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Bending the Aether

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Even before Nokk’s watery fox stopped in place, Elsa knew they were close. With a simple tilt of her head, the wet seafloor easily obeyed her command to solidify and then rise. The icy platform deposited their party on Ahtohallan’s doorstep, the magnificent glacier glowing eerily in the rain.

The fortress of ice, across the ocean at the end of the world, welcomed her.

She tossed her braid over her back, standing tall before the steps leading to the entryway.  Even if her last trip hadn’t ended pleasantly, she did not fear Ahtohallan .  Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire were now fully aligned with Ice; beyond the forest, this was home, a friend, the Mother.

She would find the answers to end the war.

“Wow. My inner ice nerd is freaking out a little,” Kristoff crooned beside her, earning a light slap to the shoulder from Anna and giggles from Olaf.

Elsa turned, looking for the other member of their party, and saw Maren kneeling, looking up at the huge structure with awe.  Her fingers touched the ice with a reverence that made Elsa smile.  It felt intimate somehow. This was an intrinsic part of her soul, and Maren had cherished it even before they had met.

“She’s beautiful,” the Northuldran murmured, looking from Ahtohallan to Elsa.

“It’s cold,” Anna countered grumpily, crossing her arms.

“Is it? I hadn’t noticed.” Elsa teased as she offered a hand to Maren to help her stand.

Maren offered a sober smile as they all turned towards the entrance of the impending structure.

Elsa took a deep breath and then took the first step.  The others followed, and the descent into the icy belly began.

She brushed her fingers against the familiar tunnel, smooth and sparkling like glass as they walked forward. When the slick ground began to slope downwards, rather than happily slide down the familiar ramp, she manipulated steps into the surface behind her to assist the newcomers.  Pedestals rose from a dark chasm, evidence of where Elsa had literally leapt in excitement to cross during her last visit. She now easily expanded the ice to form a bridge for safe crossing.  They pressed on to the opening of a grand room.

Ice somehow captured the beauty of the aurora in impeccable stillness. Fluid colors and magnificent hues of blue, green, and purple were forever crystallized to form the heart of the glacier.  Elsa easily spotted the runes she had once placed on the floor here.

Something was missing.

“Odd. Last time I was here, I froze the memories.  This place was filled with them.”

Anna called out from behind her, “And?”

Elsa turned and looked at the others. “Where are they?”

Kristoff and Olaf glanced around the vast space, as if hoping to locate a secret hiding place. Elsa pointedly noticed Maren’s hand fall to rest on the hilt of her sword.

Her sister shrugged back, “Maybe they dissolve?”

Elsa frowned, and for the sake of saiting her own curiosity, slowly turned in place. Mist kicked up at her feet and lazily spread across the gapping space.  Statuettes soon covered and dominated the area as the haze cleared.  Much like her first visit, some even moved, mimicking their real life counterparts.

She smiled as she watched everyone’s surprise turn gleeful, moving to inspect the pieces of the past. Kristoff and Anna immediately were pointing at old versions of themselves. Olaf was running around excitedly.  Even Nokk was amused.  When she glanced at Maren, however, she noticed she was still, seemingly observing one memory with serious intention. Elsa took a step closer.

Ryder’s frozen twin was smiling at them.

She recognized the snicker, having seen the same on his sister’s face, though she did not recall the past moment in which this memory was captured.  A handful of various acorns, however, hinted at the story her betrothed had once recalled.

A sad smile alighted Maren’s face when she murmured, “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

“Of course.”

Her pale fingers brushed the woman’s back.  All she could offer was a brief second of comfort; they were already on borrowed time, quickly running out.  But the soldier seemed to understand.  She always did.

Maren gave a single nod.  Elsa smiled before turning away.

“I think what we must be looking for is farther in,” she then said loudly, gaining the attention of the others. 

She traced the path from last time. Through the gap, down the tunnel, deeper and darker until only dim blue light traced the faded silhouettes of trees.  The walkway swept further and further down until they reached a pointed ledge and peered down at the absolute blackness beneath it.

“That’s deep,” Kristoff commented with a whistle.

Anna glanced hesitantly at her sister.  “Is that where you froze to death last time?”

Elsa nodded. “It won’t happen again.”

When the queen still looked doubtful, she added, voice firm, “I’m stronger now.  The ice is mine.”

“No offense, but what about us? It’s already pretty chilly.”

“I’m not worried,” the literal snowman quipped at their feet.

“Thanks for your concern about the rest of us,” Anna deadpanned, glaring down.

“You won’t freeze.  Trust me,” her sister reassured her.

A hand touched her shoulder.  Maren’s small smile greeted her.

“I’m with you.” 

Anna’s voice was calmer now when she added, “So are we.”

Elsa looked at each of her family and friends. Trust. Love.

She cupped her hands, and a small pearl of shimmering white light hummed into existence above her palms. Translucent but filmy, the bubble of light expanded steadily until it encompassed Nokk, Olaf, and the others completely.  While Elsa didn’t feel much of a difference, her companions visibly grew less rigid and stopped shivering under the halo of dim light that held back the cold darkness.

With a nod, Elsa then stepped off the ledge into the plunging nothingness.   A panel of ice instantly manifested beneath her. With each step, stairs unfolded under her feet. The others hesitantly and cautiously followed her until their feet eventually hit the thick ice of the pit.

With a puff of breath, more mist stretched into oblivion, and more frozen memories emerged in a hazy blue outline in the shadows.  Elsa recognized these figures from her previous descent.  Echos of the Northuldra walked and posed here, illustrating memories from her father’s childhood, maybe even older, when Arendellians first met the People of the Sun.  Maren’s eyes were wide with wonder, darting between the remnants of her ancestors.  Elsa resolved to bring the leader back when this was all over.

As they pushed on, the stinging cold and black void beyond their small light seemed to grow, feeling heavy and oppressive compared to the upper levels of the glacier.  Their steps echoed in the grand emptiness. Elsa felt the alert anxiety amongst them and recognized the caution on her allies’ faces.  Secrets buried so deeply brought the risk of danger, and despite her assurances, one fact seemingly remained in their consciousness:  Elsa died here.

The memories slowly changed. Haunting statues weakly lit in the chilly indigo light began to line their path. Soldiers upon soldiers forever paused in mid-fight, with only brief seconds of movement illuminating plunging swords and shattered shields.  Indeed, death was entombed here as scenes of battle overwhelmed them as far as they could see.

Something even more troubling caught their eye.

“It’s the old Arendellian uniform again,” Maren observed quietly.

Elsa kept scanning the thousands of memories.  “As we get deeper, they must get older.”

“These look like during the Crocus War.”

Just like her own painful visions.  Their gazes briefly met before cautiously continuing to push forward.

From the thick darkness, Elsa’s light suddenly reflected off a wall of white, opaque quartz.  A large chunk of ice protruded into the vast, seemingly never-ending room.  As they drew closer, the familiar diamond symbols of the spirits circled around a central point, accompanied by two small squares on either side.  Etchings of a snowflake connected the shapes like branches of a tree.

Elsa tried to remain calm.  Six points.  The wheel.  The snowflake.

This was what they were looking for.

“The runes formed a similar pattern when I first arrived,” she announced.

Anna added, “Your two little dots are there too, in the design.”

They simply needed to open it.  The Ice spirit looked down to her Water counterpart.

“Any ideas?”

The fox lifted a sole paw.

Simple enough, Elsa thought.  She reached out and placed her palm against the barrier.  The center rune began to glow white.

“Now you?”

Nokk shook their head. They trotted up to the wall, touching their nose to the ice. Nothing happened.

Elsa dropped her hand, and the light of her rune died. She looked back down at the other spirit.  More cat-like than a fox, Nokk began to brush against Elsa’s leg, sending ripples of thoughts to the woman.

“Is it broken?” Anna asked.

Elsa frowned. “Nokk keeps saying ‘together,’ but I don’t understand.”

Water paused, glancing back up with bright eyes.  Then the icy fox began to dissolve into snow. A blue orb of light hovered in its place.

The light shot into Elsa’s body.

Her vision swam. Bruni’s lizard body lounging on a rock by the Northuldra border went up in flame, a red light shooting to the sky. Gale whipping through the trees, before swirling into a vortex of purple. The newest Giant pausing in the pursuit of a Shadow, growing calm and gentle, stone crumbling into dust and producing a green orb.

Blackness, night sky. An aurora appeared, bending colors, breathing light.

Ahtohallan and her friends returned with her sight. Maren’s lips were moving, looking intently at her, but Elsa couldn’t hear.

Red, purple, and green lights brightly reflected off the walls. They all turned to see three balls of light surging towards them. Elsa extended her hand, and they eagerly joined her.

No words could explain. Science and logic had no place here. But Elsa suddenly knew and understood. Through the sacrifice of their bodies, the magic of the spirits was made more potent. Fusion granted them her deep pools of energy. And in turn, their powers were hers. Yes, souls together, balanced, united, this was stronger, better.

This was her role as the center element, in the name of securing balance. Together .

Sound returned to her, and it was loud.

“Elsa, what happened?”

Elsssssa .

Shall we open the door, sister?

“I’m alright,” she muttered to Maren, blinking profusely as she tried to focus on the wall before her. Them . The four spirits all strained to see through her eyes, all speaking, all existing at once.

Snowflake. Storm. Wheel. She was no longer just in the middle, but encompassed all of it.

Elsa fought the dizziness and extended her hand. Her skin was glittering with frost.  When she now touched the wall, each rune lit up. Blue, red, green, purple, and her own white splashed across the designs, the aurora flowing through the engravings of the snowflake.

The ice disappeared. A perfect hexagonal archway now offered a way forward, though she could see only fog and darkness.

Elsa inhaled deeply and slowly. The opposing elements were like screaming children packed tightly in a cramped space.  It was as if she alone was attempting to keep a lid closed on a bottle about to explode.

TOGETHER .

Which way, which way?

When she refocused, her friends were inspecting her with a mix of concern and awe.

 “You’re very glowy,” Olaf assessed next to her.

“The spirits are inside me now.”

She concentrated on breathing through her discomfort as Fire irritated Water, Earth resisted Wind, and they clashed like disgruntled siblings. 

Maren tilted her head. “But you were connected with them before.” 

Elsa looked down at her hands, inspecting the white light radiating from ice beading on her skin. She winced, unsure how to explain. 

“Our minds touched before, but this?  Their souls are here, using my body, my energy.  Existing all at once. It’s a bit overwhelming.”

“Why don’t you take a seat then? Rest. Stay awhile,” a voice drawled behind them.

They all turned to the long, echoing chamber behind them from whence they came.  The new figure wore the signature blue of the Southern Isles, coat and pants clearly of royal quality despite looking a little worn. In fact, the jacket seemed too thin to assist with the cold, but Elsa could sense the acute magic at work, just like hers.  Deep bags under the eyes made the overall facial expression rather sinister.

Hans was smiling at them.

“I’ve been waiting so long for you, Highness. He said you would come,” he practically purred at them, dipping into a mocking bow.

Anna quickly drew her axe and growled, “Why am I not surprised my shitty ex-boyfriend would be behind this?”

“Please, our nations are at war, and you believe your pathetic attempt at romance is behind all of this?” he scoffed before grinning deviously at the other sister, “Lady Elsa is my prize today.”

“Over my dead body,” Maren grunted, the string of her bow already tightly pulled back.

“That can be arranged. But let’s not be so hasty. We should savor this. It’s been a long time.”

“Here comes the villain's monologue of their dastardly plan,” Olaf grumbled behind them.

“I’m not the villain. You are,” Hans spat, his charismatic mask cracking, eyes growing wild.

“We’ve already played this game, Hans.  You’re not taking Arendelle,” Elsa stated calmly but sternly.

“On the contrary, I’m taking the whole world. I think I’ll make quite the fine king. Emperor? Overlord? Titles are still being workshopped,” he explained chipperly, slipping back into control, “But where are my manners? Thank you so much for bringing the key.”

“What key?” Anna barked.

“Really?” he crooned, looking back at Elsa.

The door.  The Ice spirit shuttered.

“It’s not that he couldn’t find Ahtohallan . He just couldn’t open it,” she whispered in horror.

What had she done?

Hans clapped his hands together in mock applause.

“And that’s why she’s the smart sister. Though perhaps not smart enough,” he jeered, “But I suppose I should be glad that little attack on the fjord didn’t kill you like I originally intended. When I snuck in here that night, the magic lock was a surprise. It was very disappointing to have to wait so long for you to show up again.”

Elsa swallowed.  What curse or magic had allowed him to survive here for five years?

“Fort Arne. It was to capture her, not kill her.” Maren muttered, an arrow still aimed at the man’s head.

Hans sighed dramatically, “What a waste of energy. That was before I realized, if I simply waited a little longer, you would come here all on your own.”

“Whatever you’re after, we won’t let you pass,” Elsa intoned resolutely, raising her hands.

“Oh, Highness, I’m not here to let myself in,” he crooned back, gesturing to the opening behind them, “We’re here to let him out.”

“Hello, my granddaughters.”

They all whipped their heads to the new voice.  The fog parted.  A face Elsa had only seen in paintings and books stared back.

The face of King Runeard of Arendelle, her grandfather.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Anna uttered in disbelief.

“The greatest warriors know how to cheat death,” Runeard countered, confident and calm.

As he strolled towards them, Elsa’s stomach lurched.  His presence, his stride, each step seemed to tap against her forehead. She felt him, felt it.

Something tethered her to this entity.  This was another spirit.

“It’s not him,” Elsa grunted, sudden pressure pushing down on her chest.

As he continued forward and emerged fully from the darkness beyond the glacial archway, catching the light, the forest green of his uniform unnaturally darkened, his face and form flashing black.  His whole figure reflected an ominous purple around the edges as black swirled across his body. Like a Shadow.

Runeard’s deep voice questioned back, “No? What is a man if not his memory? His reputation?”

His words shook her, jagged vibrations knocking her skull, inciting aches in the others inside her.  Echoes of a time when they were once sore and shivering with madness.

Elsa gasped, “You…you were what made the spirits sick so long ago, turned them against the Northuldra. So much anger and hatred.”

Another step forward, and the illusion of a man easily fell back in place to nullify the obsidian gleam.  Runeard looked down as he continued slowly stepping around their group, brushing at his royal sash.

“Anger is healthy. Anything else breeds weakness. Yes, I’ve been locked away in this prison for decades. But anger kept me alive. Even if it required a filthy tool like magic, but I’m not above getting my hands dirty,” he explained evenly, white gloves disappearing as he tucked his hands behind his back and under his cape.

The pain was spreading.  Elsa doubled-over, hands pressing to her stomach.

“You poisoned it.  Them,” she choked out.

Runeard looked unphased at her comments, keeping his head held regally high, expression set with his heavy eyebrows and mustache.

“I had drive, something you would know nothing of.  After all, even with your little incident with the dam, you still failed to fully eradicate what I left behind.  I waited for so long.  Whispering in the darkness,” he surmised to the room as he continued walking around them, before his eyes narrowed on Elsa with a menacing smile, “But that’s the beauty, isn’t it?  There’s a dark corner in everyone’s heart, listening.”

As he leered at her, the collective souls in Elsa's body recoiled at anger, doubt, guilt, fear, and the flood of emotional turmoil that shot through her.  The desire to unleash her all her energy, to destroy, to dominate, it taunted her as the only remedy.

All this time she had been the conduit for all spirits, and this master of tainted panic and foreign sensations had been subtly toying with her. Here and now, it was in full force, in a pain so absolute, the other elements screamed and battered inside her.

“I will not answer your dark call,” she hissed through gritted teeth.

Hans groaned, “So dramatic. Don’t worry, I did. He showed me how to make my revenge quite sweet.  Shall I show them, Your Majesty?”

Runeard shook his head as he came to a stop beside the Islander.

“Allow me to edify my grandchildren.”

He merely waved his hand.

Four voices in Elsa’s head screamed as her own shriek broke from her throat.

Here, in the heart and Mother of all things, connected and close as they were, she felt the anger and hatred slice through her like stinging hot iron, ripping away her energy and feeding it to the corruption unfolding before her.  Tears of black ink ran down the faces of each frozen memory she had created.  As the extension of her magic was vilely twisted, she felt the memories themselves grow inflamed and infected. The delicate mirror of the past hardened and corroded. Blood and war, Runeard’s armies, the innocent soldiers slain, the obsession slammed against her, swirling and darkening and spoiling until only Shadow remained. 

The others gasped as the frozen figures fully bled to black, the manifestation of his wrath complete.  The Shadows stood at the ready.

“Impossible,” Elsa whispered.

Was this Aether’s power?

Runeard frowned with a lifted brow.   “You’re surprised. I expected more from my descendants. Your sculptures were very easy to animate, full of life. The perfect army. Under your guidance, such wasted potential. Under me, limitless.”

His dark pupils flashed.

“Just like the rest of your magicks.”

Invisible hands began to choke Elsa’s throat.

“You shall make a vessel suitable to return to the physical world,” the phantom continued, voice booming in her head.

For the first time in her life, Elsa felt cold.  She strained to resist, unable to breath.

She continued to watch helplessly as an arrow shot through Runeard’s body, simply phasing through and clacking against the ice behind him. The silver tip did nothing to the unflinching form.

“Elsa!” Maren’s voice shouted somewhere far away.

Agony seemed to stretch on into endless eternity, infinite nothingness.  Her sight blurred.

Anna appeared before her, hand touching her, lips moving in front of her, but the sound was distant and muffled.

The quiet was surrounding her.  Body and soul were to be separated.  He, it, this spirit, was draining her magic and spirit.

A shadowy abyss beckoned her.

Together .

Voices began to chant, filling the silent void.

“No.”

Four souls held on to hers.  

“No!”

Her scream banished the pain, sight and sound returned. Elsa caught her breath and straightened, nodding briefly to the others.

She then glared at this other spirit. 

Runeard sighed as if bored, “Hm. Too many souls to rip out. Disappointing, but not unexpected.”

He turned lazily to the side. “Thankfully, I prepared an alternative.”

Hans suddenly started clawing at his own throat.

“No! You said I would lead the new world!” he screeched, wheezing against an unseen force.

“And you shall, more or less,” Runeard mused nonchalantly, tilting his head, “Your body will, at any rate.”

An inhumane shriek ripped from Hans’ body as a translucent white veil seemed to split from his skin.  They all watched in stunned horror as the cloud-like mass mimicked Hans’ face and form.  Runeard drew it forward, then cast it aside to the cold ground, a forgotten ghost expelled into nothingness.

The Shadow of her grandfather then stepped to the remaining husk like it was merely a change of clothes.  The spirit was made whole with soul and body.

Elsa grimaced.  A spirit that could remove souls and enter bodies.  This was beyond her magic, any known magic.  Impossible.  And yet, had the other souls not just entered her own body?  Had she not this darkness tightened its grip around her own heart mere moments before…?

Hans’ face smiled, but the voice wasn’t his.

“A real body,” Runeard’s deep voice hummed, eyes closed, rolling his new shoulders, “Much better. Now to finish what I started so long ago before my pathetic son turned to groveling and peace.”

Eyelids slid open.  Dark, inky pupils glared at them.

“Arendelle will be the global empire it was destined to be.”

“Last I checked, I was queen,” Anna barked back, giving her axe a spin, “so I’ll be deciding Arendelle’s fate, thanks.”

Elsa, in the face of death, smiled.  Her sister held no fear, even now.

She glanced at the archer still determinedly aiming an arrow at their enemy.  The golden eyes slid to meet hers.  Maren nodded.

Love.  Water, Wind, Fire, and Earth swelled within her chest.

Elsa had freed all the other spirits. This one had remained hidden, festered, but it was her duty to restore balance. Whether this was Aether, Time, or something else, she was bound to it, and it to her.

Elsa stated firmly, “Your wrath is no longer welcome in this world.”

Runeard merely shrugged.  “Pity. Then die.”

As he turned his back to walk away, the hundreds of black memories he had summoned surged forward, and Shadows suddenly surrounded them.

Elsa immediately held up her hand, channeling magic forward.  Rather than ice, however, a cyclone of wind blasted forward, throwing Shadows wildly back yards away.  Even the caster stumbled backwards from the unfamiliar, pressurized vortex.

Gale, always so free and untethered, had easily gone first.  The others were eager to catch up, pricking at her veins to fill with their energies.

She winced and tried again.

With a twist and a punch, flame erupted from Elsa’s knuckles as a burst of purple fire engulfed the monsters charging them.  They screeched madly as the inferno consumed them.  The icy floor began to crack under the intense temperature.  Elsa halted the heat; while the glacier was large enough to endure, she would not risk sinking and drowning her friends by bringing down the whole of Ahtohallan upon them.

Bringing her hand to her chest, Elsa flinched against a growing ache and tried to feel the feelings of another soul. Moisture beaded on the fractured, melted ice below, droplets now levitating into the air.  She could feel the ocean sighing beneath Ahtohallan ; Elsa breathed in, Nokk breathed out.

Both hands pushed out and sent a tidal wave bursting from the fissures below. She stumbled back from the velocity of her own jettison. Salt water and brine streamed through a group of the monsters, their black mist quickly dissolving before more creatures took their place.

Elsa sloppily dodged Shadow after Shadow and flung her hands forward, hoping the right magic would fly forward.  It had taken her over twenty-five years to master her element alone; beginning again and learning in the milliseconds between attacks was not ideal.  Ice was control and precision.  As Wind and Fire leapt forward without thought and consumed greedily, Elsa exerted great mastery to reign them in.  Water required temperament between calm tranquility and devouring abyss.  Earth’s blind, obliterating strength needed direction and careful aiming.

With each power, emotion pumped through her, each heartbeat like a shuddering stab.  The excitement, the passion, the anger, all of it raw and bleeding together, each element’s fears and dreams, the good and the bad, spiraled in Elsa’s core.  Only she could control the chaos of multiple spirits so absolute in their natures fusing and colliding.

Shadows grew too close as she struggled to maintain momentum, juggling the souls locked inside.  Maren’s arrows flew past her, and she could hear the guttural hacking of Anna’s axe.  One of the tainted beings spun towards her, swinging scythe-like arms in a violent dance.

Instinct demanded ice, but urgent need accidentally summoned fire. The Shadow dodged the blast, twisting speedily back.  Black blades sliced into her right forearm, and she leapt back with a mangled yelp.  The beast, however, still pursued.  She raised her left arm to block the incoming attack.

Again, Elsa willed her ice forward to protect herself. Again, another answered. Her arm hardened, but instead of the familiar cold, a grey, mossy stone surfaced on her skin.  The Earth deflected the cutting edge, sending sparks flying.

She dropped, kicking her leg in a sweeping arc.  Wind shot her leg forward at breakneck speed, and the Shadow burst into dark haze as she sliced through it.  Elsa twisted out of control and slammed facedown against the frozen ground.

It did little to help with her headache.

She dizzily hopped up and glanced down at her injured arm from the Shadow’s cuts. Frost already glistened upon the surface, the bleeding stopped.  Her magic was working, just not when she wanted it to.

With a frustrated shout, Elsa slammed her foot down, and earthen, rocky spikes shot from the ground to exterminate dozens of Shadows still incoming. She turned to see Kristoff’s silver sword parrying an enemy’s attack, Olaf huddled at his feet. As soon as she raised her hand to issue a frozen pike, a fireball launched forward instead.  The blow singed the Shadow, but Kristoff narrowly avoided grabbing Olaf and jumping back to save themselves from the flame.

Her skull wanted to split in half. They were all pushing to escape, to feel, to exert their powers.  She couldn’t keep fumblingly switching between them as if they were separate.

She breathed.

Control. Balance. They were all pieces of a whole.

Together .

She pointed to the sky, fingers slicing through the air, making it thick and hot.  Fire and Wind immediately fused together, pressure shifted, and energy exploded.

Lightning pounded down from the top of the icy dome down onto the Shadows, each strike rocking the ground with a thunderous clap.  The creatures scrambled to dodge out of the way.

Elsa bent at the knees, firmly grounded, and commanded Fire and Earth merge.  When her open palm pushed forward, a surge of molten lava blasted across the moving fray of monsters, the wave dissolving them into dust. As the impossibly hot magma hit the ice, the ground sizzled and steamed as it melted.

Water easily escaped from the ice, and Elsa bid it join the lava. Wind joined in the cooling.  The glowing red ooze speedily darkened and hardened to rock.  Earth cracked huge chunks and sent them barreling into the hoards.

She pulled the steam and smoke still lingering from Fire’s touch on Ahtohallan’s skin.  Water’s moisture.  Wind’s breath. Glowing mist and fog rapidly billowed across the chamber.

Then Ice demanded everything freeze.

The haze hardened and immediately encapsulated each enemy. Only crystallized statues remained. Their pocket in the glacier grew silent.  Elsa simply bowed her head, and the frozen monsters crumpled into snowdust.

She and the spirits had exterminated every Shadow.  Together.

Then, she crumbled under their joined weight.

Elsa fell to her knees, hands crashing against the ice.  Screwing her eyes shut and gritting her teeth, she struggled to hold back the power still crackling through her. Her ribcage felt like a pathetic prison against the spirits all shoved in her heart, clawing for space, feeding on her energy. Differing personalities and alignments would be impossible to balance like this.

Five souls was too much for one body.  Even if she was never drained of her magic, the pain would kill her.

Hands touched her shoulders.  Maren’s voice was beside her.  “What’s wrong?”

“It’s too much.”

“Release them.”

Voices pleaded with her, raised in unison.  Regenerating their bodies would take too much time and deplete their energies. Runeard had to be stopped now.

Elsa explained between gulps of air, “We need them, their power. Without bodies, they can’t help us.”

“Then share them.”

Her eyes flashed open. Maren looked completely serious, kneeled beside her.

“How?”

The ranger frowned slightly in contemplation, but her gaze never wavered.  Elsa winced past the pain to keep meeting the golden intensity staring at her, the woman she loved.  Maren’s chin lifted.

“Spirits, I am the leader of Northuldra, People of the Sun,” she intoned firmly, “I offer my body in the service of Ahtohallan and Lady Elsa.”

Before Elsa could react, an invisible hand punched her stomach, lungs expelling breath. Foggy frost pushed past her lips and flew to Maren’s.

Sensations that weren’t hers filled Elsa’s veins. Flashes of life through Maren’s eyes blinded her vision.  The cold kiss of air whipping past her as she rode her reindeer across the plains. Elsa’s own hair blowing elegantly in the fall breeze. The brush of an arrow feather against her cheek as she released her bowstring. Untethered, unafraid. All Maren’s, and yet, now Elsa’s.

Gale, Wind, the Spirit of Freedom, had chosen her.

Maren stared at her, eyes wide.  “I can feel you.”

They both looked down between them.  A miniature tornado swirled in Maren’s palm.

Some of the ache in Elsa’s head subsided. In its place, she sensed Gale, sensed Maren.  Her breathing, her emotions…her. Connected.

“Right, us next.”

She looked up to see Kristoff and Anna stepping towards her.  They each offered their hands. Elsa firmly gripped both, and they hoisted her up from the ground, the surge of energy ripping through her arms and flashing across her eyes.

The fierce determination to climb an insurmountable mountain to save her sister. The unflinching loyalty to family, to love. The rage of a swinging axe to the sound of cannon fire. The feel of the crisp sun on her skin and the warmth of Kristoff’s smile. Red hair, boiling blood, hot-headed, a daughter of the Summer Solstice.

Bruni, Fire, the Spirit of Passion had passed to Anna.

Hard ice. Harder winters. The love and protection of the rock trolls. Endurance, resilience, patience.  The smell of hay and barns and Sven’s fur.  Acceptance. The solid ring of gold on the left hand.  Weathered, but unbroken.

Giant, Earth, the Spirit of Strength selected Kristoff.

Their hands separated. Elsa swayed slightly, but the relief was immediate as the weight was lifted, the cacophony in her head reduced to its proper volume. Water expanded, more easily filling the now emptied cup. 

“I will now accept my powers of Water to command the seas!” Olaf declared, sashaying up to Elsa with his twigs held high in the air.

Gentle Nokk, however, nudged Elsa towards a form slumped against the wall.   It was crying.  Quiet sobs shivered the white mass curled on the ice.

Hans’ soul, or what was left of it, expelled from the body Runeard had stolen.

She tilted her head in contemplation of the other spirit’s guidance.

“He has no body.”

Ease and assurance washed over her.  The shapeshifter had no qualms with using a puppet.  

Without question or hesitation, Elsa spun a finger over the ground.  A small flurry of snow gave birth to a perfect, icy replica of Hans.  She touched its shoulder, Nokk swam forth, and they began to walk forward to the discarded soul.

“Elsa?”

The eldest sister turned and quieted her sister’s concern with a small smile.

“What…what’s it doing?”

They all turned towards the anxious voice cowering in fear of the approaching ice sculpture.  Nokk reached out and touched what was left of Hans.

Elsa closed her eyes as the flood began.

The backs of so many brothers, all turned. Faceless but imposing.  Lineage. Prestige. Sand between the toes. The kind, wrinkled eyes of the old fishermen at the market.

Stinging embarrassment and shame in the rotting ship’s hold sailing from Arendelle. Backs of brothers forever turned away.  Whispers.

The taste of salt. A small knife peeling away the scales of a fish.

The anger, the fear. Whispers, another voice, promising revenge, redemption. A knife in the backs of so many brothers, blood on Elsa’s hand, Hans’ hand.  Warships blocking the horizon. Bloody sunsets. Bloody hands.

Bright days. Glistening waters.  Childlike hands happily picking up shells.

“What’s happening to me?” Hans’ fearful voice broke through Elsa’s visions.  His visions, his memories.

“Nokk is showing you what you’ve forgotten, what Runeard took away when he tempted you with power. Your love of the ocean. The love of your island, your country,” she explained, stepping towards him.

The prince’s soul still stared bewilderedly at the puppet kneeling before him, touching his arm.

“I just wanted to make them proud,” he whispered between shuddering breaths, “He spoke to me of the glory I could bring.  He was in my head for so long, keeping me alive down here for years, making me control the dark ones…” Hans trailed off and closed his haunted eyes.

Elsa spoke gently as she stood above him, “You still can. Water, the Spirit of Memory, has chosen you. What are you really fighting for?”

The haggard crying slowly stopped as they waited in the quiet.  The ghost slowly opened his eyes.

“I remember now.  I will help you.”

He touched Nokk’s face cheek, his cheek. The shimmering white of the figure faded.  The sculpture’s chest began to rise and fall naturally.

“I don’t like this,” Anna grunted.

Elsa calmly replied, “I can feel his soul as clearly as I feel yours now. As you feel mine.”

Hans stood, looking down to his frozen hands before turning to the others.

“Let me fix what I’ve broken.”

“You better,” the queen muttered, strapping her weapon to her back and picking up Olaf.

“We have to stop Runeard, or whatever that entity was, before he reaches the continent,” Elsa announced.

The spirits that connected them all reacted in unison.  They all began to run.

As they bolted across the ice, Maren called out to Hans, “He showed you how to control the Shadows?”

“Yes and no,” he answered between breaths, “ It takes a lot of energy to summon them, at least for me. But that actual act of it is very easy.  I would focus on my feelings and just...will it to happen.”

Elsa glanced over her shoulder at the others as they talked. “Feelings?”

Maren nodded to her. “Like your magic.”

“Like our magic now.”

“If Aether is real, it must still be sick.  You never freed it.  Like how the other spirits used to attack,” Kristoff huffed as they pushed on.

Elsa sighed, “I hate that we can’t see what or who we’re really fighting.”

“I can see my axe going into darling Granddad’s head just fine,” Anna declared, jogging even faster.

Hans quipped, “Careful, that’s my head currently.”