Where Angels Fear To Tread
by Karen

The warning sound of pressure bearing down on the deceptively smooth surface and stable footing of a frozen lake, forced Danielle Moonstar and her winged mount, Brightwind, to carefully gauge the placement of each footstep and shod hoof.

The Asgardian sun, three times as strong as Earth's yellow one, shone down on her back and made her feel gritty and exhausted. She kept a tight grip on the dangling reins, and considered whether it worth the effort to stop for a second. She tied back her raven black hair into a ponytail to get it out of her eyes. At high noon, her shadow, like a ghost of herself trailing forlornly behind her, stretched out across half the lake she had already crossed. It was hardly worth the time to retrace her path and start over again. The spring thaw had not reached this area yet. She could either keep go back, or keep going and hope that a misstep didn't land her and her horse into the freezing water.

"A bout with hypothermia isn't something I'd be likely to forget, and once I do return to the camp. I know that Brunhilde and the others wouldn't let me live it down," Dani remarked to Brightwind, who just snorted and tossed his head.

Her mind wandered and her thoughts drifted back to the first time she'd come up on horse....



After a stranger, who called himself Loki, the trickster God from Norse mythology, snatched them away from their trip in the Greek Isles, Dani was alone and separated from the rest of the New Mutants. No matter in which direction she looked all she could see were empty grasslands, much like her native Montana. A couple of scattered, scraggly-looking trees and no wind blowing to relieve the heat. No movement. Not even so much as a sign of any inhabitants. Because there was no point in just standing around in one place, Dani began walking in an easterly direction. In the back of her mind, she tried to dredge up from her memory, what to do up should she ever be lost in an unfamiliar place.

And she had been to some pretty `strange' places.

"I don't know where I am, which, I suppose is the whole point of leaving me here. So what did Grandfather say was the first thing to do. Come on! Think. Oh yeah. It was something about walking in an expanding circle towards the rising sun and looking for sunlight on the leaves. You never know when traditional Cheyenne tracking-lore will come in handy."

Dani pivoted on her heels, and titled her head up towards the golden orb in the sky

Unfamiliar with the place as she might be, the sun and washed-out blue sky looked very much like the Mediterranean sun of Greece. It had just reached the midway point.

Judging the time of day by the sun's position in the sky, heading east, Dani tried to keep a steady pace, placing one foot in front of the other. Her shadow stretching out behind her as the sun reached beating down on her unprotected head. Her black hair glistened, turning it almost blue-black. Just then she came upon the gully at the base of a small hill. Dani lifted a hand and wiped the sweat from her forehead. She trudged up the hillside and slid down the slope on the loose soil more then walked the rest of the way. She bumped up against something big, white, and very agitated. Whatever it was, it was enough to bring her alert, and out of the walking dream she'd been in. That's when she noticed that the creature was struggling to free itself from a cruel trap, and it was panicking. She had been raised a Cheyenne, and considered herself a good judge of horses, and this one took her breath away. It was pure white and gleamed almost like ivory with the sunlight reflecting off its wings.

The bottom of the gully was a mudhole, and it was sinking fast, and the more it struggled, the faster it sank. She approached it, determined to help free it from the trap. Tears of frustration and anger at whoever was responsible for this fell down her face, as she worked to untangle the wires that bound the horse. She finally freed it. She spoke soothingly to the horse, as she led up out of the gully and back onto the grasslands.

Just then, a sound that Dani recognized came rolling down the plains, like thunder, except it wasn't a storm, it was the sound of horsemen, still distant, but coming closer.

"Riders!" Dani shouted. Her initial excitement at seeing anyone at all, in these deserted plains evaporated almost instantly when their leader demanded that she let them take the horse, which meant they were probably hunters. After working so hard to free the horse, and almost instantly bond with it just like the one she shared with her friend and teammate, Rahne. There was no way in hell she was just going to stand by and let them have the horse. She was going to stand and fight.

She caught the first spear they threw at her. It surprised the first rider that he was caught off guard for a moment, and unable to follow up with another spear. She threw the initial spear back at him.

"And this, Asgardians, is how we Cheyenne count coup!" she shouted.

I can't keep this up forever, I'd better try something to scare the riders off, by using my powers to confront them with something they fear the most!"

I guess it worked, but that their leader has them almost convinced that's it a trick. Which it is, that's why I'm called Mirage, but if it doesn't work what's left to try?"

"Oddly enough, the image that my powers pulled out of their subconscious was illusion of a woman who makes death warmed over look good. The riders called her Hela. Whoever that is" Dani muttered under her breath, "but the best my `mirage' powers can come up won't be enough, unless..."

In that instant, another rider appeared; a girl on a winged horse, identical to the one she'd found and rescued. She ordered the riders to leave, and invited Dani to join the something called the Valkayries.

Nothing had been quite the same ever since.


present day

She paused atop a rise that looked down into a valley. Brightwind, she had named for her pony back on Earth, nudged her and snorted. Her willingness to be seen meant she had no hostile intentions. She wondered that if were offered to go back and do things over, if she would make the same decision as she had then. When she was offered to join the Valkayries, it had seemed so wonderful, an opportunity she couldn't afford to pass up. And bonding with Brightwind was like nothing else she had ever experienced. "So why, I am moping and dragging my feet, and wondering if this all a dream, or a mixed blessing?" The irony hadn't been completely lost on her, how a full- blooded Cheyenne girl had become such an integral part of a Norse mythological sisterhood.

She walked into the Valkayrie camp with Brightwind in tow and a pounding headache, almost as bad as the one that time she'd fought off those hunters that had trapped the winged horse in such a cruel trap, and then meet up with the Valkayries.

A strip of cloth torn from her sleeve was wrapped around her forehead. She was only partially aware of having hurt herself and resting long enough to treat the wound. She led Brightwind into camp as a small group came forward to lead the horse away. Dani released her white-knuckled grip on the reins.

Mustering a wan smile in return to the concerned looks and anxious questions.

"Are you all right."

"What happened to you?"

"Have you encountered anything dangerous?"

The well-meaning questions followed her as she was half-carried and half-walked to her tent for a change of clothes, and then led a to a spot near the campfire and downed several bowlfuls of soup that chased away the wet and chill of the last few days.

Later, when she was fed, warm, and wrapped in her bedroll, her cloak pillowed underneath her head, and for a moment she could well-meant or otherwise questions at bay. Everything would keep' was her last conscious thought before she succumbed to the blackness of sleep.

Dani awoke the next morning, her mouth tasting like she'd been chewing cotton. She sat up with a jolt wondering where she was. Her eyes were felt gritty and her vision was about as blurry as if she'd been up all night drinking, which she detested. She'd had a fever dream, and bits and pieces of it still lingered. All she could remember of the dream was something about cold and heat and about falling through the ice of a frozen lake.

She recalled trying to keep her head above water, and pulled under by a strong current and pulled downstream.

"Sister, Moonstar," Brunhild greeted, bending over slightly and gently shook her.

"Wake up. Dawn approaches, and it is time for the conclave. The others wait on us."

The conclave is due to begin the first hour after dawn." Brunhilde wore her platinum blonde hair in a tight braid. However, to Dani's sleep-fogged eyes, it looked as if Brunhilde had dressed in an a hurry; because strands stuck out all over the place, and the braid hung loosely piled on top of her head, instead of down her back.

She stepped back to allow Dani room in the small tent to untangle herself from her blankets, gathered up her clothes and get dressed.

Dani found her clothes piled up in a corner of the tent, next to a water bucket. She splashed a handful onto her face. Then she tore a strip off and changed the bandage around her forehead. She cleaned the wound as best she could. It was already healing, and it would probably leave a scar.

"It's not like I don't have enough of those." She splashed water onto her face and then tossed the rag back into the bucket.

"I have heard that one learns from each experience, and that battle- scars are an inevitable part of a warrior's life," Brunhilde said, picking up Dani's muttered remark. She cocked her head to one side, as if thinking something through, "The trick, of course, is not to let the pain of the scars drag one down. Learn from them, and move on."

"Easier said than done." Dani looked down at her boots and then directly into the other woman's bright blue eyes. "You're not helping, Brunhilde."

"Indeed," the other nodded. "Although we may both wish it otherwise. We are all called to account for our actions at one time or another. They have declared that this is such a time."

"I'm not sure I want to go through with this." Dani bent down to lace up her boots, and slip her arms through the sleeves of her cotton shirt. Brunhilde led the way out of the tent. "What do they want to know?" Dani asked.

"Everything." Brunhilde folded her arms across her chest and half- turned around, and headed for the tent flap, she held it partially open, waiting for Dani to go out ahead of her and led the way to middle of camp.


They joined the circle of seated women around the bonfire that had been lit in the middle of the camp. The heat radiating from the wavering flames was a welcome one to those gathered around it. Dani noticed that they it looked as if it had been started earlier that evening and they had someone keep it burning until this morning, because fresh kindling had been laid, and the scent of pine sap wafted up to her nose.

The circle was large, and the other riders gathered around, included all the members of the tribe, from the youngest to the oldest. Although, the Valkayries, who looked younger than they were, that didn't always work.

Gerda, who had been elected spokeswoman, stood up, as senior member, was the logical person to begin the conclave. Her blonde hair was showing strands of silver in the tightly woven coils, and the planes of her cheekbones were tightly as skin over drum, but her presence was still commanding. Dani winced inwardly as Gerda's piercing blue- eyed gaze swept over the assembled circle. For the briefest of seconds her gaze stared

Daggers into Dani's dark ones. In the back of her mind she absently

I'm having just the vague inklings of a really bad feeling. I may want to rethink how I want to handle this.

"Sisters," Gerda began. "Thank ye all for meeting in conclave on such short notice."

As a murmur of assent swept round the circle like the wind stirring the flames.

"The sun approaches the noon position, while we wait," Brunhide said.

"For those of you who do not know why the meeting has been called, I will now tell you.

Rare it is it that we must have a hearing to question one of our own before the entire tribe,"Gerda finished, not remarking on the interruption. "Danielle Moonstar has been brought before us on grounds of conduct unbecoming to one of Odin's choosers of the slain."

"If that be so!" Mist shouted, "than we should all be questioned!"

"Peace, sister, we give those brought before us the right to speak in their own defense," Enda said.

"That is true," Gerda nodded.

"Mist found me, it wasn't the other way around," Dani insisted.

"You should have seen the way Brightwind responded to her! The way she stood up to the riders that would have captured the horse for sport! Twas I who invited her to join us!" Mist earnestly said.

"It was like we had known each other all our lives," Dani agreed.

"Her rapport with her mount is not at question here, nor was it a mistake to make her a Valkayrie," Gerda began.

"Does anyone present, have cause for complaint for how Moonstar has fulfilled her responsibilities as a Valkayrie?" Gerda asked as an uneasy shifting of glances and shuffling of feet ensued around the circle.

"We are Odin's chosen, yes, all know that Moonstar's presence in Asgard coming was not of her own free will at the outset," Enda remarked. "However, outlander or not, there are things she will not tell her sisters. There will always be something about mortals from Earth that I cannot understand."

"Allow me to clarify one thing, Enda," Brunhilde asked. "After all these months; you are now saying that you do not trust her? To be honest, I cannot understand that!"

Now you sing a different tune!

"By her own admission, Moonstar is not even of the descent or same race as Odin Allfather's people, " Enda said.

"This is a discussion, not a forum for the airing of old grievances," Gerda remarked.

"Although I was the first to come upon her," Mist began, I have never asked that we share the rite of blood-sisters. That honor was given to Sister Brunhilde, and I have never begrudged her that bond."

"Commendable," Gerda murmured.

"Peace, Brunhilde!" Gerda said.

"If it's her loyalty that must be proven with this conclave, then do so! But do not waste our time with mutterings! Gerda! As Odin as my witness, I ask that we perform of the blood-sisters." Brunhilde rose to her feet, and pulled back the sleeve of her tunic, and bared her left wrist.

"Your loyalty and faith in Moonstar is noted and proper, as it should be" Gerda began.

"However, it cannot be allowed." She put pressure on the other woman's arm with her hand and gently levering back to a seated position.

"Brunhilde, thanks for standing up for me," Dani whispered, `but.... I don't think it will make much difference. We both knew, although, we wouldn't admit to ourselves, that this couldn't last. I'd eventually have to go back to Earth."

"I won't allow this!" Brunhilde exclaimed.

"Great Spirits, it feels like I'm being black-balled. Gee, thanks guys," Dani muttered under her breath.

"Was does that mean," Brunhilde whispered.

Gerda signed to Mist to go over to a standing stone, that also served double-duty as a stove for cooking, where their gear was piled. A few seconds rummaging around and she came up with a small tooled-leather bag. She carried it back to the circle, holding it in one hand by a leather strap.

"We will take a vote. All those in favor of exiling Moonstar from Asgard, and all those opposed. We will all draw from bag. There are an equal number of white, river pebbles as they are black pebbles. Choose wisely, and may Odin Allfather guide your choice."

Dani felt a little resentful that as each person in the circle was passed that held the river pebble. They hid the movement of reaching into the bag, closed their eyes, removed one of the pebbles from the bag, and passed it to the next person in the circle. As close as their were sitting, and the smoke from the fire getting into her eyes, she was left to guess as to how many of the black ones had already be taken out and how many of the whites were left in the bag.

"All things considered, I think I would prefer if they argued just a little longer. They are taking this whole `black-balling' thing way too literally," Dani muttered under her breath.

Gerda stood up and stepped several paces back from her position in the circle. Her going was like the wind, as the flames wavered and started to go out. As Brunhilde was the last person to choose, Gerda, with a nod of her head, indicated that they should scatter the pebbles they'd drawn from the bag into the circle's center for the final tally.

Dani looked, and would have stomped about and shouted in frustration, as it was she just sighed. There were two whites and 10 black ones. "Great. Just great."

Gerda brought the palms of both hands up to her eyes, and made a gesture, and then sighed. "The tribe has made its will known."


They escorted Dani to the edge of a ravine blindfolded; her wrists were tightly bound together with thick coils of robe. Her eyes were covered with a white mask that was as almost as white the ice reflecting the hot Asgardian sun. "This is either a curse or a blessing. Take your pick." She was tempted to struggle to see where she was being led. All she knew it was that was some kind of temporal portal that led from Asgard back to Earth.

The bonds around Dani's wrists were severed with Brunhilde's knife. The blindfold was taken away, and she glimpsed Brunhilde's quick wink and heard her whisper the words: "I am sorry."... The next thing she knew, she was falling down a long tunnel of black ice. She tumbled end over end, the wind whooshing through her eyes. She felt empty. Then blackness swept over her, and then nothing.



Dani woke up with a splitting headache, wondering at the same time where she was and why her head was still solidly attached to her neck.

She wondered why it was said; it wasn't the fall you had to worry about, it was the landing. Being tossed out of Asgard was bad enough, but it felt like she'd been evicted from a place that was that had felt like home. She was cold, so cold that it felt like it seeped into her bones. "I got kicked out. They kicked me out," Dani whispered.

"Well, crying about it won't help. Now what do I do?"

She tried to get her bearings. The haziness and shock of recent events clouding her mind finally wore off; and it was then that Dani realized in a panic that she was lying in a bed in a hospital room with the shades drawn to let in the spring sunshine. She tried standing up, but her legs wobbled so badly, and refused to obey her commands to walk. Refusing to give up, she stumbled over to a window, thinking to get a look outside. Just then a narrow, coal-black head thrust itself inside as far as it could and snorted in friendly greeting.

"Brightwind!" Dani exclaimed. Great Spirits! I am almost didn't recognize you. Where were you, rolling around in campfire ashes. Look at you, you're all black now. I don't know how you found me, but I'm glad you did. Dani grinned and hugged her winged horse around his now coal-black neck. He responded to her exuberant greeting with a snort and nuzzled her face. "How'd I get here?" She didn't really expect to have her question answered and was a little startled when it was.

"We brought you."

"WE? And why do I get this unsettling feeling there are something eve more dangerous but that seemingly statement," Dani said. "Who are you?" Dani demanded.

"Allow me to introduce myself," he came further into the sunlight, and stood directly opposite her. Standing in full sunlight, Dani could see that he was an older man, black skin shinning with a light coating of sweat, his hair cut short to his scalp in a regulation military crewcut. He also sported a small goatee, graying at the tip, giving him a salt and pepper look. He was handsome, tall, and well built. Settling himself into a nearby chair he pulled up behind him, he sat down and leveled a direct stare at her.

"G.W. Bridge, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D." Bridge would have explained further except he choked on his next words as coal-black horse stuck its head through the window. The horse let out an angry snort; the blunt but very sharp teeth barred in a 'Hurt me rider and I'll find some way to hurt you.' look in its dark eyes. Once he had recovered his breath, Bridge chuckled, "Now there's something you don't see everyday," he chuckled. "I'm sure your old teacher, Cable, must have mentioned me."

"Who?" Dani demanded, grabbing the bed sheets and wrapped them around herself. "Oh right. I should have known that," Dani muttered. "Asgard exists. Do you need proof? Just look outside." She waved a hand over to her horse, who patiently waited at the windowsill.

"All I see is a black horse. Yeah, you've been there, done that. Stop it, now you're making my head hurt." Bridge griped, rubbing at his with the back of his hands, wishing he could deny the evidence of his eyes, at the same time wishing he could keep that old saying about 'if wishes were horses' out of his head. "Just because I don't believe in the existence of Asgard, does not take away from your experience of being there. Damn, I heard myself say that, and I still can't believe it."

"What do you want?" Dani demanded.

"What do I want? Well, that depends on what you want," Bridge began, rubbing his hands together.

"Stop being obtuse, and cut to the chase. You think you are so blessedly smart. Then you must know that I've been tossed out of Asgard. I'm feeling rather out of sorts, bruised, battered, cold and hot. I am SO Not in the mood for guessing games!" Dani shouted.

"You've been away for quite some time, Ms. Moonstar," Bridge remarked. "You're in a hospital.".

Her memories were a bit blurry and crowded with flashes of recent events, but she finally managed to dredge a name from her recent past. "I don't know why you troubled yourself to look for me. How did you even know where to look?" Dani demanded. "I don't suppose that you're going to tell how you found me, or under what circumstances?"

"No. SHIELD has its resources. "I'm a practical man. I'd have to be to survive as long as I have in the espionage business. SHIELD can't afford to have too lenient a policy when it comes to superstition, or even to what some might consider nothing more than folklore,"

"So," she shrugged. "You didn't rescue me out of the kindness of your heart."

"Ouch. Okay, here's the situation. I wouldn't want you to agree to anything without first knowing the particulars," Bridge began. " He settled himself more comfortably in the chair. "As you may or may not be aware, the Mutant Liberation Front has undergone various forms of restructuring since it's inception."

"So?" Dani shrugged. "I could care a less about who's calling the shots for the M.L.F." She tossed her head to one side, thinking it through, the dark locks falling over her face, "Actually, now you've got me curious. Who's in charge now?"

"I had hoped to spare you this until after I outlined the general situation. While you've been away, romping around Asgard, events in the mundane world were not then held in abeyance." Bridge replied. "I had this big speech prepared, but it's completely been blown right out of my head, so I'm just going to come right out and say it.

"Oh, by all the Spirits, spit it out!" Dani snapped.

"Roberto Dacosta, I believe you knew as Bobby," Bridge replied.

Dani blinked a few times and brushed her hair out of her eyes. She leveled a direct stare at him, paying him back for the earlier one, and her whole body shook with silent laughter. She stared at him again, and then realized that it wasn't a joke. "You're serious. Are you telling me that Sunspot, 'Berto has taken over the leadership of the Mutant Liberation Front?"

Bridge slowly nodded. "That is exactly what I'm telling you. And for the record he is no longer using his original code name, seems he calls himself Reignfire now. Your guess is as good as mine is why he changed it. I figure he wanted a moniker that sounded a little tougher."

"What do you want me to do about it? Am I all that different from the person I was before I chose to remain in Asgard?" Dani asked. "And why do I get the nagging feeling that there's something you're not telling me? That you're asking me to accept an assignment that's going to be off-the record and dangerous? Do I have a choice?"

"We always have choices. As for your other question, every experience changes as us people. The only person who can answer if you're a different person than you were before you chose to remain in Asgard, is you," Bridge said.

"Anyone ever tell that you sound like a fortune cookie?" Dani laughed.

"I think you might change your mind, once you've heard me out," Bridge remarked, flushing, turning his black skin a bit on the dusky side. "In any case, I need you. Reignfire knows you. He'll trust you, when he might not trust anyone else.

"I don't need any more enemies, now or later," Dan said, arching one eyebrow. "And as mutant terrorist he expects people to take him seriously. I simply can't believe that Bobby would ever do something like that."

"How should I know?" You said it yourself, people change." Bridge shrugged. "How about an old friend?" Bridge asked. "I wouldn't even consider asking this of you, if I wasn't being dead serious. It is off the record. I won't lie to you, and say that it isn't dangerous, because it is. Well, What do you say?" Bridge asked.

"Bridge, what did I tell you about guessing games?" Dani snapped.

"I hope we're past that, Ms. Moonstar. As may or may not know, for all of SHIELD's vaunted resources, there are some things that just don't sit right with me." Bridge raised his hands and began ticking off his points on his fingers. "First of all, if this is Sunspot why chose another moniker? Second, why wait all this time to take over the Mutant Liberation Front just when they were beginning to fragment from the inside after Stryfe disappeared off radar?" Bridge asked, sitting up straighter in his chair.

"Why am I not surprised? "What do you expect me to say?" Dani asked. "In other words, you want to me to accept this `job'. You want someone on the `inside'. Someone to find an answer to all those questions that are nagging at you. And that someone can't be as obvious as an undercover SHIELD agent."

"At least, we understand each other," Bridge nodded. "If you decide to accept the assignment, bear in mind, I don't ask it lightly," Bridge replied. Think it over. No pressure, or anything. I'll be outside," Bridge remarked, and left hospital room. Dani watched his retreating back leave the room, and lean up against the far wall.

If she had had any pillows to hand she would have loaded up on ammunition and thrown them at him, for lack of anything more solid. As it was, she had to settle for staring daggers at him. She felt rather ambivalent about the whole thing. On one hand she felt that at least he was offering her an option, and right at this point, she had precious few of those. She untangled the blankets and sorted out her options: "There's always the possibility of looking up my old friends and New Mutants teammates. Hmm maybe I could convince Bridge to use some of SHIELD's resources to find them."

Then there's Option 2. Would he do anything to them or me if I turned him down? Probably not. He's not exactly what I'd call a friend, but he's not a bad sort, and most of his problem is with Cable anyway. I don't know what that's about and right now, nor do I care."

Okay, Option 3: Accept the undercover assignment. I can't imagine why they would think that Bobby would even consider involving himself with the MLF, not even on his worst day, unless he's under some sort of mind control? If he is, and Reignfire really is Bobby, don't I owe to myself and him, to help save him?" Dani whispered. She sat up in the middle of the bed and stared at the recently vacated chair.

"Great Spirts, what am I getting myself into? What was that old saying? Think! Think!" Dani shouted. "If and when this is over, will I be able to say ` I knew the dangers going into this and the risks were acceptable'? I believe I can."

Dani got out of bed and walked over to the door. She opened it and stepped out into the hallway and looked over in the corner, Bridge had posted himself as a guard.

"I've decided to accept the assignment," Dani whispered. "But before go through with anything, I want details, the works. All the information you have on the MLF's known bases of operation, methods, the works."

"I thought you might," Bridge replied, and reached out to shake her hand. "Thank you, Ms. Moonstar."

"After everything's that happened?" Dani asked, swatting the offered hand away. "Am I a prisoner here if I hadn't accepted the `job?"

"You were to be given a choice. Under no circumstances did I intend to hold you prisoner. Given the circumstances of your `arrival' I just thought it would be easier to keep the number of people that knew about your return to a minimum. And as much as I like this hospital, people have an unfortunate tendency to gossip," Bridge said.

"Does anyone else know that I'm back on Earth?" Dani asked.

"I'm no psychic, so I really don't know if they know or not. And now that you mention it, do you want your teammates to know that you're back on Earth?" Bridge asked.

"I, I don't know," Dani whispered, allow her head to droop.

"Don't worry, you're safe here. I'll be sure to see to that personally." Bridge replied.

"Oh, I feel so much better now," Dani muttered under her breath. "I take this isn't just a personal favor?"

"It's gone beyond being personal. For what it's worth I'm glad you decided to take it on, not just for SHIELD, but as I explained earlier on. earlier, I know it's beastly of me to even ask to do this, but I'm betting that you're the only person who can get 'the job' done."

"You need me," Dani shook her head. "I can't believe my ears."

"Believe it," Bridge smiled, offering his hand again, and this time she took it, feeling the sweat coat them,

"All right, let's get this over with," Dani replied.


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