Not Your Average Cinderella

I See the Light

As Aska continued to ride under the protective cover of the nightly darkness, about as many questions as there were pumpkins in a garden she came across entered her already restless mind. Would Loki, or, more importantly, Ylva recognize her? And if Ylva was planning to steal the spear, how was she going to do it with all of those people in the same room? Even if they were distracted, they would notice her the moment she did it. Suddenly, Aska remembered an important detail. Perhaps she had hidden her invisible cloak inside her dress. It would not surprise her, since she noticed that lately both Ylva and Brynja were becoming fond of an odd new skirt referred to as a "bustle." It was very likely they were a part of their dresses.

But before long, before she could even think of possible answers to any of those questions, Aska realized that she was only a few yards from the palace that looked even more massive than when she first approached it all those weeks ago. It seemed almost to blaze like a giant torch with its shining, golden exterior. She wondered if she would even be able to find her way on her own, or if the guards she encountered along the way would recognize her as the Purple Phantom. The closer she got, the more her heart raced, and the more she began to feel her hold of the reins grow weaker. There seemed to be more guards on duty than usual, standing like shadows against the largest fortress in the realm.

Even so, she kept Dagny at her usual, smooth, cantering pace, and kept her eyes locked on the palace, from which she could already hear the festivities inside. But once she came only a few feet away from it, Aska frowned when she felt another perplexing feeling suddenly seem to land on her like a butterfly, very light, yet clearly present. It instantly set the nerves that immediately crawled up her skin into motion, but it did not feel evil like the one she felt when approaching Ylva, simply, uninvited. Something about seeing the palace as it looked now seemed to cause something within Aska to awaken. She wondered what it could have been, when she immediately remembered the last two times she'd felt it, when she brought Loki to safety, and when she went to deliver a message. Now, it felt stronger than ever. But whatever it was, the answer seemed to evade Aska like a clever animal that knew it was being hunted. Would she never be able to figure this out?

Well, one way or another, it would simply have to wait, as she then realized that she was not too far from the entrance. Seeing the two guards who had noticed her, she quickly slowed Dagny, until she finally stopped in front of them, both of which immediately ran to her side.

"May I help you off my lady?" one of them asked.

"And may I take your horse?" asked the other.

Aska raised her eyebrows, as she wasn't used to receiving such formal treatment, usually being nothing more than a servant. It also didn't take her long to notice that they seemed to be somewhat attracted to her, another thing she was not terribly used to. But, seeing as both were rather eager to help, she thought she might as well smile and humor them.

"Yes you may," she replied, "Both of you. Thank you."

Aska leaned forward, and allowed the guard on the left to help her off. She then turned around, took out the scroll from the saddlebag, thanking Jarl again for remembering to give it to her, and watched for a moment as the other guard walked Dagny off the path before she made her way up the short marble stairway. Ahead of her was an entrance with two large, open doors, which immediately appeared heavier than the two guards on either side to open them. She noticed, though, that of them was holding his hand out to her. Aska immediately gave him the scroll, offering proof that she had been invited, when she technically had not been.

Now, though, came the hard part. Beyond the pair of doors was a torch-lit hallway that resembled much a fortified cave-like tunnel, showing her the way inside the palace. Aska immediately felt as least half her height, for the first time she'd come here about a month before, at least someone who knew their way around had been with her. This time, she was going to have to go it alone. But could she?

The sudden reminder that she'd come for perhaps her most important mission yet seemed to give her the much-needed push to make the first step. With a deep breath, Aska took up her skirt in both hands, moved one foot forward, followed by the other, and was soon walking by herself through the halls that seemed even more massive than before. And even though she once heard the sounds of music and laughter and such, as she continued to make her way toward what could be the most suspenseful night of her life, all she allowed herself to hear now were the sound her glass slippers made against the finely polished amber floor, and the sound of her heart beating both excitedly and nervously at the same time.

As the young woman in the famed purple mask was arriving at even more famous palace of gold, all of the people inside were enjoying themselves to a very splendid occasion, especially those girls who had yet to be married. Most had cheered at the arrival of Thor, the crown prince, but even more cheered once his brother, Loki, came in. However, upon the firm urging of their families and friends, those same girls – well, most of them – remembered their manners and started behaving like proper young ladies. With the exception of perhaps one or two. While one of them was misbehaving, her mother was finishing up a conversation with an old friend while her other daughter watched.

But just as she was, in that moment, she turned an eye of suspicion on her younger daughter, one that immediately made her wish she could flee, no matter how much her feet seemed to remain stuck to the floor.

"You seem rather, quiet, tonight, Regin," Ylva remarked, "Even more so than usual."

Regin blinked. She'd hoped that neither her mother nor sister would notice. She couldn't imagine what would happen if either of them discovered her plan to free Aska. Whether or not it worked remained to be seen. It was getting close to eleven o' clock, and Regin had still seen no sign of her. She'd desperately hoped Jarl had gotten her message, otherwise all was lost. But still, she could not allow any weaknesses to sneak through and expose her. The performance was not over.

"Perhaps I'm not as fond of parties as I used to be," she replied, though she'd wanted to say something else.

Ylva's unblinking hawk-like eyes remained on her, until, much to Regin's silent relief, she seemed to buy her explanation and nod. "Well, at least I know that your sister is," she said, "Speaking of whom, where is she?"

Regin looked around carefully at the great sea of people before her, until she spotted an unmistakable peach-colored silhouette making herself at home at the dessert table nearby. Knowing what might happen as soon as she told her, but not feeling the need to say otherwise, Regin pointed her out. "She's over there," she said.

Once Ylva spotted her, her eyes immediately widened at what she was doing, and she just as quickly rushed over to put a stop to it while Regin followed her. "Brynja!" she called, "How many times must I tell you not to eat with your gloves on?!"

Once Brynja saw her mother heading her way, she instantly froze before she could take another bite of chocolate cake. She hastily put it back and then straightened to appear as though she was simply minding her own business. "Whatever are you talking about?" she asked.

"Don't even start it!" Ylva exclaimed, though not really desiring to raise her voice, "Someone could have seen you!"

"I looked around first!" Brynja said, trying to remain calm, "Trust me, not even the princes were watching."

For a moment, Ylva seemed to look away. And when she looked back at Brynja, a skeptical eyebrow was raised. "You might want to think otherwise," she said.

"Why?" Brynja asked sarcastically. But just then, when she looked in the same direction as her mother, her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. There, standing in the middle of the room, was Loki, looking every bit as regal as the prince of Asgard he was. Instantly remembering their most momentous meeting only yesterday, Brynja quickly went to work grooming herself until she was sure she looked absolutely fetching.

But just as she was about to call his attention, someone else caught it right before she did with the exact same words. "Your Highness!" Both she and Loki looked to see what appeared to be a young woman with long, black, braided hair wearing a sapphire-blue dress. While Brynja couldn't see her face behind the rather exquisite mask, she could see that the woman's eyes were focused on the prize of her desires. She watched with complete dismay as the woman then went after the prince, who immediately tried to flee upon seeing her. All Brynja could do was simply cross her arms in disappointment, while Regin continued to hope that Aska would appear before midnight.

While the rest of the young women continued to occasionally gawk at one of the two princes, not too far away, their parents were overseeing the festivities with great satisfaction, especially their father, who scanned his eye and smiled proudly at the scene before him.

"It seems that my idea has proved successful," he told his wife, "It looks as though every young maiden in the realm came."

Frigga nodded. "But did you tell Loki of our decision?" she asked him.

"Why yes," Odin replied, "just before we entered."

"I should hope so," Frigga remarked, "because it has come to my attention that he isn't exactly enjoying himself."

Odin gave her an incredulous look. "I don't see why he should not!" he said, "He would be wise to at least try."

"Perhaps," Frigga momentarily agreed, "But don't expect for it to happen anytime soon."

While Odin occasionally appreciated his queen's advice, this time, he rolled his eye when she was not looking, and continued to watch over the ball as it gained further favor with the people, while Loki was doing the best he could to try and stay away from the one woman who seemed to be the night's champion in trying to gain his affection, and to no avail. He managed to get away to one of the far corners of the room, but still she followed him like a dog would follow its master.

"Oh come now your Highness!" Idunn insisted impatiently, "Just one more dance!"

Loki quickly spun around to face her, but remembered to be calm so as not to hurt her feelings. "Idunn, I've already danced twice with you," he said, "Could you please give me some space?"

Just then, he heard a familiar voice call out a familiar phrase of his. "Another!" Both Loki and Idunn then turned to see Thor throw his empty goblet into one of the fire pits, sending a blaze, the heat of which they immediately felt in waves, shooting halfway to the ceiling. It seemed to take the shape of a dragon, and those around him showed their approval of such a sight by applauding. Once it died down though, and once he saw his brother coming his way, Loki instantly realized he'd found his excuse to leave.

Turning toward Idunn for hopefully the last time that night, he asked, "Or, could you please give me some time to speak with my family?"

Idunn raised her eyebrows. For a moment, it looked as though she knew why he had asked that. But, nonetheless, perhaps knowing she couldn't refuse such an innocent request, she reluctantly nodded. "I suppose." But then, looking him straight in the eye one more time, she said, "I'll be waiting for you."

After giving a false smile, Loki nodded, and hurried hastily away from her and toward Thor, all the while wondering if he was ever going to escape this near constant threat of forced romance, which was not romance at all. And before he even stood in front of him, it seemed that Thor had instantly caught on to his apprehension.

"Well, brother," he said, looking as though he might smile, "I take it you aren't exactly having a good time?"

Despite his earlier sentiment toward him, Loki didn't feel the need to return the humor. "You could say so," he replied. He then turned around slowly so Thor would no longer see how fatigued he was already feeling. If he were really in the mood he would simply veil himself in smoke, and disappear to a place where no one could follow. It seemed though, that his tired state wanted to make itself known more than he desired.

"I was a fool to think she'd come," he said, "Why should she make an exception for me?"

"Because, you're the prince of Asgard?" Thor suggested.

"That did not seem to matter to her!" Loki retorted. He then allowed himself to pause though, when he realized that, as crazy as it might have seemed, there might have been some truth to his brother's words. "Then again, you weren't there when…" He trailed off, remembering that he hadn't exactly told his brother how he and the Phantom had kissed. Though they'd shared many secrets through the years, Loki wasn't immediately sure this was one he could tell.

"When what?" Thor then asked.

Well, that did it. Once Thor asked, there was usually no way around it. And, besides, what was the worst that could happen, other than giving Thor what would perhaps be the surprise of his life? Either way, Loki knew he couldn't keep him waiting. Ever the reluctant one, he turned around to face his brother, breathed deeply when he saw his somewhat eager face, and began. "Well, I…"

Suddenly, he was then broken off by the sound of gasps coming from almost everyone in the room. Even the music stopped somewhat abruptly. Both Thor and Loki quickly turned to see what all the near fuss was about, when Loki felt as though he would freeze like an ice statue at what he saw.

Across the room, standing at the top of the short flight of stairs that led to the hallways beyond, stood a lone woman wearing a pale yellow and purple dress that seemed almost to be interwoven with diamonds. The embroidered flowers that adorned the neckline and waist along with what appeared to be the pattern of branches on her skirt made her look as though she was an incarnation of the great Tree of Yggdrasil itself. Her hair fell past her shoulders in pale, gentle, water-like waves. But the feature about her that stood out the most to him was the purple masked bordered with gold. Even from where he stood, Loki immediately knew her to be the one he'd been waiting for. And now that she was here, nothing, not even all of the people gathered on the floor in front of him, was going to keep him from her.

The moment she stepped inside the ballroom, Aska stopped and stood still where she was at the top of the stairs. Before her stood a crowd of people unlike any she'd ever seen. All wore costumes of nearly every color imaginable: orange, magenta, green, and blue, and were made of just about every fabric imaginable: satin, silk, taffeta, and gauze. The masks she beheld were made of all sorts of designs from cats to hearts and so forth. Some were even decorated with feathers. And just as much as there seemed to be a sea of color in front of her, it also seemed one to be embroidered with gold and silver.

There were two fire pits on either side of the room. From the ceiling hung a chandelier that seemed to hold two dozen candles. The room itself looked as though to be made of the most solid, most purest gold. But Aska couldn't admire the scenery for long, as she quickly realized that almost all the faces in the crowd were now staring at her. Seeing such a sight made her stand even more still, as not so many people ever looked at her all at once. And yet, in that moment, when she received so much attention she might as well have been the only one of her kind in the realm, a sensation as strong as a lightning bolt seemed to hit her, and she quickly recalled a sense of familiarity, not just at the scene before her, but about the palace in general.

I've been here before, she thought. Though it didn't seem to make complete sense, Aska realized that this was what she was feeling whenever she went to the palace. It seemed now that she had been here many more times than she thought. But when?

Before she could answer that though, she heard the sound of footsteps coming in her direction. She looked, and immediately felt a pang of both nervousness and exhilaration, as she saw none other than Prince Loki, looking the most royal she'd ever seen him, and making his way toward her. His green cloak trailed behind him as he traveled up the stairs, and before long, the two were once again gazing at each other after what had felt like a much too long time. So intense was their shared interest and curiosity, that it took awhile for one of them to finally break the silence.

"Hello," Loki managed to say.

Feeling the need to respond, and formally, Aska lowered her eyes and curtsied the most gracefully she could. "Your Highness," she replied in a soft voice.

"I had a feeling you'd come," Loki said after she rose up again, giving a smile that instantly sent a butterfly or two through Aska.

Returning it, she replied, "Well, you asked so nicely, how could I not?"

Loki chuckled, causing her to chuckle as well, when he suddenly held out his hand. "Come," he said, "May I have the honor of introducing you to my parents?"

Aska's smile swiftly fled, as not only did she feel a shot of anxiety at approaching those who in the past could have called for her arrest, but she remembered the most important reason as to why she was here. "We might have met before," she said, shaking her head slightly, "And, there is something I'd like to discuss with you."

Loki was about to speak, presumably to ask what, when he then looked out at the crowd of people still staring at them before looking back at her. "I fear both will have to wait," he said. And before she could say anything else, he held out his hand again, and asked a question that instantly made Aska's heart racing like a wild horse. "Would you care to dance?"

Though she'd previously imagined the scene he was suggesting to her, Aska almost didn't know what to do. Part of her wanted to accept out of being polite, while another part of her genuinely wondered what it would be like to dance right at the side of one of Odin's sons. Mustering as much calm as she could, she replied in the only way she could think of. "With you? Right now?"

"You don't have to if you don't want to…"

Suddenly, upon hearing him say that, Aska almost immediately knew what she wanted to do. Trying to smile, she quickly interrupted him, saying, "No. No, I'd love to."

Aska watched as her smile seemed to make Loki's return, when she remembered that he was still holding his hand out. Slowly, but not without some slight hesitation, she placed her own hand in his, and instantly marveled at how warm it felt to her. Feeling that warmth transfer to her cheeks in the form of a blush, Aska looked away. But Loki didn't seem to mind, as the two then began their descent down the stairs and toward the floor that had now been largely cleared for them.

They made their way silently to the center of the floor together, where Loki bowed and Aska curtsied. Aska then put her right hand in his left, and put her left hand on his shoulder, while he put his right hand on her waist, which immediately made her feel as though she was both safe and facing danger at the same time. Fortunately, the prince's soft green eyes seemed to remind her to say something rather important.

"I should warn you I'm not much of a dancer," she said softly.

"Don't worry," he replied, "I'm sure you'll do fine." He then leaned slightly closer, so she could feel his breath on her face once she heard him say in a voice only the two of them would hear, "To tell you the truth, I'm not much of one either."

Before Aska could reply, she heard a rather lovely tune conjured by the musicians reach her ears, and before she knew it, she and Loki had begun dancing to it.

As they did, everyone in the room couldn't help but watch with intrigue as the young prince of Asgard seemed to glide around the floor with the most enchanting young lady many of them had ever seen. Immediately, questions began to spring up like flowers eager to grow, the most common one being "Who is that mysterious maiden?" To which, more than a few answers were suggested such as "Perhaps she is a princess?" and "Maybe is from a different realm." But of course, the guests were not the only ones to be watching with keen interest and asking similar questions.

As Odin beheld the scene before him with a wide eye, it wasn't long before he noticed the peculiar expression on his queen's face.

"What are you smiling like that for?" he asked her non-accusingly.

"I'm only happy because he finally is," Frigga replied, "Admit it, you didn't really think she would come."

Odin raised his eyebrow, as his wife never seemed to cease to surprise him. "No, I did not," he replied honestly.

"Well, she's here now, so, what do you think?"

Now that was a question he could answer willingly. "To tell you the truth, it makes me think of our courtship," he said as a smile crossed his face, "Of course, I knew who you were."

Frigga instantly let out a chuckle, both at that remark and at how fondly her husband seemed to remember their younger days together. She too silently admitted that the scene in front of her bore much resemblance to those good times. All she could do was continue to watch as it further unfolded.

Meanwhile, three otherwise ordinary noblewomen watch with as much intent, if not more so, as the prince and the masked maiden continued to dance. While one watched with a soft smile that she wished could be allowed to grow the longer she did, the other two frowned grimly and even seemed to stare almost menacingly at the new, charming arrival.

"Oh, how dare she!" Brynja said in a low voice through gritted teeth. She then leaned toward Ylva and asked, "Do you suppose it's her, Mother?"

"Indeed," Ylva replied in an equally low voice. As she continued to keep her sharp eyes on the two as they passed by them once more, she immediately knew that the theory that had just appeared in her mind had proved to be correct. "The Purple Phantom has arrived."

But no matter how many people seemed to be gawking at her and her partner, Aska kept her eyes on Loki's. And soon, the longer she did so, the less aware she became of the other guests in the ballroom, until it seemed as though they were the only ones there. Indeed, after Loki twirled her a couple of times and even dipped her, it became so mystifying that Aska bit her lip for a moment to make sure she was not dreaming. The slight pain concluded for her that she was not, but the fluttering of her heart kept telling her otherwise. Even so, despite both ideas which seemed to be in a weighing war in her mind, Aska couldn't help but smile as the enjoyment of an image that seemed impossible before coming to life before her very eyes got more and more grand. In fact, she began to feel less and less sure about leaving it at all.

As Loki continued to dance with the one woman in a sea of hundreds who'd captivated him so, his eyes remained on the two jewels that gazed back at him through her mask. How tempting it was to simply give into the thought of holding her for the rest of his existence. To touch her again, let alone see her again, sent him to a place in his mind he didn't know existed. It was a place where he could simply forget he was a prince and simply immerse himself into the enjoyments that even the lowest of common men knew. The longer he danced with her, the more he wanted to stay in that most elusive of lands, at least, until it seemed his own feet were more grounded in good sense than he was. Before he could even think about stopping, his feet began to slow, until the sound of applause that immediately greeted him just as quickly made him realize that both he and the woman ceased to dance.

"You're too modest," he then heard her say.

Loki slightly shook his head at being so suddenly drawn out of his near self-hypnosis. "What?"

"You told me you couldn't dance," the woman said.

He raised his eyebrows once he remembered what he told her, before somewhat nervously asking, "Well, what did you think?"

Almost against his expectations, the woman smiled a serene gem of a smile before replying, "It was wonderful."

So rare did her expression seem to him that Loki couldn't help but return it. For a brief moment he felt as though he might be entering that place in his mind again, when suddenly, his eyes widened as he remembered another place he was very fond of, one that, despite his previous ideas toward it, he felt he wanted to share, with her. And it appeared she noticed it almost as quickly as he did.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Um, would you mind if I showed you something?" he asked.


Her curiosity was so charming, Loki let out a droll chuckle. "You'll see it when we get there." He then turned away from the crowd, which he now remembered was still there, and held out his arm for her to grasp onto. When he saw her slight hesitation, he assured her, "It's not that far a walk."

She looked at his arm, then at him, then back at his arm again, looking as though wavering between whether to say "yes" or "no." When it seemed as though she might refuse, however, the woman put her arm through his. Still, she looked a bit nervous, so Loki laid his free hand on hers before they walked out the ballroom and – thankfully – away from the sight of all those eagerly watching them.

Together, they walked out onto a walkway suspended a few stories above the ground. Fortunately, only a few faces saw them in passing, allowing Loki to hope that his special place would be largely vacant tonight, if not completely. At one point though, he looked at the woman beside him, and through her mask he could see that she appeared both excited and nervous at the same time. But what could she be nervous about? Well, he still didn't know who she was. And, maybe after tonight, he would. Why she still seemed not to want to tell him instantly let a shot of confusion pass through him. But, since he did not want to upset her, he kept silent, until, at last, they made it to perhaps his favorite place in the realm.

Just as he'd hoped, Loki didn't see anyone else there. And the moment he heard her gasp, he immediately turned and just as quickly smiled when he saw the rather delighted look on her face. He imagined she might have that sort of expression, but he didn't think it would cause some light laughter to come from him.

"This is my favorite courtyard," he explained, "Sometimes I come here when I can't go anywhere else, even my own bedchamber."

"It's beautiful," the woman gasped again as she continued to stare at the beauty before her.

Aska had seen more than a few courtyards in her known life, but this one was definitely the most magnificent. It wasn't that big, but every inch was covered with something amazing. Two fountains that looked as they were made of solid gold stood in the front and the back. Both had statues of a stag and a doe brushing up lovingly against one another, and both had two stone benches bordering them.

The water seemed to sparkle and looked so crystal clear that Aska walked over and dipped her bare fingers in it to make sure it was real. And on the left and right, against the ledge and wall respectively, were lined several evergreen bushes holding the liveliest-looking flowers she'd ever seen. Roses, irises, carnations and so forth, all in a variety of colors even more diverse than those found in a rainbow, if such a thing were possible.

But the most incredible part of all was the dazzling view that greeted her once she looked out over the ledge. In addition to the silver lights of near countless stars, hundreds, if not thousands, of golden lights from all sorts of buildings met her wide eyes, nearly reaching the horizon. Aska couldn't help but let her mouth fall open, as she'd never seen the realm from this point of view before. To think, she'd once imagined not coming here tonight!

"Splendid!" she breathed. She turned around once she heard the prince laugh again. Such music there was in it.

"I'm glad you like it," he smiled.

Aska smiled back. "To think, you can see this sight whenever you wish!" she exclaimed, "Oh, you must feel so lucky!"

Despite hoping to hear his laughter again, instead, rather unexpectedly, Loki's smile slowly disappeared, turning into a frown. The sight almost immediately caused Aska to frown too, and she quickly wondered if she said something she shouldn't have. "What's wrong?" she asked.

Loki didn't reply at first. Aska watched as he sat down on one of the benches, almost silently inviting her to walk over and join him at his side. She grew a bit more alarmed when he continued to look at the floor rather than her, but she allowed herself to feel some relief when he began speaking again.

"If you knew what it was like to be a prince, you would think otherwise," he said.

Immediately, Aska felt confused. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, for one thing, you're almost never allowed to be completely alone," Loki explained, trying not to sound contemptuous though Aska heard it somewhat anyway, "You're supposed to do all sorts of things that don't make sense. And if you refuse to do even one of them or if you mess up even once, suddenly your whole reputation is on the line."

Aska was almost mesmerized the whole time she listened, not only at how he spoke to her like she was a close friend of his, but at how similar his dissatisfaction with the life he led seemed to her own. "Your Highness…"

"Please," he interrupted her, "call me Loki."

Aska raised her eyebrows. "Loki," she corrected herself, though actually saying his name seemed so odd. She then shook her head slightly when she remembered what she wanted to say, and continued. "Believe it or not, I think I know what you're talking about."

Loki looked back at her, his own eyebrows now raised. "What?"

"Well, I can't say much," Aska replied, "but, let's say I live a rather similar existence. And, it often feels like I only exist to do everyone's bidding."

"I know!" Loki exclaimed, almost surprising her, "For me it feels like I simply invite unrest the moment I step out of line."

"Right!" Aska nodded eagerly. And before she knew it, both she and Loki broke into small fits of laughter at the conversation they just had.

"Looks like we have more in common than we first thought," Loki said.

"I suppose," Aska nodded again in agreement.

Loki chuckled again, but this time, it sounded more nervous than humorous. Even his smile faded slightly.

"And, I should say, I wouldn't have told that to just anyone," he said.

"I understand," Aska tried to smile, though she herself was becoming a bit more anxious.

"I mean, what I'm trying to say is that, I've never met anyone like you."

Aska's smile returned, though only for a moment. "Nor you," she said.

Loki let out a small sigh, as if he wanted to make sense of something he wanted to say before he said it.

"When I'm around you, it feels like it's alright just to be myself," he said.

Aska blinked slowly at the way he said that, and at how much it suddenly meant regarding her. "You know," she said, "I think I've been feeling the same way."

Loki continued to gaze at her as he then went on to say, "Good, because, if you're going to live without love then, why bother living?"

Love? Hearing that word sounded so jarring, and yet, so natural at the same time. "Well, I don't know," Aska replied, thinking it to be the only thing she could say.

She then found that her own gaze was locked on his, and didn't know if she could escape it if she tried. Not only did she now see how excessively handsome he truly was, with his uniquely shaped face, his slicked-back hair that was just as dark if not more so than the night sky, and his green eyes that seemed both fierce and gentle at the same time. But now, knowing she had a rather deep thing in common with the prince, she almost didn't know what to think of it. And the word he brought up. Love. A word encompassing so many meanings, but Aska never dreamed it would be a possible word for she now seemed to feel toward him. She couldn't recall feeling this way about anyone else, which both frightened her and calmed her at once. How much she wished she could simply take off the mask right now, explain everything to him. And who knew? Maybe he truly would like her for who she was, seeing as he just stated that he felt that for himself. But, could she really do it?

Loki didn't know if there was another time that a dream of his seemed to blend so perfectly with the scene before him. As he continued to gaze at this woman so beautiful both inside and out under the obsidian sky, he couldn't help but notice that her eyes could very well replace the stars if they were allowed to. He encircled, slowly for fear of frightening her, her face with his finger, and couldn't think of another person he'd ever been so intimate, so personal with, as he had been with her just now. Just looking at her seemed to allow him to lose himself in that place in his mind he'd been so happy to discover. But while he did rather enjoy the mystery of not knowing who this woman was, even more so, he wished he could simply remove her mask. Though, to do so without her permission would obviously alarm her. Still, he couldn't help but lean closer toward her, close his eyes, and instantly feel a pleasure on his lips that was familiar but even more splendid than before.

The moment Aska realized he was going to kiss her, when she otherwise might have backed away, she felt so content and at ease that she couldn't help but close her eyes and give into the temptation. After two weeks that felt far too long, feeling his lips against hers once again made her heart nearly soar with euphoria. Indeed, time seemed to come to a halt the moment it happened. If the name of the intense feeling she felt toward Loki truly was the word love, then she'd never been so happy to find such an unexpected treasure. To be understood, in a way, by one such as him, made her want to stay here with him forever. That is…that is…

Suddenly, a great, almost forgotten fear, flared up in her mind like a fire in a dry field. So swiftly it had come, that it made her actually pull back away from him. Evidently, Loki quickly noticed the fear that seemed to make its way to her face, as he then frowned and asked, "What's wrong?"

"What time is it?" she asked, wondering how she could have so willingly put her mission in the back of her mind.

"Why?" Loki asked.

"Please, tell me," she said urgently.

"I think it's getting close to midnight," Loki replied.

Immediately, Aska's eyes widened. "Midnight," she breathed. She then looked away from him, not sure if she wanted to make anymore of her fear known. But he proved to be more perceptive than she was willing to give him credit for.

"Why are you so nervous now?" he asked her.

Forcing herself to look at him, Aska took his hand in hers, and stood up from the bench, causing him to stand as well.

"Loki, please, come with me," she insisted.

"Why?" he asked, "What's wrong?"

"I'll explain when we get there!" Aska replied. Without another word from either of them, she then led him hastily back the way they came, holding onto his hand with her left and holding onto her skirt with her right, and all the while feeling so incredibly stupid for not having thought of a plan the entire time she was here. Even if she did love Loki, she could not let sentiment get in the way of this most important of times. All she wanted now was to get back to the main ballroom. Hopefully she had at least ten minutes to think of what to do to stop Ylva before she could even start her own nefarious plan.

Before long though, they at last found their way back, and it didn't take too long for the rest of the people still gathered there to notice. Almost all of them gasped softly once they saw the evening's prime couple return, but Aska ignored their curious stares as she and Loki didn't stop, but continued further to where the king and queen of Asgard themselves stood. Approaching them again instantly brought back the image of how she'd first come across them in her mind. Despite her heart which began to beat rather nervously as a result though, she knew that she had to stand strong once she let go of Loki's hand, otherwise she would lose all focus and the mission along with it.

"Loki!" Frigga smiled, "You're back! With good news I hope!"

"Indeed," Odin agreed, "I think we are all in the mood for some rather uplifting notions."

"Your Majesties," Aska said as she curtsied hastily but respectfully, "Forgive my sudden reentry, but, the news I have for you is rather ill."

Immediately, concerned murmurs sprang up from the crowd behind her, but Aska continued to ignore them as she concentrated instead on the reactions of the two people in front of her.

"What are you talking about?" Odin asked, his smile having swiftly fled.

"In truth, I did not come here simply to see your son," Aska explained.

"Whatever do you mean?" Frigga asked, wanting a clearer explanation.

Aska was about to give her one, when the corners of her eyes behind her mask suddenly caught something dark. Looking toward it, she gasped slightly when she saw what appeared to be a small circle of darkness – a shadow perhaps? – and the slightest image of what appeared to be black just above it, almost as if it were hidden by a sinister device, one that instantly confirmed her earlier suspicions about what Ylva would do once everyone was distracted. Wasting no time, Aska hurried quickly over to the concealed figure, and let her hands fly out. She then grabbed onto what felt like fabric, just as she thought she would, and pulled. And once she did, almost everyone in the room combined their voices to give one loud gasp of shock at the scene that unfolded before they were able to process it.

Right before dozens of stunned onlookers who immediately froze like stone, a masked woman dressed in a black bodice – and leggings, and boots, which Aska immediately realized must have been part of her plan too – was revealed, and just a few feet away from Odin and Frigga. Just as quickly, Aska saw the eyes behind the equally as black mask stare threateningly, almost murderously, at her. However, Aska quickly remembered that she wasn't the one with a disadvantage.

"I've come to stop her your Majesty!" she declared, "She's come here to steal your staff!"

"My staff?!" Odin asked incredulously as the crowd again gasped in disbelief, "How do you know of this?!"

Knowing of the grave consequences that could come from answering him honestly, but feeling no desire to answer him any other way, Aska mustered all of the courage she could, and replied in a loud, clear voice, "Because I was there when she revealed it to me!"

She then looked at the woman who went from being her less-than-pleasant mistress to her worst enemy in less than a day, and saw that the intention to kill clearly adorned her already red face, never mind that she was wearing a mask. But Aska, who had begun rather tired of feeling more than a bit frightened towards her, stared back with just as great, if not more, intensity, daring her almost to go through with her intent.

But before Aska, or anyone else, could predict her next move, in a manner that seemed somewhat familiar to Aska, Ylva quickly rushed toward Odin, snatched his staff, and targeted a powerful magic blast his way, sending him halfway across the room. Odin immediately let out a shout, while Frigga, Loki, and everyone else in the room gave their greatest, most horrified gasp. But Aska's eyes remained on Ylva as she then headed toward the entrance to the dense hallways beyond, easily brushing aside the two guards who tried to stop her with a wave of the staff that instantly brought out a nearly exploding blue wave.

She had taken up her skirt and was just starting to go after her, when suddenly, she heard a male voice behind her call, "Wait! Where are you going?"

Aska turned around to see Loki rush up to her side, looking very much concerned about what she might be thinking about doing. Nevertheless, now that Aska was fiercely focused on seeing her mission to the end, the time had come to tell the prince of her true intentions.

"Loki, if I don't stop her, she'll use the staff to break the seal in Jotunheim!" she explained.

She'd hoped he'd understand, yet, strangely, he seemed to reply in the negative. "I don't know. She's probably too dangerous to take on alone!"

Aska's mouth fell open, as this was probably the first time she'd heard an objection that affected her so deeply, but, like with most objections, she responded to this one in a similar manner. "I've got to try!" she exclaimed. Just then, she quickly noticed how Loki's hand seemed to be ready to grab her. Knowing he might never let go once he had her, Aska spun around as swiftly as she could, and took off just as fast away from him.

Loki could hardly believe what was happening as he watched the masked woman run from him. Just as she was getting near the entrance, he called out in a loud, commanding voice, "Guards! Stop her!" Both immediately heard him, and tried to move in front of her, but Loki quickly remembered just how capable of a fighter she was, as she quickly and somewhat easily shoved the two aside, and continued further down the hall after perhaps the greatest evil either of them had come across in a while. Even so, Loki was not going to be left alone. He was not going to lose who he knew to be the love of his life again. Without looking back, he hurried after her.

Even though she'd just come through these hallways only once, Aska had almost little to no trouble finding her way, as she had Ylva's footsteps, which she heard ahead of her, as a makeshift guide. But she also had to move fast, because she now heard Loki in the same halls she just passed through. Still, she had to stay a good few steps ahead of him. Despite the feelings she admitted she still had toward him, she could not let him or anyone else stop her from trying to stop Ylva.

When Loki caught sight of her, he tried one way, then another, of trying to get her to stop. He called out to her in a concerned manner, "Wait, come back! Please come back!" He also tried calling out to her in a commanding voice he didn't think he'd have to use toward her. "Halt! As a prince of Asgard I order you to halt!" But neither worked. She continued to hasten down the halls away from him. But if she would do that, then he would continue to go after her.

Before long, Aska came to a stairway. She lifted her skirt and traveled down as fast as she could, but she realized a bit too late that she might have been going too fast. Before she could make it to the bottom, she missed a step and tripped, and would have headed straight for the floor had she not had the good reflexes to grab hold of the banister. But when she did finally get to the bottom floor, something immediately didn't feel right. Aska turned around and her eyes widened as she saw that one of her slippers had slipped off. She reached out to take it up, but heard a now familiar voice call out once again. "Wait!"

Realizing there was no time to even try, Aska once again spun around and ran even faster than before down the last hallway that she could see led to the familiar entrance outside. Even so, a grim frown formed on her face, as she silently apologized to the man who at least cared enough to see her safe. Still, the mission had to come first. Though a slight pain traveled through her heart as she then made her way outside, she could not let any obstacle stand in her way.

As soon as Loki made it to the bottom of the stairs, his eyes fell on what he knew to be her slipper, made, most peculiarly, of glass. He couldn't help but take it up in his hand, and gaze at its wondrous nature that so reminded him of its owner, when he immediately remembered why he was out here to begin with. Once Loki spotted her heading for the outside, he rushed twice as fast as before down the hall and then outside at the entrance to the palace. He searched the area quickly, and his eyes widened once he saw her mounting her horse. He continued after her down the marble stairs, but soon, despite his best efforts it seemed, he was forced to watch as she set her horse off in a fast and steady canter away from him, leaving him to stare in dismay as the Purple Phantom once again slipped just out of reach of his grasp.

For Loki, it was as though his determined fire had been suddenly and unexpectedly doused. He forced himself to look away, not only because he knew he couldn't stop her simply by looking at her, but because he also did not dare to think about possibly losing her to the woman he immediately reasoned to be from Jotunheim. Indeed, at first, all of it seemed to much to bear, until, as if in answer to his silent distress, he heard one of the guards ask, "What shall we do your Highness?"

Loki turned to him, about to answer that nothing could be done, when, suddenly, he got an idea, one that he instantly found he desperately wanted to work. It seemed to immediately give a spark back to the once vibrant fire within him. If he could not stop his beloved, then, perhaps he could help her in her otherwise perilous situation.

He stood tall, showing the guard his seriousness, and replied, "Tell my brother, Lady Sif, and the Warriors Three to be ready as soon as possible, and to meet me here." He then looked out at the nighttime scene that suddenly now seemed much darker than before, but he knew he would nonetheless bravely face it as he declared, "We're going to Jotunheim."

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