Elsa's cries echoed against the cold stone walls that surrounded the courtyard of Castle Arendelle. She shouted out the name of the one person she knew held the answers to the riddles of her life. Her bellowing voice drowned out all other sounds as if she were the last person on Earth. It was as if a dozen other snow queens were calling out from the void, waiting for a response that may never come.
It came. From behind the snow queen came the creaking of a door swinging open. Elsa paused. It took her a full minute to register the sound and another one to fully process what it meant. A part of her did not want to look back, fearful of what - or who - she might have seen. Eventually, desperation won over apprehension and she turned to face the open doors of Castle Arendelle. There was no one there.
Confused, the queen looked around at the windows that surrounded her. Nothing. Still not a single sign of life. Only the wide open double doors of her ancestral abode, beckoning to her as if to finally welcome its lost daughter home.
How long had it been since she was last here? Weeks? Months? The days and nights bled into each other so well and her memories were still somewhat of a jumbled mess. It couldn't have been that long since she first woke up in her cell. It couldn't have been that long since she had first met Alia. It couldn't have been that long since she had slain her sister.
Elsa looked down at her palms, shaking her head free of the images of that fateful night. They were still as fresh as if everything had just happened the night before. The void called out to her, to lie down and give up all hope. And yet the tired snow queen found just a fragment of inner strength to push on. There were answers waiting for her. She could not let her emotions stop her now. She would not.
The Snow Queen of Arendelle forced herself to her feet and entered the castle of her birth. Almost immediately, Elsa felt that something was wrong. The long corridor that led to the castle's great hall was bare, barren, as if somebody had taken all the tables and chairs, all the furniture and livery. Whatever had happened had happened a long time ago. Much like the windows outside, the wooden, carpetless floor was covered by a thick layer of dust. Every single one of her careful footsteps spawned a tiny cloud of dirt that shone in the sunlight passing through curtainless windows. The castle appeared pretty much abandoned.
"Hello?" Elsa called out, her voice reverberating against bare wooden walls. Far ahead, the door to the great hall opened and the shadow of a figure stood in the doorway, waiting for her. "Who's there?" The queen asked, and received nothing in return. Whoever it was, the person simply waited for the queen to approach.
It turned out that it wasn't the family snowman that was waiting for her at the end of the corridor that led to the great hall of Castle Arendelle. The very same hall where two lifetimes ago, she had created a winter wonderland so many times as a child. The very same hall where one fateful night, a stray bolt of ice magic accidentally hit her sister and started them on this very path.
It wasn't Olaf that she found standing in front of the double doors that led into the hall. Instead, it was the woman who claimed to be her lawyer, her doppelganger, Alia. The woman who she had left behind in her ice palace miles ago.
"You!" Elsa pointed an accusing finger at the raven-haired woman that had claimed to be her barrister. There was something different in the way the older woman looked at her. It was a much softer look that what she was used to. As if Alia had been waiting for her for a while. "What is this? No more lies, I want answers!"
"Come with me, Elsa."
For some strange reason, the queen acquiesced. She looked into the other woman's deep teal eyes, waiting for some earth-shaking revelation to surface. Alia's brows dipped as the corners of her eyes narrowed. A slight, sad smile formed on her mouth as the edges of her lips reached for her cheeks. Without another word, she cocked her head to the side, urging Elsa inwards. The snow queen nodded in equal silence. It seemed like Alia had answers she sought.
Alia led Elsa past the castle's empty halls, empty save for a thick coating of dust that seemed to coat every available exposed surface. Not that there were that many surfaces left. Not anymore. Gone were the brightly-colored livery and tapestries that Anna had been putting up the past few years. All the furniture and decorations, including the carpets covering the wooden floors and the numerous paintings that adorned the walls were missing as well. The rest of the castle was as empty as Elsa had ever seen it. There was not a living soul in sight. Gone were the muffled steps of servants on carpeted floors, the silenced and shushed tones of handmaidens used to years of keeping as quiet as possible so as not to disturb the princess she used to be. What really struck her was the dust. It appeared like nobody had lived here in years.
Finally, they stopped at a set of wooden double doors at the end of a long, dark corridor. A set of wooden doors that the queen had no memory of. Much like her ice palace, some remodeling had occurred as well in the castle. She wondered how much time truly had passed since she had left.
"Here, everything will make more sense when we get there."
The doors opened to reveal a small circular chamber, like the body of a tower or an oubliette, with a single spiral staircase leading upwards. What surprised the snow queen was that the staircase, and in fact the walls surrounding it, were made of solid ice.
"Hi Elsa." A flight above, on one of the icy steps, stood Olaf the Snowman.
Before she could acknowledge the tiny snow construct, her companion stepped past the doors and onto the first icy step. To her surprise, Alia looked straight at where Olaf was standing and nodded in acknowledgement. "Lead the way, Olaf."
"You can see him?!" Elsa exclaimed, looking at her lawyer incredulously.
"Why yes, of course I can," Alia waved up at the sentient snow construct and sent him an earnest smile. "He's the family snowman."
"Hi Alia," Olaf waved back with one twiglike hand.
"And of course he knows your name," Elsa shook her head as she steadied herself with one hand against an icy wall.
"We've met before. A couple of times." Alia smiled, walked up to the diminutive snowman, placed her right palm flat on top of his conical head and ruffled the wooden twigs that were essentially his hair.
"Eight times, I think." Olaf mused in that wonderfully familiar clueless manner that the queen had so gotten used to over the years. "Wait! Seven? I don't know. Definitely less. Definitely the eighth you though," he gestured towards the powerless snow queen.
Elsa shrugged in puzzlement at what the snowman had just said. Perhaps he was still indeed a figment of her imagination and she was simply imagining Alia responding to him. Perhaps her lawyer was a figment of her imagination as well. Her hands went up to her cheeks, then up to her temples, then up into her mane, her fingers digging into the mess that was the unbraided part of her platinum blonde hair.
They stood there for a while, the two others waiting for her to make a decision she had not been asked for. Looking around, everything felt like it was shrouded in mist, in a mental haze. There was a strange, surreal atmosphere ever since they had entered the tower. Elsa finally worked up the courage to ask the question that had been swirling in her mind since this everything started falling apart.
"Am I dead?" Elsa looked into her counterpart's piercing eyes. "Is this the great beyond?" She looked down at her palms again, one of them wet with melted ice. "Heaven?" Above them, the staircase went on and on and on, with no ceiling in sight. Elsa couldn't tell how high the tower was. It simply felt like a stairway into the unknown. She paused for a moment, having just realized something dreadful. "Or...hell?"
Alia walked up to the queen and placed an icy hand on her bare shoulder. "No, Elsa. You are not dead." Her confidante's touch was heavier than she was used to, as if the older woman wanted to reassure Elsa that she was in fact, a living and breathing person.
Elsa turned to Olaf, who was now standing beside her raven-haired doppelganger. "I don't understand." She tried to look through the icy walls, to see some semblance of the world outside. But nothing was clear. "Am I dreaming? Is this a dream then?" Elsa paused and rapped her knuckles against cold, hard ice. "A nightmare?"
Whatever passed for the snowman's lips pursed into a smile. Alia sighed. "No. Not a dream." She started up the stairs and then paused, waiting for her ward to follow. "Not exactly."
"This," Alia waved her hand across a part of the tower wall that was thinner than the rest. Thin enough that Elsa could see the snow-covered mounds of Arendelle through the slightly-transparent window that she approached. Alia continued. "...is more like a simulation."
"A simulation?" The queen asked, confused. She had heard that word before, when Kristoff was telling her of a book he had just read.
"Yes, a world within your mind." Alia tapped her temple with her index finger. "In here."
"In my mind." Pabbie's words echoed in her ears. 'The world as you wish it to be.' "So, imagination?" Elsa looked out through the pane of crystal clear ice down towards the rooftops of the town below. Could it be? The queen squinted at the multicolored wooden roofs that stood side-by-side, creating a patchwork of shapes that meandered around the cobblestone roads leading outwards from the castle. It was real, as real as the cold wetness she felt on the tips of her fingers as she pressed her hand against the icy wall. "This isn't real?"
Olaf paused on a higher step, waited for his maker to reach him, then continued walking up the spiral ice staircase they were ascending. "It's all as real as you want it to be, Elsa." His soothing voice made his statement no less cryptic.
"What do you mean?" She pressed her forehead against the cold ice wall. She could feel its balmy chill trying to seep through into her skin, though it bothered her as much as frigid temperatures always had in the past - not at all. It felt real enough for her.
"What Olaf means to say is, this is all in your mind. As of this moment, we are in your mindscape." Alia was resting just a few steps above the queen and the snowman. She held her hand out towards the queen. Elsa took it and turned it over a few times, looking to see if it was indeed real.
"I-I don't understand." Elsa looked down at her own hands. She pinched her arm and winced at the pain. That felt real. "This is real."
"Think of it as a dream. A long dream, while the true you remains sleeping out there," Alia pointed upwards towards the sky. "Out there in the real world.
"The true me?" Elsa's gaze followed her companion's pointing finger, towards the static sky barely visible through the translucent ice. It was as it had been since Elsa could remember, swathed in hues of pink and orange, as if straight out of a painting. It was a beautiful day. As beautiful as the past days had been. A perfect day. Too perfect. "The real world," she whispered.
"Oh my god." Weakness struck her body as her legs gave way beneath her. Only the icy railing of the spiral staircase kept her from sliding down into the abyss below. They had been climbing for a while now and she had no idea how far down there was to go. Something had been feeling rather off. It was that nagging feeling in the back of her mind that had now surfaced and was making her question her very reality. "Where...how?"
"You're safe out there. Your body. Somewhere safe and secret, sleeping soundly and dreaming this dream." Olaf casually said as he helped his creator to her feet before pushing her up the stairs once more. "This dream. These dreams. All of them." He corrected himself.
"Wait, dreams?" The queen looked strangely at Alia as something finally clicked in her mind. Her attention turned to the snowman. "When you said I was the eighth, you didn't mean the eighth snow queen, did you?"
"No, not exactly." Olaf shook his head and looked at the queen with a sad, resigned look on his face. "You are the eighth...you." The snowman framed his creator with his twiglike fingers. "The eighth...Elsa."
The rightful queen of Arendelle had to take a few uneasy steps backwards and downwards as her suspicions were confirmed. She wrapped her arms around herself as she felt the world start to spin. "What happened to them all? Are they all dead?" She asked. The way Olaf nodded just made her heart sink.
"I wouldn't say that. 'Dead' sounds so...final," the diminutive snowman commented with that innocent wit that the queen had come to love over the years.
"Not dead," Alia corrected. "Refreshed. Reset. Once one dream is over, another one starts anew. The transition is seamless." A tiny hint of a smile crossed her lawyer's lips. "Ironically as if you had just opened your eyes and woken up from a very long dream."
A sudden realization set a glimmer of hope ablaze in Elsa's heart. "Wait! If this is a dream...then I didn't kill Anna?" She looked at Olaf intently, a hint of optimism in her voice.
"No," Olaf answered. "You didn't kill Anna." The sigh to end all sighs escaped the snow queen's lips as she leant against the tower walls. It was as if a huge burden had been lifted from her shoulders. She almost felt a sense of elation, premature though it may be. She could never live with the reality that she had killed either one of the two people she loved in the world. She would rather die. That thought crystallized in her mind, which led to another question. "Do I die? Can I die?" Elsa looked upwards. Somewhere above, she could finally see the hints of a chandelier hanging from a ceiling. They were finally nearing their destination.
"Not in here. In here, you'll grow old, you die. And then you wake up and you're you again. Ad infinitum." Alia answered. "As I've said, the transition is seamless. Or should be. Something went amiss with this iteration. You're not supposed to notice anything wrong."
"What went wrong this time?" Elsa held her arms out and upwards. There, around a dozen more loops around the staircase above was an exact copy of the chandelier she had created in her ice palace. Sunlight passing through the icy walls hit the crystals that hung in neat, geometric patterns above them, sending radiant beams of multicolored light out and bathing the walls with a rainbow hue. It was all so familiar. No. As she got closer to the top, she realized it was the very same structure.
"The subconscious is a powerful thing, Elsa. Aspects of it, may it be guilt, jealousy, ego - they can all affect this mindscape in many ways." Alia answered. "That, and your magic is fading."
Olaf touched the small of her back with his wooden arm. "I'm fading, Elsa. Out there, in the real world. Your magic is fading."
"You've been outside all this time?" The queen exclaimed, a flicker of hope in her voice. "You can get Anna and Kristoff! Tell them to wake me up! Tell them-"
She was cut short by Olaf holding what amounted to his palm in front of her face. The snowman was shaking his head, a look of immense sadness on his face. "It's not that easy. Anna and Kristoff." The snowman choked on his own words. "...they're gone, Elsa."
No. No no no! Elsa's heart sank and she collapsed into Alia's arms. Gone. That can't be! "Was it me? Was it my fault? Did I kill Anna after all? Did I kill Kristoff?" She wailed, her fists hitting the older woman ineffectually.
"No, no, nothing like that." Olaf tried to reassure her but she batted his twiglike arm away.
"Then what?" A hundred different scenarios, a hundred different images of her sister and her ice master flashed through her mind. Images of Anna, frozen on the fjord just like that day, so many years ago. Images of Kristoff, skewered against a wall with spikes of ice. Images of Arendelle through a heavy blizzard. Images of Arendelle washed away if she hadn't stopped that wave of water that one time. Did she freeze the kingdom again? Did something happen with the spirits of the North?
Olaf hesitated and looked at Alia, as if waiting for approval. Her dark haired counterpart nodded at the snowman, who sighed and turned to face the distraught queen.
"Time, Elsa. Time took them."
"What? I don't understand...no." Elsa's eyes widened and then shut tight. Tears knocked on the inside of her eyelids but she refused to let them out. She was the eighth. She was the eighth Elsa. Time. "How long?" She asked with a whisper.
"Almost two hundred years," Olaf replied.
Two hundred years. Her legs almost gave way beneath her. Only the danger of slipping and then falling down this eternal staircase gave her the strength to stay standing, at least for a while. The Queen of Arendelle sat down on the final step before the top of the staircase and gazed out the translucent tower walls through teary eyes. She could barely see the castle below them, much less the roofs of individual houses in the town anymore. They were much higher than she had ever been in her entire life, almost among the clouds. And it was all a lie. Whatever lay down there wasn't there any more, not like that at least. Two hundred years. She had been trapped in this nightmare for two hundred years.
After what seemed like eternity, which might as well have been, the snow queen stood up on the last step. She slowly took that final step and found herself in a small bell tower with a single door that must have led to some outdoor balcony. Alia gestured to the door, a simple wooden structure, odd to be found at the top of a mile-high tower made entirely of ice.
"What's out there?" Elsa asked the other woman.
"Answers. Decisions. Fate," Alia replied. Another cryptic answer, although Elsa had an idea what she had meant.
The snow queen walked up to the door and pushed it open. On the other side was indeed a rather large balcony of solid ice, much like an enlarged version of the one she had fashioned in her ice palace a few years ago - two hundred years ago, she realized. The sky was even more unmoving than before, locked in a perfect hue that seemed like someone had captured those few precious moments before sunset and froze them in the sky. An eternal heaven.
Olaf had been outside. He had been walking the world for over a hundred years. Elsa turned around, knelt down and held the snowman by the shoulders. "Tell me what happened? What happened to Anna? To Kristoff? To Arendelle?"
Alia crouched down beside her younger counterpart, looking intently at the snowman. It seemed like even her caretaker wasn't aware of this part of the story.
"She was a wonderful queen, known throughout the kingdom for her kind heart. Anna I of Arendelle lived a long and prosperous life, even long after relinquishing power to the people of Arendelle. The people loved her. Her funeral was a month long celebration of her reign, and her life. The only thing that eclipsed it was the year-long period of mourning for their beloved snow queen, decades prior."
Elsa savagely fought back her tears until Olaf had completed his story, recounting the many exploits of Queen Anna I, the last Queen of Arendelle. Though she had borne heirs, none of them ever took the highest position in the land, even relegated to a symbolic position. They kept the throne free to remember their mother, and their aunt who had disappeared long before they were born. The sister queens of Arendelle.
"Kristoff?" She was almost afraid to ask. The void in her chest contracted tightly, bringing the queen to her knees as she thought about her one true love. No matter what had happened out there in reality, she knew what she had felt for the ice master was real.
"Kristoff Bjorgman, prince-consort and royal ice master outlived the last queens of Arendelle. After the death of his beloved Queen Anna, he went back to his life in the mountains, never to be seen in public again." Olaf recounted. "At least not officially. He went home to his family, the trolls of the valley of the living rock. Their children, by then grown princes and princesses of Arendelle, visited every now and then. But Kristoff wasn't quite the same after Anna died." The snowman looked the snow queen in the eye. "Actually, even before that. He was never the same after that night. That night, Elsa. You know which one."
She had no idea what the snowman was talking about. Actually, outwardly she didn't, but there was a feeling in her gut. That night. When it all started. Minner. The bar. That was real. That had happened.
"What happened?" The snow queen asked. "To us? To me. What happened to me?"
"Do you really want to remember?" Alia grasped her ward's hand. There was a certain reluctance in the way her eyes twitched as she looked at Elsa. As if the other woman were also experiencing these memories for the first time. "Sometimes, ignorance can lead to the most blissful of existences."
Elsa looked straight into her confidante's eyes. "Tell me everything."
"Do you remember, Elsa?" The woman she had thought was her lawyer looked her squarely in the eyes. "That night, at the tavern?" Alia wiped the black strands of hair over her eyes back over her head as she leaned in closer to the queen. "In a drunken fit, you let your innermost desires free and you propositioned your sister's lover."
Elsa shook her head and then started laughing as the images came back, piece-by-piece, filling in each and every hole in her fragmented memory. That night at Minner had truly happened.
"The three of you fought. Words were thrown around. Harsh words never meant to be said between sisters." Alia gave life to still images already dancing in the snow queen's mind.
"I ran away," Elsa continued her counterpart's narrative as more details coalesced into solid figures in the fog of her mind. Memories of her flight from Arendelle slowly came back to her.
"You ran and ran," Alia kept going. "You ran all the way to and over the North Mountain," she said. "Into that castle of ice that you built the last time you felt as dejected and alone as you did that night." Her companion was looking intently at her, but the look on her face wasn't that of judgement. It was a look of pity. "There, in your fortress of solitude, under where a great chandelier had once hung, you laid down and cried yourself to sleep."
"But," the snow queen continued. "Kristoff...didn't bring me back home, did he?" Elsa asked, trying to reconcile this version of events from the events in her memories. There were so many conflicting images, she couldn't be sure which were reality and which were mere fantasy.
"No, not that he didn't try. By the time he and Anna had followed your tracks to the palace, you were gone." Olaf interjected. "By the time we got there," he corrected himself.
An image of a field of snow, far past the North Mountain, a landscape of icy rocks and steam came to her mind. A shore of darkness, and a river of ice. "I remember waking up." It was Elsa's turn. "Darkness. It was dark everywhere. And snowing. A snowstorm. Wait, no. It was me. I was the snowstorm." She looked up at Alia. "I kept on running."
"You ran, Elsa. You ran like you've never run before." Alia seemed to know details that even Elsa couldn't recall, despite being a figment of her mind. Or maybe it was precisely because she was what she was that her short-haired double was tapped into memories that were previously shielded from her. "When the blizzard you had unwittingly created became so strong that even you, its maker couldn't proceed, you took shelter in a small cave."
"I remember...a well. A well of stars." It was hazy in the queen's memories, but she remembered being at the bottom of a deep hole, and above her were the stars, tiny spots of light illuminating what was otherwise a bleak sky.
"Lying there on the cold, damp earth, alone, you looked up and saw the light from hundreds of fireflies seeking shelter from your blizzard."
Elsa felt sick to her stomach, remembering the wet ice on her cheek mingling with the taste of her own vomit. It was as if she was right there, lying on the cold, hard ground, staring upwards as a sea of lights reminded her of her own loneliness. She remembered the overwhelming feeling, the torrent of emotions threatening to crush her tiny heart. She remembered what she had decided was the only way to make the pain cease.
"I did kill someone after all, did I?" The snow queen looked at Alia and the snowman. Olaf nodded slowly. Alia simply looked at her with sad eyes. Elsa continued, the images in her mind slowly creeping towards the tip of her tongue. "Someone did die that night." Her voice disappeared into the featureless sky as it turned into a whisper of realization.
"It was me."
"Alone, dejected, you lost your will to live. Do you remember?" It was Alia's turn to narrate, having been inside the snow queen's head this entire time.
Elsa nodded silently.
Alia continued narrating a story that Elsa could now see as clearly as day. "With one final fit of anger and sorrow, of pure hopelessness and finality, you made a sliver of ice in your fist, and thrust it into the still-beating heart of the one and only person who you were sure still truly loved you."
"I froze myself."
The skies above them bathed the castle in an unearthly glow, casting crimson rays upon the snowcapped mountains that surrounded them. The snow queen stared off into the distance, towards a horizon hidden by rows upon rows of sharp alpine peaks and thick, lonely forests. Up here, high above the town and kingdom she had once called home, she felt just a little bit closer to heaven.
"Your sister eventually held a week long memorial when she finally gave up hope that you were still out there, waiting to return." Alia turned to look up and at the frozen skies around them. "The kingdom remained in mourning for a year. Anna, for much, much longer. Despite your differences and misunderstandings, she was a true sister."
"You were missed." Alia crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head as her brows knit together. It looked like even the stoic, stalwart woman was fighting back tears of her own. "It was Kristoff who never truly recovered. It was he that knew you best, Elsa. Like you, he never forgot that one night where true love seemed possible."
"Consequences, Elsa. It's the little things."
"The little things." Elsa stared off into the space between the two women, seeing every single loving moment between her and her ice master. Real moments. A slight touch. A hand on top of hers. The kiss. That night on the roof, when they stood on top of the world for a brief moment in time. Finally, she looked beyond, through teary eyes, as she met Alia's sympathetic gaze. "There's nothing bigger, is there?"
Alia looked back at her with a hint of a smile.
"And you, what's your story?"
"You died, Elsa." Alia's words were heavy with the truth and yet also of disbelief, as if her mental guide didn't fully accept or agree with what she had done. "And yet, as you started freezing into magical ice, there was a tiny cry. A cry for help so soft and faint that even the most sensitive ears could hardly notice. In that moment, a tiny part of you, the part that still believed in hope and redemption, in that infinitesimally small possibility that things might change for the better, took your mind and kept it safe."
Alia nodded, a sad smile on her lips. "You always envied Anna, your little sister. You envied the fact that she always had someone looking out for her. An older sister. A big sister." It suddenly made so much sense, why Alia looked exactly like her but a few years older, with different hair, and a wildly more confident demeanor. The snow queen's older sister bowed towards her younger sibling. "I'm here for you, as you were for her."
"So this," Elsa gestured around them, from the ice-capped mountains surrounding the base of the palace to the pastel-colored clouds that adorned the sky. "This is all because of you?"
"It's because of you," her companion answered in her usual cryptic fashion. "I'm the part of you that didn't want to give up, Elsa." Alia stood up straight, her arms out to her sides to emphasize their surroundings. "Together, we created this reality. This...alternate reality. A perfect world where you weren't turned down by Kristoff. A reality where Kristoff had come for you in your ice castle before you ran off into the unknown. A world where he brought you back and gave you the love you so sought after that was denied you."
Alia looked up with a tiny, sly smile. "A world where you weren't burdened with that which had been the cause of most of your life's complications."
'The world as you want it to be'. Grand Pabbie's words echoed in her mind.
Elsa looked down at her hands, allowing Alia's words to sink in. So that was why she hadn't felt the magic in so long. Why it only seemed to manifest during times of great stress or duress. She focused her mind on the part of her that has always been with her for better or for worse. And then it was there, just like that. A snowball coalesced in the center of her palm as she felt the magic in her veins. In some way, the snow queen felt whole again.
"In this reality, when you collapsed in your ice palace, Kristoff found you and picked you up, brought you back home to the castle." Alia stated with a flourish. "That was where we made the splice."
"A splice. Where the junction between life and dreams intersected. That moment, when a disembodied voice told you to open your eyes, was where the depressing bleakness of reality ended, and when forever began."
It was a bit too much to take. Elsa gripped the intricately formed handrails surrounding the balcony that they were standing on. Down below, Arendelle looked miniscule, far smaller than she remembered. The tower they were standing on felt like it was growing, ever so slowly.
"So I've been here seven times before?" She traced the intricate detailing on the railing with her thumb and forefinger. There was a certain sense of familiarity in how the icy details were etched and formed. The swirls and points, the tiny grooves all felt somewhat familiar.
"No," Alia shook her head. "This is the first time you've found out since you've been frozen. This is the first time you've been for lack of a better phrase, self-aware."
"What's so special about this time? How come I'm learning about this now and the other Elsa's didn't?" Elsa asked, genuine curiosity in her tone. "What was different this time around?"
"Me," Olaf the snowman waved his wooden hand up and out. "I was travelling the world, and this is the first time I've come back to Norway-ahem-Arendelle in a long time." He held his arms out to his sides. It reminded Elsa of how much Olaf liked warm hugs. Ironic really, for a man made entirely of snow. "I didn't realize it until now, but as part of your magic, I seem to be able to affect you from outside."
"I found you, Elsa." Olaf said. "After two hundred years, I found you. All I had to do, was look inside. Not outside." The snowman looked to be on the verge of tears. "I'm so sorry it took this long."
Elsa stared at the diminutive snowman. If what he was saying was indeed true, then she tried not to dwell on the fact that a simple accident, a twist of fate, a snowman she had unknowingly created and imbued with a piece of her magic was her sole salvation. If not for him, she would still be blissfully unaware of the lie she was living. Had been living. Would have been living. Over and over again. For all eternity.
"So what now?" The snow queen asked after minutes of introspection.
Alia piped up, her eyes bright with an idea. "We can fix this!" She beamed. "Reset. Try again. You only have to say so. We can fix the dream."
"What happens?" The snow queen asked, unsure of what to make of the look on her older twin's face.
"You wake up in your ice palace. Kristoff will be standing over you, ready to bring you back to the castle." Alia was smiling as she said that, but there was no confidence behind that smile.
"Paradise in a bottle," the original snow queen mused.
"In a way."
"And then after?"
"You grow old together. You have children. After the years pass by, you die quietly in bed in each other's arms after a long and fulfilled life." Alia clasped her hands together. "No complications," Alia nodded towards Olaf, who shook his head disapprovingly.
"And...after?" Elsa didn't like the uneasiness with which Olaf was listening quietly to Alia's explanations.
"You wake up, Kristoff will be standing over you."
Elsa closed her eyes and imagined all the things she had ever dreamed of. From the time she was a little snow princess playing with her sister, through the years of isolation and concealment, and then all the way well after the Great Freeze and her newfound freedom. It could all be perfect, as perfect as the painted skies above them, a mirror of the skies that day in France when she had come close to tasting that freedom that she so longed for. No. It was a lie. It was as much a lie as the gloves she was forced to wear for years to conceal her powers. It was just a bigger glove.
"This," the snow queen stomped hard on the icy floor, causing a few cracks to form where the sharp heel of her shoe hit the crystalline surface. "This isn't real! This can't be real!"
"What is reality, really?" Alia threw her hands upwards in a motion of surrender. "Up until a short while ago, this was the only real you knew." She looked at her twin with exasperation.
"What if I say no?" Elsa looked around with frustrated eyes. "What if I don't want this?"
"You have to understand. You magicked yourself in the heart. You froze yourself." Olaf took Elsa's hand. "Like you froze your sister all those years ago. Do you remember what it took to reverse that?"
The queen nodded. The words came out just like it was just yesterday - that day on the fjord when together with Anna and Kristoff, they found the secret to neutralizing the effects of her ice magic. "Love. Only true love can thaw a frozen heart..." Her voice trailed off as the implications of their current situation hit her. "There's nobody out there for me, not anymore. There's nobody who loves me."
"Nobody else," Olaf nodded towards Elsa's raven-haired counterpart, a woman that could very well be her older sister, or an older, different version of herself.
"He's right," Alia walked up to the snow queen and placed her right palm flat on Elsa's chest, just below her neck, over where her heart was beating vigorously. "I love you, Elsa."
"But I thought you were just a part of me," the queen replied, confused.
Alia smiled. "Exactly."
Elsa shook her head, her brows contorting as she struggled with what her doppelganger was implying. "I don't love myself. I've never loved myself. I can't. I'm a horrible person."
"Me being here," Alia touched the tip of her index finger into Elsa's chest right over her heart, "...proves that you do. That a little part of you does."
"So you can bring me back." It wasn't her sister's frozen form, slowly melting to reveal the person underneath, that came to mind. It wasn't her own body, freed from the curse of the spirits deep in the bowels of Ahtohallan that was fresh in her memories. It was that one, special insect, all those years ago, whose image graced the snow queen's mind. She looked at Alia. "Like Vani the Crystyfy?"
Alia nodded with a slight smile on her face. "Like Vani the Crystyfy."
The embattled snow queen turned to her snowman guide. "What do I do? What happens if I decide to wake up?"
"We wake you up. You wake up somewhere in the middle of what is now a place called Norway. I'll be right there with you, as I am right now." Olaf nodded. "I can probably guide you up to the nearest town. It won't be that long a walk, especially with cars and roads now. Anything after that is entirely up to you."
Before the queen could respond, the snowman held a twiglike finger in front of her face. "Elsa, you have to understand. The world has changed." There was great concern in his eyes, something that seemed totally out of place considering how the queen had known the jolly, free-wheeling snowman over the years. "The world has become a less magical place."
It was Alia's turn to talk. "Two hundred years, Elsa. You won't be the queen of anything. Everyone you ever knew is gone. Arendelle isn't even a kingdom anymore. Nobody truly remembers the real you. Your descendants might recognize you, but I wouldn't bank on it right away. It's not going to be easy." There was a hint of something in her voice - fear? "We could just stay here," she suggested.
Olaf interrupted again before Elsa could say anything. "Oh, one more thing. You'll most probably lose your powers. You'll still be somewhat resistant to the cold - that's always been a part of you, but the whole ice magic thing?" Olaf shook his head. "This world is going to be much less magical than the one you left behind. Waking yourself up will most likely consume what little is left of that. I'll be with you as long as I can. But that might not be that long too."
"Well? Live forever, or live...life." Alia stated, not as a question but more as a statement of reality. Of options. Of fate. "It's been a brilliant journey of self-awakening." Alia placed her hand on her younger sister's shoulder. "You have to ask yourself. What is happiness to you, Elsa?"
"Live forever," Elsa's voice trailed off into a whisper, indistinguishable from the whistling of the wind through and around the icy railings that lined the tower roof. The snow queen of Arendelle looked wistfully at the perfect skies above her. They were as perfect as they ever could have been. Like an idyllic summer day. It didn't feel right. "Or live." She shook her head. "This," she swept her hand up and across the mauve sky, "...isn't life."
A memory, long lost, of a little girl and her caring father snuck up from the depths of her addled mind. She repeated those very same words her father had told her, an answer in response to her asking 'why?'. "Life isn't supposed to be perfect. Life is never perfect." Elsa turned around to face her guides. "This isn't life. Life is supposed to be filled with pain and tears. Little islets of bliss and happiness in a sea of sorrow."
Alia slowly nodded in agreement. "The sweet is never as sweet without the sour."
The queen grasped the thin balcony railing and pulled herself up to her feet with a strength she had never felt before. She tried not to look directly down so as not to trigger her vertigo, but she looked across the entire landscape. It was as unmoving as the skies above her, straight out of a painting, a mural that lay within the depths of her own mind.
Elsa made her decision.
"I want to live."
She gave words to the feeling that had been building up in her gut since they had started their ascent up that staircase of fate. "I want to live a real life." Her long, blonde braid swung down her shoulder and to her back as she spun to face her two companions. "I've been dreaming far too long," she gave the snowman a curt nod. "I want to wake up."
Unexpectedly, Alia rushed forward and threw her arms around the snow queen. The look on her face as her jet-black bangs swept around her eyes was a look that Elsa had never seen on her. It was a look of pure relief.
The snowman smiled as well. The look on his face told Elsa all she needed to know about what he wanted her to do.
"What do I do? How does this go?" The queen asked Olaf.
"First you gotta make peace with yourself," he replied. "I think you know what to do."
Elsa nodded. She closed her eyes and focused her mind, and her heart on the two new presences now walking up behind her. Two familiar essences that brought her to the brink of tears, yet she knew she had to remain strong for this, for as long as this took.
She slowly turned around, already knowing what - no - who she would see.
"H-hey," the queen stammered. There, standing side-by-side, was her sister and her ice master. Elsa felt the urge to run forward and wrap her arms around her sister, to apologize for all the things she had ever done to her over the years. She felt the urge to jump into Kristoff's arms and bury her head in the crook of his neck, a safe and secure place she had been to so many times and yet none at all.
She stopped in her tracks and squinted, carefully examining every detail of her sister, from the individual strands of her blue, bunad skirt all the way to each individual freckle across her button-like nose. She did the same thing with Kristoff, picking out every individual strand of fur lining his woodsman's coat. She gazed intently at the loose clumps of dirty blonde hair that peeked out from under his woolen cap.
The two were exactly as Elsa remembered them to be, and now she knew why. Exactly as she had stored their very essences in her memories, given life by her imagination, in this world that was of her own making.
Collecting herself, the snow queen of Arendelle walked up to her sister and put her arms around her sister's thin waist. Anna embraced her back, resting her pointed chin on her older sister's shoulder.
"I missed you, sis." The princess of Arendelle let out a sniffle as she dug her cheek into her older sister's neck.
Elsa's voice came out as a whisper, which was already as loud as she could muster given what she was saying. "Anna. I am so terribly sorry," she started. "I tried to take your happiness away from you. And I ended up taking ours. All of ours. I broke our family."
Anna put her hands on her sister's shoulders and pushed just enough that they were now standing face-to-face, give or take the few inches that the queen was taller than her sister. "No. I don't forgive you." Before Elsa could react, the princess continued. "I don't forgive you because there's nothing to forgive. We're sisters, remember?" Anna's freckles caught more of that artificial sunshine as her cheeks bunched up into a smile. "Life's too short. Too short to spend feeling sorry about things you've done. Mistakes you've already learned from."
Elsa had to close her eyes to prevent her tears from escaping, and yet a single one still managed to squeeze out and roll down her left cheek. "But Kristoff-"
"-is right here," her sister interrupted. "If you have something more to say, you can tell him yourself. But between us there is nothing, nothing to apologize for."
The snow queen nodded, her mouth in a grimace as she struggled to keep her emotions in check. Her sister smiled, turned her sideways and pushed her towards the ice master, who readily took the queen into his waiting arms.
Elsa held Kristoff's hands as she looked upwards into his deep brown eyes. The warmth of his palms spread upwards to her arms like a torrent of water refilling a dry riverbed. She felt her heart beating furiously against the inside of her chest, each thump seemingly making the ice crystals that hung from the front of her dress quiver just a little bit.
Elsa's voice cracked. "Look at us. I'm frozen and you're dead." The queen shook her head at the ridiculousness of the situation. "And I love you," she added.
"It's a problem," Kristoff smiled and pulled his snow queen into an embrace.
"I lost you when I left that bar." She leaned into her ice master's body. It was as soft and warm as she remembered, so many times before, some real and most not. "I'm sorry," she whispered. Kristoff hugged her back as tight as ever, his ungloved hands digging into the small of her back pulling the lovers closer together.
"I guess, this is goodbye." The queen spoke slowly, knowing if her words came out any faster that they would have been accompanied by a torrent of tears.
"No, not goodbye." Kristoff buried his nose in Elsa's hair, and she felt him breathe in her scent. "Just, 'I'll see you later.'"
Elsa bit her lip hard, but the taste of blood wouldn't come out. "Later is an awfully long time," she managed to whisper. "Too long." The two lovers remained locked together for an eternity, while the world waited patiently.
Kristoff held Elsa's shoulders out at arm's length and looked straight into her deep blue eyes. She struggled to keep standing without being drawn in to his deep brown ones. The queen felt like a little girl again, before Anna's accident, without a care in the world.
"Elsa. Live. Live a long life. I want you to live a very, very long and amazing life. Can you promise me that?"
"I-I don't know," the queen stammered. "I don't think I can without you-" Elsa turned her head towards her smiling sister, "-both of you around."
"Elsa, look at me." The ice master's grip on her shoulders grew just a bit stronger. "Look at me." Kristoff stared into her eyes like he was looking through them and straight at her soul. "Never give up. On anything. On yourself. Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around."
Elsa let his words wash over and around her as she closed her eyes and fell back into his arms. She nodded silently. After what seemed like forever and yet not long enough, she extricated herself from his embrace.
Elsa stepped back and let her vision sweep over the two most important people in the world to her. She could taste a rawness in her mouth as she bit down on her lower lip. She would never see them again.
"We'll always be here," as if the princess could read her mind, Anna tapped her index finger on the side of her older sister's temple, right above and in front of where her thick blonde hair sat on the top of her ear. "Just think of us and we're as good as there."
"And here," Kristoff said softly as he placed his warm palm onto the center of Elsa's chest between her breasts, right over where her heart lay beating. The smile that Elsa found upon her ice master's face filled her with such warmth, a kind of good warmth she hadn't felt in over a hundred years.
The queen extended her arms outwards and pulled her family close for one last, final embrace. The warmth from their bodies felt hot enough to thaw an entire palace of ice. Already, Elsa could feel a comfortable burning sensation in her chest. It was like a tiny pinprick of light, a rekindled ember that was slowing growing into a fiery blaze. It was starting.
"It's time," Olaf's voice accompanied a slight tap on her back. Elsa turned around, looked down and gripped the wooden twiglike fingers of Olaf's hand. She held on tightly as he led her away from the royal family and towards the sky. Together, they approached the edge of the balcony where Alia was waiting, standing on a part of the railing that was conveniently wide enough to stand on safely.
"What do I do?" Elsa asked.
The diminutive snowman smiled up at the queen as he pointed beyond the balcony, towards the eternal sunrise and its pastel-colored clouds. "You jump." He nodded at the queen's raven-haired twin. "You both jump." He turned to the queen.
"I'll catch you on the other side," the snowman quickly added in response to the look of incredulity on the queen's face. It seemed like a pretty counter-intuitive act, almost suicidal. Elsa gulped. If this were real, it would definitely be suicidal. She stopped just short of the edge as the world threatened to spin beneath her.
The queen's eyes grew wide as she looked down over the ice railing that prevented her, Alia and the snowman from toppling over to their demise. They were so high up, she couldn't properly see the bottom of the tower, or the palace it was connected to, or even the mountain, where she had built this castle centuries ago. Arendelle was nothing but a tiny little speck miles beneath her feet. It was way higher than she remembered, much higher. The queen felt a churning in her stomach. Her knees buckled under her insignificant weight. It was a long way down. All it would take was a single step, and it would all be over, if not one way then another. Suicidal.
"Wait!" The snow queen shouted and turned around. It hit slowly, the realization that these were the last moments she had with the people she loved, in this life at least.
Elsa rushed back and jumped into Kristoff's waiting arms, pressing her thin lips against his. The former mountain man reciprocated, meeting Elsa's tongue with his own. They kissed like the lovers they never truly were, kissing for an eternity, for time had no meaning in this hallowed place.
Trying to hold back her tears, she eased herself down and then walked to her sister. Without saying a word, she wrapped her arms around the younger princess and grabbed her tight.
Without another word, she turned back towards her final destination. As the queen was walking back to the precipice, now devoid of any railing that might prevent her from reaching her chosen destiny, she glanced back at the two people that meant the world to her.
"I'll see you two again." Her voice had lost all of its trembling uncertainty, brimming with newfound confidence and even what might have been genuine bravado.
"Don't hurry." Anna pulled the ice master close and the two lovers held hands as they had so many times before in Elsa's memories. Elsa looked at the image of her sister and her Kristoff, back in each other's arms as it had always been meant to be. A match made in heaven. She sighed. A mortal ice queen had no right to sunder what fate had brought together.
"I'll see you in another life," Kristoff shouted with a smile.
"When we are both reindeer." Elsa completed.
"Better than people." Anna added.
The queen nodded, smiled, then took a few steps toward the edge.
Alia gestured towards certain death as she held out her hand for the snow queen to take. "Goodbye, Elsa. I hope you never need to see me again."
"Are you ready?" Olaf asked.
She stood with her ankles together, the cape of her ice dress fluttering in the strong winds as Elsa spread her arms sidewards and outwards. Eyes closed, she bent her neck upwards and felt the rays of eternal sunlight on her face, a certain kind of warmth that caressed her skin like fingers of light. For a single moment, she could hear nothing. Anna and Kristoff behind her, Alia and Olaf beside her, the howling of the wind, the birds, nothing. Nothing but the sound of her own heart lightly tapping the inside of her chest like a trapped child.
'Do the magic!' A tiny voice shouted.
'Fear will be her enemy' An old man advised.
'The gloves will help.' An older man said.
'Conceal, don't feel.' A lonely princess lamented.
'Do you want to build a snowman?' A young child asked.
'Don't let them know.' A woman whispered.
'Let it go.' A woman said.
'Monster!' An old man screamed.
'Let it go.' A woman sang.
'Love will thaw a frozen heart.' A soothing voice said.
'Let it go.' A woman shouted.
'Let it go.'
'Let go, Elsa.'
From the beyond the utter darkness of eternity, a familiar voice echoed against the boundless walls of her mind and tickled her ears. "Elsa." "Open your eyes."
A/N: If you haven't pieced it together already, yes, this story is based on one of my favorite movies: Vanilla Sky. My intention from the start was creating a Frozen-fied version of the story, including iconic scenes and incorporating memorable lines. I hope I did the movie and the story justice. It's been a brilliant journey of self awakening. Thank you for reading Frozen: Vanilla Ice. I hope you enjoyed this adventure with me.
From the beyond the utter darkness of eternity, a familiar voice echoed against the boundless walls of her mind and tickled her ears.
"Open your eyes."
A/N: If you haven't pieced it together already, yes, this story is based on one of my favorite movies: Vanilla Sky. My intention from the start was creating a Frozen-fied version of the story, including iconic scenes and incorporating memorable lines. I hope I did the movie and the story justice. It's been a brilliant journey of self awakening. Thank you for reading Frozen: Vanilla Ice. I hope you enjoyed this adventure with me.