Not Your Average Cinderella

Kiss From a Rose

While riding at night had similarities with riding during the day, it certainly had its differences as well, as well as its dangers. It was too risky for Aska to travel the roads, lest anyone should see her, so she settled for the fields, even if she was not as familiar with them. Since the lack of light from the sky made it even more difficult, she decided it would be better to keep going straight, then when she made the decision to return home, she could simply turn around. She only hoped she wouldn't be out here for too long, and, while she was prepared, she also hoped not to come across any enemies.

Yet she rode Dagny at a smooth and steady canter, keeping her head up and her eyes in front, occasionally looking around for any sign of trouble. Aska was also ready to slow her horse the moment she heard something out of the ordinary. Yet, for most of her ride, all she heard was the sound of Dagny's hooves against the earth, the soft wind blowing through the trees, and the nightly music the crickets made. For the most part, the best she could do was keep her anxiety level to a minimum.

At one point though, her vision caught what appeared to be a bright light in the distance. Instantly, she tugged on the reins, and slowed Dagny down to a simple walk. Just then, when she saw orange sparks flying up to the sky, and heard what sounded like singing, Aska immediately took it to be a bonfire, with several people camped around it. For a moment, she wondered if she should seriously consider turning back. If these people caught her, they'd likely report her in an instant to Prince Loki for the reward. And yet, she couldn't help but consider other options. She looked ahead, and, at least from here, couldn't see any people walking back and forth from the house in front to the fire in the field behind. Even if the odds were clearly stacked against her, perhaps, perhaps she could try to walk past them.

After taking a handful of Dagny's mane, and taking a deep breath to calm herself, Aska tugged on the reins one more time, making the mare walk in the slowest, quietest way possible. Leaning forward in the saddle, she strained her neck and widened her eyes to make sure not even the smallest movement would escape her vision. She also bit her lip for good measure. Step by step, inch by inch, horse and rider made their way together forward. Aska closed her ears off to all sounds, save the thumping of her heart, not willing to lose any or all concentration.

Before long, she held her breath as she and Dagny were finally touched by the fire's revealing light. Her eyes remained locked on the small group of people gathered around it – about four or five of them she guessed. Aska could barely make out their faces from here, but she preferred to keep it that way. And though she also would have preferred not to hear it at all, her ears picked up the sounds of their voices singing to the tunes of old Norse folksongs. For a moment, she dared to smile slightly, as she recognized those songs, often humming or singing along to them herself while she did her daily chores. But her smile quickly vanished once she heard them cease to sing entirely, and when she heard one of them speaking in a normal voice.

"Now this is how I like to spend my nights," a man said, while he walked around the fire, making Aska bite her lip until she was sure she would cut it, "Why can't you appreciate something so simple?"

"We do appreciate them Father," a young, feminine voice assured him, "But why aren't we allowed to dream big?"

"If by big you mean the king's ball, I'd say your heads are in the clouds!" the man exclaimed. Despite the dire riskiness she was steeped it, it was all Aska could do to hold back a chuckle that was practically dying to escape.

"Oh you just wait Father!" another voice, perhaps that of the first girl's sister, exclaimed back, "Once the princes see us they'll come running!"

Laughter erupted from all of the people, silencing even more the sound of Dagny's hooves against the ground. Though, by now, and to her great relief, Aska realized that she and Dagny were getting close to getting past the group. She turned her head, preparing to breathe a long-awaited sigh, when, to her eye-widening, heart-stopping surprise, she heard one of her horse's hooves hit the base of a tree trunk. She froze before another second could pass. And almost just as immediately, to her ever-increasing dismay, she heard the first voice, that of the Father, ask, "What was that?"

Not daring to turn her head around to see if she'd been caught, Aska tightened her grip on the reins, dug her heels into Dagny's sides, and clicked her tongue in her ear, urging her quickly forward in a gallop as fast as an aggressive wind. She kept her eyes shut as she leaned forward in the saddle, immersing herself once again in the folds of the dark night she found that she missed rather greatly, and trying her best to ignore the inarticulate shouting she heard behind her. Only until she could no longer hear his voice did she open her eyes again, finding herself once again among fields similar to the ones she'd previously traveled through welcoming her with every stride. Yet, strangely, it did not comfort her as much as she'd hoped. Though she wasn't sure if any of the group had seen her face, they'd likely alert some of their neighbors to keep watch for a peculiar intruder dressed in purple and riding a pale horse, an intruder some would more than likely recognize upon hearing that description.

On and on she rode, her horse's mane waving against her hot, perspiring face, the high wind causing tears to form in her eyes. After a while though, Aska quickly looked behind her to make sure no one was pursuing her. Seeing no one coming her way from any direction, she finally slowed her horse to a canter, then a trot, and soon down to a walk. Strangely, she found she couldn't sit straight in the saddle. It seemed sleep was now trying to urge her to let it take her in its enticing embrace. Indeed, she began to imagine herself slipping off in exhaustion, and falling asleep right there in a bed of grass. But how could she, with possible danger waiting behind almost every hidden spot in sight? Truly, it was enough to make her want to cry, but her eyes remained dry, as if her own body wanted her to stay strong.

After what now felt like an eternity, Aska released a long overdue sigh, though one of fatigue rather than relief. "Oh," she breathed, "where do we go Dagny?"

So lost was she in her tired daze, that she was nearly oblivious to both the sight and sound of another lone horse and rider, one looking for relief much as she was, heading toward her much like he himself was a phantom of the night. Indeed, little did she know that soon she would receive perhaps the shock of the night – if not her life – once she encountered him, and discovered just who he was.

Loki had been riding for what felt like hours now, though, truthfully, he'd stopped keeping track of the time long ago. In fact, for the most part, he would have been content to let the darkness spirit him away to a place where he could be cleansed of his anxiety. He would have been surprised if he made it to see the following morning. Who knew? Perhaps the light of the breaking dawn would banish the dark feelings which filled him to the brim. One could only guess. For now, only the shadiness of obscurity surrounded him as he made his way through the lands of his realm, alone.

To keep his eyes busy as well as his mind, Loki had scanned the areas all around him as he cantered by, hoping not to spot any threats. He also hoped, though, that no one would spot him. One did not see the prince outside the palace without an escort of guards every day, and especially not every night. Yet another hindrance to the freedom he so craved. For a while, he even imagined simply going to the teleportation dome and traveling to another realm, where he could begin a new life, be seen as a simple man just like his father's subjects. But, where could he go? Though he'd obviously learned about them growing up, he wasn't familiar with any of the other eight realms, especially not Jotunheim. And how could he leave the ones he loved behind? No. As much as he wished, he couldn't abandon his duties and disappoint so sorely those he last wanted to disappoint.

Thus, he'd kept riding, wandering, journeying, not caring where he was going in this vast, nearly endless expanse of green ahead of him. For a while, he had decided to give himself and his horse a bit of a rest, pulling him to a halt at the slope of a small hill. While he permitted his horse to graze for a few minutes, Loki continued on his near aimless traveling, though he never strayed far from his steed. He allowed himself to stare at the sky, which, until now, had never seemed so huge, like he could be swallowed by it at any moment. And the countless stars that stretched across it, it was as though he could lift his hand and gather their most pure light in his hold. Indeed, he lifted his hand toward them, but he touched only empty air.

The whole night, he'd been seeking something to relieve him of his stress. And yet, the silhouette of the woman in purple and gold stayed in Loki's mind, almost determined to remain. Would she forever be just beyond his reach? Would he never know who she truly was? As he climbed back onto his horse and urged him once again forward, he began to despair of ever finding some sort of consolation. He began to wonder if he would simply melt away and become a shadow before the night was over. Even so, he continued riding, finding some sort of comfort in his stallion's smooth, cantering gait, occasionally looking down at the ground that became a green, almost hypnotizing blur beneath him. He even began to wonder if he should turn back home, as he was getting somewhat tired at last, when, all of a sudden, he almost instantly became aware that he was no longer alone.

But before he could wonder if this presence was dangerous, or even get a good look at it, what happened next nearly knocked the wind out of him. Before he was completely aware of it, Loki's horse reared and gave a frightened neigh. Immediately, Loki gripped the reins tightly and leaned forward slightly, shouting "Woah!" both in alarm and in an attempt to calm his steed. But what he saw in front of him very nearly made him fall out of his saddle in complete surprise – if not shock. Even in the dim light of the stars above them, he saw a pale horse, the rider of which was a woman, wearing a purple and gold costume, and a mask hiding her face. Here, right before his now widened eyes, was the last person he expected to see tonight – the Purple Phantom.

And apparently she was just as surprised – if not more so than he – to see him. Her horse too reared and gave her own call of alarm. But as for the rider herself, not only did Loki hear a great gasp escape her lips, he also thought he could see her own widened, startled eyes in the starlight. Such was the force of near electric shock when their gazes met, that it took Loki more than a moment to realize that she had urged her own horse to gallop away from him, leaving him to watch in disbelief as she rode off.

Fortunately, Loki quickly regained his senses. Trying to ignore the way in which they very nearly now ran wild, he called out to the woman in a calm but stern voice, "No! Wait!" But she didn't stop. In fact, he believed she went on even faster. In great haste, he weighed his options in his mind. He did not want to alarm this woman further, but now that he had seen her, after two weeks of tireless searching, a determined fire awoke within him, one that did not consider letting her escape be an option. So great was its flare, that Loki subconsciously gathered the reins in his hands, and, before he knew completely what he was doing, urged his horse forward in the direction of the masked woman who had eluded him for so long. Even when he had regained full awareness of his actions, he knew for certain that nothing was now going to stop him from catching up with her, not even himself.

Everything had happened so fast for Aska, that she almost didn't know what just happened. All she knew for sure was that, even though it was dark, she had seen the unmistakable face of none other than Prince Loki. And before she could even allow any thoughts of it to enter her mind, her instinct to flee had immediately kicked in, sending her now riding away from his Highness. She'd heard his call from behind, but all she could concentrate on was galloping even faster than she previously did to escape the man who so confused her.

Slowly, in the midst of her rapid heartbeat and sweat that had begun to travel down her forehead, questions began to form in her head, ones that demanded answers. What was the prince doing out here, and at this hour? Had he been searching for her? Could this even be a possible trap? Desperately, she tried to think of plausible answers, but none came to her. All Aska could do for the time being was to ride Dagny through this valley of literal and metaphorical black, where there was plenty of space to run, but almost not place to hide.

Before long, she could hear not just Dagny's hooves, but also the hooves of another horse behind her. Daring to turn her head around, Aska widened her eyes again when she saw that Loki was on her trail, galloping in an attempt to come beside her. And as soon as his eyes once again met hers, he waved his arm in the air in an attempt to get her attention. "Wait! Please!" she heard him call. But instead of listening to him, Aska turned back around and continued to ride as though she was on the wind itself, even hoping that it would carry her away from this place to another, more secluded location, where she could be alone again.

Eventually though, while she did arrive at another place that she wasn't entirely familiar with, she still heard Loki following her from behind. And to her heart-sinking dismay, ahead of her was the edge of a cliff over what she heard to be rushing waters of a flowing river below. There was a chasm leading to an opposite side, but it looked too large for Dagny to jump over. Aska imagined herself simply jumping into the ravine and then the river alone, allowing the current to sweep her away from his Highness, and perhaps even this realm, forever. And yet, some strong, unnamed force pulled at her heart, urging her silently but sternly not to be so reckless and daring – if not outright foolish, but to instead simply stop her horse near the edge like a sane person would.

It was not an easy choice. But soon, with a heavy sigh, and wondering if she would retain her own sanity after this, Aska decided to listen to the more practical side of her conscience. Raising herself in the saddle, she reluctantly tugged on the reins, slowing her horse down until she finally stopped a few feet from the precarious edge. She then, even more reluctantly, turned Dagny around, and looked up to see his Highness slow his horse to a halt not too far from her. For a moment, the two simply stared at each other in a near transfixed-like state, neither of them moving even the slightest, until Loki broke the uneasy silence, saying in an assuring voice, "It's alright. You don't have to run off. I mean you no harm."

For some reason, that last sentence caused Aska to raise a skeptical eyebrow, and even a slight smirk to form on her face. "Do you?" she asked.

Loki nodded. "I do," he replied. Then, thinking that what he intended to say came out wrong, he quickly recovered himself. "I do, mean you no harm, I mean," he said, trying not to stumble. Indeed, at what seemed the most inappropriate of times, Aska somehow managed to release a small chuckle at it. But nearly all of her humor faded when she heard what his Highness said next.

"I only wish to talk."

It was more the way he said it, rather than the words themselves, that made Aska nearly freeze. Something about his voice almost immediately made him seem like the most honest person she'd met, the safest person to be around, despite her rather highly mixed feelings toward him. A small hope in her wondered if it was so, but could she really trust him as much as part of her wanted to? While she was no stranger to risks, even this one made Aska think more than twice before she finally made her decision.

She looked away from Loki, not entirely sure what to make of what had just happened between them. Then, very slowly, she lifted her leg and was soon standing beside her horse before she looked once again back at his Highness and watched him dismount also. Not wanting to feel the nervousness of being approached by him, Aska herself walked toward him, trying to hold her head high, and wondering if she could retain her confident flare around this man.

Before long, the two were walking side by side, guiding their horses by the reins. But though she could feel his gaze settle on her, Aska did not return it, preferring rather to keep her eyes focused on the ground, feeling like she'd been caught doing something somewhat naughty. Even so, she eventually found the courage to look up at his Highness. And once her pair of blue eyes settled on his own green ones, somehow, she also found the courage to speak as well.

"If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing out here?" she asked.

Loki gave her a smile devoid of any true happiness. "I couldn't sleep, I'm afraid," he replied.

Hearing him say so, Aska couldn't help but raise her eyebrows in surprise. "Neither could I," she said.

"And, I apologize," he then said, "I didn't mean to frighten you. I didn't think I'd come across you at all."

After realizing that she understood, to an extent, Aska nodded. "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have run off," she admitted, "I'm not usually such a coward."

Loki chuckled. For a moment, Aska frowned, until she found that the tone he took on was not a mocking one, but rather, one as nervous as her own should she have done the same. "Forgive me," he nonetheless said, "That was uncalled for."

A ghost of a smirk appeared on Aska's face, but it left as quickly as it arrived, for she knew what he was eventually going to say, and thought that she might as well stop running, and face it like the warrior she was. "I understand you've been looking for me?" she said.

Loki raised his eyebrows, as if he hadn't expected her to ask that. "Indeed, I have," he replied.

Though she already knew of his intentions, and felt anxious about once again hearing them from him, Aska still felt the need to ask. "Why?"

Loki didn't answer immediately. In fact, as Aska watched with both concern and interest, he looked away for a moment, looking as though he was gathering his senses together, preparing what he was going to say like he was about to make a speech. He then looked back at her, and said something different than Aska expected. "I never got to thank you, for saving my life."

He then frowned, looking like he was trying to make sense of something, before looking her straight in the eyes and asking, "Why did you help us that day?"

Now it was Aska's turn not to know what to say. She didn't even know if she had the answer to that question. She searched her mind for a reasonable answer, until she decided that this was probably a situation where it would be best to say the first thing that came to mind. "I was looking for answers, as I assume you were," she began, "I simply did what I had to do."

Loki nodded, and then silently urged her to continue. Aska was about to do so, when suddenly, it was as though a shot of frustration flashed through her mind without her being fully aware of it. "Do I look like the sort of person to let someone bleed out in the snow?" she then asked, giving voice to it.

Loki's eyebrows instantly shot up. "Oh no, of course not," he replied, shaking his head, "I simply…oh!" He then looked away and put his hand to his forehead, looking as though he'd made a fool of himself, and making Aska wonder if she herself had done so. But before long, he looked again at her, and said, "I just needed to know."

Aska nodded, until she realized Loki wasn't done, and let him continue. "I mean, it's not easy to do what you did," he said, "Not many have the skills you possess."

Suddenly, he stopped walking, inevitably making Aska stop as well. The two then gazed at each other, neither really knowing what to do about the mysterious but captivating person in front of them. All they could do was look into the windows of each other's beings, wondering what secrets lay beyond them, until eventually, Loki asked, "Who are you?"

Almost immediately, upon hearing that question she knew he would ask, Aska's senses returned to her, though her voice had to catch up before she could reply. "I can't say," she shook her head.

"Why?" Loki persisted.

Another flare of frustration arose within Aska, and this time, it was stronger. With an almost defiant tone to it, she quickly looked up at him with a now irritated face and asked, "Well what slayer of Frost Giants in their right mind would simply go about with their identity for all the realms to see?"

Just then, almost as if her feet had gained a mind of their own, she turned away from him, and began to walk away hastily. But before she could get far, Loki called out, "No! Wait!" Then before she could think to go faster, he took her hand in his, making her stop immediately, as if in alarm. Indeed, she was surprised not so much at Loki's touch, but at her reaction to it. His hand felt rather warm and secure, and he didn't try to force her back with his hold. For a brief moment, her eyebrows shot up, but then, slowly, she began to relax. Even more slowly, for perhaps the first time that night, Aska began to feel almost no desire to leave the prince. In fact, even if it was infinitesimally small, part of her wanted her to stay for a while longer.

Most of her frustration now having left her, Aska turned around to face Loki, and was somewhat surprised to discover that he did not seem the least frustrated himself at her attempt to try and leave again. Instead, what she saw on his face appeared to be, concern.

"I don't mean to upset you," he said, "But, I'd like to know."

Again, although Aska knew in the back of her mind what he was going to say, even further back, that same small part of her, which now seemed slightly larger, wanted to hear him say so with his own voice. "Why?" she asked, quickly preparing herself for what she knew would come.

Loki opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, he immediately raised his head up like a cat would when it picks up a peculiar sound, and widened his eyes as one would also. And apparently, he wasn't the only one to believe something was wrong, as both his horse and Dagny tossed their heads and whinnied nervously. "Shh!" he quickly said, quiet but also urgent, "I hear something."

Aska briefly wondered what he was talking about, or even if he was playing a trick on her, when suddenly, her ears too picked up the sound of something moving in the patches of trees around them, as though stalking them like a predator. "Me too," she admitted. Just then, the horses, evidently too frightened to stay, both neighed and cantered off away from their riders to find safety in the fields beyond.

Before Aska could ask if they should go after them, she then noticed Loki take out an ice knife, and before she could wonder why he had brought one, the sound of rustling leaves, which had now grown louder, urged her to quickly take up her medallion and hilt of her sword. Perhaps, at least for the moment, it was better that the horses had run off from here. They could look for them later.

Once she pressed the buttons, and her shield and blade of her sword appeared, she instantly held both up, and planted her feet in the ground, feeling her usual confidence as the Purple Phantom rise more and more with each passing second. She then looked around the area with a careful eye, daring the dangers in the dark to catch her off guard, when she saw, to her ever-increasing disbelief, one Frost Giant after another come out of hiding toward her and Loki.

With her confidence now eclipsed by confusion, Aska kept her warrior's stance, but remained perplexed as the red-eyed, blue giants came stalking like ravenous wolves toward them. Though she hoped it didn't show on her face, and she had seen scenes like this before, she still wondered wildly as to how these creatures kept sneaking past Heimdall to get into Asgard, let alone make their way through without being detected by anyone. What she did know for sure, though, was that a battle was approaching. Very well. She'd fought them several times before, and she could do so again. But tonight, it was soon revealed that the Frost Giants may have had a trick up their bare sleeves, one that Aska very nearly did not see coming at all.

"Well, well," a dark, feminine voice rose up seemingly out of nowhere, "Look at what we have here. Two little birds who've apparently strayed too far from their nests."

Aska looked one way, then the other, trying to find the source of that familiar voice, but finding none. "Where are you?" she heard Loki demand, "Show yourself!"

As the Frost Giants continued to make their way closer, the voice spoke again, sounding even more sinister now that neither Aska nor Loki knew where it came from. "I believe you and I have unfinished business, Lady Phantom," she said, the words practically dripping like water droplets from a faulty pipe, "Would you not like for us to settle it nicely and satisfactorily without such needless complications?"

Now that she had an idea of who that voice belonged to, Aska gripped tightly on her weapons, ready to attack at a moment's notice. "I would if you would come out and stop hiding like a coward!" she replied.

Right then, as though she just discovered she had the power to do so, the Frost Giants stopped approaching Aska and Loki. For a moment, Aska allowed herself to wonder if, even hope, that her demand had worked, when her hopes were quickly dashed once she heard the woman speak again. "Oh, why must we always do this the hard way?" she asked, as though she was not expecting an answer.

And before long, Aska discovered this to be true, for suddenly, two Frost Giants lunged forward toward Loki. She was about to cry out, to warn him, but was then reminded just how capable of a fighter his Highness could be. Before they could get their hands on him, Loki threw one, then two knives their way, striking them down almost instantly. Now that the rest of the Jotuns had even more fuel than was already emanating from them, all that was needed to set off the inevitable fight was a shout from the unseen woman, who seemed quite eager to fill the area with her wrath. "Attack!"

Before she even finished giving her battle-cry, the Frost Giants hurled themselves toward Loki and Aska. But both were well-prepared and ready. While Loki threw one knife, then another, Aska wasted no time using both her sword and shield. Ramming her sword into one Jotun, she hurled her opponent across the field, and then struck the next one who tried to attack her. She saw another one coming toward her, his mouth wide open as if ready to eat her alive, so she jumped over the fallen Jotun, spun around, and hit him with her shield, sending him to the ground. A fourth then leaped toward her, ready take her up in his bare hands, when she struck him down, and then slammed another she heard coming behind her with her shield. Spotting a sixth out of the corner of her eye, she immediately dove downward, kicking him off his feet.

But as she was standing back up again, Aska was instantly dragged to the ground and then pinned down before she could even think about trying to get up again. Her eyes then widened as they met those of the Jotun above her, which seemed to be burning with mad fury. He roared like a beast, making Aska wonder if he was going to devour her whole, when suddenly, he was hit in the shoulder with what she saw to be a knife. Recognizing it by its bright blue hue, she looked to see that it was Loki who had just helped her. Quickly, she turned on her side, but before she could help herself up, a pair of black gloved hands grabbed her by the wrist, and immediately pulled her up on her feet. Aska looked up to see Loki's face, just as alarmed as her own, when she caught the concern that flashed across his.

"You need to get out of here, now!" he insisted.

Though she appreciated his help greatly, Aska was not about to follow this particular order. "I won't leave you!" she insisted back, shaking her head. Before Loki could reply though, they heard instantly the sound of another Frost Giant headed their way, and both quickly ducked down, allowing him to fall down the slope in front of them. And that was when both realized that without Thor and the Warriors Three, this would be far from an easy fight. If they were going to survive it, they needed each other.

Loki threw a knife at yet another Jotun, while Aska ran back toward her sword and shield, ready to take them up again. But just as she was about to touch them, an invisible force which felt like a firm hand took her by one arm, followed by the other. Both were then twisted behind her back, and before she knew it, Aska was being forcibly rushed forward, past Loki, past the slope, and toward the cliffside she'd recently come across.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, though she felt as though she might as well be shouting to the wind, "Unhand me at once!"

Indeed, she might as well have shouted in vain, for the person behind her which she now believed to be the unseen woman kept shoving her relentlessly towards the foreboding chasm. Only when they were near the edge, and Aska's heart raced so fast it nearly burst out of her chest, did she hear again the familiar, ominous, aggressive, feminine voice in her ear. "As you wish."

With a dramatic flare, she then hurled her captor forward toward the edge of the cliff. Aska shut her eyes and opened her mouth to scream, but before she could feel the sensation of falling into the ravine, her gloved fingers touched what felt like dry earth. Instinctively, she dug them in, as though for dear life. The next thing she knew, she felt as though she were hanging from something merely by the strength of her hands. Though her eyes were desperate to remain closed, the need to know where she was, and what had just happened, won her over, and she slowly opened them.

At once, they immediately widened at the sight before her. She found that she, by the sheerest luck it had seemed, was holding firmly onto the edge of the cliff she had very nearly been thrown over, the river, rushing faster than she'd previously thought, lying several feet below her. The dizzying and alarming scene caused slight nausea to form within her, but it was quickly replaced with relief at having once again cheated death, followed by renewed anger at the one who had tried to see her to it.

Transferring the strength of that anger to her hands, Aska grit her teeth, and pulled herself up as hard as she could, until she had pulled her entire person onto the blessed solid ground. Once she had, she still could not see the one who had attempted to kill her, but she had a rather good idea of where she might be. After rising to her feet, Aska took in a deep breath, and then, after short but considerable mental preparation, charged forward. She then stretched her arms out, and with her greatest effort leaped forward, instantly tackling, as she had intended, the unseen woman to the ground.

Unfortunately, she seemed to have too much confidence in herself. While Aska did grab onto the woman, she tumbled several feet away from her, landing on her right side, and realizing immediately that more than one thing was wrong. She felt as though she was holding something. Yet, when she looked at her hands, she saw nothing. It felt like she was touching what felt to be fine cloth – of a cloak maybe? – but the material itself was nowhere to be seen. Slowly, and dramatically, Aska began to believe in the possibility that she was holding a fabled invisibility cloak. But if she had it in her hands, then that meant…

Aska quickly turned on her other side to finally look at the once invisible woman, and alarm instantly shot through her once she beheld someone she recognized instantly, never mind that she had seen her only once. It was the female Frost Giant she had fought in Jotunheim, the one who almost killed Loki, and the one who just now almost killed her. Long hair even blacker than the night sky fell across her face, but Aska could still see her ruby red eyes, locked on her with an angry vengeance. Slowly, she raised herself up, causing Aska to do the same, until both began staring each other down, daring the other to make the next move.

Even so, an unanswered question nagged at Aska, until she had no choice but to finally ask it, even if she might not receive the answer she wanted, or even one at all. "Who are you?"

The blue woman clad in a brown, ragged, torn dress, did not reply quickly. Instead, she kept her gaze focused on her enemy, when Aska noticed a slight smirk cross her face. "I could ask you the same question," she said.

Aska opened her mouth to speak, when her voice was suddenly blocked by the now unfamiliar sound of near silence. She didn't dare turn her gaze away from the Jotun woman, but her ears were now slowly becoming filled with the noises of moaning and groaning. Surely not from Loki, so, from the Frost Giants then? Deciding that she could probably use this to her advantage, a small smirk made its way across Aska's own face.

"You could, but I believe you're the one with a disadvantage now," she said, gesturing toward what she was sure was the sight of the woman's now ruined army. Indeed, she had to try with considerable effort to hold back a chuckle that threatened to escape, once she saw the Jotun's clearly dismayed face at the scene before her.

But when the woman looked back at her with what she instantly recognized as barely restrained fury, Aska's sense of humor immediately fled from her. She watched as the woman bent down to pick up her cloak, which she now realized that she had dropped, and once again wrapped it around her, concealing most of her upper body from plain view, her unblinking eyes never straying away from her own.

"Very well," she said through a few gritted teeth, "You may win tonight, but our business is far from over!"

Though her look was clearly one that was furious, Aska nonetheless managed to narrow her eyes at her, almost inviting her to attack her here and now. "Just get out of my sight, and out of my realm," she then said.

The woman in front of her continued to remain still for a short while, slowly beginning looking as though the heat of her fury might be cooling, until she finally said in a softer, but still menacing voice, "You will soon pay for crossing my path."

So ominous was the effect on Aska, that she couldn't help but raise her eyebrows with slight alarm. Still, she watched as the woman turned in the direction of her once great army of fellow Frost Giants, and called out in a way similar to that of a wolf's signaling howl, "Retreat!"

With an air as fine as that of an aristocrat, which Aska was somewhat surprised at, the Jotun woman briskly walked away, almost leaving a trail of her dark presence in her wake. Aska turned around and continued to watch as she eventually joined the rest of her makeshift group of warriors, who by now had mostly gotten to their feet, and began to follow their leader away from the ones who somehow managed to defeat them single-handedly, their heads looking towards the ground like dogs on their way to receive punishment from their masters. With an unblinking gaze, Aska kept watching as they made their way further and further away, until they seemed to become like large blue spots on the horizon, her eyes remaining narrow on the ones who tried to harm her and Loki.

Loki! Where was he? Immediately feeling great concern, Aska looked desperately around, until she saw a lone black shadow standing at the top of a small sloping hill. In instant haste, she rushed toward him, and he toward her, her sword and shield in his hands, until they finally stood before one another.

"Are you alright?" Aska asked, nearly breathless.

"Fine," Loki assured her insistently, "I'm perfectly fine." Then with the same concern, he asked, "You?"

"Just the same," Aska nodded, a faint smile trying to cross her lips. Even so, Loki continued to frown. He quickly handed her back her sword and shield, which she just as hastily made disappear by pressing their buttons before putting them away, when she suddenly heard him say in a rather urgent tone, "We need to get back to the palace."

Instantly, the first word stood out to her, causing Aska to widen her eyes at him and ask, "We?"

"Yes," Loki nodded, "It's far too dangerous for both of us out here."

"Wait!" Aska exclaimed. Though she knew the major reason for why he wanted to take her there, she quickly offered an excuse. "Your father would not permit it."

"I can change his mind," Loki insisted. Then, before Aska could speak again, he took her by the hand, which now felt only rough and forcible to the touch, and tried to pull her forward. But Aska was not going to be so easily dragged to the last place she wanted to be. Though she knew she might get into even more trouble than she was already in, she yanked her hand free from Loki's, causing his alarmed face to meet her own frustrated one.

"No," she said, agitated but trying to keep her tone firm and polite, "With all due respect your Highness, I can't come with you."

"But why?" Loki all-but begged her. Indeed, for a split second, it seemed almost endearing. "Don't tell me you have a safer haven?"

Hearing that, Aska raised her eyebrows at the idea that instantly came into her head. "As a matter of fact, I do," she affirmed him. Then, strangely, feeling the need to once again know that sensation of feeling his Highness's once warm, soft hand against her own, Aska gently took it in hers. Slowly, as she began to feel it again, along with a nervous herd of butterflies now gathering in her stomach, she looked up at the prince, who returned her gaze with his own greatly concerned one.

"I promise you, no harm will come to me," she said as though they were dear friends, although, it wasn't that hard to imagine.

Loki only looked at her with a near blank expression for a while, as if he did not know what to say, until it seemed as though he found his voice again. "Then, I will hold you to your promise, and, in return, I will promise the same," he said.

Aska nodded, knowing she could agree with that. She was also about to turn away, to go and find her horse, when Loki pulled her hand slightly. Immediately, she looked back, wondering what he could possibly want now, when she heard him say a few words that just about made her stand completely still before him.

"But if you have to leave," he said, "then, you must say goodbye."

She had heard a similar saying only hours earlier. And yet, hearing it being spoken to her, and in such an amiable manner, made Aska's heart begin to flutter in a way much like that of a butterfly's wings. Indeed, an unnamed desire seemed to plant itself within her, growing slowly but surely, until, until her eyes became locked on his. Once she was now focused firmly on the face set before her, something, a silent voice it seemed, told her that she had indeed seen this face, especially those soft, kind eyes before. Not just this afternoon, or even that fateful day two weeks before. No. She had known him for so much longer than that. But, really, had she? It was like a small candle in the back of her mind had been lit, shedding light on her unknown past, though clearly not enough to satisfy her. She was sure she'd known him in an intimate, personal way, and yet, she still couldn't recall when.

But, eventually, none of that, indeed, none of what had just happened seemed to matter in the next few minutes, which quickly began to feel like hours. All Aska knew – at least, she thought she knew – was that their heads were leaning toward each other, closer and closer, until, before either of them knew it, their lips were touching, and they were kissing.

For most of her known life, Aska had heard of sparks flying once one kissed the one meant for them. And truly, while she did feel the almost instant fire of passion in planting her lips on Loki's, even more so, it felt as if she was being showered in the dust of the countless stars watching over them. Keeping her eyes closed as she continued pressing her lips against his, all of Aska's previous anxiety seemed to fade away, being replaced by near euphoria at the sensation of being kissed for the first time in her memory. The candle in the back of her mind continued to burn, until she was completely sure that she knew this prince in her unknown days. Such feelings could not be mere coincidence. There had to be more to the story. There had to be more to all of these intense emotions she had never known before.

The moment Loki realized that he was actually kissing the one whom he so desperately wanted to find, even though her mask was still on, he didn't know if he could ever escape from the intense passion that now came over him. Slowly, he began to wrap his arms around her back, and he could only smile in his mind as he felt her arms wrap around his neck. If his love for this woman – if he even dared to call it that – had been blossoming before, as his mother once said, then now it had bloomed into a vibrant, radiant rose. The longer he kissed her, the more he wanted to stay lost in it. After wandering aimlessly searching for the relief that had eluded him much like she had, now that she was here, returning the same affection he longed to bestow on her, it was almost too wonderful to comprehend.

Before long though, his ears picked up the sound of not one, but two sets of hooves cantering toward them. Loki ignored the sound, but, to his dismay, it appeared that the masked woman didn't do the same. As quickly as they had begun, their kissing had ceased, and for a moment, both could only stare at each other in near disbelief over what had just happened.

Even so, it wasn't long before the Purple Phantom seemed to regain her senses. When she saw that her own pale horse had found her way back to her rider, she looked back at him, and gave him the warmest, most pleasant smile he'd ever seen her give.

"I bid you good night, your Highness," she said.

So contagious was her smile, that Loki couldn't help but return it. He then watched as the elusive woman in purple then strode over to her horse and then mounted her, until, suddenly, an urgent and important thought emerged in his memory, one that practically begged him to ask her one more question. "Will you be coming to the masked ball?" he asked.

The woman, whose smile had now slightly faded, but still was nonetheless there, continued to look at him for only a short while, until she replied, "Perhaps." A satisfactory enough answer, and the only one Loki would get. For before he could say anything else, the Purple Phantom – the ghost whom he somehow managed to kiss – then urged her horse into a canter, leaving him to watch as she rode away into the darkness of the night, the stars of which only seemed to shine even more brilliantly than before, now that Loki had once again seen this most valiant of women, whom he hoped desperately to see again soon.

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