Flying off the Tracks
Flying Off the Tracks
With the caves littered with fallen rock and collapsed passageways, the way back to Arendelle wasn't the same as the way they had come. Kristoff had always been confident in his sense of direction, but the unsettling rumbling of the caves and the unsettling rumbling of his heart was making it difficult to focus long enough to lead Anna out of these dark places. It was also not as it was when they had been together in their search for Elsa, when they had first met and tried to stop the eternal winter that had frozen the kingdom.
In comparison, this was silent and colder.
For her part, Anna was still worried about leaving Elsa alone with Yasha and could still barely accept that she had gone along with his plan, even though she had given her objections and done all she could to obligate him into protecting her sister. This wasn't what she wanted, but had resigned to let them go, out of many considerations, including the ones for Kristoff. Walking behind him, she stared at his back, noticing how stiff it was. Several times she had opened her mouth to talk with him, but something made her quietly retreat. Memories of their last few times together were coming back to her and she remembered how they hadn't been on the best of terms when she had been kidnapped, though the thrill at being reunited had temporarily rekindled their heat. But the chill had returned and the strange way she had bonded with her kidnapper had thrown another wall between them.
Now that they were alone again, silently but for the endless chatter of Olaf, she was finding it hard to even think of what to say.
"Hey Kristoff?" she finally said, leaning to the side to try and see his face.
He didn't look back to her. "Yeah?" His tone proved he was angry and although that oddly made her own anger rise, she pushed it down and looked around nervously, trying to figure out what she could say.
"Uhm," she hummed, then looked down and flared her dress out in a shaky grip, "What do you think of the dress Elsa made? It's my first magical dress. I kind of like it, except it's a little icy in some pretty shouldn't-be-icy places." She had gone back to her original desire to show him and was even a little playful, hoping it would spark some conversation. With expectant eyes, she continued to lean to the side and felt a brush with hope as he looked back over his shoulder at her.
"It's great," he remarked dryly, rolling his attention forward again.
Once more the anger and the gloom her rose in her chest. She could see that he was holding something in front of him, though she couldn't see what it was. He was giving it far more attention than she felt it deserved and she sighed heavily, looking to the side.
"Thanks," she sighed, wanting to hear so much more from him.
They continued on, with no one really able to chisel away at the wall between them. Olaf and Sven weren't oblivious of the atmosphere, though not even the nudging from the reindeer or the antics of the snowman were having an effect. It was as if they were in separate worlds and slowly drifting apart.
After chasing a cooler breeze through a partially blocked passageway, Kristoff came across a large chamber with some dilapidated structures and old tools lying around. Lighting a few old torches, he illuminated the area and marveled at the cavern, where there were still sparkles of minerals all around and the sound of a small stream coming from a crack in the wall, down a wooden trough and into a shallow pool, where it then disappeared under the rocks. It was obvious that people had been here long ago, though gone now, leaving all of their remnants behind.
The fact that someone had been here gave him hope for a way out.
"A little help here," Anna grunted as she tried to crawl through the passageway, making him jump back to help her, dismissing any of the indifference between them.
"I got you," he said, pulling her through the crack with powerful arms. As she cleared the rocks, her foot caught one and she stumbled forward into him, though her petite weight did nothing against his solid foothold.
"Whoa!" she yelped, her hands gripping his arms.
"Are you okay?" he asked, holding her close.
She smiled up at him and continued to stay close, not really wanting to dismiss this break from their storm. "Yeah, I'm okay," she replied. She felt a familiar warmth churning in her chest. "Nice catch," she remarked, remembering the last time she had carelessly leapt to his arms, trusting that he would be there to catch her.
He smiled at her as well.
Although the moment could have lasted longer, the sound of running water and the sparkling of the walls in the torchlight made her attention wander and she looked around the chamber, gasping in awe. "Wow. What is this place?" she asked, stepping to the side, but her hand still gripping his sleeve.
He marveled at her, and the way that she marveled elsewhere. "It looks like an abandoned mine. There probably hasn't been anyone here in years," he suggested, looking around as well. As she slipped her hand from his sleeve to explore, he heard more grunting behind him and found Sven sticking halfway out of the hole, with only the muffled sounds of Olaf coming from the other side.
"Hey Kristoff! I think your reindeer's stuck!"
The helpless look on Sven's face made him smirk. "Hang on, boy. I got you too," he said as he came to help.
Anna continued to explore. "This place is amazing. It's like looking up at a sky full of stars," she said, gazing at the countless sparkles in the black rock above her. While she had initially hated how dreary the caves were, she had found that certain places had an unnatural beauty that she had never seen anywhere else, as if only darkness and heat could forge such wonder. As she walked, she tripped slightly over an old shovel, then slowly reached down and picked up the rotting wood and metal. Turning back to Kristoff and finding he had gotten both Sven and Olaf into the chamber, she clutched the shovel tightly and looked to him with questions abound. "Why do you think they abandoned it?"
He had been wondering that as well and pulled his sweaty hat from his head to scratch at his ruffled hair. "Dunno. It looks like there's still lots of stuff to mine. It's like they just dropped their stuff and left," he said, looking around at the tools.
"Maybe they came across a whole bunch of monsters living deep inside of the caves and had to run away. That happens, right?" Olaf suggested.
Both Anna and Kristoff smirked at him. "Oh please, like there'd be something like that down…" she began, though she was looking around for any signs of monsters when her eyes came across something even more thrilling, "Hey! Look at that!" Dropping the shovel, she ran over to a large cart sitting on rusty tracks that led down into a dark passage. The cart was empty, aside from rocky dust in the bottom, but it was well-made and sturdy, standing up to even years of neglect. Her hands on the rim, she bounced around and admired it, but especially the way the tracks sloped just beyond.
"This must be how they carted out the gems and ore," Kristoff remarked, walking up and admiring it as well. On the back of the cart was a platform and a long lever to brake the wheels, and he imagined that whoever built it was a fine craftsman. "It looks like it's still in pretty good shape."
"Let's ride it," she grinned.
Kristoff smirked, always amazed how she threw caution to the wind. "I don't think that's a good idea. Even if the cart is solid, who knows how the tracks are further in?" he warned.
"Oh, come on," she pouted, "Where's your sense of adventure?"
"Riding a creaky old cart down an abandoned mineshaft is not my idea of an adventure," he replied, crossing his arms. She had always been carefree, and often careless, and he had taken it upon himself to be the voice of reason for the both of them.
Sometimes, it felt like his real job.
She scoffed at him and looked down the tracks, her hand patting the cart as she was trying to weigh the odds. "Maybe it'll take us right out of here. I wonder if Yasha knows where it goes," she mused. The very mention of the name made Kristoff's expression foul and he was no longer humored by the exchange. His hands clenched tightly.
"Maybe you should go back and ask him. He'd probably come running back if he knew you were looking for him," he replied coldly. She instantly picked up on his changing tone and looked up, surprised to see how much darker his mood was.
"What's what supposed to mean?" she asked defensively.
"You seem to have gotten pretty close with that guy. You do remember he kidnapped you and tried to kill your sister, right?" he remarked.
"Ugh, that was all just a misunderstanding. A sort of extremely dangerous misunderstanding, but still a misunderstanding," she replied, crossing her arms just as stubbornly, "And you're overreacting."
"Hey, I'm not the one who was ogling the kidnapper," he snorted.
Anna blew her bangs from her face and cawed. "I was not ogling him! I was…you know, keeping an eye on him…while he happened to be taking a bath. That doesn't mean I was ogling," she explained while trying to wave off the embarrassment of the memory. Even as much as she knew he was justified for that, it was difficult to accept the blame and apologize. Strangely, her natural reaction was to fight him over every little thing.
"And if someone had been around when the kidnapper came in the first place, maybe I wouldn't have had the chance to ogle anyone."
The accusation made him flare. "Hey, I was busy getting…something. Sorry that I wasn't around when you just happened to get kidnapped!" he yelled.
"It's not just that time! What was so important that you had leave me alone for weeks at a time? And don't tell me it was to get ice," she shot back. He suddenly flushed and his hand cupped his belt. The square box was still firmly inside his pouch and he suddenly felt the urge to show her what he had been trying so hard to get, even as he knew that this wasnt the time for it, although he imagined how righteous he would feel when seeing her reaction to the ring.
That triumph would feel vulgar in light of something that was supposed to be beautiful and a symbol of their everlasting devotion to one another.
"It's a super-special ice that not even your sister can make, okay?" he said.
Anna winced, thinking she had heard that somewhere before. However, as he was obviously avoiding her questions and was still stuck on her fondness for Yasha, which she didn't see as a problem, she couldn't could cool off. As much as she hated it, she continued to bicker with him, as Olaf and Sven watched breathlessly, even as the heated echoes in the chamber were causing some unusual echoes deeper in the caves. Sven was the first to hear it and his ears were searching for the source. It was something beyond the chamber and it rumbled through the stones as Olaf also noticed it as well, waving his twigs towards the two arguing at the cart.
"Hey guys, can you hear that?" he asked.
Anna and Kristoff continued to argue, but Sven was becoming agitated, grunting and backing from the darkness. Olaf shared his alarm. "Hey guys?" he asked again, even louder. By now, there were dimly glowing shadows growing down a large, dark hole at the other end of the chamber, where it had obviously been broken away by the miners.
There were sounds of rock scraping against rock and a symphony of howling shrieks now piercing the air, and Anna and Kristoff were torn from their fight to look to the darkness, where it was muddied with red swirls and angry claws, all slowly scraping into sight.
For a moment, they were all frozen.
"Oh, you're kidding," Anna gasped.
Several Xenoliths crowded into the passageway, barely able to get past one another and seemingly untroubled by the dim torches. Their melodic shrieking made her remember how terrifying her first experience was, while Kristoff knew that without Elsa's magic, he couldn't hope to shatter another of these mythic beasts. There was no time to question why there were so many, but he realized it was probably the reason why the miners had abandoned the place.
"Called it," Olaf remarked.
"Everyone in the cart," Kristoff barked, scooping Anna up and tossing her in, much to her surprise. While he had been adamantly against it, in the face of angry, shrieking monsters, a creaky cart ride down an abandoned mineshaft suddenly didn't seem like such a bad idea. Sven leapt into the dusty cart, while Kristoff then grabbed Olaf by his twigs and tossed him in as well before jumping on the rear platform and leaning into the rusted brake with all of his strength. As if sensing their flight, the Xenolith's roared louder and lumbered towards them, making Anna's face twist with terror as she popped up and patted him on the back for encouragement.
"No rush but going would be great!" she hollered.
"Working on it!" he groaned back, feeling the rust fighting him on the lever. He was pushing as hard as he could and it finally gave in with a loud clank. With the brake released, the cart lurched forward down the tracks just as the Xenoliths swiped at them. Kristoff had arched forward just in time, though was almost sure he had lost the rear of his pants. The slope carried them quickly away from the lumbering creatures, though it was obvious they weren't giving up as they shrieked and followed, crashing along the rails even as the cart picked up speed. Kristoff grabbed the cart tightly and looked forward as they rocketed down the tracks, his heart racing in his chest.
"Lean into the turns! Try to keep it balanced!" he yelled, grabbing the brake to keep their speed under control.
"This is great! I told you it'd be a good idea!" Anna shouted, at the front of the cart with her hands clamped on the rim and her face glowing. Sven was sitting next to her, panting with his tongue hanging out as he enjoyed the wind, while Olaf popped up to look behind the cart, his eyes narrowed at the sights behind them.
"You may want to go faster. Those guys are catching up," he remarked, making Kristoff turn to see the Xenoliths as they gained.
He grimaced. "If we go any faster, we'll fly off the tracks," he yelled, feeling the grind from the brake as he pushed it hard against the wheel. As if the pursuing Xenoliths weren't enough on top of that, he was desperately trying to keep an eye on the tracks, hoping they weren't snarled or broken anywhere ahead. If that sudden stop didn't end them, their pursuers certainly would.
While he was trying to manage all of these concerns, the cart ran across some rough track and rattled them harshly, making him lose control of the brake as he had to cling to the cart. More than that, the jarring made the pouch on his belt open and the small, square box come flying out, sailing just outside of his reach as he desperately tried to catch it. It landed in the cart with the others, who had been shaken up as well, and while Kristoff grabbed the brake once more, his eyes were fixed solely on the box, feeling as if his entire world had just flown out of his reach. Anna had been thrown back and was sitting against the back of the cart, rubbing the soreness in her rump.
"Hey! Watch the bumps!" she yelled up to him.
His attention didn't waver.
"Get the box!" he yelled.
Not knowing what he meant at first, she saw the square box rolling around the cart by her feet and her brow furrowed, wondering why he was so fixed on it. "Why? What's in the box?" she asked.
"A super-special ice that not even your sister can make!" he yelled back, back at the brake and trying to mediate their speed, but never letting the box out of his sight.
Anna's heart was already racing from the situation, but something made it flutter even against the chase. The size of the box and the way he obsessed over it made its significance relevant to her and she suddenly felt she had to catch the box as passionately as he did, though another rough stretch of track suddenly made the cart rattle and kick, tossing them around and making the box fly into the air again. Kristoff once more let the brake loose and lunged at the lip of the cart trying to grab it, but it bounced from his hand and flew over the side of the cart, destined to be lost in the darkness forever. It was Anna that leapt from the cart and caught it, barely at the tips of her fingers and so stretched out that only Kristoff's strong grip kept her from being the one that was lost. Groaning, he managed to reel her back into the cart and regain control over the brake, though by now their speed was so high that he could feel the lever cracking against his attempts to handle it. Anna retreated into the cart, catching her breath and cradling the small box in her arms. The rocking made it difficult to focus and all she could do was make sure she didn't let go of it again.
Her eyes flew open, wondering if she had imagined what was just yelled over the raging wind. Incredulous, she looked at him with flashing eyes and her heart leaping into her throat.
"What?" she called back.
"I want you to marry me!" he repeated, the lever grinding against the brake.
"You're proposing now?!" she shrieked, amazed at how he could take every single romantic way she envisioned him asking, throw all of them aside, and find the absolute worst time to propose.
"Yeah, well, crazy cart rides and kidnappers and shiny rock monsters have a way of putting a guy's priorities in order!" he answered, regretting that he couldn't look to see her reaction while he was straining against the brake, though with his unorthodox timing, he thought maybe it was better he couldn't see her face.
In the cart, Anna had suddenly forgotten about the danger. Her eyes were wide and her heart was pounding. She ran her fingers over the small line in the wood, where the lid met the rest of the box. It was strange that she had waited so long to see it and when she finally had it in her arms, she was frozen, unable to answer. Truthfully, she didn't care how he asked, just that he asked. A smile spread over her face and she hugged the box without even opening it.
"I will," she said quietly, though she was met only by a loud crack and him grunting. Realizing he didn't hear, she suddenly jumped up to the back of the cart, looking to him with all of her heart to answer him. "I said…" she began, though noticed his face was panicked and that he was holding the broken lever in his hand.
"Oh, that's not good."
With no way to slow them down, they sped away from the Xenoliths but were quickly rushing out of control. The roar of the wind and the cries of the rusted cart smothered any other sound as they reached a turn through a large cavern, and the cart kicked away from the tracks, flipping into the air and silently being swallowed by the darkness that lived there.
After silence, several loud splashes echoed through the cave.
Far below the tracks, a large opening was letting in bright moonlight onto a large, deep lake that quietly collected all of the water flowing out of the caves. It had been disturbed and the first to surface was Anna, who came bobbing up wildly and coughing, pawing at the water to stay afloat. To her surprise, her dress had puffed out like an ice cube in a punchbowl and she didn't have to struggle at all. "Oh. Thanks to the magical ice dress, I guess?" she remarked, pushing the soggy hat back from her face. Kristoff and Sven both came up as well and flailed against the water and she was greatly relieved to see them.
"Kristoff!" she cried, trying to paddle over to him.
"I'm okay!" he called back, treading water and still trying to cough the lake out of his nose. There was no sign of the Xenoliths and he looked around, finding the shore not too far away. He marveled at their luck. "Wow, good thing this lake was here."
"Where's Olaf?" Anna asked, twisting around.
"Present," Olaf sang, casually floating by in three pieces.
Kristoff suddenly thrashed around, looking from Anna to the others as a fit of panic overcame him. "Where's the box? Who's got the box?!" he yelled. Anna realized that she had lost it as well and mirrored his panic, though she soon found it floating a short distance away, being clutched by one of Olaf's twig hands.
"I got it!" the snowman's head announced.
The four of them made it to shore, taking great care to be thankful for their survival. Kristoff was making sure to check them all for injury, especially Anna, and found himself grateful he had a chance to hear her answer, especially as Olaf delivered the box to her. She clutched the treasure tightly and looked up to him, the cold water making the blush on her face even more apparent. With the moonlight flooding in from the opening, she appeared angelic, even with her magical dress clinging to her body and her wet hair tangled at her shoulders. It had taken him weeks of agony to try and figure out how he would propose to her, but he almost laughed when he realized it had only taken a kidnapping, a magical fight and a near-death cart ride to get the question out.
He knew it was all worth it.
"Anna, will you marry me?" he asked again, taking her freezing hands and kneeling in front of her in the muddy sands of that mountain lake.
With a burst of elation from her lips, she laughed and nodded, her throat barely containing her voice. "Yes!" she cried, then threw her arms around his neck, pressing her frozen cheeks into his and feeling how he drew the warmth into them. As they relished their engagement, Olaf wiped a slushy tear from his eye and leaned against a dripping wet Sven, happy they had been present at such an important time in his friend's life.
"Even with the wet reindeer smell, this moment is perfect," he sighed.
Once Anna had satisfied her desires to hold Kristoff, she huddled to him, to feel the warmth of his body, especially against the cool air blowing in from the opening. "I thought you'd never ask," she sighed, opening the box to find a beautiful ring inside. It was exactly what she had dreamed of and she was resisting the urge to slip it on, for she wanted him to do that, and she suddenly snickered at his excuse for being gone so long.
"A super-special ice that not even my sister can make, huh?"
He blushed, feeling the words were corny, but quickly fumbled the ring between his frozen fingers as he removed it from the box, then carefully slipped it on hers. "What good is an Ice Master if he can't find something like that?" he replied. She laughed again, then looked to the ring as she shivered, twisting the gem between her numb fingers.
"It's perfect," she replied happily.
He tried to warm her against the chill, then slowly realized that the air coming from outside the caves was much colder than the air within and that he could see snow a short distance away. Realizing that they were at the other end of the cave system, he began to recognize some of the distant mountains and felt his hopes grow that they would no longer have to stumble around in the dark underground. While they were wet and cold, his sled would only be a short hike away and they would soon be back in Arendelle, together and engaged.
They could finally start their life together.
Anna suddenly sighed distantly, her eyes locked on the reflective gem. "I can't wait to tell Elsa," she whispered. His expression dimmed and his lips pressed together. He realized how much they had gone through to get back to their world and that it was only familiar roads that lay before them. It was a simple matter of walking out of the cave, finding the sled and going home, yet everything he knew of her told him what she truly wanted to do, while everything about himself told him what he was willing to do to make her happy.
"You want to go after them, don't you?"
She laughed weakly. "Am I that obvious?" she asked with a guilty expression.
He smiled, holding her tightly and trying to share as much warmth as he could with her. The idea was foolish and the path was unknown. Her request was selfish against her sister's wishes and the risks were great. They had no idea what they would find, except a dangerous man and a dangerous cause, along with ancient magic and things unseen.
He really had no idea why he could agree to it so easily.
"You're going to owe me another sled," he pointed out.
Leaning back, she looked up to him with bright eyes, her smile growing.
"Really? Do you mean it?!" she asked.
"Come on. Let's go chase your sister again," he replied, nodding towards the opening with a confident smile. Anna squealed and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly once more. He could do no more than hold her back and sigh, realizing that he was a fool to ever think he could deny her. Marching into a foreign kingdom to chase her sister and a criminal with powerful fire magic wasn't the greatest idea he had ever considered, but the way it lit up her eyes made it something that he would be willing to do.
In retrospect, he realized why he could agree to it so easily after all – because he loved her more than any flimsy reason to cling to common sense and doubt, and that he would do something ten times more foolhardy just to see the smile she wore at that moment.