Weight of My Mistakes
As Aska made her way back to the center of Jotunheim, and left behind the only one who offered to accompany her, she jumped as she felt the ground shake again, more violently this time. She nearly tripped, but recovered herself just in time, and continued running, no matter how much her heart seemed to mimic the quaking sensation of the pathway beneath her. Though she could feel her hands begin to sweat, she still held tightly onto both her sword and her shield, determined that nothing would surprise her and make her drop them. Nothing too out of the ordinary greeted her however, until she came to a small slope in the path that slanted upward.
The ground shook again, and despite her otherwise sure footing, Aska lost her stance and fell forward, her face planting itself in the snow. But she had not lost her senses. She quickly looked up, and her eyes widened as she saw the ground in front of her start to break in two. Seeing also that the sloping part of the path in front of her was moving up, Aska got back onto her feet as fast as she could, and then leaped and grabbed hold of the edge before it could get too high. She grit her teeth, and swung her right leg over the edge like she would when mounting a horse, and quickly climbed on top of the broken ground before she once again regained her footing, and rushed forward as fast as she did before.
As soon as she was on the path again, Aska saw how the beam of light she had seen before seemed to be getting brighter. Biting her lip, and not daring to look back, she ran as fast as her legs could carry her, for she was not going to let Ylva win. But the closer she got to where the seal stood, a candle in the back of her mind was lit by a dark flame, that seemed to grow more and more with every step she took. No matter how much she wished to flee from it, it followed her like her own shadow, until it forced her mind to ask the questions she did not dare wish to face earlier.
What if she could not defeat Ylva? What if she had made a mistake by going alone? Even if she did win this ongoing war, it would certainly not be easily won. Not only did Ylva have the king's powerful staff, but evil seemed to run through her veins as naturally as her own blood. A powerful combination, one that would not be easily matched. Even more frightening, what if Aska even lost her life in the process? Could she possibly allow such pain and grief to fall upon those she loved most like a sorrowful rain? Being a protectoress of Asgard definitely required some sacrifices, but this one appeared to be one too great to make.
Even so, despite her fears and doubts, which she was glad no one could see, Aska's body seemed to have a mind of its own, as it kept carrying her toward the center of the realm. Indeed, for a moment, as she stared down at the sea of white that passed her with every stride, Aska came to realize that, for once, her body might have had more wisdom than her mind. And all her mind needed to do was catch up. Once it did, she pressed her lips together, and nodded to herself. In spite of the undeniable risks looming ahead of her, as the warrior she was, she could not turn her back on them. As she continued to make her way down the path, all she knew was that she had to be brave, she had to be fearless, she had to be victorious, no matter the cost.
When Aska at last came back to the scene, although she had an idea of what she would behold, she nonetheless froze for a moment as she saw that it was somewhat different from how she'd left it. She watched as Ylva, her back once again turned to her, harnessed the great power of Odin's staff, which shot in nearly all directions in continual flow electric bolts of light and fiery blue flames. The staff itself stood in front of the blue ice curtain, which Aska could see was beginning to drastically weaken much like a thawing waterfall right before her eyes. Now she knew for certain she had a catastrophe to prevent, and that she might not have much time to do so.
Raising her sword and shield in front of her and planting her feet firmly on the ground beneath her, ready for even the smallest attack, Aska called out in the most demanding voice she could summon, "Ylva!"
Ylva had her arms raised in front of the staff, and Aska watched as she quickly grabbed hold of it, and spun around to meet the one who dared challenge her. "Back so soon?" she asked, "You're about to witness my greatest achievement for which I waited ages to accomplish!"
Feeling the flame of the once burning candle in the back of her mind suddenly grow into a wildfire of fury, Aska shouted, "Ylva, either you hand over the staff willingly, or I shall take it from you by force!"
"Don't even try!" Ylva retorted, while Aska could practically feel the heat from her menacing tone even from where she stood, "For far too long I have suffered humiliation! Now that glory is finally within my reach, I shall die before I let you take it from me!"
Though her patience had almost been completely drained, Aska still wished to stall the coming, inevitable fight. "Your last chance, Ylva!" she called, "Drop the staff and stand down!"
"Never!" Ylva shouted back. With scarlet eyes and a fury to match blazing as hot as ever, she quickly spun in a full circle, and waved the end of the staff toward Aska, sending a blast of brilliant blue magic toward her. But Aska was prepared. With trained, cat-like reflexes she dove out of the way, and then quickly dug her sword blade into an nearby shard of blue crystallized ice.
Gathering all her strength, Aska hurled the shard at her opponent. Ylva dodged it just as easily as she would have, and then waved the staff again, not once, but twice toward her. Two waves of magic both larger than the first flew to where Aska was, but she jumped forward and performed a diving roll. She then raised her shield, and blocked the second wave, if barely, sending the furious sapphire flames flying in all directions, except at her.
She hastily rose to her feet, saw another blue fire wave headed her way, and, seeing that it was low enough, leaped as high and as far as she could. As she did, Aska spun in a circle, and with a great battlecry, thrust her sword down. The blade only struck snow, but Aska had seen the shadow of her opponent, for she then raised up her sword, upon which Ylva heaved the staff, literally sending sparks flying upward.
For as long as she could, Aska pressed her sword against the staff as hard as she could, while Ylva pressed down with equal force. For a moment, it seemed that the battle had reached a stalemate, when Ylva leaned back and with a great shout hurled the staff down, while Aska quickly rolled out of the way before getting to her feet again. With different weapons but nearly equal skill, the two then tried to strike each other, again and again, over and over, but it seemed to be almost as much of an impasse as before, as both continued to dodge the other no matter how many times she tried to land a blow.
Even so, in her now characteristic faster-than-could-be-measured speed, Ylva managed to hit Aska with the end of the staff, instantly causing a painful cry to erupt from her lips, and to land against an ice pillar in a similar manner as earlier. Again, like before, she began to feel dizzy, and even allowed herself to wonder if she would indeed faint this time, as her head suddenly began to throb. But before she could pass out, she felt a marble-like hand take hold of her neck like a talon would a small animal, quite literally knocking the wind out of her, and then raise up and slam her body against the pillar, causing a struggling cough to escape her.
Fortunately, though, her vision quickly cleared. But still, unfortunately, who stood before her holding her firmly but her mistress-turned-enemy Ylva, who held the glowing staff – aimed at her – and gave her a stare that would scare the most terrifying monster, as well as a smile that clearly indicated the triumph that lay ahead of her.
Lifting the staff with her right hand, and holding a choking Aska with her left, Ylva allowed herself to chuckle in an almost snarl-like manner before she finally said in a low voice, "It's time I did what should have been done a long time ago."
Although she had the feeling this might truly be the end for her, in that moment, whether it had been the cold of the realm and heat of Ylva's voice coming together, the mere image of at last being bested by the woman who intended to destroy all that she cherished, a sheer act of will, or all three at once, the fire within Aska suddenly discovered fresh fuel with which to burn anew, and seemed to blaze as bright and as passionate as ever before. She had not come this far only to fail now. Just as with any other task, whether it was as her normal self or as the Purple Phantom, there was only one thing she could do. She could, would, and should see it done, and no amount of evil and wickedness was going to keep her from doing so.
Transferring the fire throughout the rest of her being, with a sudden, regained speed, Aska raised her legs and kicked Ylva back. And before Ylva could react, Aska dove down, and delivered another, sweeping kick to her feet, knocking her off her stance and sending her halfway down the slope. But Aska's eyes remained focused on the staff, which Ylva had dropped, leaving it in front of her for perhaps the first and last time for her to take up.
Realizing she still held her own weapons in her hands, Aska hastily put them away, and dove forward for the staff as if her life – or, in this case, all life – depended on it. Yes! She grabbed it! Immediately, she felt the surge of power that emanated from it, but she could not stop to wonder. Rushing toward the breaking seal, and using the best reason she could muster, Aska stood in front firmly of it, and held the staff high above her head.
"NO!" she heard Ylva shout behind her. But Aska ignored her, believing she was indeed correct in her thinking. Giving a great cry, and gathering every ounce of strength in her, she rammed the staff forward, and imbedded it with the sound of a thousand breaking glasses into the curtain. She then watched as the artifact began to work its magic, seeing several rays of light spread like the branches of a tree all throughout the wall. As they did so, Aska noticed how the seal began to freeze and strengthen again, and she instantly knew that she had succeeded in her great mission.
Her victory, however, was short-lived, as she then heard Ylva behind her cry furiously, "You unsavory little runt!" Despite her previous skill, Aska nonetheless made the mistake of turning around. For once she did, she right then felt Ylva's fingernails swipe like claws across her cheek, sending a great stinging sensation traveling through the left side of her face, as well as causing another cry of pain to be released from her.
She then felt Ylva swiftly grab hold of her shoulders. But having been reminded that her mission had not yet been completed, and feeling a bit of Ylva's blind rage transfer to her, Aska laid one hand on Ylva's left shoulder, and used the other to grab a handful of her loose hair. While Ylva shouted, Aska took advantage of the distraction by biting down as hard as she could on Ylva's right wrist. She then watched as Ylva raised her left hand, fingernails bared and ready to strike.
But before she could, both women received quite a bit of a shock as Ylva was then hit in the side of the head by what appeared to be a blade of ice. As it broke into pieces, Ylva let Aska go as she cried out and placed her hands on both sides of her head, while Aska fell with surprise to the ground below. Wondering what had just happened, Aska turned her head in the direction the ice blade had come from, when her eyes widened, both in shock and relief, upon seeing that it was Loki who had just prevented Ylva from bestowing the same stinging feeling on her right cheek. As their eyes met, while Aska was more than thankful for the help, she did not exactly appreciate Loki practically risking his life for her own.
Even so, she could think no further about it, as she heard Ylva snarl like a ravenous wolf in front of her, causing her to turn back to her. Her eyes widened even more as she watched Ylva take a small shard of ice about the same size as the knife that had just hit her, and then rushed toward her, clearly intent on murdering her in literal cold blood. Feeling the torch of instinct flare in her mind, Aska had mere seconds to plan her next move. Wait. She was lying near the edge of the area, which certainly led to the legendary endless abyss she had earlier avoided beyond. In an act fueled by pure adrenaline, as Ylva – shouting like a madwoman – raised her own knife and leaped forward, Aska leaned back, lifted her legs, and then kicked the most dangerous Jotun woman behind her.
As she'd thought, only the chasm awaited the villainess. For after she kicked Ylva back, Aska rolled on her stomach and watched with wide – indeed, rather shocked – eyes, as the woman who had come to personify the pure evil and barbarity of the Frost Giants fell like a shot-down raven endless feet below, screaming at the top of her lungs as she descended thus. She kept her eyes on her, even after she'd become no more than a small black spot in her vision, until Aska regained her senses, and felt the weight of what she had just done begin to press on her, and she slowly arose to her feet. Still, she continued to stare down into the gorge as though she were mesmerized, until her senses finally reached her head, and urged her to look toward the only one who had witnessed this momentous deed, whose eyes – just as wide as her own – had no trouble meeting hers.
But, as Aska would soon discover, that was her second mistake for the night. She did not have the knowledge that Ylva had realized she was still holding onto the hard, sharp shard of ice, until it was too late. Just after she'd managed to turn her almost mystified gaze to Loki, her expression instantly turned into one of shock, as she felt that ice blade hit her on her lower right side, sending a wave of pain unlike any she'd ever known through all her body. Instinctively, her hands, as well as her eyes, flew to the spot, and at once, her vision began to blur when she saw dark red blood already seeping out of the fresh wound, the ice shard sticking out of it in a truly sickening manner.
"No!" she then heard Loki shout as though from far away. Forcing herself to look again at him, her mouth fell open as she saw his face. Indeed, there seemed to be no words to describe how dismayed he looked. The sight, as well as another, more prevalent shot of pain, caused her to turn away. With gritted teeth and closed eyes, she groaned as she sank to her knees, feeling her head once again throb, this time harder than before. Soon though, she felt a pair of gentle hands take hold of her and gently lay her down on the rather soft, snowy ground.
With as much effort as possible, she forced her eyes to open, and found herself looking up at Loki, who seemed nearly ready to fall into a panic. But despite the pain she herself was steeped in, Aska had no desire to allow him to feel the same sensation in any form. Once she thought of something he could do to distract him, she said as calmly as she could, "Loki, listen to me. I want you to take out the ice shard."
The blood seemed to drain from Loki's face as his eyebrows shot up in surprise. "You want me to do that?" he asked somewhat nervously.
Biting her own lip, both in frustration and at feeling another painful shot that she found she wanted to be rid of, Aska replied almost angrily, "Yes! Please! Get it out!"
"Alright, alright!" Loki nodded apprehensively. He then laid his left hand on Aska's shoulder, and moved his somewhat shaking right toward the shard sticking out of her side, clearly rather hesitant to do as she wished. Even so, he said with the most composed voice he could use, "Just lie still. This might hurt."
Aska nodded, knowing full well that it would. She stayed as still as possible and closed her eyes as she felt Loki take hold of the shard, gritting her teeth and taking in a sharp breath in preparation. Still, once Loki swiftly pulled the bloody knife out, Aska cried out as a fresh wave of agony – the worst one she felt so far – shot through her. When she opened her eyes again, she found that, despite wanting to spare him of such misery, she could clearly see the distress that donned his face at the sight before him.
Suddenly though, Aska felt rather light-headed, and somewhat nauseous. Her vision began to blur again, and she feared that before long she would pass out, perhaps even… Well, if this was the end that had so long eluded her, no matter how many times she had previously wished for her identity to be hidden, now that the culmination of her life seemed to be looming over her like a dark cloud, it seemed that the time had come to finally tell the prince. After all this time, she practically owed it to him.
"Loki," she murmured, "I…" She trailed off, as all the energy to even speak suddenly seemed to leave her.
"What?" Loki cried fearfully, "What?"
Aska opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. Indeed, the strength to keep her eyes open seemed to leave her much like daylight would cease to shine for the coming night. Breathing what she believed would be her last few breaths, she silently bade farewell to the one who had loved her like no other, and she him, and at last closed her eyes. Even so, she saw the faces of all she loved and cherished throughout her known life: Regin, Jarl, Dagny, and finally Loki, before she descended down another well-known abyss that greeted her warmly.
Once the woman's eyes closed, Loki sat as frozen as the ice all around him, feeling as though he were in a nightmare come to life. Even though she had succeeded in bringing down the traitor Jotun woman, it felt as though his heart might sink into the same chasm she had been kicked into. Still, he could not allow himself to believe that it all had to end like this. Pressing his hands in the way he'd been taught on her chest, he gave a small sigh of relief to find that her heart was still beating. He did not stop there though. Feeling the need to make her more comfortable, even if she was unconscious, he pulled back her hood, revealing her pale shimmering hair, and laid her head gently against the ground.
But even there, he found he could not rest his hands. Gazing at her masked face, which now seemed nearly as white as the snow underneath, despite the blood that seeped from the scratches on her cheek, a sudden sensation of sheer curiosity arose within him. Though the consequences seemed rather hazy and undecipherable, Loki eventually, but not without some hesitation, laid his fingers on the edges of her mask, which he previously could not imagine her without. And then, taking perhaps the deepest breath in his life, slowly pulled it off.
Once he saw her face for the first time, he soon recognized it, and a great gasp of pure shock instantly escaped him. Indeed, though he wanted to touch her again, he found that he could not. The face he beheld, much to his heart-pounding alarm, indeed, the last one he'd expected to see, was none other than that of Aska, the servant girl he'd befriended. So, she was the Purple Phantom the entire time. No wonder he felt so at ease around her. But how?! And why?! It all seemed to make sense, and yet, not to at the same time. Though those questions were quite prominent in his mind, even more so was the dismay that slowly began to overwhelm him.
"Aska," he managed to breathe, giving voice to it. Then, even louder, as his disbelief gave way to despair, he began to say as though it would heal her right then and there, "No! Aska! It can't be!"
Despite the red snow that began to form beneath her, and his previous uncertainty to do so, Loki quickly took Aska up in his arms and held her against his chest, resting his chin against her forehead as tears began to form in his eyes. "Aska!" he exclaimed, hearing his echo tormentingly all around him.
As the snow continued to fall as though nothing amazing or astonishing at all had happened, as the moments ticked by around the prince and the unmasked phantom, at times it felt as though very little time had passed at all, while at others, it seemed as though an eternity had managed to sneak its way through. Loki felt so lost in his world of guilt and grief, that he very nearly jumped once he felt his name being called from nearby.
"Loki!" Having recognized that voice instantly, Loki turned to see that his brother, Sif, and the Warriors Three had entered the area, and found immediately he couldn't have been more thankful to see them.
"Thor!" he called, "Aska's been wounded! We need to get her back to Asgard!"
"Who?" Thor asked, confused.
"It's the Purple Phantom!" Loki replied worriedly.
Thor's eyebrows instantly shot up with surprise. "You know who she is?"
"Where is the Jotun woman?" Sif asked.
Greatly frustrated at having been asked two questions at once, Loki decided only to reply to the latter. "She's fallen into the abyss," he replied, "But, now's not the time! We must go!" Turning back to Aska, ignoring his unease at the blood that continued to stain her clothes, Loki hastily but gently gathered her in his arms and stood, his sad and wistful eyes remaining locked on her battered body and lacerated face, which seemed to sleep easily and uneasily at once. Indeed, she seemed almost ironically unrecognizable as the bright, lively girl he'd come to know in the past month, and it made his heart ache in a manner he'd never before known.
Hold on Aska, he silently implored her, Hold on.
Later, back in Asgard, all of the guests which still inhabited the ballroom of the palace could speak only of what had happened shortly before midnight. Most agreed that it was indeed the Purple Phantom who had exposed the traitor woman, and that Prince Loki clearly gave away his feelings for her in the manner in which he went after her. There was also the matter of another young woman who was arrested shortly thereafter, and had to have half a dozen guards escort her out of the room.
But as for what happened after Loki and the Purple Phantom left, everyone could only guess, as word had gotten out that the other prince, the Lady Sif, and the Warriors Three had to join him. All sorts of theories emerged, from the very likely to the outrageous. One particular guest could only hope that her dear friend had stopped her mother before all was lost. But if there was one thing everyone agreed on, it was the great concern regarding the great King Odin that have overcome them all.
Odin had insisted again and again to the doctors standing by that he felt alright. Still, they remained nearby just in case something otherwise unexpected would befall him. Frigga was the only one he was content to have near him. Both had long since begun to wonder what could have befallen their beloved sons, as well as that most mysterious woman, in the past few hours. They also started to question whether they could wait until dawn for them, if, by the blessing of fate, they all returned in one piece.
Fortunately, yet also, unfortunately at the same time, no one had to wait and wonder any longer. For just then, startling almost everyone in the room, in burst Loki, followed by Thor, Sif, Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun, all looking restless and rather concerned. But the attention of all gathered there almost unanimously turned to the person Loki was holding, who was recognized immediately by the signature costume she wore, and who immediately caused gasps of alarm to erupt one by one as each person saw the state she was in.
"Father!" Loki cried out.
Both Odin and Frigga widened their eyes, not just at the sudden appearance of their son, but also at the wounded, unmasked woman he was holding.
"Loki," Odin frowned, "What's the meaning of this? Are you all alright?"
"Fine," Loki replied. He then slightly held out the young woman and said, "But she needs help, she's been injured!"
Upon hearing those words, Regin, who had stood among the crowd trying to see what was going on, began to push her way through, her heart beating at a frightening pace, until she finally made it to the front, and immediately felt herself go pale at the sight before her. Not only was Aska without her mask, but she could see by the blood staining Loki's suit that she was indeed hurt, and badly. Feeling light-headed, she leaned against a nearby column to steady herself, and though she otherwise wanted to look away, she continued to watch as the scene unfolded before her.
"You two!" Loki called out to the nearby doctors, "Please, help me!"
The two men in white robes nodded, somewhat satisfied now that they had something to do, and quickly carried the stretcher they had brought over to the prince. Loki knelt down and slowly, with wavering desire, placed Aska down on it. So protective was he that he practically had to force his hands to move away, but he continued to gaze down on her even after he heard one of the doctors ask him a question.
Realizing then that he had to offer an answer, Loki reluctantly turned to the doctor and replied, "She was hit with an ice shard. I pulled it out."
"How much blood has she lost?" the doctor asked.
Feeling his own blood once again leave his face, Loki replied, "I'm not sure."
"Has she gone into shock?"
Raising his eyebrows, as he suddenly remembered what he'd been taught in his schooling years, Loki shook his head. "I don't think so."
Just then, the other doctor who'd been examining Aska exclaimed aloud, "This is a deep wound. She needs immediate treatment, we must get her in now!"
The first doctor nodded, and took hold of his side of the stretcher while the other grabbed hold of his. With trained hands, they then raised her up and began carrying her through the doors on the other side of the room that the guards had just opened for them. And all the while, Loki was left to watch with disbelieving eyes and a nearly blank face as he watched the woman he loved being taken from him. Though glad that she was finally getting some help, his heart continued to sink until she at last left his sight.
Still, he continued to stare unblinking into the now empty hallway beyond even after she did leave, remaining almost oblivious to the fact that his family had come to stand with him.
"Loki?" Frigga then said in an attempt to break him out of it. While Loki did hear her, her soft voice failed to comfort him.
"I only wish I could do more," he managed to say as he still kept his eyes locked on the doorway.
"Well Loki," Odin sighed sadly, "there is only one thing you can do for now."
"I know," Loki nodded. He knew the dreaded word his father was speaking of: to wait. "But it will not be easy," he finished.
He continued to stay where he was as though caught in a giant spiderweb of heartache, as all that had happened tonight began to sink in, as if merely wishing for her return to bring Aska back safely into his hold. Before long though, his family finally urged him to try and get some rest. But Loki only knew that if any of them had even a hint of understanding of what was going through him, they would also understand how nearly impossible that request seemed. He'd failed to protect Aska, and now he was going to face the consequences.