Chapter Forty-Six: Buried a Lie

Though she wasn't entirely sure Elsa believed she had pieced together just why Anna was so concerned over that little vial. She was ashamed to admit that it took her a little longer than it should have, but once all the pieces clicked into place she knew it was vital to do what had to be done to get it back for Anna's sake.

Elsa's mind was all over the place as she ushered Anna forcefully toward the main lab door.

"Go." She growled to Anna, low and serious. "I'll handle this."

"But you you don't-"

The look Elsa shot her must have been enough because Anna fell silent without even attempting to finish her sentence. Though no doubt still disturbed after seeing her own bottled feelings Anna obediently nodded and left the room.

How to resume a normal conversation after all this was beyond her but there was nothing left but to try. Calmly reasoning might be ineffective at this point. After all Anna had just hit Vanessa, and Elsa was associated with Anna. Still, there were things to learn here. Information to be dug out.

Now might be her only time, so she would have to push. If there was ever a time for Vanessa to reveal herself as a villain then now was it, and Elsa would be damned if she let Anna fight this battle when she was so clearly shaken already.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you just threatened a fellow employee." Elsa tutted at Vanessa. "And one you pulled away from her own research to assist you no less."

Vanessa made a show of cradling her jaw where Anna had struck her, a picture of innocence now that the supposed aggressor was out of the room.

"Only after an assault!" Vanessa insisted.

Ignoring the attempt at justification Elsa demanded "What did you pay for that vial?"

"Does it really matter?" Vanessa placed a hand over the pocket with the vial. "This is what I need to replicate the original serum. I won't hand over the key to my cure so easily, especially not to-"

In less urgent times Elsa may have been more tactful or taken a more planned out route. She had no proof for the claims she was about to make, but perhaps if she delivered them with enough conviction the words would strike a chord with Vanessa.

"Your cure isn't real." Elsa cut Vanessa off, shaking her head. "The single success case you mentioned?"

Vanessa gave no verbal answer, just stared incredulously at Elsa.

"Yeah, that person. Whoever that is is on an escalating murder spree in Arendelle. Each and every one exhibits evidence of a werewolf being involved. Seems there are more side effects that you advertised in your motivational speech to recruit Anna."

Elsa couldn't suppress her smug smile as Vanessa's hand fell from her pocket. Elsa watched as her expression went from confused to angry, then most surprisingly to guilty.

"No." She uttered the words under her breath, "No that can't..."

Without hesitation Elsa spoke in the silence that Vanessa left for her. "It can, and that's exactly what's going on. I have stacks of case files on the murders. Stacks."

"You found her then?" Vanessa almost sounded relieved.

"No. But you know as well as I do that werewolves are on the list. Every single one is extracted from the city the moment they're found. So only one could possibly have gone unnoticed."

Elsa stared hard at Vanessa, waiting for the inevitable blowup. The fight never came though. Instead Vanessa turned back to her desk and placed her palms flat on the surface. She hung her head and drew in a long, slow breath that she exhaled even more slowly.

"It's all been for nothing then." Vanessa sounded positively forlorn. Elsa couldn't be entirely sure, but she sounded genuine in her grief. "The things I've done to get here..."

"Vanessa, please..."

"Yes, yes." Vanessa produced the vial and, without looking up from her desk, extended it to Elsa.

"Thank you." Elsa put as much sincerity as she could behind the words. Vial safely in her possession, she asked "And your cured patient?"

Vanessa's shoulders shook, a quiet sob escaping her. She nodded.

"I have a file ready," she started, pausing a moment, "but I must clarify some things before I hand it over. Please, meet me tomorrow?"

Elsa's gaze hardened as she shook her head. She was firm, but kind as she answered "You know I can't do that. It has to be now."

No matter how real Vanessa's sorrow seemed in the moment, Elsa couldn't risk being fooled. She couldn't risk every trace of this disappearing, or give the beast of Arendelle one more night to hunt freely.

Vanessa must have suspected as much. Rather than argue further she simply nodded before reaching into a drawer. Elsa knew that she had searched that particular drawer but was shocked to see that with a deft movement of her hand Vanessa was able to remove the bottom of the drawer to reveal a hidden compartment. Elsa could see her hand shaking a little as Vanessa pulled out the thick file and passed it to her.

"When my source passed there was a grave concern..." Vanessa paused, her shoulders sinking as she corrected herself. "The last thing I wanted was to be out of work. So I did some things I'm not proud of."

Elsa fought the urge to gesture at the living corpse, instead allowing Vanessa a moment to compose herself.

"You see, I had a reputation to begin with. Another failure and there's no telling what they would have done to me."

The 'they' didn't need to be named, both women had dearly suffered under S.N.O.'s 'expert care.'

"So, I delved into the darkest minds here. If anyone could keep me in work it would be Mim or Merlin. Merlin showed me how to bring her back, in a sense. A copy, the same in every aspect but her mind..."

Elsa's stomach turned at the thought, she had to bite her tongue to keep from interrupting. A Merida that wasn't. It could have been a second chance, but would it have been welcome or hurtful.

"And Mim?" Elsa couldn't hide the shake in her voice.

"Mim." Vanessa said her name as if it were a curse. Vanessa gestured to the grotesque creature."She showed me how to make that."

"I see. So you chose to go Mim's route then?"

Did Elsa necessarily need the answer? No. The proof was right there in front of her. Yet part of her, some macabre, sick part of her, had to know if this was the only one.

"The toll either direction would have had on my body would be severe. They both assured me of that much." Vanessa seemed to confirm Elsa's theory, but her next words shook Elsa to her core. "I could never have expected what havoc both methods would wreak on my body.

In what Elsa assumed was a show of good faith, or proof, or something of that sort, Vanessa began her transformation. Bones cracked and skin seemed to slough off as her human form gave way to what she had become.

A gaunt, sliver of a woman's body now sat atop a swirling mass of tentacles. Her skin was gray and drawn tight over every bit of her, but Elsa reached out for her hand all the same. It felt like holding a bundle of twigs wrapped in beeswax paper, but she held on briefly hoping that the gesture would spur Vanessa on. If there were tears Vanessa hid them well.

"The copy was perfect in every way, but it took much more of my own life force to make than I expected. But when she woke..." Vanessa chuckled, staring fondly into the distance. "She showed no signs of her former affliction. A more perfect copy than Merlin had promised. She was cured, or so I thought, and I was greedy.

I thought to myself, if I could just manage both, the cure would be mine. That and the hefty paycheck for producing it at last. What was there to lose? Either I would succeed and have my due, or I would die in the process and no one would know."

"So, you made that and set the new Mer-" Elsa caught her slip before too much of it came out and Vanessa didn't seem to notice, "-the copy loose into Arendelle."

"Her blood was clean when she was reborn, Elsa. I swear it. I didn't know!" Vanessa urged, "It's on file that the blood was clean. How else would I have been granted clearance to carry on working?"

Elsa had to look away from Vanessa, she couldn't bear seeing the expression there on that gaunt face. She thumbed open the file Vanessa had handed her and could feel the color draining from her face. From within the file was Merida's smiling face, well, not Merida's, but hers all the same. Elsa had aged after Merida's death, but this Merida...she looked just as she had the day she died. No doubt that had changed by now, but the file photo was eerie to look at all the same.

"You have to destroy that thing." Elsa gestured to the amalgamation of creatures that wore Merida's decaying face. She shut the file and shook it in Vanessa's direction, "I'll handle this one myself."