Internal Struggles Abound
Jack opened his eyes, exhaling as he looked around him. He was in a familiar place, just outside of his home when he was human, the tranquility of the forest surrounding him.
"Come on, Jack!"
He gasped at the sound of the voice, whirling around to see his sister running into the trees and giggling.
"Emma!" He exclaimed, taking to chase and running after her. "Hey, wait up!"
"This way!" The little girl shouted, her giggling trailing a bit. She glanced back, smiling at him as she ducked behind a tree.
The corner of Jack's lips poked into a smile, running up to the tree and whirling around it. When he did, he furrowed a brow, noticing that he was suddenly... somewhere else. Where the snow had covered, there was now fresh, green grass. He seemed to be in a maze, the tall, perfectly trimmed hedges fascinating him. The sound of a voice snapped him out of his trance, shaking his head.
"Lizzie!" The voice cried.
Jack tilted his head, gasping when a young woman ran past him from behind. She crouched down as the little girl approached her.
"... Alice...?" Jack whispered, taking a step closer to observe better.
"Oh Lizzie, I saw him again! The white rabbit!" The little girl exclaimed.
Jack gasped then. "Lizzie... Alice's sister..."
Suddenly, the ground began to shake. The girls gasped as they clung to each other, and tentacles burst from the ground. The fresh green grass and shrubbery began to turn brown and wilt, and Jack cried out as he lost his balance. When he got back to his feet, he only saw Emma there, the ground cracking under her feet as the Queen arose behind her.
"Jack... I'm scared..." Emma whispered.
"I... still... REIGN!" The Queen shouted, the ground crumbling underneath them as they fell.
Jack's eyes widened. "Emma!" He cried out, unable to hover in the air as he normally could. But he was in a dream, and as he fell, he heard fragments of voices speaking in riddles, nonsensical and foolish. He saw flashes of creatures he had never seen before, a man in a tall hat chewing on teacups, a dodo bird, a small mouse poking its head out of a teapot. When he finally hit the bottom of whatever he fell into, a small amount of light filled the space; he was in a bedroom. He heard the thud of someone fall on the bed next to him, and he gasped, scrambling to his feet. "Emma?" When he hovered over to look, he saw the little girl from before, staring straight ahead, frightened as she pulled the covers up to her face. His eyes followed hers, freezing when he heard muffled screaming from inside the room just across the hall. Jack's breathing quickened the closer he came to it, his hand hovering just over the doorknob. The sound from the other side of the door stopped then, Jack's breath hitching. He bit his lip, trying to open the door but it was locked. He felt something then, groping around the collar of his shirt to find the key.
When he unlocked and opened the door, he found himself in Littlemore infirmary, glancing around before hearing the sound of someone wheezing. He looked over to see Alice wrapped in bandages, slowly approaching the small girl. He could only see her eyes as they stared up into his sorrowfully.
"Jack..." The little Alice whispered through her bandages. "... I'm scared..."
Before he could reply, he felt hands on him, gasping as he was dragged away. "Alice! No, Alice!" Jack cried, his eyes widening when the two men- if you could call them that- stuffed him in a straitjacket, tossing him on a gurney and wheeling him down an ominous corridor; he was now inside the dreaded Rutledge.
"A new one for the idiot ward... a waste I say, I would have liked another broad to poke and prod."
"Well, we still have what's her name... she may be a looney if I ever saw one but the only thing I see is that she's a looker, yes sir..."
"Nice little soft ones she 'as, don't she? And she don't know a thing either, the lights are on but there's no one at home... just the way I like it. I'm not fond of them fightin' ones."
Jack grunted as he was lifted off the gurney, thrown into a rather uncomfortable chair and strapped in. He struggled to break free from the straight jacket to no avail as a man with glasses and a white suit placed nodes on his head. He gasped when he watched the two sinister looking individuals; Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, place someone on the gurney to take out of the room. When his eyes met with theirs, he furrowed his brows deeply.
Her hair had been cut off, and her empty eyes stared into his as they wheeled her away. "No, Alice! Bring her back!"
"Prepare for maximum voltage." The man in the white coat said plainly.
"No, please, please bring her back! I want her back, please!" Jack shouted as the nurse pulled on the lever. Jack grit his teeth as he felt electricity coarse through him, his scream echoing through the eerie halls as he began to surface rapidly back to consciousness.
Jack awoke with a start, gasping for air as he flew into an upright position, running a hand through his hair. He glanced over to see Baby Tooth fluttering a bit, squeaking lightly as she hovered closer. She frowned, her tiny hand patting his shoulder with concern.
"Hey..." Jack smiled lightly, cupping the small fairy in his hands. "... we're best buddies a little ahead of time now, huh?"
Baby Tooth tilted her head, squeaking with confusion.
"Well... you see, I wasn't supposed to meet you until about... two hundred years or so by now, when I became a guardian. But I'm here now, because I have to help stop Pitch." Jack told her, placing her down before resting back to stare at the ceiling. "What do all these dreams mean...?" He whispered to himself. "Alice, my sister... is she leading me into Alice's mind? I keep getting these... glimpses into her world..." He closed his eyes for a moment, exhaling slowly. "Well, it's morning... may as well get up." He sat up once again, Baby Tooth hovering around him as he made his descent from his loft.
Toothless was downstairs, having gobbled up some arctic fish that North had gotten for him. He glanced over at Sven when he stared curiously, focusing as he managed to regurgitate a part of the fish, smiling and nudging it towards Sven. The reindeer's eyes widened, sticking out his tongue disdainfully and shaking his head. Toothless shrugged, gobbling the fish back up.
Alice had just finished helping Merida change Hiccup's bandages. "I'm going to see if Jack's awake, call for me if you need any further assistance." She was about to walk out of the room when Bunny entered.
"Oh, hey Alice… um, just wanted to let you know that…" Bunny glanced over at Merida for a moment, clearing his throat. "… Eliza is awake."
Alice blinked, chuckling lightly. "I believe I'm well aware of that, I already got her settled in for breakfast and properly dressed." She patted his arm lightly, leaning in. "You know… if you want to start a conversation… you don't have to grasp at the air, just…" She smirked a bit as Bunny's spine stiffened. "… say what's on your mind." Leaving him wordless, she walked out of the room.
Merida and Hiccup raised their brows as they glanced at each other. "Lad…?" She said as she walked up to Bunny. "Have you been turned to stone?"
"I'm thinking maybe I have…" Bunny replied.
"Well, aren't you going to follow her?" Merida giggled, leaning in to whisper. "Stay close to the ones you like." She smiled, nodding her head subtlety towards Hiccup.
Bunny looked from Hiccup to her, smirking a bit. "Any luck?"
Merida shrugged. "Too soon to tell."
"Don't worry, you'll win 'im over." He gently patted her shoulder, shaking his feet off. "Well, now that I feel my lower half again, let me head out of here."
Downstairs, Anna was giggling at Eliza and Olaf as they played together, Kristoff having gotten some feed for Sven to eat. She glanced up when Alice came down, standing up.
"Good morning, Alice… I was um… I was wondering if I could ask you something…" Anna started.
Alice blinked, nodding. "Go on…"
"When… when you've encountered Elsa… is she… does she look… well? Healthy? I just… I'm concerned that she isn't being taken care of-"
"As far as I can tell, she doesn't seem emaciated or anything of the sort… but that isn't the point, is it? She's on their side." Alice replied.
Anna furrowed a brow. "Alice, she's still my sister… they're, they're lying to her, or something… she would never just go out and hurt someone like that!"
"Of course they're lying to her, Anna. She is in the company of the same vile creature who-"
"Hey, everything okay?" Jack asked as he approached them.
Alice whirled around, smiling a bit when she saw him. "Well, someone's finally awake…" Her smile faded when she took a closer look at him. "… you had another nightmare, didn't you?"
Jack sighed, biting his lip. "How could you tell?"
"I can see it in your eyes." Alice replied. It was then that she furrowed a brow, her eyes glancing at the floor as a thought came to her.
"… Alice? What is it?" Jack asked as he placed a hand on her shoulder. "Alice?"
She slowly turned to look at Anna, who tilted her head curiously. "Anna…" Alice finally spoke. "… Jack's unpleasant night might have just given me an idea…"
"Hey, what's going on?" Kristoff asked, having come back from giving Sven something to eat.
"I require a private audience with Anna and Jack… would you mind watching over Eliza?" Alice asked.
"Oh! I'll watch her!" Tooth exclaimed, having heard Alice's request. "She's such a little sweetie!"
"I appreciate that." Alice smiled lightly, taking Jack's and Anna's hand. Bunny had just come downstairs, blinking when Alice strode by. When she went into a room with the other two and closed the door behind her, he furrowed a confused brow.
"Alice, what's going on?" Jack asked inside the room.
"I may know a way to make a connection with Elsa." Alice said. "I hadn't thought of it before because I was so distracted… it will take quite a bit of an effort, but… I may be able to reach out to her through my mind."
Anna shook her head, not quite understanding. "What… what do you mean?"
"You see… I have always had a mind that works… a bit differently than others. I have the ability to go to another place… my Wonderland… and it has the ability to come here…" Alice said. "I'm not particularly fond of Elsa, mostly due perhaps to the circumstances we're in, but… Anna, I am sympathetic to your aim. I would do anything to bring my sister back if I could… so I shall try to assist you however I can."
Anna smiled, taking Alice by surprise when she hugged her. "Thank you…" She took a step back. "But how are you going to do that, again?"
Alice thought for a moment before glancing over at her, holding out her arm. "Give me your hand." Anna warily obeyed, Alice holding her hand. "I'm going to enter your sister's mind."
Jack watched in silence, awed by what Alice proposed she was about to do.
Pitch sighed, leaning up against the side of a building in London. He had joined Bumby in recruiting more children into the puppet army, first afflicting their minds with nightmares, only for them to wake up unawares to have their souls stolen from the malevolent doctor. His desire was to spread terror and fear; but if all the children of the world were turned into Bumby's puppet minions, there would be none left to instill fear and terror in!
"So what do you plan on doing after all the children of the world are yours to control?" Pitch asked as the doctor emerged, floating puppet minions trailing behind him.
"I suppose you'll find out when the time comes, won't you?" Bumby responded.
"Indeed, you are correct…" Pitch answered, shooting the doctor a sideways glance as they roamed through the shadows. "You are, after all… quite persuasive, as I have come to see."
Bumby chuckled. "I should say the same for you, Pitch. No denying you have a certain charm."
"Charm?" Pitch asked.
"Oh, yes… you see, we both want the same thing, we just execute it differently." Bumby said.
"Is that so?" Pitch raised a brow.
"Precisely. We both desire dominion, Pitch. You twist the minds of children to be 'believed in…' to bathe in the glory of their attentions. I, however… twist their minds to make their minds like clay in my hands… to sculpt them into what use I require them for. Those folk who are decent in morality, but oblivious, see me as an outstanding citizen, someone to be praised; those who lack morality, but are attune to the dark side of society, a part of it… I am the merchant to their vile deeds." He smirked. "I play both sides, and I win, preside over both. I ruled over London… and I shall rule the entire Earth in this manner."
Pitch said nothing at first; he already knew that the doctor's motives and actions were out of line even by his standard, but the things he did to children… he was right, he only wanted to be believed in, that was the root of his evil. He wanted to be seen, be heard, his existence to be acknowledged.
But for Bumby… it was a primal, wild drive to simply destroy, corrupt; this was the foundation of his sick legacy.
"So… where do you plan on hiding all of them? After all, you told me to avoid having Elsa asking questions… Wick also, but he's too much of a simpleton I think." Pitch asked.
"She already knows of their existence, she need not fret over them. All she has to do is believe they are simply of my own creation; not a total lie, am I correct?" Bumby replied. "Besides… she is probably far too distracted, anyhow."
Pitch looked over at him then, tilting his head. "How do you mean?"
"Well, what with all the busy work you've tasked her with… she does spend quite a lot of time between you and the er… simpleton, as you call him." He chuckled. "I must say, she's become more brilliant by the day in her abilities… we all are having an effect on her, I think." Bumby answered.
"I see… what sort of effect might that be?" Pitch's expression grew a bit more serious then, flashbacks from his visions appearing in his mind.
Bumby smirked a bit as he glanced over at Pitch; the King of Nightmares was not as easy to read as the common person. Then again, Pitch was no common person. All he knew was that over these past several weeks, he could feel a new hunger growing; it was something he had not felt for some time, at least a decade… but he knew it was for one thing, or rather, one person…
Ah, yes… years ago, it had been young Elizabeth Liddell who caught his eye; she had been beautiful, fierce, a sharp tongue and full of wit much like Alice. But oh, she wasn't as much trouble as Alice was, no sir… he despised the younger sister of the woman he made his… they shared stubbornness, that was for sure, and that cost Elizabeth her life.
But Elsa… she was his new muse. So easy, yet she played so hard to get… so vulnerable, yet she closed herself to the world. The way she swayed her slender hips when she walked, the way her large, blue orbs stared into his eyes; so innocent, yet so hypnotizing… they drew him in along with her ivory skin, flawless. He could only imagine what she felt like, what she tasted like… oh no, she was not Elizabeth. He knew that he would not simply take her and run as he had with Elizabeth… he would make her his, he would keep her.
He also knew that he could not just be careless, Pitch was not someone he could just whisk away with the flicker of a hand. There was no denying the connection between Pitch and Elsa, but what Bumby wanted to know, what he wanted to try to read, was just how deep that connection was. Only then could he determine the next course of action in breaking it. Oh, whether or not Pitch was aware, he would soon find that the only side Bumby would ever be on was his own… indeed, it was all fine and well that fellow dark, evil beings such as himself had joined him in the cause of bringing down the enemies they shared… but in the end, he was governed by his own desires, his needs, his lust. He looked at Pitch, clearing his throat before answering his question.
"She seems to be… changing." Bumby started. "She is no longer as hesitant, no longer as… feeling…"
"So I noticed." Pitch responded. "I assure you… I need no assistance in mentoring her. Don't want to confuse her, now."
Bumby smirked a bit more then… Pitch was taking the bait, just as he wanted. "I apologize if my actions have made a bad impression upon you. She came to me, you see… I don't know if she would appreciate me telling you this, it goes against the doctor/patient confidentiality clause after all… but between you and I, she had been quite distressed about you." He stopped for a moment, giving Pitch a chance to react to this.
"… distressed about me, you say?" Pitch asked.
"Oh, terribly so…" Bumby continued to lie. "She was so disappointed in herself… how she had failed to please you… that's all she wanted, she said. All she wants is your praise, to make you proud for all the trouble she's put you through."
Pitch furrowed a brow. "I believe she simply desires to save her sister and be reunited with her… to rule her kingdom with confidence and be believed in, just as I wish to be."
"I'm sure that is why she came here, yes… but I do believe she's come to… desire something else." Bumby said lowly, making Pitch furrow a wary brow at him.
As Bumby continued along his way, smirking to himself, Pitch's footsteps slowed to a stop as he thought upon the doctor's words. He knew he had to take his words with a grain of salt, but he could not help but dwell upon them.
Did Elsa… truly value him as much as Bumby had described?
He was so used to being hated, to be rejected, casted out… had he won the young woman's attentions?
Oh, what did it matter? He was the King of Nightmares, he had no time nor use for all of this admiration stuff. Regardless of what she felt, he had a job to do. He had the guardians to take down; he had to continue to teach Elsa, to motivate her, to protect her from-
Wait… protect her?
Since when did he… protect? This was a guardian thing, this was not a Boogeyman thing… but Elsa, she was different… why was she different? Because she was like him… no, this isn't right, this isn't the dark and sinister being that he was supposed to be, why was he going soft?
Perhaps this didn't mean that he was going soft… no, does misery not love company? He was a miserable being… yes, that had to be the explanation…
Pitch glanced up, shaking his head a bit and striding quickly to catch up to Bumby. He had to speak to Elsa once they returned.
He had to know the truth.
Elsa groaned, opening her eyes slowly. She sat up, rubbing her eyes as she gained focus. She gasped, throwing off her covers and jumping to her feet when she realized where she was.
She was in her bedroom back in Arendelle.
Before she could begin to wonder how she managed to arrive back home, she heard the sound of a thud, furrowing a brow. She turned towards the window, her eyes widening. An ominous, amber light shined through it, and she slowly approached it as she looked out. Her mouth hung open, breathing shakily as she saw the sky swirling violently, powerful winds swallowing up chunks of her kingdom up and turning it into ruins. Horrified, she gasped and jumped back a bit as she saw the infernal train continuing at its speedy pace, its roar penetrating her ears. She cried out as the sound made the glass of her window shatter, covering herself as she backed away. Wind blew about her room violently, and she screamed as objects began to fly out into the chaotic whirlwind outside. She fought against it to make her way towards the door, gripping onto the knob for her life. She glanced back to see her bed lift off the ground, breaking into pieces as it was torn out of the room by the winds. She fought to get through the door, slamming it shut. Once she did, she gasped as she found herself somewhere unfamiliar to her, but there was no denying its ominous nature.
Before she could think upon it much, she gasped when someone suddenly appear beside her, making her fall and scramble back in fear. "What are you doing here?!" Elsa cried.
Alice opened her eyes, looking around before resting her eyes on Elsa. "I should ask you the same."
Elsa looked at Alice warily. "One of the individuals you have allied yourself with is trying to corrupt your mind, your memories. They are the foundation of your life, to all that you do. If you lose those, you lose your way... this is a path I have traveled before." Alice said, motioning to the ominous hallway of Rutledge. "It is not a path you want travel along."
"Wait... what are you talking-" Elsa began, when the sound of footsteps stopped her midsentence. The individual stopped, and what appeared to be nurse Ratchet in the shadows stared at them.
"Alright, Elsa. You can't go on like this."
Elsa's eyes widened as she stood, furrowing a brow. "... Anna...?"
The young woman stepped out from the shadows in a nurse's outfit, smiling warmly. "It's time that we get this problem fixed."
"Elsa, Bumby is trying to trap you in your own mind... make you more malleable to use for his twisted motives!"
"No... no, I... I can't listen to you, you're going to try to trick me like Jack Frost!" Elsa cried, gasping as she was pulled back, looking up to see each of her parents holding one of her arms.
"You'll be fine, Elsa." Her father smiled warmly before they forced Elsa into a strait jacket.
"No, mother, father please! Please stop this!" Elsa cried out.
"Only you can stop this, Elsa." Alice said, walking alongside her as she was rolled on a gurney. "If you allow the doctor to make you forget the ones you love, to turn them against you and you against them, you shall have nothing left."
Elsa bit her lip, tears rolling down her cheeks as Anna approached her with scissors.
"Such a shame... such pretty hair you have. We'll have it fashioned into a lovely wig for purchase." Anna smiled. Elsa shook her head, sobbing harder as she felt her braid severed from her.
Elsa's eyes followed Anna to the best of their ability, her breathing quickening when something was fastened to her head. She was frightened beyond measure, her eyes darting over to Alice as she approached.
"Please stop this!" Elsa sobbed. "Why are you doing this?"
"I'm not doing this, Elsa. You are allowing this to be done to yourself. Only you can stop it." Alice replied.
Anna stood behind Elsa, who looked up as her eyes widened in horror. A large nail was being lowered closer and closer to her scalp, the squeaky crank like nails on a chalk board. "No, Anna, please!"
"That is not your sister, Elsa. It is what your perception of her shall become if you do not reject this."
Elsa glanced up again, and in the place of a nail was now a sharp icicle. Her heart pounded in her chest, she gasped for air as she felt the point begin to push its way through the thin layer of skin on her scalp, the sound of it grinding against the bone of her skull driving her to the breaking point.
Elsa burst awake from the nightmare, gasping as her eyes darted around the room. Just as her breathing began to steady itself, she hissed as she gripped her head, whimpering at the throbbing pain. She shakily got to her feet, staggering a bit as she thread her fingers through her hair. She leaned herself against the cold wall for support, groaning as her hands moved to her arms. She jumped when she felt something, her brows furrowing as she shook her head. She tore back her sleeves, holding her arms out as icicles emerged from her forearms. She cried out as her head began to sting once more, gasping when she felt something protruding from her scalp. She whimpered shakily, her hands trembling as she felt around the foreign object growing from her head. She stumbled over to the broken mirror, icicles growing out from all over her body.
Elsa heard a sound then, whirling around to see someone in her doorway, shrouded in shadow. "Who's there?"
"Is that how you address your Queen?" The voices spoke in unison, what sounded like her own mixed with the Queen's. When the figure emerged, Elsa eyes widened as she saw herself in the Queen's clothing, opening her eyes to reveal their crimson color. "You do not have what it takes to rule, you do not deserve to be believed in."
"Get out of my room!" Elsa shouted.
"You dare to command me? What do you have? You have nothing. All you ever had has been lost because you are weak. I shall rule the world, I shall rule our lives!" The dual voices became more distorted, deepened.
"Get out!" Elsa screamed, storming over to grip onto the double's arms, shoving her against the wall. "Get out! Get out! GET OUT!" Elsa shrieked, her icicles growing longer, sharper, some poking against the double's skin. She growled, inhaling sharply as she broke off the tip of the icicle coming out of her head, the icicle growing back as she held the tip as a weapon. She grit her teeth, her eyes crazed as she stabbed at the double's arms. The double screamed painfully, her face flashing between her own and the Queen's. She finally took the icicle, stabbing it into the double's large hand repeatedly, resembling the Queen's. Elsa's now bloodshot eyes stared into the double's, breathing deeply. "I am the Queen! I AM THE QUEEN!"
When Elsa's breathing calmed, she noticed the Queen underneath her, no longer her double, her eyes wide with fear as she coughed, breathing wheezily. Elsa's rage wavered, furrowing her brow as she saw how badly she had injured her; puncture wounds and bruises riddled her arms, and her leg was bleeding profusely. She shakily stood to her feet, muttering that she needed to get help. She turned, gasping when Wick was suddenly there, placing his hands on her shoulders as she stared at him in horror.
"Elsa... what... what did you do...?" Wick stared at her, frightened.
"Wick... I've made a terrible mistake... I'm... I'm undergoing a transformation, I'm... turning into some kind of... of animal! I attacked the Queen, I didn't know-" Elsa turned around to show him, furrowing a brow when the Queen was no longer there. "She... she was just... where..."
Wick gently turned her back around, and it was then that something caught Elsa's eye. She slowly looked down, gasping lightly when she held out her arms.
They were covered in bruises and puncture wounds.
She began to tremble, shaking her head and looked down further when her eyes widened more. Her hands lowered, hovering over the huge icicle protruding from her leg.
Before Wick could even try to help her, Pitch stormed in then. Bumby had gone into a lower area of the cavern to organize the new puppet children. When he saw Elsa's condition, he had the wrong idea, gritting his teeth and acted without even thinking. In one swift move, he shoved Wick against the wall, his eyes burning into Wick's hollow spaces.
"If you value your pathetic life, you will explain yourself NOW!" Pitch shouted.
"Pitch..." Elsa staggered, her knees giving out as she fell to the ground. "He... he didn't do this..."
Wick trembled, nodding. "I- I would never hurt her, brother Pitch... s- something's... wrong!"
Pitch looked between the two of them, realizing how quickly he had flown off the handle. He released Wick, dusting himself off and clearing his throat as he regained his composure. "Leave us." He said, striding over to Elsa to take her hands, helping her to her bed. Wick bowed his head, regrettably leaving the room.
"Pitch... I... I don't know what's happening to me..." Elsa tried to remain poised, but could no longer hold it in as she burst into tears, surprising Pitch when she clung to him.
What was wrong with him? He should be pushing her away, scolding her and telling her to pull herself together; wasn't it her fault that she fell victim to the doctor's mind tricks to begin with?
He opened his mouth to put these thoughts into words, but nothing but silence was uttered.
What was this blasphemy? Had the King of Nightmares, the all feared Boogeyman, gone soft for this train wreck? Indeed, her mind was becoming more and more so, and he knew that she was headed down a very dark path. He also knew that if she went too far, she may not be able to turn back.
Why did he care if she succumbed to this? What would he gain by helping her?
He did not know the answer, but something inside him urged him to do so anyhow. As much as he tried to push the thought away, he could not; he gasped lightly, not even realizing that his arms had coiled around the sobbing girl. He looked down to the icicle protruding from her leg, biting his lip as he shut his eyes tightly.
"Elsa, that has to come out." He stated.
Elsa glanced down at her leg before looking back up at Pitch. "Wick can help."
Pitch sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "The less people crowding up space, the better." He scooted aside, allowing Elsa to sit on her bed with her legs laid straight out. She breathed deeply, Pitch remaining calm as he gently moved part of her dress out of the way, revealing the whole of her left leg. He swallowed thickly, exhaling slowly as he tried to avoid her gaze. Bumby's words of perversion snuck into his mind, Pitch shaking his head to push them away. He placed one hand on her leg, the other gripped around the icicle. "It would be best if I do this quickly. It's going to be quite painful." Elsa nodded, her breathing quickening as she anticipated the pain.
Pitch shut his eyes tightly for a moment, and in one quick move, he yanked the bloodied icicle out of Elsa's thigh. The young woman covered her mouth as she cried, her screaming muffled as Pitch tore off part of Elsa's bed sheet to wrap around the leg. "Keep this cold... that shouldn't be a problem for you." He glanced up at Wick peeked in the doorway, snapping at him. "Watch over her..." He stopped when he noticed Elsa's blood on his hands upon snapping his finger, shaking his head. "Call me if there's trouble." Without another word, he stormed out of the room, looking at his hands when he was out of sight. He clenched his fists, both of his hands stained with her blood. Yes, everything that happened to her here was because he had dragged her into his mess... her blood was literally, and figuratively, on his hands because of it.
Alice exhaled sharply as she opened her eyes, rubbing her temples with her fingertips as she groaned.
"What happened? Did you see my sister?" Anna asked.
"Yes." Alice replied. "It's worse than I thought."
Anna sunk into a chair, shaking her head. "What do you mean? What are they doing to Elsa?"
"Not 'they.' Bumby is corrupting her memories, twisting her mind. He's made quite a bit of progress already. I tried to tell her but... she wouldn't listen to me." Alice said.
"S- So, we have to go get her before it gets worse!" Anna cried.
"If we just go in there and try to take her, we'll not only be risking our lives and may not even make it out unscathed, but they will surely come HERE to reclaim her." Alice said.
"I don't care!" Anna shouted, jumping to her feet. "If someone is hurting my sister I'm going to stop them!"
"Anna, look… I want to go back and smuggle Elsa here as much as you do, but Alice does have a point. If they catch wind that we want to take her, they may hurt her worse… they may come here and attack." Jack replied. "Alice, maybe you should keep trying to reach out to her through your mind… maybe that will at least slow down whatever the doctor's doing to her."
Alice nodded. "I'll try my best, but she's a stubborn one, that Elsa."
"We can't retaliate until Hiccup is fully healed. Once he's recovered, we'll go back and try to get her and the children." Jack tried to assure Anna.
The young princess sighed, nodding. "I'm sorry… it's just, I'm so worried and-"
"Don't apologize. I'd feel just as anxious as you are if I was in your place." Jack replied.
Alice glanced over at Jack when his stomach rumbled, chuckling lightly as he groaned. "Alright, seriousness is over… let's get you filled up." She said, Anna joining them as they headed back downstairs.
Meanwhile, Merida bit her lip lightly. Toothless had returned to curl up beside Hiccup's bed. "If… I'm makin' you uncomfortable, you can always give me a swift kick out." She said.
"N- No, no, it's not that, I… I really, really appreciate everything you've been doing for me, I'm not really used to this sort of… care…" Hiccup cleared his throat. "And I say this for everyone here, but… especially you. I mean… it's been nice to have some company, I just feel bad that you're… cooped up here."
"Well, if you're so worried, perhaps I can take Toothless out for a nice dose of fresh air, ye ken?" Merida smirked.
Toothless perked up at that, the dragon having felt cooped up himself. He wiggled happily, chirping as he hopped around excitedly. "Huh, you like the sound of that, bud?" Hiccup reached over to pat his snout. "Well, alright… Merida seems to have a pretty good grasp on your saddle mechanics… and I can look out of this back window here if I just twist myself far enough- OW. Ow, ow, ow. Oh, I should not have done that…" He groaned as he gripped his right side where his rib was healing.
"Hiccup!" Merida exclaimed, floating quickly over to him and knelt beside him. She laid him down as Toothless whimpered worriedly. "You're supposed to me making yourself better, lad, not worse."
"Sorry… I am pretty injury-prone, after all…" Hiccup chuckled before wheezing a bit, holding his side.
Merida sighed lightly, her hand moving to rest over his when it caught her eye. Just as it had the other day, it began to glow brighter, and she furrowed a brow as she held it closer to her face to inspect it. The glow diminished, making her tilt her head. "What the…?"
Hiccup cracked an eye open, noticing Merida's odd behavior. "Merida? You okay?"
She shook her head, looking at him. "I should be asking YOU that… but hold on a moment." She slowly extended her hand, Hiccup placing his aside as she gently pressed her hand against his side. She narrowed her eyes as her hand began to glow brighter again.
"Uh… Mer?" Hiccup asked. "What's… is this some new medical trick?"
"Hiccup… the last time m' hand went near your broken rib, it started to glow… it's doing it again… I don't understand." Merida said.
"I'm sure it's just some ghost… Banshee thing…" Hiccup bit his lip; as she leaned over him, his cheeks became a bit rosy due to how close they currently were to each other. His expression became a bit more serious when he began to feel something; a warm, soothing sensation on his side, where Merida's hand was. "Hey, um… whatever it is you're doing, I think it may be working!"
Merida's eyes widened at that, looking from his side to his face, sensing that his bones were mending, healing. She smiled widely, laughing joyfully as she pulled her hand back after a few more moments. "Should you… should you give it a try?" Merida asked.
"Well, one way to find out…" Hiccup said, scooting back so he could sit up a bit more, swinging his legs to plant them on the floor. He took a deep breath, Merida staying by his side to place a hand on his back, helping him up. He stood still for a few moments, a smile growing in his expression as he began to laugh then. "Merida, you… you healed me! I… I don't feel any pain at all!"
Bunny was walking down the hall when he heard commotion coming from Hiccup's room. The walls shook a bit as Toothless pounced around the room, Bunny poking his head in as his ears flickered.
"Oi, mate, calm down before the whole bloody place crumbles to bits!" He exclaimed.
Merida whirled around, flying over and taking Bunny by surprise as she hugged him. "Bunny, I can heal! I can heal, I mended Hiccup's broken rib!"
Bunny staggered a bit by the impact as he was beyond confused. "What are you talking about- what is he doing out of bed, Tooth is going to throw a fit if she sees-"
"- that Hiccup is healed…!" Merida finished the sentence for him, squeezing his paws. "I had no idea I could even… don't y' see? Now we have nothing to be afraid of!"
Tooth floated in then, her eyes widening as she slowly smiled. "Merida, this is amazing! I have to go tell the others!" She exclaimed as she quickly fluttered out of the room.
Downstairs, Jack had just finished his breakfast as he sat with Alice, Anna and Kristoff. He felt a gentle tug on his sleeve, turning around to see Sandy smiling excitedly.
"Hey Sandy, what is it?" Jack asked. Sandy replied by forming a sand picture of Hiccup, followed by giving him two thumbs up. "Are you saying… no, he couldn't have just recovered already-"
"Jack!" Eliza cried from upstairs, she and Olaf joining Hiccup, Merida and Bunny as they came down. "Jack, Merida has healing powers, she fixed Hiccup!" She beamed, taking his hand as Jack stumbled out of his chair.
"Wow… this is a nice turn of events, huh?" Jack said, chuckling as he and Hiccup hugged briefly.
"It's good to be back…" Hiccup smiled.
"Hopefully next time you confront that dreadful Queen you won't be caught in her vice…" Alice said, smiling as she too hugged Hiccup. She glanced over at Merida as she did so. "I'd like to see what other tricks you have up your sleeve, Merida." She chuckled. Merida gave her a firm nod, smiling back.
Hiccup snickered a bit. "Yeah, wait until she sees what she's got coming for her next time…"
Bunny looked from Alice to Hiccup, waving his paws around. "Okay, okay, a standard hug is only twenty seconds, mate, off you go!" He said as he lifted Hiccup by the back of his collar and placed him aside.
"Odin's beard, watch the jugular!" Hiccup whined, rubbing his throat.
Alice gave Bunny a look, smirking lightly. "Were you really keeping time Bunnymund, or was that a rough estimate?"
Bunny rolled his eyes as he smirked back, leaning in a bit. "Wanna play that back and keep count? I'll volunteer to stand in."
Alice laughed as he took her hand, gently pulling her in for a warm hug. Jack had been talking to Hiccup and Merida when he noticed this, his smile fading a bit. He didn't have long to dwell on it however, as he was suddenly shaken a bit by North.
"Jack, you must help me make big cake to celebrate Hiccup's recovery!" North laughed heartily. "Tonight, we must be joyful!"
"It's going to be ice cream, so you'll need to keep it cool!" Tooth added, smiling. "But make sure you all brush after having some!"
Jack forced a smile, nodding. "Sure…" He glanced back at Alice, who was laughing and gasping for air as Bunny chased her about the room, trying to tickle her. He sighed, shaking his head as he followed North into the kitchen area.
The Queen observed silently in the shadows as Pitch descended into part of the cavern's lower area, approaching one of the naturally occurring well springs. He sighed, shutting his eyes as he extended his hands, cleaning the blood off of them. He opened his eyes, and even in the low light he could see the water stained red. He looked at his hands, shaking his head. The Queen tilted her head as Pitch engaged in another moment of self-reflection; ironically as he stared at his reflection in the pooled water.
This had to stop. Genuinely caring for another, not simply for the sake of keeping them as a pawn in his game of dominance, was not an option. It was not the way of fear, of darkness; he embodied the way- or was it the way that embodied him? No, he was not like Elsa; he controlled his power, not the other way around.
Than why was it when he was defeated by the guardians, his own nightmares turned against him?
Because he had failed to live up to his own expectations, he deduced. So why was he failing to live up to his own expectations now? Why was he so concerned about this frightened, helpless young woman? Alright, yes, she was beautiful, but he had encountered beautiful beings before, they had never even come close to swaying him. It was something more than that. Perhaps because there was a level of understanding between them; they both wanted to be recognized, to be accepted, to have a family-
Pitch never truly understood why he wanted a family. This too seemed to go against everything that he was. Why would a being like him, a being whose only goal was to spread fear and terror into the minds and hearts of children, even want a family? To win them over by making them cower in his presence, rather than winning them over by love and compassion? A family… that was more akin to qualities of the latter, not the former.
It was the thing that Pitch could not find the answer to, the root of his own growing insecurity of his abilities. He wanted to hate Elsa for making him feel like this, to question himself, to question everything he fought for. But he could not come to fulfill that want, and his internal struggle had become something like a powerful whirlwind.
The Queen had seen enough. She finally emerged from the darker shadows, making her presence known as Pitch stood, turning to face her. She gave a light nod for a greeting, her bloodied feet stopping a few feet from Pitch.
"Something on your mind, Pitch? Something you'd care to discuss?" She asked.
Pitch glanced to the side, scoffing lightly. "Knowing you, you already have a good idea of what it is."
The Queen smirked lightly. "See how acquainted we are, Pitch?" She took a step closer. "However… it would be far more meaningful if it was verbally expressed."
"Must I report my every move to you then, your highness?" Pitch spat. "Why is it so important to you? Have you nothing better to occupy your time with?"
"No, I do not." The Queen replied.
"Then perhaps you should start looking for something else to do, then." Pitch said.
"I act as I do for similar reasons you do for Elsa. Fascination. Intrigue. Because it's all new to us. In our damp, moist isolations, we never imagined an encounter such as this." The Queen started. "We never imagined… that in our newest attempt to strike our enemies down… we would discover something else in its midst. We have never acted as we do because we have never had this sort of exposure, Pitch." She was less than a foot from him now, looking at him up and down before her gaze met his, her red and green swirled eyes staring into his. "I will tell you this… what I feel for you is not love. You may find this ironic, but I do not think I shall ever love as love ought to be carried out. I am ruthless, cruel, merciless. What I feel… is a hunger. A new hunger, because what I see before me is satisfying to the eyes and to the mind. You are not some mindless fool who simply and blindly obeys me. You challenge me… you force me to aspire to a higher greatness. A greatness we can achieve together." She was mere inches from him now, smirking seductively as she chuckled lightly. "You feel… the exact same way for the girl. However, she will not satisfy that hunger you have, Pitch. She does not have the ability. But there is someone who can…" Her lips were barely an inch from Pitch's now as he stood perfectly still, his eyes staring at her unblinking.
Elsa groaned lightly, waking up from having passed out after Pitch removed the icicle from her thigh. She sat up, looking over at Wick when she noticed him sitting beside her on the edge of her bed.
"Pitch told me to stay here and watch you." He said. He reached over, gently pulling down the covers. "I tried to heal your leg while you were asleep… I'm not sure how good I did though, I didn't want to mess up your dress, Elsa."
The young woman blinked, curiously rolling up her dress to see her bandaged thigh. There was dried blood on it, but when she undid the wrappings, she noticed that the wound was closed up. She smiled up at him lightly in response. "Thank you, Wick." She leaned in to hug him gently, and he smiled, returning the gesture. Elsa sighed, closing her eyes. "Maybe she was right…"
"Hm…?" Wick pulled back a bit to look at Elsa's face. "Who was right?"
"That girl allied with Jack Frost… Alice…" Elsa replied.
Wick's expression darkened then. "I don't like them, Elsa. I don't like the guardians. They're going to try to kill both of us. I won't let them."
"But I'm losing my mind, Wick…" Elsa said shakily, furrowing her brows deeply. "And I think I know who's responsible. I have to stop this damage before… before it's too late."
As she went to get up, Wick grabbed her hand. "Elsa, you have to stay here and rest…" Wick said barely above a whisper. "Pitch said so…"
Elsa sighed, gently patting his hand. "I'll be alright, Wick… please just stay here and wait for me. There's something I need to speak with the doctor about, alone."
Wick bit his lip, glancing out the archway before looking back at Elsa, nodding slowly as he let go of her hand. "Okay… but just don't be gone for too long, okay? The doctor man gives me a weird feeling. He stares at you funny."
Elsa smiled at him for a moment, nodding before leaving her room. She descended the stairs, knowing that Bumby was lurking somewhere in the bottom of the cavern. Though Pitch had warned her to be cautious of him, she wanted to try to set things straight. It was the darkest here, and as she made her way down, she looked around cautiously. "Doctor?" She called out quietly. "Doctor Bumby?" She gasped when she nearly walked right into a puppet child, the floating, eerie minion tilting its head. Elsa blinked when it beckoned to her with its hand, motioning for her to follow. It led her further into the darkness than usual, and she was barely able to see as she squinted her eyes. Only low lights and outlines guided her way here. "Doctor Bumby?" She called out quietly again, and she jumped when she felt someone suddenly take her hand.
"Goodness child, did I frighten you? Forgive me." Bumby said as he pet Elsa's hand for a moment. "I heard you calling, is there something you need from me?"
Elsa's spine straightened, inhaling deeply as she tried to keep her confidence up. "Yes, actually… I… need to speak with you about something." She said.
"Oh?" Bumby replied. "By all means, I would be more than happy to help if I can."
Elsa cleared her throat, looking around. "You see, I…" She bit her lip, shaking her head. "Do you mind if we speak where it isn't so… dark?"
Bumby chuckled lowly at that. Though his voice was calm, even, something about it sent a chill down Elsa's spine; and it did not involve her own abilities. "There's nothing here in the dark that will harm you Elsa, only myself."
The young woman inhaled sharply. She began to wonder if this was a good idea, if she had placed herself in an ill-fated situation. Elsa decided to just focus on what she wanted to say; she figured the quicker she had this discussion and moved on, the better. "I… I have some concerns about… your advice you've been giving me."
"What sort of concerns?" Bumby asked.
"I… I haven't been feeling right… I'm beginning to lose my grip on reality, and I'm seeing things… very disturbing things… earlier, I… I hurt myself… you said that forgetting would be productive, that it would help me, but… it isn't doing either." Elsa said.
"I understand your concern, Elsa." Bumby started. "You perceive that you are harming yourself, and in a way, you are. You are harming the part of you resisting the change. The disturbing visions you see is your mind's reaction to the change, for the mind takes time to adapt. It is in shock now, for it has been removed from comfort. But once the change occurs, it will settle, and it will simply become the new norm. This critical period is the most difficult to overcome… but I assure you, I shall help you through it."
Elsa shook her head; regardless of what Bumby said, regardless of how his words seemed to make sense, something about this simply wasn't right. "I'm not sure I want to keep doing this." She said.
"Elsa my dear..." Bumby started, and Elsa gasped and whirled around when the voice was suddenly behind her, feeling Bumby take both of her hands. "You may be young, but in life, sacrifice is required to achieve progress. For someone in your position, even more so." Elsa bit her lip as Bumby kept hold of her hands despite wanting to get away, seeming to draw her further into the darkness. "There are times where we must give up things that are very dear, very precious, but necessary in order to move forward. It's difficult to cope with, but must be done in order to get somewhere."
Elsa shook her head, trying gently to pull her hands back. "This isn't what I wanted..."
"Come now, I've told you before to trust me Elsa... I'm the one who is always there in your darkest moments, am I not?" Bumby asked.
"I wanted to... but what's happening to me is wrong... if you really cared about my well-being you would never have suggested something like this!" Elsa exclaimed.
She furrowed a brow when she felt the cavern wall against her back, her breathing quickening. "I will ease any concerns you have, Elsa... for your concerns, are my concerns. Your well-being is my well- being... for your satisfaction is my second greatest priority."
Elsa could feel Bumby drawing nearer, barely able to see his outline. "So what is your first priority, then?" She asked, the confidence in her voice wavering.
Bumby smirked, chuckling lowly. "Why, my own, of course."
Elsa realized now she had made a terrible mistake. She was caught in the spider's web and she knew if she stayed much longer, that this situation would make a turn for the worst. Her heart rate increased as she anticipated an attempt to make a run for it, inhaling sharply as she tried to run. However, she whimpered as Bumby kept a firm grip on her hands, shushing her as he pulled her in close.
"There's no need to run, Elsa... just follow your doctor's instructions and the proper results will follow. Results that will satisfy both of us; you do value your life, do you not?" He said.
Elsa shut her eyes tightly, biting her lip. She tried to freeze him, but he held her by her wrists, unable to break away as she struggled in panicked silence.
The Queen brushed her lips along Pitch's jawline, grinning as she observed his behavior. He closed his eyes, turning his head so the side of his neck closest to her was more exposed. Ah, yes, she was giving him a bit more bait this time, luring him in a bit closer. She took one finger, tilting his head back so he could look at her as his eyes cracked open. She licked her lips, her face drawing closer to his when Pitch suddenly inhaled sharply, becoming alert and taking a step back.
"Something is wrong." Pitch stated.
"Oh, it can wait…" The Queen cooed, trying to lure Pitch back into his trance… but he would not have it. She gasped lightly when Pitch stormed past her without another word, making her grimace with disappointment.
Pitch strode quickly but quietly, his eyes narrowing as he sensed Elsa's fear flaring up to dangerous levels. He had not sensed it like this for quite some time now, even during her hallucinations. The Queen took to action as well, moving in from the other side. She crawled silently, able to see in the dark as her eyes glowed. She was able to reach within earshot of where Bumby and Elsa were first, stopping in her tracks as she heard Elsa pleading quietly. The Queen grinned wickedly, relishing in Elsa's misfortune.
"Ruin her." She whispered.
The Queen then speedily but silently ascended back into the upper levels of the cavern, finding Elsa's area and poking her head in to find Wick sitting there.
"Hello! Have you seen Elsa? I'm waiting for her here-"
"Find Pitch and tell him to conjure some of his nightmares for you to maintain your abilities… I need to reserve my card guards for when those insolent mongrels return." The Queen demanded.
"O- Oh… okay, I just wanted to wait here for Elsa to get back first-"
"I don't care what you want, either do as I command or you shall suffer the consequences!" The Queen screeched, making Wick cower and nod shakily before hovering fearfully out of the area.
"Please, just let me go…" Elsa whimpered as Bumby inhaled the scent of her hair, holding her wrists against the wall as he leaned against her. The aroma intoxicated him, making him smile darkly.
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Elsa… I'm teaching you a very important life lesson. I am not only your doctor, I am your elder, and as your caretaker, it is my obligation to fit every person under my care to their calling. You're so young, Elsa, so naïve… you've much to learn. As a queen, you are tasked with providing a service to those under your rule… but to do that, you must maintain healthy relationships with allies…" Bumby chuckled lowly, holding her wrists with one hand and petting her face with the other. "… and to do that, you must learn to compromise." His hand trailed from her cheek, down her neck and along her side. "Don't despair, Elsa… you will think now that you are trading something precious… and indeed, what you have to trade is very precious, but what I can give you in return… what I can teach you… you will see it is well worth it."
Pitch made his way towards the other end of the cavern, and when he sensed her presence deeper within the darkened area below, he kept his back pressed against the wall, blending in with the shadows as he was about to make his descent; it was his specialty, after all. Just then, he felt someone gently tap his shoulder, whirling around to see Wick waving a bit.
"Brother Pitch, Queeny wants you to-"
"Can't you see that I'm busy? Don't bother me now!" Pitch hissed lowly.
"But Pitch, if I don't listen to Queeny, I'll be in big trouble!" Wick whined.
Pitch grit his teeth, grabbing Wick by the collar of his shirt. "Listen to me very, very carefully. You are to stay here, and do not move until I come back up here with Elsa."
Wick glanced down into the darkness before looking back at Pitch. "Elsa went down there to see the doctor man I think… are you going to talk to them too?"
Pitch rolled his eyes with frustration. "Yes. Now wait here." He growled.
Elsa bit her lip, shutting her eyes tightly and turning her face as she felt Bumby's fingertips slip under the split of her dress, tracing along the bare skin of her thigh underneath as they moved across the outer portion, dipping down around the back as his hand moved further and further into her dress. A tear escaped her closed eyes, rolling down her cheek as she struggled to break free from this slow torture to no avail. Bumby felt the rim of her undergarment, licking his lips as he intended to work the rim down her thigh. He had barely grasped it when He felt his hands being pried away from Elsa's wrists, his delectable treat being torn from him in one swift move.
"Wick, light." Pitch's voice said lowly, but firmly.
The darkness was cast away when Wick descended quickly, his staff igniting. The part of Pitch's face that was illuminated by the flames revealed him scowling darkly at Bumby, his lip curled as one arm was draped around the distraught, traumatized Elsa.
"… Elsa…?" Wick called her name gently as he floated a bit closer. "Why are you crying?" He looked over at the doctor, the hollow spaces of his eyes narrowing into slits. "You better not have been mean to her!" He shouted at the doctor.
"Wick, shut up and take Elsa to her room. You are not to leave her alone, am I clear?" Pitch said.
"O- Okay, but what if Queeny gets angry and-"
"Tell her she can deal with me if she does." Pitch said, glancing back at him. "Go now."
Wick nodded, Elsa clinging to him as they ascended. Pitch refocused his attention to Bumby; he felt himself becoming more livid by the moment, it was a white hot anger that threatened to boil over regardless of his efforts to keep himself calm and collected. Perhaps part of it was due to Bumby just standing in the darkness, staring at him with such a nonchalant air, not an ounce of tension in his features. Pitch acknowledged an age ago that his actions of inducing fear and terror were considered unforgiveable by most, but this… what Bumby had done in the past, what he had done now… it was not just unforgiveable, it was a new level of evil entirely.
It was atrocious.
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, the tension in the air so thick it could be cut with a knife, Bumby finally spoke first.
"Is there something you wanted to discuss with me?" He asked.
Pitch grit his teeth more, unsure as to whether or not all hell would be unleashed past his lips if he did not take the time now to make a great effort to keep himself at least somewhat composed. He exhaled deeply, forcing his spine to straighten so he was not crouching forward as much.
"Indeed… I'll just get to the point. How is frightening Elsa is going to help any of us?" He asked.
Bumby chuckled lightly. "I'm sorry if you interpret my actions as such, Pitch, but I'm simply assisting Elsa in learning the ways of the world. She's grown quite a bit on me, as you see… I'd like to think that I can help her with more than just fighting our enemies."
"I think she and I would both appreciate it if any further assistance was left up to me from this point forward. This discussion is over." Pitch said, turning to storm off when Bumby spoke after him.
"Seems to me she's grown quite a bit on you as well." He started. "No surprise there… she has several amiable qualities that cannot be ignored." Pitch turned to say something, hissing and jumping back a bit when Bumby was suddenly right behind him as he turned. "But let me assure you of one thing. If you really want what I think you want… which if that is the case, it is the same exact thing I want… then you will stop pretending to be some sort of hero to win her affections. We are not heroes, we are not moral, decent beings… as innocent and pure as Elsa may seem, even she is not entirely so."
"You believe that gives you the right to resort to petrifying her?" Pitch spat.
"Indeed; a master of shadows, corrupter of dreams, a monster draining the light and hope from the wee little hearts of children accusing a former outstanding citizen of all London of petrification… it's laughable!" Bumby smirked. "I'm just being the person I am… so why don't you do the same?" He chuckled. "Perhaps if you allow me, I can spare you a night or two a week with the girl once she's earned her pedigree!"
Pitch clenched both his fists and his jaw, tearing away as he stormed off. He tried to shut the doctor's echoing laughter out of his ears as he made his way towards Elsa's area. As he did so, the Queen watched on from the shadows silently, growling lowly as she swore under her breath.