I know, I know. I said I wouldn't put up a new story while Cold to the Touch was still being done, but the thing is all these ideas for OGaV were dominating my head and I just had to get them down and up on here. CttT will be finished, but at least this way I've got the foundation down.
Some things to remember: there will be violence in this fic, and bad language plus more adult stuff. It will be dark, but it will be fun.
With some chapters I have musical themes in my head, for example for this prologue I listened to Lemurian Star from Captain America: The Winter Soldier OST. It's up to you if you want to listen to them, it doesn't affect the story at all.
Eventual Jelsa...though it will be a while.
Needless to say, the rights to the RoTG cast belong to Dreamworks and the rights to the Disney alumni belong to...Disney. *coughs*
With that said, I hope you enjoy it.
02/04/2015: Complete edit of this prologue to fit in with further chapters - third-person past is better for me to write long fics with. I have also changed Elsa and Anna's surname to Snowfield, changed the time period to be set in the 2070s and bulked up a few paragraphs that were in dire need of it.
26/09/2018: Edit of and addition to Elsa's PoV to expand more on it, and because it felt skeletal.
Prologue - "The Fire-Weaver"
Location: New Burgess
Date: July 9th, 2070
Jack 'Frost' Overland hated this city and everything it stood for…both levels of it.
Perfectly balanced on one of the myriad Unity communications antennae that was horizontally protruding from the monolithic southern support column designed to hold up the upper level of the city, he forced down the contempt and bile in his throat as he scanned every inch of the streets below him. It was dark – but then again, with the upper level blocking out most of the sun's life-giving splendour, it was always dark – though people are astoundingly resilient.
That, or astoundingly stupid, he wasn't sure which.
With the lower half of New Burgess dwelling in almost perpetual shadow, the environment was cold, overwhelming and rank. The inhabitants that lived there – those that could afford to live in the ramshackle buildings they called home – are pale and sunken, their moods sullen and stand-offish. A classic sign of Vit-D deficiency which was a widespread symptom of the impoverished yet indoctrinated people.
Yet, the people clung to the propagandised messages of Unity like it was their guiding star. Half of them couldn't afford to eat well and the other half couldn't afford basic utilities, yet they all attended Unity-mandated schools, Unity-sponsored events and watched Unity-endorsed television. Soul-sucking, mind-numbing messages that eroded free will and encouraged collective thought.
It was even worse if you were an abnormal, like the man on the support column…because then you were the enemy, the glitch in the system, the unforeseen variable in the equation, the seditious element that must be crushed.
You were the one with the powers, and they didn't like that.
The gruff voice resonated through his ear like an earthquake, forcing Jack to re-adjust his earpiece with a heavy wince. He had been so wrapped up in thought that he nearly lost his precarious footing with the sudden, booming sound. He knew the voice belonged to his squad-leader Harvester, and judging by the 'request' for an update, he hadn't found anything either.
"Nothing yet. Still looking."
Repeats of the same followed the man's answer, in two different voices. He wasn't surprised – New Burgess is a titanic city with tens of millions of people on both levels, so searching for one person would be like a needle in a haystack, surrounded by thousands of other haystacks. The odds should have been impossible.
Sometimes, though, fate lends a hand to even the playing field.
Jack decided that his eyesight alone wasn't enough, that while he was looking for the specific signs that would lead him to the person they're searching for, the lack of light in the lower level in addition to the steam occasionally venting from above him in a loud, ear-splitting hiss screwed with his vigilance.
"Baby Tooth? Can you give me infra-red?"
The quiet twitter in his ears responded brightly and affirmatively, and the goggles over his eyes flickered from clear, unobstructed vision to a mass of red, green, yellow and blue hues. For a brief second, he was disoriented by the stark visual change, but after a few years he had become more than used to it – and for the person he and his team were searching for, it was necessary.
Jack and his squad-mates had been in New Burgess, in the heart of the enemy for some time. Rumours and reports had reached their ears of a warehouse burning to the ground in the western district of the lower half, and in a city where 'peace' reigned supreme, something like that was definitely out of place.
He knew who they're looking for – not their name, but what they were – someone like him and the rest of his squad. Warehouses weren't likely to spontaneously catch fire in this day and age, and they'd been doing this long enough to know that this is a Bloom Event, where someone had involuntarily taken the first step on the short-lived road of life as an abnormal. They were also seasoned enough to deduce precisely what to look for – someone who could create and manipulate fire, and was probably so freaked out that they are having a hard time controlling their powers…
…resulting in an elevated core body temperature far beyond the norm, hence the infra-red.
"Sound off and location."
That particular phrase was a regular occurrence. Their squad was so small that the loss of even one person would be catastrophic, thus every hour or so he requested a 'sound off' so he could keep tabs on everyone. It was like being at school all over again, hearing your name being called from the register, but Jack understood why he did it.
Names echoed in his ear piece with varying levels of calmness. Night Fury, for example, spoke with a barely concealed tone of worry. He was a man that disliked violence and death, though was starkly aware that sometimes it is necessary. That's why he was the techie of the group, and when he rode Toothless as he was undoubtedly doing so at that precise moment, he was the shock-and-awe display along with their exfiltration plan. Jack guessed that Night Fury was circling the city, low enough that the city's sensors couldn't pick him up, and the colour of Toothless blending them perfectly into the blanket of night so spotting them would have been impossible.
One name hadn't been spoken, and for a moment Harvester sounded pretty anxious. He repeated the name Pitch like it was a mantra, his volume and sharpness increasing with each utterance until finally, the English accent only associated with one person radiated from the earpiece, and there is an almost audible sigh of relief.
"I'm here. There's been…an incident nearby."
Harvester sounded even more concerned at that. Pitch had been ordered to watch the upper level of the city for disturbances, in case the person they were looking for decided to flee and hide there. Given the increased martial presence it would have been asking for capture, but stranger things have happened.
"Three men just turned a car into Swiss cheese. I can't clearly see the driver or the passenger, but they look dead. The shooters are still here, though I can barely make them out. Shall I intervene?"
Typical Pitch. If there was a fight, or even the vague notion that one might start, he was always the first to get involved. He wasn't a brawler, someone who liked to get into the thick of it for the joy of a good scuffle…he just loved violence. Sometimes, a little too much.
"Negative. Get out of there."
The almost dejected tone to Pitch's voice amused Jack, but Harvester's order made perfect sense. Just like the warehouse, a shooting in the upper levels of all places was bound to attract attention from the Unity police and the clone soldiers, so the farther away that Pitch was from the situation, the better…even if he would love nothing more than to reduce each clone to their constituent parts.
Then, as it always did, came the time for the man on the column to sound off, but he didn't. He kept silent, and gripped another antenna above him so he could lean forward, using the dense metal to support his weight. Anyone else would probably have felt extremely faint at the dizzying height, but the man was so comfortable with being so far above ground that it almost felt like home.
He didn't respond as he saw something on the street below; a brighter speck of red, moving quickly down the main street that cut the lower city in half. This person was clever, he noted, as they tried to blend in with the crowds of yellow moving to and fro. The problem however, was if his squad knew what to look for, then Unity did too. Hiding in plain sight can only get you so far.
Sometimes you had to be invisible.
The worried repeats of his name in his earpiece started to get extremely irritating, and before he knew it a terse, angry response escaped his lips.
"Shut up. I've got something."
The red speck seemed to have picked up the pace, and was hurrying towards the southern circumference of the lower city. Whoever this person was, they were probably scared and alone, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people bustling past them and just wanted to find a place to hide. Maybe to take their chances that Unity wouldn't find them and take them away.
"Main Street, moving quickly. Destination unknown. Shadow and observe?"
"Affirmative. Stay frosty."
Jack chuckled in amusement at the phrase. He knew it meant 'stay alert', but he didn't miss the coincidental use.
What came next was his favourite part of any mission he and the rest of his squad would undergo. His left hand relinquished the grip on the antenna and reached over to his right wrist, around which was wrapped a hard-wearing bracer, with an eight-inch long metal rod sat contentedly in a socket along the material. As he unclipped the rod, he pressed a button and with a metallic shink, the eight-inch rod became a six-foot, shiny black staff. Every time he used it, he silently said his thanks to Night Fury for the staff's creation.
Straightening up, he rolled his shoulders, set his goggles back to normal vision and allowed himself to fall backwards off the antenna in a graceful dive. That was what he loved to do, and he knew he didn't do it enough. The rushing of the air past his face, the lurching of his stomach at the sudden change of velocity and direction but more importantly, the feeling of being able to fly. Flickering lights on the support column vertically shot across his vision, and as the ground rushed to meet him he decided that it was probably a good time to pull up and level off. The wind echoed his thoughts, and as though an invisible hand braced his chest it gently pushed him up from a vertical dive to a steep ascent, his stomach angrily threatening to vacate the premises as it happened.
As he soared above the lower city he noticed a building with a better view of the huge street below him, with the dim and dingy lights illuminating the nexus of pedestrian traffic. Flying over and landing on corner of the roof closest to the street he crouched and sets his goggles back to infra-red, turning his head from left to right in an effort to re-acquire the objective.
The person disappeared, leaving only a sea of yellow figures that greeted his eyes like an assault on the visual cortex.
"Fuck." he hissed, angry that in the seconds it took for him to fall off the antenna and fly to this building, he lost the target. Whipping his head left and right with agitated panic, his stomach lurched for an entirely different reason...this person must be scared and alone, and he refused to let them down.
Spotting a building on the other side, he tensed his legs and prepared to leap over to it for a better look, but a sound from far, far above him gave him pause. As he craned his head up, he felt the flash of fear as a sea of blue and black hues covered his vision...
...except for four bright red, circular lights evenly spaced in a rectangle, descending from a hatch in the city ceiling - the lights ostensibly belonging to a Unity drop-ship.
Which meant that they were searching for the abnormal too.
Setting the goggles back to clear vision, he watched as the four ionic jets of the drop-ship kicked into action, speeding the large craft towards him. A flash of fear ripped through him like a lightning strike and as he instinctively dropped to the ground and flattened himself on the roof, he hoped against hope that his scavenged black uniform would help him blend in with the cold, onyx-coloured tiles that his back rested upon. If he was spotted, he would have no other option but to abandon this person and get the hell out of there, lest he and his entire squad be captured.
With a loud, deep buzzing the drop-ship flew directly over him and hovered a few hundred yards away, and for a second he thought that it was all over, that he had been made. The sound of his pulse thundered in his ears like an earthquake that mingled with the agitated calls of his name from his earpiece, and he quietly hissed the words 'radio silence' to make sure the rest of his unit would shut the fuck up to give his head a break. Keeping his eyes firmly entrenched on the four-engine vehicle, he didn't realise that he had been holding his breath…
…until, after an eternity, the drop-ship lazily flew off in a southerly direction and his lungs allowed themselves to work again, the paralysing fear dissipating with every metre that the ship flew away from him. He quickly scrambled to his feet, using the staff for support, and watched as the four lights began to shrink into nothing...and pulled the goggles onto his forehead. His natural vision would be better at this point.
"We have a problem."
"I lost visual, and a Unity patrol craft just flew over me. I wasn't seen, but I think they know where the package is."
"Follow them. Stay out of sight, but keep on their six. Do you want back-up?"
He was already leap-flying from building to building behind the vehicle, making sure to stay in the blind spot below and to the rear of it. The question was odd but expected – Unity patrol craft usually contain six to eight clone units and one squad leader known as the Alpha. Out of the eight of them, the Alpha is the one who possessed a semblance of individualistic thought – such as it was – while the clones were bred specifically to follow orders. Dressed in all black military clothing with opaque black helmets, they were designed to intimidate and force obedience, with a basic knowledge of combat if the situation called for it.
He knew that one clone was no match for his skills, but eight plus one Alpha? He figured it sounded like fun.
He knew that Harvester probably ignored him and sent Pitch anyway, but the realisation that he was running out of time weighed heavily on his mind while elegantly free-running over the rooftops, especially given that the drop-ship had started a descent towards the Nether, the outskirts of the city. Good place to hide, but bad place to live.
The anxiety unstoppably crept from his stomach to his chest as he closed the distance between him and the now-landing drop-ship, and crouched on a nearby street lamp high above the ground he watched the rear hatch open, spitting forth eight clones and one Alpha down its rear exit ramp. Perfect formation, as usual.
Unity in thought, Unity in deed. Complete bullshit.
"Eight mooks, one Alpha. They're breaking down the door to a disused house. Shall I engage?"
"Negative. Wait for Pitch." Harvester responded with a forceful growl that was not missed. He was overly cautious at that point.
Jack's teeth were gritting to the point of an angry ache as he watched the clones broke through the door and forced their way into the small building, and he knew that his window of opportunity was closing fast. If those mooks managed to get the unfortunate abnormal onto the carrier, then that was it. On the other hand, if he intervened too early and was incapacitated, that would be the end of him, too.
As he re-adjusted the goggles that sat patiently onto his forehead and clipped a mask to the lower half of his face, a jagged snowflake emblem where his mouth should be, he decided that it was a risk worth taking, especially for this undoubtedly terrified person who had no idea of the troubles he or she was about to face.
The angry utterances of his name fell upon deaf ears as he swooped from the street light down onto the roof of the house, and as he counted two clones waiting a few feet away from the door, screams from inside reached his ears and urged him to drop down from the roof and land silently behind the sentries.
"Evening, boys!" he casually said, as though this was nothing special, "Nice night for a kidnapping, isn't it?"
The clone soldiers whipped around upon hearing his voice, and though he couldn't see their expressions, the gasps confirmed that they know what he was. The one to his left – which he randomly called Pinky – tried to raise the stun-rifle and level it at his head, but he was way too fast for that. With both hands gripping his staff, he disarmed 'Pinky' with an upward flick; the motion sending the rifle careening helplessly through the air. Following it up with a swift throat jab using the end of the weapon, 'Pinky' collapsed to his knees with his hands around his throat, desperately trying to massage his nearly-crushed windpipe into life as he coughed loudly and harshly.
The other clone – oddly called 'Brain', at least in Jack's mind – could only watch as Pinky was summarily incapacitated, and in a moment of surprise-induced clarity he attempted to raise his weapon at the assailant. Jack swiftly and elegantly sidestepped his aim and slammed the staff down on 'Brain's' arms, an audible crack echoing in the air as the bone snapped. Any screams that would have left his throat came out as a gasp as the other end of the staff found its way into his diaphragm to force the wind right out of him, and with a crunch he swung the staff up and smashed it into Brain's helmeted face, knocking him clean out.
Jack's victory was short-lived, it seemed. Evidently, 'Pinky' recovered from the throat jab quicker than either of them thought, and he cursed himself for not hitting his throat hard enough. He felt the jab of the muzzle against the back of his head, and with a thunderous beating of his heart he prepared to take his chances, to try and beat the stun-blast and take 'Pinky' down.
However, a wet shunk reached his ears, and the gargled cry from the clone's lips told him that he needn't worry. Sighing in part exasperation and part relief, he turned to find Pinky had a black, sand-like spike protruding from his chest, and had become completely and utterly limp.
"You really must learn to watch your six, Frost."
He rolled his eyes at Pitch, who contemptuously dissipated the sand-like construct into his hand and watched as the clone crumpled in an unceremonious heap. Dressed almost entirely in black with a leather trench-coat, he even struck Frost as a little intimidating - but that was Pitch's whole schtick.
"Okay," Jack snappily retorted, "three things. One, ew. Two, shut up. Three, you took your sweet time."
Pitch smirked almost maliciously and winked at him, offering a hand to the broken doorway.
"I would have arrived more swiftly had I known you started without me. Anyway, ladies first."
Frost narrowed his eyes with a sarcastic scowl before slipping inside the barely lit house and moving up the stairs close by, followed closely by Pitch. Muffled voices reached their ears, one of a woman who sounded decidedly panicked, the other of the Alpha shouting orders to flank her or to apply suppression fire. Sounds of stun blasts punctuate the words, prompting the feet of the two men to ascend the steps with greater haste.
"S-stay away from m-me!"
The woman sounded almost incoherent with terror, and while Pitch ordinarily enjoyed the fear of others, this type struck him with seething rage as it always did. As they reached the upstairs hallway, a fireball shot out of the closest room and ignited the opposite wall and narrowly missed Frost's face, the reflexively quick recoiling preventing his eyebrows from hilariously being set alight.
"Sounds like a real firecracker." Pitch whispered with mild amusement, prompting Frost to give him a look that screamed 'thank you, Captain Obvious.'
In the space of one second, Frost poked his head around the doorway and jerked back, eager to avoid the potential of another faceful of fire. Pitch's eyebrows rose in a silent request for answers, which his squad-mate was only too happy to oblige.
"Three on one side, four on the other. Package is taking cover behind an overturned wardrobe." he whispered.
"Well, do you want to take the ones on the left, and I'll take the ones on the right?"
Frost's mask hid a wide, playful smirk, and as he tightly gripped his staff and tensed his legs, Pitch manifested two vicious-looking blades of shadow-sand into his hands as he counted down.
The number three wasn't even mentioned as the two men whirled around the corner. Pointing the end of his staff at the three on the left, Frost fired bolts of icy blue lightning at the clones, forcing them to crumple to the ground in agony as they jerked and shuddered as ice filled their bodies. Pitch swept into the fray, swinging his blades left and right in an almost dance-like display of violence, shadow-sand cutting through clothing and flesh, slicing off limbs and driving the vicious swords into unfortunate chests. For a second, Frost was a little unnerved at the almost manic grin on his squad-mate's face as he kicks the Alpha's crotch, and as the unfortunate man dropped to his knees, Pitch crossed both blades on either side of the Alpha's neck and sliced in opposite directions.
With a slightly sickened and incredulous expression, Frost watched the Alpha's head fly off and roll out of the room, and with a sidelong glance to his ally he muttered what he always did whenever the two fought side-by-side.
"You've got issues, Pitch."
Straightening up, the taller man dissolved the blades into his hands and shrugs, wearing an expression of casual nonchalance. Apparently, bloody violence was nothing new to him.
"Don't we all?"
Frost sarcastically rolled his eyes as he turned toward the overturned wardrobe, and with a voice that hid the rushing adrenaline in his veins at the prospect of an accidental fireball, he called out to the 'package'. If she was a fire-weaver, then they needed to be very careful or everything could go up in flames…literally.
"Hey, you okay over there?"
The voice that responded to his sympathetic question was indeed female, still wracked with fear – confirmed by the warm temperature of the room and the flickering light behind the wardrobe.
"Please, just…s-stay away!"
"I'm afraid not, princess," Pitch rudely responded, "we're here to save you, and you'll forgive me if I decline the opportunity of going to another castle."
Frost snorted loudly at the nearly century old reference.
"Hah! Seriously, we're the good guys. We're here to help."
"H-How?! How can you help me? I'm a monster!" she responded with an anguished tone, and the cracks in her voice told Frost that she was desperately trying to stop herself from crying. He could easily understand why. First, she found out that she was 'different', fled and tried to hide from the authorities, and spent the last ten minutes fighting for her life against those who would make her disappear. She was overwhelmed, to say the least.
"We can help because we're just like you…" Frost responded with as much comforting warmth as he could muster. Whether it was the kindness in his words, or the actual words themselves he wasn't sure, but slowly a purple-hooded head poked out from over the top of the overturned wardrobe, showcasing sapphire eyes that regarded them with tentative fear yet burgeoning curiosity.
"R-r-really?" she asked, her worried gaze flitting from one to the other. Frost shot a sidelong glance at Pitch who silently understood the meaning, and both of them rose their left hands with open palms. A snowflake materialised, hovering happily above Frost's hand while a swirling ball of menacing shadow-sand appeared over Pitch's. The woman's eyes widened in recognition, and slowly but surely she rose to her feet, still regarding the two men with an expression of distinct wariness. Frost's eyes flicked down to the small balls of fire in her hands, and he noticed with surprise that though the sleeves of her purple hooded sweater were starting to burn, her skin was unharmed.
"My name's Jack Frost. This guy is called Pitch Black," he nodded to his ally, who almost theatrically bowed, "What's your name?"
The woman recoiled a little, and the flames seem to partially dwindle. Maybe these guys are actually here to help?
"A-Anna. Anna Snowfield." she answered with a voice so timid it almost made Pitch's heart melt - not that he would have shown it, of course.
Jack pulled down his mask as he slowly walked towards her, his staff clunking on the floor with each step of his left foot. He put on the best smile that he could, partly because he thought that Anna was kind of cute despite the look of uncertainty on her face, but mostly because she needed to know they meant her no harm. He blew the snowflake away and offered his hand, which Anna – unsurprisingly given her experiences so far, was unsure of. Yet, something in his eyes seemed to help her to trust him, and with a few clenches of her hands the flames disappeared. Taking his outstretched hand, her breath hitched to find that his skin was almost ice-cold, contrasting completely with the high temperature of hers.
"W-what's going to happen to me?"
"Well, you've got two choices. The first: you stay in New Burgess and pray they don't find you, because if they do…bad things happen." Pitch answered flatly, eliciting a glare from Jack at the bluntness of his tone.
"The other," Jack finished with an annoyed voice, his gaze lingering on his cohort before they softened and returned to her eyes, "is you can come with us. We'll protect you and teach you how to control your powers."
"Who are you guys? Why are you helping me?" she asked, overwhelmed by the sheer surreality of the situation.
"We're the Ghosts, Anna. This is what we do."
Location: New Burgess, Upper Level, Snowfield House
Date: July 9th, 2070
Alone in the huge, wealthy house of the Snowfield family, Elsa was trying her best to stop freaking out. Anna should have been back by now; she was only supposed to go to her friend's place for one night and come back at five o'clock. She should have at least sent a uni-call to let her elder sister know if she was staying for an extra night, or even a mere uni-text. Pacing the cavernous, well lit living room under the giant crystal chandelier, the elder Snowfield tried desperately to ignore the bad thoughts that coursed through her mind's eye.
Having said that, it wasn't like she was close to her sister. Three years ago, their parents had endeavoured to keep them separate from each other, and Elsa was only allowed to leave her room if Anna was not in the house.
An unwanted buzzing began to spread throughout her chest, and with a flash of worry she fumbled inside her trouser pocket for a small metal pill case, a gift from her father. She clearly remembered his words – "Whenever you feel you are losing control, take one of these pills. They will help" – and he spoke the truth, because minutes after she popped one into her mouth and swallowed it, the increasingly powerful buzzing began to abate.
She marched over to the impossibly shiny black desk situated in the corner of the living room, and decided to try and call her sister's wrist-communication device for the fifty-fourth time. Maybe this time's the charm.
"Call Anna Snowfield."
"Yes, Miss Snowfield." the computer responded with falsely genial tone.
The screen beeped and flickered to life with a picture of her sister adorning the top-left, along with a news bulletin dominating the entire right third with various headlines scrolling from top to bottom, Elsa's own face mirrored below Anna's, and the word Calling in elegant, vertical lettering along the centre.
"I'm sorry, Miss Snowfield, but the call is unable to connect. Would you like to try again?"
Elsa hissed a curse to herself, and with an angry "no!" the glass screen obediently reverted to its transparent form. Fifty-four times she has called, and fifty four times there was no connection. If she wasn't scared before, she was now. What if her sister had been kidnapped? What if she had an accident?
It was a horrible, gut wrenching thought. Visions of Anna in a series of terrible occurrences filled Elsa's mind, scenarios of injury or fear from which Elsa wasn't there to protect her. Anna was accident prone, and always had been. If there was a door frame, she'd bump into it. If there was something important, she'd inadvertently damage it. Anna was the antithesis of economy of movement.
"Uni-Com," she ordered, and hesitated briefly. It felt like cynicism, reducing her sister to a personality quirk so as to find her.
However, she would do anything.
"Display any reported accidents, and confine results to New Burgess. Both levels."
"Working," replied the device, but with a speed that sent a chill down Elsa's spine, it answered. "There are two results: a warehouse fire in Lower City four hours ago, and a shooting in Upper City approximately two hours and fifty minutes ago."
"Was anyone hurt?"
"No fatalities in the fire. Two fatalities in the shooting."
"Oh, no," Elsa whispered.
"It appears news coverage of the shooting is currently being broadcast on the Media Stream. Would you like to view it?"
Elsa balked. Observing tragedy and upsetting events felt voyeuristic enough - and not in a good way - whenever she was confined to her room, but the idea of actively seeking to watch such disasters felt worse. Still, if she could learn who the fatalities were, she could at least rule Anna out as a possibility.
The screen displaying her numerous failures at contacting Anna was squeezed aside, and a window of an ongoing segment of the news enlarged itself grew to occupy the main screen. Elsa watched the stream unfold of a standard-looking hovercar, surrounded by several members of Upper City police as they bustled to and fro around it, and the green uniforms of the first responder paramedics as they leaned into the car's cabin. The part that filled Elsa's heart with concern, however, was the way the front windshield had been riddled with holes.
"Audio," she demanded, and the Uni-Com obeyed.
"...return to our breaking news segment, where a tragedy has taken place on the underpass of Frigg Highway, involving the unlawful shooting of a vehicle causing the deaths of two citizens. Details are scarce at this time, but authorities can confirm the identities of the driver and passenger of the car as Agdar and Idun Snowfield, leading scientists in the field of abnormal sciences, and respected members…"
Elsa's heart stopped beating. Her eyes widened to their limit, and her breath froze in her lungs. Her legs weakened, threatening to give way.
"Replay last five seconds," she breathed. She had to be hearing things. It had to be a trick.
"...Agdar and Idun Snowfield, leading scientists in—"
"Replay last two seconds!" she cried.
"...Agdar and Idun Snowfield…"
"No…" she whispered, her hand over her grimacing mouth. "Please, please, no… it can't be…"
The audio ventured on past the point of replay, and the ongoing image of the crime scene was replaced by identification pictures of two people, two very familiar people. The reddish, short hair. The brunette, braided bun. The kind eyes, and the subtle smiles.
The room began spinning. Elsa's legs gave out.
She crashed to the floor, her right hand instinctively finding purchase on the carpet to prevent a complete fall and support her weakened body. Her hand clasped itself over her mouth, and her eyes distantly found the space under the Uni-Com, blind to her immediate surroundings yet wholly aware of her current reality.
Mama and Papa were dead.
Her breaths came in shaky heaves, rocking her entire body. Her mind was light, blank, save for the words replaying over and over.
Anna's missing. Mama and Papa are dead.
The grief spilled forth as though her realisation had been the final gate. Her eyes clamped shut, hot tears pouring forth like a stream of pain. Whimpers and cries crashed against her hand, and her body shook with the outpour of her anguish.
As far as funerals went, it seemed fairly standard - not that Elsa had gone to any until that day. Aside from the fact that the Unifier himself had declared it a state funeral, therefore the procession had spanned almost the entire diameter of the Upper City, with thousands upon thousands of citizens lining the streets as the procession went by.
Elsa had wondered if it was supposed to show her the entire city was grieving with her, but it granted empty comfort.
In the far northeast of the Upper City, in a specially designed cemetery called the Garden of Rest, the service had been quite straightforward. Rows upon rows of chairs had been arranged in a square surrounding the two caskets belonging to her parents, with the top of the square constituting the place where the service would be conducted. Flags with Unity's insignia flanked the pulpit at which nearly a dozen people spoke, offering eulogies and speeches of grief, amusing stories and tales of how the late Snowfields enriched their lives, all under the grey sky, light rainfall and dozens of black umbrellas.
When Elsa was offered the chance to speak, she declined with a small shake of her head. She couldn't say a damned word.
What had surprised her was just how many people there were in attendance. Colleagues from work, friends from other districts - even the Larsen military family had come, clad in their dress uniforms and looking the epitome of sartorial military perfection. Elsa couldn't work out why their youngest kept glancing at her, though - not that she even cared.
Even the Unifier himself attended, vicariously, at least. Holo-projection discs were a wonderful thing if you wanted to be somewhere but couldn't be in person. He wove tales of how the Snowfields were shining examples of citizens, and that Unity was the poorer for their loss. The patriarch of the Larsens spoke of how, though they differed greatly in opinion, lifestyle and outlook, he held Agdar in his highest regard and considered him a valued friend. Anyone who devoted their life to a cause, he had said, was a hero.
Elsa had been unsure whether she accepted that. Nor was she certain whether she could believe the people who had come up to her, at the funeral's conclusion and after the lowering of the caskets to their final place of rest, and said how she was all Agdar could talk about when he was at work. Such an idea was difficult to swallow, since she had the niggling feeling she could have used that knowledge to get through the past three years. However, there was a strange sensation of solidarity, of companionship and sympathy, derived from the sight of so many people in attendance. For a short time, Elsa felt less like she was separate from the world.
The truth was, as with all things, it was ephemeral. One by one, while Elsa stood at the graves of her parents, the umbrellas of black and grief left. One by one her fleeting connections to society faded away, until, under the darkening clouds and the rainfall, she was alone again.
Alone with her thoughts of failure.
Time and life went on, as it was apt to do.
One week following the funeral, Elsa had been keeping herself busy with the thankless task of sifting through her parents' belongings, not that there were many considering Unity's policy on possessions. She'd received messages of sympathy and condolences over those seven days, and had replied to them with polite gratitude, but over time even they had petered out like droplets from a water faucet.
Elsa wondered during those seven days if that was what made her so damn angry. It was easy for them, as bystanders of the bereaved, to accept that the passing of the Snowfields was a tragedy, but life went on as it always did. They could offer their thoughts and sympathies, wear a sad smile, and then go on with their lives, content in their knowledge they'd done a good thing - being a fucking human being. They weren't at the centre of grief, no way. They didn't have to deal with the raw pain, the anger, the emptiness and the loss. The knowledge that they were potentially the last member of a family, the last person to bear a family name. They didn't have to deal with the silence of an empty house, void of voices and life, heartbeats and love, and the almost sickening notion that the only time she was allowed a measure of freedom was when no-one was home. Now, nobody would come home, and the house was all hers. Every second of quiet, every lifeless room.
Standing in her living room, Elsa held before her the video-graph of her family, taken during the Unity Day parade four years ago. She felt the smooth glass under her thumb and the fabric underside on her fingertips, watched the two second loop of Anna mouthing 'Cheese!' and the following four, bright smiles. She didn't know why, but she felt a cloud of hot anger rise within her from just looking at it. Maybe it was the situation she was in. Maybe it was the feeling… almost of betrayal. How dare they leave her behind. How could they abandon her in such a final, irrevocable way?
How could they leave her, knowing how she depended on them… and why?
How could she feel that way?
How dare they, whoever they were, rip her family from her so cruelly?
Elsa did not know, but what she did know was that a red mist had descended, sending a command to her arm, and the videograph had been flung with an anguished shriek at the power heater shaped to look like a fireplace. Shards of glass exploded as the memento impacted the hard metal, spraying the immediate area with sharp proof of her fury. Elsa stared at the glassy mess for several moments, her heart pulsing with seething anger; maybe it was the incorrect emotion, but she'd take it over the cold numbness that had occupied her over the past two weeks.
At least she could feel it as keenly as the digging of her nails into her palms, or the filling of her lungs with deep, heaving breaths.
The visitor announcement system activated, sending out a dull chime through the house as well as a faint amber signal light along where the walls met the ceiling. The sound snapped Elsa from her red reverie; blinking, she looked around, as though waking up from a short dream.
"Who is it?" she said in a snap.
"Commander Larsen, ma'am," came a quiet, smooth and almost pleasant voice. Elsa frowned; what reason would a member of the Larsens, let alone a member of the military have to visit?
Strangely, her curiosity and faint need for interaction pushed its way through her heart. Inhaling and exhaling a calming breath before moving, she made her way to the front door, stopping once at the mirror in the hall to ensure her fluffy grey sweater, loose black pants, even her French braid looked respectable. Her first visitor and instance of proper social interaction in a week; she couldn't radiate the image of a grieving hermit. First impressions were important.
Satisfied, she took the last few steps to and opened the door. Stood before her was the man she recognised from the funeral, the youngest Larsen that kept glancing at her, wearing not his immaculately kept dress uniform but an equally impeccable standard uniform, his peaked officer's hat perched on his head. It was strange how the pleasantly sunny sky overhead had seemed to coincide with his arrival; the entire morning had been overcast to the point of suspected rainfall.
He looked up at her from the path, their height differing due to her front doorstep, and his lips curved into a thin, polite smile as he pulled off his hat and nestled it under his right arm, clutching it with a gloved hand. "Good afternoon, ma'am. I'm Hans Larsen, Commander of the Staging Ground."
"Yes, I know," Elsa replied with a bluntness that faintly surprised her. "You announced as such, and you were there at the funeral."
Hans blinked, and the obvious mental shake of his head became a small, physical one. "Right. Yes, of course. My apologies."
Elsa's jaw jutted out for a moment, before she nodded, letting out a calming sigh. "No, you're fine. I… my social skills are somewhat rusty. What can I do for you?"
"I wanted to personally offer my condolences and sympathies to you on your loss. I haven't experienced bereavement yet, but I believe someone who is grieving should at least see a friendly face and hear a voice rather than words on a screen. In times like these, people should be close, not far."
Elsa let out a quiet, shaky breath, feeling her heart soften a small margin. Finally, someone who understood, and hadn't even the shared life experience of losing someone loved. She licked her dry lips, and nodded as she looked down, cradling her elbows in her hands. "Thank you, Commander Larsen. I appreciate… what you've said means a lot."
Hans opened his mouth, but closed it again behind a smile, and mirrored her nod.
"Would you—like to come in?"
Hans' smile widened, and his eyes glimmered with gratitude, though his free hand was held up. "If it's not too much trouble, ma'am. I don't want to impose."
Elsa shook her head. "Not at all—and please call me Elsa."
"Understood—I mean, thank you, Elsa."
She offered him a small, welcoming smile and stood aside to let him in. As he passed, she caught the faint scent of cologne, and internally commented on the pride he must take in his appearance. It was heartening, in a way, that someone she didn't know in such a high position had taken time out of his day to see her, and seemed to want to present a good impression. It felt a little like respect.
Elsa closed the front door behind him and suggested they would be more comfortable in the living room, before adding as they passed through the living room doorway, "Can I offer you a drink? I have synthohol…"
"Uh, no, thank you." Hans grimaced. "I'm still technically on duty."
"Of course. Water, then?"
Hans held up a hand. "I'm fine, thank you. However, there is another thing I wanted to talk to you about. Well—" he turned over his hand, "two things, but the second relates to the first."
Elsa frowned a frown of intrigue, and gestured to the armchair at the opposite end of the coffee table in the middle of the room. Hans followed her physical suggestion, and took two steps toward it before hesitating, and even though she could only see the back of his head, she knew what had caught his eye near the power heater.
He whirled around. "I can come back another—"
Elsa held up her hands as a calming gesture. "No need. I was—" she nodded at the broken glass, "—careless. I haven't alerted the cleaning drones yet."
Hans gave her an uncertain look, before giving her a single nod and taking the armchair. Elsa took the sofa adjacent to it, and sat with her knees together and rested her hands on her thighs.
"So," Hans leaned forward to place his hat on the coffee table, "I also came to inform you that the investigation into the assassination of your parents has been concluded, and the perpetrators have been identified."
Elsa took a shaky gasp, feeling her heart skip a cold beat. Images of the shattered windshield, the police officers and the caskets filled her mind. Assassination. Intent.
"With your permission, I can show you," he answered. When Elsa summoned the anxious courage to nod, he added as he leaned to the right and slipped his left hand into his pocket, "This information was going to be released almost as soon as the identities were confirmed, but I managed to convince the authorities to delay releasing the identities over the Media Stream. I felt you should know first, rather than only find out when it is plastered over the news. You deserve at least that time to your thoughts before the population makes it very hard for you to think."
"Th-Thank you," Elsa stammered, unsure what to make of his kindness, and admittedly apprehensive of what was to come. "I appreciate your courtesy."
Hans gave her a single nod and a smile before producing a small disc from his pocket, no bigger than thirty millimetres in diameter, its centre thicker like an oval had been halved. He tapped once on the flat side, before placing it on the coffee table next to his hat.
A blue, tiny light appeared in the middle of the disc, before it sent out a beam of blue light that spread into an upside-down cone - Elsa then recognised it as a smaller version of the same device the Unifier used to project himself at the funeral. Within the projection coalesced an image of three people - one was a rather bulky man, with shaggy blonde hair stood to the left of the car, and the other looked to be a taller, more slender man with short, swept back black hair and grey skin.
However, they were in the background; the man whose face took the lion's share of the image, who stared up at the camera like he was staring into her soul, had short, messy white hair, brown eyes set inside a head of pale skin, and what could have been a mischievous face cut into a cold, serious expression. Elsa felt her breath fall still in her lungs, her eyes locked with the image of the man gazing back at her.
So these were the people responsible for murdering her parents, for setting in motion an act that changed her life forever. Her heart began to beat with a hard, simmering anger, and her kneecaps sent protestations of dug-in nails to her brain.
"Who are they?"
"The man on the left is called Harvester; the one on the right is called Pitch Black."
Elsa nodded her head at the man in the centre. "And him?"
"He is known as Frost."
"Frost…" Elsa repeated under her breath. "Frost…"
"I suspect their individual names will mean nothing to you," Hans said, "but the name of the team of which they are members, will. They are the Ghosts."
Elsa's head shot up, and she fixed him with eyes of shock and disbelief, her mouth falling open. "The Ghosts?!" she exclaimed. "You mean the abnormal terrorists?!"
"I'm afraid so." Hans' eyes conveyed apology as his lips quirked sideways.
"The Ghosts, like their sister teams the Spirits and the Furies, have been engaging in acts of terrorism and destruction for years, believing they are liberating abnormals from us. We believe your parents were targeted for their work on the abnormal suppression serum, because they felt it was a threat to them."
"How could they?" Elsa cried. "My parents were gentle, kind—they meant no harm to anyone!"
"I don't think it mattered to them," Hans said. "All we know for definite is that while Harvester leads the team, Frost spearheaded the assassination of your parents—he was the one who carried out the shooting."
"Frost… Frost was the one who murdered them?"
"Yes." Hans slowly nodded. "I am sorry to tell you all of this. Perhaps I should have waited—"
"No." Elsa paused, faintly startled at the vehemence of her tone. "No, I… I'm… I needed to know the truth, I just—what is the military going to do about it?"
"I'm not sure I can discuss operational—"
"They were my parents, Commander!" Elsa cried, staring at him with wide, fierce eyes, barely aware of the hot tears slipping down her cheeks. "Those terrorists killed my parents—I want to know how you plan to make them pay for it!"
Hans opened his mouth, and the sound of a breath being deeply inhaled could be heard. He looked off to the side, before tilting his head as though accepting something. "I suppose it does relate to the second thing I wanted to discuss with you."
"Tell me," Elsa demanded.
Hans shifted in the armchair, and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and his gloved fingers laced together. "Some time ago, I approached the Supreme Commander, and the Unifier, with an idea I called the Valkyrie Program."
"What is that?"
"It is the training of a variable threat response, tactical black ops unit called the Valkyries, designed to intercept, engage and neutralize the Ghosts, Spirits and Furies and their dedicated scout teams." Hans shifted again, and his fingers parted so as to mildly emphasise his words. "The idea was that the Valkyries would match the abnormal teams in terms of combat skill and tactics, but defeat them with superior resources. In essence, I wanted to create the antithesis of those teams. Parallel but superior."
"It was deemed too costly in terms of time and credits to create, train and arm such a team." Hans let out a breath that sounded suspiciously like a scoff. "The government felt it was better to simply throw more clones at them."
"But, that's ridiculous!" Elsa snapped. "Clearly it hasn't worked, or those vile murdering terrorists—that Frost would not have killed my parents!"
"I agree," Hans nodded. "The government and the military failed to realise that the Ghosts have been waging asymmetric warfare for years, possibly decades. They know how to fight and survive against superior forces, to the point they have it down to an art, but they would not be prepared for a small yet highly skilled unit. To you and I, the solution is obvious, but… you'll find politics and the military have one thing in common: neither of them like change. They saw no reason to alter their tactics—until your parents."
"Why did it have to take me losing them for things to change?" Elsa said, angry disbelief in her voice like it was meant to be there.
"Because the longer people are in positions of power, the more they come to think they are untouchable." Hans' expression changed to a sage-like, almost cynical frown. "The assassination of the Snowfields has taught them that if the Ghosts can get to your parents, they can get to anyone - and due to that, I have been authorised to initiate the Valkyrie Program."
"How long will it take for—"
"It's already happening." Hans smiled. "In the two weeks since the assassination, I have already recruited three people - but the unit requires a fourth. One who will lead them."
Hans laced his fingers together again. "I would like you to be that leader, Elsa."
Elsa balked, recoiling slightly. She stared at him with dumbfounded eyes, lips parted in disbelief. "Me?"
"Yes." Hans nodded slowly in affirmation. "My father often spoke highly of Agdar, and he once said your father regularly talked of how proud he was of you. Your devotion to completing a task, determination to do the right thing. Your intelligence, selflessness, courage—all of these are qualities we look for in a leader."
"But…" Elsa stammered, taken off guard by both Hans' offer and her father's words. Not to mention the chaos of her grief, anger and indignation. "I-I don't have any military experience…"
Hans shook his head. "That won't be a problem. You'll receive basic training in addition to specialist training in black ops combat by the best we have. You will have access to state of the art weapons and equipment, including a signature armament of your choosing and training in its use - for example, one of the recruits consistently placed at the top in her high school archery competitions, so she has chosen a bow and arrow. Let's say you chose a sword; you would be provided with a blade of pure unidium, and as a master swordsman, I would be training you in its use. You would have the full might of Unity's military behind you, and when you are ready, you will be a force to be reckoned with - if you have the dedication and tenacity. I will be honest; it will be hard. You will be pushed to your limits, and even further than that. You will face trials and hardships, and you'll wonder if you can take any more… but if you see it through, you will have the strength, the skillset and the means to avenge your parents. To put the man who ruined your life in the ground."
Elsa looked away; it all seemed too much. Overwhelming. Her emotions raged in a maelstrom, a polar change from the pervading numbness that used to hold sway. Anger and shock over why they were murdered, confusion and grief over why someone would want to kill them. A strange understanding with the commander, who, until half an hour ago, was a complete stranger. The overarching loneliness… but through it all ran a simmering rage, a seductive desire for justice and vengeance. To make Frost experience what it was like for her parents to know they were about to die. To feel the fear, the pain, the remorse… and break him.
It was too much.
"I need…" she murmured, "I need… time. I need to think."
Hans nodded quickly, as though in total agreement. "Of course, of course. It's a lot to take in, especially in your situation. You don't have to choose right now—to do so would be irresponsible. You need time to consider it."
"I want to do it, though." Elsa looked at him. "I want to… but I'm…"
"...scared?" Hans gave her a smile of understanding. "That's perfectly natural. How about I make a suggestion?"
He pushed himself to his feet by his knees, bending once to pick up his cap and tuck it under his arm. "Tomorrow afternoon at seventeen hundred, you'll see a car outside. If you don't feel like the Valkyrie Program is right for you, then you don't need to do anything, and the car will leave after an hour. But if you do choose that life, if you feel ready to set off on a path that will bring you face to face with the man responsible, then that car will take you and whatever you bring with you to the Staging Ground. The choice will be yours to make. Does that work for you?"
Elsa's gaze fell, but she gave the lightest of nods. "Yes, thank you—and… thank you for coming."
"It was my pleasure, ma'am." When Elsa made to stand, he held up a hand. "Please, don't worry. I'll see myself out."
And he did. Hans left before Elsa could say a further word, though she was barely aware of his departure thanks to the sheer maelstrom of emotions whirling inside her. She had a chance to set things right, to see justice done. To make Frost realise his actions had consequences, and that he hadn't just murdered her parents, he'd torn her world apart.
It wasn't until she heard the clunk of the front door that a semblance of reality returned to her, and her eyes instinctively landed on the projection disc. Uttering a quick gasp, she grabbed the tiny device and darted out of the room, raced down the hall and wrenched open the front door.
"Commander Larsen," she called out, "you left your—!"
Hans' car had already pulled away from the kerb and began heading off left down the street. For a few seconds, Elsa debated chasing after it, but wondered if there was any point. Besides, she was barefoot… and as she watched the car disappear around the corner a few hundred yards down the street, she couldn't escape the niggling feeling he'd left it on purpose.
Elsa looked down at the device in her hand, rendered inert by its departure of the coffee table's surface. Maybe he did leave it on purpose. Maybe he had seen into her heart, felt her anger, and realised:
She was more than likely going to take the car tomorrow.
There we have it, the first chapter/prologue. I won't update it until I finish Cold to the Touch, but I stuck this up anyway to get a feel of whether or not people will like it.
For the Ghosts,