Preparation for Battle
As the mid-morning sky was now bright above the realm of Asgard, a group of six guards was making their way back to the massive palace of gold which sat in the center. A man clad in black on an equally black horse, Loki, rode in-between them, and had the guards seen his face, they would have known he was not very pleased to return. Though he had decided to willingly return peacefully, he knew what lay ahead of him, and he was not looking forward to it in the least. But he was going to face it. He was no longer a child, and he was going to make sure his parents knew it.
Still, it was nice to see that his best friend and brother, Thor, stood at the front. Growing up they had gotten into trouble far worse than this. But more often than not, they had a good enough sense of humor to laugh about it in hindsight, even if everyone else around them did not. Today, however, as he rode the last few feet to the palace, Loki wasn't sure this would be a situation that they would laugh about later.
"Loki," Thor called out as his brother dismounted from his horse, "Good to have you back brother!"
Though he appreciated Thor's high spirits and his desire to lift his own, Loki's face remained grim. "I wish I could say the same," he called back.
He then walked over to Thor, gave him a firm handshake – as well as a slight smile – and asked, "Where's Father?"
"He's in the throne room," Thor replied, nodding his head toward the door as his smile became smaller.
"And I'm afraid His Majesty has ordered us to take you there as soon as you returned, Highness," the captain of the guard spoke up.
Loki could only press his lips together and let out a sigh in nervous anticipation. But then, when he turned back toward his brother, an idea instantly came to his mind. "Then you're coming with me," he said.
Thor immediately frowned. Was his brother really telling him to come and face their father's wrath with him? "And why should I?" he asked.
"Because Father might be a bit more lenient if we face him together," Loki replied, "I can't guarantee it but…"
"Very well," Thor interrupted him, "I'm already in trouble for allowing you to drag me into this. I might as well go through with it to the end."
Despite being very blunt about it, he went about it with such good humor that Loki couldn't help but let out a droll chuckle. But the humor didn't last for long, as both were then escorted through the golden halls of the palace, one set of guards in front of them and another behind to make sure they didn't run off. It made them both feel as though they were children again, being brought to their parents after getting caught doing something rather naughty – or in this case, disruptive. Even so, the brothers spoke as if none of the guards were there at all.
"You just had to be so unwise as to willingly anger Father," Thor said as he shook his head in disapproval.
"Who said I was wise?" Loki asked sarcastically, "Besides, Father allowed himself to get angry."
"That's not the point!" Thor countered. Suddenly though, he managed to get a hold of his already hot attitude before it could be let loose. "In all honesty," he said with a calmer voice, "I agree with you. No one should be married against their will. However, I also appreciate it when my family and friends leave me out of their personal plights."
Loki opened his mouth to speak, to remind him that he felt very much the same whenever Thor involved him in his own "plights," but no words came out. Instead, he allowed himself to see the situation through his brother's point of view, how much trouble Thor likely was in on his account, and sighed in disappointment at himself. "I understand," he nodded.
"Do you?" Thor asked skeptically.
"Yes," Loki insisted, "And, I apologize. I shouldn't have gotten you involved."
Thor half-rolled his eyes in response, wanting to remind his brother how he was incapable of such sincerity. But as much as he wanted to, common sense, and the fact that Loki had just said he was sorry, held him back, and he spoke different words instead. "Then, I thank you, for saying so," he said slowly.
It didn't take long though before Loki noticed the strange look he was giving him.
"What?" he asked, "Why show such concern?"
"What, I can't be worried for you?" Thor asked, "I'm beginning to wonder whether you'll leave the throne room with your head still attached to your shoulders."
Loki widened his eyes at such a remark. "You don't actually believe Father will…"
"Oh of course not!" Thor interrupted him, "I'm just hoping you won't become even more mad than you already are."
For a reason he couldn't explain, that last sentence caused Loki to let another chuckle escape his lips.
"Speaking of which," Thor then said, "where did you go today?"
At those words, all the humor that had adorned Loki's face vanished, allowing a frown to form in its place. "Must we bring that up?" he asked.
"Why am I not allowed to know?" Thor asked more eagerly.
Loki only pressed his lips together, knowing that there was no escaping his brother's desire to know. "Promise you won't laugh?"
"I give you my word," Thor replied.
Loki let out a brief, but disbelieving sigh. He knew his brother would at least chuckle at what he was about to tell him, if nothing else. But, even so, there was no possible way to deny his eagerness to know. It was all he could do to prepare himself before he finally let the words escape him.
"I rode through someone else's lands," he began, "though, to whom they belonged I knew not. In fact, I was so intensely focused that, the next thing I knew, I found someone riding next to me, insisting – or, rather, demanding – I leave since I was trespassing."
"What did you do?" Thor asked.
"Well, I refused at first," Loki replied, a nervous look forming on his face despite his best efforts, "Actually, I basically told them to be gone."
Thor raised his eyebrows with now intense interest. "What happened then?"
"Well," Loki said, knowing the most likely reaction he'd receive from his brother was not one he would desire, "let's simply say that, it wasn't long before I took a bit of a tumble down a slope and into a small valley."
Thor widened his eyes, and, as he'd previously feared, Loki watched with great uneasiness as a smile began to form on his brother's face. As Thor promised, he didn't laugh, but he did ask, "And who may I ask did that to you?"
Loki bit his lower lip hard, wondering whether or not he should tell Thor, when suddenly, on a whim, he replied, "A servant girl."
"A servant girl?" Thor asked. He still didn't laugh, but he did let out a chuckle that Loki feared might turn into a laugh. Had he been the one listening under normal circumstances, Loki might have chuckled as well, but something about the situation made him want to take the matter seriously.
"Yes," he admitted as he nodded, "but listen to me. This wasn't your average servant girl. In fact, in spite of our rough greeting, we had a rather interesting conversation before I left."
"You did?" Thor asked, "What about? Did she recognize you?"
"Yes we did, I prefer not to say, and yes, she did recognize me," Loki gave his respective answer to each question, "But there was also something peculiar about her. Not only did she not swoon in my presence, but, though I don't recall seeing her before, something about her seemed almost, familiar."
"Perhaps you're simply now drawn to any maiden who isn't Idunn," Thor suggested as he smiled.
Loki only rolled his eyes in response, before he gave another in the form of a heavy sigh. "I don't know," he breathed as he recalled her face, her voice, "But it was nice to have someone to talk to."
"Well, I can't imagine you'll enjoy the coming talk very much," Thor said as they turned the corner, and began to approach the large, decorated doors beyond which lay their father's throne room, where Odin was undoubtedly waiting.
No indeed, thought Loki. He could almost picture his mighty father being red with impatience, ready to explode at him the minute Loki said something he did not wish to hear. Even so, Loki let out a deep breath and stood straight and strong, as the prince he was. He was not going to show himself to be a coward, let alone a weakling.
Though one of the two guards who stood on either side smiled as they approached, Loki did not return it.
"Your Highness," he said as they bowed briefly, "So nice to have you return."
Loki cleared his throat, wishing only to get the coming torment over with. He took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh, the grim frown still on his face, before he asked, "Permission to enter the torture chamber?"
The guards briefly looked at one another – and Loki could have sworn he saw both of them smirk for a second – before the first guard nodded and replied, "Granted."
The two then walked over to take the handles, and then opened the heavy twin doors. From the moment they did, Loki immediately felt the flat, still air, and the brewing tension, for the first thing he saw before he even entered the room was the eye of Odin, looking straight at him.
"Your Majesty," one of the escorting guards said, "we have succeeded in our quest and brought back your son."
"Loki!" a feminine voice called out. Loki immediately looked, and felt the weight slightly lift from his shoulders, to see his mother hurrying towards him, her arms stretched out to greet her younger son. Knowing he could never refuse her embrace, Loki hugged her gently. But then, his eyes caught a sight that made his frown return. The Warriors Three: Volstagg, Fandral, Hogun, and even Sif stood on one side of the room, all of them returning his alarmed gaze. Had they come to witness this confrontation – whether it be out of spite or Odin's command? Or had they come for another reason? Loki almost didn't hear Frigga speak to him.
"Thank goodness you have returned!" she exclaimed, "Are you alright?"
Hearing that question, Loki turned back to her and nodded as he assured her, "Don't worry about me Mother. Now, if you'll kindly excuse me…"
He didn't need to finish, for Frigga nodded in understanding and let go of him. Though Loki was aware of everyone behind him watching as he approached Odin on his throne, he pretended that it was only the two of them in the room. Despite having seriously violated the unspoken rule that one should not intentionally anger the king of Asgard – though, to be fair, this wasn't the first time Loki or Thor had broken it – Loki stood straight as before and refused to be intimidated.
He put his hand to his chest and bowed to show respect, as Odin was his king as well as his father. "Father," he said in a reverent tone, "I understand you wish to speak to me, again?"
In spite of his expectation to witness a fit of explosive rage, Odin only looked at Loki with an expression that was even grimmer than his own. In fact, Loki was almost surprised when his father spoke in a rather calm voice, but one that still carried authority, "Indeed, I do."
Loki's eyes remained on his father – and his father's eye on him – as Odin then stood up and descended down the steps toward his son. "My son," he said in a somewhat different voice, "why did you act so rashly? How many times have your mother and I told you throughout your life not to leave the palace without our permission?"
The question quickly caused the spark of uneasiness within Loki to be fanned into a flame of frustration. "I still need your permission to leave the palace?" he asked, "I am not a boy anymore Father, and yet you insist on treating me like one!"
"I do so only because you insist on acting like one!" Odin immediately replied, his own voice becoming rather frustrated.
"How?" Loki asked, "By refusing to marry a woman who loves me not and I not her?!"
Odin only looked at Loki with an open mouth before saying, "I beg your pardon?!"
"You heard me!" Loki exclaimed, determined to make his voice heard, "I'm not marrying Idunn and there is nothing you can say or do to change my mind!"
Odin raised his eyebrow, as he was clearly not used to having his orders so blatantly and defiantly thrust aside. Had Loki been a child, he would have quickly taken the paddle and given him a lesson he would not soon forget. But, having been reminded that he was not, the only weapons he could use against his son were his words.
"Loki, you are a prince of Asgard!"
"So what?!" Loki replied, letting his hands fly angrily into the air, "It's only a mere title!…In fact, I'm considering giving it up!"
Odin's gasp was not the only one Loki then heard, but neither he nor his father were about to be deterred.
"You will not even think about abdicating your position!" Odin warned him.
"I will if you keep insisting I marry Idunn!" Loki talked back.
"I forbid it!"
"Or what?! You'll take Thor's hammer and blast me out of the realm?!"
Odin opened his mouth to speak, when someone took him by the arm. He looked to see that it was his wife, Frigga, who looked eager to try and quell the disorder and shouting as soon as possible. "Dearest," she spoke to him as calmly as she could, "let me speak with him. He's my son as much as yours."
Odin donned a thinking expression as he considered Frigga's request, before he nodded and said, "Please do."
Frigga nodded back to show her thanks and then turned to Loki, her hands clasped together in front of her and her back as straight as his, but her voice was that of a mother attempting to reason kindly with her son.
"Loki, your father is right. You are a prince of Asgard. But you must know that even those who are not royal or noble have to do things they otherwise do not wish to do."
Loki only put his head in his hand. While he was relieved to be talked to again rather than being shouted at, he wasn't terribly pleased that now his mother too was lecturing him. "Forgive me Mother, but as I recall the peasants rarely, if ever, consent to an arranged marriage."
"They will if I order it," Odin spoke up. But Loki ignored him.
"And I doubt either of you have any idea what it is like to never meet someone who loves you for yourself rather than your royal status!"
"So you're saying you will be content to simply cast off your responsibilities?!" Odin asked.
"Why should I not enjoy what the peasants do?!" Loki asked, "If I should ever rule them, should I not understand their ways?! Why should I not marry someone who actually loves me?!"
Silence then fell upon the room. No one spoke: not Thor, the Warriors Three, Frigga, and especially not Loki and Odin. All they did was look at each other with the bitterest of expressions, silently imploring the other to be reasonable, according to his terms. Before long though, Odin allowed himself to look over to Volstagg, Fandral, Hogun, and Sif, pressed his lips together, and nodded, before turning back to Loki. As much as he wanted the issue before him to be resolved, as king, some things had to be settled sooner than others. And he was no longer in the mood of fighting with his son, whom he loved so.
"We will discuss this later," he said, the frustration in his voice having left, "For now, we have more important matters to attend to. Thor!"
"Yes Father?" Thor answered from the other side of the room, where he had stood before to watch.
"Please come and join us," Odin invited him, "This concerns you as well."
"Of course Father," Thor nodded. He then proceeded across the room to once again be at the side of his brother, who was becoming somewhat unnerved.
"What is the matter Father?" Loki asked, "You all seem ill at ease."
Odin quickly explained. "While you were gone, Sif and the Warriors Three came to me with a report that I believe you should hear."
He then gestured toward Sif, giving her permission to speak. The raven-haired warrior lady of Asgard nodded her thanks at the king, and then stepped forward to give her report to the princes.
"As you both already know," she began, "there have been a series of strange attacks throughout Asgard, and from the descriptions that the citizens gave, the attackers seem to be Frost Giants from Jotunheim."
"I still find that hard to believe," Thor spoke up, "Father sealed the realm ages ago, so how could they possibly weaken it, let alone break it? Besides, they would still have to get past Heimdall."
"The Jotuns can be crafty," Fandral replied, "And no one said that the seal was unbreakable. They could be weakening it from the inside."
"But how?" Thor asked, "Only Father's staff can break the seal."
"Perhaps they have found another way around," Loki suggested.
"Which brings us to the task that I have assigned to all of you," Odin spoke up.
Loki turned around and gave him a questioning look. "Father?"
Sif then spoke again, causing Loki to turn back around to listen to her. "Early this morning, we noticed a strange disturbance over at the dome of transportation. We went there to question Heimdall, to see if he could bring us answers."
"And?" Loki asked.
"It is possible that the Frost Giants are planning an uprising," Volstagg replied.
"It is our duty to see that it is stopped," Hogun said, with the gruffness of the warrior he was.
"And I would advise you to also try and discover why the seal is weakening," Odin added.
Thor and Loki turned around to look at their father, each having the same questioning expression on his face, before the two gave those looks to each other, both wondering what to make of the assignment set before them.
"What do you suggest?" Thor asked Loki.
Loki only shrugged his shoulders and tried to smile. "Brother, you're the crown prince," he replied, "Whatever your choice shall be, I'll accept it."
Thor then donned a thinking face, as shown by his thoughtful looking eyes and placing his hand over his mouth. He was aware of the seven faces looking at him, awaiting his decision, whatever it may be, but that did not disturb his thoughts. Eventually though, after thinking it through carefully, he believed he'd made a decision, and nodded his head at Loki before turning to Odin.
"Father," he said, "we accept the task you've assigned for us. When do we depart?"
"Tonight," Odin replied.
"Tonight?" Loki asked.
"You will benefit from the cover of darkness," Odin explained.
"Then we shall leave then," Thor nodded. Other nods and murmurs of agreement came from his brother and the other warriors, showing that the matter seemed to be settled. But despite the plan that had just been set before them, the shadow of concern made its way into Thor's mind, causing his smile to fall into a frown. He turned to Odin again.
"One more question Father," he said. For a moment, he looked away, wondering if he should mention the topic he wished to bring up, when he decided that it must and looked back at his father and asked, "What should we do if we should happen to come across…her?"
He did not wish to speak her name, but everyone seemed to understand whom it was he spoke of, as they had all fallen silent. But Thor paid them no heed, desiring an answer from Odin, whose eyebrow had raised in intrigue at that final word.
"You have reason to believe you might encounter her?" he asked.
"I don't see why not," Thor replied, "She's been about, acting outside the law for nearly a month now. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she followed us all the way to Jotunheim."
The person he was speaking of was a most peculiar one, a vigilante who had been at the sites of the Jotun attacks. Though none of them had ever seen her in person, most witnesses described her as wearing purple and gold, and very good with a sword and shield, fighting off the giants who otherwise would have terrorized the citizens. But perhaps the oddest feature about her was the mask she wore across her face. Without knowing her identity, there was no way, even by her defending actions, to tell whether she was for, or against Asgard. Hence the attempts to apprehend her and bring her before Odin for questioning, but to no avail. Every time they tried, they failed. And they had learned little to nothing else about her in the past few weeks, hence Thor's concern.
"She would have to sneak past Heimdall," Fandral pointed out.
"True," Thor agreed, "But still, her ways remain a mystery to us. What shall we do, Father?"
Though the same concern flashed across his own face, it wasn't long before Odin gave his son the answer he knew he wanted. "The odds are perfectly balanced, but should you indeed come across her, my advice would be to do as you see fit based on what you see. Remember what I taught you about a warrior's patience."
"Of course Father," Thor nodded, though it was common knowledge that he had to be reminded often to be patient, since he, not Loki, was the one who usually acted rashly, hence another reason for the outrage at Loki's disappearance, "We shall all do our best."
"Agreed," Loki nodded, trying his best to smile, though all he could think of was what tonight might reveal, and that he would have to remind Thor to keep his conversation with the servant girl – Aska – a secret from everyone else.
Meanwhile, at the home of the Lady Ylva, Aska was in the kitchen, immersing her arms all the way up to the elbows in warm, soapy water, having been assigned to washing the dishes after Ylva and her daughters returned home. She didn't mind it much though. She liked the sweet smell of fine spring flowers that emanated from the soap and would occasionally try to blow big bubbles, though she never let Ylva know. The windows were closed, but she could hear the clang of metal swords and shields outside, as well as her mistress's instructions – often bitterly addressed – to Brynja.
Sometimes, Aska couldn't help but feel sorry for Brynja. Although she was in many ways like her mother, she, like everyone else, sometimes had to endure harsh words from Ylva, whom she knew to be a perfectionist.
But suddenly, as she was turning her thoughts to other, more serious matters, her train of thought was rather rudely interrupted when the door behind her flew open, and a feminine voice asked just as quickly, "Has he arrived?"
So hastily and without warning did both occur that Aska ended up gasping and dropping in surprise both the dish rag and the plate she was holding into the water, causing some of the soap to scatter from the large wooden tub onto the floor. Aska whipped around, and was relieved, but also frustrated, to discover that it was Regin, who was trying hard to hold back at least a chuckle.
"Regin!" she told her sternly, "Please, don't do that! Scared me half to death!"
Regin reluctantly let a slight chuckle escape her lips, but she tried to keep the spiteful humor out of her voice as she spoke. "Forgive me but, I thought nothing scared you." She then reached for a spare, dry dish rag, and handed it to Aska, who began wiping off the soap that had splashed onto her shoulders and cheeks. Despite her frustration though, Aska found Regin's humor somewhat contagious, because she herself began chuckling.
"Then I meant 'surprised,'" she said.
"I'm sorry," Regin said, "I suppose I got overexcited."
"Suppose?" Aska asked.
Regin couldn't help but roll her eyes, and she asked her previous question again. "Anyway, did he come?"
"You mean Jarl?" Aska asked as she got back to scrubbing the dishes. Regin nodded eagerly, but Aska frowned. "No, I'm afraid not."
"But Mother ordered those horseshoes days ago!" Regin exclaimed, "What is taking him so long?"
"Well, he's a blacksmith for one thing," Aska replied, "These things take time. And for another, we're not his only clients."
But then, when Aska saw Regin's smile begin to fade into a slight frown, she couldn't help but sigh and try to cheer her up. "If it makes you feel better," she said, "I'll ask Ylva if I can inquire of him this afternoon."
"Oh," Regin sighed, "You know I'd go there myself, but of course Mother wouldn't approve."
This time, Aska's smile began to turn into a frown. "It'll all work out someday," she tried to assure her, "After all, we're not children anymore."
"But still," Regin sighed again. Aska only nodded in response. She'd noticed Regin's growing attraction to the local blacksmith for awhile now, and both had kept it a secret, since Ylva obviously wouldn't allow for such a match. Though Regin's mother no longer lived at court, Regin was still considered a noble, and Jarl, being a blacksmith, was only a mere peasant. Still, Aska could see why Regin liked him. He was a rather handsome man, with strong arms, long red hair, and soft green eyes. His manner, too, was rather attractive, always as polite as a gentleman, and he was eight years older than Regin. In Asgard, it was not uncommon for a woman, no matter what class, to marry a man at least five years her senior.
But then, seemingly deciding to put the troubling issue aside, Regin rolled up her sleeves and asked Aska, "Would you like for me to help you?"
"Oh no need," Aska shook her head as she began scrubbing a bowl, "I couldn't impose. Besides, I don't want you to get in trouble with your mother."
"Oh why should she care?" Regin asked sarcastically, "She's outside with Brynja, like she often is."
Though Aska noticed the odd tone that Regin used when speaking that last sentence, she shook her head again. "Still, there's no telling."
Regin only sighed as she pulled her sleeves back down again. "I suppose not."
Aska tried to smile, but her mouth failed to cooperate, keeping the frown with which she pitied Regin. She'd known Ylva wasn't always the way she was when Aska came to live with them. She'd once been happily married to Lord Mímir, a noble known for his great wisdom, until he was executed after trying to steal Odin's staff, though why he did no one could ever figure out. Now that her husband was dead, Ylva lived in a self-imposed exile, believing she would never recover from the disgrace.
Still, neither Aska nor Regin let Ylva impose her bitter demeanor on them. In fact, for almost as long as Aska lived here, she and Regin had been friends, secretly. Jarl and Regin were probably the only real friends Aska ever had. If she had other good friends in her previous life, she couldn't recall them, so she had to make do with what she had, and she admitted that what she had was rather fortunate.
Then again, she'd probably made another friend this morning, even if the way they met wasn't ideal. Indeed, as embarrassing as she considered it, Aska found herself fondly recalling her meeting his Highness. And apparently, it wasn't long before Regin noticed.
"Why are you smiling?" she asked.
Aska turned around and gave her a confused look. "What? I'm not allowed to smile?"
"Well of course you are," Regin replied. She then went on to say, with a mischievous look in her eyes, "But that's not a normal smile, I can tell. What are you thinking about?"
For a moment, Aska weighed the choices in her mind of whether or not she should tell Regin about her encounter with Prince Loki. Part of her didn't want to, believing she might get in trouble. The risk seemed great. Still, she and Regin were no strangers to what they considered dramatic secrets, and thought themselves good at keeping them. And Regin might otherwise press her until she finally told her. Not being one fond of being pressed, Aska sighed in preparation, and looked at Regin with absolute seriousness before saying, "You must swear to secrecy."
Regin nodded, her eyes still mischievous but the rest of her face reflecting the same seriousness. "The utmost."
"And you must promise not to scream," Aska added.
Regin nodded again. "I promise."
Knowing she might do so anyway, but nonetheless wishing to get it out, Aska closed her eyes and sighed one more time before she began. "This morning, while I was riding Arnthor, I noticed a man in a black hood riding his horse through our fields."
Regin raised her eyebrows. "He was trespassing then?"
"What did you do?" Regin asked eagerly.
"Well, I rode up next to him and tried to make him leave," Aska continued, "But when he refused, I tackled him out of his saddle and sent both of us down a hill."
Regin gasped slightly, clearly invested in Aska's story. "Did you find out who he was?"
Aska only pressed her lips together and nodded.
"Well, who was it?" Regin asked.
With her heart beating hard against her chest, and knowing she'd reached the climax of her story, Aska looked around to make sure no one, was looking, especially through the windows, before she invited Regin to lean slightly inward. Regin nodded and took the invitation, allowing Aska to reply in a voice only they could hear, "Prince Loki."
Regin's eyes instantly widened, and she gasped even louder than before, causing Aska to quickly dry her hand and press it against Regin's mouth before another sound could escape.
"You promised you wouldn't scream!" she said softly but fiercely.
Regin nodded again and again before Aska released her hand from her mouth. "I won't, I won't," she insisted, "I'm sorry. But, you must be joking!"
"I wish I was," Aska sighed.
"You actually tackled his Highness?!" Regin asked, barely able to get the words out.
"Please don't remind me," Aska implored her, feeling the hotness of embarrassment form on both her cheeks.
"Well, what happened?"
"Well, to be perfectly honest, we started talking, and, he wasn't like how I expected him to be," Aska admitted.
Regin's mouth fell open as she realized what Aska most likely felt about him. "Why, you like him do you not?"
Aska's eyes instantly flashed in defiance at her. "No! No, of course not!" she insisted. But when Regin raised a skeptical eyebrow, Aska realized there was no tricking Regin, or herself. "Well, perhaps but, certainly not in that way. It couldn't possibly work out for us anyway."
Regin couldn't help but shrug her shoulders and smile. "Who knows?" Just then, the mischief in her eyes reignited as another fun thought entered her mind. "Oh, if Mother and Brynja knew…"
"They'd murder me," Aska finished for her.
"Or die," Regin suggested.
"Or both," Aska added.
Just then, that last suggestion caused laughter to come from both girls. Indeed, it would have been serious if either knew, but still, they found it rather humorous. However, it wasn't long before Regin sighed, and gave a somewhat mirthless smile.
"If only we knew who you once were," she said sadly.
"Well, unless I can somehow amazingly recall my former life, I shall remain who I am now," Aska reminded her, "Besides, what are the odds of us encountering each other again, let alone our 'relationship' going anywhere?"
"Again, who knows?" Regin couldn't help but say. Truly, she was a romantic to the end, whereas Aska was always more practical. But soon, Aska noticed a flicker of a frown on Regin's face, causing a frown to form on her own. Just as Regin had been able to read her true emotions just now, Aska had learned to return the favor.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" Regin asked.
"You look like you have something on your mind," Aska replied, "Come now, I told you my dramatic secret, you can tell me yours."
Regin raised her eyebrows in the same way she did earlier. "Well, someone's rather insistent today," she said with slight sarcasm. But then, she gave a small sigh and nodded. "Very well, I'll tell you."
Aska nodded back, and listened carefully as Regin began to tell her news, though, she was also happy to be talking of something else besides his Highness, who seemed to be causing her to feel rather strange.
"Early this morning," Regin began, "I was sleeping, when a strange light suddenly met my eyes."
Aska raised her eyebrows in curiosity. "A light? From where?"
Regin nodded, assuring Aska that she would soon get there. "Well, I woke up and looked outside, and I noticed a rather odd disturbance of light coming from the dome of teleportation."
"The one at the edge of Asgard?" Aska asked, suddenly eager as Regin had once been to know.
"I believe so," Regin nodded, "I figured I'd probably tell you about it later, since you seem to be specializing in these sorts of things lately, but I forgot, at least until now."
Aska nodded back. Regin did have a point, at least in regards in her "specializing" in strange occurrences as of late. It was the third secret she kept from Ylva and Brynja. Only Regin and Jarl were the ones to also know. For the past few weeks, Aska had been secretly putting her skills with a sword and shield to the test, and masquerading as a vigilante known as the "Purple Phantom," fighting against Frost Giants she heard were somehow getting into Asgard. She managed to attract a considerable amount of attention, and there were even attempts to arrest her, but she always managed to flee them. Even so, she never could figure out how Jotuns could be coming to Asgard when Odin had sealed the realm ages ago. Perhaps she'd acquired a chance to find out.
"To tell you the truth," she said, "I have been thinking about how they could be coming here, and, I think you may have given me the fuel I need."
"What are you implying?" Regin asked, suddenly concerned with what she was going to say.
Aska only looked at her sternly, after thinking it over carefully, and declared, "I'm going to Jotunheim."
Immediately, and as she expected, Regin frowned with disapproval. "What? You mean, you actually intend to leave the realm without permission?"
"Unfortunately," Aska nodded.
"Aska, you know as well as I that doing so is forbidden."
"True," Aska agreed, "But I can think of nothing else to do."
"But what about the Jotuns? They'll eat you alive!"
"I've been fighting them for at least a month, Regin. I believe I can hold my own against a few. Besides, I will only be looking for answers."
"And what if you should encounter someone from the palace? It's likely that they've noticed it as well."
"Indeed, but if I should do so, then I will simply have to convince them that I'm on their side."
"As if you haven't been trying to do so already," Regin reminded her, "And I don't believe any part of this proposed mission will be simple."
"Neither do I," Aska agreed, "But I've made myself a protector of Asgard. If I can stop the Frost Giants from entering the realm, I've got to take the chance."
For a moment, Regin stayed silent, leaving Aska to wonder what she would say or do, when she then looked at her again and asked, "I suppose there's no stopping you, is there?"
Though there wasn't much humor in the question, Aska gave a slight smirk. "I'm afraid not."
"Then when are you leaving?" Regin asked.
"Tonight," Aska replied, "when everyone is asleep. I'm going to need the darkness to cover me."
"Well then, if I cannot stop you, then, I wish you the very best of luck," Regin said, trying her best to smile.
As if to encourage her, Aska walked over to her and wrapped her arm around her shoulder. "Thank you. You've been wishing it for me ever since my first mission."
This time, Regin managed to succeed in smiling, and she returned the favor by wrapping her own arm around Aska's shoulder. "You really are the sister I never had."
"And you to me," Aska smiled, though she frowned again once she stopped hugging Regin and looked out the window at the sky filled with daylight. She could only wonder what would happen once the light of night replaced it, but she knew she would do what she must.
The following night, Loki Odinson, Prince of Asgard, stood alone in his room, making sure everything was ready for his departure. He had recently put on his battle armor, his gloves, and his boots, all as black as his own hair. His gloved hands put inside his belt his weapons: knives made of ice shards, which could easily pierce a Frost Giant. When all was ready, and he made sure he had everything, had anyone else been in the room with him, they would have deemed him worthy of the title "Warrior Prince." He stood tall and mighty as the son of Odin he was, and being clad in black from head to toe, he looked to be a shadow in the room of gold, fitting considering his sometimes mischievous actions. The two torches that stood on either side of the double doors that led to the hall cast a heavenly glow over him, and on his face he wore a look of pure determination and strength, his eyes capable of being as fierce as they could be gentle.
Meanwhile, Aska, the ash-covered maid by day, had slipped into her nightly disguise as the Purple Phantom. She wore a sleeveless purple unitard with leggings, bits of gold stretching down the bodice, a split skirt bordered with gold, and a belt to hold her weapons: a medallion and hilt of a sword which could turn into a shield and bring forth a blade at the press of a button – courtesy of Jarl. Covering her head was the purple hood of a sleeveless vest also bordered with gold, keeping mostly hidden her now let down pale hair. She wore purple gloves which traveled past her elbows and had gold armlets encircling the wrists, and she also wore dark purple boots that reached up to her knees. On her face, she wore not just an expression of valiance and fighting spirit, but also an unadorned purple mask to conceal her identity. She stood equally as tall and proud, and though her pale blue eyes looked determined, they carried the same twinkle as the stars that shone in the sky outside.
What neither knew was that at the exact same moment, both declared the same thing, in unconscious unison, "It's show time." And then, both proceeded to leave their lodgings. Loki left through the double doors to meet the rest of his group, while Aska, now the Purple Phantom, hurried through her window to greet the cold, nighttime air and go find the horse she'd managed to keep secret even longer than her alter-ego. Both, however, were set on seeing their missions accomplished, though neither knew for sure what the future had in store for them.