Thor was drinking when they arrived. He was often drinking in those days, not too much but probably a little too often. It was a miracle they managed to find him in the hovel calling itself a tavern. The tankards had definitely seen better days and looking too closely at the floor was definitely not recommended.
"Thor of Asgard?"
He looked up at the uniform, absorbing the concept slowly. Official. Fancy. A face that had seen soap more often than most.
"Who's asking?" he rumbled.
"His majesty, King Loki. He wishes you to return to his court."
The laugh was out before he knew it.
"Uh-huh? And what would his majesty want with me all of a sudden? I thought he'd made his opinions on me eminently clear. His exact words, as I recall, were 'banished, never to return.'"
They paused for a moment. Maybe this hadn't been expected. Maybe they thought this would be the answer to his prayers and he'd go skipping back.
"There is a beast."
"Not my problem."
"It has killed at least twelve people."
"Not my problem."
The pair exchanged a look, uncertain.
"His majesty has authorised us to use force if necessary."
Hmm. Alright, maybe that was his problem...
He deliberately finished his ale before standing up, shrugging his coat on.
"If he wants me to hunt something, I'll require weapons. I have some of my own, but..."
"All necessary equipment will be provided."
"Well, since I'm beginning to think I don't have a choice in the matter, I suppose we'd better go."
The carriage was a great deal fancier than he was accustomed to these days. The bench was actually soft for one thing, enough that he lay across it to have a nap.
God only knew how they'd found him. He wasn't exactly open about who he was. Maybe Loki had had him trailed all these years.
As if. More trouble than it was worth.
And this... beast. He'd heard rumours of something in the south, some kind of creature, but he'd put it down to exaggeration and folk stories. Tales to convince children not to go wandering off. And then someone ends up on the wrong side of a bear or something and suddenly there's some kind of monster on the loose.
He slept, just keen to keep his mind from wandering back to the last time he'd seen Loki. It had been... unpleasant.
Waking up several hours later, he was quite aware that he was rather unpleasant at present. When had he last had a proper bath? When had he last changed his clothes, for that matter? They'd come to him at a bad time, between jobs as it were.
On the one hand, he rather wanted to appear as he was. Let Loki see just how far he'd fallen and exactly whose fault it was.
But then again, he wanted to look his best. Because he was fine without him. He was. Absolutely fine. Most of the time anyway.
He wasn't getting much of a choice in this either. A steaming tin bath had already been prepared, lavender blossoms strewn across it. And...
And a uniform, complete with Loki's crest. Like a brand almost.
"I am not wearing that," Thor said mildly, beginning to peel off his layers.
"His majesty is very insistent."
"His majesty can fuck off. Just a plain tunic will be fine. I haven't decided if I'm working for him just yet. Or I'll see him naked. I don't mind."
They brought him a clean tunic. Dark grey. Good. Plain and practical.
Thor wasn't entirely sure what he was expecting to happen next, but being shown into a morgue in a cellar wasn't it.
There were eight bodies under sheets. Various sizes. A lot of them were small, though. Children. As he'd expected. Most animal killings were.
He was just approaching the tallest figure when the door opened behind him, guards trooping in and behind them...
Thor didn't bow to him. He rather felt he'd earned that. But he did look at him. Loki didn't look particularly well. Pale, bags under his eyes, the circular crown seeming almost like it mocked him by shining in the dim light.
"They found you, then," he said.
"They did. And it seems you have some kind of problem."
He watched as Loki hesitated and then gestured to the guards to leave them alone. The door closed heavily, a certain finality to the sound.
"I wouldn't be seeking you out if I wasn't desperate, Thor."
"No, so I assumed. Do you know what it is?"
Loki sighed, rubbing his eyes.
"We have a survivor in the infirmary. I'll take you to her tomorrow. She described some kind of large dog, wolf maybe. Huge. Much bigger than any she'd seen before."
"Who are the victims?" Thor asked. "Children, elderly?"
"Mainly. But I really started getting worried after this."
He folded back the sheet over the tallest figure, revealing a guard, one of his men, his neck turned to barely more than a scrap of bloody meat, huge scratches upon his face. Thor grimaced, turning away.
"Wolves don't generally attack grown adults unless they're starving," he said.
"Which means it's likely not a wolf. Or not a normal one anyway."
"Perhaps. What do you want me to do?"
Loki looked at him with an air of surprise.
"You're the best hunter I ever knew," he said.
"I'm fair, not the best."
"But I trust you. Despite everything. And I want you to kill it."