Fire and Ice
The moment she climbed onto Dagny and started riding away from the palace, Aska felt a somewhat sharp pang of guilt travel through her. She didn't blame Loki for being upset, as she had been getting into plenty of dangerous situations lately. She even wondered if he'd picked up the slipper she'd lost, and whether or not he might have given up, since she'd seen how determined the prince could be. But as the Purple Phantom, she had little to no choice. She fought fiercely the desire to look back, keeping her eyes focused instead on the path ahead. She was certain Ylva was headed for the teleportation dome, and now that she had the realm's most powerful weapon in her hand, getting past Heimdall would likely be a pushover. There was no time to waste, and if there was one thing Aska knew for sure, it was that the night would not end without history being made, monsters being slain, and blood being spilled.
"Come now girl, faster!" she exclaimed as they entered the village. As they wove their way through the familiar streets, Aska leaned forward in the saddle and held on tightly. It didn't matter if she was in a dress or wearing only one slipper, she still knew how to ride. And she was going to ride like the wind if it meant stopping Ylva. Though the wind itself flew in her face and through her loose hair, she kept her eyes focused solely on the path ahead of her, which seemed to be carrying her just as much to her future as well as a destination. Fortunately enough, no one was outside. Then again, who would be at this time of night?
But now matter how much she might have preferred it, Aska couldn't stop Ylva from reaching the teleportation dome before she did. When she finally exited the village, she slowed Dagny to a halt and watched with wide, dismayed eyes as a familiar tube made of bright blue light shot instantly into the dark sky and the Bifröst Bridge began to shine almost as brilliantly as the stars with every color she could imagine. Now Aska knew for certain that she had no other choice. Unless she too could travel to Jotunheim, there was no telling what might happen once Ylva broke the seal.
Urging her horse into a canter once more, she soon found her way on the still glowing bridge, the colors of which she was sure would blind her if she looked down. As she rode, she held on as hard as she possibly could, feeling her heart mimic Dagny's pounding hooves, and keeping her eyes like a hunting hawk on the dome which seemed to be getting larger and larger the closer she got to it. Still, she was not afraid, she couldn't allow herself to be.
But just as she was about to reach the entrance, Aska came upon a sight that made her gasp with shock and pull Dagny to a stop. Near the doorway on the right, lying sprawled out like a great eagle with broken wings, was Heimdall. It looked as though his helmet had been knocked off his head, as though he was struggling to stand, and inside, Aska could see that his staff had been planted in the center of the raised dais in order to gain access to another realm. In less than a second after encountering the scene before her, she had no doubt about who committed this heinous act. Despite her previous apprehensions toward Heimdall, to see the great guardian of one of the most important places in Asgard literally on his knees seemed so surreal that Aska bit her lip to make sure she was not dreaming.
Once she was completely sure she wasn't, she quickly slipped off her horse, took up her skirt, and rushed up to the fallen, previously impenetrable man. Without hesitation, she laid a hand on him, causing his eyes of melted gold mixed with surprise to look at her. Surprised, clearly, at what had just happened, but also at whom he was looking at.
"Lady Phantom," he breathed heavily.
"Heimdall," she greeted him, trying her best to remain calm, "Ylva did this to you, didn't she?"
"The Jotun woman," Heimdall replied, "has come through here. She plans to unleash her fellow giants."
"I know," Aska nodded, "Do you need help?"
"I am stronger than the woman believes," he replied, "But you, you must stop her, lest the whole of Asgard should suffer."
"I intend to," Aska said. Though she was unsure at first, she made herself stand and walk briskly away from Heimdall, to get the gear she would need as the Purple Phantom from the saddlebag she'd brought. But once she had finished untying it, she heard Heimdall say, "The young son of Odin searches for you. Shall I send him your greetings?"
Though Aska looked at him first, she gradually, unconsciously, allowed her gaze to slightly drift away, letting her stare into the space of her mind. So, as she had previously suspected, Loki had not given up his chase for her. Would it always be like this, with him going after her attempting to subdue her while she continued to flee from him like a wild animal? And yet, why did she then feel a sudden calmness, almost excited palpitating sensation travel through her once the thought came to mind?
Aska quickly shook her head. Now was absolutely not the time to deal with sentiment. She had to stay focused on the momentous, most difficult task ahead of her. Still, she couldn't help but reply to Heimdall, "Perhaps."
Then, without another word, Aska hurried toward and then inside the dome, where the staff that shone as brightly as the stars outside stood, along with the glowing, yet somewhat dark tunnel nearby, the image of which seemed to have burned itself into her memory. Even so, she quickly set the bag down in an enclosed corner of the dome, opened it, and hastily began changing her clothes. She first removed her circlet, dress, and decorative mask for her hooded suit, and her plain, unadorned mask. She then switched her gloves, and traded her one slipper for her pair of boots, and finally took out her medallion and sword hilt, immediately strapping both to her belt.
Once she made sure she had everything, she turned around, and allowed herself to stare into the still open tunnel that awaited her. Though she'd traveled through it before, it did not fail to send a slight shiver up her entire body. But still, Aska's troubled gaze slowly turned into one of the fiercest concentration. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, reminding herself how much Asgard depended on her, before she opened her eyes again, and took off at a fast run toward the harrowing opening. Then, gathering all of her strength, she leaped forward like a diving swan, and flew through the air and into the vortex that swirled as though it was a violent sea waiting to swallow her up.
With eyes shut as before, for a few brief seconds that felt like years, Aska felt a wind-like force carry her through the tunnel in what felt like all sorts of directions. Despite what she knew would happen, she held her arms in front of her face just in case a less desirable fate should try to surprise her. But before she could even imagine what would happen, she felt her feet land on a soft-feeling ground, and a chilling, familiar breeze blow past her. She opened her eyes, and immediately recognized the realm of ice and snow, as well as a trail of fresh footprints in front of her, before taking out her medallion and sword hilt and made them into her signature weapons.
Though the atmosphere seemed as still as the frozen blue ice that met her eyes, while the silver snowflakes silently floated down as though they were once stars in the dim, dark heavens, the Purple Phantom did not look back as she pressed her lips together in fierce determination, and made her way forward, the gait she used being between a run and a brisk walk. Though she was following a trail like a hunting dog with her sword and shield in both hands, she was not going to be surprised.
At first, she was not disappointed. Occasionally, her ears would pick up the sound of a low but menacing growl on top of the icy walls towering above her on either side, making her stop in her own tracks. She would only allow herself a brief glance at where she believed the sound came from, for she could not let distraction be her downfall. And yet, while she could have sworn she saw a pair of monstrous, pure red eyes glaring back at her almost every time, nothing came out to attack her.
Odd. The Frost Giants usually preferred to attack openly. Then again, a lot of notions revealed themselves as completely different things in the past few days. No matter what though, Aska would not, could not, let her guard down. All she knew was that if she made even one false move, then everything might be lost. With eyes as sharp as a cat's and movements just as similar, the shadow cloaked in purple made her way alone through the place that captivated yet frightened her at the same time.
But what she remained unaware of, though she had thoughts of it, was that her own trail was being followed as it had been for the past month by a man just as determined as she. Loki didn't know if he could wait for his brother and friends once he gave his order. Yet, he'd disciplined himself to remain patient, no matter how hard it was, until all had met him at the front, ready to fight with their weapons in hand. He himself had changed his garments and gathered as many ice knives as he could, knowing that he would certainly see red snow tonight.
For now though, all he could see before him was white, blue, and grey. Previously, he'd also seen yellow and purple once he entered the dome and discovered her ball gown as well as her other peculiar glass slipper. For a moment, Loki had feared she'd been kidnapped. But before he could lose his sanity, he remembered seeing just how capable of a fighter this woman could be, and, for a time, his troubled thoughts were put to rest. All he could hope now was that, in this realm of cold, no fire would emerge to bring them to light again.
"Are you sure that woman in black was working for the Frost Giants?" Thor asked.
"She was wearing an invisible cloak," Sif replied, "And she attacked your father."
"And she will likely attack all of us if we go in all at once," Loki added.
"Pardon, brother?" Thor asked, though he had a bit of an idea of what he was going to say.
Loki turned around, looked at his brother with the utmost seriousness, and said in the most assured voice he could muster, "The Purple Phantom is my responsibility. I'm going to find her. If I'm not back in twenty minutes, come find me."
Thor's eyebrows shot up nearly to the top of his forehead. "But, Loki, there could be traps waiting for you!" he exclaimed, trying to persuade him.
"I am well prepared," Loki said, clearly not to be deterred, "Besides, after everything I've witnessed tonight, the Jotuns would be wise to avoid me."
"Since when have the Jotuns ever been wise?" Fandral spoke up.
"Silence," Thor said with unexpected ease. Then, while Loki could clearly see an unusual troubled side he seemed to be trying to hide, making him feel somewhat guilty, all listened as Thor went on to say, "Loki seems rather firm. And, should fate favor him, may wisdom accompany his demeanor."
He then looked at Loki with the eyes only a brother could give another brother, leaving Loki only able to nod in return. "Thank you," he said, "I intend to do my best."
After one last look at the ones he'd been fond of almost all his life, Loki turned around again and continued on the same path he could see that the Purple Phantom had traveled on, alone, like him. He kept his hands near both his sides, ready to whip out a knife at a moment's notice, ready to strike down any monster who dared even try to attack him. But all he wanted for was to reunite with the woman who seemed to slip out of his hold every time he thought he'd had her, much like a ghostly apparition for which she was so perfectly called. That, and no one, Asgardian or Jotun, man or woman, was going to attack his father or his realm and get away with it.
While the earnest young prince made his way down the snowy path though, the lone woman in purple continued to travel on, always keeping both her sword and shield raised, all of her senses on the alert, and ignoring the way her heart seemed to beat with great apprehension. But, why did she suddenly feel so nervous? Was she truly tracking down, and quite possibly going to fight, the one woman who'd been kind enough to let her live under her roof, despite her ill temper, all these years? And if she was a Frost Giant after all, how had she managed to disguise herself so well? These and so many other questions rose up in Aska's mind like lone ghosts, determined to haunt her until she had answers.
But it soon became clear that those elusive answers would not so easily come. The moment she saw from a distance what she knew immediately to be the legendary icy curtain, along with a black silhouette who appeared to stand like a solitary sinister spirit in front of it, Aska knew she could not turn back. Gathering every ounce of courage in her being, she clutched her weapons tightly, and forced her legs to carry her forward, step by step, no matter how much the wish to turn and flee grew, until, at last, she was but a few yards from the woman, who stood with her back turned to her, and seemed to have the very presence of evil emanating from her as steam would from boiling water.
Narrowing her eyes so that they were looking solely at her, Aska called out in a loud, clear voice, "Ylva!"
She soon received an answer, but one she was not at all expecting. As Ylva began to turn around, Aska instantly felt and heard something threateningly large land on the ground not far from her, and before she knew it, she was sailing backward through the air after being hit with what felt like ice in her jaw, before she was slammed hard against a tall ice pillar. Aska let out a painful cry before she felt herself sink down to the snowy ground. Forcing her eyes to open, her vision at first looked blurry, until she saw clearly that she'd been struck by one of the two Frost Giants nearby after he'd slammed his fist into the ground, and that Ylva, now in her true blue-skinned and red-eyed form, was holding Odin's glowing staff firmly in her hand.
Once their eyes met, Aska caught the wicked smile that began to form on the Jotun woman's lips, before she heard her say, "I can hardly believe how blind I've been all this time! For the past two months, ever since she first appeared, the Purple Phantom has been practically living under my nose, while I have been living directly under hers!"
Aska slowly got to her feet, and was about to ask Ylva what she was talking about, when she suddenly remembered what she'd said back at the palace, that she'd been there when she discovered her former mistress's secret. She immediately realized that by saying that, she'd given Ylva her identity. And who knew what Ylva was going to say, let alone do, now that she knew?
"I should have known it was you," she continued, now sounding more and more angry, "Your disguise was perfect. Yet here we are, with me able to cut you down to your knees with the force of all the times you've done so to me!"
Despite the fierce resolve that seemed to come from Ylva as easily as a misty breath from a warm body, one question more than any other seemed to rage in Aska's mind, forcing her to ask it aloud. "Ylva, why are you doing this?"
For a moment, a harrowing silence fell on the scene before her, until Ylva suddenly replied, "I was originally going to steal the staff ages ago, until Mímir decided to marry me. As for you, when your family killed my beloved after he so kindly decided to join me, I simply had to return the favor."
Right then, at the mention of her family, whom she could not recall for too long a time, Aska's eyes became as wide as they could get. Suddenly, everything that happened in the past few days didn't seem to matter much. Even if Ylva was her archenemy, now that Aska might have some information on her mysterious, unknown past, she had to ask, "What are you talking about?"
Ylva chuckled humorlessly. "Don't tell me you still don't know who you are, and that I managed to figure it out before you did!" she exclaimed incredulously.
When she then saw how Aska only blinked her eyes at her once, Ylva could only let her sinister smile grow like a weed. "Oh yes," she said in a near mocking manner, "I know who you are, from whence you came, your parents, everything!"
Aska was about to demand to know for herself, when, suddenly, like seeing a bolt of lightning in a clear sky, the force that met her when she once again gazed at Ylva's ruby red eyes almost instantly caused a usually faint memory to resurface. She had indeed seen those terrifying eyes that seemed to burn like a furnace before, just as much as she'd once seen Loki's. Where and when, she still could not bring to mind, but now that this realization dawned on her like a predator leaping from behind onto its prey, all of what Aska had previously felt certain of began to slip out of her grasp.
"I told you we'd meet again," she then heard Ylva say.
Hearing her say so, Aska quickly got her grip on her usual sense just as it was about to leave her, by shaking her head slightly. She did not come here to be subject to Ylva's mind-playing games. In fact, for all Aska knew, she could have been lying, simply trying to distract her in order to keep her out of the way. But she was not going to succeed, not when Aska was this close and had come all this way, in both senses of the phrase.
But before she could think of a plan to stop Ylva, Aska suddenly heard what sounded like the echo of a shout from both far away and very near at the same time. She immediately knew it to be one of distress, but she almost felt her heart stop when she realized that she recognized it as well, as the shout of someone she'd come to know all too well. Unfortunately, she couldn't stop herself from showing her own distress, as Ylva quickly noticed.
"Well now, I believe we have a visitor," she said, "Let us see what the staff has to show us."
As Aska then watched, Ylva raised the staff, the tip of which began to glow a bright blue. Suddenly, a grey, smoke-like substance began to rise from it like a ghost not wanting to rest, growing larger, taking the shape of an orb, and before long, Aska began to see some images form in the center of it. They were blurry at first, but as they got clearer, Aska widened her eyes as she saw an event as if it were unfolding right in front of her, one that nearly made her feel sick in her stomach.
"Loki," she murmured. As she'd thought, the prince had followed her to Jotunheim. And she could not look away as she watched him take on at least half a dozen Frost Giants at once, throwing ice knives in almost every direction. She of course knew him to be a capable warrior, but seeing him take on so many opponents, all by himself, and with a rather pained look on his face, made her heart sink as a heavy slab of stone would in a lake.
"Your choice Aska," Ylva then said, "Your prince, or your past. Which shall it be?"
Aska turned her gaze to Ylva, who seemed to be looking at her with a mocking, yet also fierce look in her eyes that seemed to pierce her no matter how many times she looked at them, and then realized that she had to make a choice, and fast. Even if Ylva might have been lying to her, a silent voice seemed to persistently tell Aska that she may very well be telling the truth. But either way, what if what she said was too much for her to handle? On the other hand, it appeared that Loki was in trouble. But if she tried to help him, Ylva might also use this as a distraction to finally attempt to break the seal with the staff.
So intense was the need to make such a big decision, and quickly, that Aska felt her head begin to hurt. But suddenly, she nearly jumped when she heard once again Loki's distressed cry. She looked at the cloud, but the vision was gone. Just then, she began to feel her heart beat with the same force as the situation before her. But before she could lose her sanity, Aska suddenly realized that dwelling on the past now wouldn't get her anywhere further than it previously could. Even if she did eventually find out her true identity, that would not change who she was. What she knew for sure though, that there was one person who loved her for that very reason, whether or not he knew it, and if he was lost, then so would she be.
With a great determined fire enlarging within her, Aska directed it toward the woman who'd threatened everything she held dear, and said in a low, but fierce voice, "I am not done with you yet." She then turned around, and gathered all of her strength before she, reluctantly, ran off from Ylva, who waited until she was out of her sight before speaking with an equally low voice, "No, but I will soon be done with you."
But even if she had heard the woman, nothing could keep Aska from going back down the pathway and reuniting with the only one who could help her, despite their relationship which sent Aska's senses into a sea of confusion. Still, she did not look back and did not stop once as she hastened through the snow and ice, determined to find Loki and help him, as well as try to get back in time to stop Ylva. While others might have keeled over from such weight being pressed on their shoulders, ever since she became the Purple Phantom, Aska seemed to thrive on it. She could almost feel the steam she was sure she left on her trail behind her as she traveled through the realm of eternal winter that no longer felt cold.
The road ahead seemed just as eternal, but Aska could practically feel Loki's presence get greater the closer she got to him, when she heard for a third time his heart-stopping shout, and before long, her eyes widened as she finally came upon the scene she once witnessed, and saw that he was now being held by two of six Frost Giants who had apparently outfought him. Immediately, their eyes met with the force of an avalanche, one she feared would sweep them apart from each other forever. But she had already exposed her emotions once, and she was not about to do so again.
"Care to join us?" one of the Jotuns asked, causing the others to laugh out loud.
Now that the fire within her had turned into one of fury, Aska held up her weapons and gave them the death stare, immediately causing all of them to cease laughing. "Either you let him go, or I'll cut you all to ribbons!" she exclaimed angrily, ready to strike them the moment they said otherwise.
For a moment, it seemed she might have caught them, as they looked as though to be remembering just who was standing before them, when Aska suddenly caught a look in the eye of one of them, signaling to her that he might have thought of another plan. He returned her own gaze with the most menacing smile she'd seen on any of his race, and said three words that would have easily caught her off-guard had she not been prepared.
"As you wish." He and the one next to him then proceeded to grip Loki tightly, and then toss him over the side of the path that all of them knew led to the notorious abyss below. Loki let out an immediate shout as they let him go, but Aska was ready. Having seen this coming, she'd quickly put away both her weapons and then rushed as fast as she could over to the edge of the path.
"Loki!" she shouted. And before any of the Frost Giants could try to stop her, she leaped over the side, holding onto it with her right hand, while catching Loki's wrist in her right. The whole scene had happened so quickly and yet so slowly, that it took Aska more than a moment to realize what just happened. Even so, she held on tightly with both hands as she looked down at Loki, while he stared up at her with those soft eyes she found she was glad to see.
"Loki," she said, trying not to grit her teeth, "Are you alright?"
Even though they were literally in a precarious situation, Loki appeared as though he was trying to smile as he replied, "Could be better, but, we must stop meeting like this."
"Agreed," Aska managed to nod. But just then, once she heard the Frost Giants growl like giant angry dogs, she added, "If we live."
"Don't worry," Loki said, obviously still trying to brighten the situation, "My brother and the Warriors Three came with me. They should help us."
Despite his attempts though, he could not get a smile out of Aska. Indeed, she found herself beginning to struggle to hold both him and the edge of the path at the same time, as Loki was considerably heavier than her. Before long, she watched as the Frost Giants began to peer at them with narrowed eyes, clearly wondering how to get rid of them.
"I don't think I can wait for long," Aska said before biting her lip. Just then, both she and Loki gasped as they both saw one of the Jotuns lift his large, bare foot, aimed for Aska's hand gripping the edge. Even so, Aska gritted her teeth, and tried to hold on even tighter, no matter how much her fingers suddenly felt pained, and no matter how much both her and Loki's imminent end seemed to be hanging over her as well as just beneath her.
But right as the Jotun was about to bring down his foot, Aska heard a battlecry that instantly made her turn her head. She may not have gotten a smile from Loki, but she gained just a hint of one as she saw his brother head right for the Frost Giants, holding his hammer tight as he then slammed it down to the ground, sending the Jotuns into the air, and making Aska's grip suddenly loosen. She let out a gasp of shock as she tried to regain her hold, but before long, her fingers failed her as she let go.
But before she and Loki could start plummeting to their doom, Aska suddenly felt a hand latch onto her own wrist. She looked up, and couldn't have been happier to see Lady Sif, though it looked as though she was beginning to have troubles of her own, and understandably so, as she had to hold onto two people rather than one.
"Thor!" she called without looking away, "Help me!"
Though she couldn't allow for it before, Aska's inner instinct overwhelmed her to the point where she began to panic, for she and Loki could only avoid death for so long. But soon, before she could allow her pure panic to grow into out of control proportions, she gasped as she felt herself suddenly be hoisted up, and fast. The next thing she knew, Aska found herself lying on the snow face up, staring at the dark blue sky as her stomach heaved up and down in a state of aftershock.
Suddenly though, she felt her panic quickly return as she realized she was no longer holding onto Loki. She looked both left and right in a desperate attempt to at least lay her eyes on him again, but her vision was blocked with bits of black. Oh, she would certainly faint – perhaps even die – if she let him fall into the abyss, when she suddenly heard the sound of someone moving in the snow next to her, and then hearing his voice ask, "Are you alright?"
Recognizing that voice immediately, Aska instantly turned toward its source, and her eyes widened with relief the moment she saw him. And seeing that his arms were held out toward her, ignoring her own still rather shocked state, she quickly gripped onto his shoulders, allowing him to pull her as well as himself to their feet. And once they were, Aska couldn't help but allow herself to sink into his ever-welcoming embrace and plant a kiss on the side of his neck as she breathed, "I am if you are."
For a moment, as he began to hug her back, Aska imagined herself staying in his arms forever, where her troubles could simply melt away and never bother her again. She knew this was not at all how she usually acted, but she couldn't help it. Knowing he was safe, and knowing they'd once again made it through together, made her not want to leave, until she heard the sound of someone clearing his throat, which almost immediately – and somewhat thankfully – brought her back into the land of reason. She turned and saw that it was Thor, and Aska knew then why he was trying to call her attention.
"Thank you your Highness," she nodded. But before he could say a word in return, Aska turned back to Loki, giving him an expression devoid of sentiment.
"Loki," she said with the same type of voice, "Let me explain…"
"I know," Loki suddenly interrupted her with an understanding nod, "You want to stop the woman. I'm not here to try and persuade you otherwise, but I am offering my assistance."
Though Aska was somewhat relieved to hear the first part of that sentence, she suddenly felt a painful pang at the last part, for she could not risk his life again after barely rescuing him again. Looking at him most firmly, she replied, "Loki, I can do this."
Loki didn't answer immediately, he only nodded again, looking at her with a face that was both sad and happy at the same time. "I know you can," he said.
To the face he was giving her, there was only one thing Aska could say. "Trust me, I'll be fine."
"Please, do be," Loki said. Then, without any type of otherwise recognizable cue, he suddenly leaned in and planted his lips on hers. Though unexpected, Aska couldn't help but return the intense passion he gave her in only one brief moment, as though the two knew this might be the last time they would ever kiss.
Suddenly, gasps from Aska, Loki, Thor, and the rest of the warriors erupted in unison as they then felt the ground slightly shake beneath them, a sensation that obviously did not come from Thor's hammer, judging by the brilliant blue light from the center of Jotunheim that caught Aska's eye, making her heart shake just as the ground just did. As she'd feared, though she somewhat tried to previously deny it, it became clear that Ylva was at last bringing her plan to fruition, and unless she could somehow prevent it, Aska would fail in her principal duty to protect the realm she loved.
Apparently, Loki was thinking the same, as he then released her from his hold and then urged her in a commanding manner, "Go! Go! We will hold off the Frost Giants!"
Though slightly surprised at being so quickly removed from his grasp, Aska nonetheless nodded, and pulled out her weapons once more. After pushing aside a sense of hesitation, she then turned and began running as fast as she possibly could back the way she'd originally come toward the seal in the center of Jotunheim that could break at anytime, toward perhaps the most dangerous enemy she would face yet, and, most of all, toward her destiny.