Not Your Average Cinderella

The Phantom and the Prince

Underneath the black canopy dotted with thousands of silver, distant lights that hung over the realm of Asgard, most of her citizens had undergone the nightly routine of going to rest. Though they were mindful that their realm was home to the great warrior king Odin, they did not know that they owed another peaceful night of sleep to the efforts of one of their princes, and a lone warrior who was content to let her identity remain unknown, both of whom well aware of the possibility of crossing each other's paths.

After walking through the near endless halls of the massive palace he called home, and doing some of his own serious thinking regarding how this might affect his relationship with his father, Loki finally strode through one of the side entrances, where Thor and the rest of his fellow warriors awaited outside, making last-minute preparations to their weapons before they would mount their steeds. Once they heard the doors opening, all five turned to see the last member of their group make his way toward them, standing tall and appearing as confident as his companions.

"Loki!" Thor smiled as he walked over to greet him with a slap on the back, "So you've decided to join us after all!"

Loki returned his brother's smile with one of his own, but his confusion was already evident on his face. "You know I care about the safety of our realm as much as you do," he said. Though he knew Thor was teasing him, it was clear to him as much as anyone else that he greatly valued his strength and his mighty hammer Mjolnir. Loki, however, had already proven himself on the battlefield with cunning and trickery, which he viewed as just as effective if not more so.

"Well then, shall we?" Fandral suddenly asked, "On to the land of the blue giants!"

"Those 'giants' will not take our opposition lightly," Hogun reminded him in his usual grim way for which he was named.

"And if they wish to make war with our realm, they will have to pass through us," Sif declared as she walked over to her horse.

"Hmph, let the barbarians try!" Volstagg exclaimed, deciding to put his own two sense in.

Suddenly, Thor turned around and in a wave of authority fitting his demeanor as crown prince, said, "Alright, enough talk. It's time for us to depart."

Everyone immediately went silent, allowing him to turn back to his brother and give him a questioning look. Loki, in response, only smiled and nodded. "Of course."

Thor nodded back, and without another word, the two turned and headed toward their horses, giving the other warriors permission to do so. Loki swiftly mounted his familiar black stallion he rode earlier that morning, and Thor just as quickly jumped onto his stallion, as white as Loki's was black. The four other warriors mounted theirs as well. After seeing that all had their weapons in hand, as well as the courage and determination that defined a warrior's character, Thor set his horse off into a canter, with Loki and then Sif and the Warriors Three following. None of them looked back even once as they finally left the palace grounds and passed the guards at the main entrance, but all of them shared the intense intention to accomplish their mission and serve their realm well.

Loki, however, had the additional intention known only to himself – as shown by the pure concentration that donned his face – to prove to his father, as he'd insisted earlier, to show him that he was no longer a boy, but a man with the same needs as a peasant. No matter what happened, no matter whom he came across, this was a mission he needed to see to completion as much as the other.

As six of Asgard's finest warriors made their way to the teleportation dome, a seventh was hurrying just as quickly down the same pathway she'd traveled on just that morning toward the stables. Clothed in purple, like a shadow in the night, she ran as fast as she could, knowing she could not lose any valuable time. For now, she wasn't serving just her mistress and her daughters, but her entire realm, even those who would be just as quick to hunt her down.

But tonight, as much as she took a secret thrill in doing so, she couldn't take the risk. The Purple Phantom – otherwise known as the plain and timid Aska – didn't stop until she finally saw the solitary and familiar wooden building. It felt like an eternity since she snuck out her window, and her face lit up the moment she at last reached her destination. Now was the time to really put her plan into action.

Though far from the house, Aska quietly opened the door, letting the small amount of light the night sky allowed in, so as not to awaken the sleeping horses, which would instantly neigh the moment they saw her. They would easily recognize her with or without her mask. As she briefly let her eyes get used to the darkness still prevalent inside, she hoped that the horse she was planning to ride would not greet her as loudly as they usually did.

After then taking up the ladder that stood on her left, which was always slightly heavier than it looked, even for her, Aska planted it in the middle of the stables, underneath the triangular shaped structure that held the roof. Long ago, she'd discovered that one of the wooden planks on the structure was loose, giving her a clever hiding place for her horse's special tack, which matched her purple and gold costume perfectly. She hastily ascended the ladder, and moved the plank aside, and smiled upon discovering that the tack was there as she'd previously left it.

Aska took a deep breath before placing her hands on the heaviest of the equipment: the saddle. With gritted teeth, she lifted it out of the alcove, balancing on one of the rungs of the ladder as she did so. However, it seemed her fingers lacked their usual strength, and she ended up dropping the saddle before she could descend back down the ladder. Before it even landed on the hay-covered floor, she bit her lip and shut her eyes, but she couldn't cover her ears in time to keep from hearing it hit the ground.

She waited with a pounding heart for the sound of horses that had been rudely awakened. But as she stood still on the ladder, she heard only a few small noises and nothing more. So the horses had been briefly disturbed, yet they remained asleep. Aska opened her eyes again and, seeing that the horses still had their heads down, softly breathed a sigh of relief. She then proceeded to get the saddle-blanket and the decorated bridle before going back down the ladder and setting them beside the saddle.

Once every piece of equipment was out, Aska headed as quietly as possible toward and then opened the door on the other side of the stable. She exited the building, and looked back one more time to make sure the rest of the horses stayed asleep. As soon as she was certain, and once she was sure she was far away enough, she turned around, and took a moment to look out at the darkened, almost haunting, version of the same, vast landscape she beheld hours earlier. But returning her focus once again on her mission, she then put her gloved fingers to her mouth, and whistled the signature, three-noted whistle she used to call her beloved secret horse, Dagny.

For a short while, she wondered if she should have gotten a bit further away, until she at last heard a neigh she'd recognize anywhere, and saw a pale, four-legged silhouette cantering her way across the extensive green field. Though she looked as though she had no owner by her lack of bridle and free-flowing mane, Aska knew very well that this horse was hers. She trotted up the small slope toward her, and Aska smiled as greatly as she could as Dagny neighed her friendly greetings. She couldn't resist taking her muzzle in her hands and pressing it to her cheek before kissing it and scratching it, causing the mare to whinny in delight.

For a moment, Aska allowed a brief time to lose herself in her beautiful horse's large brown eyes. The only times she rode her was when she was dressed as the Purple Phantom, though she had learned long ago that Dagny had been trained to carry a rider, further adding to her mystery. Like Regin and Jarl, she could be trusted to keep a secret, and also like the two, she was a great friend, never mind that she was a horse. Sometimes Aska even spoke to her as if she were a person, almost certain that she could understand her, and tonight was one of those times.

"Well girl, we have another mission ahead of us tonight," she smiled, "Are you up to it?"

In a response that Aska couldn't help but giggle at, Dagny whinnied and tossed her head as if to nod.

"I knew you'd be," Aska smiled greater as she scratched her horse's ears. Now all she had to do was get the tack on, and quickly.

"Stay here," she said. She then turned around and hurried quietly back to the stables to retrieve the saddle, the saddle blanket, and the bridle. The saddle, like most, was made of fine leather, and weighed at least half that of a grown man. The blanket underneath was purple like her costume, and adorned with gold fringe. The bridle too was made of leather, but also on the reins hung purple material interwoven with gold. Obviously one's steed had to match one's appearance of her alter-ego.

Once all of the tack was on, Aska took the reins in one hand, and one foot in one of the stirrups, and finally hoisted herself up onto Dagny's back. It seemed as though Dagny could sense Aska's inner excitement, for the moment she was on, the mare began walking, and soon trotting through the landscape. Aska held the reins firm in her hands, and did not look back at the stable. Like she had done so on her previous missions, she would be taking the longer way to get to the main road, to keep either Lady Ylva or Brynja from seeing her. And, like she had done so before, she smiled mischievously at the notion that the Purple Phantom – so unlike the person both Ylva and Brynja knew – was living right under her mistress's nose.

However, once she got to the main road, Aska's concentration returned and she eased her horse into a smooth canter. Quickly, but largely unnoticed, horse and rider made their way together through the now-sleeping town that Aska traveled so often through. She had little worry of being seen by anyone, for most of the citizens and shopkeepers had retired to their beds. If anyone was awake at this hour of the night, it was those who preferred to spend their evenings drowning themselves in wine. Nor did Aska have to fear the darkness. Even in the dim light of the torches that hung on every two or three houses she passed, Aska knew this road as well as anyone. She fancied that she could travel through it blindfolded, as she knew just about every corner and turn. For a moment, for the humor, she briefly closed her eyes, and guessed rightly the moment she'd make the next turn before opening them again. For the time being, it appeared her theory had proved correct. But no more games could be played tonight.

As Aska rode Dagny down the pathway, she paid little to no heed to the way her heartbeat was slowly increasing. Though she knew the way to the teleportation dome, she'd never been there before. And the possibility of coming across the king's warriors – maybe even one of the princes – reared its head once more. Then there was the matter of getting past Heimdall, the guardian of the dome. She never met him before, but she, like everyone else in Asgard, knew that the man was in no way a fool, and had senses advanced far beyond those of the average Asgardian. Though, how Frost Giants kept getting past him she would likely never know. All she knew, as she continued to ride, was that she'd have to be clever if she wanted to leave this realm for Jotunheim.

Shortly after she began to wonder if she'd ever make it to the dome at all, Aska finally reined Dagny to a halt the moment she saw the great, solitary monument on the horizon. The large golden structure stood alone on a platform raised above the darkest waters Aska had ever seen. Though she knew how to swim, she didn't know if she would like to fall into that. She also spotted the dozens, if not hundreds, of-yards-long Bifröst Bridge, made of what appeared to be a material similar to glass, and glinting with the colors of the rainbow for which it was named. From where she stood, she believed it ran all the way to the palace, which stood in the exact center of the realm, and seemed to act as a guardian itself over her great home.

Suddenly, another sight caught her eye, causing her to immediately turn to it. As soon as she did, Aska's eyes widened when she saw six horses standing outside the dome. Their riders – whom she could see from here to be a woman and five men – stood in front of the entrance, conversing, it seemed, with the guardian Heimdall. Her eyes widened even more when she attempted to get a closer look, for she found that she knew these people. Though she'd seen them only one or two times in person, she now had little to no trouble recognizing four of them as Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. But it was the last two that finally made her release a gasp. Not only did she see Prince Thor, Odin's older son and heir to the throne of Asgard, but beside him stood his brother, Loki.

Instantly, her heart began to race, and Aska wondered if she should try to hide, if she should abandon the mission completely. However, it seemed as though her body made the decision to stay before her mind did, as no matter how much she wished to turn Dagny around, Aska continued to look down at the figures as they walked inside the dome. In that moment, a spark of inspiration ignited within her, and she realized that she could not allow anything – or anyone – to stand between her and finishing her quest. Not the princes, not their fellow warriors, not Heimdall, and especially, not herself.

Fortunately, she made her decision at just the right moment. Before long, Aska saw a bright, near-blinding light shoot high into the sky in the blink of an eye, and felt a bit of a shaking sensation even from where she stood. The moment she felt Dagny begin to get skittish, she reined her horse in before she could neigh in panic. In an attempt to calm her steed, Aska laid her hand on her neck and began stroking her until the sensation passed and the ray of light disappeared into the darkness of the night. Once she was sure that she was calm enough to go on forward, Aska encouraged her into a trot, and then into a canter, toward the bridge that would lead her to the dome, which would, hopefully, lead her to Jotunheim.

As she heard her horse's hooves against the rainbow bridge, and as the dome seem to enlarge the closer she got to it, only then did Aska realize the true gravity of the situation. She really was intending to leave her home realm without permission from the king. She knew this feeling. She felt it the first time she fought as the Purple Phantom, the feeling of mixing right and wrong. Though the right seemed to outweigh the wrong in both cases, it could not prevent the sensation of the weight on Aska's shoulders get heavier and heavier the closer she got to the dome. Could she really intentionally defy the king and follow his sons and warriors into the realm of the Frost Giants?

Once she finally reached the dome, and regained the nerve feelings in her fingers to pull her horse to a stop, Aska finally beheld the great guardian of the teleportation dome himself, and felt even more unsure of her mission before. Yet, somehow, her inner instincts urged her to stay strong. Don't retreat, she thought to herself, Stand tall. Think of your duty to your realm.

Forcing herself to move, Aska dismounted from Dagny, and remembered just in time to hold her head high and stand straight, before swallowing nervously, and finally striding towards Heimdall, who immediately looked even more intimidating than she expected.

He was tall, with broad shoulders, and skin the color of bronze. He wore a suit of armor made of gold, and held a scepter about as tall as him in front of him with both hands. His striking eyes, the same color as his armor, met her own pale ones with an intense gaze as she got closer to him. Aska was by now aware of the sweat that she felt begin to break out on her forehead. Even so, she moved one more step forward, then another, until she finally stood just a few steps in front of him.

For a moment, neither said a word. After wondering about her other options, Aska chose to take another step forward, when Heimdall suddenly stopped her in a great, deep voice that perfectly fitted his mighty demeanor. "Halt!"

Aska literally froze before moving her foot back, trying her best to remain calm. Heimdall, however, hadn't moved an inch, standing as still as a statue.

"You are the one they call the Purple Phantom?" he asked slowly.

It took a short while for Aska to remember that she herself had a tongue. "Indeed, I am," she replied with a respectful voice.

"And you have the intention of leaving this realm for Jotunheim, to follow the sons of Odin and his warriors?" he asked.

For an instant, Aska allowed herself to wonder how he'd known that, when she remembered who Heimdall was. Though she had the feeling he already knew the answer, she nonetheless nodded in the affirmative. "Yes," she said, "I am well aware that all Asgardians are restricted by royal decree to leave this realm for another without royal permission, but I'm afraid I've already been acting outside the law for quite some time now."

Mustering as much confidence as possible, Aska made herself look directly at the great guardian. "Even so, I have already proven my loyalty to this realm," she said, "And I do not wish for harm to come to it. Therefore, if you could please grant me this favor, and let me follow the princes and the warriors, I would be most grateful."

Heimdall did not respond. At least not immediately. Aska fought the temptation to bite her lip nervously, refusing to appear the least bit cowardly before this man. Still, she anxiously awaited his answer, whatever it may be. Any answer would satisfy her by now.

Before too much time passed, though, Heimdall finally spoke to her. "Not many are so bold as to willingly leave their realm for another," he said.

Aska stood frozen before him. She didn't even allow herself to blink.

"But you have proven yourself noble, and your intentions are pure," he continued, his eyes as unblinking as hers. His next few words, however, made her eyes widen with surprise. "Very well, I will permit you admittance. The crown prince and his brother would be wise to allow you to join their group."

Despite her previous nervousness toward him, Aska managed to let a small smile cross her lips as she nodded briefly.

"But beware," he then said, "Jotunheim is the realm of the Frost Giants. They are ruthless to those who intrude in their home."

Though already aware of the danger that lay ahead of her, Aska nonetheless gave a nod in gratitude. "I am ready to face them," she declared.

"Then come with me," Heimdall said. He finally moved, turning around and then walking inside the dome itself. Aska followed him, and couldn't help but look around at how enormous the dome seemed. A dais, presumably for Heimdall's staff, was raised in the center. Images of the cosmos adorned the walls, images of heroes, of warriors, of valkyries. It didn't take long for Aska to become mesmerized at the pictures of times gone by, when she suddenly looked to see Heimdall plant his staff in the center of the dais. Right before her eyes, a golden light began spreading from the dais and all around the floor of the dome. She immediately recognized the shapes it took to be images of the branches of the great Tree of Yggdrasil, which contained all of the nine realms.

Suddenly, Aska turned to see what looked to be a large, dense tunnel of swirling colors appear at one end of the room. A portal to Jotunheim, she reasoned. Now that the pathway lay ahead of her, she quickly decided to act fast before she could even think about turning back. She turned to Heimdall and nodded her thanks, before she took one step, then two, then three toward the vortex that would transport her to the realm of Jotunheim. Gazing at the near endlessness of it, and taking a deep breath, Aska charged forward, closed her eyes, and then leaped into the tunnel.

For a time that seemed very short yet very long at once, Aska kept her eyes closed as she felt the sensation of flying and falling at the same time. Her heart began to beat rapidly, and she wondered if she would meet her end before she could even begin to serve her realm. But soon, she felt herself land on solid ground as though she had jumped only a short distance. The sound of a very faint wind filled her ears, until she finally opened her eyes, which immediately widened upon seeing for the first time a realm so foreign to her own.

This, of course, wasn't the first time she'd seen snow, but never had she seen it before in such vast amounts. As far as her eyes could see, to the tip of the horizon, she gazed upon the world of pure, pristine white ahead of her. Thousands of small snowflakes descended lightly down from the sky. Aska wondered if the dark-gray-mixed-with-blue expanse above her was like this only during the night, or whether it remained so all the time, which would not have surprised her. The fitting coldness of the realm rested itself on her upper body, causing her to shiver slightly. In the distance, she could see what appeared to be a chain of mountains, and several structures made purely of ice, including what appeared to be the home of the leader of the Frost Giants himself, Laufey. It also seemed that the realm consisted mostly of cliffside pathways, as she looked down to see what appeared to be an endless drop beneath.

Had Aska looked at it any longer, she likely would have begun to feel sick. But she quickly averted her eyes, and just as fast remembered that she still hadn't taken out her weapons. Taking her medallion in her left hand, and taking the hilt of her sword in her right, she pressed both buttons, and immediately gained both a shield and a sword.

With both weapons in hand, Aska looked on the path ahead of her, and immediately became intrigued when she saw what appeared to be fresh footprints in the snow. Several of them, all going the same way, forward. Deciding to take the risk, Aska took a final deep breath before hurrying off in the direction of the footprints, holding her weapons up, daring any threats to even try and surprise her.

As the vigilante in purple followed the trail they unintentionally left for her, Loki, Thor, and the rest of their group made their way deeper into the realm of the Frost Giants. All six of them stayed on the alert, ready for any of the land's inhabitants to assault them. Thor held firmly his great hammer, while Loki kept his hand on his knives, both of them ready to defend themselves at a moment's notice. But at one point, as they came closer to the crystallized home of the realm's once mighty ruler, Loki almost at once received a silent, invisible signal in his mind that something was amiss. Though he could not identify the strange sensation, it was powerful enough to make him lose concentration, and slow to a stop.

"Thor," he said to his brother, causing him and the other four to halt as well. He immediately noticed the troubled expression on Loki's face.

"What?" he asked, "What is it?"

"I…I'm not exactly sure," Loki replied, not knowing what else to say. For a moment, he looked around with scanning eyes before looking back again at Thor. "Only…I only have the feeling that, we're not alone."

"What do you mean?" Thor asked.

"I'm not certain," Loki replied, "I just, have this strange sense."

"The Frost Giants are not fools," Sif spoke up, "They could be planning to attack us."

Despite wanting to suggest otherwise, caution quickly caught up with Loki's newly discovered sixth sense, and he nodded in agreement. "Maybe." He then turned back to his brother and made a proposition. "We must not overlook even the least suspicious detail."

"Agreed," Thor nodded, "That being said, I suggest we keep moving."

Loki nodded back, and he, Sif, and the Warriors Three continued to follow Thor through the realm of cold and white, none of them speaking any further of the matter. Before long though, they found themselves in front of the great ice palace of Laufey, where he and the rest of his ill-fated race had been sealed away by Odin so many years before.

The entrance was completely covered by a magnificent, formidable wall of ice that seemed to stretch miles high to the sky. If the Frost Giants had indeed found a way around Odin's seal, it certainly was not through trying to break the wall, as there was not even the smallest crack the princes or the warriors could see. Neither, as some had expected – and secretly hoped – did they greet an army of Jotuns waiting for them. The mystery only seemed to deepen and bring more questions than answers for all of the group. At least, that was how it seemed at first.

Being the bravest – or perhaps the least cautious – of the six, Loki watched as Thor walked over to the wall itself. With his free hand, he felt the instantly cold material against his skin, searching for any abnormality to the structure, and yet – to his frustration – could find none. Remembering that he had Mjolnir in his other hand, Thor decided to take the risk of breaking the wall at all, and drew his hammer back, gathering all his strength as he did so, before he rammed it as hard as he could into the mighty curtain. Nothing, not even the slightest crack, showed up, causing even more frustration to build up within him.

"This doesn't make any sense!" he exclaimed through gritted teeth.

"Isn't that why we're here?" Fandral couldn't help but ask sarcastically.

Both Loki and Thor rolled their eyes slightly, neither exactly in the mood for such an attitude at this most inappropriate of times. Just then, though, Thor had to ask, "But how is it in any way possible for the Jotuns to break the seal if not even my hammer could?"

Upon hearing his brother's question, Loki donned a thinking expression, frowning when he came to a startling revelation. "Perhaps the Frost Giants are smarter than we've been giving them credit for," he suggested.

"Nonsense!" Volstagg roughly dismissed him, "That would mean…"

"You should not have come here!" a deep, sinister voice suddenly interrupted him. All six instantly turned in the direction, and froze in alarm upon seeing a giant of a man at least twice the size of Thor or Loki. He stood like a tall, foreboding tree trunk, with long, strong arms that could easily crush a normal sized person. Cold, icy-blue skin covered his body, and his large, fiery red eyes seemed to be furnaces of fury as he laid his fierce, unmoving gaze on the group of intruders.

"Why do you contaminate our realm with your presence?!" he demanded.

Though Loki and the others showed great immediate caution at the monster of a man before them, Thor, not one to be so easily intimidated, stood straight in a manner befitting that of one titled as he was, and proudly declared, "I am Thor Odinson, crown prince of the realm of Asgard! And it has come to our attention that your kind has been contaminating our realm with your presence!"

The moment he finished speaking, he, Loki, and the rest felt the ground begin to shake slightly. It didn't take long for them to realize that it came from more Jotuns, much like the one they had just greeted, come to join their accomplice for aid in ridding their home of these foolish weaklings – or so they at first seemed. Loki, seeing Thor clench his hammer in his hand, a sure sign that his patience was soon to run out, he quickly ran to his side in an attempt to remind him of their father's near constant lessons on that oh-so-elusive virtue.

"Thor," he said in the calmest voice he could muster, "Stop. Don't be rash. Think before you act."

"You should listen to his counsel," another Jotun said as he took one, then two steps toward them, his eyes as menacing as the one they first met, "All of you would be wise to leave at once, before you make the gravest mistake of your lives." This he said as an ice gauntlet formed on his arm. Thor, however, had just been given even more fuel to let ice meet fire – or rather, his hammer.

"May I remind you whom you are dealing with?" he asked rhetorically, the heat all too prevalent in his voice. Before his brother's dismayed eyes, Thor began to raise Mjolnir, causing Loki to quickly grab his wrist. "No, Thor!" he protested. Thor just as instantly turned his intense expression on Loki, and was just about to protest in return, when suddenly, a feminine, authoritative sounding voice reached their ears.


Both princes stopped what they were doing immediately. With raised eyebrows and great curiosity, the two turned in the direction of the voice, as did the rest of their companions and even the Frost Giants surrounding them, and all pairs of eyes, both clear and red, widened at the sight they beheld. Before them stood a young woman adorned in purple and gold, holding a shield in her left hand and a sword in her right. But none could make out her face, as a mask across it obscured her features. Still, it didn't take long for anyone there to figure out who she was.

"No!" one of the Jotuns exclaimed in disbelief.

The Warriors Three, Thor, and particularly Loki, couldn't anymore believe the sensation of seeing the one person they had heard of but not really imagined to come across. It seemed to Loki that he had been right about his previous theory after all, and yet, the shock remained. "Wha-," he couldn't help but stammer, "You're…!"

"Right!" she interrupted him, a faint smile crossing her lips, "The Purple Phantom has arrived!"

She then proceeded forward. But as she did so, Loki, in spite of the slight admiration he now felt having seen this woman for the first time, remembered that as a prince, and thus an enforcer of his father's law, he could not allow a person who was not formally one of Odin's warriors to fight. Even if her intentions and previous actions were noble, circumstance could not let her repeat them.

"Wait!" he called out. Abruptly, she stopped, her eyes behind her mask widening with what appeared to be surprise.

Loki continued. "I'm afraid that as prince of Asgard, I must order you to drop your weapons and stand down."

Though it appeared at first that she might comply, the masked woman then raised her shield and sword before walking again toward him, the smile having left her face. "With all due respect, your Highness," she said in a respectful tone, "I brought my weapons for a reason."

Before he could reply, she pointed her sword, not at him, but at one of the Frost Giants. His mouth hanging open, Loki couldn't help but watch as she approached him with little to no hesitation. "And I will not leave until I get the answers I so desire," she declared.

In a moment that seemed to thrive on tension, no one spoke, as one by one all of the Jotuns surrounding the seven warriors gained ice gauntlets. As they began to advance on them, however, none of the seven hesitated to walk back a step or two, most of them trying to hold off any amount of conflict for as long as possible. For seconds that seemed like hints of eternity, everyone remained as collected as possible as the intensity around them slowly built, when it finally came to a climax.

"If it's answers you all want," a Frost Giant suddenly said, "then you'll have to beat them out of us!"

Like lightning in a clear sky, that same Frost Giant swiftly hurled his ice gauntlet in the purple vigilante's direction. Loki looked to see her guard herself with her shield and sword in a split second reaction, and gasped as she was nonetheless hurled across the floor of ice and snow by the impact. For him, as well as the rest, that did it.

"Now?" Thor asked his brother.

Loki, in spite of his attempts to avoid the inevitable fight, nodded and replied, "Now."

Now that he had permission, Thor readied his hammer while Hogun readied his mace, Sif her spear, Volstagg his axe, and Fandral his sword. All five then began to defend themselves against the Jotuns that were already rushing toward them, slashing, countering, and fighting to the best of their ability. While they did so, as if in retaliation at what he'd just witnessed, Loki threw a knife at the Giant who attacked the Purple Phantom. Once he was shot down, Loki immediately hurried toward her and quickly assisted her back on her feet in a rather chivalrous manner.

"Madam," he said, holding her by the arms and looking straight at her, "listen to me! You must leave now!"

For a moment, the two only looked at each other, neither really knowing what to say. It wasn't long, though, before the Purple Phantom released herself from the warrior prince's hold, and picked up her sword off the ground. Looking at him again, she gave him a bit of a smirk.

"I appreciate your concern, Highness," she said, "But I came here to fight."

Though he opened his mouth to reply, the masked woman hurried out of his way, and toward the battlefield ahead of them. Loki then heard what sounded like a battlecry in the caverns above, and saw a Frost Giant leap forward, his fist ready to crack the ground and send a wave of ice toward his opponent. Seeing that it might be the Purple Phantom, Loki was about to warn her, when he saw her swiftly shove him out of the way with her sword and shield, sending him crashing to the floor.

Loki unconsciously raised his eyebrows. Perhaps this young woman was a capable fighter after all. But not one to be easily distracted, the moment he heard danger coming his way, Loki hurled another knife in its direction, and struck down another Frost Giant.

While Loki, Thor, and the other four warriors fought off every Jotun who dared to cross them, Aska was giving it her all. After giving a high kick to another Giant, she broke his ice gauntlet into a dozen shards with her sword before jumping and bringing down both weapons on her opponent. The next second, she heard footsteps behind her which caused the ground to shake. Knowing immediately that this was no friend, she spun around and shattered his gauntlet, before turning again and knocking him down with her shield.

Just then, she heard the sound of a fist slamming itself into the ground. Aska quickly turned her head, and once she realized the wave was coming for her, she instantly jumped out of the way, performing a diving roll, and landing behind an ice curtain. A triumphant and proud smile grew on the Giant's face as he strode over to the structure, ready to trap and capture his prey like the predator he was. "Not so tough are you, princess?" He soon received his answer, when Aska took both his wrists, and put them behind his back. She then pulled on one of them as hard as she could before bringing her sword forward.

Suddenly, she felt the ground shake again. She hastily turned around to see that a Frost Giant had fallen just a few feet from her, with an ice knife imbedded in his chest. Knowing instantly who it was who knocked the Jotun down, Aska looked and couldn't help but smile her thanks at Loki.

But then, the sound of running feet reached her ears, and she quickly turned her head to see another Giant, headed straight for Loki. Aska looked back at him to see what he would do, and watched in disbelief as the prince only stared at the monster rushing toward him, looking behind him when he realized he was standing on the edge of the cliffside.

"Your Highness!" Aska screamed, "Get out of the way!"

To her utter shock, he did not heed her warning, but remained where he was. Aska gasped the moment she saw the Jotun leap toward him. But just as he was grabbing him, it appeared that he might as well have grabbed thin air, as he passed right through Loki, and descended down into the abyss behind him. Aska then watched with startled eyes as another figure who looked just like his Highness appeared from behind another ice curtain. With a wave of his hand, his twin quickly disappeared. And in that moment, the instant realization donned on her, Aska immediately breathed a sigh of relief, and felt a little bit silly, having forgotten that Loki had the ability to create illusions.

She, of course, couldn't stay relieved for long though, as she instantly caught sight of another enemy coming toward her with ice gauntlets covering both his hands. Aska quickly raised her shield and sword in front of her, and this time, she held her ground as the ice met her shield. The impact created sparks, but she was not easily surprised. Using her sword she broke one of the ice gauntlets. Her opponent tried to knock her off her feet, but she jumped to escape the blow. Before he could try to knock her down again, she hit him with her shield and broke his other gauntlet with her sword.

Suddenly, another sound came to her, one that nearly made her heart stop. It was the sound of a painful cry from ice being imbedded not in a Frost Giant, but in one of her comrades. Aska quickly turned, and her mouth fell open when she saw that Loki had been hit with a wave of sharp ice, and received a large wound in his right shoulder. Though the sight greatly terrified her, she reminded herself that it might be another one of Loki's tricks. She waited for the real Loki to emerge and do away with the illusion. But after not seeing him for the next few seconds, and watching him begin to writhe in the pain of his new wound, Aska's shock returned in an even greater amount when she realized that this was the real Loki, and he truly was hurt.

As Loki lay on the ground, he let out another shout as a fresh shot of pain traveled through his shoulder. Despite the cold climate, and the fact that he was lying on a floor of ice and snow, he felt like his body was on fire, and he was wishing to simply melt away, for anything to relieve him of this agony. He pressed his hand to his wound, and though he hesitated at first, he slowly pulled it away, and his eyes widened when he saw his palm and his fingers covered with dark red blood. Trying to distract himself, he looked at the scene before him. All of his comrades, including the Purple Phantom, having immediately defeated their opponents, looked with frightened alarm the moment he saw him. Indeed, it was almost as if time itself seemed to freeze with shock.

But before any of them could try to help him, the ground began to shake the most it ever had. One sensation passed, then two, followed by a third, each one making its terrifying presence known, and everyone there knew that this kind of presence could come from only one possible source. Reluctantly, the Asgardian warriors turned their heads, and noticed that one of the ice structures, sculpted into the shape of a large, vicious, four-legged monster, seemed to be moving, trying as hard as it could to break out of its prison.

The rest of the warriors standing did not hesitate to back away, as right before their eyes, the barbaric, monstrous, red-eyed beast finally made its way through, letting loose a loud, deafening roar as it did so. Large, threateningly sharp claws were attatched to its feet, four spikes to the end of the long tail, and its mouth were the sharpest teeth any one of them had seen.

And yet, for all of its wild, untamable nature it seemed to pride itself in showing, the monster was actually being ridden. On the top of its head stood what appeared to be a Jotun, but unlike any of the others the warriors had seen before. This one had long, black hair, the body was shaped differently, and the face seemed to carry a rather non-masculine demeanor. Was this a female Frost Giant?

No one, especially Loki, could answer that question as fast as they wished, for the monster, along with its rider, stopped right in front of Loki. As he continued to feel new, painful shots from his shoulder, Loki managed to meet the female Giant's red eyes with his own. It didn't take long for him to realize that hers seemed to be mocking him.

"Well, look at you, son of the mighty Odin," she said in a loud voice that clearly defined her pride, "Oh how the mighty have fallen!"

Just then, Loki watched as she pulled from the side of her belt the long, silver blade of a sharp sword. Once she pointed it at him, his confidence slowly seemed to fade away like fog on a summer's day. Too weak to try and defend himself, he kept his hand on his wound, laid down, and slowly closed his eyes, knowing very well that every following second that he remained alive could be his last.

And yet, the painful, tearing sensation of weapon meeting flesh never came to him. Instead, Loki heard footsteps, soft ones, fast approaching. Forcing himself to try and see who it was, Loki raised himself up slightly, and opened his eyes, which instantly widened as he saw none other than the Purple Phantom coming to his defense. In no time at all, she quickly stood between him and the monster and its rider, shield and sword raised. Though he couldn't see her face, he imagined it to be one of great anger the moment he heard her speak.

"Dare touch him, and I'll kill you!"

Though hearing the clear demand in his new ally's voice, as Loki expected, the monster and the rider did not back down. Instead, the Jotun raised her sword, pointing it at her new opponent, her furious red eyes now locked on her. "Then you shall die first!" she declared.

Though he otherwise would have preferred not to watch, Loki's eyes, apparently having a mind of their own, watched anxiously for the coming battle, almost desperate to know if the Purple Phantom would succeed as well as she'd been reputed to.

Right before his eyes, the masked woman instantly ran toward the great beast. After darting under its mouth, she then jumped, her weapons raised high in the air before finally shoving her sword down on the monster's foot. The beast gave a great, painful roar, but Loki's eyes remained focused on the Purple Phantom as she used her chance to then climb up the side of the monster's neck. Before another second could pass, the Frost Giant and the masked vigilante faced each other. The Jotun tried bringing her sword down on the Purple Phantom, but she quickly raised her own sword and shield in front of her, blocking the Jotun's blow. Both pressed on each other with great, equal force, each one determined to get the upper hand. Suddenly, right when it seemed the female Giant would finally stab her, the Phantom ducked to the left, and brought her left fist along with her shield to her opponent's face.

Loki watched as the Jotun was immediately knocked off the monster, and fell to the ground where she lay unconscious. But the battle wasn't completely over. Loki then looked to see the Phantom stand firmly on top of the beast's head. Before it could try to throw her off, Loki's eyes widened as the woman rammed her sword into its head. The monster let out one final roar, before it finally groaned, lost its footing, and immediately met the ground in a great crash.

The ground shook for a final time, causing new waves of pain to travel through Loki's body. He groaned again as he pressed his hand more firmly against his wound, and laid back down on the ground where he struggled to catch his breath. Though he heard footsteps rush toward him, Loki didn't know if he could open his eyes again. He kept them shut as he then turned his head to the side, wondering if he would ever escape this great tribulation.

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