from his own lips 'twould have been a lie, but though he is a brute, and a stranger, Loki can sense no guile from him.

Loki can sense very little at all, and oh, isn't that interesting.

"And how should you know that is not what they planned?" Loki asks, lowering his blade deliberately, from throat to chest, baring pale skin as his finest tunic slides softly downwards. "Could I not be a trap laid for the nobles who lead the attack?"

"You could be," the barbarian says agreeably, settling back on his haunches, "and your question now could be more trickery to confuse me further."

Loki smiles, drawing his blade down further, rippling veil-thin fabric, a mocking smile curling his lips. "Would it not be wisest, then, to slay me now, ere I bring horror unto you and yours?"

The man shakes his head. "I fear I would lose any challenge you made me with your words," the stranger says, "But I recognize my own well enough, and your rage, at least, is honest."

...such a fool. How very useful he could be. "It is very unwise to take a prisoner like me."

"Nay, stranger," the man says, "We have great need of you."

"Do you," Loki says, ice in his veins, "I may slit my throat now for the insult."

The brute blinks at that, weight shifting slightly, but his stance shifts back, not forward, and one large hand raises in careful caution. "My people come to conquer, not to destroy. I would have you explain to us what it is that you have lost, so that we might give you and yours what you need to rebuild."

...the brute is quite possibly a madman, to think Loki will be swayed by such sweet words, when all around them his brethren glut themselves on the ruins of what once was his own. "Rebuild in the image of your own gods, you mean."

The stranger shakes his head. "Nay, that is not the way of our people--the gods of each land are their own, and to disturb them and their keepers is to invite chaos, and ruin all we seek to claim." He turns a considering glance on Loki, another long slow look, and frowns thoughtfully. "You are a temple-keeper despite your lies, I think, and yours are not the cares of mortal men. Would you not come with me, for the sake of the gods you must serve?"

"Ah, how little you know us," Loki says, and his smile is sharp and white. "For our gods are as mortals, and we murder them yearly, and bathe the land in their blood for the sake of our kin."

The brute shifts his weight again, settling back on his heels, and his eyes are bight and thoughtful in the shadows of his face. "And that is why your own must die, to protect this land?"

Loki curls his fingers more tightly around the hilt of his blade. "So spake the elders," he murmurs, "though aught it did to save us."

"You are a rebel," the stranger says, voice soft and thoughtful, "else why should you survive? Would you not rather join with us, to seek revenge on those who left you?"

Perfect. "Why should I surrender to an enemy when my death will ensure my revenge?"

"Because, temple-keeper," the stranger says, "many of your brethren are still alive amongst our camps, and though our scholars are well-trained, we have no priests to attend them."

--starshine and summer, how could he know?

No, no, it could well be a lie.

It is very likely a lie.

And yet...

"...my people?" Loki had not thought... but of course there would be prisoners of war, to attend to the menial tasks of keeping the warriors well-fed and contented.

--if the people of the Valley have been violated Loki will slaughter all of the invaders in their sleep.

The barbarian is smiling again. "You are a priest, are you not?"

"An acolyte," Loki corrects sharply, unable to contain the venom in his tone. "I am not yet of an age to be a priest, nor do I indulge in their hypocrisy."

"And yet a holy man you are, and I would have you attend your duties."

It is, perhaps, the most unwittingly clever thing the brute has said yet, or the most lethally studied.

Every year the Black One is sacrificed for the good of the people, and Loki is eir acolyte. If even one of his people yet live, he cannot abandon them.

Loki closes his eyes and drops his blade to the floor, and does not look up again until he is eclipsed in the shadow of his captor.

"Come, little treasure," the barbarian murmurs, reaching out one broad hand. "Your people have need of you, and the hour grows long."

Loki should bite off his fingers, but instead he lets the stranger draw him to his feet, and does not deign to look at him as he turns to walk away.

The stranger chuckles behind him, and Loki inhales deeply, and softly, under his breath, too low for anyone but his god to hear, begins to sing.

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