Chapter 12 - Clash of the Seasons
For the first time in his life, Kristoff was entering the Valley of Living Rock filled with fear. He had been riding hard all day, stopping only very briefly when Sven needed a quick rest or drink of water. But even the reindeer had been struggling ahead ceaselessly, both of them growing more and more anxious as the day steadily moved onward, the sun sinking towards the horizon.
Now it was nearly sunset and they had finally arrived.
Before Sven even rounded the corner into the clearing where the trolls gathered, Kristoff was yelling at the top of his lungs.
“Guys! Guys wake up! Guys…” He trailed off as Sven skidded hastily to a halt, sides heaving as he panted.
The trolls were already awake, already silently gathered around the valley. Waiting for him. They all stared at him unblinkingly. No one smiled, no one even moved, there wasn’t even a breath of wind to rustle their grassy hair.
Kristoff slowly slid off of Sven’s back. The instant his feet touched the ground, Bulda rolled forward and clung to his legs.
“Kristoff! What has happened?” She demanded in a shrill voice, her face buried in his pants.
“What…what do you mean?”
The troll who had raised him as her son looked up at him with fear. Seeing that, Kristoff’s unease tripled. The trolls feared nothing. In all the years he’d lived with them, not even the strongest of magics had ever given them so much as a hint of dread. They were children of the gods, housing powerful magic incomprehensible to humankind. Even Elsa’s formidable powers had not frightened them. Saddened them maybe but never scared them.
Bulda tugged on his pants, making him fall into a crouch at her side. “The stars have shifted, the lights have flickered.” His troll mother told him in a frantic whisper, her eyes wide with fear. “Something is very wrong, what is happening?”
Kristoff was not partial to the rituals and secrets of the trolls. For some reason, he had never liked magic very much. There were many things the creatures kept to themselves and that had suited him just fine in his childhood. So he gave them the only detail he thought could possibly be important.
“Elsa left yesterday. With the other hosts.”
His words seemed to send a silent ripple across the gathering, rendering each troll as still and impassive as the rocks they became in hibernation. Kristoff glanced around at the assembly but no one would meet his eyes. Not even the little ones.
Another rippled flowed back to Kristoff as the trolls parted to make way for their Sage and King to come forward. Pabbie faced Kristoff for the first time in months, his ancient and wrinkled face beginning to crack with stress and sorrow.
“It is as I feared.”
“Pabbie…” An uncomfortable mixture of anger and relief flowed through Kristoff. Pabbie always knew what to do.
The ancient troll gazed sadly at the human his tribe had adopted. His eyes were squinting so hard they had nearly closed. Slowly, Pabbie turned on his heel. “Kristoff…follow me.”
The two of them walk along the path Pabbie’s entrance had created in the valley. As they passed, the other trolls lowered their heads. But it was not a bow of respect, rather, it seem more shameful then that.
They left the valley floor and climbed a short steep incline up one of the walls. The Sage’s worn feet padded softly on the hard earthen floor as he led Kristoff into the one cave he had never been permitted to enter in his childhood.
The ancient sage of the trolls lived and hibernated in the smallest of the tribe’s caves. It was so low that Kristoff practically had to crawl to fit through the opening. Further in, the tunnel widened and he was able to crouch on the floor, with his head bumping the ceiling. Pabbie waved his hands over the crystals he wore and they began to shine brightly in the gloom, illuminating the space. The tiny cave was filled with crystals, each of which sparked to life when touched by the light. Soon enough the entire cavern was pulsing and glowing around them. Were his reason for being here not so mysterious and disconcerting, Kristoff would have felt awed and humbled to be in such a sacred space.
Pabbie settled himself in the center of the room, looking up at the rounded ceiling above them as the crystals glowed. “There is something else you should know,” he began softly. “a secret told only to the Sage of the Trolls and the Head Councilor when absolutely necessary. No human has ever been told this secret.”
“What secret?” Kristoff asked in a low voice. He didn’t care if he was the first. He just wanted his family safe.
Pabbie lowered his head slightly, the lights from the crystals dancing across his wide back. “The condition that makes the hosts dangerous. Not only to themselves but to everyone in this world.”
Kristoff waited in silence, dreading whatever it was he was about to hear.
“The spirits are emotional, complex beings.” The old troll said. “Their feelings manifest as raw power, expressed as the fury of the seasons. For them to manifest in human form causes terrible pain, forced isolation and an unimaginable burden on their host. Some become so disillusioned between their two selves that they begin to trade memories with the goddess within them, their experiences mixing and forming new, untrue memories that haunt them day and night. Only by bonding completely with their host can they avoid driving each other insane. When that bond is established, the host gives up their control over their emotions. The spirit rushes in and fills every possible ounce of emotional space within their host, sealing them and protecting them from lashing out with those incredibly powerful emotions and destroying themselves and others.
“With one exception.”
Pabbie raised his head and traced several light patterns in the air. The light swirled like smoke around his hands for a few seconds before sinking back into the crystals and continuing its journey. “Bonds made prior to that one are dangerous. The spirit has no control over them. Anyone who the host formed a deep bond with before they did with their spirit remains a cable, forever tethering the host to those emotions. To that person. It leaves a hole for power to escape, a hole for corruption to seep in and tear them apart, host, spirit, season. If a host and their spirit are corrupted as such, they may very well destroy each other. Destroy the cycle.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Kristoff asked, his shaking voice betraying his fear.
“I made a mistake 15 years ago…” Pabbie whispered. “…and now the consequences are going to be known by all the realm.”
“What are you talking about?”
But abruptly, the old troll curled himself into a ball, cutting out the light. The crystals around them rapidly grew dark, plunging the tiny cavern into complete darkness. Kristoff heard Pabbie rolling himself back towards the entrance and hurriedly crawled after him, scraping his elbows blindly on the floor.
When he emerged again, the Sage was standing on the lip of the cliff, gazing sadly down at his amassed brethren below.
Panting, Kristoff crawled up next to him and rested, waiting for the troll to speak again.
“I never should have tried to circumvent the Mother’s Doctrine.” Pabbie said in a shaking voice. “I broke the First Law and the ripples have spread and created something terrible…”
“What do you mean?”
Pabbie threw his head back, gazing up at the sky. “The seasons are coming together…they will clash and burn and howl and writhe.”
Almost as soon as he said that, clouds thicker than night covered the setting sun, blotting out all light and casting the valley into an eerie orange-twilight glow. The trolls below them stared up at the sky, silent and stoic, watching the storm gather.
Kristoff shivered terribly and rose to a half-crouch. “What is it Pabbie? What did you do? What is happening?” He turned to the ancient troll, fighting a rising sense of doom that threatened to engulf him.
“The four are together…” Pabbie muttered to himself, watching the sky carefully. He turned back to Kristoff and the ice harvester swore he saw crystal tears glistening in the old rock’s eyes. “This, Kristoff,” Pabbie said solemnly. “is the beginning of the end.”
No one spoke for the longest time. The hall was, fittingly, silent as a grave.
Elsa had no words.
He…but how…? Hans is…
Theo though, apparently still had some of her wits about her. “So…you…” She began in a shaky voice. “you’re…”
Slowly, Hans shifted his unwavering gaze from Elsa to the other hosts. “I am Hans of the Southern Isles.” He proclaimed, by way of introduction. “And yes, I am the host of this wretched demon.”
He bore little resemblance to the man Elsa had met all those months ago. Gone was his well-shaved chin and trimmed side-burns. He’d let his face become scraggly and unkempt, like a crag covered in fallen leaves. Thick locks of hair fell to his ears, curling slightly but never quite enough to bounce. His nose, once straight and handsome was now improperly healed into a jagged knob, marring his otherwise beautiful face.
His clothes were a rich auburn color, identical to his hair. He’d donned a fine suit and a grey cloak that cascaded around his seated form. Upon his head, was a twisted crown of thorns. He did not look like a man who had been living alone in this palace for the past two weeks. He looked regal, powerful.
Theo made a choking sound, drawing Elsa’s attention to her. “I saw the name on the scroll…” The fire-girl said. “I thought it was a mistake…or the name of a province…” She stared up at the man before them, shaking her head in disbelief. “How…?”
“How indeed?” Hans asked, his voice as slippery as a snake gliding through honey. He tapped the skull under his hand again, as if he were counting out the seconds before he should speak again. “And yet, here we are. Finally together again.” His eyes drifted disinterestedly back over Theo and Scara before resting on Elsa. “All of us.”
Elsa swore his voice had changed as surely as his eyes had. There was a darkness to it, covering up a promise of pain with slick and sharp words.
“She told me you were coming…I must say, I admire your bravery in facing me.” He addressed this statement only to Elsa. She felt her chest tighten and her heart begin to race loudly.
“Nice place you made here.” She finally managed to say. By some miracle of her court breeding, she managed to make it sound like she were merely greeting him at a political council.
Hans bristled, clearly not appreciating her attempt at diplomacy. “Where do you think I got the idea?” He hissed. He gestured around the room. “See anything you recognize?”
Elsa took another look around the room. Her eyes had adjusted to the gloom and she could make out finer details. There were patterns to the arrangement of the corpses, spirals that reminded her of her snowflakes. The pillars spiraling up into the ceiling appeared to have similar textures and ridges to that of her own design. Even the shape of the room resembled that of her entrance hall. Without a doubt, he’d been inspired by aspects of her creation. Elsa couldn’t say that his would work though. Based on her knowledge of architecture, this entire thing was built by an amateur. Structurally, it was barely able to hold itself up.
Tearing her gaze away from the walls, Elsa examined him carefully. “What happened to you?” She asked.
Hans gestured at his crooked nose. “Courtesy of your sister.” He said spitefully.
Elsa couldn’t help but smirk. “Remind me to congratulate her on her impeccable aim.” She said as politely as she could muster. “But I was talking about your eyes.”
The dull gray orbs that had once been a deceptively pleasant emerald glinted angrily. “That’s her work.” He spat. “The voice in my head…she did this to me.”
“Where is she?” Scara asked in a deadly calm voice. “What have you done with her?”
Hans turned to Scara, looking at her as if he were noticing her for the first time. His eyes slowly traveled up and down her small frame, appraising her long blonde hair and brilliant green eyes. His gaze softened slightly, his fingers ceasing their tapping. For a split second, it seemed as if he had gone somewhere else. Or was someone else entirely. “Done with her?” Hans snapped so suddenly and violently that Elsa and Theo flinched. “I’ve ‘done’ nothing with her. Perhaps you’d be better off asking just what she has done to me.” The air around him seemed to shimmer with his anger, as if he were projecting some kind of ill-feeling all around him. Elsa was fascinated and terrified all at once.
“We have heard her cries.” Theo said, her voice gaining strength. “She has reached out to us, begging for help. We know you are hurting her.”
Hans turned his ugly gaze on her and glared. The air around him shimmered distinctly. “All I am doing, is taking control over the curse she has bestowed on me…”
To Theo’s credit, she didn’t flinch under his gaze. But she clearly looked uncomfortable with his words.
“’Bestowed’ on you?” She repeated. “You were not born this way?”
Hans leaned back in the throne but didn’t take his eyes off of her. “Not exactly. At least not that I have been told.” He traced a disinterested finger over the skull under his hand. “But it is my curse, and I am using it as I see fit.”
Theo bristled noticeably and a spark snapped at her fingers. “You’re playing with a dangerous power.” She snarled. “Sooner or later, it will explode in your face, hurting all those unfortunate enough to be around you.”
Hans regarded her evenly, one eyebrow raised at the smoke that spilled from the summer hosts’ fingers. “Well then, I’ll just have to hope I’m around the right people when that happens.” He replied, eyeing her as one might a deer they were about to shoot.
Theo looked ready to spring forward and strangle him with her bare hands. Seeing this, Elsa took a deliberate step in front of her.
“Calm down.” Elsa soothed the girl. “Don’t do anything rash, that’s what he wants.” She could see Theo struggling to get her temper back under control, the sparks snapping from her hands at odd intervals.
“This is unnatural.” Theo hissed, lowering her voice so Hans could not hear. “It’s not right…we cant just let him continue running around like this. We have to stop him before he hurts anyone else!”
“He hasn’t attacked yet.” Elsa pointed out.
“She’s right.” Scara said, surprising both Elsa and Theo. “He hasn’t lashed out…he doesn’t want to hurt us…he’s lost and alone and wants to understand…” She clenched her fists as a tremor of pain flashed through her gaze. “He wants to stop hurting.”
Elsa looked up at the throne again, thinking hard. Hans gazed right back, his dull grey eyes hard and hurtful. She thought of the young man she’d met at her coronation, the man she’d never really trusted but hadn’t really known why. The smooth politician who had fooled even her into believing he was a humble, trustworthy soul. The man who had both saved her integrity and caused her deepest hurt.
Prince Hans of the Southern Isles. One-time fiancé to Anna. One-time would-be assassin.
Maybe, just maybe, there was more to him then that.
“Maybe we can convince him to back down.” Elsa said softly to the other two.
“Right…you wouldn’t come with us except by force, why would he?” Theo’s sarcasm was so dry, she could have set it on fire with a spark.
“Because we’re offering him something he’s always wanted.” Elsa replied immediately. “A home where he can be with people who respect him. People like him.”
Both of them looked at her but neither said anything more. Elsa placed a gentle hand on Theo’s arm. “Just, let me speak to him.” She pleaded. The summer host was still regarding her with unease. “Trust me, Theo.” Elsa said.
Theo’s gaze flared briefly then, she expelled a great breath and stepped down. “Fine.”
Elsa took a step closer to the throne. She hated looking up at Hans but she knew him being able to look down at her right now could very well be all that was keeping him from lashing out.
“Hans…” She began slowly. “how long have you been like this?”
“I thought that might be your first question…” Hans sat up taller, his hand caressing the skull he curled it around the face. “Years. Since childhood.” He smiled down at her but it was completely lacking in warmth. “I was just like you Elsa…sheltered, hidden away from the world…told I was a monster by my own parents…”
On Elsa’s left, Theo twitched uncomfortably. Elsa fought not to let any emotion show on her face. Hans’ eyes slid back and forth, taking everything in. “Thankfully for my kingdom, I was thirteenth in line, not first. So my parents never had to worry about what would happen if I took the throne…” He paused and for the first time since she’d known him, Elsa saw a flicker of genuine sadness in his eyes. “They…saw it best to ignore my existence as best they could.”
Unwilling to dwell on the possibility that Hans possessed human emotion, Elsa asked another question. “If you were kept locked away, why did you come to my coronation?”
The sadness vanished, replaced by a glint of satisfaction. “I escaped.” Hans boasted. “With all my unwed brothers distracted by the thought of snaring you and my wedded brothers occupied with keeping them from killing each other, no one missed me as I snuck away.
“My intention was to have a little fun, for once. Maybe see if I could win your heart or at least convince you to trust me. But then I met your sister.”
Elsa stiffened at the mention of Anna. It did not go unnoticed by anyone in the room.
“In her, I saw my salvation, I saw my way out of the Isles. And my way into Arendelle. A way into a life I was always destined for. A way to be the one in control, never to be the prisoner again.” A cruel smirk twisted his face grotesquely. “And Anna made it oh so easy…she practically guaranteed that I would soon be sitting on the kingdom’s throne.” He waved a hand. “After I’d disposed of you of course.”
Elsa stood there, trembling with rage and fear, her fists and jaw clenched tightly to keep the ice from shooting out of her. The temperature was starting to drop but she was determined not to show him any reaction. He was trying to wind her up, trying to make her lash out…
“And then I learned about your powers. And I knew I had to keep you alive.”
Stunned, Elsa blinked several times. “Keep me alive?” She repeated, unable to believe what he was saying.
Hans turned to look at her, his grey eyes piercing her blue ones. “Finding out about you told me I wasn’t alone. It told me I was not the only one of my kind. I was one of at least two.”
A wave of empathy stole completely unwelcome through Elsa. She thought back to that moment at her coronation. The moment her powers were revealed…Hans had looked at her…like he just couldn’t believe it. Like it shocked him and pleased him all at once. She closed her eyes, trying to keep her emotions under control. “Why didn’t you tell me?” She asked him softly. “I could have helped you.”
“Would you have believed me?” He replied, just as quietly.
Hans scoffed and any hint of camaraderie disappeared. “My powers are not nearly as conspicuous as yours. Seeing how hard it was for you, how everyone turned on you in an instant, how you struggled. I couldn’t have that. Your curse kills people slowly. Mine…” He paused, lost in thought. “…is instant.”
Elsa knew this was her chance. He was vulnerable now, she knew his motivations. “I can help you now Hans…” She began gently. “I learned control. These two…” She gestured at Scara and Theo. “…our…sisters. They know how to help you…”
Hans laughed, sounding mildly insane. “Why? Why help me?” He looked at Elsa, entirely blind to the other two, gazing at her like he could make her vanish simply by glaring. “I know you Elsa, you are just like me! We flourish alone. We crave loneliness and solitude. Because the world has done us no favors. The world fears us and hates us. You hate me. You’d rather kill me than see me redeemed.” His hand closed around the skull and Elsa heard the distinct crunch of bone. “So why help?”
Elsa did want to hurt him. She wanted him to disappear back to the Isles and never bother her or her sister again. Never challenge her fragile grip on her confidence, never threaten the safety of her kingdom. Out of everyone else on Earth, she hated him the most.
But she could see the dark circles under his eyes born of sleepless nights, the tension in his shoulders, the loneliness in his gaze. The way he tried to fill this entire empty room with his presence and powers like it could make up for the lack of people around him. He was alone and desperate. And scared.
Just like she was. Just like Theo was.
He was lashing out to protect himself, believing himself not worth saving.
And she understood that better than anyone. So like it or not, he would have to become a part of her life. Just like the others had.
Forcing her hands to unclench, Elsa lowered her gaze and spoke gently.
“Hans, you once reminded me not to be a monster. Now let me help you realize the same thing.”
“I also tried to kill you and steal your kingdom.” Hans spat back immediately and Elsa could hear the sneer in his voice. “I left your sister to die.”
The words tore through her heart, shattering her weak hold on her serenity. “Why?” Elsa asked, raising her head enough to look him in the eye, her blood starting to churn. “You said you wanted me alive but then you tried to murder me on the fjord. You had plenty of opportunity to kill me prior to that snowstorm. So why wait until then?”
“It was my only option. I only let you live that long because I thought you could teach me control.” Hans leaned forward, half rising out of the throne. “But once I learned you were as helpless as I was, that you could no more stop the Winter than I could, you only became an obstacle to my rise to power. So I reverted to my original plan, albeit, slightly altered. I had to wait until I could manufacture a moment where you would be seen as the monster and I as the triumphant hero. My power would be welcomed as the sorcery that had freed Arendelle of Winter’s curse.”
Elsa might have been imagining it but Hans’ eyes had started to glow a dull, white color. “I……would have been…FREE…” He hissed through clenched teeth.
Scara let out a whimper of pain and clutched her head. Theo was at her side in an instant, her arms around the other girl. “Scara! What is it?” What’s wrong?”
Before Scara could answer, Hans let out a moan and writhed uncomfortably in his chair. His grey eyes began to glow in earnest now, the light within escaping.
“Where… is…Isen?” He asked in a strangled voice, his eyes darting restlessly around the room.
Deep down, at that moment Elsa knew she was no longer speaking to Hans. She was speaking to Død.
“She’s here…”Elsa said, her voice trembling. “W…with me…I think.”
The eyes snapped to her and a shiver went through Elsa. In those eyes were centuries of hurt, months of pain and suffering. And desperate hope that those times were finally over. Hans lifted a hand in her direction as if asking her to dance. The eyes widened as if in surprise at the appendage’s betrayal but the movement did not cease. “Let…me…speak…to her…” The spirit pleaded in Hans’ voice. Hans’ entire frame was shaking. “Save me…sister…”
“I…” Elsa looked at Theo who met her gaze uneasily from where she still supported Scara. The spring host was hanging limply now, whimpering pitifully and holding her head.
Elsa turned back to Død. “I cant…” She admitted, feeling more useless than when Anna had been turned into an ice statue. All of this was too similar: unable to help her sister, failing at even the simplest of family tasks…
Hans let out an anguished wail that shook the castle to its foundations. He slumped back in the throne, hand over his eyes as Elsa, Theo and Scara struggled to stay on their feet. A pillar crumbled to dust and leaves rained down from the ceiling as the quake roiled through the palace. The bones around them rattled ominously as Hans moaned. Gradually, the shaking began to slow then stopped entirely.
Slowly, Hans pushed himself upright, using the arm of his throne to do so. “You see how she torments me?” He asked them, panting. “It is like this every day…and every time…it hurts a little more.” Tears shone in his eyes. “And you say I am torturing her?”
A small voice answered him. “If you just let her go…” Scara murmured, her eyes glazed over. “opened yourself to her pains…”
But Hans ignored her, his focus was entirely on Elsa. “We are not so different after all Elsa…” He told her “we both have escaped pain and suffering only to find ourselves trapped by more. We both come from families that would rather we not exist.”
Elsa stiffened and several icicles formed around her. “That is not true.”
But Hans had seen her reaction. He knew he had her now. “Your parents didn’t love you.” He taunted, slumping back into his seat. “They feared you and they disguised that as love. And they taught you that fear, that self-loathing because they just couldn’t love a daughter who nearly killed her sibling. So they locked you up, saying it was for your own good.”
Elsa felt tears prick her eyes. Snow was starting to swirl around her now but she couldn’t have stopped it if she tried. He couldn’t be right. Her parents had loved her…they had. Why else would they have been so kind, so caring, so careful…
Why else would they have kept her away from the only person who understood her?
Hans was still speaking, the manner of his voice growing dangerously close to ranting. “It was the same way with me: the bane of my father’s existence. To be constantly told it was such a privilege to be able to live in the castle with my brothers, to still be alive.” He threw back his head, laughing harshly and all the bones in the palace seemed to rattle in consent. “The only reason I am still alive is that my father and all of my brothers were too cowardly to try to kill me themselves!” He looked down at the other hosts. Dead leaves were beginning to swirl menacingly around the base of his throne. Theo took a half step back, raising her hands.
Hans lifted a hand and regarded it with hateful anguish. “Do know what kind of a curse this is? To kill everything you touch? My power wasn’t like yours, I couldn’t hide the effects, blaming it on the weather or the imagination. Touching anything alive was always a gamble: would it die or wouldn’t it?” A smirk that didn’t reach his eyes curled across his lips. “Gloves are a blessing, are they not?”
At her side, Elsa could hear sparks snapping at Theo’s fingers again but she was too busy trying to keep her icicles from spreading to reach out and stop her.
Hans leaned forward again, his hands crushing both of the armrests of his throne this time. “No one loved me, only one person, one person in my life has ever shown me an ounce of kindness!” He roared.
Elsa saw the tear escape and run down his face. It affected her more than she thought possible. “Hans…you don’t need to do this. You are one of us. We can help you.” Elsa was pleading now, practically begging this man she loathed to stop. “Let us help you!”
Scara moaned again and Hans’ entire body clenched. He closed his eyes, throwing his head back as a tremor wracked his entire body.
Scara reached out towards him, her eyes flashing a deeper green as she struggled to reach him. Theo sprang to her side and held her back in a vice-like grip. Hans seemed to have gone rigid.
“…sister…” Scara hissed.
Hans did not appear to hear her. Suddenly his head snapped forward, his own eyes blazing a dull white light.
“Run my sisters…he has too much power…he will kill you all…!”
Hans let out a strangled yell and the glow in his eyes faded once again. “It’s too late, Elsa!” He shouted, gritting his teeth. “You can’t help me. No one can. Death has come…and he will always prevail.”
Hans rose slowly to his feet. His eyes had stopped glowing but they were now filled with a maniacal thrill. “I will be free of this demon…and I will have my rightful kingdom in this world.”
He held out his hand, curling his fingers inward slightly until he had formed a loose fist.
A sword slowly shimmered into being in his grip, appearing out of nowhere.
Elsa heard Theo draw a sharp intake of breath. “…the Blade of Death…!” She whispered.
Hans smirked at them. “Recognize this?” He asked the queen.
Elsa took a step back. She did indeed. It was the same blade he’d tried to kill her with. The same blade Anna had shattered when it struck her icy form.
The sword before her now was intact but riddled with thin, nearly-invisible cracks along the blade as if it had been welded carefully back together.
“This is the same blade your sister shattered.” Hans confirmed, stroking it as if it were a favorite pet.
Scara’s head snapped up. “She…shattered it?!” She cried, incredulous. Theo’s brow furrowed in surprise but she said nothing.
Hans was once again ignoring anyone but Elsa. “How is little Anna, my dear queen?” He taunted. “Is she happy? Is she safe?”
A whimper escaped Elsa’s lips completely unbidden. Ice began to gather at her fingertips and snow flurries were breaking out sporadically around the room.
“This demon inside of me has a big sister too,” Hans continued, taking short breaths and giggling. “one she loves and trusts to save her. And where is that sister? Is she here?”
Elsa’s fist closed tightly, her nails digging into her skin. An icicle rose beside her, its sharp tip pointed at Hans.
“She cries constantly to me: Isen will save me! Isen will come! But you, you can’t even speak to Isen, how could you possibly save her sister?”
“Enough!” Theo cried, stopping Elsa from either breaking down and wailing or impaling Hans with an icicle. She honestly did not know which one she would have resorted too if Theo hadn’t stopped Hans when she did.“You have abused this power long enough.” The summer host declared. “We will restrain you and take you back to the temple. Where you belong.”
Hans smirked and lazily pointed the sword at her. “I’m afraid I cant let you do that.”
Theo crouched in a fighting position but eyed the blade with poorly concealed fear. “You don’t get a choice in this matter.”
Hans regarded her silently for a moment before he responded. “If I end you all…she will stop crying…she will give in once she realizes my power.” The smile slid off his face. “It’s the only way I can be free.”
Scara looked up, a dreamy expression in her eyes. “You cant kill us.” She muttered, more to herself than anyone else in the room.
Hans ignored her. “She’s told me stories about this blade…about where it was forged…the power it holds. A power so terrible her Mother locked it away. And now it’s in my hand…”
He hefted the weapon and Theo flinched reflexively, fire crackling to life in her palm. “Now…” he said to them all. “feel the wrath…of Death.”
He raised the sword above his head and plunged it into the bones at his feet.
The grassy floor beneath them began to churn and move, the carcasses and dead grasses, moving to ensnare them. But just as a thick swath of dead leaves curled around Elsa’s foot, there was a blinding burst of green light that filled the room. Everything dead seemed to flinch away from it and Hans let out a cry of pain, falling back against his throne, covering his eyes like he had been blinded.
Scara stepped forward, the grass under her feet turning a vibrant green and abruptly forgetting its tendencies to attack them. She fixed Hans with a piercing gaze.
“You will not be killing any of us today.” The voice of Livet boomed, like a roll of spring thunder reverberating off the hills. Softly, the light began to retract until it settled tightly around Scara’s frame, making her appear to be swathed in green energy. “We are your sisters and we will stop you.”
Standing up again, Hans looked at Scara like she were an unsightly smear on his immaculate suit. “And who are you, that you can make such a pretentious promise?” He asked, yanking his blade out of the bones beneath him.
Scara just looked at him, Livet’s green light shining from her eyes.
Hans blinked as the realization hit him.
Scara stared up at him sadly, her eyes swimming in a mixture of sadness and hope, the green light slowly fading.
For a moment, nothing moved as Life and Death silently spoke.
Then Hans’ face hardened. “And where were you all these years?!” Hans let out a feral howl and wind began to whip around the base of his throne, spiraling tightly into a tornado. He launched himself at Scara, his blade whistling through the air only to hit an enormous ball of fire that knocked him off course. He crashed to the floor and was back on his feet a moment later, glaring at the summer host.
Theo lowered her hands, breathing hard. “If you….wont come…..with us….peacefully…” She said pausing to gasp for air. “Then…we will have to take you….by force.”
Hans twisted the sword, an ugly smile on his face. “I’d like to see you try…” He rose into a stance, his eyes narrowing.
Elsa knew she should be doing something: attacking, trying to freeze him or run. But she couldn’t move, she couldn’t take her eyes off of him.
So much pain, so much anguish and suffering.
A burning sensation in her hand snapped her out of it. Theo squeezed Elsa’s hand tightly.
“Elsa! Snap out of it! We need you here now! Fighting!”
The words had barely left her mouth before Hans was charging them, blade held above his head. Dropping Theo’s hand, Elsa jumped sideways with more agility than she was aware she possessed. Hans slid past her, turning on his heel and charging Theo instead. Elsa stamped her foot and ice spread rapidly across the floor. Theo masterfully skated backwards, using small bursts of flame to propel herself as Hans stumbled and slipped, falling to his knees. He rose shakily with a growl and plunged the sword into the ice under him. It shattered and turned to water, drenching the grassy floor. Hans whipped the sword back up, his eyes settling first on Theo standing to his right then on Elsa who was closer, on his left.
“Elsa!” Theo shouted. She caught the queen’s gaze and an understanding flashed between them. In one smooth, practically choreographed moment, they threw up their hands, releasing opposing torrents of ice and fire.
Elsa’s ice shards swallowed Theo’s flames and created a blinding steam cloud, eliminating visibility from the room.
Hans stood perfectly still.
So they wanted to play games did they? Foolish choice. He excelled at playing games. Hide and seek? He always found his brothers. No matter how hard they tried to give him the slip.
He held his sword ready, the metal humming at his touch. It wanted blood. It wanted Death.
A shape in the steam moved and Hans smirked. It was the fire-girl. He could tell by the plaintive moan of the demon in his head. She was one he could dispose of. He readied his sword, stepping silently through the fog. She didn’t move. Either she didn’t see him or she was waiting for him. Either way, he knew he could over-power her. Død had told him everything about summer: she was weak now. He was powerful.
He readied his sword. Time to kill his first goddess.
“Prince Hans!” Elsa called from somewhere behind him. Startled, he whipped around, swinging his sword in a wide arc through the air, slicing ineffectively through the steam. Several feet beyond the tip of his sword stood Queen Elsa, her black dress and white hair flaring in a breeze surrounding only her. She slowly raised her hands, her wind dispersing the steam. “This, is for my sister!”
The temperature in the entire room, fell dangerously low in the time it took Hans to draw a breath. Elsa turned her hands towards him, her powers setting her skin glowing a pale blue. Power such as she had never known, coursed through her. “Get down!” She called to Theo and Scara. The wall behind her was torn down by the howling fury of the blizzard winds as they crashed through the palace, the dead matter swirling on the winds. Elsa twisted her wrists and threw her arms forward, unleashing the churning winds. The storm slammed into Hans, knocking him off his feet and crashing into the throne. The sword flew out of his grip and landed point-down in the floor. The throne cracked and splintered as tiny blades of ice tore mercilessly at it, sending Hans tumbling across the floor to hit the wall. Just as suddenly as the blizzard had arisen, it faded, leaving the room clear and cold and covered in drifts of snow.
Theo and Scara were both staring at Elsa: Scara with mild surprise and Theo with barely-concealed trepidation. Clearly Elsa had once again far exceeded their expectations of her.
The remains of her attack still racing along her skin and across her nerves, Elsa lowered her hands, taking deep, hungry breaths. For a moment, one foolish, post-euphoric moment, Elsa thought she had won.
Hans stood slowly, his back against the far wall. He kept his head down, as if accepting his defeat. But then Elsa heard it.
He was laughing.
“You really shouldn’t have done that, my queen…”
The entire palace shuddered and moaned. Overhead, the enormous ribs splintered and began to shift, sending carcasses cascading down and dead leaves fluttering around among the snow. “This is my dominion.” Hans said forebodingly. He slowly raised his head, his eyes shining maliciously. “All of these are mine.” The entire ceiling began to fall as the structure holding it up broke free and plummeted down. The sword vanished from its place stuck in the floor and reappeared in Hans’ hand. In one smooth motion, the King of Death swung the sword in a wide arc, twisting the point towards Elsa. Mid-air, the avalanche of dead matter, warped itself into a spiral around the ribcage, clinging to bone, a skin of leaves encasing the unconventional pieces, forming an enormous, headless whale. A dead recreation of a once magnificent beast.
Silently, it charged Elsa.
Elsa panicked. She threw up her hands and a thick wall of ice appeared in front of her. But the creature did not slow of hesitate. It had no life, no spark. Just death carried on an autumn breeze. A puppet.
As it dashed through the air, all the snow Elsa had brought into the room followed in its wake, like bubbles in the ocean depths.
Elsa had nowhere to run. She was trapped behind her own shield. As the whale flew at her, she saw flames licking at the heels of the undead beast as Theo desperately tried to help her. But it was too slow. The fire was eating it from the wrong end, doing little to slow it down.
With a howl of bitter autumn wind, the creation slammed into Elsa’s ice, the impact shattering both it and the shield. Elsa threw up her hands and closed her eyes.
Then the shockwave hit her and she was sent flying backwards.
She crashed to the ground, rolled once, twice, grabbing desperately with her hands, trying to slow down…
Her hands closed on something just as the floor vanished under her. Her body jerked to a halt, her arm screaming in protest as her entire weight suddenly hinged upon her fragile grip. She swung back and forth, kicking her legs ineffectively in the air around her. As her head cleared, Elsa became aware of several things. One: she was dangling over the edge of the throne room, how high off the ground she had no idea, hanging on the strength of some animal’s tibia that she had somehow managed to snatch. Two: the arm her life now depended on hurt like it was about to break, fires of exertion spreading rapidly from her shoulder to fingers. Three: she was completely at Hans’ mercy yet again. Once again reduced to nothing by his strength and manipulation.
Then she looked down.
As the fight raged, the hosts battling and the spirits crying, none of them thought to look to the sky. If they had, they might have stopped.
Above them, the sun went dark, eclipsed by the moon. The sky clouded over and lightning cracked the surface of the sea. Waves roiled and the wind swirled itself into endless storms, touching down and breaking up only to reform and begin the cycle again. Snow and sand and pollen and leaves all whirled endlessly on the breezes, blizzards colliding with thunderstorms, lightning striking foaming waves, leaves dancing with pollen on a waterspout.
Inside and out, the storms raged.
The seasons clashed. And the world wept.
Theo shook herself alert after the recoil of the shockwave sent her tumbling across the floor. Her world slowly came back into focus...only for her to find herself in her worst nightmare.
She rose to her knees, trembling. “Merciful Mother…no…please no…”
To her left was Elsa, barely holding on as she dangled over an impossibly high edge, unable to pull herself back up and quickly slipping. And on her right was Scara, alone in the post-collision haze against the strongest host of Død in centuries who had a murderous gleam in his eye and a blade rumored powerful enough to kill a spirit in his hands.
Theo looked from one to the other, her time quickly running out.
She couldn’t save them both.
Theo clenched her fists but no fire was coming. Her mind refused to work. She couldn’t move, Branna wasn’t helping her. The Mother offered no command.
How could she possibly choose?
Hans advanced slowly on the youngest host as she sat up slowly, blinking as if in a daze. She was regressing again, Livet could not help her.
Theo flinched, ready to dash forward but at that moment, Elsa let out a tiny whimper and her grip slipped that much more. Theo’s heart stopped and she glanced over her shoulder. The summer host was stuck again.
Scara gazed steadily up at Hans as he stood above her, sword clenched in his hand. Hans smiled at her contemptuously, slowly raising his blade into the air like an executioner.
Scara smiled back at him, but there was no mockery or malice in her gaze. “You wont harm me.” She stated, utterly unafraid.
Hans’ resolve flickered, but only briefly. “That’s where you’re wrong.”
“Scara!” Theo didn’t recognize her own voice as it tore from her throat.
Hans brought the sword down.
There was a clang of steel on steel.
Theo stood and peered, trying to see through the last of the haze. There was someone else here…
Hans scowled at the blockage. And the man holding his blade back.
“You do not touch her.” Garret said, avoiding eye contact with Hans as he held back the sword with his axe. “I cannot allow you to harm any of them.” The Guardian was calm, completely at ease. He was defending his girls.
Hans yanked his blade away and spun it in a deft circle at his side. “Well then, I’ll just have to kill you first.” He sneered at Garret.
Theo had never been happier to see the Guardian in her life. “Garret!” She called to him, already turning to run towards the precipice. “That blade is cursed! Don’t let him touch you with it!”
Garret pulled two knives from his belt. “I know.” He said. He stuck one of the knives in his teeth. He faced his opponent, keeping his eyes trained on Han’s torso.
Turning her back on her Guardian, the summer host ran to save the woman she loved.
It was beautiful.
The water far below, still and calm as a mirror, ice beginning to spread across the surface, locking it in place. She wasn’t doing that was she?
She couldn’t be, it was too perfect. A perfect circle of ice, growing in never-ending concentric circles outwards.
Like a mirror.
What would it look like if she were to see it from the other side?
She stretched out a hand…the water was calling…the ice was spreading, consuming her. It would be so easy to just let go…to slip away and sleep…
A blazing heat erupted in her hand, quickly spreading all through her, making her feel lighter, better, stronger…
“Elsa! Come on! Pull!”
Her vertigo returned full-force as she realized Theonia was trying to pull her back over the cliff. Panicking, she scrabbled for Theo’s other hand, kicking with her legs and sending ice against the cliff to give her footholds.
Theo tugged harder, throwing her entire body into the work. “Don’t give up on me!” She pleaded desperately, leaning back. “Come back, please!”
With a final heave, Elsa was hauled back over the edge and to safety once again. The two of them fell back into the palace in a tangled heap, both of them breathing heavily.
Theo tugged Elsa closer, burying her face in the ice queen’s braid. “You’re okay… you’re safe…” She murmured reassuringly.
Elsa realized she was still trembling and breathed deeply, trying to calm herself down. Theo’s heart beat loud and fast in her ear, slowly resuming a normal rhythm that was soothing. For a moment, the world faded away and it was just the two of them. Laying there together.
The chest under her head trembled. “I’m sorry.” Theo said.
Elsa twisted to look at her. “For what?”
Theo looked down at her, her eyes narrowed in concern. “For not coming sooner.”
She brushed Elsa’s cheek with a hand that burned like flame. “You could have fallen…I could have lost you…” She pulled Elsa a little closer, squeezing her arm tightly.
Elsa let out a hiss of pain and Theo let go of her so fast it was like she had vanished.
They sat up and examined the aching limb, the one that had kept Elsa from falling. An enormous bruise was slowly coloring her upper and lower arm, spreading like a dusting of soot over her fair skin. Elsa tried to flex her muscles but they locked and protested violently.
A warm hand gently closed over the bruise. “Take it easy…we still need you.”
Elsa smiled. “No chance you’d let me sit the rest of this out?”
Theo chuckled softly. “Nope. Sorry your Highness.”
A scream made them both whirl around, jumping like they had been caught……doing other things.
In the center of the room, Garret and Hans were clashing blades and exchanging blows. Scara was cowered against the only remaining pillar in the room, watching them and screaming as if in immense pain.
Without even a glance to see Elsa following her, Theo ran to the younger host’s side. They raced around the crumbling floor, dodging the occasional falling carcass from the ceiling and slipping on the wet leaves underfoot.
Scara was moaning softly to herself, covering her face and rocking back and forth.
Theo fell to her knees next to the girl. “Scara…” she soothed, reaching out to touch her shoulder. Scara bit back a yell and a spark of green lightning jumped to Theo’s hand as she touched her. Theo jumped back, hissing in pain as a tiny spark of fire burned away the vines that had just attacked her hand out of nowhere.
Scara didn’t seem to notice her sudden lack of control. “Make them stop!” She screamed, her hands over her ears. “Make the torment end!” Under her, the grass had sprung back to life and was growing and twisting into a thick mat of vegetation. A carcass next to her decayed rapidly into soil and sprouted new, twisting plants.
“What’s wrong with her?” Elsa asked, watching Scara worry her lip with her teeth like she were a totally different person.
Scara closed her eyes as green light started to spill from them again. “It’s too much…too much to bear!” she cried, breaking down and starting to sob.
“She and Autumn are linked.” Theo said grimly, her hand bright red where Scara’s powers had attacked her. “She feels his pain and it’s making her lash out. Livet cant block it out without Død cooperating.” She glanced over at the dueling men. “And somehow I don’t think that’s going to be happening anytime soon.”
Elsa followed her gaze. The two of them stared as the Guardian fought the Autumn host.
Elsa had never seen Garret fight before. He moved with purpose, as lithely as a dancer, his axe an extension of his arm. He twirled his axe, blocking Hans’ strike at his neck and twisted his body, sliding the knife in towards Hans’ sword arm. The sword flashed and there was a ring of steel on steel. The two opponents backed away from each other, blades shining in the dull light.
By contrast, Hans’ royal blood was apparent in his swordplay. His moves were calculating and powerful, aiming for his opponent’s torso and neck, trying to break through the defense presented by the Guardian’s axe and knives.
They came at each other again, Hans moving to strike but finding his opening already gone as Garret caught the sword between his axe and knife. Snarling, Hans made a tickling motion with his free hand and the leaves under Garret’s feet began to move, creeping incredibly slowly along the Guardian’s foot.
Garret looked down and shook the offending leaves away. But his momentary distraction was all Hans needed.
In a furious flurry of movement, Hans knocked the dagger out of Garret’s left hand. Without even flinching, Garret plucked the spare from between his lips and continued fighting, the whole time never looking higher than Hans’ chest.
“Why cant he just bond with him?” Elsa asked.
“If he bonds with Hans, he wont be able to attack him to protect us.” Theo told her. “Hans would be free to use the sword with no one to stop him.” Theo watched as the duelers passed by them, blades ringing. “Once they’re bonded, the Guardian needs the host’s permission to restrain the spirit and momentarily stop her powers.”
Elsa thought quickly. “But if he’s immobile while Garret’s binding to him, I can trap him!”
“We’re all immobile while Garret’s binding…” Theo said quietly.
Elsa thought back, recalling when Garret had had to paralyze Scara in her drawing room. “But…can’t he just restrain Hans?” She asked. “You know, knock him out or something?”
Theo shook her head. “Not without risking Død taking over his form. Not while he’s holding that sword. If Død comes into full control with that in her hand while she’s this upset…” She trailed off but she didn’t need to finish her thought for Elsa to grasp the magnitude of this situation. “He’s gone insane with all of Død’s crying and distrustful of her forceful possession.” Theo said sadly. “We cannot reason with him anymore.”
“We need to get that sword out of his hand.” Elsa decided.
Hans made a series of powerful strikes to Garret’s axe then suddenly lunged, making the Guardian leap backwards. “He’s too powerful…” Theo said watching Garret struggle to keep hold of his axe while Hans continued to rain blows on him.
Hans delivered a powerful strike, causing Garret to drop his axe. The Guardian bent backwards as Hans took a swipe at his head, the cursed blade whistling inches from Garret’s face. Garret rose and quickly parried with the knife, side-stepping towards his axe. Hans immediately drove him back.
Theo stiffened. “He needs help…” She murmured. Flames burst to life in her hands but Elsa grabbed her shoulder, her wounded arm protesting.
“You can’t hold him back on your own!” She shouted at Theonia, her voice sounding shrill. “you said it yourself, he’s too strong!”
Theo turned to her, her eyes glowing in the heat of her fires. “I cant let Garret die out there!”
Elsa squeezed her shoulder, her entire arm screaming at the effort. “Then let me come!”
Theo shook Elsa’s hand off of her. “NO!” She burst out. The summer host took a quick, deep breath before continuing. “Just, stay here Elsa. Please.” The desperation in Theo’s voice gave Elsa pause. “I need you here to protect Scara and to be ready to restrain him. The second that sword leaves his grip, you lock him in ice.”
Theo leapt forward, fire blazing at her hand. Her appearance was enough to startle Hans and he leapt backwards, leaving his side wide open. Garret rushed in, knife flying and suddenly the sword was flying out of Hans’ grip.
Elsa readied her ice, trying to get a clear shot at the prince. But before the sword even touched the ground, Hans spun and a mighty gust of air whipped out in all directions, throwing his attackers away from him. Even at the distance she was standing, Elsa felt the force of it pushing her. She saw Theo hit the ground and roll twice before stopping, motionless.
Elsa flinched, ready to run to her aid but a roar from Hans startled her attention back to the fight. Hans charged the fallen Guardian, sword already back in his grasp. Reacting faster than Elsa thought possible, Garret rolled onto his back, axe back in his hand and jammed his weapon under Hans’ descending blade, stopping his attack. For a moment they appeared to be at a standstill. But Hans had the advantage of being on his feet while Garret was stuck lying down. Ever so slowly, Hans was gaining the advantage.
Hans snarled and his blade slid another inch down towards Garret’s neck. The Guardian didn’t finch but his arms were trembling with exhaustion. He couldn’t hold on much longer.
He was still avoiding eye contact. By looking at Elsa.
Without thinking, Elsa fell into a position and let the power flow through her. The cooling sensation made her forget the pain in her arm. It raced out of her relaxed fingers, an enormous icicle colliding with the weapons each man held. Both went flying out of their grip.
Garret took the opening to roll backwards and get to his feet. But he was weaponless now, crouched on the floor and panting hard.
Hans turned his beady eyes on Elsa. “That’s never going to work…” He sneered. Hans flicked his wrist and the sword vanished from where it was still falling, reappearing in his hand. Without even looking away from her, he let it fall towards the Guardian.
Elsa saw the sword descending, she saw Garret unable to look up to see it…
Elsa didn’t even wait to see if he had turned to face her, she threw her hand towards him. The icicle formed in the air and Garret closed his hand around it without even sparing it a glance. Han’s blade collided with the ice and became wedged in it. In the split second before Hans could pull it free, Garret’s fist came up and rammed into the bottom of Han’s ribcage. Hans froze as if Elsa had just zapped him, all the air leaving his lungs. Tossing the icicle and the sword aside, Garret’s finger flashed to Han’s throat and delivered a quick jab to his Adam’s apple. He spun on his heel and brought his fist down on the host’s right hip. Hans twitched once and fell heavily. Still conscious but down for the count.
Garret pushed Hans away from him and slowly rose to his feet, panting heavily. “And that…” He said with a wink at Elsa. “Is how you take down the Autumn host.”
Elsa felt weak with relief. It was over. Finally, it was over.
Leaving Hans where he was, Garret stood and retrieved his axe before going to make sure Scara was alright. The spring host was slowly uncovering her ears, blinking rapidly as if unsure where she was. Without hesitation, Elsa ran to Theo’s fallen form and gently placed a hand on the summer host’s back. She was still warm. Still breathing. Elsa felt her chest unclench, the relief reaching all the way up to her eyes, which started to water. Theo groaned and slowly rolled over. She blinked at Elsa’s face above her.
Elsa nodded. “Garret stopped him. We did it.” She’d never seen Theo look so relieved as she did at those words.
She slowly helped the girl sit up, kneeling in front of her. “So now what?”
“Now we take him back to the temple.” Theo said. “We convene the Council and we try to figure out just what the hell is happening here.” She gazed up at Elsa, a tiny, almost shy smile gracing her lips. “Thank you, Elsa. We couldn’t have done this without you…”
“Stop.” Scara called suddenly.
Elsa turned towards her. She was about to ask what Scara was talking about when something slammed into her. She heard Theo scream desperately and a sound like a sword slicing through thick air. She was sent sprawling across the floor of dead grass, rolling a good distance before she managed to stop herself again.
Her aching body protesting and her wounded arm feeling numb, Elsa scrambled back to her feet, hands held up in defense. She didn’t know how much more of a beating she could take. How was Hans this strong?
“Garret!” Theo’s frightened shout shattered the air in the destroyed throne room. Elsa blinked, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
The Guardian stood next to Theo over a crumpled Hans. His axe fell to the floor, landing with a soft thud in the dead grass carpet.
The cut along his left arm was not deep but it sliced right across his scars from the other spirits. Blood dripped slowly from his fingers. A pulse of energy whipped through the air of the palace, making everyone shudder. Garret fell as the power of Autumn rushed through his body.
Elsa did not see her move but Theo was suddenly under him, his body slamming into hers heavily. They both fell on the carpet, the Guardian wrapped securely in Theo’s arms.
Before anything else could happen, Elsa took that opportunity to freeze Hans’ body in a giant block of ice.
Garret chuckled lightly. “I guess the Mother’s Grace cant protect me against the famed Blade then…”
Elsa realized then what had happened. Hans had tried to kill her again. Garret had stopped him.
Scara raced up to the pair, falling to her knees beside the ice block containing a twitching Hans. She placed a gentle hand on the ice over where his shoulder was, as if trying to soothe him. She did not look towards Theo and Garret.
The Guardian examined his wound with a tired fascination. “Finally sealed my bond with Autumn…” He remarked. Softly he began to mutter the words of binding. “I pledge my sword…my muscles…the blood in my veins to the King of Death…”
“Shut up, Garret…” Theo said, tearing a long strip of her dress off to bind his arm. “You’ll be fine…Scara!” She called, a note of panic in her voice. “Scara get over here and…and reverse this…”
“I cannot do anything without my flower…” Scara said softly, gazing sadly at where Hans’ sword lay on the floor. “…he’s fading.”
Theo’s face twitched and she frantically busied herself with wrapping Garret’s wound. “then…we’ll… I’ll make a storm and we’ll fly home on the breeze, we can be there by dawn and Goren…Goren will fix this…!”
A gentle hand stilled the summer host’s as she wrapped up his arm. “Theo.”
His quiet voice seemed to calm the entire room. Even the wind felt softer, muted. Elsa found she could not look away.
Garret smiled up at his first host. At the little girl he’d found wandering in the woods that had made him realize what he was meant for. “…this time…it wasn’t your fault…” He assured her. He reached a shaking hand up to gently stroke her face. His thumb ran under her eye, wiping away a stray tear. “don’t…blame…”
His voice faded away. His hand slipped and came to rest on the dead grass beneath them. Scara raised her head, tears freely flowing down her cheeks and let a tiny keening moan escape her lips.
Elsa stared in disbelief, unable to breathe. The Guardian was dead.
The summer host was eerily still. For a moment, Elsa feared she too had passed on.
Theo shakily raised one hand and brushed at Garret’s curls. Her breath came in short, hard gasps as she leaned over him, pressing her forehead to his and closing her eyes. For a moment, nothing moved in the destroyed throne room.
Then Theo screamed and the entire castle burst into flames.