Chapter 15 - Reflections
Isen has fallen.
The cycle cannot be saved if she is gone. Without her, everything falls to dust and the world is consumed with ash. The valleys will crumble as the cold leaves them, the sea will rise, the fires rage.
The world will burn without Winter.
But perhaps it can survive without Summer.
The fire has consumed me and my sorrow has fed the flames. My pain has sharpened the scouring sand and my lonely Howl stirred the summer gale. I will fall to dust and be consumed by the ash.
And so I go to my Death, knowing my sacrifice was not in vain. That perhaps my actions, terrible as they will be, will give the world another chance, a little longer to Live.
May the Mother have mercy on me.
The troll put down the scroll, his fingers trembling so badly they clacked against each other. The sound echoed dimly in the dark library where Goren had found the new scripture of Branna: The Final Testament of Head Councilor Theonia, 115th host of Branna the goddess of summer. The words on the scroll before him were written in blood, in penmanship he himself had taught to the writer.
“Theonia…what have you done?”
The ship bobbing in the harbor wasn’t large. It was a standard schooner, three masts and two decks painted with the colors and seals of the Southern Isles. But it boasted far more cannons then Anna had ever seen in her life.
“How does that not sink them?”
Captain Wulfric smiled uneasily. “It’s all in the weight distribution your Highness. Although how they managed to make all that fit on the deck space is beyond me…”
The two of them crossed the Arendelle Navy docks, where a launch was preparing to take Arendelle sailors to their ships and make contact with the foreign vessel. Everyone stopped what they were doing as the Princess passed and bowed low to her. But Anna only had eyes for the ship cutting through Arendelle’s harbor. It moved slowly, like a great whale swimming through an icy slurry, nothing like the quick, nimble movements Anna was used to from watching her own navy practice. The Arendelle Navy was world famous for its precision and durability but the Southern Isles was envied for its sheer size and fire-power.
“How far of a range do you think those cannons have?” Anna asked Wulfric.
“Further than I’d be comfortable admitting, your Highness.” Was his uneasy reply. He’d kept a tight grip on his sword pommel the whole way down here. Anna had insisted she go down to the docks with him and somehow, the headstrong Princess had won that argument. Now the poor man was constantly on edge, looking around as if the empty barrel at the end of the shore was going to leap out and attack the Princess (it wasn’t, Anna knew for a fact that Dagrun was in it, keeping an eye out).
“Princess Anna!” Both Anna and the Captain turned at the voice and caught sight of a tall, lithe man walking quickly towards them from the end of the dock.
“Admiral Westergard.” Anna greeted him as the head of Arendelle’s navy snapped a crisp salute to her. Admiral Westergard had been in charge of Arendelle’s defense since before even Elsa had been born. He had been in the Navy since before Anna and Elsa’s father had been born. He was a grizzled old man with a face pocked with scars and weathered from salty winds. But his dedication and heart had never wavered. After the Thaw, he had come to Elsa on his knees, begging her to dismiss him for his failure to guard the royal family during Hans’ uprising. He had even torn off his badges and thrown them at her feet in shame. But Elsa had refused to accept that he had done anything wrong. She knew he had no reason to be removed. The Admiral had remained in his position with all his honors intact.
Anna had always admired the man, there had even been a brief period of her life when she had outright idolized him (of course, this was the same period of her life when she’d tried to convince her parents to let her join the navy).
The Admiral nodded to her and clasped his hands behind his back. “We’re prepared to attack if you give the order, your Highness.”
Anna let out an undignified sputter. “Attack? Who said anything about attacking?”
“This is an unsolicited arrival, Princess.” The Admiral replied. “Even if we weren’t at odds with the Isles right now, this would still be considered a military threat.”
“We are not starting a war.” Anna reminded him.
“We may have to your Highness.” Captain Wulfric pointed out to her. “If they attack us, we have no choice but to either defend or surrender.”
“But they haven’t attacked us.” Anna said flatly. “There’s no reason to assume they are hostile.”
“The Queen’s Absence Orders are in effect, Princess Anna.” Admiral Westergard informed Anna. “We have to engage them.”
Anna turned to the navy officer, confused. “What are those?”
“Queen Elsa left us a set of instructions of what to do in the event of her not being present in Arendelle.” The Admiral explained. “They say we are to protect the people at all costs and dispel any action that may constitute a threat to Arendelle. This ship is most definitely one of them.”
Anna stiffened in surprise. “And I suppose she did this just before she left a few days ago?” Even now, she could not keep a hint of spite from her voice. Would her sister ever trust her?
But the Admiral was shaking his head. “No, Princess Anna. She did this immediately after the Thaw. She was concerned that should she need to leave once more, people may take advantage of her absence to strike at Arendelle.”
Anna’s gaze dropped, ashamed of her momentary anger at her sister. Of course. Elsa had always had Arendelle’s best interests at heart, even before all this began. She would walk through fire to keep her kingdom safe.
Anna felt the Admiral place a gentle, fatherly hand on her shoulder. “She wanted to make sure you were safe.” He told her softly. Anna pursed her lips, now fighting back tears. Oh Elsa…
Both Anna and Admiral Westergard turned at Captain Wulfric’s curt shout. He was pointing out across the fjord at the bobbing war-ship.
The Southern Isles ship was raising a flag. A flag painted with a crude, blood-red Arendelle crest.
The Admiral squinted at the symbol. “What in the name of the gods…?”
A shiver ran through Anna and she tensed. Something wasn’t right. The docks around them had fallen silent, as if a blanket had been draped over the entire scene.
Her senses sharpening, Anna turned.
Torches were being lit. All around the docks and down the few streets she could see they flickered to life, spreading like a silent plague. Several of the sailors on the docks and a few of the dockhands were donning scarves around their mouths. Scarves marked with a blood-red symbol of the Arendelle crest.
The one closest to Anna, a barrel-chested sailor with dull gray hair glared at her, his dark eyes flashing. Before she could react, he lunged forward, his arms outstretched.
The Admiral drew his sword suddenly, stepping protectively in front of Anna.
“Captain!” He barked as he butted the man in the face with the hilt of his sword. “Get her to safety at once!”
Without a word, Wulfric grabbed Anna and raced her back down the docks.
“What are you doing?” Anna shouted, struggling against his iron grip. Behind them, the Admiral was swinging his sword at the gathering dissenters, keeping them back long enough that Wulfric and Anna could get away. “Let go of me this instant!” Anna cried.
Wulfric just held her tighter and quickened his pace. “I’m sorry Princess Anna, I cant do that.” He told her. Without warning, he scooped her up in his arms and leapt from the ramp and onto the sand. He sprinted down the beach, not even pausing to let her down.
“What?” Anna gasped, still completely lost.
“This is not a threat my lady,” The Captain told her grimly. “it is a coup.” He ducked under a shore-side cellar overhang, into a secret passageway that led all the way back up to Anna’s Informers study. As the door slammed shut behind them, he kicked a lever off to the side and an enormous wooden beam fell across the door, sealing the passage from the inside. In the dimness of the sealed tunnel, he gently placed Anna back on her feet and nudged her forward. “We must get you back to the palace immediately.”
Far above the scene, on the outcropping of a cliff on the edge of the fjord, an unlikely pair watched Arendelle: one of them eagerly, the other stoically.
“Seems as if you’ve had this entire thing planned for awhile…” Theo commented. Hans glanced at his companion, trying to gauge her reaction. She appeared to have none.
“Let’s just say I had a lot of time alone in the Southern Isles to plan my revenge.” Hans leaned forward to better examine the ship, shifting his still-cuffed hands uncomfortably. “But this is my brother Christian’s doing.” He smirked “Does it bother you that I appear to have ulterior motives?”
Theo glanced side-long at him. “I only care about achieving my motives.” The summer host replied. “And based on what I am observing now, it seems that your goal is similar to mine.”
Hans chuckled fondly. “You know,” he said, leaning back from the cliff edge, “I wasn’t sure you were serious when you came to me with this proposal.”
Still dressed as her dead Guardian, the summer host merely flicked her eyes to her companion. “I am serious.” She answered him, her voice a perfect complement to her words. “Otherwise you’d be under lock and key. Embrace your freedom, for however long it lasts.”
Reproached, Hans fell silent, watching as a dinghy was lowered from the ship and several small figures climbed into it to begin the row towards shore. The dissenters at the docks were tying up the men who had been holding them back, waving torches and starting to chant.
Theo was looking at the scene but she was not seeing it. She was too caught up in the new world that had opened up inside her mind.
Her and Branna had shared thoughts and memories for years, in their meditations they often walked together side by side. But this…this experience easily trumped them all.
She raised a hand and gazed at it, seeing the scorching heat leaking from her fingers as if it were the summer solstice again. Even in this cold, her radiant body heat made it feel like summer for a small area around her.
Her power was unprecedented. Where there had once been nothing but pain and anguish, now there was the fury of fire, the scrape of sand. She felt the motion of every particle, the flicker of each flame. Branna’s mind was inseparable from hers, the ancient stories were her memories now…if she looked deep enough she could see the true form of the Mother…of Isen…their true home in the Mother’s Realm…
The epiphany was interrupted by her companion. “Having second thoughts?” He taunted.
Theo turned to Hans, not rising to his words. Her temper had been extinguished along with all her other emotions. “I don’t have that luxury…” She replied. “this is the only way to restore balance. For you and for me.”
Still smirking, Hans held out his hands and the summer goddess melted the cuffs with a flick of her wrist. The prince rubbed his wrists, flexing them experimentally.
“Don’t forget the condition.” He reminded her.
She fixed him with a hard gaze. “How could I? That was to be my only request.”
The prince smiled, his eyes darkening with hatred. “Then let us begin…”
Theo swirled the cool air around them, warming it and forming a large cushion for the two of them with little more than a twist of her wrist. They stepped off the cliff and descended slowly to the water. Just as their feet brushed the surface, another breeze caught them and propelled them towards the shore, swinging wide of the ship and the crowded docks where the dissenters were now organizing themselves. Unnoticed, the two hosts touched down gently on the sand along Arendelle’s shore as the winds dispersed from them.
Hans took a deep breath, the air around him rippling with undercurrents of the Breath. “Oh how I have dreamed of this day…” He said fondly. “I first met Anna just over there.” The prince remarked, gesturing at a dock further down the shore.
Theo didn’t even follow his gaze. “Go on then.” She told him. “Remember to send the signal when you are successful.”
Hans only sneered. “Don’t forget your signal.” He turned on his heel, his cloak flowing ominously around him and darted across the sand towards the city proper.
Theo watched him disappear, her confidence in this plan wavering slightly. She’d known he was diabolical and obsessed with his revenge on Elsa’s kingdom. She had no idea it went this far. It was almost like he had planned for her to bring him back here just now.
But so long as he did what she had asked, there was no reason to worry. His revenge would correct the imbalance. Then, as he was distracted by his euphoria at completing his task she would rise behind him and take back the life he had stolen…
Theo bit her lip, curbing that vision in her mind. Her thoughts were more murderous now. Branna truly was a soldier no matter how much she tried to pretend to be just a scribe.
She almost missed the absence of immediate ridicule inside her head, instead there was only an irritated stirring of the particles under her feet. Theo turned and headed for the harbor, the sand around her feet drying under each step and cracking, a hot wind following her.
Arendelle’s bay inside the fjord curled almost entirely around the capitol town, stopped only by a small finger of land that stretched out onto the water. Upon this tiny parcel rested the castle and all the streets and homes that made up the city. The beach was little more than a thin line of sand, broken often by slabs of rock. It was all that separated the town from the water. A few houses were even built right on the water, held aloft by thick wooden stilts to keep them high and dry.
Theo was currently standing on an empty stretch of beach that was relatively uninterrupted except for a few docks and bobbing boats. Everything seemed washed out in the late-afternoon light. Or was that just how she saw the world now: devoid of color, in shades of watered-down pastels?
The mountains loomed overhead, casting deep shadows over the town except for the beach. The palace in the center of the city was large but not obtrusive. Rather than loom over the town, it more seemed like a protective shield, offering hope and solace.
Theo gazed up at the palace walls, remembering the last time she had ascended them, carried by her tornado. She could see why Elsa was so attached to this kingdom. This would have been a nice place to live, had her life been different. Burning it down was going to be difficult.
Movement down the beach caught her attention and Theo stiffened reflexively, a flame curling in her hand.
The summer host peered ahead, squinting at the tiny white figure toddling along the beach collecting seashells.
Her eyebrow raised in confusion. Was that…a snowman?
She wouldn’t have believed it if she wasn’t seeing it but it was indeed a fully animated snowman. He was short and round, with mis-matched sized sections: a large bottom, tiny feet and an oddly shaped head. It almost looked like he had been assembled by a child.
Of course, Theo remembered. Elsa could somehow make living snow-creatures, like the one at her ice palace. But how was this one surviving outside the mountains?
Letting the flame burn out, she walked slowly towards the thing, watching it waddle at the shoreline, picking up anything that intrigued it with stick hands. As she drew closer, she saw the little cloud above its head that was constantly snowing. An effective transportable life-force for a cold being.
Summer shivered. Was there no limit to Elsa’s power?
The snowman looked up as she drew close. It beamed at her, showing her large front teeth. “Hello!” It called cheerily.
Theo didn’t respond, unsure of how to deal with such a creature, especially such a cheerful and inherently trustful one. Didn’t it feel the waves of heat around her that would kill it if it got too close?
“My name is Olaf!” The snowman told her, dropping his shells and spreading his stick arms wide. “I like warm hugs!”
Theo made no move to hug him. “Well I can assure you, mine are the warmest.” She informed him.
The snowman, Olaf, giggled and ran forward with his arms outstretched but she stepped aside to keep him away from her. He fell face-first into the sand but resolutely wiggled his way back to his feet and turned to face her again.
“Are you a friend of Elsa’s?” The creature asked, putting his arms down but not looking any less cheerful about her unwillingness to hug him. Now she recognized him: he was the thing that had been with Anna when they’d been in the forest. She hadn’t gotten a good look back there, she’d assumed he was only a dog or something.
“Are you one of her creations?” Theo returned. She did not feel she could answer his question even to herself. After today, what would it matter what she was to Elsa?
“I’m the first snowman Elsa and Anna made!” Olaf told her proudly, gathering up his seashells again. “Anna’s upset so I’m bringing her some shells to cheer her up!”
That statement stopped her heart. “They made you…together?” A fearful whip of wind was circling at her feet, stirring at the sand.
Olaf laughed at the warm gust, protected by his personal flurry. “Elsa brought me to life.” He told Theo. “But Anna was her inspiration!”
Theo was shaking now, heat rolling off of her in waves. “But…how?” She knew how. She just didn’t want it to be true.
“Because Elsa and Anna love each other!” The snowman told her proudly. “And love is a powerful thing!”
Theo crouched next to him, staring intensely at the snowman. “Indeed it is.” She agreed. “But I am willing to sacrifice my love for the good of this world.” Her hand touched the animated snowman’s chest, right where his heart should be. “Is Elsa?”
Before the snowman could draw his final breath, he fell into a puddle, his warm personality lost in the obscurity of the thawed particles. The water ran over the fallen shells, through the grains of sand and vanished into the oblivion of blank space hiding in the matrix. His flurry vaporized instantly, leaving behind only a tiny curl of steam.
A sharp pain drove through Theo’s skull like a knife. She stumbled back, clutching her forehead as sensations assaulted her with all the force of a summer gale. It was happening again.
Anna…is my world…
A bright smile…the cool sensation of fingers at her cheek…a laugh warming her heart as she sat at a campfire…
“How could I have done that? They love each other so much Elsa’s powers created life. I’m going to have to shatter that love…rip it apart like a demon…how can I make her suffer like that...!? What kind of monster am I?”
Her heart thudded and burned painfully. Tears welled in her eyes and every muscle in her body shook uncontrollably. The torrent of emotions (for that was what they were) grew stronger and faster until she was abruptly yanked from them. The sudden loss of sensation felt like an iron gate had been slammed shut between her and her emotions, locking her away from the world.
But it made it stop. She was free again.
Theo took several deep breaths, the fire and sand slowly replacing the void left by her emotions. She ran her hands slowly over her face and hair as if she needed to be reminded where everything was. For just a moment, she and Branna had separated again…she had felt again…just like when she had broken from the bond and kissed Elsa on the temple rooftop.
Tiny agitated flames sprung to life on her hands and a tight wind whipped worriedly around her. Branna had said the bonding would be permanent, unbreakable. But not even her vast knowledge knew why this kept happening to them.
Theo stood up and looked towards the great walls of the castle, her face betraying nothing of the turmoil inside that the elements around her exhibited. The sand under her feet was dry and hot once more, without even a trace of the snowman except for a forlorn carrot nose.
She had taken her first life today. It would be far from the last.
Anna argued vehemently the whole way back to the palace but the Captain was resolute.
“You cant go back out there Princess.” Wulfric told her as he pushed her out from behind the fireplace and dragged a bookcase over the gap.
“I wont let you shut the gates again!” Anna snapped. “Elsa promised me that…”
“The Queen is not here, Princess Anna and we need to keep you safe. That means shutting the gates.” He shoved the bookcase with his shoulder and somehow managed to move the heavy thing just far enough to cover the gap.
The Princess folded her arms tightly. “And who’s going to keep the people safe while I’m locked up in here?” She asked him, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
He sighed heavily. “Princess Anna,” He pleaded, now pulling several chairs in front of the fake fireplace as a rudimentary barricade, “we are not going to abandon the people. But you are our main concern.”
Anna scoffed. “You hardly need to worry about me. You said yourself I’m as talented with my sword as the best of your soldiers!”
He had indeed said that. After the Princess had resoundingly defeated him during a sparring match, leaving him sprawled on his rump in front of most of his men.
“This is a delicate situation, Princess.” He tried to explain, standing before the Princess as she fearlessly stared him down. The Captain took a deep breath, trying to figure out what to say to convince her this was for the best. “From the looks of things, these people rebelling are those afraid of the queen and her powers. They want her blood and they will do anything to get it. Including allying with the Southern Isles.”
Clearly that had been the wrong thing to say. The Princess looked ready to go on a hunt of her own. Princess Anna’s hands trembled. “This is Prince Christian’s doing…where is he?” She tried to storm out of the room but he put himself between her and the door with two long strides.
“We searched the Prince’s quarters Princess, but he’s nowhere to be found. He must have slipped out when the ship arrived.”
The Princess’ face contorted in anger and she began pacing agitatedly, looking just like her sister.
“Prince Christian must have been gathering followers here in Arendelle,” Wulfric continued, “stirring up dissent over her Majesty’s powers…”
“All under the guise of a ‘trade agreement’…” Anna interrupted, speaking more to herself than to him. She paused in her movements, looking at him. “When I find him…I’m going to…!”
The Captain was quick to cut her off this time. “This has been months in the making, we have no idea who is involved and who is against you. Out on the street, you’re an open target. In here, you are at least shielded.”
Anna drew herself up, proudly. “My people need to see that I’m not afraid to…”
“Your people need a ruler alive at the end of this!” Wulfric shouted at her. To his amazement, this was the tactic that worked.
Anna’s face fell. “You’ve given up on Elsa, haven’t you…” She asked quietly, sounding for all the world like he had been the one to betray her.
He had (he suspected most of the people had by this point), but he wasn’t about to tell her that. “I am protecting the future, Princess Anna.” He told her. “If your sister returns home and finds you dead because I let you out on the streets right now, how do you think she would react?”
Anna didn’t answer, she folded her arms tightly around her middle and refused to look at him. Wulfric knew he was making progress.
“The Queen has always demanded your safety above everyone else’s.” He told Anna gently. “So you must remain here. It would kill her if anything were to happen to you.”
Princess Anna nodded slowly, making up her mind. “Fine. I will stay. But you will go.”
He shook his head. “I am not leaving your side, Princess.” He said, taking up a firm stance in the center of the room.
Anna ignored him and pulled her sword belt from under the desk, buckling it around her hips.
Captain Wulfric still had not moved. He was reluctant to leave the Princess on her own despite her aptitude with a blade.
Anna glared at him when she saw he still had not moved. “Return to your troops captain,” The Princess commanded. “they need your leadership.”
“I am not leaving your side, Princess.” He repeated.
“You are needed out on the battlefield more than you are needed here.” Anna told him. She stood opposite him, her sword at her waist, her hands crossed resolutely at her waist. “I can handle myself.”
As he looked at his Princess, the Captain couldn’t help but waver in his decision to remain. Here was the little girl he had watched grow up, the likable troublemaker who had always caused him to either smile or groan. But now…all he saw was his superior, another soldier before him planning a strategy. And he was only standing in her way. It was as if she had transcended the barrier that had existed between them, changing from someone he had been charged with protecting to become his equal. She didn’t need to be baby-sat anymore. The little girl he had known had grown up to be a warrior.
“That is an order captain.” Anna told him firmly. “Defend your kingdom!”
Chastened by his realization, the Captain bowed his head, placing his fist over his heart. “As you wish, your Highness.” With a worried glance, he turned and left the princess alone. He hurried down the corridor to the stairs, shouting for his guard to assemble. As he ran down the stairs to the main hall, he drew his sword again.
Don’t worry Queen Elsa, Princess Anna…I’ll keep our kingdom safe.
As the captain left, Anna allowed her composure to break. Her hands covered her face.
“Oh gods…oh no…what…what do I do now?”
She sank into the chair, not trusting her legs to hold her up. “Oh gods…Elsa…Elsa why aren’t you here? Why aren’t you here to help me?” Her entire body shook as she fully comprehended just how utterly alone she was. Kristoff was gone, Elsa was gone and now even her Palace Guard Captain. Anna was used to loneliness, her childhood had made sure of that. But Elsa had always been here. Distant, but here. Now she was gone, off gods-knew-where refusing to let her help or even know what she was doing.
Anna was finally, completely alone.
Well, maybe not entirely….
Her hands momentarily drifted across her belly, thinking of the other life she had to protect as well. The life that depended on her. Just as her people depended on her to lead them through this crisis. Until Elsa returned, Anna was all that stood to protect them.
Taking a deep breath, she willed herself back to her feet. Princess Anna stood tall and proud, sword at her hip. She was not going to let Arendelle down.
As she turned to leave the room, something on the desk caught her eye. She paused.
It was a toad lily from her mother’s garden, one that she had plucked yesterday just before the storm had hit. It was still wide open, its soft white petals curled gently back on themselves and spotted with specs of the deepest royal purple. Anna remembered when her mother had first planted these flowers in her garden. It had been a year after Elsa had locked herself away, just when she had started to feel alone in their enormous castle.
Tucking the flower into her hair, Anna left her office and quickly climbed the stairs to her father’s study. It had the best windows for overlooking the city. She had to know what was happening, what she could do. If only she could make contact with some of the Informers…maybe they could help the people somehow.
The sword on her hip jangled uncomfortably and her skirts caught on the scabbard several times, prompting her to stop and unravel the garment. She wished she had her practice breeches on but for now she’d have to make do in a dress. There was no time to run all the way back to her room to change.
Several agonizing minutes later, she reached the study and yanked the door open. Two people she had not expected to see were inside waiting for her.
“Dagrun! Ichtaca!” She had never been so happy to see the boys before. She fell to her knees, her arms held open for a hug. The two children embraced her briefly but quickly backed away.
“Sorry we didn’ come sooner!” Dagrun told her, his face streaked with what looked like soot. “We ‘ad to use this passage since the Captain sealed the one from th’ docks.”
Anna smiled. Clever boys. Every day she thanked the gods that she had found them…or they had found her, whichever way you wanted to look at it. “What is going on out there?” She asked, eager to be brought up to speed.
“The rebels are everywhere!” Dagrun said dramatically. “They’re all lightin’ torches an’ shouting stuff!”
“From what we’ve gathered, it seems that the rebels are spread out across the city but many are gathering at the docks.” Ichtaca told her in that level-headed manner of his that Anna had always appreciated. “They call themselves the Arendelle Freedom Fighters and they look to Prince Christian as their leader.”
Anna’s gaze darkened. “I knew it…” She spat. “How did we not get word of this before?”
“The Prince ‘as been very careful covering his communications with these people. They’ve all never met ‘fore today.” Dagrun piped up. Ichatac nodded in agreement.
“We heard whispers…” The older boy admitted. “but nothing we thought would constitute a real threat…jus’ the usual complaints an’ speculations.”
“But there is good news, mum.” Dagrun broke in, practically bouncing to get his news out.
Immediately he had Anna’s full attention. “What?” Had Elsa returned?
Dagrun and Ictaca both grinned like they’d found gold. “Reba’s made contact mum.” Ichtaca said happily.
“Told us to tell ya that she’s gettin’ the Queen back.” Dagrun chimed in.
It took Anna several seconds to process what they had said. “What? But…how?”
Ichtaca answered her. “Reba sent us a message.” He told Anna. “She has a way with birds, ‘specially ravens, mum. She sent instructions.”
Anna blinked, still lost. “From where?”
Dagrun shrugged. “No idea, but we got ‘um.”
“What did she say?”
“She says she’d been off gatherin’ intelligence these past few days and organizin’ the kids for the possibility of this attack.” Dagrun gave her a satisfied grin. “None of us even knew this was comin’ but Reba was prepared for it! We’ve got Informers positioned all around the city, ready to get the common folk out of cannon range should anythin’ happen. Nyle’s with ‘um, keepin’ an eye on the ship. And I sent one o’ them birds off to find Reba. Hopefully she’ll be back soon.”
Anna sat back on her heels, mulling everything over. “Let’s hope so…” Her mind was whirling but thankfully, she was no longer in a panic.
How had Reba known the attack was coming? How did she know where Elsa was? As minor as the questions were in the moment, Anna couldn’t help but ponder them.
“Right…” She said, collecting her thoughts as the boys watched her eagerly. “We need regular reports. And we have to find the Prince. Dagrun, can you take care of that?”
The boy grinned like she’d just given him a mountain of chocolate. “It would be my pleasure, Princess Anna!”
He sloppily saluted her and rushed for the exit, disappearing down the tunnel without so much as a glance backward. His older brother followed, nodding farewell at the princess. As she watched them leave, Anna was suddenly seized with an intense fear. The fear of being alone, of being lonely and afraid up here as Arendelle suffered. She couldn’t do this…not alone anyway.
“Ichtaca…” The boy paused, glancing up at Anna in concern at the waver in her voice. Anna swallowed. “please…would you stay with me? You can relay reports and instructions from me if necessary…”
The spy smiled warmly and nodded. “Of course mum. I wont leave your side!”
Anna smiled gratefully, once again blown away by the child’s commitment and maturity. The young Informer came and stood next to his Princess as she sat herself at the desk once more to wait out another storm.
Trying to calm herself, Anna removed the flower from her hair and placed it on the desk beside her. Her mother’s flower seemed to catch the afternoon light, despite its lack of vivid colors and glow with an eerie light of its own. Anna drummed her fingers nervously and wished desperately that there was more she could do now. She wrapped one hand absently around her middle, as if to soothe the tiny baby within. Ichatac offered her a calm smile but even his presence could not make her feel absolutely reassured.
Anna turned back to the window, watching as orange clouds began to gather.
Breathing as quietly as he could, Prince Christian pressed himself against the shadows cast by a tapestry as the Captain of the Palace Guard hurried by, yelling for his guards to come. His improvised hiding spot worked and after the shouts faded, he pulled himself from the shadows to continue on his way.
Outside, he saw the tell-tale leaves twisting on the wind. He shuddered for no particular reason. He knew this feeling.
So Hans was here. And he was painfully early at that.
His baby brother always had been too impatient.
Christian growled softly in annoyance. This was not good. Everything could fall apart now. He hadn’t had enough time to gain Queen Elsa’s trust or decipher the cryptic words Lord Wilfred had told him. How were they to stop the monster now? And with the Queen gone again…the pieces were missing.
Christian shook his head. How did all their planning fall apart so quickly?
He ducked into a servant’s stairwell as more guards thundered past, heading the way he had just come. After a moment’s thought, he descended the stairs, keeping as quiet as he could on the unyielding stone.
Hans had returned from Arendelle a different man all those months ago. It hadn’t taken Christian too long to figure out that what had happened in the kingdom had made his little brother more unstable than normal. It didn’t help that their father and brothers had not been lenient at all with their punishments. They had always been afraid of Hans. Afraid of what he could do.
After Hans returned, a distinct chill had come to the Isles and several fields of crops and forest had inexplicably shriveled and died. Hans had been practically mad for days, enough so that he had convinced Christian (against his better judgment) to listen to an insane revenge plan.
Christian had set out for Arendelle the next day on their navy’s fastest ship. Since that time, he’d had only two sources of contact with his youngest brother. The letters were practically burning a hole in his pocket at this very moment. The one from his eldest brother telling them of the death of their father and Hans’ desertion. And then the letter from Hans with the final instructions for their ‘grand plan’. It was so little to rely on over such a long time.
A cannon went off and he shook his head. That was the signal. And he was still nowhere near the rendezvous point.
Oh little brother…when will you listen to me?
He’d tried to talk his baby brother out of it way back when. But he’d failed. And so here they were.
The staircase came out in a small yard off the palace kitchens. There were high walls all around him and nowhere else to go. Great. He gripped the hilt of his sword tightly and considered his options. He couldn’t just wait it all out here. Someone would find him. He had to get out, Hans had to know about the passage. The Prophecy.
Christian glanced to his left and nearly cried with relief. Someone (and he had a pretty good idea who) had left a block of ice up against the wall. It was slowly melting but the mass was just tall enough that he might be able to jump and reach the top of the wall.
He could make it in time if he hurried.
Standing on the half-melted lump of ice, the Southern Isles prince was able to pull himself over the wall and vanish without a trace into the streets of Arendelle.
“Oh wow! It’s even more amazing than Theo said it was!”
Elsa couldn’t help but smile at the younger girl’s enthusiasm towards her ice palace.
“Just wait until we get inside.” She told Scara as they touched down at the foot of the ice staircase. Scara nodded impatiently, practically leaping off the ice platform and into about a foot of snow. She giggled and kicked her feet free, throwing the powder up in graceful arcs. Elsa couldn’t help but smile. She’d grown very fond of the Spring host in the short amount of time they’d spent together these past few months. Seeing her happy and cheerful again was comforting.
The trip to the North Mountain had been fast and quiet this time. Scara was unnaturally silent and try as she might, Elsa could not prod a conversation to start between them. It wasn’t until the Spring host had caught sight of Elsa’s creation rearing out of the snow that she had perked up into her old self.
Taking the lead, Elsa started up the staircase towards her creation, Scara trailing after her with light footsteps and a slightly warm breeze projecting around her. She touched the icy railing but it did not change under her caress.
The doors slid open effortlessly as their maker approached and Elsa and the spring host stepped inside, their footsteps echoing resoundingly off the perfect floors and smooth walls.
Elsa had to agree with her sentiment. The interior was as pristine as the last time she’d been here, her repairs holding up quite nicely all things considered. The only difference was that the entire interior was sparkling as the sunlight hit it. Frozen fractals fractured the sunbeams, spewing colors across the ice and making the walls glow with a brilliance Elsa had never seen before.
Was it egotistical to call her own creation beautiful?
Then she saw several grains of sand littering the floor and had to swallow hard to keep her heart-rate down. Without Scara’s usual demeanor distracting her on their way here, the flight had been a desperate attempt to not think about the kiss. About the way Theo had pulled her close and so desperately tried to be even closer. About the way their tongues and powers had clashed and filled the air with an energy that defied the simplicity of words to define it. About the sensations that were still rushing through her, even now. About the emotionless look in the summer host’s eyes as she pulled away, almost like she hadn’t really been there at all…
“There’s so much life here!”
Elsa jerked her head up at Scara’s exclamation, thrown off by the statement. “What?”
Scara stood in the center of the hallway, twirling in an impromptu dance, lights of all colors illuminating her form. “Can’t you feel that?” She asked Elsa. “The ice itself is bursting with life!” She beamed at her. “This ice has Isen’s touch.”
Before Elsa could ask what she meant, a bellow shook the palace, making the frozen fountain tinkle as it vibrated.
The girls looked up as Elsa’s giant snow-guard appeared from the back of the palace and ran towards them. The Snow Queen readied herself to protect the Spring host, drawing the ice to her hands and preparing to unleash it but she paused when she got a good look at the beast.
He was running but not charging and there was a huge goofy grin on his face. Marshmallow skidded to an ungraceful stop before the girls and without a hint of warning, scooped Scara up and hugged her close.
“Elsa…friend! Welcome!” He cried cheerfully.
For her part, Scara just laughed and embraced him back as if they were old friends. The snowman tossed her up in the air and caught her before setting her back on the ground.
Elsa, for her part, was speechless.
“I like him!” Scara declared, giving the snowman a little pat on his leg. Marshmallow let out a little roar of happiness and sat down like a dog so Scara could continue to pet him. “He has a piece of Isen too!” Scara exclaimed, scratching at the base of the snowman’s tiara. “A spark of her life!” She turned eagerly to Elsa. “Did you…make him?”
It took a little coaxing to get the words out of her mouth. “Ummm…yes…” Elsa managed. “him and…one other.” She wondered how Olaf was doing. And of course, thoughts of Olaf only led to thoughts of…
Elsa glanced up. Scara was examining the walls, Marshmallow abandoned and looking upset at the lack of attention. “What is it?” Elsa asked her.
Scara pointed. “The mirrors…”
Elsa whirled around and was confronted by images of herself in every direction. Her ice had become reflective again.
She swallowed hard. “What about them?” She asked, her voice shaking.
Scara crossed to stand next to her, examining the room. “You seem to have put them everywhere…” she said softly. “why?”
Elsa didn’t answer. How was she supposed to vocalize exactly what she despised about them? The fact that, in reality, she still hated the reflective quality ice acquired whenever her emotions were too strong? That the mirrors still reminded her of what she was, of why she’d had to run away that first time? Even during her meditations when the ice was calming, they reduced her to a writhing mass of pain and confusion whenever they chose to appear. They ensured she would never stop loathing her reflection when she’d thought herself a monster. Never let the shame and pain fade so long as she could see herself in her ice.
Scara examined the far wall with an intense curiosity. “Maybe it’s Isen!” She suggested excitedly. “Maybe she’s trying to reach out to you!”
“How so?” Elsa asked, lowering her head to avoid looking at her reflection.
“There’s a legend about Isen,” Scara began, “that she was born under the ocean but the very act of her birth froze the ocean solid, keeping her trapped under in isolation, reflected in every surface of ice. She had to be woken before she could emerge.” She ran a hand down the icy wall, the ice briefly glowing a soft green where she touched it. “Maybe this is just like that! Maybe this is Isen’s way of telling you about that legend.”
Elsa made a quick glance up but looked away quickly when the reflections copied her. “But…how do I wake her?”
Scara shrugged. “Don’t know. The legend doesn’t say…but try looking at the mirrors!” The Spring girl turned to face her, her smile fading slightly. “Elsa?”
Elsa folded her arms around herself, hugging her middle tightly. “I don’t…like to look at them.” The words came out as barely more than a pathetic whimper.
A gentle hand laid on her shoulder. “Try.” Scara encouraged her with a soft smile.“See what you find when you look.”
Timidly, Elsa raised her head again, focusing on the slab of ice in front of her. The image of her in the ice did the same, its face closed off with fear and eyes sharp with scrutiny. They confronted each other for a moment, simultaneously begging the other to look away, to find something…
And then Elsa realized. She was the only one reflected in the ice. Even though Scara was standing right next to her and Marshmallow was ambling around across the room, she was alone in the icy reflection.
For just a moment, it felt like she was in front of Isen’s Mirror again, not standing in her creation. Everything else faded away until it was just her and the reflection alone in the darkness, illuminated only by a shaft of light from the tiny window behind her. No sound, no walls, nothing but them. There was no singing from the ice. Everything was silent, holding its breath, waiting.
Elsa stared at her reflection but it was almost like she wasn’t looking into the image but rather looking out of it.
Her mind flashed to her meditation, to the feeling of something locked away inside the ice, waiting patiently to emerge, mirroring her every move…
She blinked and everything came crashing back into focus. Her hand was stretching towards the ice walls of her palace, fingers a mere inch from her reflected face. Scara was staring at her, eyes wide.
But it wasn’t Scara who had called her.
Elsa turned around, her heart thudding loudly. “…Reba?”
It was indeed the young Informer. She was wrapped up in several layers of furs and boots a size too big for her. Her lips were cracked and her face chapped from the wind. She looked as if she had been out here for days although for what reason, Elsa could not possibly fathom.
“What are you doing out here?” Elsa asked, her mind immediately conjuring the worst. “Where’s Anna? Is she alright?”
“I am looking for you.” The Informer replied in that unsettling manner that she had. The calm, thoughtful way in which she spoke made her seem twice as old as she looked. Despite having clearly been trekking through the wilderness alone for several days, she stood tall and firm on her own without a hint of fatigue.
Scara cocked her head at the girl. “Do you know her, Elsa?”
Elsa nodded slowly. “Yes, she…she’s a friend of my sister.”
The young girl stumbled a bit and Elsa hurried forward to support her. She conjured a seat of ice for the child and stepped back, wishing she could do more to make the frozen girl comfortable.
“What are you doing out here Reba?” Elsa asked, fretting worriedly around the girl. “Is Anna okay?” She demanded to know again.
“As far as I know, yes she is.” The girl replied, looking somewhat relieved to be off her feet. She dropped the bag she had been carrying at the base of the ice seat. “But I have been away from the kingdom for several days so that may no longer be true.” The Informer said flatly.
Scara spoke up from behind Elsa, where she was pressing the tips of her fingers together gently and intently. “Did you come all the way up here on your own?” She asked Reba quietly.
“I knew about where Queen Elsa’s palace was from Anna’s stories.” Reba began, folding her hands softly in her lap. She kept her back ramrod straight. “And I have much experience tracking and travelling in the snow, my homeland had winters much like Arendelle. We worshipped the Winter Goddess.”
Scara stiffened slightly but said nothing. Elsa was staring at Reba. She didn’t think she’d ever heard the Informer talk this much in all the time she’d known her.
“Where are you from?” The Queen asked the young Informer.
She half expected Reba not to answer, for her to grow quiet and just peer at her with those omniscient green eyes. But to her surprise, Reba offered her the smallest of smiles. “You wouldn’t know it, it is far from here. But in that land…I was a nobleman’s daughter.”
Now that she mentioned it, Elsa recognized the signs: the quiet, proper demeanor, the stiffness of her back and neck, her cultured way of speaking. She came from a long line of royalty.
“I was five when my home nation was invaded by the empire of Almania.” Reba explained. Her eyes glazed over but she kept speaking. “I watched my people die, I watched soldiers take captives, including myself. War is hell. No one should have to live through it.”
“When I was a slave in Almania,” She continued, her voice remaining strong and unbroken. “I heard stories of the hosts. Monsters, people called them. Devils of the seasons. But I didn’t think so. Every night I longed for a spirit to awaken inside me, for power to overcome the chains that bound me.” She shook her head with a sad smile. “I was never so blessed. So I found my own way out, my own power and freedom. And when I heard about you, Elsa, I knew you would need me one day.”
Reba stood, but only long enough to lower herself to her knees and bow her head so low it touched the icy floor. “Great Winter Goddess…” She muttered reverently. Elsa took a step back, too shocked to say anything.
After a few seconds, Reba raised herself and sat back on her heels. “And that day is today.” She continued, her voice hardening. “Arendelle is to be attacked.”
Panic raced through Elsa. “What?” She cried, advancing on the girl. “How do you know?”
“Prince Christian of the Southern Isles and Lord Wilfred of North Melonia.” The Informer said, standing up again. “I heard them in the stables during Princess Anna’s wedding. The Prince is obsessed with this verse that Lord Wilfred recited to him. He thinks it speaks of some hidden wealth that he can acquire for the Isles. I knew they were plotting something so I started doing some work of my own. I sent out a message to all my spies in the city, put them up listening everywhere. And I found out that it wasn’t just him and his soldiers. He’s been in contact with people all over Arendelle, people who have lost the most in the Great Freeze. He even sent a message to Weselton at one point, searching for mercenaries.”
Elsa’s head was swimming. She sank onto the vacated seat. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this?” She asked hollowly.
“By the time I had all my evidence, you were gone.” Reba said. “I wanted to go to Anna but she had left to follow you. So I took no chances. I left coded instructions with some of the ravens I had befriended in Arendelle and I came out here on my own. I knew that you’d come here eventually, to your Winter Sanctuary. But I couldn’t be sure if it would be in time or not.”
Elsa was struggling to process all of this. Had she just said she’d left instructions with ravens?
“So it’s a coup…” She said slowly, fear rising within her. The temperature in the room dropped dangerously lower. “Christian was planning a coup this whole time…Hans must be in on it…planning to go back…” She froze as realization dawned on her. “And Anna is…oh Gods, Anna!” She stood up and starting pacing agitatedly, snow and a tight gust swirling around her. Anna was alone facing this threat. Running their kingdom by herself as it faced a looming coup. She wasn’t there…if anything happened, Anna could be…
“What was the verse?”
Elsa stopped short and turned around as Scara softly spoke up. “What?”
Scara nodded to Reba. “The verse you said this Lord man told the prince. Do you remember what it said?” She asked.
“Of course.” Reba cleared her throat and recited without a hint of hesitation. “’In the land of ice, where the water meets the stones of old, the night comes alive with lights and power. There, it begins. There, all their dreams be found. A treasure greater than knowledge and wealth. Winter-Summer, Life-Death. All are there, in perfect balance, not a one alone. The daughters have come.’”
“That’s Ileana’s Prophecy.”
Elsa blinked and turned to Scara again. “What?”
Scara glanced at her left hand, watching a tiny clump of pollen swirl around it. “Ileana made a prediction in her last year…a… promise of sorts. She said it was a vision of the future for the Mother’s Children. Erin recorded it and past hosts have meditated on what it means. Theo used to recite it to me when I couldn’t sleep at night.” She closed her fist around the pollen and several flowers sprouted, poking between her fingers. “That’s it…practically word for word.”
“What does it mean?” Reba asked, watching the Spring host curiously, her green eyes shining at Scara’s powers.
“No one is sure.” Scara replied, unaware of the younger girl’s admiration of her. “The legends say that Ileana saw it as ‘a guiding light in the darkness to come’. Branna’s hosts have studied it for centuries but they never came to a conclusion about it.”
“But what does it have to do with what Christian wants?” Reba asked.
“He knows.” Elsa realized. The others turned to her. “He knows about the hosts.” Elsa clarified. “He must have known about Hans’ power. And when they heard about mine…that was all the proof he needed that there were more of us. And now he wants us together for some reason…to unlock some treasure…” The other two were silent, listening with horror. Elsa felt sick. What did they want with her?
“’A treasure greater than knowledge and wealth.’” She looked at Scara. “Are there any sacred relics or something? Something that it takes all of us to retrieve or use?”
Scara shook her head, seeming confused. “No, I don’t think so. We all have our Items but as far as we know, there’s nothing else. And only we can use our Items. They’re useless to humans.”
“But what happens when we’re all together?” Elsa prompted her, her voice rising.
“We maintain balance and uphold the cycle.” Scara replied. “Nothing happens, that’s just how it is. We come together to prevent things from happening.”
Elsa ran a hand through her bangs, leaving frost crackling across her hair. “This coup…has it…is it going on yet?” She asked the Informer.
Reba shook her head. “The ravens have not flown out here. So I can only assume that no, it…”
She was cut off by a throaty screech.
A shaggy black bird swooped out of the sky and perched on the balcony. When it saw Reba, it lifted its wings and flapped them hard, a squawk that could only be described as alarm leaving its beak.
All three of them drew a collective breath, Elsa’s making the air thick with frost.
“Now.” Reba said, her voice trembling. “The coup is happening now…” She looked up at the Queen.
“Oh Merciful Mother…” Scara said, her voice taking on the first hint of fear Elsa had ever heard from her. Scara turned to Elsa. “You’re going back.” It wasn’t a question.
There was no question. She had to go back. Elsa knew she was probably walking into a trap, playing right into the Southern Isles’ game. But Arendelle…and Anna…
Reba picked up her discarded bag, slinging it over her shoulder and held out her arm for the raven messenger. It hopped onto her arm and climbed up to her shoulder. “We have to get to Arendelle…” She told the others. “Now.”
Elsa paced agitatedly once more, ice swirling tightly around her and the temperature dropping dangerously low. In the walls of her ice palace, a million perfect reflections of her copied her every move, right down to the snowflakes encircling her tightly.
Elsa hardly noticed them. They had to get back now…What was the fastest way to travel?
They had come to the docks. People from all over Arendelle: woodsmen and farmers, a baker and a blacksmith, even a few sailors and seamstresses. Overall, there were at least four dozen of them assembled. Plus about three dozen Southern Isles soldiers. Scarves were tied over their mouths and noses and they armed themselves with torches and ice picks.
All of them had one thing in common. They wanted Elsa gone.
Hans smiled as he approached them, not breaking his stride. It was time. Time for him to finally have what he deserved.
With his flowing cape and sharp, thick heeled boots, he parted the crowd like a true king. That or the aura of death that clung to him.
The whispers followed in his wake. “It’s him!” “It’s Prince Hans!” The people watched him eagerly, recalling his excellent leadership during the Eternal Winter. He was the leader they wanted, the leader they deserved. He stepped up onto the pier to address them from above, a slight crisp autumn breeze accompanying him.
“Welcome, my friends,” he began, smiling charmingly down at them. “Welcome to this glorious day!”
They cheered and banged their weapons together. Hans smirked. Today was about more than getting his revenge and completing Theo’s task. It was about complete and total destruction. And these people were going to help him achieve it.
Once, these people had merely been disgruntled by the freak winter in the middle of summer. But Hans had built on that foundation, spread whispers and fostered discontent through the work of his brother until their anger and fear had grown and spread into complete hatred of Elsa and her powers. Now they stood with him and his soldiers, ready to tear Arendelle apart at the seams to unlock its secrets.
“Queen Elsa has kept us down long enough with your fear of her powers.” Hans proclaimed, raising his fist. “It is time we take back Arendelle from this monster!”
His troops cheered again.
“Are you ready to rise against the tyranny of the Ice Queen of Arendelle?” Hans goaded them. They roared their inclination.
“We are Arendelle’s Freedom Fighters!” Hans shouted, his chest burning with excitement. “And we will take back this kingdom from the monster who rules it! No more shall her icy fear cling to our hearts!”
“Death to the Ice Queen! Death to the Ice Queen!” They all cheered, milling excitedly together.
Hans drew in a deep, satisfied breath. They were all fired up. His people would tear apart the city now. And with Theo helping to spread the panic…it was perfect. He had to admit, for a last-minute addition to the plan, the Summer host was proving most helpful.
His hatred swirled within him, whipped up by a current of premature satisfaction.
Finally, Elsa will lose everything. Just as I have.
Hans froze at the familiar voice. Slowly he turned around. During the commotion, someone had climbed onto the far end of dock.
A genuine smile lit up his face for the first time that day. “Christian…”
It had been nearly five months since they had last seen each other.
His brother looked winded, as if he had run all the way down here. His hair was wispy, his breath was ragged and he clutched his sword hilt tightly. But his eyes were shining with the compassion they only showed for him.
Letting go of his sword pommel, Christian ran forward, his arms outstretched in a crushing bear-hug to greet his beloved baby brother.
In the rush of seeing him, Hans forgot himself, forgot his purpose. Forgot his curse. It had never lashed out at Christian before, Christian had always been the only one who had been safe from his power. He had been the one to give Hans the gloves, to calm him down in the Autumn when the voice in his head had tormented him, to bury the bodies of his casualties and make excuses for him. Hans had never feared that his touch would harm the only brother who actually loved him.
It was only brief, barely more than a fleeting brush of skin. But it was enough. As they embraced tightly, Hans’ cheek ghosted along the skin of his brother’s neck. By the time Hans recoiled in shock, feeling the unforgiving snap of his power across his skin, his brother was already falling limp against him.
The body fell to the dock with a thud, glassy eyes meeting dull gray ones. The world seemed to stop. Sound muted, colors faded.
Prince Christian was dead.
Hans stared across the people below him without seeing them. They were silent, at a loss for what they had just seen. He had gathered them all here to fight a ‘monster’. A dry chuckle escaped his lips. He had forgotten the one within him. Today, he had to kill it too.
Autumn’s Fury came forth as the Breath filled the air. Dead leaves gathered around Hans as his eyes glowed a dull white.
“You did this…” Hans seethed, feeling that presence inside his head scream in pain again. His fists clenched painfully tight. “You took him away…”
The leaves began to lift into an enormous twisting mass. The air filled with the scent of decay and the heavy feeling of death.
WHY CANT YOU JUST STOP!?
The Southern Isles Prince stepped off of his platform, the winds carrying him softly to the ground. His eyes snapped downwards.
“Out of my way!” He commanded, waving his arm at those assembled to listen to his speech.
But it was a useless order. All around him, his soldiers were crumpling. They choked on his Breath as the diseases of the world infiltrated their defenseless human lungs. Some died right away, others keeled over, coughing or clawing at their skin as slower deaths awaited them. No one was safe from his curse.
Hans stalked away from them quickly, leaving the fallen corpse of his brother on the dock. Those glassy eyes seemed to bore into him from behind, drilling twin holes in his soul.
Christian had died with a smile of joy on his face. Happiness at finally seeing his beloved younger brother again.
And that tore Hans apart more than any spirit ever could.
This has to end. I must have my revenge.
With a flap of his cloak, Hans practically glided away down the streets of Arendelle.
The leaves spread behind him, the Breath slowly crawling over everything in its path.
Theo made her way silently down the streets of the city she was to doom to ash. In her borrowed clothes and with her short hair, she was easily mistaken for a traveling man, alone and weary of the world. People hustled by her, hardly sparing a glance. They were more concerned with the Southern Isles ship that had arrived, the closing of the gates and the whereabouts of their queen. One additional stranger was hardly worth a second glance. Theo was bumped and jostled by the people she was to harm but she hardly felt them as they milled around her. She supposed, if she had been herself at this moment and not some kind of human-spirit hybrid, she would have been astounded by the diversity and prosperity of Elsa’s kingdom. The people seemed well and optimistic despite the unease surrounding them. They continued on with their daily tasks, lifting and chopping and driving their animals to market.
To have a normal life…
Bound as tightly to Branna as she was, it was impossible to distinguish which of them had had that fleeting, wishful thought.
Theo paused at the doorway to the inn called the Snowflake Tavern. A small fire was burning in a metal grate just outside the door. It was meant for stable hands and weary travelers to warm themselves at if they only wished to stop for a moment instead of for the night.
It would be the source of Arendelle’s destruction.
Theo stretched out her hand towards the flame, as if trying to thaw her fingers. But her fingers were never cold. They had never known the feel of true ice except for when they’d touched the Ice Queen.
I’m sorry Elsa…
The flames seemed to shrink lower and quiver in anticipation as they felt the proximity of Branna’s power. Theo’s jaw clenched in derision at its hungry desire to destroy. Fire was a weapon. Only when it was confined and enslaved did it ever seem good.
Am I the same way? Better in a cage? Where I can’t rampantly destroy?
Do I crave to burn as well?
As she stood there, hand outstretched, the flames waiting in smoldering anticipation, the normal people passing by and not sparing her so much as a glance, the Summer host remembered. She remembered the first time she had set something on fire and the hate that had been unleashed because of that. She remembered the heat that had led her only adult friend to his death on an icy lake and the crippling shame that still followed her from it. She remembered the fire that had destroyed an entire forest and nearly killed her Guardian and then the flames that had consumed him on his deathbed. She remembered the internal fire she had smothered by bonding with Branna, the flare of heat and passion she felt whenever she was close to Elsa.
Theo closed her eyes, concentrating deeply, trying to remember how that last kiss had felt, desperately wanting to bring those sensations to mind one last time before they ceased to matter. But it was impossible. She had no emotions anymore, not even her memories of having emotions could do it justice. There was only Branna’s heat and smoke.
Back in the forest, Elsa had said positive emotion worked for her. Perhaps the opposite was true for the host of summer. Perhaps in the heat of the flames, only hatred and pain could be found.
Theo flicked her fingers upwards, feeling the power of heat that rippled through her expand to reach that of the dancing flame before her.
In a flash, Arendelle began to burn.
Anna whirled as a flash of light lit up the window. Hand on her sword, she raced to the glass and gazed out at her kingdom.
“What was that?” Ichtaca asked, jumping to his feet from where he’d been curled on the floor next to the desk.
Anna didn’t answer him. A strange glow was coming from the lower districts of the city. Almost as if several fires had all been lit in quick succession.
“Fire…?” Even as she watched, the glow seemed to intensify, almost as if it were steadily moving closer. Arendelle was burning. Quickly.
“Mam?” Ichtaca had come to stand next to her at the window. He watched the city below them with confusion and a hint of fear.
Smoke was beginning to rise from the downtown district, accompanied by small tornadoes of dead leaves whirling in the heating air.
Anna watched one twisting leaf, a strange feeling overcoming her. It was a tingling dread, like knowing lightning was about to strike you, like breathing in the heaviness of a deadly sickness in the air.
She reacted instantaneously. “Ichtaca, get back!” She barely managed to grab the boy and haul him away from the window before it shattered.
Instinctively, Anna ducked down to cover the boy with her own body, holding him close as little pellets of glass rained upon her shoulders and back. After a few seconds, she sat up, one hand reaching for her sword.
At her side, Ichtaca sat up, unhurt and barely phased by the sudden explosion.“Are you alright mam?” He asked Anna.
But Anna didn’t answer him.
Because someone was standing at the broken window, glass crunching under their feet as they slowly advanced on her.
Captain Wulfric was in hell.
That was the only way he could possibly describe what was going on right now.
He raced past the burning Snowflake Tavern, people being hauled out as they choked on the thick black smoke pouring from within. Somehow, the flames had leapt from building to building and the whole street was now ablaze.
How had this happened?
He ducked as the building next to him flared up unexpectedly, as if it had been doused in oil. Wulfric ran past, his hand on his sword, squashing his panic down as best he could.
Arendelle had not been to war in nearly a century and for most of the time he had been Captain, the gates had been closed. Trained and competent though he was, he had no experience of war, of the utter desolation and helplessness one feels when a familiar landscape becomes terrifying and hazardous.
In the less than five minutes since he’d left the palace, Arendelle had erupted into utter chaos.
Dissenters darted around the burning buildings in the downtown market square, screaming for the death of the Ice Queen and waving ice picks and torches. Ordinary citizens seemed torn and confused, not knowing whether they should be running from the rebels or trying to get water to the multiple fires consuming the town. Many were just huddled in safe spots, clutching their children close and praying it would all end soon.
He was immensely thankful he’d closed the gates to protect the princess. If these rebels got inside…
One of the men holding a torch spotted him and shouted something that sounded like ‘palace dog’. Several rebels, all of them with red scarves around their mouths charged him, screaming battle cries and waving torches and ice picks.
In less time than it took to blink, the Captain’s sword was in his hand. He fended off two blows from men with picks and made a wide sweep with his blade, driving the half-dozen men back a few feet.
Snarling, a man with a flaming torch in hand leapt forward, aiming for his head.
Dropping to one knee, he sliced the man’s torch cleanly in half with a practiced cut of his blade. The lit end fell to the ground and extinguished immediately. The rebel froze, dumbfounded and quickly found himself on the ground, courtesy of a punch to the gut from the Captain of the Palace Guard.
Wulfric smiled kindly down at the man sprawled in the snow.
“You want to reconsider your words, son?” He asked, spinning his blade expertly in his hand.
The man scrambled backwards and fled down an alley. His companions glanced at each other then quickly followed suit.
Wulfric nodded satisfactorily. Just as he’d thought. These rebels were little more than angry citizens with a common goal. They were all cowards with weapons, not trained fighters.
Looking around, he saw the fires had only spread further, still at their alarmingly fast rate. Already two more buildings were up in flames. He glanced up and down the street, trying to figure out why they were burning so quickly. There were a lot of leaves floating around, far too many for this late in the autumn. Perhaps they had helped carry the fire. The Captain shook his head as a gust of wind flew past him, carrying several of those leaves. A sudden wave of dizziness overcame him and he stumbled. The heat must be getting to him. He coughed heavily.
Wulfric glanced up and was relieved to see his men coming towards him. Several of them looked very tired and more than a little terrified but all of them were armed and ready to respond. His Lieutenant, a lad named Harrison, saluted him quickly. “What are your orders?” The man asked.
“Get Divisions 1 and 3 mobilized to combat the fires!” Wulfric barked, shaking off his fatigue as best he could to take command of his men. “Division 2 is with me. The rest of you, spread out and protect the citizens! Get as many as you can towards the docks and the beach! Protect Arendelle!”
“Protect Arendelle!” His men cheered, pumping their swords into the air. They split into their divisions, racing in every direction to combat their foes, be it rebel or flame.
Wulfric coughed again as his battalion surrounded him. “With me, men!” He cheered, holding his blade aloft. “Let’s chase those rebels back to their holes!” The guard let out a unanimous grunt of approval and drew their weapons. Division 2 fanned out and ran down the street in an arrowhead formation, fending off anyone with a red scarf around their face. Some of the rebels put up a fight, but most just turned tail and ran when they saw the guards coming for them.
Wulfric decapitated another torch with a swing of his sword and sent the rebel fleeing with a slap of his blade on the lad’s rear. With a nod of approval, he turned away to check on his men. No injuries, although some were coughing rather heavily and Harrison seemed to have broken out in a rash of some kind. Heat blistering? The fires were getting hotter down this end…
A shout from the man he was watching jolted him back to the task at hand. “Captain!” Harrison was pointing at something behind him. Wulfric turned, following the lad’s indication.
At the other end of the street, through a slight bottleneck in the buildings leading to an open city square was a figure in a thick dark cloak. The entire square was ablaze, with bits of burning wood tumbling to the ground and embers swirling everywhere. The figure stood completely still as the citizens rushed around them in panic. He waited among the inferno as if he had no fear of the flames.
“You there!” Wulfric called to them, running a few paces closer. “Clear away!”
The cloaked figure turned and the Captain took a step back in horror. Ruby red eyes, completely devoid of emotion. The cloak snapped threateningly around their form, held aloft by the rising heat of the flames. The embers of the surrounding flames spiraled around the man, circling his body in concentric ellipses.
“Sir! Please go!” Wulfric shouted, flashing his blade at them. “It’s not safe here!”
The strange man just looked at them with those dead, emotionless eyes. He turned to face them completely, the hood slipping from his head to reveal black hair cropped very close to his skull. “Just stay out of my way…” He said softly. The man raised a hand as if to stop him from coming closer.
Wulfric hefted his sword, considering the threat. The man was alone and wore no scarf. He didn’t seem to be a rebel. He seemed to have no interest in the people rushing by, only in his task of watching the city systematically burning to the ground.
“Sir?” One of his men asked, eying the man.
“Approach slowly,” Wulfric commanded him. “do not attack unless he provokes you.”
He jogged several steps forward, passing through the bottleneck between two burning buildings to reach the open area where the man in black waited. The heat was intense here, he felt sweat drip down his face and smoke sting his eyes.
“Please, come out of there.” Wulfric called to the man, who had not moved so much as an eyelash. As he approached, the flames all around them all flared up in unison, fingers of flame clawing up into the sky. Wulfric stumbled back as intense heat licked at his face and made the hairs on his arms stand up. Behind him, he heard the men who had been following him cry out in surprise and fear.
“Stay away.” The cloaked figure said emotionlessly. They raised both their hands. “Or I will kill you.” The flames around them, flickered in their blood-red eyes.
Wulfric was struck by a sudden realization.
They’re a woman.
Despite the short hair and the tunic and pants she wore, it was undoubtedly a female who was threatening him. Now that he was close he could see it in her face shape and the slightness of her form.
“I cant leave you here, mam!” He shouted above the roaring flames.
Her eyes narrowed but no flicker of emotion passed through them. “Pity.”
She made a grabbing motion at the flames of the buildings and several licks of fire leapt from their bases, gathering in her palm and swirling around her hands.
The woman thrust her hand towards them and the flames jumped eagerly towards them, nipping at their clothes and singeing their hair. Wulfric leapt back, rolling along the cobblestones to extinguish his clothes. His momentum carried him back to his feet, where he readied his sword.
“Sir!” He had come up next to Harrison, who was struggling to his feet. “Sir! I think she’s controlling the flames!”
He was stunned. “What? But that’s…impossible…” But even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t. After all, couldn’t their queen control the winter?
The woman stared at the scattered men, the winds and flames bending around her in a miniature cyclone. Her magic (if that’s what it indeed was) bore an eerie resemblance to Elsa’s, only it expressed itself as a polar opposite to that of the Queen.
Wulfric found himself desperately wishing that her Majesty had not left again. But she wasn’t here. It was up to them to protect the kingdom. The Captain of the Guard lifted his sword. “Surround and attack!” Wulfric commanded his men. “Defend Arendelle from the fire-witch!”
His men responded with a roar and hastened to follow orders. The woman didn’t move, just stood there with the flames circling her.
The men rushed her but a strong hot gale pushed out from her in all directions, knocking seasoned soldiers off their feet easily. Captain Wulfric slammed heavily into the doorway of a house, the ashen wood crumbling under his weight. He fell in a boneless heap to the ground among charred beams and ashes. He tried to stand, shaking his head to clear his vision but everything was hazy. He rolled back into the street, forcing his feet under him, his hands scrabbling for his sword. A shadow fell across him and he looked up.
Above him, the woman held a shaking fistful of flames.
“I am truly sorry…” The woman said in that same emotionless voice. She twisted her wrist and the flames began to curl towards him, heat licking at his face.
But before they could touch him, there was a huge gust of icy wind that sent even the woman stumbling. The storm howled through the city, snuffing out fires and sending the leaves tumbling wildly through the air. The snow was blinding, drifts piling up in mere seconds until the cobblestone streets looked like pure white marble.
Everyone looked up as a thick swirl of wind and snow touched down in the middle of the square, spinning like a tornado and flinging out harsh shards of ice that pricked at all exposed skin. The sharp wind whipped along the thin corridor between the buildings, ice scouring wood and snow building up everywhere.
When it cleared, Queen Elsa stood in the middle of the square.