Chapter 16 - The Ascent of Isen
For a moment, neither woman moved. The winds stirred quietly around them: one searing hot, the other icy cold as they stared at one another.
Elsa shook her head slowly, unable to comprehend what she was seeing.
“Theo…” She asked in a trembling voice. “what…what are you doing?” The street was ruined, the burned out shells of buildings smoking and crumbling. Theo stood alone, hot wind stirring her cloak and embers circling her form tightly. She watched Elsa with that same blank expression that had disturbed Elsa so much back at the temple.
“Your Majesty!” Elsa was too fixated on Theo to notice her Captain trying to get her attention. Wulfric glanced between the two women, not knowing how he should react in this situation. Harrison raced to his side and helped him rise unsteadily to his feet. He winced as he straightened out. One of his ribs was broken, he was sure.
“Sir?” Harrison asked him quietly.
“Get the men out of here.” Wulfric told him, not taking his eyes off the Queen. “We need to get everyone away from here as fast as we can.”
Elsa had no visible reaction as her soldiers collected their wounded and marched away from the smoldering square as quickly as they could. She might as well have been a statue for all her worth. But the second Theo moved, she snapped to respond. A biting wind raced through the desolate square, whipping the snow into the menacing shapes of spears and birthing several sharp icicles pointing at the summer host. Snow gathered in the Queen’s palms until she held a magnificent sword of ice.
Elsa pointed the blade at the other girl. “Why are you here, Theo?” She asked, her voice and hands shaking with emotions she had never wanted to feel again. “Why are you destroying my kingdom?!” Tears pricked her eyes when Theo did not respond or even react to what she was saying. She just kept looking at her with those blank, dead eyes. Like her soul had been sucked out of her and left to drift through hellfire.
“What is going on?” Elsa cried, the fear and dread within her whipping up bitter gusts of wind.
Theo blinked, slowly, deliberately. “Drop the weapon, Elsa.” She finally said, in a flat voice that sounded like a strangers’. “I will not fight you like a human come to war.”
Elsa felt her grip tighten on the sword. “You and I are human.” She told the summer host. “Or have you forgotten that?”
Theo shook her head. “We are not human.” She reminded Elsa decisively. “We are the hosts. And we will not squabble like petty men.” A hot gust of wind whipped around her, nipping at Elsa’s cold air and forming small puffs of condensation in the space between them.
The sword fell apart in Elsa’s hand, the snow drifting back to the ground. “Theo, please…” She pleaded, her heart clenching. “stop what you are doing and let’s…”
“I cannot stop.” Theo interrupted, her fists clenched tightly at her sides.
Elsa shook her head frantically. “Yes, you can! Please! Please stop…” Tears were starting to gather in the corners of her eyes, frozen to harsh pricks by her wind.
“Are you under the illusion that Theonia is in control of her actions right now?”
The harsh clip to her words sent an unpleasant realization through Elsa. “What? Branna are you…?” She studied the woman in front of her, anger beginning to build within her. “Are you controlling her?” She asked, her voice shaking for an entirely different reason now.
If this was only the spirit, perhaps there was a chance Theo was not involved. Perhaps there was a way she didn’t have to destroy the body before her or feel this terrible pain.
But Theo shook her head. “Branna couldn’t do that even if she wanted to. She does not control us, we merely share one existence.” Her voice had a strange timbre to it. As if two voices: one very old and the other comparatively young, has been merged together. “Theonia gave in.” The summer host continued. “It is a form of the highest trust between a host and their spirit. We agreed to fuse our minds and souls so we could do what was necessary without causing her more anguish.”
Elsa was still lost. “But…why? Why must you do this?” She gestured around her at the destruction and the smoke in the air. “What does destroying my kingdom do?”
A flicker of something passed over the summer host’s face. But it was gone within the blink of an eye. “I don’t have to justify my actions to you.” She replied, the wind snapping angrily around her, even as her voice remained flat. “You know nothing of the pain we have felt. The things we have done to ensure that balance remains. We have lived more human lifetimes than you could possibly conceive.” Embers adrift in the air began to flare again, snapping briefly into flames before dying. The hot wind had picked up and tiny sparks snapped at Theo’s smoking fingers.
Elsa watched all this, sad and desperate. “Maybe, but I know Theo. She never wanted this.”
The stranger before her scoffed as best she could with no emotions to back it up. “Do not be so pretentious.” She replied. “You know nothing of her either. Her sacrifices are greater than even those of the spirits. She has lost everything for this balance: her family, her friends, her Guardian, the trust of her sister spirits and now she is even willing to alienate herself from the one she loves…just to be sure Branna’s love is returned to her.”
Elsa blinked. One particular phrase stuck in her mind. “Alienate herself from the one she…?”
“She is sacrificing her very heart and soul to ensure that we restore balance.” Theo continued, not noticing, or simply not caring about Elsa’s inquiry. It stung more than the Queen was willing to admit.
“If she truly wants this,” Elsa began, gesturing helplessly at the ruined square. “If this was what she wanted all along…then why hasn’t she acted before? She’s had many opportunities to do this, so why now?”
“She was searching.”
“For…another way. I didn’t want to cause you unnecessary pain.”
Even without the shift in pronouns, Elsa would have realized that Theo was back. Her eyes had come alive again, her entire frame had uncoiled as she came back into herself. The fires around her had dimmed considerably as she fought back tears.
“For months I fought back as she tried everything she could to force me to obey her.” The girl was trembling, shaking uncontrollably.
Elsa took a step forward, holding out her hand. “Theo…stop this. Please.”
Her plea fell on deaf ears. Theo didn’t seem to hear her. “But it was all for naught. This is inevitable Elsa.” She shuddered, the force of it making her stumble.
Elsa paused. “How can you say that?” She asked, shocked.
Theo stared at nothing. “I’ve lived through it.” She fell to her knees in the snow, her hands over her ears. “We must lose everything we love so our spirit can awake in this world.” Hot wind swirled around her, the flames surging and faltering at uneven intervals. “Family…friends…siblings. It is all an impossible dream for beings like us. We must be alone. No matter what the sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice…” Elsa stared at the woman on the ground, her anger returning. “My kingdom is not a sacrifice I am willing to make.”
“It is one you must make.” Theo replied, clenching her stubby hair through her fingers. “We have all lost that which we love…sacrifice is inevitable.”
“You can’t know that!”
“Yes I can!” Theo shouted. Slowly her hands fell from her ears and dangled limply by her sides. “…Because I’ve already given mine…” Theo looked up at the Queen, tears streaming down her face. “Once…I had a brother.”
Elsa was silent. Both of their winds had ceased, dying down into little more than a slight change in temperature around them.
Theo winced as if she had been pricked with a thousand needles all at once. “…he was…he was only two…” Her voice choked and she clutched at her chest desperately. The embers around her flared and spun through the air. “I fought but I had no idea what I was, that I was the reason he couldn’t exist. I kept setting the cabin on fire and then saving him from the blaze.” She forced her eyes open, staring at the snow under her as if it could wipe away the memories. “It took me forever to realize that I had to stop fighting to be free.” She finished quietly, in a voice completely detached from emotion.
Elsa couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What?”
“I had to kill him. I was supposed to kill him. It was beyond my control. But I loved him. So much.” Tears glistened in her eyes again but did not fall. “The Mother told me this the first time she spoke to me. She told me the truth about why my parents kicked me out. Because of his influence over me, my powers would always seek to destroy that one I loved most. Branna knew, even sleeping, that she could not be influence by another human. So I severed my bond with that brother…” She sighed heavily, shakily. “and I left him behind.”
The silence stretched between them for a long moment, unbroken and heavy with the darkness of the past.
“So…he’s alive?” Elsa asked hesitantly after she could stand the silence no longer.
Theo shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. And I don’t want to know.” She gave a strangled half-laugh, half-sob. “I cant ever know. I cant love him or else Branna will be forced to destroy him.”
Several dead leaves drifted by them, twisting unnaturally in the air. They drifted past the glowing remains of the Snowflake Tavern and burst into flame, smoking and drifting until nothing of them remained.
“That doesn’t make any sense!” Elsa said after a moment of contemplation. “If you love him…why… why?”
“A single person cannot hold all that power over a season.” Theo said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world.
Elsa felt her eyes narrow to slits. “We do.” She replied.
“That is why we are locked away.” Theo replied, unmoved by Elsa’s anger. She spoke without emotion once more, as if just stating cold facts. “If I loved him, I would have become too dangerous in an effort to protect him. My powers would have spiraled out of control, as yours have in the past. He would have control over my emotional state and therefore, control over the powers of summer. I would have burned forests for him. If he ever hurt me, I would scorch the land with eternal summer.”
Elsa recalled the crippling freeze her fight with Anna had set upon this very kingdom. She remembered the pain of keeping herself away from Anna and the instability of her powers as she struggled to shut her sister out. She glanced around her now, at the swirling snow and wind that was born of her desire, her need to protect Anna.
“Our emotions manifest as physical things,” Theo was saying, her gaze roaming the snow and flame-licked buildings around them. “…so the root of all connection to the outside has to be severed, to prevent us from forming attachments. Family, parents, friends…Sibling bonds are the strongest kind. So they must be prevented. In every way.”
Everything seemed to go silent as Elsa turned to look at her again. “What do you mean…every way?”
Theo met her gaze, her eyes shining with something horrible that Elsa did not understand. Yet. “The trolls had another job.” Theo began. “They were not just our scribes and healers. They were also our protectors, though in a different capacity than our Guardian. And in a way, far more important.” She paused, as if contemplating finishing what she meant to say. “They must prevent us from loving and being loved by humans. They are, after all, Love Experts.”
Elsa said nothing, but memories of the rock trolls came back to her, their knowledge of her powers, the way they cared for Anna when she had hurt her…
Theo raised her head to the darkening, orange sky. “Master Pabbie has the blood of a hundred host siblings on his hands. And thousands more of the siblings who remain unborn.” Her voice shook but her face remained impassive as she spoke. “His job was to make the mother of a host infertile and kill any children produced from the same womb as the host. And then he would erase all memory of the host child from their parents and of the parents from the host. It was the only way to ensure the hosts’ powers would not seek and destroy in the name of love.
“But he gave up his role just before our generation. Hence why I still remember my family, why Scara killed her parents and why you grew up here instead of with us. He should have killed Anna before she was even born. Or when she was small, before you and her had the chance to become close. But now he’s waited too long and it’s too late.”
Elsa was breathing heavily, unable to accept these new horrible truths. “But no…my powers…as soon as I accepted my love of Anna, they fell under my control…”
“Are they?” Theo asked, her face drawn. “Do you have complete control?” Elsa nodded but Theo ignored her. “You are bound to this kingdom, to your sister instead of to your spirit. Anna controls you, so you cannot be free.” She told the Queen.
Elsa opened her mouth to argue but no words came.
“Do you see now why your powers always seemed to want to hurt her?” Theo asked, watching her carefully. “Why all your life, you desired to protect her but it seemed that subconsciously, you wanted to remove her from your life at the same time?” Theo stretched one hand out towards her, slowly rising back to her feet. “Isen knows, deep inside you…so long as Anna lives, you and her cannot be one. Once Anna is dead, once that bond is severed, Isen will wake.”
Elsa wanted to collapse. Her head was spinning, she couldn’t stand straight or see clearly. Breathing became labored, her whole frame shook. Those words echoed endlessly in her head, making her feel like she was falling down a dark abyss.
Anna must die…Anna must die…
But there was no choice. The decision had been made before she had locked herself away. Before she had struck her sister. Before she had even discovered her powers.
I wont let anyone hurt her.
Without even thinking. Elsa shot her power at Theo’s hand, freezing it in a block of ice. Stunned, the summer host stared at it for several seconds. The ice bondage slowly melted as her natural heat leaked into it. The summer host clenched her fist.
“So this is how you want it to be….” Her voice had shifted again. Whatever trace of Theonia there had been left disappeared back under the frighteningly blank mask she wore.
“I wont let you hurt my sister!” Elsa shouted at her, her nails digging painfully into her palms. “You will not harm her or my kingdom anymore!”
The snow swirled behind her and rose into an enormous cyclone of whirling ice. Elsa was the center of this storm and the source. Icicles rose from between the cobblestones and dripped from the remaining wreckage of buildings. Theo gazed up at the spectacle, her eyes burdened with knowledge of the unavoidable.
“I have no choice, Elsa.” She said quietly. The summer host widened her stance, fists held out at her sides. The smoldering embers in the buildings breathed back into flames and leapt eagerly to their commander. A tight ring of fire spiraled around Theo, the heat making her form waver and steam in the cold air.
Elsa raised her hands, compressing the cyclone. Theo lowered her hands, the flames growing higher.
“This is the only choice.” Theo said grimly. “Either your kingdom falls…or the cycle breaks.”
Elsa glared at her. For her, at least, there had never been a choice to begin with. “Very well…”
Eyes narrowed, hearts clenched. Deep inside, two spirits wept. Far away, the Mother closed her eyes.
Elsa swirled her hands around, Theo thrust hers forward.
The fire met ice and steam filled the square.
Winter and Summer clashed in the land where water met the stones of old. Over their heads, the sky darkened to an ominous orange, even though there were no clouds in sight, the daylight faded as if the sun had been blotted out. The lights appeared, streaks of bright red in the sky, like bleeding tears in the fabric of reality. They shifted blindingly from blue-green to a burning orange-red, flickering like flames and blasts of ice over the burning city.
It seemed as if all of nature paused as the battle raged. Even the waves on the shore ceased moving as the spirits clashed, frozen mid-crest by forces more powerful than they, the sand they carried forever suspended against gravity. Such a fight had never before been witnessed in all of time.
The bizarre storm raged through the town, sand and scorching heat swirling and mixing with snow and bitter cold. Those remaining in the area found it hard to tell what season it was as the spirits fought. One second their teeth were chattering at the howling gale, the next the hairs on their arms were prickling and singeing from a blast of heat.
Overhead, lightning split the sky and the lights shone hotly. The earth trembled under their feet, quaking with a force like they’d never felt before.
In the confusion and utter terror of the two spirits at war, causes were forgotten, arguments and principles were abandoned, cast by the wayside like broken weapons. The people fell back to their most natural instincts as they realized just how small and insignificant they were next to these gods. They turned to each other with the same thought in mind: escape.
The wounded were carried, the elderly guided, paths were cleared by soldiers, children scouted ahead. Freedom Fighter and Arendelle guard alike grasped arms and hauled each other free of the flames and the snow. The people of Arendelle carried each other to their salvation, enemy on enemy, neighbor on stranger, fighter on civilian.
And at their lead (if this massive movement of refugees had a distinguished front and back) was a small, quiet girl with a snowflake pinned to her lapel and a raven on her shoulder.
Kristoff swore he was not going to make a habit of this. Sven cantered across the icy cobblestones, doing his best not to slip as they raced towards the palace. Icy wind and sand bit at his face and he had to keep wiping his eyes to clear the tears of pain from them. The ominous color of the sky had spread, almost with him as he returned from the mountains. Something was not right. And with his new knowledge of the troll’s tasks…
His thoughts were only of his wife and their unborn child. So much so that he barely registered the fact that weather this severe could only mean Elsa had returned.
Sven skidded to a halt, barely avoiding a collision with the tightly closed palace doors.
Kristoff leapt from the reindeer’s back and pounded on the door. “Open the gates! Open the gates! Anna! ANNA!”
No one answered. Sven moaned quietly, still breathing heavily from the long run. Kristoff fell against the wooden doors, trembling.
The ice man whirled at the sound of his name, reaching for his ice pick in self-defense.
Dagrun beamed up at him from the shadows near the guardhouse. “You wont git in tha’ way.” The spy said with a cheeky grin. “Follow me!”
This was like nothing Elsa had ever done with her powers before. This all-out fight against another so powerful, against someone she had grown to care for.
Her powers humming, she swirled her arms around her head, the snowflakes following her motions and shot a volley of icicles at Theo’s burning form.
Theo inhaled sharply and an enormous tongue of fire burst from her mouth, engulfing the projectiles before they reached her and leaving only steam behind. The remaining flames shot over Elsa’s head and set fire to another building.
The effort of such a feat left the summer host stumbling, vulnerable. But still Elsa hesitated. Just like she had the last three times this had happened.
“Stop Theo.” She stepped forward as the girl tried to recover, ice spreading under her feet. “You know you cant win against me. Just stop.”
Red eyes met hers. “I am at my weakest and your power only seems to grow.” Theo acknowledged. “I have no doubt you will eventually best me and be on your way.” She offered nothing else. No explanation, no regret. Just acceptance.
Theo widened her stance and swirled her arms in a tight spiral. The flames burning in the building beside her roared higher and jumped to surround her. She gathered them into a tight ball and punched forward, sending the flames roaring at Elsa. With a flick of her wrist, a cold blast of air extinguished the fireball coming at Elsa.
The ease with which Elsa had negated her attack seemed to have no effect on Theo. Sand gathered around her and she whipped up a stinging cyclone to send Elsa’s way. At the same time, Elsa felt the flames in the building behind her burn higher, creeping towards her on a hot gust of wind.
She spun quickly in a circle, encasing herself in an ice shell. The sand scratched along the outside first, followed almost immediately by a blast of heat. She felt her ice start to sweat but it held. She pushed out, shattering her protection and sending the shrapnel towards Theo. The summer host threw herself out of the way, rolling in the snow to break her fall. She had barely gotten her feet back under her when she blew another burst of flames from her mouth, aiming them at another building.
The Queen acted quickly, sending strong gusts of icy wind over the flames to smother them before they spread. Steam rose everywhere they touched.
Elsa was reminded of the first time they’d fought, back in Theo’s meditation room when careless words had made them come to blows.
She realized now, perhaps a little ironically, summer and winter would always be at odds with each other. The same way she and Theo always had. All the little fights, the tension, the stark differences and similarities between them…They had always been heading towards this final explosion of fire and ice.
They moved slowly through the city, trading blow for blow, Elsa’s ice easily consuming Theo’s flames and Theo’s flames melting Elsa’s snow. A trail of destruction was left in their wake: singed wood and shattered stones torn apart by icicles. Sand and snow flew everywhere.
Both of them were producing winds that constantly pushed against each other: Theo’s hot air rising over Elsa’s blustery cold one, each assaulting the other with gusts. Their temple dresses snapped about their forms, streaks of red and blue slicing into the fabric as they fought, changing the established patterns they had created.
They were getting close to the palace now, moving through the part of town that housed the guard, visiting dignitaries and supplies for the entire city. The main gates were only two streets away. The market was the next street over.
Theo planted her feet on the ground and closed her eyes. Sand began to trickle from between the stones, forming enormous mounds that rivaled Elsa’s snowfall. Pressing her fists together, Theo’s skin began to glow a smoldering red.
An enormous wave of heat raced everywhere with crippling speed. Sand melted into molten glass a foot thick. Thinking quickly, Elsa sent ice down, raising herself above the hot, sticky trap on a frozen pedestal. Theo’s eyes followed her ascent, emotionless and hard.
The summer host turned on the spot, flinging her hands out in a spiral around her.
Slowly, the rest of the glass solidified. Elsa heard the sound of ice splintering and glanced down in shock. The glass was cracking the base of her pedestal, threatening to topple it.
As the pedestal lurched, Elsa jumped, sending ice and snow out in front of her as she fell to try to slow her fall. Theo watched her, readying an enormous fireball in her hand.
Elsa landed hard on a mix of her snow and ice, moving the ice beneath her feet to keep herself from sprawling on all fours on Theo’s glass floor. But even then, she stumbled, horribly off-balance and wide-open for an attack.
Their eyes locked. Time slowed.
They both saw it, Elsa was turned too far away, Theo was perfectly aimed to strike. It was a moment created from luck, Elsa’s lack of training and the summer host’s years of work. It should have been Elsa’s downfall. But instead, Theo pivoted just slightly too far and her burst of flames shot wide of Elsa, roaring harmlessly down an empty street.
Elsa continued to slide away from Theo, creating new ice as she went, keeping her momentum going with blasts of icy air. Something was bothering her about this.
Theo was throwing everything she had into this fight, working herself to exhaustion just to hold Elsa here. But she wasn’t even trying to hurt her. Something wasn’t adding up.
Elsa swirled the air, sending a tight blast of snow at Theo. The summer host side-stepped, returning the exchange with a volley of fire blasts. Most of them flew wide and set fire to the adjacent abandoned market stands. Elsa extinguished everything as quickly as she could but that only gave Theo more time to recover and attack again. The grain exchange caught fire and flared in the darkness. Her stomach churning, Elsa turned away. As much as it pained her to watch, she would have to let Arendelle burn if she were to gain the upper hand in this fight.
She is ready to die fighting me…and she will take as much with her as she can before she goes.
This time, instead of putting out the new fires, Elsa skated away from Theo, closer to where the palace walls rose from the city, shooting the occasional icicle or blast of snow Theo’s way.
The summer host followed slowly on a moving mound of sand, deflecting and melting the attacks. Elsa skated out of sight around the final corner, but not before sending a large snowball rolling Theo’s way. The summer host paused, summoned her strength and turned the sand under her feet into a ball of glass. The two collided, glass sliding through snow and melting it into a puddle. Theo side-stepped the water and raced around the corner, letting her glass ball smash itself into pieces against the buildings, killed by its own momentum.
She turned the corner, panting, and found herself facing a tall, smooth rock wall. The wall of the palace. There was no sign of Elsa.
Theo glanced around the square but saw no signs of the Queen. Where could she have gone?
A cool breeze at her back was her only warning. She turned.
Elsa slid forward rapidly, baring down on Theo from the rooftops of the buildings opposite on an enormous sheet of advancing ice, her palms glowing with her blue light of winter.
Too late, Theo realized Elsa had just backed her into a trap. The ice snapped forward faster than Theo could blink or even think to summon her flames. She slammed into the wall of the palace, the ice quickly wrapped around her middle, up over her shoulders and across her arms to hold her against the wall.
The ice shone wetly at the proximity to Theo’s heat but held for the moment. Theo struggled but could go nowhere.
“Stop Theo!” Elsa slid up to her height on the sheet of ice and pleaded with her. “Please…just stop.”
Theo pulsed briefly with heat but it was a sad echo of her former strength. The ice began to drip but she still could not pull free. “I’m trying to save you Elsa!” She cried out. “To save us all!”
Elsa hadn’t expected that. “Save me?”
Theo seemed deranged, she twisted and pulled at her restraints but they were melting far too slowly, as if her powers had just dimmed considerably. “I have to remove Anna…or else your power will never be tamed! The world will fall apart and all of us: humans, hosts, spirits even, will perish!” Dead leaves gusted past them on the wind, twisting unnaturally. Still, Theo continued, her voice shaking. “The seas will rise and flood the earth, the glaciers descend and freeze the lowlands, the mountains shake and crumble without Isen to balance them! Branna and Livet will lose power, until they too are gone. And all that will remain is Death.”
Her head fell to her chest and she took several deep breaths. “But I can stop all of this…we can stop it…” Her head rose slowly, eyes searching Elsa’s.
“By murdering my sister!?” Elsa snapped, ice forming at her hands as her anger and disgust roiled within her.
“It will set you free.” The summer host replied. Her bonds finally melted and Theo fell heavily to the snow. Dropping back to the ground, Elsa readied herself to trap her again but paused when Theo stumbled back to her feet, looking far too worn out to fight. “Anna is the only thing keeping you sealed off from Isen, the only thing holding back your birthright.”
Tiny flames came to life in her hands but they were little more than embers, hardly capable of lighting a candle. Nonetheless, she kept throwing them, still attacking even as her strength dwindled. Elsa extinguished them easily, her heart twisting. “Anna is the reason that the seasons are falling apart.” Theo continued, forcing the words out around her labored breaths. “She is keeping you from the temple, causing the seasons to be unbalanced. Her love for you and your love for her is preventing you and Isen from bonding. Because of your attachment to her, Isen will not wake! The seasons are responding, spiraling out of control, causing extreme weather patterns across the world. Once she dies, once the bond is broken, Isen will be free again. Everything will be as it should be.”
Elsa blasted her with cold wind, not enough to knock her over but enough to make it impossible for her to summon more fire. As the wind faded, Theo slumped, shivering as her powers slowly recovered. Elsa settled herself into a fighting stance, ice dancing along her fingers. “If you think I’m going to let you kill my sister just to fulfill some kind of requirement…”
Theo looked up at her, her red eyes dull and bloodshot. “I know you will not.” Her eyes shown with sorrow and, to Elsa’s amazement, guilt. As if she had suddenly been doused in water, the tiny flames in Theo’s hands went out and she fell to her knees as if begging for forgiveness.
“That’s why I’m just the distraction.” She said quietly.
When Elsa realized just what those words meant, the blood froze in her veins. She looked up at the palace, her heart thudding dully in her chest. No..no, maybe there was still time…
But then she felt it. And once she felt it, she wondered how she had ever missed it. That heaviness in the air. The energy-sucking wind that crushed all hope and fostered despair.
The same Breath that had stolen upon Hans’ palace.
Death was here.
Theo’s head fell to her chest. “I’m so sorry, Elsa. There was no other way.”
Elsa barely heard her.
Anna was dead. While she’d been fighting Theo, Hans had entered the castle and taken her life. Her sister was gone.
She cracked. Her entire self just broke, shattered like an icicle crashing to the stones. Deep inside, Elsa felt even her heart splinter. The storm came pouring forth, racing through every particle of her being. Raging as it never had before.
Winter had come.
Anna stared in horror at the face she had never wished to see again.
Hans smirked at her. “Hello sweetheart.” He said in his low drawl. His eyes were bloodshot (and gray instead of green) and his voice was raspy but it still carried all the malice she remembered from all those months ago. “Miss me?”
“Hans…” She couldn’t think of anything else to say so what came out was: “what happened to your nose?”
His eyes flashed in annoyance and Anna felt a tiny spark of triumph. “What do you think?” He snarled. “You broke it when you punched me.”
“What a shame, I’d always considered it your best feature…” Anna backed up, pulling Ichtaca with her as Hans stepped forward. Her hand went to her sword, twitching to draw it.
“You ruined me.” Hans seethed. “This is all your fault…”
“What is?” Anna asked innocently, pushing the boy behind her father’s desk as she stalled for time. Hans was unarmed but she knew how dangerous he was. She tried to sum him up as he slowly stalked them, watching for signs he was going to attack. But if anything, he seemed content to draw this out, his steps slow and purposeful, his eyes glinting. Good, that gave her time to figure out a strategy.
Hans barked out a laugh at her question. “As if you knew.” He snapped at her. “As if your tiny mind could comprehend just what you have done to me.”
Anna readied another retort, keeping half an eye on Ichtaca, who looked ready to tackle Hans at any given moment. She tried to subtly warn him to stay back but he wasn’t looking at her.
“Did your brothers finally allow you to leave the palace again?” She asked in a false calm voice, trying to keep Hans talking. “Finally decided you’d learned your lesson?”
Hans visibly stiffened and the air around him seemed to crackle.
“I have far fewer brothers now.” He spat in her face, a vein in his forehead pulsing. “Thanks to you and the curse you have awakened in me.”
Anna paused, confused.
“What? What are you talking about?”
Hans rolled his eyes. “Of course, you have no idea.” He muttered in a low voice. “You were the cause of your sister’s curse too and even then you couldn’t figure it out.” He glanced up at her, his gray eyes glinting maliciously. “Oh well, your ignorance is not reason for mercy.”
The air in the room suddenly thickened, Anna finding it hard to draw breath. Her entire body felt flushed, as if she had suddenly come down with a fever. A crushing feeling of despair washed over her and she trembled. Behind her, she heard Ichtaca let out a wet cough, as if he had just gotten a bad cold. What was happening?
“But no more stalling…” Hans continued, smiling wickedly at her obvious discomfort. “I shall have what I came for…”
Several of the leaves scattered around the floor slowly began to circle him. They traveled up his frame, cycling all the way out to his empty left hand. There, they came together, sticking to each other in unnatural shapes, changing form and shining with a dull white light…
Anna gasped loudly as the sword built itself in Hans’ grip. The Southern Isles prince hefted the completed weapon with a fond smile.
“Now that’s better…I missed the feel of this blade…”
Anna and Ichtaca both stared at the sword with wide-eyed fear. The blade shone hotly even in the relative darkness of the study. Something about it just screamed: EVIL!
The princess had to swallow several times before she could say anything. “You…you have powers?” She finally asked. “Like Elsa?”
Hans’ eyes narrowed. “Not quite like Elsa…” He replied, “you see, where her gift killed you slowly, mine…” He lashed out suddenly, grabbing for the toad lily from the garden from where Anna had laid it on the desk before his arrival. His finger had barely brushed it before it choked, shriveled and crumbled to dust.
“..is instant.” Hans spat.
Fear clutched at Anna’s heart as she watched his powers at work. His were nothing like Elsa’s. They were warped, dark, and awful. She saw nothing beautiful in them.
“So…so you’re…death?” She asked him as he picked up the dust in his hand and rubbed it between his fingers. “Are your powers those of death?”
“Death…Autumn…whatever you wish to see it as.” He said off-handedly, watching the dust fall from his grip and scatter in the wind.
Anna choked on her own breath. It seemed so ironically cruel that she had been seeking information about others like Elsa and instead Hans had shown himself to be exactly who she was looking for. She could not bear to think that he and Elsa could be similar in any way. But if Elsa was indeed Winter…Hans could only be Autumn by comparison.
Anna gripped the pommel of her sword as she leaned heavily on the desk, trying not to throw up.
“So your brother…” She stammered, struggling to make sense of everything. “Christian…he was…trying to kill me?”
Something like grief passed over Hans’ face but faded so swiftly it might have been humor. “Anna,” Hans said, as if addressing a particularly stupid child. “if he had wanted to kill you, he would have done so months ago. He knew you had to be left for me.”
Anna swallowed hard. “How…kind of him.”
“Christian and I began planning this a long time ago.” Hans said, carelessly swinging his sword and making Anna flinch. “We knew that to take over Arendelle, we would need more time, what with Elsa’s powers coming under her ‘control’. So I waited, and he sowed the seeds of fear among her people. How better to take over a kingdom than from the inside, using fear? A fear that is already firmly established, just festering in the background. We took advantage of that.
“Christian’s purpose here was more than that though. He was to learn about the rumored ‘others’ like me and gain Elsa’s trust. He was going to get Elsa to explain how she kept control. How she kept herself hidden all those years with no ill consequences. She was going to teach me control. Free me from this curse.” His eyes shone with desperation. “A treasure greater than any knowledge or wealth…the freedom from a power such as this.” He paused for a moment, as if lost in his fantasy and Anna considered stabbing him right then and there. “And then with her out of the way,” Hans continued, gesturing vaguely “I would find my other peers and destroy them as well.”
“But something went wrong.” Anna guessed. “Christian failed.”
Hans’ gaze immediately darkened. “He didn’t fail!” He roared thrusting his face towards Anna’s. To her credit, Anna didn’t flinch. Hans made a sweeping gesture towards the window behind them, where the screams of civilians and the smell of smoke drifted inside. “Look outside! Look at the rebellion that is tearing apart your kingdom! All because of their fear of Elsa!”
Anna held his gaze, refusing to look away. Captain Wulfric had the situation under control, he had to…and Elsa would be back soon. No way she was going to let Arendelle fall apart.
Hans took her silence for acknowledgement of the words he spoke. “No, Christian didn’t fail…” The prince continued, straightening up and smoothing his hair down with his free hand. “he simply took too long.
“When the months went by and my suffering at the hands of my brothers continued, I broke. My powers killed my father and I ran away, taking my curse with me. I knew it would take something desperate to bring Elsa to me, to make sure my plan would continue to fruition. So I sent an assassin under the guise of Weselton’s revenge. He was to elicit a reaction from the people, make them doubt their Queen’s integrity and strength. People had to see that she wasn’t invincible. That was when our plans would be set in motion.”
“The invasion…” Anna realized, shooting a furtive glance at the window.
Hans smirked. “We planned it perfectly. A secret network of Whispers. Nothing substantial enough to be considered a threat until it was too late. Christian is the best spy master the Isles have ever had.”
Anna and Ichtaca exchanged a glance, both of them horrified and terrified that such an important thing had slipped through their network.
“And Fate gave me another ally.” Hans continued, twirling his sword. “Another who wishes you to be removed. Turns out you have more enemies than you believe.”
Hans gestured out the window, where the glow of the burning Arendelle shone from the streets. “Summer is out there right now burning Arendelle to the ground…ensuring that those who are still loyal to the Queen have nothing left.” He lifted his sword and gazed at it with reverence, “and when she has finished her good work, my blade will pierce her heart. I will become Arendelle’s hero and king. And where was Elsa when her people needed her most? Helping Summer. Hiding out with her. She will be chased out of Arendelle. Hated as a witch.”
He swung his sword wildly, the tip stabbing deep into her father’s desk. “And as the new ruler of this land, I will take possession of its greatest treasure and continue my quest to rid this world of the curses like mine!” Hans placed one foot on the edge of the desk as if manically posing for a sculpture. “The Spirits will all be feared and hunted, as they should be. And Arendelle shall be mine.”
Anna’s head was hurting, trying to take all of this in. “But why?” She finally asked. “Why do you want Arendelle so badly?”
Hans let out a dry laugh. He wrenched his sword free, the wood where it had just been sitting darkening with rot. “I don’t.” He told Anna, making her pause in confusion. “I just wanted everything Elsa loved destroyed. The two of you have taken everything from me, you have left me to the mercy of this demon inside of me. Your kingdom is merely a means to an ends for me to fight my curse.” He smiled charmingly at her but his eyes were pure evil. “I don’t want Elsa dead, I want her broken.”
He pointed the tip of his sword at her and Anna swore the discomfort in the air intensified. “But you…you I want dead.”
That was all the warning Anna needed. She drew her blade.
“And I suppose you thought I’d just fall down and take it?” She growled at him, readying her blade in a guard position.
Hans laughed. “Oh Anna, it was just you. You are no threat to me.” He lazily swung his sword at her.
Anna rolled to the side faster than she had known herself capable of. His blade missed by feet and she sprang back into her guard position, keeping herself between Hans and Ichtaca.
Hans raised an eyebrow. “Are you really going to try to fight me, Anna?” He asked, amused.
“I’m going to kick your sorry butt back to the Southern Isles.” Anna said with far more confidence than she felt.
Hans actually threw his head back and laughed. That was his first mistake. Anna dashed forward, her blade whistling through the air in a shining blur. The look on Hans’ face when his sword fell from his grasp was the most satisfying thing Anna had seen in months. She fell back into a guard stance, her blade pointed at her opponent’s heart.
As the blade clanged on the floor, the young Informer made his calculated move. Ichtaca dove for the sword, his small hand wrapping around the hilt…
But before Anna could celebrate, the boy crumpled to the floor like he’d been struck over the head.
It all happened so fast that Anna thought he was playing a joke.
“Ichtaca!” She shouted. The boy didn’t move. His eyes had glazed over, frozen in his final expression: triumph at helping his Princess.
Her sword trembled in her hands, the point falling away from its target. “No…no…!” He was dead.
Hans coolly stepped over the body, prying his sword out of the corpses’ grip as if he had merely dropped it. He spun the sword once, paying no heed to the body on the ground. “Nice try Anna, but it was always doomed to fail. None but I, the King of Death can hold this blade.” He said to a shocked Anna.
He smirked at her in that despicable way he had. “Pity about the boy,” Hans commented, “he seemed particularly attached to you.”
Anna’s heart was breaking. But as much as it hurt, she couldn’t let herself be distracted by Ichtaca’s noble sacrifice. That was what Hans wanted. He wanted her weak and begging. She turned back to him, hatred burning in her eyes. “You’re a monster.” She snarled at him.
Hans’ smile curled his lip but did not reach his unreadable eyes. “I was always a monster, Anna.” He told her. “Just like your sister. You could just never look deep enough to see it.”
He leapt forward, slicing the air by her neck but she was already moving, parrying his blow with a high block and side-rolling to get behind him.
Anna straightened up, holding her sword in front of her, setting her feet expertly. “I’m not that same little girl who fell for all your tricks before…”
Hans turned to her, his eyebrows falling low over his eyes. “Apparently not…at least this will be fun…” He was finally taking her seriously it seemed.
Anna charged, slamming their swords together so hard that Hans stumbled backwards a few steps. But he recovered quickly and attacked her with a vengeance.
They traded blow for blow, their styles matching perfectly from their royal breeding. Although Anna had far fewer years of practice and experience, she made up for it with her unpredictability and speed. Hans however, was vastly different from her normal opponents.
He swung at her and she was forced to duck. She’d barely finished her move when his sword was suddenly coming at her low and she scrambled to parry. She caught his blade and held it for a second, trying to catch her breath as he bore down on her. Where the Arendelle guards were precise and refined, Hans was all fury and strength.
Anna twisted out of the way of a thrust, knocking his far more powerful blows aside with precise blocks and slight twists that just barely put her out of his range. It had been the hardest part of her sword training but one she had mastered nearly flawlessly.
Enraged that the girl he hated so much was making a mockery of his power, Hans stabbed at her, putting all of his force behind his attack.
Anna parried and side-stepped, reversing their positions. As Hans stumbled from his desperate attack, she reached out and managed to make a shallow cut across his upper arm.
Snarling, Hans rounded on her, his eyes briefly flashing white.
A powerful gust of wind flew through the window and slammed
into her. Anna flew backwards, skimming the surface of her father’s desk and
landing in a painful heap on the floor. Immediately her arms went to her
middle. No…please no…
A shadow fell across her. Hans loomed above her, his sword held aloft. Her own sword lay several feet away, useless. She tried to stand but her shaking legs would not cooperate.
Hans stared her right in the face, without an ounce of smugness or malice or anything she had come to associate with him. Tears pricked the corners of his eyes as he gazed down at her.
“Finally…” He whispered, his voice shaking. “I’ll be free.”
The sword came swinging down. Anna hugged herself and her unborn child tighter. I’m sorry… To whom she was apologizing, she had no idea.
A thick knot of woody plants had sprung up between the two so quickly, Hans’ blade was caught in the center of it.
Slowly, the where the blade touched the wood, the plants began to rot. But the sword was still stuck fast, it couldn’t come out.
Thinking quickly, Anna scrambled back from him, putting as much distance between herself and Hans as she could. She only stopped when her back slammed into the far wall of the study. Hans made no move to follow her, he was still staring at the wood, completely dumbfounded.
“Theo shouldn’t have separated us.” They both whipped around to see who had joined them.
Scara stepped into the light from the shadows next to the window, green energy glowing softly around her small frame. For a tiny sphere around her, the terror of Hans’ Breath eased. As she came closer, Anna felt relief beginning to creep into her once again. She remembered this girl, the odd, friendly one from earlier this week who had rescued Elsa from the assassin. Something about her presence made all of Anna’s fears settle and some of her pain fade away. Scara smiled brightly at Hans, as if they had just happened upon each other in the market. She ignored Anna entirely. “We need to have a little chat…brother.”
At that exact moment, the door to the passageway by the bookcase wriggled and burst open, spilling Kristoff and Dagrun into the room.
“Princess! I found Kristoff!” Dagrun called, completely oblivious to the scene around him.
Anna was too overwhelmed to say anything or even move.
Kristoff barely spared Hans a glare before he rushed to his wife’s side. He barely blinked at the soft green light surrounding Scara’s small form. “Anna…” He gathered her up in his arms, holding her tightly. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, are you alright?”
Anna fell into his strong embrace, relishing in his warmth and protection. But she only had eyes for Dagrun in that moment. The little spy had finally seen the corpse on the floor.
“Ichtaca?” He called, stepping closer. “Brother? Ichtaca, it’s unprofessional to sleep on th’ job…”
Everybody in the room stopped cold and although Scara and Hans never looked away from each other, Anna knew they were listening.
“Ichtaca?...Maron?...come on, this ain’t funny…” Dagrun dropped down next to the body, prodding it impatiently with his finger. For several seconds, everything was silent, listening for the sound of wayward breath from the corpse.
“No…no…” Desperate now, Dagrun kicked at the limp form, succeeding only in causing it to roll over slightly, revealing the empty eyes.
Anna wasn’t even aware of moving, she suddenly found herself taking the young spy in her arms, holding him tightly as he cried and screamed and pounded his little fists against her. He had lost the only family he had. Anna knew all too well what that felt like.
Kristoff turned to Hans, his fists clenched tightly. “Why are you here?” He seethed.
Hans’ gaze shifted briefly, flicking from Anna, sprawled prone on the floor with a sobbing child, to Scara who stood patiently watching him and then to Kristoff, who looked ready to tackle him.
“I…I…” For once, the eloquent prince could not seem to come up with an answer.
“Where’s Elsa?” Kristoff demanded, taking a threatening step closer.
Hans’ eyes flared in response to the name. “She’s far away.” He spat at the ice man. “Too far away to help you...”
“Not quite.” Everyone turned to face Scara as she spoke. The green light around her pulsated and coiled in the thick air, smelling of pollen. He voice was calm and compelling, commanding them to listen. “Elsa’s the one who brought me here.” Scara said, more to Hans than anyone else. “She was concerned about your plans for her kingdom and her sister.”
Kristoff nodded in agreement. “It’s snowing outside,” He informed them. “almost as bad as the Great Freeze.”
Anna stiffened at that. “Kristoff…” He turned to her, all anger draining from his face. Raising her head from her embrace of the sobbing boy, Anna looked at her husband in desperation. “Elsa needs me.”
Kristoff only nodded. “Let’s go then, maybe we can stop her before the fjord freezes over again.” He pulled Anna to her feet, Dagrun still clinging limply to her and crying for his brother. Holding Anna tight against him (she was trembling and seemed to be having trouble putting weight on her feet), Kristoff supported the others and tried to coax them back towards the passageway door.
Hans had been watching his blade carefully, waiting for just the right moment when the rot had spread enough through the wood that surrounded it. At that moment, he deemed it weak enough. With a roar, he ripped the blade free, spraying chunks of half-decayed wood across the room and swung his blade blindly at the trio.
Reacting fast, Kristoff threw himself in front of Anna and Dagrun, not thinking about the consequences. The blade sliced across his outstretched arm, opening up a small cut. Anna screamed.
Hans finished his stroke, the momentum carrying the sword down into the floor, where it stuck in the wood panels. A vine immediately snapped to life from the cracks in the floor and circled around his wrists and middle, throwing him back against the wall and leaving his blade stuck in the floor. Where the vines touched his skin, they died and hardened into thick bonds.
“Stop that.” Scara said as Kristoff stumbled back from Hans, clutching his bleeding arm. “what good did that do?” She reached out and brushed a finger along Kristoff’s arm. Her warm golden-green light swirled through the air, briefly taking the shape of a beautiful golden flower and his cut sealed back up. But fatigue as he had never known washed over him. He stumbled and leaned heavily on Anna.
Weakened herself, she nearly buckled under his weight. “Kristoff!” She struggled to hold him upright. “Kristoff, are you alright?”
Kristoff fumbled with his feet, fighting to stay up. “Fine…fine…”
But his head was spinning, his legs weak. “Let’s go.”
Anna looked shocked. “No, but you… you!” A ripple of pain went through her belly and she stumbled. Dagrun grabbed her hand to hold her up.
Shaking and white-faced, Kristoff put his arm around his wife. “I’m taking you to your sister, Anna.” He said in a voice she couldn’t have argued with if she tried.
The three of them turned to Scara. Her light shone brighter than ever, casting a sickly green color over Hans’ face as he struggled in his bonds. “Go to your sister, Anna.” Scara told the princess, her green eyes blazing into Anna’s teal ones. “She needs you.” The girl turned to Kristoff, her expression darkening slightly. “Preserve your light, brave one. Fight the curse.”
Anna and Kristoff exchanged a quick glance, then, with a nod to Scara, stumbled off towards the passageway.
They left behind a scarily calm Scara and a terrified Hans.
The descent was rougher than Anna remembered. Then again, she hadn’t been down here in months and she’d never done this route without a light. Or while injured.
The pain in her stomach only got worse as they descended and Anna had to push worries about her baby out of her head to focus on the current task: Find Elsa. Help her.
Kristoff was not much better off than she was. Although he never stopped and pushed stoically onward, Anna could feel him trembling with each step. He leaned heavily on her, even though he was clearly trying to take as much weight off of her as he could.
His labored breaths terrified Anna. What had Hans done to him?
Dagrun was their saving grace. Silent but sure, he guided them purposefully ahead, supporting them when they slipped and keeping them moving quickly despite the circumstances. He had walked this path many times, he knew it well.
Within a few minutes, the light shone at the exit of the passageway. The three of them spilled into the courtyard beyond the palace gates, blinking in the sudden onslaught of snow and sand.
“Oh Gods…” Anna felt a biting wind on her cheek, followed unnaturally quickly by a blast of heat. She turned into the storm, trying to sense her sister among the icy winds. “Elsa…we’re coming…”
Quiet but determined, Kristoff pulled her closer, sharing his warm and protection from the elements. Anna curled into him, grateful. It was both a promise and a reminder to her. This time, they would face the storm together.
Anna turned, finding that Dagrun was no longer beside them but walking off in another direction.
“Dagrun?” She called, concerned.
The boy paused, turning back slightly. “I have ta go, miss…” He said, matter-of-factly. “The people need me an’…an’ Maron…Ichtaca would have wanted me ta…ta do what I promised ya.” His tears had dried into dirty streaks on his face. His usually joyful and mischievous expression had vanished, replaced by a stoic, determined gaze that made him look far too old. Anna’s heart twisted. She knew he was strong. But the trauma of losing his big brother had already taken its toll on him. He would never be the same again.
“Thank you Dagrun…” She said to him, squinting her eyes against the weather. “for everything. And…I’m sorry…”
Her first Informer gave her a small nod, then turned and vanished into the storm, heading off to fulfill his promise to both Arendelle and his brother.
Alone, Anna and Kristoff examined the tumultuous weather around them. Everything seemed to be made up of random swirls and eddies of opposites but if you stared at it long enough, a slight pattern began to emerge. The winds were all curling in the same direction, left to right. And they all seemed to be moving quickly away from a location a few streets away from the palace, close to the wall.
“We have to get over there.” Anna decided.
Kristoff nodded, trying to shift his weight off of his wife but failing.
The two of them recovered slowly, the cold not helping their battle and the helpful heat seeming to grow fainter. Kristoff peered ahead of them, trying to find a shortcut. “It’s going to take us forever…” He was cut off by a triumphant braying noise. An ungainly mess of hooves and fur tumbled out of the storm and moaned triumphantly in their faces.
Kristoff smiled. “Sven! Atta’ boy, buddy!”
Hans was scared. Genuinely scared.
Scara smiled at him. It wasn’t her usual child-like grin but rather, a smile that seemed so much older and pierced him so much deeper. It unsettled him, he couldn’t be around her. He shouldn’t be around her. He squirmed. What was she planning to do?
“I had wondered what Theo meant when she said she was going to help you.” She said calmly, stepping just a little closer to where he was restrained. “I never could have imagined this was her method for calming you down.”
Hans struggled and pulled but he was going nowhere. His own gift had rendered the attack a trap. “Calming me down?” He snapped at her, sounding hysterical. “That’s what you think this is?” The vines weren’t rotting, for whatever reason, they remained thick, sturdy wood that he could not weaken or break. Of all the times his power chose not to manifest itself…“I came here to get what was mine, to right the wrongs that have been done to me.” Hans snarled, feeling like an animal.
Scara just watched him and that only fed his terror.
“I know Arendelle is the place…” He shouted, his voice cracking. “the place where a spirit can be killed. The place where the power lies to steal a spirit’s gifts. It is the place where the Guardian’s powers were first passed to a human. There are magic in these stones!” It was his last hope for a cure, his last chance to slay the monster within him and gain control over his powers.
Scara blinked slowly, listening to him take several ragged breaths. “Is that really what you believe about this place?” She asked softly, sadly.
Hans let out a bark of laughter. “How else could Elsa have her powers without a demon inside of her?” He asked Scara. “How else could I have summoned my blade for the first time in these very walls? There is magic here, a deep, terrible, dark magic that this thing inside of me recoils from…it must be the way to stop her!”
The green light around the Spring host snapped and flared but she seemed unaffected. “Is that the treasure that you seek? The power to control your spirit?” Her voice was even, almost curious.
“I seek only my freedom!” Hans roared at her. “I seek only what I deserve! The opportunity and tools to rid myself of this curse upon me!”
Scara blinked again, examining him. “Why are you trying to destroy her?” She murmured, more to herself than to Hans.
Hans tugged violently on the wood, hearing a creak but not a crack. “I killed my own mother because of this thing inside me.” He sobbed, his heart clenching painfully in his chest. “She murdered my father in a fit of rage. My brother is dead because of her!” Was that not obvious? This demon screaming inside his head had taken everything from him, alienating him from his family, and driving him to desperate, mad acts to keep some kind of fragile grip on his sanity.
The Spring host listened to his quiet sobs for several seconds, letting him start to compose himself again. “I was talking about Elsa.” Scara said quietly.
Hans froze, stunned at her change of subject. “She…she was the cause of it all…” He breathed, fumbling for the right words. “I was…before her, I was in control, coping. Until I learned her secret, that she was like me too. I tried to learn from her, I tried to help her but eventually I realized she was trapped too. So I tried to set her free, I tried to kill the demon within her. But I was stopped…by Anna…and I returned to my brothers in shame…to be ridiculed, harassed…tormented…until this…thing inside me could take no more and it lashed out.”
As he said all this out loud, it suddenly seemed less certain. Like an excuse instead of a valid reason. He shook his head violently, ignoring the spirit’s cries in his head. This was what he had to do. This was the only way.
“Elsa and Anna are to blame for this pain I feel, this torment that circles me everyday.” He said bitterly. “I have to make them pay…make them suffer. And then I’m going to harness that dormant magic here in Arendelle’s stones of old and use it to be free…”
Scara’s blunt statement caught him off guard. He was so used to her just hearing him out that he’d never expected her to interrupt him.
The wind around Scara seemed to be pausing, bending around her until she was encased in a transparent shell. “That magic you speak of…” she began, sounding like the spirit inside of her. “the one you say you sense…it isn’t power…it’s Loneliness. Elsa has carried it with her, her entire life in this place, believing that she is alone, that she is a monster who had to be locked up, much the same way Isen did in her childhood. It has seeped into these stones and filled this entire land with its sheer volume. A deep, aching hurt that only we can feel, that keeps everything else at bay. Død was the one who first banished the Lonely from Isen…she responds to it.”
Scara closed her eyes briefly, as if she too could feel the power Hans spoke of but for her, it was unbearably sad. “But you can see it lifting.” She continued, her voice picking up slightly. “Even though the shadows remain, Elsa has started to free herself from the Lonely. She no longer feels alone, she has let others into her life and pushed out those feelings. There is a bright fire in her life chasing back that shadow…
She paused, as if contemplating a deeper meaning in her metaphor. But after a moment, she continued. “It is not a power, it is merely the imprint of Isen’s power. Of the strength of her emotions that she has kept locked away for too long. The fading echo of her past that she has worked so hard to overcome.”
Scara glanced down at her hands, the green light pulsing around them deepening to a thick forest shade.
“We have all suffered from this burden.” She said. “Do you think I have not? I lost my family when I was very young, I missed my chances to meet other people, to explore the world, to fall in love, and have a family of my own.” She closed her hands into loose fists. “I feel every life on the planet, every time a blade of grass withers in the heat, or a wolf kills his next meal, I feel it. Every time a seed sprouts or a baby cries for the first time, I know.” She closed her eyes and tilted her head back. “It is overwhelming, the things in my head…” Her eyes opened and she gazed at him, her expression unreadable. “But I have learned to cope with it. I have attained my own form of control.”
Hans didn’t know what to say. He wanted to comfort her and shout at her at the same time. How dare she take his last hope from him? How dare she tell him a story so profoundly sad? “So why?” He finally asked. “Why am I this way?” He shuffled in his restraints as if to accentuate his point. “Why do I continue to suffer while you all seem to flourish?”
“That,” Scara said, her gaze darkening. “is my fault.”
Hans was silent, shocked at her blunt answer.
The Spring host turned from him and crossed the room to the desk. Scara swirled her fingers in the remaining dust that had once been the toad lily, the muscles in her back tight and stiff. The pile of dust sparkled briefly with her green light but could not return to its former state. It turned to pollen in her hands and circled her slowly. “Since the day we awakened, we have had a shared existence.” She said to Hans, her voice sounding ancient. “Life and Death. Two sides of the same coin. One face to the dark, the other to the light. One cannot exist without the other. And when separated, we both suffer, although in different ways. We become unstable and while one may flourish, the other falls.” She turned to face him again, the pollen following her movement. Slowly, she crossed the room, drawing closer and closer to him, not stopping.
“The entirety of our existence, you’ve been in the dark. You’ve been Lonely and suffered for both of us, taking on the burden of the unstable twin, your circumstances drawing misery towards you.” Scara said mournfully. She was so close now he could feel her breath on his cheek. “Now it’s my turn.” Scara whispered.
His fear spiked. “Don’t touch me, you know what’ll happen!” He cried, trying vainly to pull away from her.
Scara just smiled and stretched out a hand. Tiny grains of pollen tickled his face, grating against his stubble.
“Then change it.”
He tried, but there was no avoiding it. He simply could not move enough to stop her. Her finger just barely brushed his taut jawline, drawing a thin, warm line like the caress of a feather. He wanted nothing more than to lean into the touch. But then Scara dropped to the floor, unmoving. Not breathing.
The pollen fell out of suspension and was whisked away out the open window.
“I’m not leaving you out here alone with them.” Anna said stubbornly, her voice thick with tears.
Elsa risked a glance back. She wished she hadn’t. “Yes, you are.” Anna’s face, broken by the abandonment, her eyes swimming in tears, plastered itself to Elsa’s heart. That look would never leave her for as long as she lived.
Resigned to that burden, Elsa left her sister behind, frozen to the tree and walked back through the forest. Anna did not call after her.
The last words I had ever said to Anna…
The exact same as the last time she died for me.
The storm raged within me, filling every particle of my being, spilling out of every pore and multiplying until it was many times my size. My fragile human form could not contain the full strength of Winter in its entirety. This was all I was, it was all I was capable of feeling now that she was gone.
So this was what true pain felt like. This was Sorrow.
Theo watched in horror as Elsa’s eyes began to shine with an icy blue light. The Queen’s entire body was rigid, her skin seemed to be glowing in the half-light cast by the flames and snow around her. Her face was blank, devoid of any emotion except perhaps rage, which flowed from her eyes. The very air around her trembled and an icy gust of wind slowly lifted her up into the air. She hovered several feet from the ground on a furious icy tornado, her entire frame shaking with the power it contained. Ice spread from her at a frightening rate, climbing over everything, cold snaking into the water and solidifying it instantly. Stones cracked under the terrifying grip of the ice, wood shattered in the stillness of the cold.
The only place it didn’t touch was in a small radius around Theo’s collapsed form.
“What is happening?” Theo shouted, fear crawling into her insides.
This is Isen’s Sorrow. She is too consumed with emotion, Isen’s power is unraveling.
Branna paused and Theo felt mutual terror rise from the pit of her stomach to engulf her entire body. Actual terror, not manifested heat. They had separated again, enough to speak to each other. And they were not rejoining.
Branna suddenly spasmed, crying out in unspeakable pain. Half a second later, Theo felt the same pain rip through her. Like her heart had stopped beating and her lungs had filled with knives.
And Livet is freed!
Theo glanced up at the sky. An enormous cloud of pollen was drifting from a window of the castle, rapidly scattering to the winds.
Her heart stopped. “Scara…” What had the Spring host done?
The leaves tumbled everywhere, the Breath intensifying until Theo felt it push at her own defenses. Without Livet to counter it, it was spreading unchecked. Elsa’s cold would only slow it, not contain it. Theo tried to stand but her knees gave out before she’d even risen halfway and she collapsed in a heap on her sand once again.
“Anna…” She struggled to sit up. “Isn’t…isn’t Anna dead? Why…why didn’t it work?” After all this time, all this planning and pain…had killing Anna not been enough?
Branna was still panicking, trying to do something but they were not strong enough to produce any heat.
Scara must have got to Hans before he killed Anna.
“No…no, Scara…” How had it come to this? Hadn’t she done everything she could to keep this from happening?
Branna howled into Theo’s head, pushing all her thoughts out of the way so that her desperation was all the host could hear.
Life is dying! Oh sister! NO!
Theo looked up again, seeing the pollen beginning to fall slowly, dissipating into grains too fine too see. This wasn’t right….
She has been torn from her host! Suffocated by the Breath!
No. Theo’s vision went blurry. Not Scara…not her too. Not the vibrant, innocent little girl who had always counted on her. She had promised…always…she’d be a good big sister this time, she’d protect her…
A crackling sound drew her attention back to the square. Icy whips of wind were curling around the Queen’s body, spreading out from her like ripples. Her skin had taken on a bluish hue and ice was beginning to form at her fingertips.
Theo’s heart clenched. “Elsa…” She tried to stand again but her knees betrayed her. “No…” She knew what Elsa needed. She needed her, she needed the heat that quelled the icy storm…
She started to crawl forward but ended up face-first in the snow, all her limbs useless and rubbery. She gritted her teeth.
Why wasn’t she strong enough to get to her? Why couldn’t she save any of them?
There is a way to stop her.
Her head snapped up at Branna’s words. “Then why haven’t we done it yet?” She shouted, struggling to push her face up and get a foot supporting her.
Branna was silent.
“Branna!” Theo barked, pushing herself back upright. “Whatever it is, do it!”
The voice in her head was gentle for once, like a soft glowing light in the dark.
You really would do anything to save us, wouldn’t you Theo?
What did it matter? Everything was already gone for her. At least this could salvage some of the world. “Do it!” Theo screamed.
Branna paused, sending a brief flush of something through her host. Theo stopped struggling. Was that…regret?
Goodbye Theonia…thank you. And…I’m sorry.
Too late, Theonia realized just what confining Isen would entail. “Branna? Branna! NO!” she screamed but it was impossible for her to prevent. It may have been her body but the summer spirit could leave it as easily as stepping through an open door.
Her body snapped upright, her arms thrown out at her sides as the enormous cloud of smoke spilled from her lips, her fingers, her eyes. The force of the spirit leaving her made her entire body go rigid, suspended by some kind of higher power.
The heat vanished from her. Her skin felt clammy as it remembered how cold felt, her heart seemed to stop beating as the fire within it died. All the pain she had endured in the past few months while Branna tried to force her to kill Anna was minuscule compared to this. She screamed her throat raw as the endless pain battered at every fiber of her being. Every emotion possible smashed back into her from whatever corner of her mind had been repressing it. Her very soul, bonded as it had been from birth to the child of the Light Goddess was split in two, shredded and locked in Elsa’s icy stillness. Even if she could move, she could not be put back together. If, by some miracle she ever were, she would never be the same.
Truly, she must be dying.
She deserved it.
All the same, fear gripped her as her vision began to fade. A final prayer leapt from her scorched lips, Howled into the icy winds.
“Great Mother, have mercy on me…”
As her world went black, the soothing voice of the Mother came to her one last time and whispered her Final Command.
All around her, Isen’s Song drifted on the cold winter winds.
There was only the cold. My skin. The calling of the Lonely. It had returned to me once again after all these years.
For so long I had lived in it, fought it, detested it. But in the end, it was always all that remained. The only certainty in my long life. Loneliness was not something I could ever defeat. It was just something I held back until it asserted itself over me once more.
Only this time, it had taken the most precious price for its return.
Far away…on the wind there was a voice calling to me. What did it matter? My sister was gone…I was alone…the Lonely was back…nothing could chase it away this time…
Heat smashed into me and engulfed me, trying to pierce the cold with tiny flames and hot breaths of smoke. It was all terribly familiar, almost comforting, this constant clash. Thick smoke swirled around me, blotting out my sight. And deep within the smoke, there were two glowing red coals of eyes. And a voice…
Her entirety surrounded me, embraced me lovingly, murmuring softly to me as she searched me for weaknesses.
Oh Isen…We must end this, my love…I must take you with me. We shall both be lost to this world, as we were once before to our home realm. But we will finally be together again. And the humans will be safe…the balance will be restored when Death kills Hans.
My voice was clear when I replied.
“But why are you telling me this?”
Branna paused, confused and redoubled her searching, prodding me all over as if trying to find a way to rip a shell off of me.
I am not telling you, Elsa…
She was impatient now. Impatient and scared.
I am telling my sister, my lover! My Isen…
“But… It’s just me…”
Just me and the Lonely…
I gazed into the smoke as her fingers searched me, watching the curls twist themselves into shapes, then faces, then scenes of long ago:
Summer descended on the winds, whispering in her ear as she gathered her in her arms.
“I am back my love…I am still alive. Dry those tears…stop your Sorrow. I will never leave you again.”
Her sadness faded as the warmth slowly penetrated her. The cold, still air began to warm. Ice began to sweat, then crack as heat snaked through it. Sand danced on the moving breeze.
A soft exhale in her ear, steam curling around them both…
“We’re a matching pair…I Thaw your storm…”
The scene faded, only to be immediately replaced by another one:
The two girls fell together, rolling down the long hill. The first one conjured snow to soften the motion, the second melted it to leave no trace. They tumbled to a heap at the bottom, laughing and tickling one another as steam rose between them.
The one on the bottom, the one with the white hair and painful blue eyes paused, staring up at her companion. Their gazes locked and their faces moved closer.
Stubby black hair, ruby-red eyes, arms hard with muscle and a smile that liked to hide itself from the world. This was a face she had seen many times and loved well.
But even though she looked just like Theo, a different, just as accurate name fell from her lips. “…Erin…”
Erin her sister, Erin her partner, Erin who made steam with her whenever their lips met…
I blinked, hard.
What is happening? Are these…my memories?
Everything flew by me in a rush upon Branna’s smoke: half-remembered lives and secrets, unfamiliar faces, and places that I clearly remembered seeing, words too, so many words. Too much for just one lifetime….
Just when it all became too much to comprehend, everything around her stopped shifting. Elsa blinked in confusion, trying to get her bearings. Branna was gone, Arendelle was gone. She stood alone in a dark, empty space, floating in oblivion. Except for one thing. The slab of paper-thin ice was before her once again, she could see the painfully clear emotions reflected in her eyes through the ice.
A thick white braid, piercing ice blue eyes, pale skin dotted with nearly invisible freckles. Her own reflection smiled at her, familiar and recognizable. It had a different name as well.
“I made this for you…so that you can See again…take a look…”
Light spilled into the room, illuminating the space from a single source in a long shaft. The mirror blazed with white light. Elsa’s heart tightened. Ileana had made her such a gift…crafting her ice so finely it revealed truths she herself had never accepted.
It wasn’t just ice. Elsa stared into her own eyes. She had been looking too closely this whole time, gazing inward when she should have just glanced outward.
She turned around, towards the light source and was confronted with the walls of her ice palace, rearing high above her and glowing gold in the sunlight, the ice reflecting her and only her perfectly. She stared at it, losing track of how long she had been waiting. Days? Months? Centuries?
How long have I been here?
Deep within the ice, something blinked once. Twice. Stirred to life, brimming awake with realization.
Elsa’s breath rushed out between her lips.
It wasn’t just ice…It was a mirror.
An endless mirror, forever peering out of her ice, waiting to confront her. And reflected in every possible surface…
“It’s always been me...only me.”
As soon as the realization came to her, it all hurtled back to her from that forbidden corner of her mind: The execution of poor little Mirabelle, the choice, the months of painful preparation, the conception and birth, the Mother’s condition: you will not remember your past or who you are…you may recall flashes of memory but only flashes… Your true nature will only be recalled at the moment your sisters need you most…Then you shall know the Truth.
Her breathing picked up, stirring the heart in her breast. And now she knew. She knew the Truth. The Truth that had always been. The Truth she had always known right from the day she’d created her first snowflake. The Truth that was the reason her meditations had gotten her nowhere. The Truth that the answer had been right in front of her all along, confronting her and taunting her and begging her to See in her own reflection.
I chose this life. I broke the cycle. I…I am…
She was reaching out, her fingers brushing the cold, painfully perfect reflective ice of Isen’s Mirror…
The ice shattered.
She burst forth from under the ocean and into the cold, thin air.
With a calm hand, she reached into the burning inferno surrounding her…and gently pressed a restraining hand to the fiery form.
Branna stilled in shock, the smoke freezing in midair.
“I was sleeping…but now…I am awake.”
The words felt different on her tongue. Her voice reverberated deeper, causing the very water molecules in the surrounding air to still and listen.
The summer spirit recoiled like smoke met with a strong breeze.
“Anna is not the cause of our imbalance.” She could See it now. See just how wrong they had all been, right from the start. “She never was. Anna is my sister. And the human who ties me to this world.”
Her powers flex within her, joyfully stretching to fill every pore of her being, sliding into place like a perfect second skin. They had always been too strong for a mere human. Too controlled for a host.
She raised her head to the skies and spoke the Truth towards the Mother’s Realm. “I am Isen.”
Branna drew a sharp breath as she felt the unmistakable proximity of the soul she had loved so much for so long.
Isen… you’re awake…you’re…alive?
She stretched out her arms to her blazing sister, gathering the heat close to her once again. Branna pressed herself into her chest, relishing in the familiar cold that she had missed for so long.
“Come Branna. Let us end this.”
In the blink of an eye, Isen’s Sorrowful storm stopped, the winds ceasing and the temperature steadying at its current deep freeze. The world was out of balance. But now they knew which way to tip the scale.
Her icy tornado swelled, carrying them higher, over the rooftops of her earthly kingdom and into the clear air where fragments of pollen still drifted. Branna watched from her embrace, utterly amazed.
All it took was a single flex of her fingers to grasp the scattered pieces of her younger sister and hold all of them together.
But all she could do was hold them, she could not breathe life back into the vibrant shell that had held the spirit.
She cradled her sister’s essence in her arm, preserving Life with her cold.
Branna cried out in pain.
The winter spirit held her former lover tighter to her as her smoky form began to dissipate as well. She was weak from losing her host, she could not hold on much longer.
Isen clutched the two expelled spirits to her bosom, desperately holding them here with her even just for a little while longer.
Branna curled closer to her, touching the remains of Life and beginning to cry.
This must be the end for us my sisters…once released, we can never return…
“No” Isen said, turning her face to the castle. “There is still one hope left…”
High above them, leaves drifted through a shattered window.
As soon as Scara’s body hit the floor, the vines around Hans dissolved into dust. He fell to his knees next to the corpse of the vibrant girl.
“No…no, not her too…” His hands shook as he tried to reach for her but could not bring himself to touch her again. What else would his curse to do her? Scara, the only one who had never feared him. Hans cried out and slammed his hands onto the wooden floor.
He hadn’t known her for very long but she had walked into his life and seized it for her own. Not that he minded, he hated his life anyway.
No one had ever appreciated him. He’d been the runt. The butt of all his brothers’ jokes. Only Christian had ever shown him so much as an ounce of kindness, and even that was always laced with an undercurrent of fear. But Hans had clung to the kindness, seeking that one source of love, no matter how tainted it was. Now he was gone too. Another victim of this curse of death.
His only talents had been manipulation and hiding his true intentions from the world. Even he had eventually come to realize that there was nothing redeeming about him. That as much as he could pretend to be the charming prince, he would always be a despicable, awful thing. A monster.
But Scara, Scara had seen something in him. Something that perhaps she saw as good. Her wide-eyed innocence and complete trust of him had turned his perception of himself on its head. No one had ever looked up to him like that. As something other than just a burden or a nightmare.
Well, no one since Anna but she didn’t count. He’d been lying to her the whole time.
He stared down at the corpse, still smiling that last smile. The one that had trusted him to keep her alive. He wanted to touch her again, to hold her close and beg her forgiveness. But he feared her body would only crumble in his grip.
He sat back on his heels, burying his face in his hands as he sobbed.
Being with her felt like he was half of a whole, like he didn’t have to leave destruction in his wake, not so long as she was alongside him. He didn’t have to manipulate her, or try to get something out of her. She just was, she just gave him exactly what he needed without him needing to even understand what it was he needed.
She made him feel…whole.
The voice reverberated through his head, making him flinch. But it was not the voice he feared. It was a voice that was vaguely familiar.
He raised his head, confusion swirling within him as he tried to place the voice. “Elsa?”
It was indeed her. She sounded different: older, more powerful. He shivered at the force of her voice.
“Hans…you have the power to end this…you can make things right again...from Death comes the potential for new Life.”
Hans flinched. Deep inside, the voice he hated was stirring…
Sister…? Isen…? Isen, help!
“Shut up!” Hans screamed, clamping his hands down over his ears. One voice in his head was bad enough but now he had to add Elsa to that torture?
Isen!! You’re alive! You’re here! Help me my sister!
“Enough!” Hans roared, focusing all of his energy on drowning out the voice in his head, on driving it back with angry, malicious thoughts.
Elsa’s voice filled his mind again, sounding like she was pleading with him now. “Hans! You must stop fighting her! Cant you see what it has done?”
But Hans was through listening. “Get out of my head!” He snarled. “All of you!”
To his great relief, both of them went silent. But that didn’t mean they were gone. He could still feel them on the edge of his consciousness, waiting.
My twin is gone.
The voice was timid for once, as if extending an olive branch with their shard misery over the dead girl in front of them.
You… killed her.
So much for trying to make peace. “I killed her?” He shouted. “It was you! You kill everyone important to me!”
I cant help it…
Tears pricked his eyes. “You killed my brother!”
He felt something akin to sorrow from the voice and paused. Could it actually…?
We are caught in an endless war, you and I…Elsa is right, this struggle for power, for dominance is only hurting everyone around us. We must bring it to an end. It’s the only way we can bring her back.
Hans froze. “Bring…her back?”
Life can be reborn…so long as we act quickly.
Hans glanced down at the body. Scara was smiling…had she known that he could…? His insides felt chilled. Could he really save her?
Please…we can save them…save her…
He felt the implications in his mind. If they were going to do this, they would have to do it together. And that would mean doing the unthinkable.
But…Hans stared at the body at his feet, another one of his innumerable victims. If there was even the slightest chance he could take back what he had done…!
He nodded stiffly. “Do it then…”
The voice in his head unfurled itself, showing him its true form in its entirety. Død was the color of rich earth, with coppery hair the color of the brightest dead leaves, and deep gray eyes that blazed with the light of oblivion. Tiny mushrooms grew on her knuckles and along her shoulders in bright oranges, pure whites, and inky blacks. Her skin was crinkly, like dead leaves, and her scent always seemed to be changing: rot, burning leaves, spices, warm sunshine…she was a constantly evolving enigma. For his tiny human mind, it hurt to contemplate her.
But he had to.
For the first time, Hans opened up his mind, his heart and his soul to the being inside him. Død flexed mightily and a chilly autumn breeze rustled through the room, sweeping away the Breath, carrying with it a scent of decaying leaves and the aroma of spices and burnt cedar. Hans felt his body move by itself, his arms extending, palms outstretched. The power rippled from his hands as it never had before, filling the entire room with a soft golden light, rich like the dying beams of the sun on an autumn’s day, the air charged with the feeling of lightning. The Breath left him, vanishing as if it had never existed, replaced instead with his light. Dead leaves rustled around his form in a tight spiral.
And suddenly, Hans knew exactly what to do.
The blade on the floor vanished and reformed in his hand. He pressed his palm against the humming blade, closing his eyes. The power flowed from the cursed blade, a blade he now could feel the entire history of. The blade that had been forged in Hell’s fire and cooled in the waters of Isen’s Sorrow. It had sparked wars in the Mother’s Realm and eventually led to Death’s banishment to this existence. The blade that had taken so many from this world. Surely it could give one back?
In the new, deepest part of himself that Død had awakened, Autumn reached out, calling to his sisters. Begging. Please…let me save them.
Outside, Summer and Winter lifted their heads. Deep within them, their powers had begun to churn. Tendrils of smoke from Branna circled Isen, gathering tiny fragments of ice from her train and grains of pollen from the spring spirit she clutched close to her.
All of us are here together…in perfect balance…not a one alone…the Daughters have come.
Hans felt them. All of them in him and in the air around him, he was Breathing in the smoke and ice and pollen…
The humming of his blade was growing stronger, the sword was positively vibrating in his hand. With precision he’d never known himself to have, Hans gently lowered the blade and placed just the tip in the center of the dead girl’s forehead.
It was like setting off a cannon. Pure unharnessed energy exploded from the body that had until recently been the host of Life itself. Golden light with nothing to direct or bind it. Loose upon the world.
The ripple was so potent, Isen, Død and Branna all shivered from its impact and momentarily forgot everything. The combined power gathered in the sword flowed through them all, merging them until none could be sure who held the blade, who was holding the spirits close, who was lying dead on the floor…
It took them far too long to make it out of the castle.
Kristoff was panting and clutching his arm as if it pained him greatly. He’d grown pale from the trip down the secret passageway and leaned heavily onto Sven as they left the grounds to make it towards Elsa.
Anna was not much better by comparison. She was limping on a slightly twisted ankle and her legs still felt stiff and unmanageable. The sharp pain in her stomach had only gotten worse but she barely felt it through her worry.
The cold was intense, stronger even than the last time Elsa had frozen the kingdom. It seemed to penetrate them and Anna felt her heart give a fearful shudder at the strength of this weather. Thankfully though, there was no longer a strong wind. The three of them leaned on each other and pushed onward, drawing on strength they hadn’t even been aware that they had.
They crossed the smoldering shell of the market square, barely pausing to take in the damage. The wind was picking up, a familiar icy chill permeating even through the deep freeze. All three of them perked up slightly at it.
“We’re close…” Anna muttered and pushed on.
They rounded the corner, shoes sliding on a strange combination of sand and ice.
There, twenty feet above the street, suspended mid-air on a cyclone of ice, smoke, pollen and leaves was Queen Elsa. Her black dress was riddled with streaks of the deepest blue, the boldest red, the purest green, and the richest brown. Her skin had turned to pure ice, her eyes glowed a brilliant blue. Her hands were thrown out at her sides: fire gathering in one palm, vines sprouting from the other. A tight circle of dead leaves whirled hypnotically around her head.
It was terrifying and splendid all at once. Fear coursed through Anna as she took it all in.
But not fear of it. No, she would never be afraid of her sister. But for the second time in her life, she was afraid for her sister. Elsa was trapped, locked away from her in this vortex of power that she could never fully understand. She needed help.
Stumbling away from Kristoff and Sven, Anna staggered on unsteady feet towards the cyclone. She didn’t know if Elsa was even still in there, if she could even hear her over the rush of the winds. But she had to try, even if there was no chance. She had to reach Elsa. Just one last time, she had to knock on the door.
A voice broke through the endless winds, two piercing syllables that commanded all to hear them: “EL-SA!”
Then a single thought broke into Isen’s empty mind like an icicle piercing her skull.
It all came rushing back: the childhood she’d had, the years she’d kept her distance and silence, the day that all changed and the months since. The memories rushed through her, pulling her from one to the next like a blizzard. Now she struck her sister on the head, freezing her. Now she leaned against her door trying to muffle her sobs so her sister would not hear them. Now she stood in her ice palace so happy to see her sister but so terrified of hurting her. Now she was on the fjord, holding the forever frozen face of her sister in her palms, her heart shattering. Now she held her sister’s hands, pulling her across the ice. Now they snuggled together on her bed, her sister brushing away her tears.
Here was her link back to herself.
The undeniable humanity that had defined her and made her a true part of this world.
That humanity that was LIFE.
The ice on her skin tingled and began to glow with soft blue light. She was Isen. She was the winter, the storm, the Sorrow. And she was human.
Elsa opened her mouth and began to Sing.
She Sang of living and growing, of change and balance, of sisters and love and the bond that welded all of these together. Her sisters awoke from their muddled state of being at her song, slowly beginning to separate back into their own selves. Branna Howled in pain as the raw power of the Song set her heart ablaze while Død Breathed quietly to contain her curse, stirring the air into motion. Slowly, each peeled away from the others, reforming and relearning their identity in the Council of the Four Seasons.
The Mother’s Children reached into the blizzard around them, guided by the voice of the Mother’s eldest, gathering each tiny fragment of pollen meticulously, carefully, Singing and Howling and Breathing until Life began to Dance again.
Autumn could feel the power flowing into him from the others. It was everything he had ever wanted: full control over the elements, over Life itself! If he broke the connection now, it would be his! He would be a god! He would be…Alone.
And he let it pass through him, down his cursed blade and into the body on the floor. Golden energy settled into familiar bones and skin, the light fading to yellow, then the green of a freshly sprouted leaf.
A tremor went through the world.
Vibrant green eyes snapped open and shot to gray ones.
Hans felt his heart stop. “Scara…” Her eyes glowed with bright green light as the spirit of Spring entered her once again. Hans felt his own eyes glow warmly in response. Autumn welcoming her twin sister back.
As the spirits settled and the light faded, Scara smiled as if she had not just been yanked from an untimely demise. “I told you.”
Hans dropped the Blade, crying out in joy as he gathered the girl in his arms. It was only when he slowly released her some time later that he realized the real significance of what had just happened.
“My…I touched you and…” He started to back away but the Spring host laid a gentle hand on his arm.
Scara threaded her fingers through his, their powers snapping and humming through the air but causing no ill effects. Nothing died, nothing sprouted. “You have bonded with Død.” Scara told him, smiling brightly. “And we have been reunited at last. The power is now yours to control.”
Inside his head, Hans felt the spirit he’d hated for so long settle, sliding into his form completely and fitting him like a second skin. The tortured voice quieted, the pain faded. His curse was gone.
He fell against Scara, pressing their foreheads together, and wept with relief.
Finally, he was free.
I floated upon the winds, exhaustion creeping through my form. Odd that even though I was a spirit, my body still tires like a human’s…
That’s because you are human…
I struggled to keep my eyes open. “Branna…sister…”
My sister’s form was still clenched tightly to me, her smoky form twisting and writhing, unable to return to a complete shape, unable to move on.
A face flashed across my fading consciousness. Black hair…and red eyes… “Sister, your host…”
I fear…I cannot…
Her words were heavy with regret and sadness. My human heart tightened painfully, feeling the loss all too much. Another host lost…another life sacrificed. One I had come to know and cherish so much. I held her closer but she was starting to fade.
Isen…it is the solstice… I am weak but it is the perfect time for me to manifest…Is there…? Could… can…can you?
I heard her unusual request in the silence between her words. I pressed a soft kiss to the smoke, a tiny curl of steam rising between us. “Always, my love.”
After what seemed like forever, Elsa slowly began to drift back towards the ground. The winds around her quieted and the skies above her cleared, the northern lights shining in brilliant ice-blue shades against the cold stars. Anna and Kristoff watched with jaws agape as the Queen descended to the street just in front of them, her bare feet settling all too quietly on the stones. Her skin thickened, the ice becoming soft and pale and fleshly once again, dotted with nearly invisible freckles. Slowly, the blue light in her eyes faded until she stood before them once again as the Elsa they knew: proud, regal and delicately beautiful.
Then she swayed and Anna darted forward to catch her.
“Elsa!” The two of them fell onto the street, Anna barely able to support the limp form of her sister. “Elsa no…no, wake up!”
Kristoff watched them, his worst fears creeping forward as seconds passed and Elsa did not open her eyes. He hadn’t even noticed that the wound on his arm had vanished and he no longer felt like his life was fading from him. Sven moaned sadly, huffing.
Anna squeezed her sister tightly, burying her face in her sister’s neck. “Elsa…” She sobbed. “No…please…” There was an uncomfortable warmth in her belly, like an angry fire smoldering itself slowly out on her insides. Was this what Elsa had felt when she had thought Anna dead?
The body stirred, making the princess freeze. A slight tremor went through Elsa’s still form, seeming to be slowly waking up every muscle and tendon one by one. The tremor passed into Anna and she felt her own muscles respond in sympathy with a tiny shake of their own. Anna lifted her head, watching her sister intensely as if she believed that if she looked away, Elsa would really, truly be gone. Finally, after several agonizing seconds, ice-blue eyes flickered open. The first thing they settled on was her. “…Anna…”
Tears streaming down her face, Anna stared at her sister. In Elsa’s eyes was an apology, a plea for Anna to forgive her for everything: abandoning her in the woods, keeping her in the dark, leaving her alone, not returning sooner, scaring her…
Anna would have forgiven her even without that look. She would forgive her anything.
With a cry, Anna wrapped her arms tightly around Elsa, crying unabashedly into her sister’s shoulder. “Oh, Elsa…!” Elsa closed her eyes again and pressed her nose into Anna’s hair, making gentle soothing noises. Kristoff and Sven watched, both of them blinking back tears.
It was some time for anyone moved again. Anna suddenly sat back, staring at her sister in amazement. “Are you…? I mean you were just…you were flying, Elsa…”
Elsa lowered her gaze, looking at her hands. “It’s okay Anna, I have it under control now.” She slowly closed her fingers, watching the tiny snowflakes that danced around her hands. “I finally know who I am….” Elsa said quietly.
Anna shook her head in amazement. “But…what was that…who…what...?”
Her sister was quiet for a long moment. She seemed to be trying to decide what to say. Briefly, she glanced in Kristoff’s direction. He could offer her nothing but an encouraging smile.
The white-haired women with blue eyes and the power of Winter shakily pushed herself to her knees, then to her feet. She swayed slightly as she stood on her own. “I am Isen, the spirit of Winter.” She finally said. Her voice was powerful and ancient, raspy with the new Song it had just sung. Her eyes were centuries old and filled with memories of other lifetimes. Isen turned her head and blinked and the sister Anna knew returned instantaneously. She smiled warmly, the action lighting up her young, beautiful face. “But I am also Elsa, your sister and the Queen of Arendelle.”
And she was.