a/n: you can find me on tumblr at dreamsalittlebigger.
thanks for reading, darlings :)
"I don't like this. I don't—you're heading out alone again—"
"Um, excuse me—yeah. I'm right here." Anna, holding enough rope that's she's little more than a pile of twine with a bit of strawberry blonde sticking from the top, adjusts her load so that she can send a glare in Prince Albert's direction, because really, the guy was just—ugh—"So she won't be alone."
"She," Elsa says firmly, coming from one of the stalls, reins of her horse, Buttercup—a shade whiter than Anna's own, with a pinkish nose—nestled carefully in the crook of her arm, to avoid jostling her hands, "is right here, and can speak for herself."
Anna puckers her lips sheepishly, and the lip-pucker quickly turns into a sort of wince, and then she tries to give a nod of her head and remembers that she can't, because she's holding fifty pounds of rope—her sister continues, looking weary and tired in the dying light filtering in through the open stable door, and Anna is just trying really, really hard not to look at that pile of hay in the corner there and think of Kristoff sleeping on it and Kristoff's lips on hers and Kristoff in general and anyway, her sister continues—
"Anna, go put the rope away. I'll be out in a minute."
"Yeah, sure, fine—" Anna needs to get out of there, and fast, because the crystal beneath the neck of her dress was pulsing something awful and her eyes were burning and she needed to stop with the emotional stuff already, geez—
She staggers one arm up around her eyes and makes what she hopes is the universal gesture for I'm watching you in Albert's direction but she can't see really well, so she doesn't know if it has the desired effect—
She huffs out of the stables.
Elsa watches Anna go.
"I don't think your sister likes me very much," Albert says, without much feeling. He's standing rather awkwardly by the stall that, Elsa realizes with a pang of—of something—would usually hold Sven. Her horse nudges her back. When she blinks, she sees a face full of fear, hair like frost—
She says, "No, I don't suppose she does."
Albert gives a grim-faced chuckle, running a hand through his limp curls and then scrubbing his fingers down his face. "Well, thank you for being honest."
"You're welcome." Her hands give a particularly painful throb, in time with the beat of her heart, and she continues, quickly, "Do you think you'll be able to keep your brother in hand, until we get back?"
"How do you even—how does—are you sure Princess Anna knows where she's going?"
"She says she does," Elsa replies, nonplussed at the non-answer. "And I trust her."
"I—" Albert cuts off. Then he frowns at her. "You really aren't going to let us come with you?"
"I can't explain it," Elsa says, almost-smile playing out across her lips, "but I feel like this is something my sister and I need to do alone. Besides," she looks pointedly at his stomach, "I don't care what you say, you still need to rest."
"And you don't?"
Elsa looks at her hands. "No," she says simply. "I don't."
Anna dumps the rope unceremoniously into the back of the wagon and then collapses dramatically over the side, because her arms feel like wet rags. Felix is lying flat on his back in the middle of the courtyard—she knows because she almost tripped over him. She lets her head loll sideways and says to him, now, "Don't break anything, while we're gone. Don't even touch anything. Don't even think about touching anything. In fact, where's Syd, he can be on watch duty—"
"Ye of little faith," Felix mutters, squinting up at the sky. "'Sides, I already stole all your good silver. And Syd left for the ship halfway through our little story time. You don't really like Albert, do you?"
"What gave you that impression, huh?"
"Just a feeling I had."
"I don't really like you, either, if it makes him feel any better."
"That's a lie," Felix groans, sitting up, rubbing his eyes, his piercings clanging distractingly. "Otherwise you wouldn't put up with me half as much as you do now."
"I'm forced to. There's a difference."
Felix rolls into a languid shrug, pushing to his feet. He wipes his nose with the back of his hand. "You sure gonna do this, then?"
"Alone. It's our family—butt out, pirate," Anna says, but it comes out more fondly than she wants it to, and she even slips that little smile in there, stupid, come on, can't she be mean for like, three seconds—
"Hurry, will you?"
"We haven't even left yet."
"Yes, well." Felix squints at the sky, a lazy shade of orange dwindling towards the horizon. "I know what my brother will do, when he gets here. He'll come under the guise of peace. Public tide will turn against you, if you attack him."
Anna frowns. "Even after what he did to us?"
"Public doesn't know that. Public knows they don't want to fight," Felix replies.
Anna bites her lip. "You're brother's a grade A jerk, you know that?"
"I know that." Felix rolls his shoulders, and they pop. "Way I see it, faster your sister figures out what happened to her magical ice sculpting powers, the faster we have a sure-fire line of defense they won't be expecting."
"So I'm saying get, and get fast."
Anna snorts, standing up from her lean against the wagon and dusting off her hands. She reaches for her pink cloak, which she had dumped in the front seat, and shrugs it around her shoulders. "Aye, aye, First Mate." She steps close to him and slaps his shoulder, just because she feels that he hasn't had enough head injuries lately, and then the stable door is opening and Elsa is walking out, her horse following, and then Albert, looking like someone spat in his gruel, poor kid—
"Are you sure we shouldn't tell Kai?" Anna asks, looking at the lights of the palace looming above them, flickering on one by one. "Maybe like a hint, or something?"
"I'm sure," Elsa replies firmly. "We'll be back before he knows we've left." She turns and looks at Albert. "See if you can find anything more from the diary."
"Yes, I—I will, but—are you—are you sure you know where you're going?" Albert asks, tugging at his shirtsleeve. Anna nods smartly.
"Pretty sure. Like, one-hundred percent sure, maybe."
Felix grins. Anna takes the reins from her sister and does a sloppy job of tacking the horse to the wagon, but hey, she's working under a clock, here—
"May you have the wind at your backs," Felix says, as she swings up into the driver's seat. Anna turns just in time to watch Elsa be helped by Albert into the seat next to her and ugh how were you supposed to tell your sister that you didn't like her maybe-boyfriend because his absolute-brother totally mashed your heart and then kidnapped you and—
"Do you know how to drive one of these?" Elsa asks suddenly, hands cradled gently in her lap as Albert steps away. Anna takes up the reins and shrugs, looking at the open gates.
"I've seen Kristoff do it like, at least twelve times. I mean, how hard can it—" she gives a sharp flick, "—beeeeee—" her voice is carried wildly away as the wagon lurches forward and she's flung sideways and Elsa slams into her and they're off, barreling down the bridge, through the city, and out of sight.
Felix and Albert stand in front of the open gates, watching the wagon tip dangerously and cut sideways through the streets like a rabid wolf. "Well, that's reassuring," Felix deadpans, shucking a hand through his hair and turning his squint back to the deep orange of the sky. Albert shrugs, tugging at the sleeve of his tunic.
"They'll be fine."
"You sure?" He can't help but ask—if he's learned anything from his chosen lifestyle, from his time before, it's that false hope wasn't good, just stupid—
Albert looks across his nose. It's not quite a glare, but it's getting there. He turns sharply on his heel and begins walking back to the palace. "I'm going to the library," he says, shortly.
Felix looks back at the bridge and sighs.
Elsa can feel the air beginning to get colder, and colder still, as they climb up into the ever-present snow settled over the mountains. She notices it mostly in her nose, which she thinks is almost ridiculous, but it's freezing, about to fall off, really, and she has to clench her teeth to keep them from clacking together and she thinks, oh, so this is what it feels like to be cold.
Anna says, "Woah, there, ok, let's just—woah, ok—" The wagon slows, wheels huffing angry tracks through the growing snow. Elsa watches Buttercup struggle, and heave, to pull them forward, and she feels horrible, inconveniencing everyone like this, just—
The pine trees stretch like bare, reaching fingers to the sky. It's violet now, and she can almost, almost make out the stars, and she tries not to let herself think how maybe, just maybe, things would be back to—
She bites her lip, looking across at her sister, and almost laughs when she sees Anna in a similar pose, mouth pulled tightly together, tongue half-out, as she attempts to navigate through the drifts and the tangled whips of the tree roots. She says, "We might have to get out and walk. I don't want Buttercup to twist anything."
"But if we do, we gotta be quiet."
Elsa raises her eyebrows, because she can't help but think that if anyone was going to be incredibly loud walking through a forest, it wouldn't be her. Anna makes a sound of protest. "Oh, please. I'm the very definition of quiet."
"Yes," Elsa agrees, dryly.
"What!" Anna raises her eyebrows, gesturing wildly in front of her. "You think I'm not? I'll have you know, I—well, I am, so there." She frowns at the passing landscape. "I think it's this way. I wish Sven was here," she begins, and Elsa can tell she's going to start, and not going to be able to stop, "because last time he led me to this place, because that stupid jerk had gone and—well, why am I telling you this, I mean, you saw, you were—sorry, I just—I just got something in my eye. Like a piece of snow or something, I don't know."
Elsa looks at her burnt, broken hands and wishes she could do something comforting. All she can manage is brushing her shoulder against her sister's. "We'll find him," she says with a small smile, "when this is all over, I promise you."
"It's just—Elsa, I love him," Anna wails suddenly, forgetting the reins for a moment and throwing her head onto Elsa's shoulder in a way that startles her. Anna's forehead feels as cold as her nose, and her cries are echoing through the empty trees. Somewhere to the left of them a large mound of snow, balanced precariously on a branch, lands with a soft thud on the forest floor.
"The very definition of quiet, hm?" she says softly, carefully pulling her arm around her sister's shaking shoulders and letting the useless cup of her palm rest against her back. Buttercup, sensing a disturbance and a lack of any sort of direction, slows to a stop. Then: "I know, Anna."
"He's so stupid, leaving me like this—"
"In his defense," Elsa begins, "he thought you were dead."
"I wasn't though, was I?"
She lets her sister cry because some things are more important than dealing with the mystery of her curse and the Southern Isles and everything else—because Anna was her sister, and Elsa understands, to the best that she can. After several shuddering, deep breaths, Anna disentangles herself and sits up, quickly scrubbing at her eyes.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me," she says.
"You were overwhelmed by the power of your love," Elsa replies blithely, settling her hands back into her lap, "it's fine."
Anna narrows her eyes at her. "Did you just—is that sarcasm I hear?"
Half of Elsa's mouth quirks up and her sister lets out a delighted laugh, and Elsa thinks it's so easy, here, where she had been well and truly free for—what, one day? Two?—to forget her problems, so easy to forget when you had nothing but the wind whispering sweet nothings in your ear and the snow glinting welcomingly in the darkening night—
If only I wasn't cold. Want, want, want, that's all she ever—"Do you think we should walk the rest of the way?"
Anna sniffs, running her mitten beneath her nose. "Probably. This wagon is murder in this snow."
"Are we close?"
Anna is reaching into the wagon for the rope. She pauses, eyes glinting in the moonlight, and regards the surrounding pines.
Albert is flipping through the diary for a third time, squinting at the pages in the hopes that they would reveal something—anything—new to him, but—nothing. Felix pokes idly at the fire beginning to roar in the hearth, embers spraying beyond his legs before dying in the breeze coming through the open window. His brother asks, "How did Anna know where to go?"
Albert closes one eye and looks at the last page. He turns back to the title page. He keeps glancing out the window at the city, as if expecting to see a wagon pulling its way back to the palace, but there's only the bustle of the evening crowd, towards drink and merriment. "I don't know."
"What if she doesn't go to the right place?"
"Do you have to ask so many questions?" Albert snaps, slamming the diary shut between his hands and then closing his eyes.
"I'm just being realistic."
Albert grits his teeth, opening his eyes to look at his brother with the sharp retort of—of something resting against his lips, but then the library doors burst open and it's Kai, the only person who disliked him more than Princess Anna, and here they are, alone, in the library—that—mostly that didn't—probably not—
Kai is flustered and out of breath, his cheeks and nose red, half of him tossed into shadow by the firelight. Albert is wondering if he discovered the mess of a painting in the hall, and is getting ready to proudly proclaim that no, he, in fact, did not scrape away a priceless work of art, it was his brother and the Princess, but then—
"What are you doing here? Where is her majesty? Where is her highness?" Kai fires off in rapid succession; in the awkward pause that follows Albert looks at Felix and Felix looks at Albert and Albert says, "They're in the stables," at the same time that his brother says, "They're at the harbor."
"They're at the harbor," Albert says, as Felix says, "They're in the stables."
"They're out," Felix coughs, waving his hand in front of his face. "But don't worry, my good sir, I've obtained express permission to remain here for the time being—"
"A ship bearing the flag of the Southern Isles is sitting at the mouth of the fjord. You wouldn't know anything about it, would you?"
Albert's stomach drops. If it didn't rain it—well, it poured, really, didn't it? He looks at Felix, who smiles grimly. "I have an idea."
"The queen, and the princess—"
"Are indisposed, at the moment," Felix says, cracking his neck. There's a long pause. "I will be more than happy to investigate on behalf of Arendelle."
Albert feels his nails eating into the cover of the diary. Kai looks like he would rather swallow fire and dance across hot coals, but he inclines his head. "Your aid would be—appreciated," he finishes tightly. Albert stares at his brother until Felix is forced to look at him.
"What?" Felix shrugs.
"You aren't running," Albert whispers, hating how small his voice gets. He doesn't—this isn't how this played out, in his head; in his head, Felix said, so long, baby brother, and took his pirate ship, and left. There is one ship in the harbor, and who knows who is on it, but they were going to be asking for something, he's sure—
"And leave my baby brother to the wolves?" Felix shakes his head. "Never again."
Albert stands. His fingers twitch. "Family—family reunion, I suppose?"
"A little not how I planned it, but I suppose we can manage." Felix grins sharply. "Now, what do you say we change into something more presentable?"
"Kristoff said," Anna whispers, and she wonders why she's whispering; there's no need to. It's quiet as her grave. Ha, she thinks to herself, my grave—"Kristoff said that the ice reminded him of the ice at your castle. The one you made."
Her sister has Buttercup's reins laced over one crooked elbow, leading the horse slowly across the sloppy, old snow that had turned more of a muted brown color, mingled with the dirt beneath. Elsa asks, "The ice where?"
Anna vaguely recognizes the trees, the look of the place, like a half-forgotten-remembered dream, and this is where it started—"There," she says, and points.
They trudge out of the pines into the bright moonlight, which reflects off the white ground, enough to make her nose cold just looking at it. There's the edge of the jagged, narrow canyon, the gap between her side and the far side narrow enough she could jump it. Like some weird kind of sense memory, her head gives one brief, bright, throb, and she frowns, scrunching up her nose, because no, she did not need a headache on top of everything else, thanks—"When I got my concozit, and we were down there, he said the ice had looked like your ice. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but with Aren's story—it has to be the heart of the mountain. Or has to lead to it. Or has to…something…" she fades off, letting her eyes drift towards the curved peak of the North Mountain towering above them. She turns to Elsa.
"I see why you brought all the rope, now," her sister says, voice steady and bland and cool, but Anna thinks there's something like—something like apprehension behind her eyes.
"I'll make a snow anchor," Anna begins, tugging some of the rope off of Buttercup's back and dragging it towards the little crevice, watching where she steps, because she has the uncanny ability of falling off these sorts of things, "and then we can rappel down."
"And before you ask, no, I don't really know how, but if Kristoff can do it, how hard can it be, am I right?"
"I am right, there's nothing to even ask about there." She dumps the rope by the edge of the crevice and remembers feeling warm even in the middle of all the ice and she frowns, sloughing her foot through the packed snow, trying to make a roughly circular dent. "So I'll just put the rope here and—"
She pauses, turning. There's a whole lot of nothing around the little canyon, like it's a scar in the face of the mountainside, one that's still too raw and infected to heal over. The pine trees, bare, tower above Elsa, where she stands, one arm at her side, the other resting gently, oh so gently, to protect her hand, against Buttercup's side—"What?"
"I need you to keep watch up here."
Anna opens her mouth to protest and then sees the glitter in Elsa's eyes and shuts it. Ok, so there's no use arguing, and she's tired, and if she doesn't stay up here with Buttercup who'll pull Elsa back out, and last time she tried to go down there she got a concozit, ok, so she gets it, she really does, but she's scared that's she wrong, and nothing'll be down there, and she's scared that she's right, and something will be, and she just sort of manages, lamely, "Fine. But I still need to make a snow anchor."
She finishes, her black boot dusted white, and then loops a rope through it. Elsa approaches slowly, looking cautiously down at the strip. Anna follows suit. It's a whole bunch of black. She trudges back to Buttercup and pulls a torch from the saddlebag, and then some flint; the spark catches quickly in the dry air. She puffs at it a bit, to keep it alive, squinting against the orange glare that gives her memories of—
Well. Memories she doesn't want to think about.
When she reaches Elsa, her sister is trying valiantly—and failing miserably—to tie the end of the rope around her waist with her mangled hands. "Here," Anna says, handing her the torch to cradle between her palms and reaching down to finish the job. She double-checks the knot, then steps back with a dusting of her mittens.
For a long beat she can't think of anything to say, which is a strange feeling. Finally she manages, "If you run into trouble, hoot once like a barn owl and twice like a brown owl."
Elsa looks at her blankly.
"Alright, caw once like a crow and bark twice like a—"
"Anna," Elsa says, face illuminated to a strange, pale-pink in the glow from the torch, "I'll be fine."
Anna nods, but, like, she doesn't know if she believes it—
"Now, help me down."
Elsa sits at the edge of the crevice, boots dangling over the nothing, and Anna braces herself several feet back, gripping the rope as tightly as she can with her gloved hands, and then, with one final look back over her shoulder, Elsa descends into blackness.
"Are we waiting 'til morning, then?" Tomas asks, looking across the expanse of dark water to the harbor, and, beyond it, the warmly lit town.
"It seems prudent," Niels says tightly, "though if we truly wanted to catch them off guard, we would request an audience now."
There's a long pause, and then the king chuckles.
"It seems," he says, pointing to the harbor, where they could all make out a ship slowly leaving the dock, "that they are determined to come out ahead."
"Is the queen on that ship?" It's the first that Hans has spoken in many hours, and it hurts to move his lips. His fever hasn't broken.
"We shall see," the king says calmly, placing a hand on the railing before him, "won't we?"
Elsa feels the torch tilt unsteadily in her loose grip, and even then her fingers are shouting in protest. Black rock before her, and she lurches suddenly, dropping several feet, so that she's past the reach of the mountain and into its cavernous belly. The torch ghosts in-out-in.
"Sorry!" she hears Anna shout. "Sorry, sorry—oops—"
"I'm fine!" Elsa calls back, her voice steady, even though she doesn't feel fine. The light from the fire is weak, and she can't see the edges of the cavern—only the ground directly beneath her feet, twelve feet below her—ten—a dusted quilt of snow—eight—
She lurches again, rope slackening, and Anna shouts something unintelligible. Elsa almost loses the torch. The twine catches angrily across her stomach, knocking her breath from her, and her hands scream, and the hollow pit in her chest widens, and the world goes black at the edges—
And then she's on the ground, knees in the snow, gasping for air.
"Elsa! Elsa, are you ok?"
She takes a moment, wheezing, trying not to stare too closely at the torch cradled between her palms. "Fine," she manages at last. "I'm here. I'm here."
"What do you see?" Anna's voice sounds like a far away echo. She looks up, and catches the violet of the night sky through the scar-like opening, and there is her sister, outlined against the starlight—
She passes the torch around her.
"I—I can't make anything out," she starts, struggling to her feet, the rope a hindrance around her waist. "The torch is too weak."
"There might be another one in Buttercup's bag, do you want me to check?"
Elsa opens her mouth to answer and then she hears, like a whisper, "Put it out."
The voice is the dry brittle crack of a winter wind, the harsh roar of a snowstorm, the twinkling of frozen water droplets. She turns behind her, but no one is there—to the right, to the left—no one—
"Put it out."
Elsa yells, "I'm going to look ahead."
"Do you think that's a good idea?" Pause. Then: "Fine, but remember the signal!"
"Put. It. Out."
Elsa shivers, and it's a new feeling, from the tips of her toes, up her spine, so that her hair stands on end. Her nose is chapped, and raw, and her hands are throbbing, and she feels like she is wrapped in a blanket of ice, and the cold is bothering her, and someone is—
Elsa lets the torch drop. It hits the snow with a sizzle, with a hiss, and then turns to smoldering embers, and then nothing. There is weak, watery moonlight coming from the crack above, and for a second that's all she has, just a beam of weak, watery moonlight, but then, with her next inhale, there is—
Purples, blues, and whites refracting from walls of ice, pure ice, illuminating the whole of the cavern, sparkling, twinkling, enough that she almost stops breathing.
"Elsa, what's going on down there?"
It's like her ice palace, carved beneath the roots of the mountain. The snow stretches in front of her in all directions; there's a tunnel to her left, leading deeper, deeper into the peak, and that voice, like a whisper on the wind, tells her, "Go forward."
"I'll be back, Anna," she calls.
There's a sound like an icy breath and the rope around her waist goes limp, snapped clean close to her hip.
"Go forward," it repeats.
"Elsa!" Anna calls again, but no answer. "Elsa!"
Nothing, except that weird sort of glow that was twisting all the colors in that little crevice. She's afraid to push herself too far over the edge to get a better view—all she can make out is a tinge of purple, of blue. She hunkers to her feet.
"Ok," she says, pacing sideways a little, skirting around the snow anchor. The rope is suddenly slack. She swallows thickly, biting her lip. "It's fine. She probably untied it. It's fine." Pause. "Ok, I'll give her—thirty minutes, then I'm going in after her," she tells Buttercup. Then, because thirty minutes is like five lifetimes too long, she amends, "Fifteen." Then: "Ten. No, fifteen, fine," she snaps at Buttercup's exasperated expression. "Fine."
She bites her lip.
Mira asks, "Do you want us to come aboard with you?"
Their ship is pulling slowly, silently through the dark harbor. Felix, adjusting his long blue coat, fiddling with one of the gold buttons, shakes his head. "No. Family business, and all that. You know how it is."
"I do." Mira pushes the wheel inches to the left. Her face is serious. The crew, gathered below deck, is quiet, for once, and it's all odd, all strange. Felix doesn't like it. "But if you should need assistance—"
"Yes, I know."
He meets her eyes and smiles.
"Thank you, Captain."
Albert emerges from below deck, wearing a white jacket, gold trimmings, boots—looking a proper prince in the moonlight, face grim and determined. Felix scrubs his eyes, fingers pushing piercings as he does.
"Get ready to weigh anchor," the captain calls quietly, as the Queen's Revenge sidles up next to the waiting ship. "Steady, boys."
Felix thinks she must be speaking directly to him.
"This way, this way, this way…"
She reaches the tunnel, skirts hitched up around her knees, feeling like she's being pulled by an invisible thread, resting somewhere near her gut. The floor before her is no longer snow, but ice, like the walls. She places one foot tentatively on it and almost slips.
She's never almost slipped.
The voice on the wind laughs at her.
She straightens, letting her skirts fall, and takes a determined step forward, and then another, and another—the tunnel stretches on, on, on before her, burrowing deeper beneath the North Mountain, and she thinks, carefully, as she places one foot, and then another, and then another, before her, of her ice palace, some ways above.
It's like I knew.
The wind chuckles past.
"So empty," the voice sighs. "How sad."
Elsa continues walking. After awhile, she stops thinking about the impossibility of it all. There is a tunnel, and she will walk until it stops. End of story. There is a tunnel carved of ice, and a voice talking to her on the wind, and that is that. End of story.
She doesn't notice when she comes out into a cavern bigger than the first—at least, not right away. She's focused on the tips of her shoes, focused on placing one foot steadily in front of the other, worried about the ice in a way she never would've been if she hadn't a hole in her chest and throbbing hands—suddenly, she looks up.
It's a throne room.
Bigger than the one in the palace back home, twice the size of her ice palace, there's a dizzying array of icicles overhead, arranged in flower-like, glacial patterns that twinkle back at her, blue, purple, violet, indigo, cerulean—the walls curve up, the same ice, and, without even really questioning how she knows—and she most certainly knows—she realizes she's beneath the North Mountain itself.
The wind cackles sharply once, barreling past her, and then everything is silent.
In front of her, directly beneath the largest of the glacial ice-hangings, is a throne, wide at the top, as if made from blades of frost. There's something sitting on it—a shape. Elsa cants her head. She walks forward slowly, carefully, listening to her footsteps echo to the sound of her heartbeats across the cavernous space. As she nears, the shape materializes, turning from a something into a someone—
A frozen woman, the same, dull blue ice that's imprinted on the back of Elsa's eyelids because it was what Anna had frozen into, that horrible, awful day, that horrible, awful—
"Pathetic, isn't it?"
Elsa starts, stumbles backwards, and falls heavily, crushing her hands beneath her. She hisses in pain, pushing herself up by the elbows. There's a high laugh. She looks to the throne, almost relieved to see the frozen woman still in place, eyes closed, but there, leaning against the side—
"You look surprised to see me. Which is odd, considering I'm who you wanted to find."
There's a flurry in the shape of a woman, or a woman in the shape of a flurry—a figure, undulating between solid and mist, white hair swirling like it was caught beneath ice water around full lips, a sharp nose, glinting eyes the color of the bluest sky after a snowstorm—her dress, a frosted latticework that floated just above the ground. Elsa feels her mouth opening and struggles to shut it quickly, struggles to get to her feet, and she blinks, once, and the ghost is moving on the wind, re-forming on the other side of the throne, and she blinks again, and the figure is seated on one of the arm-rests, petting the head of the frozen women with a strange sort of fondness.
"Who—who are you?"
"I am winter. I am ice, I am snow, I am this mountain. But I think," Elsa blinks, and the figure reforms in front of the throne, arms crossed, head tilted, "the better question is: who are you?"
Elsa doesn't know if she's supposed to answer, but a raising of icy brows and an impatient click in the wind has her stumbling over her own words—"I am Elsa, Queen of Arendelle."
Elsa opens her mouth to protest, but the spirit is already surging forward, close enough that Elsa can feel the frost biting her nose and ears and eyes and mouth.
"You're hollow inside—you've lost it, haven't you?"
"It—melted," she manages, gasping at the chill. She raises her chin.
"You let someone melt it? Well. That doesn't show good character, does it?" There's a long pause. The spirit reforms beside the frozen woman on the throne and clacks an invisible tongue. "Who are you?"
"I'm Elsa," she repeats, bristling, annoyed, "Queen of—"
"Wrong." Beat. "Why don't I tell you a story? It's been ever so long since someone has listened to one of my stories. I don't get many visitors down here."
Elsa opens her mouth to answer, but the spirit doesn't give her time.
"Do you know who this is?"
Elsa looks at the woman on the throne, mouth turning into a frown. "No."
"Oh, but you do, because without her, you would have never come here."
Elsa blinks. "Aren?"
"Once upon a time," the spirit begins, flitting sideways, coming close, then swirling away, "a banished king came to me with a proposition. A human host, for an end to the eternal winter plaguing the land."
"Aren," Elsa repeats, more firmly.
"The deal was struck, the winter ended, and my corporeal essence was given up so my powers could rest in that little human; so that I could, perhaps, feel."
Elsa's hands throb.
"They named the kingdom Arendelle, and for a time, it grew. Prospered, even."
Elsa is afraid to ask, but she does. It's expected. "What happened?"
"She could not control my essence. She did not know," here the spirit flies close to her ear and whispers, furtively, "the secret." She swirls back to the throne with a sigh, leaving Elsa shivering. "Unable to control the ice, she began freezing all she touched, frightening those around her, frightening the people of her kingdom. She became feared."
Elsa looks at her hands.
"One day the man she loved came to the palace. He began with the words, I need to leave—I need to leave, he began, and she, sitting regally on her throne, stood in a panic, hands outstretched to stop him, and right there, she froze his heart." The spirit looks sideways at the frozen woman on the throne, ethereal face sad, contemplative. "Who knows how he was going to end it? I need to leave, but I'll be back. I need to leave, to see my family. I need to leave, but I will always love you. He froze before he could say, and, because it was not winter, melted in the summer heat the next day."
Albert's face flashes before her.
"Her sister—her father was long dead by this point—found her huddled over the puddle of water, speaking to it as if it were alive. Her sister was frightened, disgusted.
"Her sister's name was Hanna."
"Slowly, the woman began to freeze from the inside out. Ah! I see your shock. You're thinking that's not possible."
The spirit reforms before her.
"Nothing is impossible. Nobody loved her, and she did not love herself. The ice in her heart was too much to bear. She came here, back to the mountain, and froze, just like—" the spirit glides back to the woman on the throne and touches her head gently, "this."
"Became Queen of Arendelle." The spirit grins mercurially. "But she could not get rid of me so easily. A deal's a deal. My power, my essence, traveled down the family lineage."
"No one—no one else was born like me," Elsa whispers, still thinking of Aren, and nobody loving her, and not loving herself, and her face is wet, and cold, "no one. I would have read about it—"
"Born with white hair, and the fearsome, murderous powers of those long past, you think that many would have kept the child?" the spirit asks her. "No, your parents loved you from the start, and were the first to keep the bearer of my gift." Pause. "The gift you lost."
"If—if you could just return it, please—"
"Why?" the spirit asks sharply. "I can read your thoughts clearly on your face, Elsa of Arendelle—you think it a curse. It is what makes you different, it is what makes you a monster. Why should I help you now, when you have scorned my gift?"
"Who are you?"
"I'm Elsa of Arendelle!" she shouts.
The spirit shakes her head.
He should be used to it by now, the way he keeps seeing something pink, something blue, in the corners of his vision, but if he was being honest with himself, he was starting to forget her laugh, and that hurt him more than anything else. He stares at the vision through the trees, frowning, and the rational part of him recognizes that he shouldn't have come this way to get to the trolls, but she had been here, once, so he had to be here, now—
He shuts his eyes so tightly he sees stars. When he opens them, dots dancing across the trees, everything is the same.
He pulls off one of his mittens with his teeth and sends his fist barreling into the nearest trunk. His skin splinters, cracks, bruises bursting with red-hot pain, and usually that is strong enough to wake him from the dead-man-walking state he had been getting himself into after three nights of no sleep, but when he glances back through the trees everything is—
Anna says to Buttercup, "Ok, I've given her, like, basically six hours. I'm going down after her."
She is trying to decide whether to jump with a rope tied around her waist and then around Buttercup's saddle horn or if she should make another snow anchor—the weird light had gone out in the cavern, and Elsa's torch, too, and everything was probably not ok, so she needed to make a decision, and fast—
Anna turns around, prepared to dig an anchor, except she trips over the rope already lying on the ground.
It's a beautiful trip. She's heading straight for that little crevice, arms wheeling, having flashbacks of concozits and what not, except there's suddenly a pair of warm arms supporting her back and instead of tipping into darkness she's cradled against someone's chest. She looks up.
It's strangely reminiscent of glad I caught you, except there are big, brown eyes that are wide and a mess of blonde hair and some scruff growing along his chin and he looks a little bit worse for wear and she has to blink, to make sure she isn't hallucinating or anything—
"Hi," she manages at last.
Kristoff drops her.
She falls flat on her back, air leaving her in a whoosh, head a little bit too close to comfort to the wide gap of the almost-ravine, and she says, indignantly, "Hey!"
"Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up," Kristoff is saying, over and over again, squeezing his eyes shut and wandering back to the tree line, where she can see Sven, just poking his head through. "It's just a dream, wake up, wake up, wake—"
"Kristopher!" she shouts, scrambling to her feet, feeling like her heart is about to burst out of her chest, "Kristopher stop it—"
She barrels sideways into him, but she's almost forgotten how much of, like, a mountain he is, like holy—she doesn't even make a dent, just wheels her arms wildly and keeps her head down and then he finally, finally seems to notice her again, so she stops her attack and sort of staggers straight—
"A—Anna?" he asks, word all broken.
"You're a mess," she says, touching a mitten against his scruffy cheek. "And you dropped me."
She thinks he's stopped breathing. She almost has. He asks, "Is this a dream?"
She shakes her head.
He practically tackles her, and they both fall back in the snow, a mass of tangled limbs that would be uncomfortable if it was anyone other than him, anyone other than Kristoff, Kristoff, right here, right—
"Anna," he whispers, dragging her closer, so that her chin bites into his collarbone and her arms wrap themselves around his neck and she can feel his chest heaving, and she whispers back, "You can't cry, you'll make me cry—" But it's already too late, she's basically sobbing.
She doesn't know how long they stay like that, but she curls herself in his lap and he's not letting go and he keeps leaning back to look at her, like she might disappear, and then Sven is wandering from the trees, jumping happily towards them, nipping at her hair, and it's all good, everything's good, great, even—
"What are you doing here?" she hiccups. He's so real she almost can't stand it.
"I was going to visit the trolls," his voice is raw, like it hasn't been used properly in awhile, and his eyes are red, dark, bruised circles beneath them. "I wanted to come this way. Because—" he shuts up. Shakes his head. Drags her to his chest again. She stays like that, counting his heartbeats. "How are you—" He pauses again, like he can't ask that just yet, and goes with, instead, "What are you doing here?"
"Elsa's trying to find the mountain spirit so she can make a deal to get her powers back because the Southern Isles jerks are probably going to come and try to force her to marry one of them or go to war because they think she has no powers," Anna finishes, taking a deep gulp of air.
Kristoff holds her an arms length away. "Wait. What?"
"Elsa. She went down to the—"
Sven makes a distressed sort of grunt, bucking his antlers towards the tree line, and Buttercup neighs wildly. Kristoff stands, lifting her with him in one fluid motion, and she whispers, "What is it, Sven?" even though she maybe already knows—
"Wolves," Kristoff mutters.
She spies red eyes in the dark.
"Do you know what I find most depressing? You care about me only after I'm gone."
"I—that's not entirely—"
"Oh, but it is. That hole in your chest—you can't stand it."
"Who are you?"
"Wrong. Why do you want your powers back?"
"To protect my kingdom—"
"Do not lie to me, girl. I am as old as the moon and twice as vengeful. Why?"
"Because I'm hurting without them!"
"And will gaining them back cause you any less hurt?
"You were quick to scorn them when you had them. Loosing them upon the mountain face, but only when no one could see. You're afraid, and you're scared, of the ice, of the snow—"
"I am not afraid—"
"Then prove it. Who are you?"
"I'm Elsa, Queen of Arendelle!"
"Wrong. Queens do not run away from what they rule, and you, my dear, have been running from your 'curse' your entire life. Who are you?"
"Wrong. Who are you?"
"Wrong! Who are you?"
"I am the Snow Queen!"