Continuing Tales

For the First Time in Never

A Frozen Story
by JE Glass

Part 21 of 24

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Revel's desperate need to reach Elsa bordered on frenzied madness. He'd heard her first agonized scream echo through the icy structure seconds before everything went deceptively and eerily still. The former captain stood in frozen terror, his body tense as a bow string as he strained to listen for any more sounds. Silence greeted him, and it was more terrifying than if he'd been listening to the cacophonous roar of battle because then, at least, he'd know his love was alive and fighting back. But in the stillness, with his pulse rushing in his ears, Revel felt his fervent hope dissolving into crushing despair.

Please, for the love of God, please be okay.

Unable to take the torment of silence, Revel raced to the center of the room and dropped to his knees, straining to see through the wavy, translucent floor for any sign Elsa was still alive. His face smashed against the ice, he thought he saw two shapes: one sitting still while the other moved in an almost cautious circuit of the room. Revel had no time to decide which was Elsa and which was Fritz. He jumped back with a startled jerk when the floor directly under him shuddered and cracked, spider web fractures snaking across the floor. Holding his breath, he attempted to move back when the first wave of destruction hit. The floor buckled inward at a savage angle as if some massive giant were pulling it towards the third floor. Even the ceiling began to cave in, bowing towards him as if straining under a tremendous amount of pressure. Revel scrambled to grab ahold of something solid as the floor began to give way, large chunks slipping free and crashing to the third level beneath him. Fear gripped his heart like a vice as realization of what was happening slowly dawned. The only reason Elsa's ice palace would be falling was if she were dead…

No! She's alive…she has to be!

Snippets of the large chamber under him appeared as bigger chunks slid free, but Revel still wasn't able to catch sight of the only person that mattered. If wishes held any power, or prayers for that matter, he desperately hoped that some kind deity would hear him. But Revel knew better than to rely on hope and faith alone. Grinding his teeth, determination boiling in his blood, he hauled himself away from the sinkhole and staggered towards where the door had been, his legs unsteady as the structure continued to shiver. Gravity seemed to be doing a fine job of tearing the palace to pieces as it began to lean precariously to the left. Another shiver ran through the structure, stronger than the last, opening more cracks and widening the hole in the center of the room. The drop to the third level was well over twenty feet, meaning it was impossible to make without breaking any bones. So Revel had to find another way down. If only the door wasn't sealed—

The former captain's searching eyes found the crack in the wall where the doors had been, and his heart flew into his throat. It was perhaps two and a half feet wide at its largest point towards the floor, but it was like a sign, a shout in the darkness that drew his attention to a finite point. There is your escape, it said, now go save her. Somehow, and he'd never really remember how because he wasn't necessarily a slender man, Revel managed to squeeze through, scraping his chest and back in the process as he wiggled at an angle until his shoulders were clear. Groping for a handhold, he latched onto a crack and pulled himself the rest of the way through.

Standing on wobbly legs, the floor beneath him uneven and pitted with deep cracks that could swallow his leg in an instant, Revel carefully made his way toward the stairs, using the wall for support. The castle continued to shake, distant rumbling echoed by thunderous crashes from within as more pieces of ice slid free. Distantly, he wondered how much longer they had before the structure fell. If the foundation gave way it would mean certain death for them all.

Keep moving. Just keep moving.

He made it to the small antechamber set atop the spiral staircase but was dismayed to find it sealed shut. Apparently, Elsa had the foresight to ice it closed should Adrek find the stairs, but that meant getting to the third floor was near impossible. He'd gone from being locked in a room to be locked on an entire floor, and the desolation he felt was crippling.

"Fuck!" he swore and raked his hands through his hair. There wasn't any other way down aside from those stairs or a near fatal drop to the third floor, and even that wasn't guaranteed. He could fall all the way to the entrance chamber, dead upon impact, and then what good would he be?

What good are you anyway? You let her trap you in a room then go down and face Fritz and Adrek alone. If she dies, it's your fault!

Through the near constant snapping and cracking, Revel heard a sound that very nearly froze the blood in his veins and stopped his heart. Elsa screamed again, but this time it lingered far long than it should have and was soaked with so much pain is made Revel physically nauseous. It was a scream of agony, of torture, and when it subsided, the former captain was shaking so violently he had to steady himself against a wall.

He's torturing her, he realized with a twist of sickening dread. Oh god, Adrek let Fritz off his leash.

"Elsa!" he screamed, spinning around, frantic to find a way to her. He would search every wall and every corner, beat himself bloody, and smash himself to pieces in order to find a way down. For the moment, the castle seemed to settle and he set to work scouring every inch of the fourth floor for another way out. He even went down in his hands and knees, numb fingers searching for a crack wide enough he could attempt to smash through, but there were none. Revel was to the point of seriously contemplating crawling back through the crack in the bedroom wall and attempting to climb to the third floor via the sinkhole when the castle lurched again, settling more to the left, and threw him off balance. Feet finding little purchase on the frictionless ground, the small spikes driven into his boots hardly catching on the uneven surface, Revel toppled sideways and hit the ground with an ugly thud. His vision swam as he lay on his side for a few senseless moments. Lying against the floor he could feel the dying heartbeat of the castle as it continues to shudder, crying out in agonized roars as icebergs shifted somewhere unseen but were felt throughout the structure. Eventually he was able to shake the dizziness from his head, but when he sat up, Revel was startled to see a woman standing across the hallway from him.

Time stopped as the two stared at one-another. At first glimpse she looked exactly like Elsa save for the fact that she was probably a good ten years older and wore her long hair loose over her shoulders with small braids woven with chainmail at her temples. It didn't take but half a second for Revel to realize that he was seeing Saja again, and her presence with him was no less terrifying and unsettling than it had been the first time he'd seen her when he'd touched the brand on Elsa's shoulder. This time, however, Saja looked different. Her posture was hunched and her expression pained despite her best efforts in appearing tall and strong. Revel noticed a grisly gash on her left side, a wound that could prove fatal if it was deep enough, and numerous cuts and bruises on her face, neck, and what little of her ice arms he could see.

You have to get to her, Revel heard a voice say, echoing around him in the cracks and pops of the dying castle. She doesn't have much time.

He felt a tingling under his shirt where the troll crystal Elsa had given him sat flush against his skin, but chose to ignore it. "How…"

No time. She's fading fast¸ Saja replied, her lips never moving but her voice coming from all directions.

"I don't understand. Why are you hurt? Are you helping her?" he asked, pulling himself to his feet.

I'm feeding off the energy of her pain. What she….feels…I feel, at the moment.

Revel physically felt the blood drain from his face as he realized the implications of Saja's words. These weren't wounds unique to her alone, they were an echo of what was happening to Elsa. Heart in his throat, the former captain looked at her more closely, memorizing everything he could see that was wrong with the first Frost Born. When her image flickered like a candle in the wind, he lurched towards her, his hand outstretched as if to stop her.

"No no no, if you fade what happens to Elsa!?"


"How?! I can't get down from here!"

Saja's image was fading rapidly as she pointed to a far off corner. Revel didn't see anything, but that didn't mean there wasn't something there. Leaving Saja, he stumbled to the corner and searched for what the Frost Born had indicated, finding it on his second try. A wide gap between the floor and the ceiling must have formed after the castle shifted last—it would have been invisible to him unless he knew where to look. Whatever was beyond the crack was cloaked in a grayish-purple shadow, but there was definitely space beyond. Glancing over his shoulder, Revel wasn't surprised to find the Frost Born gone, which only fueled his need to get to Elsa as fast as possible. So on his stomach, arm over arm, he crawled through the gap that suddenly sloped downward at a sharp angle, causing him to slide. Frantically, he groped for something to grab onto in order to stop his descent and managed to dig his aching fingers into a fissure, pulling himself to a stop seconds before he careened off the edge of the ice jetty and fall into empty space below.

Clinging with just his fingers, Revel hung suspended for a breathless moment, desperately trying to get his bearings. He managed to pull the small dagger from his boot and jammed it into another crack nearby, anchoring himself in two places that provided him enough leverage to haul himself back up the slope. Inch by inch he climbed, muscles quivering and shoulders burning. It took a few moments for him to safely make it to a place where he could turn himself around and survey the cavern behind him. Ice was nearly impossible to climb at the best of times, and he hardly had the proper equipment for rappelling, so it was a solid miracle Revel was able to jam his spiked boots into the ice and wedge himself into a position where he could see where he was and what was under him.

The chamber beyond, if he could even call it that, seemed to be some type of support shaft that ran from the base of the castle to the top in a single, flawless cylinder. But flawless was hardly how he'd describe it now. Due to the castle's lean, much the of shaft, which he estimated to be possibly fifteen feet wide in any direction, was pitted with juts and small ledges almost all the way to the ground floor. Holes in the walls provided a breach for the wind to slip through, causing different, and at times, erratic notes to drift through the cylinder like it were a massive flute. The shaft was still alive with fiery pinks and reds as the ice continued to reflect the sun, providing Revel with the light he needed in order to judge where he should jump next. Yes, that was his only option, and he hated it. The nearest ledge was about five feet down to his right and wide enough for him to land safely so long as he didn't slide his feet. If he slipped it was a three story fall bouncing off of jagged teeth of ice all the way to the bottom.

"One ledge at a time," he whispered to himself, pulling his dagger free of the ice and clutching it in his numb hand. "Use your boots and knife. Don't rush. Rush and you're dead."

Releasing his grip, he slid the rest of the way down the slope and pushed off at the very end, propelling himself into space. His accuracy was sound and he landed with both feet on the ledge, arms out for balance. Letting out his held breath, the former captain turned slowly and looked over the edge for where his next leap would take him. It was hard to judge where the third floor began, or if he was even going to be able to make it into the third floor. The shaft was broken in places, but that's didn't mean the holes would take him to where Elsa was.

Saja said to go here, so there must be a way in.

The next ledge was easier to get to, perhaps three feet from him, but half the size of the one he was currently standing on. Taking another breath, Revel jumped and landed one legged, the other thrown out for balance along with the rest of his extremities. He would have taken a second to congratulate himself had the castle not shuddered again, a crack snaking his way and sending large chunks of ice from the top of the castle skittering down the shaft, bounding as they went. Body pressed against the wall, Revel squeezed his eyes shut and prayed the ice passed him by. Apparently, as remarkable as it was, his luck held out for the moment. The slab thundered past him, taking the ledge he'd first landed on and three more under him before rattling to the ground some sixty feet below.

"God's balls," he breathed, opening his eye, "that was clo—"

Luck was a fickle bitch.

The ledge under him gave way with a sharp pop, taking Revel with it. Desperately, he plunged his dagger into the crack that had brought down the ceiling slab, boots and hands scrambling to find a hold before it was too late. The knife caught in a shallow groove, halting his fall momentarily, but the metal was far too brittle due to the cold and snapped. Instinct took over, and Revel kicked off the wall, shoving himself backwards in the hopes he'd hit a ledge and snag on it. Something hard and round slammed into his armpit and he latched on, his fall ending with an abrupt jerk even as he began to lose his grip. Thunder filled the cylinder as more ice rattled free above, chunks raining down around him like lethal rain. Swinging around so that his back was to the chamber and his front was facing the wall, Revel clung to the fang of ice as debris continued to fall. He chanced a glance over his shoulder and caught what he thought was a flickering reflection of—something— in the ice. Whether it was him or Saja he didn't know, but right at this moment half the ceiling above shook free and began falling towards him, taking the shaft and everything in its path with it. Unsure if this was instinct or just plain desperation, the former captain gathered his feet under him and pushed off as hard as he could. Tucking his head into his chest, Revel's shoulders connected with the shaft behind him, and for a single, terrifying moment he felt resistance and feared he'd made the wrong choice. Then the wall splintered and broke like an egg shell, allowing him to crash through a half second before the ceiling crag thundered past, sheering off a chunk of the shaft where Revel had hung.

Panting on his back, he flipped into his stomach and pulled himself up. Little stabs of pain alerted him to the shards of ice imbedded in his skin, but it was nothing compared to the pain in his hands. Scrambling along the ice as he fell had cut his palms as if he'd been attempting to grab broken glass. His left palm was the worst, three of his fingers sliced to bits. Hissing, he tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and wound it around his hand that was the worse off. It would hold until he could find something better. Taking a moment to figure out where he was, Revel realized he was standing in a small antechamber with two hallways that branched out to the left and right. The wall before him was opaque and shifted between shimmering blue and pink depending on which direction he leaned. Stepping closer to the wall, he put out a hand to touch the glowing ice but stopped when he heard someone speak.

"Unlike you, your sister won't put up a fight, and who knows, maybe I'll even let her experience the potency of a real man," Revel heard a familiar, unwelcome voice say with breathless glee that put his teeth on edge and pulse in his ears. "Hmm? Fuck her bloody then slit her throat. A fitting end to the last Arendelle royal."

Revel's anger flared hot and unchecked. Fritz was speaking to someone, and the former captain could tell he was absolutely enjoying himself. The only solace he could take away from what he was hearing was that Elsa appeared to still be alive. But Fritz wasn't just threatening her; he was threatening the entire Frosberg line. If Lastasha was any indication of what the champion was capable of, he had no problem believing Fritz would do exactly what he was describing to Anna. Ten years he'd protected them from monsters like the champion, and he wasn't about to let the bastard leave this castle alive.

Choosing the left hallway at random, Revel crept as quietly as he could behind the walls of the third floor chamber, searching for a way in. Half way around, he found the hallway collapsed into itself and had to double back, but not before he heard what sounded like someone spitting. He didn't know why it slowed his pace, but the wordless cry accompanied by someone gagging pulled him to a frozen standstill. The cry had been from Elsa and it sounded beyond the point of agony. Heart slamming in his throat, Revel raced back the way he'd come and headed down the right hallway. He could still hear someone choking, but it didn't sound like a woman, which was both relieving and unsettling. Frantic to find a way in, he heard something fall to the floor and thrash around a little before things eventually went still and silence fell once again. The right hallway seemed less damaged than the left, and within seconds Revel found a crack wide enough he could squeeze through. He was about to do just that when he heard the absolute last thing this already fatal situation needed.

"No," Adrek breathed, his voice barely above a shocked whisper. Then more loudly, "Oh god, Fritz, no!"

No, Elsa run! Revel mentally screamed as he watched Adrek sink to his knees beside the body of his lover, hands shaking as he reached for him. Elsa was no more than twelve feet from him, locked in place like a deer caught in the sights of a hunter.

"No no no Fritz, please no!" Adrek cried, every inch of him unsure or unable to process what he was seeing. "You bitch," he heaved, tears in his voice, desolation breaking over him, "this wasn't supposed to happen."

Elsa didn't reply, and from Revel's vantage point slightly behind where Adrek sat hunched over Fritz's body, he could tell she was in a bad way. Blood soaked most of her left side starting from above her hip and stopping just below her knee. The front of her shirt was stained as well, drops of crimson sliding off her chin from where it oozed from her nostrils. She stood braced against a jut of ice, barely standing, her head lifted just level enough to see Adrek….only her eyes weren't open. Most of her face was covered in an orange-red powder Revel instantly recognized as pepper powder.

"This wasn't supposed to happen," Adrek kept repeating. "Why didn't you just let me have Revel? This wasn't supposed to happen."

"Adrek, I…" Elsa attempted to say more but began to sag. She shook her head and pulled herself back up with a rattling gasp. "I didn't want this—"

"I'll kill you," Revel heard him whisper, and apparently Elsa did too because she stiffened. "I kill you!"

Revel, half way through the crack in the wall, watched in muted horror as Adrek pulled a small crossbow, an alley piece meant to be wielded one handed, from his belt and leveled it on the queen.

She'd seen him enter through the ripples of light that raced away from him as he moved, illuminating Adrek and a small portion of the destroyed chamber in a hazy silhouette. Of course he'd seen his dead lover first, his eyes drawn to the body as if by magnets, and sank to his knees next to the glowing corpse of the Asham champion. The king of Asham's anguished cries echoed throughout chamber, pulling at Elsa's heart despite the fact that this was the same man who had ordered her assassination. She'd not meant to kill Fritz. It had never been her intention to end his life, but he'd left her no choice. It was either him or her, and Elsa wasn't about to let a monster like that roam free and unchecked throughout her kingdom. She wasn't about to let him touch her sister or unborn children. So Elsa had unconsciously done the one thing that would make certain Fritz never again hurt another living soul, but in the same stroke she'd ripped the only man Adrek had ever loved from him. That's what put a lump in her throat and pulled tears into her eyes. She knew, if the roles were reversed and that was Revel lying dead on the floor, she'd feel the same crushing agony as Adrek was feeling. And yes, she might even have the capacity to kill again in her anger and pain. So it was no surprise when Adrek screamed that her life was now forfeit…that he was going to kill her, but that didn't mean she was going to go willingly. Numb as she was, she'd fight back until her last breath, even if her magic was slowly starting to fade along with her consciousness.

Elsa visibly stiffened when she heard the click of a crossbow being cocked, heart falling through her stomach. Suddenly, she was back in the chamber three years ago with the Weselton brothers, poised to strike but unsure if she had the ability to stop a bolt like that again. Especially at such close range. And there was the chance that if she speared Adrek with ice his finger would slip on the trigger and shoot her anyway. The first time she'd caught an arrow had been sheer luck, and Elsa doubted she had any more luck on her side.

Adrek rose and she readied what little of her magic she could summon, teeth gritted against the pain. She knew where he was standing, and prepared her own type of trigger should the bolt find its way into her body. One way or another, if she were to die Adrek wasn't leaving the castle either.

"All I wanted was to be happy!" Adrek screamed, rage and sorrow and world-shattering suffering twisting his features into something ghastly. "And at every turn someone has taken that away from me! My father, Lastasha, now you. I just wanted to live with Fritz and be at peace, but the world is a dark, cruel place where only those who become monsters can survive and thrive. Well, ice bitch, you've made a monster out of me."

"You already were one," Elsa spat, unable to hold her tongue. "I just pulled off your mask so the whole world could see who you really are."

It was the wrong thing to say and do. Goading the man holding a crossbow aimed at her chest was the last thing that she should have done, but Elsa was beyond the point of finished with all of this. She was done with trying to be diplomatic, with being the servile queen, with being the weak woman these men thought she was. Fate had planted her here, but that didn't mean she had to stare death in the face and cower with fear.

Let them know I stood my ground and fought till my last breath.

Adrek took another step forward, multi-colored ripples painting him in faint, almost ethereal light. Despite not being able to see anything from his waist up due to the fact it was in silhouetted shadow, Elsa knew his arm was raised and that his finger was tightening on the trigger. Anticipation hung thick in the air, the only sound coming from Adrek as he heave in breath after breath and the crackle of her dying palace. It was a standoff, one waiting for the other to move, but it lasted only a few more heartbeats until Adrek took a sharp breath and pulled the trigger.

Time suddenly stood still. Elsa heard the telltale snap of the crossbow's catch releasing seconds after she saw a flood of ripples erupt from somewhere to her left and race towards her. It was the ripple of movement that caught her attention, the ice echoing the footfalls of someone approaching fast from the queen's left. In her seismic half-vision, Elsa realized what was happening but couldn't move fast enough to stop it in time…to stop him in time. Revel threw himself in front of her, right hand throw back to shove her away from danger. She heard the unmistakable sound of a bolt sinking into flesh and the pained exhale of mortal damage done. Revel stumbled back into her with the force of the blow, and she caught him as he sagged. Words escaped her. She couldn't even bring herself to scream. Her only functioning arm crossed over his chest, her fingers brushing the place where the bolt had imbedded just over his heart, and it was at that moment, as he slid from her weak grip without a sound, that Elsa felt the true meaning of pain. Her world shattered into billions of pieces at the same moment her heart fell through her stomach and made a home for itself at the center of the earth.

"So, this is where you chose to make your final stand, brother," Adrek hissed, his voice raw with hatred. Elsa felt him approaching but was to overcome with shock and denial to move away. A pair of vicelike hands snaked around her throat, pressing her back against the ice, and squeezed.

"It's only fitting I take something from you, Snow Queen, just like you took Fritz from me," Adrek seethed, tightening his grip and making her gag. "And you would have lived had you just listened to me."

Right hand pulling desperately at his, Elsa fought to breath but couldn't drag any air into her lungs around Adrek's hold. She felt tears sting her eyes the tighter he squeezed, washing more of the powder away. Ice swirled and snapped around them, her magic leaking from her in a frantic rush as she slowly suffocated. Cracking her eyes open for the first time in what seemed like hours, Elsa squinted at Adrek's hazy image, glaring at him through the pain and dizziness overtaking her. He ground his teeth and pressed harder, crushing her throat with a savage snarl. Slowly, the room began to spin as lack of air took agonizing effect. Elsa could still see in both her seismic and normal sight, and the combination of the two colliding was breathtaking. Ripples glimmered and shone in the soft light of dawn, intertwining with the gentle glow of her ice like moving water breaking around stones. The chamber before her was in shambles, but it still held an unearthly beauty as ice turned to fire in the light of dawn, different colors flashing within the translucent wonder.

My home, she thought sluggishly, what have I done to you?

Again, movement caught her dimming attention and drew her hazy eyes to the entrance of the chamber. She saw him but didn't recognize him at first, mind almost too far gone to recall who the figure was. Then it came back to her in a rush and a small smile pulled at her lips. It had been so long.

Papa, she whispered and reached for him.

King Agdar smiled at his daughter and Elsa felt her chest warm with a special glow of love she'd not felt in years. She and her father had always been close, the king her confidant and protector until the sea claimed him and his wife too early. Still, how many years had it been since she'd seen that summer-warm smile spread across his face? How many years had it been since she felt the glow of his love? He looked just like he had the day he and Queen Idun had departed for Corona almost seven years ago. His navy blue jacket and pants were the same; the medallions pinned to the fabric were exactly where they should be. His hair was combed to the side in his customary fashion and his eyes danced in the light of dawn like gems.

Daughter, how you've grown, he said, his voice low and soothing.

I've missed you, Elsa smiled, tears spilling down her face as the room continued to dim. She could faintly hear her heartbeat in her ears, the tempo slowing like a dying waltz.

Your mother and I have missed you, Agdar smiled. You and your sister both. We've watched you these long years, and we're proud of the women you've become.

I'm ready to see you and Mamma again.

Agdar's image shimmered and began to fade like fog burning away under rays of sunlight, but his kind smile was still clear as ever. It's not your time, Elsa, but we will see you again someday.

Suddenly, her father was gone, filtering away like dust in the wind, and a panting Kristoff stood in his place. He took one cautious look around, saw Elsa pinned against a jut of ice with Adrek's hands around her throat, drew his longbow and sighted down the already notched arrow. That's when two things happened almost simultaneously with almost practiced precision when it was only a matter of dumb luck. Adrek, preoccupied with choking the life out of Elsa, didn't feel Revel shift at his feet until the former captain sprang to life with a shout and buried Fritz's shattered cutlass in his side. The king of Asham roared and half turned, releasing Elsa who crumpled senselessly to the ground with a ragged gasp. The shock on Adrek's face was outdone by the rage on Revel's as he twisted the shattered blade deeper.

"That's for her and Father," Revel seethed, blood drenching his right hand.

Adrek opened his mouth to say something, eyes bulging with confusion and pain, but jerked upright, a startled cry rolling past his lips. He had enough time to claw his hands towards his chest before he tipped forward, slipping silently to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut, Kristoff's arrow protruding from his chest.

Revel scrambled around and saw the mountain man slowly lowering his bow, face grim, mouth pressed in a hard line. It was the look of a man who knew he'd just snuffed out a life but had no choice in the matter. Hundreds of questions scrambled in Revel's mind, but he pushed them aside for the most important thing right now. Rising to his knees, he pulled Adrek's corpse away from where it had fallen atop Elsa, sliding it away with a scowl. If he had once had any love for his brother he'd buried it long ago. This was just the husk that remained, the soulless sack of flesh and blood. Though something did cause him to pause as his brother's body slid to a stop next to Fritz. Adrek lay on his side, blank eyes staring at nothing, but his left hand had somehow landed atop Fritz's, and Revel distantly thought that was fitting.

You got your wish, brother. You two are together for eternity at last. I hope you can finally find peace.

Then he turned away, the matter closed for the rest of time. He gently pulled Elsa towards him, mindful of her injuries and the few he knew he couldn't see. She'd crumpled onto her stomach, providing him with a view of the second vicious gash running the length of her spine from hip to shoulder. Dark crimson soaked her tattered fencer's top, the fabric held in place by her blood alone. Revel swallowed hard, forcing himself to become to efficient guard captain and not the frantic lover. He had to remain calm for her sake, but that was easier said than done. There was too much blood and she was far to still.

"Elsa," he called, placing a cool hand against her cheek, and frowned. She seemed warmer than normal. "Elsa come on; open your eyes." When she didn't respond he shifted her onto her right side and realized by the set of her left shoulder that it was dislocated. Moving on instinct, he grabbed the unnatural bulge and shoved hard, cracking it back in place. The queen came awake with a raw scream that trailed off into a weak whimper.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, that was the worst," Revel assured her soothingly, scooting under her so that her head was resting against his thigh. He saw her watching him with confused, heavily lidded eyes and forced a smile, fingers tracing lightly down her jaw. "Hey, there you are."

"You're…dead," she rasped weakly, and Revel couldn't help but notice a blue tint to her lips.

"I'm very much alive. It just knocked the wind out of me," he reassured gently.


"I'm fine, Elsa. I promise. And you're going to be too," he said, lifting her hand and kissing her palm.

She half-smiled and chuckled faintly, "Liar," then she was gone, eyes sliding shut and body going limp.

Revel felt his body go cold, heart skipping a beat. "No no no, stay awake. You have to stay awake. Elsa?" He gently shook her, patting her cheek, but she didn't stir. "Elsa!?" His fingers flew to her steadily bruising throat and pressed into the skin just under her jaw. After a terrifying moment he caught the faintest flutter of a pulse but couldn't find it in him to breathe a sigh of relief. He needed to get her medical attention and none of that could be found here in the mountains. Standing, he scooped her into his arms and turned to meet a concerned Kristoff as he jogged forward.

"Is she alri—"

Kristoff pulled to an abrupt halt, his eyes growing as big as dinner plates as he took at the two of them. For a moment the former caption through he was solely looking at the broken body of the queen cradled in his arms, but Revel quickly realized he was staring at something on his chest. Brow scrunched with confusion, he looked down and almost dropped her. The bolt that had hit him, the one he was sure had killed him but had apparently missed or ricocheted or—something— was still lodged in his chest.

"I…um…well that's certainly different," Revel stammered, too shocked to come up with something witty to say. "I actually think I'm okay." He didn't sound at all confident in his declaration despite only feeling a little cold.

"Maybe you should…let me have her?" Kristoff ventured, stepping forward with his arms out when suddenly the floor under him fell three feet with a massive crack, startling both men.

"No time! We need to get out of here!"

"Follow me!" Kristoff shouted as large chunks of the walls around them began to fracture and fall to the floor. Revel glimpsed a stunned Sigmund as they raced towards the entrance where Kristoff had appeared. The big guard saw the queen in Revel's arms and his face paled considerably.

"Captain, is the queen—"

"She's still alive, but only just," Revel answered quickly, raising his voice above the roar of falling ice. "We need to get her out of here."

Before he could turn away, the big guard took his arm and stopped him. "I never doubted for a moment, sir," he said, leaning in. "You're my captain regardless of whatever fancy title you now have."

Revel felt warmth bloom in his chest and smiled at Sigmund before the big guard turned on his heels and motioned for him to pass.

"This way, sir!" he shouted, taking up the rear of the party as they descended the long single staircase leading to the second and ground floor that was remarkably still intact. The great hall was an uneven mess made all the more dangerous by falling debris. Kristoff led them around the juts of ice in the center of the floor that looked like massive fingers reaching out for the second level, careful to avoid the boulders of ice that crashed around them. Revel noticed the double doors of the palace were gone, bright light spilling through the opening along with gusts of bitter wind. Before they stepped through, the former captain saw the rucksack he'd ridden up here with laying a little ways away and called Sigmund to fetch it. The big guard did without a word, dodging falling fangs of ice with practiced ease.

"Is the bridge still intact?" Revel shouted to Kristoff.

"It was when we entered," the mountain man replied. He braced himself against the wall as the castle shook again, this time half the floor behind them falling away, revealing the bones of the mountain underneath. Leaning around the corner, he squinted into the bright light of dawn and breathed a sigh of relief that the bridge was still there.

"Come on, this place isn't going to hold much longer. Go in front of me!" Kristoff pushed Revel ahead of him with a forceful shove, waving for Sigmund to hurry. The former captain raced out into the bitter cold and blowing snow and spotted Anna and another guard, Sebastian by the look of it, standing by a sled. The princess rushed forward when she saw him emerge, and even at a distance, with the roar of the crumbling castle behind him, Revel could hear her screaming her sister's name. Taking the stairs as fast as he could, he landed on the plateau seconds before one of the spires atop the castle broke free and crashed to earth, smashing through the bridge with enough force to shake the area. Revel spun and saw Sigmund catch Kristoff before he slid over the edge, the two men now stranded in the doorway.

"Take her!" he commanded Sebastian, who jumped into action, and raced back towards the castle. "Kristoff, you have to jump!"

"I know that!" he shouted back. Sigmund had unwound the rope slung across his chest and handed one end to the mountain man before securing his end around his waist. Kristoff untied the pick he always carried on his belt while traveling in the mountains, hefting it in his right hand.

"We go on three," Kristoff said, and Sigmund nodded. "One, two, three!"

Both men raced for the edge and jumped, arms pinwheeling as they flew through open space. Kristoff caught the edge of the shattered staircase, jamming his pick into the ice while his other hand sought and found a handhold on one of the stairs. His landing was hard and jarring, but he maintained his grip, years of mountain living conditioning him for daredevil stunts like this. Sigmund had jumped a little to the right and managed to grab ahold of the raw cliff face, digging his fingers and elbow into the snow and attempting to haul himself up. His landing had been a little less impressive than Kristoff's, limbs scrambling for purchase, but he'd eventually found a handhold and clung to it. But the ledge under him was steep and sloped inward at a sharp angle, meaning his feet had no anchor to grip or push off of. Despite the tension of the rope around his waist, the big guard wasn't able to maintain a grip relying solely on upper body strength and began to slide backwards into the chasm. He would have fallen had Revel not slid to a stop in front of him and grabbed his arm.

"You're getting fat, Sigmund! Come on, pull your gut over the edge!" Revel growled as he heaved the big guard up.

"Bite me, princely boy," Sigmund retorted with a grunt and finally managed to haul himself up. Standing and brushing the snow from his shirt, he was about to clap Revel on the back but stopped when he saw the bolt in his chest. "Christ Revel, what the hell? Is that a crossbow bolt? How are you even standing…or alive for that matter?"

"Later," Revel said with a wave. It wasn't that the bolt in his chest didn't bother him. The former captain was trying desperately to understand why it was there and why he wasn't dead, but ten years of being a guard had taught him a few important things: one being that, if you have a deadly projectile protruding from your body, it's oftentimes safer to leave it in. The bolt, which stuck out only a few inches, wasn't causing him any pain. In fact, he'd never felt better. There wasn't any pinching or loss of breath, he couldn't even feel it in his chest cavity, so Revel counted his meager blessings and pushed it aside for another time. Right now, he needed to focus on Elsa. Shaking his head, he jogged back to where Anna and Sebastian were. The young guard had gone to his knees along with the princess who had ahold of her sister's hand, tears spilling down her face. Kristoff reached her at the same time Revel did, and she looked at the both of them before bursting out into heavy sobs and diving into the arms of her husband.

"Sir," Sebastian said quietly, looking sadly up as Revel neared. He cleared his throat uneasily, aware of the gravity of his next few words. "I don't think we're going to reach the castle in time. The queen she…she's lost too much blood. Her body's going into shock. I'm…I'm sorry, sir."

Revel felt lightheaded as he knelt and took Elsa into his arms. Sebastian was one of his top ranking cadets with a fairly vast knowledge of medicine and medical treatments. He was as good as any physician, so for him to make such a grim prognoses truly meant that the situation had deteriorated beyond the point of salvation. Elsa was dying, and wouldn't make the trip back to her kingdom. Revel could tell she was still bleeding, though the flow had slowed considerably, and that had nothing to do with clotting. For the first time in a long time, the former captain didn't know what to do, and felt a blanket of helplessness descend over him. This wasn't a situation he could fight his way through; there was no way of making it better. This was beyond his reach and the amount of frustration and despair he felt was shattering. His beloved was dying— because of him— because he'd been a coward and ran when he should have stayed by her side, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do to stop it. There was no magic left and prayers usually fell on deaf ears. Tears stung his eyes, and he let them fall.

"Sir?" Sigmund asked quietly, his shoulders drooping. "What should we do?"

"I…I don't—"

Revel looked around at the expectant faces and a flood of shame mix with his anguish. Wasn't he the captain of the guard? Hadn't he been for three years? Wasn't he supposed to know what to do in situations like this? The truth was, as a guard he'd know exactly what to do, but as Elsa's lover, he was suddenly at a loss. The crackling roar of the crumbling palace behind him mirrored the breaking taking place within. He was losing himself to despair, something he thought he'd never experience again in his lifetime. Despair and pain and hopelessness so profound it was blacker and deeper than any chasm. Revel would have dropped to his knees had he not been holding the one thing that matter more than his life did, the one thing he'd gladly trade anything for in order to have her whole and healthy again in his arms rather than broken and fading away.

Get your head together and think! Be the guard captain first and the unsure lover last. She needs you!

Sheer force of will buoyed him back to the surface, but it was a struggle to keep his head above water. All was not yet lost. He would fight— yes, fight and claw and scratch— to keep her with him. If God wanted her so badly he could pry her out of his bloody fingers. Fiery determination quickly replaced despair, rage fanning the flames, but before Revel could open his mouth, Kristoff snapped his head up, a spark of something new burning in his eyes.

"I know where we can take her," he said with quiet conviction.

Sigmund, Sebastian, and Revel just stared, unsure of what he was talking about. Anna, however, who'd dissolved into tears, looked up at her husband, comprehension lighting her puffy, red-rimmed eyes.

"Do you think he would help?" she asked in a small, quivering voice that hitched every other syllable.

The mountain man put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed, but no reassuring smile touched his lips. "Yes, I do."

"What are you talking about?"

"There isn't time. You all are just going to have to trust me."

There was a moment's hesitation, a fraction of a second, unease and unsureness working through the three men. Revel was the one who nodded first and turned towards the sled. "If it's a chance to save her life, I'll gamble on anything at the moment."

That was enough for the remaining guards. Sigmund found his mount and climbed into the saddle, his horse nickering unhappily as the castle continued to disintegrate. Kristoff unhitched Anna's fjord pony, leaving it for Sigmund or Sebastian or the remaining two guards who kept a polite distance to tie to their saddle, and beckoned Sven over, hitching the bull reindeer to the sled with practiced efficiency.

"You know where we're going buddy?" Sven bugled in response, stamping happily. "Good, take us there as fast as you can. We need to get Elsa help." He helped his wife and Revel into the back of the sled, the queen pressed against the former captain's body as he settled into a sitting position.

"We need to staunch the wound on her side," he told a glassy-eyed Anna as she settled just behind her husband's seat, flushed face almost devoid of expression. She seemed to be in a haze, either unable to comprehend the situation or slow to process it. Anna nodded woodenly as the sled lurched forward with a snap of the reins from Kristoff and look around for something that Revel could use.

"In the rucksack next to you are Kristoff's clothes you had me wear yesterday," he instructed her gently, recognizing the symptoms of shock with a sympathetic pang. "Tear the shirt into strips for me."

She did as instructed, tearing the fabric into long strips with her teeth and handing them to Revel. Using the pants he'd worn as a makeshift patch, he peeled away Elsa's bloody shirt and pressed it against her side, tightly winding the strips around her waist, mindful of the gash on her back. It was deep, but not as lethal as the open wound on her side. His task completed, he turned her so she was facing away from him, her back against his chest. The fabric of his shirt would act as a patch as well, stemming the flow of blood until they could properly close the wound.

Arms encircling her and drawing her close, Revel pressed his lips against the top of her head and squeezed his eyes shut. "You're going to be ok," he whispered. "You're safe now; I've got you, and I'm never letting you go."

As they bounced along, Sven picking his way down the mountain as quickly as he could, Revel settled back against the side of the sled, right arm across her chest to steady her and keep her from jostling around and the left pressed against her side to stop the bleeding. He didn't know why he started humming, but a tune from his childhood sprang to mind and wouldn't leave him in peace until the notes left his body. It was a lullaby his mother had sung to him before she died shortly after Symon's birth, and it had always had the power to calm him even during the worst of times. So he hummed the bars now, Anna watching him from where she sat across the sled in muted silence, puffy eyes dry of tears but fear etched into every inch of her being. The soft swish of the snow runners beneath them and the muffled thumps of Sven's hooves set a gentle tempo that accompanied Revel's humming with a strange, melodic harmony. Here, despite their situation balancing on a knife's blade, the royal family found a measure of peace as the eye of the storm passed overhead. When Sven took a sharp turn and headed into the thin tree line, Elsa's head lolled to the side and caught in the crook of Revel's neck. He smiled thinly at the brush of her cool breath across his skin and closed his eyes, humming and listening to her breathe, feeling her chest rise and fall under his arm. He felt it until he didn't, until her body went still, and the stillness made him go cold. He raised a hand to her face, praying it was just a hitch in her breath but knowing deep within it wasn't. Just as he'd feared, she wasn't breathing.


"What?" Anna jumped and looked around frantically, face so pale she could have become transparent at any moment.

"She's not breathing," he bit out, shifting around and laying her flat on her back.

"No," Anna whispered, body beginning to shake, fresh tears welling in her eyes. Her hands flew to her mouth, pushing back a sob that nearly doubled her over. "Please no…"

"What?!" Kristoff gasped and turned sharply in his seat, eyes wide with fear. He began to pull on Sven's reins, slowing the sled.

"Don't stop," Revel snapped without looking at him. "Keep going! We need to get her to wherever you're taking her."

The mountain man turned quickly back around and snapped the reins hard, shouting for Sven to move as fast as he could. The sled jerked once as the reindeer picked up speed, wind howling in their ears.

Frantically, Revel searched for a pulse in her neck and found none, but that wasn't all he discovered when touching her. Elsa was warm. Not the feverish warm of a body beginning to heal or fend off sickness; this was a subtle warmth devoid of her customary lukewarm temperature. This was a normal warmth— a human warmth— a warmth empty of winter magic that put a flush in her cheeks at the same moment her lips turned blue and the blood stopped seeping into the rag at her side. Elsa was gone and the magic that had kept her temperature below average had disappeared.

Revel took the bloodied collar of her shirt and tore the garment in two, revealing the full extent of her injuries in all their gruesome glory. Anna saw them too and clutched her sister's hand to her chest, hiccupping sobs shaking her small frame. If she felt a temperature difference in the queen she didn't say anything or didn't have the capacity. The former captain expected it to be bad, but the amount of punishment Elsa had taken while at Fritz's mercy had been grossly underestimated. Being fair-skinned meant she bruised easily, and her torso was proof of that. Vicious black bruises, most of them larger than his hand, took up a large portion of her skin from neck to waist, her right side primarily a patchwork of crimson and acrid black as blood pooled under the surface. He could tell at just a glance a few of her ribs were broken, but what caught his attention was the imprint of a boot heel in the center of her chest. It was swollen and discolored with three holes framing a triangle in the center.

He kicked her with the spikes of his boots, Revel realized with a sick twist of his stomach.

Pushing that from his mind, he took up position by her side, years of training flooding back to him and stilling his frenzied mind. Gone was Revel the lover, and in his place was the steely guard captain. Gently, he tilted her head back, pinched her nose closed, pressed his mouth atop hers, and exhaled as hard as he could until her chest expanded. Laying his hands atop one-another, he centered them over the triangular puncture wounds and pressed down sharply five times before breathing again. It was a technique oftentimes used on drowning victims that had a high success rate, and there was rumor it worked on the battlefield when a soldier's heart stopped. Revel had only ever done this once before after fishing a man out of the fjord during his training years, but the technique had stayed with him ever since. Breathe and press, over and over, sweat starting to prickle his brow as he worked. Breathe and press as the sled sped along. Breathe and press as his own heart thundered in his ears. Breathe and press as his vision narrowed to the finite singularity of Elsa alone.

I love you, he raged silently, unbidden tears streaking down his face. And you love me, so don't you dare leave me now. Not when I just got you back!

He didn't know how long he kept up the rhythm or how many times his lips connected with hers as he pushed air into her lungs entwined with a simple command of live! It could have been a thousand years, and he'd work a thousand more until she returned to him. Lips pressed against hers again, he was about to breathe for her when he felt a wisp of tingling cold half a second before Elsa arched slightly and gasped, dragging in a ragged breath before settling back. Revel and Anna both laughed with ecstatic relief as the queen began to breathe on her own again, the tinge of blue fading from her lips and her skin starting to cool.

"That's it, love. That's it; just keep breathing," Revel whispered with a tearful smile, stroking her cheek with his thumb. Anna sat back, body slowly starting to uncoil, but she wouldn't let go of her sister's hand, and Revel couldn't blame her for it.

They both remained vigilant for the rest of the journey, Revel checking her pulse and breathing every few seconds. Anna was out of her depth and knew it, so she offered support where she could, stroking her sister's hand or humming softly. Elsa remained unconscious, skin still far too waxy and warm and breathing too shallow, but at least her condition was stable, and that was a blessing Revel would never take for granted. Seated next to her, the former captain always had a hand somewhere on her body, fearful that if his touch disconnected for even a moment it would sever some type of lifeline and he'd lose her again. With the crisis averted for the moment, he allowed himself a chance to look around and gauge his surroundings, trying to decipher where in the mountains Sven and Kristoff were taking them. They'd descended to the base of the craggy cliffs of dark stone— or very well near them— where lush pines groves, speckled with large boulders of fallen rock, grew in rich black soil and the temperature evened out to a livable degree. The rich perfume of earth and sharp tang of frost and pine sap hung in the air the deeper into the forest they plunged; the steadily rising sun dappling the snowy forest floor with patches of gold and silver that shifted and flickered as the branches moved at the behest of a gentle wind. As far as Revel could tell, there was nothing significant about this particular stretch of forest aside from the fact that some of the snow-dusted boulders they passed had strange circular markings on them.

Relics of a different age, he thought idly, tracking them with his eyes.

But there was something else under the surface of calm tranquility he couldn't quite grasp, something strange and incomprehensible that niggled at him. Wrapped within the silence there was a low hum that vibrated at the base of his skull and made his chest tingle. Revel couldn't put his finger on what it was. It was nothing he could hear with his ears even if he strained and concentrated beyond the sound of Sven's steps, the swish of the sled across the ground, and the snort of the horses behind him. Whatever the hum was it remained veiled from his five senses while plucking at his sixth. It wasn't until Sven took another sharp turn at a nondescript rock formation that the humming grew into a buzz that fluttered under his skin and set his teeth on edge. The horses Sigmund and his men were ridding snorted uneasily, ears swiveling and nostrils flaring.

Watching over Kristoff's shoulder, Revel could see he had turned the sled back towards the mountain base, walls of snow-dusted stone rising out of the earth. The trees began to thin and shrink back from the path; crags, cliffs and massive, rounded boulders replacing the green flora the farther they went. Higher and higher the rocks climbed, a kingdom of stone that threatened to swallow the sky. They were passing through a corridor of living rock, and just ahead the path opened into a shallow crescent valley rimmed with boulders and the sporadic, withered tree. Kristoff pulled sharply on Sven's reins, halting the beast, before jumping out of his seat and moving to the back of the sled.

"Where are we?" Revel inquired, glancing up at the tall faces of stone and realizing for the first time one of the things that had bothered him about his particular stretch of wilderness. There were no sounds despite the faraway hissing of volcanic steam pockets. No birds chirped, no insects buzzed, and even the wind seemed muted. It was like a blanket of reticence had been pulled over the valley, nature itself holding its breath in the presence of a terribly old, omnipotent power. And despite it being much warmer here because of the steam, the former captain felt a chill run the length of his spine as if hundreds of unseen eyes were watching him.

Kristoff ignored Revel's questions and helped his wife from the sled, his face tight with an anxious kind of fear. He leaned down and whispered something into Anna's ear, and the princess nodded gravely. The sudden severity in both their faces caused the anxiety in Revel's stomach to boil, and he watched with coiling apprehension as the princess slowly walked back towards where Sigmund and the rest of his guards had reined up. The former captain couldn't hear what was being said, but judging from the stricken and confused look on Sigmund's face it wasn't anything good. The big guard seemed to press an issue, but Anna was having none of it. Even at a distance, Revel could see a regal tightening of her shoulders and knew she was giving the big guard a command he couldn't not argue with. Kristoff walked past the sled, and Revel grabbed the mountain man's arm.

"What's going on?" he asked nervously, watching Anna and Sigmund out of the corner of his eye. "What's Anna telling them?"

Kristoff gave him a piercing look, blue eyes suddenly hard as ice chips. Revel couldn't help but feel as if he were being weighed and measured by the mountain man, his very person put on a scale in order to discover whether or not he was worthy of some unspoken knowledge. It wasn't a feeling the former captain appreciated, and he tightened his grip, reminding the princess's husband that he was in no mood for games.

"Anna's telling the guards this is as far as they go," Kristoff said evenly.

"We have need of them," Revel countered, brow scrunched in a frown.

"Not here we don't," he said, looking down the long corridor. "They are not permitted any further."

"By whose authority?" the former captain growled.

"My family's." Kristoff jerked his arm away and went around to unhitch Sven. The bull reindeer seemed impervious to the sudden somber mood-swing and bugled happily, prancing around and grunting as Anna returned and took her place by her husband's side.

"They'll wait here, but they're not happy about it."

"You know how he is," Kristoff said, planting a kiss atop her head. "If he knew we'd brought outsiders into his home, I'd never hear the end of it."

"Who are the two of you talking about?"

Anna gave Revel a thin smile, and he could clearly see the lines of stress on her face and the bags under her haunted eyes. The princess had aged considerably under the weight of stress, still strikingly beautiful, but older somehow and more reserved than usual. Revel briefly wondered how much more her heavily pregnant body could take and felt another pang of guilt shoot through him. So much had happened and so many people had been hurt because of his mistakes.

"You'll see soon enough. Follow us," Anna said, taking her husband's hand.

Revel gently lifted Elsa out of the back of the sled and fell into step behind the royal couple, aware of the tingling in his chest and the buzzing between his shoulder blades. He knew they were being watched, but who or what was out there he couldn't possibly fathom. There was a strange energy to this place that made him nervous while in the same stroke piqued his curiosity. What was so special about this place that Anna and Kristoff would gamble the queen's life rather than taking her to a proper physician? What secret did they share between them? His questions were eventually answered but not in any fashion he expected. The four of them, Sven bouncing along beside Kristoff, emerged from the corridor and stepped into a multi-tiered bowl of dark stone and moss littered with round, mossy bounders of varying size. Sven bounded up to one and began sniffing it, grunting happily and nudging it with his nose.

Kristoff stepped into the center of the rock strew crescent and stamped his feet, shouting, "Everyone wake up! Up up up! I need Pabbie here now; it's an emergency!"

"Please," Anna implored, kneeling as best she could next to a lumpy rock covered in mushrooms, "my sister needs your help."

Revel pulled up short, a wave of confusion crashing into him with enough force to cement his boots to the ground. What the hell was going on? He watched the two shift from rock to rock, patting them gently and urging them to wake up. Very quickly, his confusion flipped and turned red, anger churned in his chest.

"Is this some kind of sick joke?" he demanded, shooting the both of them dark looks.

"Does it look like we're joking," Kristoff countered, frowning. Turning back to the stones he shouted again for them to wake up which only fueled Revel's indignant anger.

"It looks like you're talking to rocks! How is this going to help Elsa?" he rumbled, body starting to quiver as his anxiety ramped up a notch.

"Please, trust us," Anna pressed, seeing the hurt and despair returning to the former captain's eyes.

"Trust you?" He sputtered, his body practically vibrating with rage. He'd gone against his better judgment, against his instincts, entrusting Elsa's safety in the hopes that Kristoff and Anna would know somewhere they could take the queen to get her immediate help while on the side of a mountain. But apparently they didn't grasp the severity of the situation because here they were standing in the middle of a rock-forest, shouting at stones to wake up as if they were living things. "I did trust you! You said we could get her help, but you're just shouting at rocks! Do you two think this is some kind of game? Elsa's dying and needs real help!"

"We are getting her real help," Anna snapped, face coloring. "Just be patient."

"There's nothing here!" he bellowed, combatting the urge to turn back and head for the sled. "We're in a rock quarry!"

"Hey!" Kristoff shouted, face darkening. He stomped over to Revel, finger pointed at his chest. "We wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for you. Elsa wouldn't be clinging to life right now if you'd not been such a coward and told her the truth in the beginning. So you can damn well listen to what my wife's saying and be patient. It's just takes them a little time to wake up."

Revel glared at the mountain man, so many scalding words jockeying for a place on his tongue. "You're insane. The both of you. I'm going back to the sled and taking her to the castle."

Kristoff stepped closer, looming over the former captain with impressive height and exuding intimidation. "You'll stay, or I'll take her from you."

Revel saw the challenge in the big man's eyes and met it head on. "You touch her and I'll make sure you lose that hand."

Sparks leapt between them, hot and dangerous. Anna picked her way towards them, fearing that at any moment they'd come to blows despite the fact that Revel cradled Elsa in his arms. She couldn't deal with this right now, not when her sister's life hung by such a slender thread. The stress was becoming too much to bear. But apparently she wasn't the only one who'd heard the confrontation.

"Kristoff, what have I told you about fighting and at home no less!"

Mountain man and former captain both looked down and froze but for very different reasons. Kristoff took a step back and scratched the side of his neck nervously, eyes averted, a line of pink stretching across the bridge of his nose and coloring his ears.

"Sorry, Ma," he mumbled, his demeanor shifting from intimidating to almost shy in the blink of an eye.

Ma? Revel thought looking down at the little creature. As in…mother?

He felt his mouth fall open as he stared at the strange thing that barely reached the top of his knees. She, if he could call it a she, was a rotund little thing with large, almost comical ears, granite-like skin, and tufts of grass-like hair dusted in dandelion seeds bouncing atop her head. The moss covering her tiny body was a soft, emerald green, reaching halfway down her stubby arms and nearly covering her large feet. A set of gently glowing jewels hung around her neck and tinkled against one another as she wagged a stubby finger at Kristoff in an eerily, motherly fashion.

"And such language! I raised you better than that!"

"I know Ma, I'm sorry."

"You're mother's a rock…" Revel mumbled in stunned disbelief. A rock…why not? He loved a woman who could create ice castles, so why couldn't rocks suddenly spring to life and talk like a human.

"She's not a rock; she's a troll, and her name is Bulda," the mountain man corrected acridly.

Rumbling filled the little valley as the once dormant stones shifted and uncurled, revealing more stumpy trolls. Suddenly the crescent was choked with little rock people, all muttering and mumbling at the same time as they looked around and leveled dark eyes on the humans' in their midst. For the most part they were all round of face and feature, every part of them smooth and blunted like stones that had weathered much over their lifetime. A large majority of the congregation was covered in mossy clothing and sported different growths like mushrooms and various herbs and flowers. Some had more crystals than others; some had more flowers, while some had more hair. It appeared this was a diverse little clan, though Revel had never had anything to compare it to. A few were tiny, half the size of the troll standing in front of him, suggesting they were somehow adolescents. Those adolescent trolls seemed bolder than the older ones, some approaching Revel without fear and poking him or staring up with wide eyes while the others gleefully rolled over to Sven and Anna.

"You look funny," one said, tugging on Revel's pants leg, a mushroom growing on his shoulder. "How come you're not as big as Kristoff?"

"Why are you holding Elsa? Is she asleep?" another intoned, a single pink gem around her neck.

"She smells like iron." Mushroom-shoulder said sniffing and shook his head, making a face. "The bad kind of iron."

"What's all that red stuff?" a third piped, squinting at the bloody rag tied to her side and her torn and soiled clothing.

"It's blood, rockbrain," Mushroom-shoulder admonished with a shove.

"Isn't it supposed to be inside her?"

"She looks dead," a fourth frowned up at a stunned and mute Revel. "Why'd you kill her? She's the queen," it said matter-of-factly.

It was unclear whether or not the mention of blood or death caught Bulda's attention, but she snapped around regardless and seemed to realize there was another human in the clearing and he was holding a gravely injured Queen of Arendelle. For a frozen moment she just stared, something unreadable flashing across her face. It could have been nervous unease or perplexity, but something in her dark, ageless eyes made Revel shift uncomfortably. He felt a heaviness blanket the area the longer he stared at her, tension thick in the charged air. It was as if the troll-mother were torn between doing something she might regret; fighting against a base instinct no human could possibly understand. The buzzing in his chest returned, muscles quivering under his skin, and he clenched his jaw in an effort to keep the sensation from spreading into his neck. But the tension eventually broke and whatever dark confliction Revel had seen abated quickly, concern twisting the troll-mother's round face as she stepped closer for a better look at Elsa.

"By the gods," she gasped breathlessly, focusing on the blood and bruises cover the queen's fair skin, "the poor dear! Here, here, bring her over here. Move aside, all of you." Bulda motioned for Revel to follow and pushed her way through the throngs of nervously gawking onlookers to a bear spot off to the side of the crescent that had been swept clear of debris and packed down. Most of the trolls kept their distance, looking to Bulda for how they should react towards the outsider in their midst. The former captain heard the troll-mother mumble something incoherent under her breath seconds before twisting fingers of moss rose out of the ground and knotted into a soft bed. "Set her down. Gently, now, gently."

"Can you help her?" he asked, laying Elsa on her right side and moving her disheveled hair off her shoulder and neck so as to not hide any of her injuries from her would-be healers. He winced when he saw the finger marks around her throat and suppressed a snarl.

"I…" Bulda began, circling around in front of the queen and kneeling down. She didn't touch her, not yet, merely looked at her broken state with obvious shock in her eyes. "What happened to her?"

"He did," Kristoff mumbled a little louder than necessary. His rock-mother twisted around to look at him, clearly upset by his answer. Anna, who was standing next to him, smacked her husband hard on the arm and scowled.

"No, he didn't. It wasn't his fault."

"What wasn't his fault, Anna-dear?" Bulda pressed.

"No, this is my fault," Revel sighed sadly, slumping to the ground. He was aware there were at least a dozen eyes on him, and some were none to friendly. "She was trying to protect me. I ran to the ice castle after I was—"

"Please," Bulda interrupted softly, holding up a granite hand to forestall him. "I'd like to hear this account from my son and Anna-dear. You are an Outsider. You're words mean little here."

She'd said it with quiet gentleness, but Revel still felt a flush of embarrassment rise into his cheeks at her rebuke. Outsider…it had been a long time since he'd worn that threadbare name, yet it still packed a painful sting that could put a wasp to shame. Outsider, untrustworthy, unseen and uncared for; yes, he knew what it meant to be cast out and alone, and those memories flooded his mind as he sat in helpless silence as yet another person spoke for his actions and painted him the villain. Well, only one person seemed to think this was his doing, and that was Kristoff. Anna, however, didn't seem to be in the same mindset as her husband.

"No, you both are wrong, it wasn't Revel's fault. This was a huge misunderstanding that went horribly wrong."

"That's Revel?" Bulda asked in surprise, bushy eyebrows rising in an eerily similar copy of human surprise. "Your sister's mate?"

Anna flushed deeply and shifted, offering the former captain a feeble shrug when she couldn't find a more decorous way around Bulda's statement. "He's not…exactly her mate. They're together just not….together together. I mean…that are physically but not—you know—official."

"You humans have such a strange way of determining mates," one of the trolls nearby muttered. Bulda shot him a disapproving look, and the male troll blanched, turning his head away in a futile attempt to appear innocent and non-conspicuous under Bulda's sharp stare.

"Now's not the time, Jernda. Go fetch, Grand Pabbie. Tell him it's an emergency."

Jernda, a little pudgy troll with a gored-shaped face and blue crystals hanging around his thick neck, ducked his head and scurried off. Bulda turned her attention back onto Anna and Kristoff with an exasperated sigh.

"Now, tell me exactly what happened."

"Revel's a king in hiding," Anna explained quickly, using her hands to emphasize her sentences and gaining speed the more she spoke, "who was framed for the murder of his father by his older brother. He ran and hid in Arendelle for years, becoming our captain of the guard. He and Elsa became a thing—somehow, I don't even know— but when Adrek, his brother, came to the Summit he saw Revel and recognized him and wanted to take him back to Asham and put him on trial. But Revel didn't kill his father, Fritz, Adrek's lover, did, but no one else knows that but me and Revel. Elsa said she wouldn't let Revel leave the kingdom but had to put him in jail for a little while to save face. I broke him out of jail and sent him up to the ice castle, but Elsa found out and got mad….like really really man," the princess touched her bruised cheek and winced, a movement that wasn't lost on Bulda. "Then she went after Revel but Adrek followed. There was a confrontation at the castle and…" out of words and breath, Anna turned towards Revel for the rest of the story. Bulda turned too, hands on her hips and dark eyes drawn into slits.

"Well, outsider, what happened next?"

Still flushed, Revel stared at her evenly, determined to not let these rock-people intimidate him or sweep him under the rug because he wasn't part of their community. "Elsa trapped me in the upper floor of her castle and went down to talk to Fritz and Adrek alone. She must have confronted the two of them with Adrek's disinheritance letter and my brother ordered his lover to attack her. She…" his breath hitched and he swallowed hard, pushing past the burn of shame and the growing lump in his throat. "She fought and killed Fritz, but not before he gravely wounded her."

"And how did you reach her?"

"I don't know what happened while they fought, but somehow her castle lost its stability and started falling apart. I escaped and climbed down to her, but I was too late. Fritz had already done his damage by torturing her…evening blinding her with what looks like a pepper bulb infused with volcanic glass."

At the mention of the glass, Bulda gasped, dark eyes wreathed with concern and dismay. "No, how did he know to use frozen-fire," she whispered to herself, going down into her hands and knees and leaning closer. The troll-mother could sense the natural mineral clinging to Elsa's cheeks and eyes as well as sense it within her lungs where it could do the most damage. Some had even made it into her stomach, settling against the lining very close to where her power resided.

"Frozen-fire?" Revel blinked, unsure of what the troll-mother meant.

"You call it obsidian," Bulda explained. She sniffed the air a couple of times like a hound catching a scent but frowned deeply when she couldn't sense what she was looking for. "I can't tell if it's the blue kind." Mouth pressed in a hard line, she reached for the queen when a large stone tumbled into the clearing and uncurled, revealing an older looking troll with a shaggy mane of yellow, grass-like hair and bushy yellow eyebrows. He had numerous yellow stones around his neck and walked with a hunch, moss cloak dragging the ground behind him.

"Do not touch her," he commanded in a raspy voice, hand out to stop Bulda who pulled back immediately.

"Grand Pabbie," Anna gasped and reached for him. The old troll took her hand and squeezed it gently, a warm smile spreading across his wizened face.

"Anna-dear, it's good to see you again; I only wish it were under better circumstances."

"Please, Pabbie, Elsa's been hurt really badly. We knew she wouldn't make it back to the castle, so Kristoff had us bring her here. I know you don't usually help like this," she implored, squeezing his rock hard hand with a desperate tightness, "but you have to save her."

"I will do everything in my power to help her; you know that," the troll chief said gravely. "It's my duty to the Frosberg line."

"Thank you," Anna breathed, a weight physically lifting off her shoulders. For the first time in two days she finally felt like she could breathe properly again. "Let me know if we can help in any—"

Suddenly, the princess broke off in mid-sentence and sucked in a ragged breath, doubling over, her knees buckling. Kristoff was quick to snatch her up, arm around her shoulders.

"Anna, what's wrong?" he asked, face twisted with worry.

"I…I don't—" she gasped again and pressed a hand against her stomach, eyes squeezed shut against the pain. Exhaling in sharp little bursts, she tried to stand but couldn't manage it, her legs turning to jelly under her. Realization lit her eyes and she looked up at her husband, a mixture of worry and relief warring for dominance over her face. "I think…babies a-are…c-coming," she managed.

"What?!" he gasped and knelt down next to her, cupping her face in his hands. Now?!"

"Y-yes…now," she panted before another contraction tore her words from her and she bit back a scream by burying her face in his shoulder.

"But you're water hasn't broken! Has it?" he pressed, pulling back so he could see her and searching for the telltale wetness the physician had told them to expect.

The princess give him a pained, sheepish smile. "When you were c-coming out of…ice castle. I….thought I'd—lost the—both of you. Thought I'd just…been scared. Stupid, huh?"

The mountain man pulled her close again and planted a kiss on the side of her head. She weathered another spasm, teeth gritted and hand's clutching her husband's tunic. "No love, you're not stupid. We'll get through this, and we're in the best place. Ma, can help you."

"Kristoff," Bulda began quietly, walking over to Anna and putting a hand on her stomach and flushed cheek with motherly tenderness, "I can't. I don't know anything about birthing human children. None of us do."

"But," he stammered, looking despondently between Pabbie and his rock-mother, "but you raised me and Sven. Surely you can—"

"Raising and birthing are two very different things, grandson," Pabbie said, turning towards him with a concerned frown. "She needs a human midwife should anything go wrong. She needs to go back to the castle."

"Not without….n-not without Elsa," Anna heaved.

"She'll be fine, Anna," Revel reassured her with forced conviction, drawing their attention back to him. He didn't want to be left alone with these alien creatures any more than Anna wanted to leave her sister again, but the princess was in labor and needed the royal midwife.

"We've got her," Bulda said, patting Anna's arm with a warm smile. "Go have those babies. I want to be a grand-rock-mother by the end of the day."

"But…" this time she wasn't able to stifle the scream and collapsed, sweat starting to prickle her brow.

"No, we're going. Come on, Sven!" Kristoff said, scooping her up despite her objections. A thought struck the mountain man half way out of the valley and he turned back towards Revel. The former captain knew what he was grappling with before he even opened his mouth. If Kristoff took the sled how were he and Elsa supposed to get back to Arendelle? Even at a good clip, the castle was still two hours away. Walking would triple that easily.

"Leave Elsa's fjord pony. Take Sigmund and the guards back with you as an escort. Have him tell my little brother what happened. I'll bring Elsa back once she's stable enough to move."

Kristoff waffled a moment, clearly torn, but a shuddering gasp from his wife propelled him forward and he practically jogged down the corridor with her cradled in his arms. As his footfalls faded into silence, Revel turned back to the gathering of trolls and forced himself to remain calm. He knew it would take a long while for him to fully grasp the fact that, yes, there were mythological creatures staring back at him, and yes, apparently, they did exist.

Elsa has ice magic, why shouldn't this be surprising?

But it was. Revel had never been a particularly religious man or one to believe in myths and legends. His years spent in Brekemel and living with the poachers in the woods had taught him that the only things he needed to believe in were the things he could see directly in front of him. Forces that worked beyond the veil of human consciousness, the dark things that roamed the night, were of no concern to him when his only purpose in life was to survive until sunrise and making sure he had enough food to last the week. Even after he'd settled in Arendelle, Revel hadn't taken up going to chapel or Mass, preferring to spend his time in the woods surrounded by the serenity of nature. It wasn't until he'd witnessed Elsa's powers during the Great Freeze that he truly began to wonder what walked beyond his sight, but this, right now, this was almost too much to handle.

"Well, that's one crisis averted. I'm going to be a grandparent," Bulda beamed, coming back to kneel in front of Elsa. "See Pabbie, you're not the only one," she winked, helpless to keep the broad smile off her face. Grand Pabbie smiled thinly, his eyes leaving Bulda's and focusing on the broken queen.

"Whoever did this knew how to inflict pain," Pabbie said, looking between the queen and Revel, eyes drawn into thin slits, not missing the despair that rounded the former captain's shoulders and dulled his green eyes. Slowly, the troll chief walked about the bed of moss and approached the only other human in the clearing. Revel knew nothing of magic and its happenings, knew nothing about these creatures and how they operated, and braced for whatever might happen next.

"She was tortured at my expense," he hissed in a raspy whisper, anger creasing his brow as he met Pabbie's eyes.

"You are her lover," the troll chief said, stating it as a fact when he could have just phrased it as a question.

"Yes," Revel answered, looking down at Elsa and gently stroking the back of her head. "I love her."

"Do you possess powers as well?"

"I…what?" he stammered in bafflement. "No, no I'm human. I mean…as far as I can tell."

"Then how did you survive that?" Pabbie asked, pointing at the bolt in Revel's chest.

"I don't know," he said, gently touching the skin directly under the bolt and hanging his head. "I—I shouldn't have but…" Revel spread his hands in a gesture of his own morbid confusion, shrugging helplessly.

Head cocked, the troll chief closed his eyes as if listening to something, raising a hand for everyone to fall silent. The surrounding trolls instantly complied, lips pressing shut as they all watched in rapt silence. Tilting his head in the opposite direction, Pabbie softly hummed three baritone notes like he was throwing a lure into a lake and waited for something to bite back. Apparently, he didn't have to wait long. His eyes were still closed when he jerked, granite-like right hand held before him, the crystals around his neck glowing like tiny suns. The former captain blanched and leaned back, not wanting the small creature to touch him, but not wanting to offend the only things that could save Elsa's life. Pabbie spread his rocky fingers wide and whispered a single, incomprehensible word that thrummed through the air like distant thunder. The tingling in Revel's chest returned with a vengeance moments before a soft blue glow suffused the fabric of his shirt and began to shine brightly.

"What the hell…?" he gasped, looking down in bewilderment.

"Your shirt…please remove it," Pabbie asked gently, opening his eyes with a concentrated frown.

Perplexed by the tingling glow, Revel did as he was told and carefully removed his shirt. Pabbie and the rest of the trolls sucked in a collective breath, but none so sharply as Bulda who practically scrambled to the chief's side and stared wide-eyed.

"How is that possible? The two can never mix," she whispered, reaching out to touch the palm-sized snowflake glowing against Revel's chest. Carefully, she grabbed the shaft of the crossbow bolt and easily slid it free before he could stop her. He'd expected to feel some type of pain, but there was nothing but numbness where the shaft had been. The former captain stared mutely at the piece of wood and bent metal arrowhead in the troll-mother's hand, his own hand sliding over the place where it had struck him in the heart no more than an hour ago. There was no hole to be found and no break in his skin. The only thing that indicated he'd ever come so close to death was the snowflake brand just above his heart.

"How is this possible," he gasped, mirrored Bulda's amazement, looking down at where a wound should be. He recognized the snowflake as an exact copy of the one Elsa had made for him during the Christmas season. Right down to the delicate spread of crystalline fingers and hexagonal bends, it was identical in every way save for one very important element.

The flake wasn't a sculpture or a trinket.

This was a brand much like the handprint on Elsa's shoulder but far less crude. It also appeared to be more crystal than ice, stone facets winking in its own internal light that burned and pulsed in time with his heartbeat. Dimly, Revel realized there were two sections of leather cord attached to one of the snowflakes arms that still circled his neck. It took a moment for him to understand what this could mean, but when it finally hit him he couldn't help but feel the air rush from his lungs.

"Does this usually happen with troll crystals?" he asked, mind in a daze.

"You were wearing one of our crystals?" Pabbie inquired, eyebrows raising in surprise.

Revel nodded and pulled the leather cord free, the ends attached to the snowflake popping off easily. "Elsa gave it to me to wear a couple of weeks ago."

"I had wondered why I didn't feel her through the stone…" the troll chief mumbled.

"So…these stones don't usually do this?"

"No. Ice and earth magic can never mix," Bulda said by way of explanation, the awe in her voice only lending more gravity to the startling revelation. "But it has in you…"

"Love," Pabbie suddenly intoned, nodding gravely as he came to a silent conclusion. "She must love you dearly, young one. I don't know of any power that has the ability to bring two unstable forms of magic together in such a way, but the queen did it to save your life."

"She…she did?" he gaped, mouth almost a perfect "O" of astonishment. "All I remember is feeling the bolt hit me and falling back into her. Then everything went dark. I thought I'd died…"

"Well," Bulda said, clapping her hands together with a clack and kneeling next to the queen once again. "These are mysteries we can ponder later. Right now we have healing to do. Let's get these clothes off Elsa so we can—"

No one really knew what happened until after the fact, but Bulda shot backwards with a thunderous clap, rolling to a stop some feet away in a daze. Everyone froze save for Revel who had hunched protectively over Elsa's body, face scrunched with pain. The snowflake on his chest had flared with a sudden searing burn that slowly diminished the faster he calmed. The troll-mother groaned and was helped to her feet by Jernda and a few other startled trolls, wincing and shaking her right hand as she fought to regain her balance.

"Bite the earth and stone," she cursed, trembling from head to heel, her feet unsteady. Raising her hand to her face, she stared open mouthed at the black char of her fingertips, needle-like frost clinging to the rest of her hand. Instinctively the trolls backed up, eyes bright with a knowing fear, their jewels aglow.

"I know this magic," Pabbie said in a harsh whisper, his voice carrying unnaturally around the valley. He clutched at his jewels like a priest clutching his rosary, mouth moving in what could have been a silent prayer. "By the gods, she's back."

The uneasy murmurs of the troll congregation suddenly ceased, a fragile silence overtaking the crescent bowl as all eyes turned to Pabbie. "Please, Revel, remove the queen's garments. I need to see something."

Wearily, the former captain did as asked and removed Elsa's tattered shirt as gently as he could, mindful of her injuries, exposing her naked torso to the trolls. In the faint light of early morning, her skin was the color of marble causing the dark bruises to stand in stark, gruesome contrast. But none were darker and more angry looking than the brand on her shoulder. Gripped by some unspoken need to check the wound on her side, Revel carefully untied the knot keeping the makeshift patch in place and attempting to peel it away only to find it coated in frost. It was frozen and wouldn't budge at first. Worrying he'd tear open fresh scabs and reopen the wound, but knowing he'd have to remove the patch so Pabbie could heal her, Revel gritted his teeth and pulled anyway, jumping back with a startled shout when he saw what was happening.

The gash on Elsa's side was alive with chunks of spiny, ruby-red ice that uncurled and rose off her skin like porcupine quills. Disturbingly, the savage needles tracked him as he moved, leaning this way and that whenever he shifted. Staring in horror, he realized her back was the same way, barbs of ice covering the wound like a protective predator hunched over a kill. Red needles rose and receded, a promise of pain in their gleaming tips.

Pabbie was the closest of the trolls and took a reflexive step back, fingers twitching nervously at his side. His kin mirrored him, some scooping up the young ones and edging away to a safe distance until only Revel, Pabbie, Bulda and the prone queen remained within the clearing.

"I cannot help her," Pabbie whispered, clutching his jewels. "I'm so sorry, but I cannot."

"What!?" Revel barked and almost lunged over Elsa to grab the little troll. "You have to help her! Kristoff and Anna said you could, so do it! She's dying!"

"I know this, Revel," the chief sighed, face drawn with grief. "But I cannot heal her with troll magic, and that is all I know. She will not let me."

"She? She who? Elsa's unconscious and bleeding to death!"

"Saja," Pabbie spoke the name like it was a curse, which, apparently, it was. Bulda shrank away from him, a hand over her mouth.

"No," she hissed, "she can't be back."

"That is her mark," he indicated, pointing at the handprint. "She has been branded by the Frost Born therefore beyond my help. I am sorry, Revel."

"You can't just say no!" Revel was on his feet before he realized what was happening, face flushed with anger. "She needs you, and Anna trusted you! How can you give up when you've not even tried?!"

Bulda's eyes darkened and it looked as if she was going to say something when Pabbie put out his hand to forestall her. "Please, daughter. He doesn't understand." Turning back to Revel he said, "I cannot help her because I cannot physically touch her. Watch." Pabbie cautiously approached the queen and extended his right hand towards the brand. He got within a couple of inches of the mark when spines of grayish-black ice rose out of her skin and stretch towards his hand, twitching in a grim kind of anticipation. Slowly, he moved his hand in a circle and the ice tracked him, needles quivering.

"If I were to touch her it could kill us both. As I said, ice and earth magic do not mix."

"Can't you heal her without magic? Stitch the wound close and apply an ointment? There has to be something you can do." He knew he was grasping at straws now, but there had to be a way to save her.

Pabbie hung his head sadly. "We trolls can sense things through the earth, young one. When I first arrived, I sent my second-sight through the earth and into her body. Elsa bleeds internally. If I were able to use my magic, I could knit her back together with the earth-song, but Saja will not allow it. If my magic touches her it will be repelled in the worst kind of ways."

Revel sank to his knees, desolation breaking over him like a tidal wave. "I just got her back," he choked, tears welling in his eyes. "Please, I just got her back. I can't lose her again. There'd be nothing left in me if I did."

"I am sorry, Revel; I truly am. Elsa is as much a daughter to me as Anna. I've watched her grow up all these years, and it tears at my heart knowing there is nothing I can do. Believe me, if there was any other way I would gladly do it, but earth magic is all we trolls' know."

"What should we do then?" he heard himself ask, all hope rushing out of him and leaving him empty and deflated.

The troll chief was silent for a moment, looking down at the queen with obvious pain in his eyes. Even Bulda hung her head and deflated, glancing at Jernda who'd come to stand near her with sadness in his eyes. "We make her comfortable. I don't know how much longer she'll last, but that doesn't mean her passing can't be an easy one."

The sob that tore from the former captain's throat was raw and shattering. He bent in half and rested his forehead against Elsa's lukewarm shoulder, feeling the spines of ice brush his skin. He could smell her familiar high-mountain scent and remembered happier times when he'd held her close and never felt so content in his life. It all felt like a lifetime ago, lived through different people than the two who sat here now: one on the brink of death and the other clinging on with a defiant desperation. Revel had never had such a driving urge to pray before this moment, but with his eyes screwed shut and tears rolling down his cheeks, splashing onto his beloved's skin, he opened himself to whatever god would listen and sent the most fervent pray he could.

Please, I've asked for nothing from any of you until now. I'll pay any price so long as she lives. I swear it. Saja, I swear it. Snaer, I swear it. Just don't take her from me.

"Bulda," Pabbie said quietly, motioning the troll-mother closer with a sad wave. "Fetch some moss for a pillow and something to cover her with. She should not be—"

Something exploded in the sky above, the concussion rocking the valley with a thunderous roar like a canon blast.

"The barrier's been breached!" someone shouted in a frantic panic, all eyes jerking up to stare at the shimmering metallic dome above their heads. Revel hadn't notice anything while walking in with Kristoff and Anna, but even he saw the hole and the peek of blue sky beyond the boiling translucent shell.

They're protected by magic, he thought, watching the hole grow, the barrier dissolving into glittering wonder.

Half a second later they all heard the flutter of powerful wings as an object landed in the midst of the panicked trolls, connecting with the earth with a tremendous crash and blast of arctic air. Ice erupted under the startled congregation, fangs of translucent gray and blue rising out of the ground and surrounding the small cluster around the queen.

The troll chief spun just in time to see a massive hawk, ice body shimmering in the morning sun, swoop out of the air and land on a stone next to where Revel sat hunched protectively over his beloved, icy talons gouging long furrows into the stone as it settled. Chaos erupted as the trolls dove for cover, shouting and screaming in a language not remotely human. Young ones were snatched up and carried away. Other retreated into the earth, rolling into themselves and becoming immobile stones once more. Even Pabbie and Bulda retreated from the beast, backing against the low wall of ice, a crackling arc of some kind of magic dancing between the troll chief's fingers as he eyed the bird with barely contained terror.

"Himmelen," Bulda breathed, body hunched with anticipation.

The ice-hawk gave a piercing shriek, wings spread in a show of what could only be dominance before swinging his head around and staring pointedly at Revel. The former captain, frozen by the strange creature's appearance and the chaos taking place around him, stared at the hawk through red rimmed eyes. Himmelen cocked his head as if curious as to why this human had tears in his eyes, snapping his razor sharp beak and rumbling unhappily. Had this been any other situation, Revel would have marveled at the creature's lifelike appearance. He knew it was made of ice, could feel the cold radiating off it like heat haze, but every feather had been crafted with such loving precision it looked and moved like the real thing. He had seen his fair share of predator birds in his lifetime—hunting with raptors was a common sport— but Revel had never seen Himmelen's equal in beauty or lethality. Snapping its beak once more, the ice-bird uncurled its left talons and dropped something round and very, very cold onto the ground.

Revel focused on the blue ball lying just in front of Elsa. It was larger than his thumb and shone with an arctic light that reminded him of how the queen's magic looked when condensed. Within the ball he could see swirling waves of power like a whirlpool trapped under glass, and his chest began to tingle.

"A Glacier-eye," Pabbie exhaled and let his sparking hand drop. "I didn't think there were any in existence."

"What is it?" Revel queried, hesitant to pick it up but somehow knowing it wouldn't harm him.

"A powerful form of ice magic. Snaer made them centuries ago for her daughter should she ever become mortally wounded, but I'd thought Saja used them all on her children…" Pabbie trailed off and turned his wizened attention on the hawk who regarded him with a proud kind of disdain.

"I know you can hear me, Saja. Sending your messenger is proof enough that you again move amongst the realms of man and myth, but know this. I and my kind mean you no harm. We have learned from our mistakes and pay for our past transgressions daily. What was done to you and your kin was terrible, I know this, I was there, but do not punish your descendant by giving us healing that you know we cannot give her. Unless you remove the brand, I cannot heal the queen."

Himmelen startled everyone by jumping from his perch and alighting on Revel's shoulder with a powerful burst of air. The former captain stiffened, feeling the bite of the creature's sharp talons into the naked flesh of his left shoulder. There was weight and substance to the ice-bird but not as much as he might have expected. Icy feathers brushed his skin as the raptor ruffled and bend down, sharply tapping the mark on Revel's chest with his beak.

"Hey, hey easy," he warned, tilting his head away from the bird, all the while hoping it didn't find his ear appetizing. Did ice-birds need to eat? Himmelen tapped his chest again, but this time left his beak pressed against the snowflake. Revel felt a ripple of—something—work through him before his vision suddenly began to dim and his muscles turned to jelly, all energy leaving him. He felt his head loll, eyes heavy, and fought to stay awake as the world spun around him, colors running or bleeding together like water thrown on a canvas.

You think I would give you this gift without means of using it?

Everyone heard Saja's voice, Revel included, though no one could pinpoint where it was coming from. It seemed to drift through the air on its own accord, following a predetermined path through the valley.

I have given you a powerful tool to be used by an equally powerful tool, but it may not be enough.

"If you remove the brand, I can help heal her," Pabbie said to the air. He thought he felt a brush of cold trail over his shoulders and forced himself to remain still. A shadow shifted along a wall of stone next to a stooped Revel, and the troll chief saw a ghostly hand slide over the human's right shoulder. "Be cautious of the energy you draw from him. He has been through much."

And he will go through more if he is to love my descendant. I sense the entwined magics within him, troll chief. I know what this means, and so do you. Use him to handle the Glacier-eye and heal her, but know I will be watching.

"He is not meant to wield magic such as this," Pabbie pressed, boldness coloring his words. "It could kill him. Remove the brand so that I—"

The brand will stay! I have not forgotten what you did to my family, Pabbie Orgramsson. I have not forgotten what your father and last chief did to my children. The brand will remain so I know your power can never touch her.

Pabbie flinched at the mention of his sire and accepted Saja's ruling with a silent nod. "What happens if Elsa is too far gone? The Glacier-eye can only heal so much."

It will be up to her lover to make certain she does not slip beyond his reach. That is all I can tell you.

Himmelen slowly lifted his head, removing his beak from Revel's chest. The hand on the former captain's shoulder winked out of existence, leaving a small impression of frost behind as the only indication something had been there. Revel sat up with a gasp, a charge of energy arching through him like a bolt of lightning. The ice-bird flapped his wings twice before dissolving into nothingness, taking the ice in the valley with him, following his mistress into the pocket between the living and the dead where myths and legends dwelled.

"Fuck," he swore, pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes and scrubbing at them. He tingled from head to toe, his skin alive and crawling as if thousands of ants were racing under the surface. Slowly his vision returned from the haze it had been thrown into, but he wasn't able to completely dispel his strange double vision.

It was unclear what Saja had done, but he guessed she'd somehow used Himmelen to tap into his physical energy to communicate with the trolls like she'd done with Elsa in the ice palace. The effects were unsettling and jarring. While he'd been under her hold, he'd been able to hear and see everything, but things looked striking different as if he were looking through a lens into a world he couldn't begin to fathom. Everything appeared as if it were made of smoke: trees and rocks and grass painted in muted colors and connected to each other by a dizzying array of softly glowing knots of power running through the earth. When he'd looked at Pabbie, the troll chief was wreathed in golden fire that matched the color of his stones. At his feet, golden strands of light permeated the soil and dove deep into the ground where Revel could feel a humming like the cords of a distant song. All the trolls seemed to have the same flickering fire around them, the colors and the strength of the fire varying depending on the number of stones around their neck. But that wasn't all Revel noticed while caught in a gap between worlds. He saw things shifting through the smoke-like trees and boulders, creatures both large and small scurry around or standing statuesque, staring back at him. The former captain averted his gaze, not wanting to see or be seen by things he couldn't quite comprehend.

Looking down at the woman laying before him, he stared in awed wonder at the faint blue cloud clinging to Elsa's skin, dusted with thousands of glittering fractals. The spines of bloody ice had disappeared leaving a faint dusting of frost like a scab over her wounds. He could see a small ball just below her stomach, aglow with power that diminished with each beat of her heart as if counting down to the inevitable moment when her heart would stop again and he'd be helpless to start it. Elsa was dying, that was clear, and she didn't have much time left.

Feeling mobility rapidly returning, Revel reached out and took the Glacier-eye into his hand, feeling a surge of wild power flutter against his palm. It was lighter than he expected, weighing almost nothing. "What am I supposed to do with his?" he asked, looking to Pabbie and Bulda for guidance. He'd heard Saja's command and knew only he could touch it, but that didn't mean he knew what to do with it.

"Put it into her," the troll-mother said simply; which really wasn't as simple as that, or at least Revel didn't think so.

"But…how do I do that without cutting into her skin?" He knew he was out of his depth and felt like a child scrambling to keep up with a lesson he hardly understood. Pabbie saw the frustrated bewilderment on his face and sat down in front of the queen with a patient sigh.

"I will guide you through this. Bulda," he said turning, "fetch us some water and clean moss sponges. We'll need strips of soaked zealbark and subgub paste. If there are any pieces of clean cloth in Kristoff's quarters, bring them here so that we can wrap her wounds." Bulda nodded, happy to have something to do, and rushed off to get what Pabbie needed. "The rest of you continue with your daily duties. We'll need to repair the barrier before sundown."

The handful of trolls who still remained after Himmelen's appearance bolted away, clearly relieved to have something to do as well. Revel watched them go and felt himself warming towards the troll chief. He ran his clan well, it would seem.

"Now, first, lay her on her back. The moss under her has healing properties and will not agitate her wound."

Revel did as instructed and gently pulled Elsa onto her back.

"Place the Glacier-eye just above her navel and press gently."

Again he did as instructed and watched with wonder as the large marble dissolved into her skin. "Where'd it go?"

"Into the place where her magic dwells."

"Will it come back out?"

"No," Pabbie said, shaking his head. "It will dissolve into her body's magic and go where she needs the most healing."

"Will it heal her outside as well?"

"That depends on how gravely injured she is inside. The Glacier-eye only has so much power, but we can help it along by closing the wounds ourselves. I…" the troll chief shifted uncomfortably, fingers twitching, "I cannot touch her to help you. I can sing to the earth to give you strength and clarity of mind, but that is as much as I can do, I'm afraid."

"Closing wounds is something I'm capable of doing. I've had to stitch my men back up before," Revel said with a faint smile, a small spark of hope burning in his chest. Maybe, just maybe, all was not yet lost.

Suddenly, Elsa arched off the moss bed and gurgled, something black spattering her lips as she struggled to breathe. Revel quickly turned her on her side, heart like a battery ram in his chest as she continued to vomit black sludge mixed with blood onto the ground.

"Is this supposed to happen?!"

Pabbie touched the inky substance and frowned. "This is volcanic glass," he murmured, rubbing it between his fingers. "Did she ingest frozen-fire?"

"Fritz hit her in the face with a pepper bulb with pulverized volcanic glass in it. Bulda said she felt some in her lungs and stomach," Revel answered frantically as his beloved continued to cough violently, black corruption streaming out of her nose and spattering the ground the more she heaved it up.

"Then this is a good sign. The Glacier-eye has gone to work and is forcing it out of her system. Give it a minute, the episode will pass."

And just as he'd said, a few seconds later Elsa quieted, her breathing a little raspy but greatly improved. Revel wiped the blackness off her lips and out from under her nose, still shaking from the shock it had given him.

Bulda returned shortly with a large bowl carved from a solid piece of black rock and a cluster of plush, yellow moss-balls under her arm. Two other trolls followed behind and deposited the things Pabbie had ordered neatly around the troll chief. The troll-mother carefully set the bowl down and withdrew a fiery red stone from a pouch around her neck, dropping it into the basin. Instantly the water began to steam and gently boil, and she added the lumps of moss so they could soak. From under her other arm she withdrew a folded bundle of wool and handed it to Revel.

"It's bad luck to remain in bloody clothing while healing," she said indicating Elsa's tights and Revel's pants with a swift glance. "They're Kristoff's old pants and top. He was about your size until his mushroom grew and stones dropped, so they should fit. There are two pairs of shirts and pants for the both of you."

"Thank you," Revel said with a kind smile and took the bundle. Bulda also offered him a slender bone needle and a spool of animal sinew he could use to close the gash on the queen's back and side.

He bent to work, happy to give his hands something to do while the Glacier-eye worked its magic. Pabbie ducked his head and began to sing, a gentle song that eased the tension in Revel's body and helped clear the fog from his head. Using the hot water, he cleaned the gash on her side before wetting and threading the sinew through the bone needle and stitching the skin back together. Years of practice on himself and his guards made Revel an efficient worker, and in no time the wound was closed, the two halves of skin meeting almost seamlessly together. He smeared it with the sweet smelling poultice Pabbie had provided before covering it in wetted bark and wrapping it tightly with long strips of wool. He did the same with her back: cleaning, stitching and medicating the gash before laying down a protective layer of wetted bark and wrapping it snugly.

It took quite some time to finish, the sun creeping across the sky at a steady pace, but by the end of the afternoon, as early evening set in, Elsa was wrapped from waist to shoulder in wool bandages and on the mends. Bulda had replaced the water in the black bowl twice, so he used what was left to wash away the pepper powder and blood on her face and legs after removing her tights and covering her with a blanket provided by another female troll.

"You should use this too," an adolescent troll said, and he recognized the single mushroom growing in its shoulder. He sheepishly held out a small comb made from stone. Revel took it was a warm smile and thanked the little troll who scampered off to a safe distance and watched him from behind a boulder that could have been his parent.

The former captain combed out Elsa's matted hair, careful to gently work the tangles free so he didn't tug on her scalp. He was at a bad angle to braid it again, so Revel left the platinum locks undone and went about redressing her in the wool pants the troll-mother had given them. Getting the clothing on was much more difficult than taking it off. He had to move slowly so as to not pop any fresh stitches or stretch the skin around it. Eventually he was able to pull the loose-fitting pair of pants over her waist and synch them securely in place, but decided against the matching tunic. It would be best to leave her torso uncovered so that the bandages could breathe. Leaning back with an exhausted sigh, Revel felt Pabbie's eyes on him and turned his head, vision temporarily swimming until he was able to focus.

"You've done well," the troll chief smiled. "Perhaps you should rest for a while."

Revel shook his head even though he felt the exhaustion of the past couple of days settling over him. "I'll stay awake and watch over her."

"In that case, let us move the two of you into Kristoff's old quarters so the queen can rest in peace."

"I wouldn't advise moving—"

Revel should have known better than to worry. The troll chief chuckled softly as he stood and twitched his fingers towards the moss bed Elsa lay upon. It moved free of the packed earth and trailed behind him as if he were pulling it with invisible strings. Revel staggered to his aching feet, his back cramped from hours of sitting and muscles quivering from exhaustion and overuse, and tottered after Pabbie. The troll chief led him to a small alcove farther back in the valley where large slabs of rock had been leaned against a sturdy, natural overhang, forming a cozy little room. It was big enough for two with ample room to spare and already furnished with plush blankets and furs. A wooden pole had been imbedded into the stone and a rawhide curtain hung from it, closing the room off should whoever sleeping within want privacy. The moss carpet settled in front of the overhang, close enough that Revel could gently lift Elsa and set her down on the furs and blankets without stressing her body.

"She should be more comfortable here," Pabbie said with a nod.

"Thank you. I don't know what I would have done without any of your help," Revel said, leaning heavily on the stone slab. Despite his all over ache at having sat hunched for most of the afternoon, he was starting to feel very weak and lightheaded as the adrenaline in his blood finally abated and he found himself starting to uncoil. The lack of having anything proper to eat or drink in nearly three days wasn't helping either.

"As I said before, it is my duty to help the Frosberg line."

Revel nodded tiredly and closed his eyes, listening to the silence and breathing in the fragrant scent of churned earth and pine.

"You should rest. You look like you're about to collapse."

"I need to keep watch," the former captain argued stubbornly but with half the conviction he felt. Pabbie took his hand and pulled him into the room, Revel following like a witless child.

"You need rest. I'll have Bulda sit by the entrance and listen through the earth for any signs of trouble. If she hears any, she'll wake you."

Hardly able to stand any longer, Revel sat heavily on the furs and blankets, limbs like led weights. Pabbie stepped out of the room and pulled the rawhide curtain shut, plunging the quarters into gray darkness. Shifting around, Revel found a pillow made up pink and blue fabric and tucked it under Elsa's head before covering her in a blanket. He found the matching pillow nearby, a massive thing that was obviously Kristoff's, and lay down next to her, covering his legs with the same blanket. For a silent moment he just stared at her, watching the steady rise and fall of her chest as she slept. Suddenly overcome with the urge to touch her, he jacked himself up on his elbow and laid his hand against her cheek with soft tenderness. Elsa skin had nearly returned to its natural coolness, only a slight bit of warmth coloring her cheeks. A shaft of weak light fell across her face, turning her hair white and shimmery like a frozen waterfall.

"I love you," he whispered, pressing his forehead against hers and squeezing her hand that lay across her stomach. "I have always loved you. I don't really believe in fate or happenstance, but too many coincidences have continued to push us together, too many points for me to ignore, so I say this. I love you, Elsa Frosberg. More than anything, I love you, and I want to be with you for the rest of eternity. You are my moon and stars, my sun and air. I can't breathe without you; I can't think. So come back to me; come back so I can tell you all these things and hold you one more time. I love you; god I love you, till the end of time, till the last grain of sand falls. You are mine, and I am yours, and I'll never let you go again."

For the First Time in Never

A Frozen Story
by JE Glass

Part 21 of 24

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