Elsa v Emperor
Summary: After drinking some tea Honeymaren made to help her sleep, Elsa finds herself trapped in the dream of an evil megalomaniac emperor. Coincidentally, Emperor skekSo has his worst nightmare yet. Also, the Skeksis Scientist has a really lousy morning.
Note: Takes place post-Frozen II and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Season 1. Spoilers for both.
Disclaimer: I don't own Dark Crystal Age of Resistance or Frozen.
Elsa sat near the river's edge, lost in contemplation. The water horse Nokk pranced around nearby, making little splashes in the water as it did. The wind spirit Gale blew by, gently brushing her face. The fire salamander Bruni lay stretched out on a rock, soaking in the last few rays of a gorgeous setting sun. She knew she should be enjoying the beauty of the scene, as well as the company of her fellow spirits. Instead, she just sat in silence, hugging her knees to her chest, struggling with a growing sense of dread.
"Mind if I join you?"
Elsa looked over her shoulder and saw Honeymaren standing a few feet away, a friendly smile on her face.
She managed to smile back. "Not at all, Honeymaren. Go right ahead." She unfolded her legs as Honeymaren sat down next to her.
"I heard what happened earlier today with the Earth Giants," the shepherdess said. "How's your head?"
Elsa picked up a small block of ice she'd conjured earlier and rubbed it gently against the lump on the back of her head, wincing slightly as she did. "It's a lot better now. Can't say the same about my pride though. I really thought I could get the Earth Giants to stop fighting with each other. Instead I almost get turned into a pancake."
Honeymaren patted her on the back. "Don't be too hard on yourself, Elsa. The Earth Giants fight every now and then. It's just what they do. All we can do is stay out of their way until they stop." She quickly changed the subject. "Beautiful, isn't it? The sunset."
"Yes, yes it is," the former queen murmured, though her focus was currently on anywhere but the sunset. She didn't want a reminder that night was coming soon.
Honeymaren stared at her quizzically. "I know that look, Elsa. Something's bothering you. And it's not the Earth Giants, is it?"
Elsa sighed. "This is going to sound silly. But lately, I've been having some... dreams."
"Dreams? What kind of dreams?" Honeymaren inquired.
When Elsa hesitated to answer, Honeymaren placed a hand on her shoulder reassuringly. "Come on, you can tell me. I promise I won't laugh or anything."
"I wish you could laugh about it..." Elsa gave in. "It's Anna and Kristoff. I keep dreaming about them fighting and breaking up, or the people turning against Anna, and Arendelle falling apart. Things like that."
"But I thought Anna and Kristoff were getting along just fine. And last I heard, Anna is doing a great job as Queen."
"I know, I know, but that hasn't stopped me from worrying." Elsa let out a frustrated sigh. "I just... I don't understand. It's been nearly a year since I started living in the Enchanted Forest. There's no reason I should even be thinking about these things. Not now."
"Actually," Honeymaren chimed in, "there is."
Elsa gave the Northuldra girl a perplexed look. "There is?"
"You've spent the last year adjusting to your new home and duties," Honeymaren explained. "You haven't had time to think about anything else. But now that you've settled in, certain... things are creeping back up."
"Oh yes. It happens every time the tribe moves. We spend weeks adjusting to our new environment and dealing with new problems. But once we've settled down, we start worrying about old things."
"Even trivial problems?" the blonde asked. "Things that should have been buried a long time ago?"
The shepherdess smirked. "Especially those things. It's human nature. And you're human. Well, at least part of you still is. Anyway, if you're really worried, next time you visit Arendelle, talk with your sister and Kristoff. Tell them about your worries."
"I-I don't want to bother them," Elsa insisted. "Anna's got enough going on now between being Queen and planning her wedding. If I start telling her about my dreams, it'll just be a big distraction. Besides, I don't want to give her the impression that I think she's doing a bad job as Queen."
"Oh, well, that's perfectly understandable," said Honeymaren, though Elsa heard a sliver of disapproval in her voice.
Feeling a wave of sorrow and guilt wash over her, Elsa hugged her knees to her chest again and stared down at the water.
Honeymaren cleared her throat. "You know... I think I might have a way to help you with these pesky dreams of yours."
Elsa continued staring down. "I doubt it..."
"No, listen. When I'm having trouble with my dreams, I drink this special tea. We call it moon moss."
The former queen perked her head up, intrigued. "Moon moss?"
"It lifts you above your inner turmoil. Makes all your baggage go away - at least for one night, anyway. I can brew you a cup tonight. Just drink it right before you go to sleep. Doesn't taste great, but does wonders on the nerves." She smiled. "Trust me on this."
Elsa smiled back. "Well... I guess it's worth a shot." Suddenly feeling more hopeful than she had all day, she reached over and hugged her friend tightly. "Thanks, Honeymaren."
"And if this doesn't work," Honeymaren teased as she hugged Elsa back, "you can always distract yourself by trying to get the Earth Giants to stop fighting." Seeing the look on Elsa's face, she quickly added, "Just kidding."
On the other side of the universe, on the planet Thra, the last few rays of the Third Brother lingered upon the Castle of the Crystal. In the laboratory deep within the Castle, skekTek the Scientist finished making some minor adjustments to his mechanical eye.
"Perfect," the Scientist growled. "Now then, let us see here..."
He turned his attention to the numerous Petri dishes lining his workbench. He picked them up one at a time, carefully inspecting the contents of each dish, first with his normal eye, then with his artificial one. When he had finished examining every dish, he jotted some numbers down in his notebook.
"Splendid!" skekTek cackled, as he reviewed his notes. "Superb! Sublime!"
skekTek yelped and dropped the notebook. He turned around to find skekSo the Skeksis Emperor standing at the entrance to the lab, scepter in hand, a glower on his face.
The Scientist hastily bowed. "Sire, I have excellent news. The Gruenak cell cultures continue to grow at an accelerated rate. In three days, we will have enough tissue for at least a dozen more Garthim-"
The Emperor cut him off. "Never mind that. What about the problem I told you of this morning? Have you made any progress on that?"
"Ah, yes, of course..." skekTek scratched his beak. "That little inconvenience."
"An inconvenience is hardly how I'd describe it," the Emperor said tersely, walking right up to the Scientist. "Do I have to describe my predicament for you?"
"Well, I think you were quite clear about it when we spoke earlier-"
"My sleep continues to be plagued with nightmares!" skekSo ranted, spewing saliva in the Scientist's face. "Every night, I dream of decay and death. My death. I do not wish to dream of such miserable things. The only things I wish to dream of are crushing the Gelfling rebellion, putting Rian's head on a pike, and ruling this world for all eternity!"
He made a rasping sound as his lungs struggled to keep up with his words. "Do you know why I keep having these wretched nightmares?"
"Yes, I do, sire," the Scientist began, "as I explained to you this morning, exposure to the Darkening has caused some abnormalities to develop in your cerebral cortex-"
"It is Death taunting me!" the Emperor raged. "Death mocks me with cruel visions of my end! But rest assured, I will have the last laugh. In the end, Death will bow before me!"
"Yes, of course, Emperor. I couldn't agree with you any more," said the Scientist, trying to sound as sincere as possible. "But remember, sire, they are just dreams. What harm can they possibly do to you?"
"Enough!" barked skekSo. "I asked you for a solution. Now, do you or do you not have one?"
skekTek hesitated to answer. "Well," he eventually replied with trepidation, "first of all, I feel I should reiterate my recommendation that you...ahem... suspend your experiments with the Darkening-"
The Emperor slammed his scepter into the floor so hard, skekTek recoiled in alarm.
"NEVER!" he bellowed. "I will not cede the power of the Darkening. Not to anyone or anything. Least of all, some pitiful Gelfling girl. I must be the master of the Darkening. I and I alone! Do you hear me?!"
"I hear you, sire. I hear you," the Scientist answered, suppressing the urge to express his skepticism that anyone could actually "master" the Darkening. "But do not worry. As it happens, I do have something that will help with your problem."
He trotted over to a nearby cabinet and began rummaging through it. He soon returned with a small flask. "Drink this potion before you go to sleep, Emperor," he said, offering the flask to the Emperor. "It will make these troublesome dreams of yours much more pleasant."
The Emperor snatched the flask out of skekTek's hand. "This had better work, Scientist," he growled.
"Do not worry, my Emperor," skekTek reassured. "It will work. Trust in science."
"I trust no one but myself," skekSo said coldly. "Keep that in mind."
The Scientist bowed meekly. "Of course, sire. Of course."
With a disdainful huff, the Emperor turned and strode out of the lab.
Once certain that the Emperor was out of earshot, the Scientist scowled. "And he thinks he's having nightmares? I'm living in one."
Night had fallen on the Enchanted Forest. Inside her tent, Elsa sat on her reindeer pelt cot staring at the cup of moon moss tea Honeymaren had brewed for her.
"Well..." she said to herself. "Here goes nothing."
She put the cup to her lips and tilted the contents into her mouth. The tea was lukewarm and bitter-tasting, but she drank it all in a single gulp. Immediately she felt a numbing sensation running across her body. Yawning, she lay down on the cot on her back and rested her head on her pillow. A few moments later, Bruni crawled onto the pillow and curled up beside her.
"Sweet dreams, little fellow," she whispered. "I'm hoping to have some myself."
The fire salamander responded with an appreciative purring noise.
Smiling, Elsa closed her eyes and allowed sleep to claim her.
In his bed chambers, having retired for the night, skekSo finished donning on his nightgown. He took the flask containing the sleeping potion, pulled the stopper out, and emptied the contents into his mouth. It was a foul-tasting concoction that he managed to swallow only with great effort. Grimacing, he tossed the flask aside, and staggered toward his massive bed.
Much to his chagrin, he found a Crawlie nestled on top of his pillow. His annoyance quickly turned to delight, and he made a lunge toward the furry creature. Sensing danger, the Crawlie tried to escape, but the Emperor's claws swooped down and snatched it before it could even get off the pillow.
The Emperor chuckled and licked his beak in anticipation as he eyed the squealing Crawlie struggling in his grasp. He popped the rodent into his mouth and devoured it in a single gulp. He grunted with satisfaction as the late night snack cleansed his mouth of the potion's bitter taste.
skekSo climbed into the bed and gave a loud, raspy sigh. Resting his head on the pillow and tossing the covers over his ancient body, he closed his eyes and soon began snoring loudly.
For the first time in weeks, Elsa was in a happy dream. She stood near the altar, watching Anna and Kristoff exchange their wedding vows. Once they were finished, the priest formally declared them to be husband and wife. They kissed, and everyone in the chapel began applauding, except for Sven (the Best "Man"), who sobbed uncontrollably. The applause turned to laughter when Anna briefly broke off the kiss to turn around and punch Hans (who'd seemingly appeared out of thin air) in the face. Anna then threw a bouquet of flowers at the crowd, and Olaf caught them, much to Elsa's amusement. Elsa went up to Anna and began to embrace her sister...
The dream changed, like a gentle wave washing over her. Now she was running through the Enchanted Forest, giggling like a child without a care in the world. As she ran, she made her presence known to every animal - awake or asleep - that she came across. She ran for what seemed like hours until she finally entered a clearing. Sighing contently, she stared up at the night sky, and spread her arms to bathe in the light of the full moon. She closed her eyes and felt herself rise off the ground and drift through the air. She floated across a sea of stars. She was truly - as she had put it once - one with the wind and sky...
And then the dream changed again, only this time, instead of a gentle wave, it felt more like a tsunami slamming into her. Her eyes jolted open, and she found herself standing in a dimly-lit cavern. Taken aback, she looked around and realized it wasn't a cavern, but a chamber, triangular in shape and made of stone. And at its center, a great purple crystal floated in the air.
Okay, she thought. This is... interesting.
She looked around, studying the chamber further. Like the chamber itself, the walls were triangular-shaped, with several raised platforms jutting out of them like claws. The ceiling was decorated in numerous intricate carvings of various symbols. The giant crystal hovered above a shaft, from which a steady flow of steam arose. The floor was solid marble with an ornately decorated circle, that surrounded a triangle, which in turn surrounded the shaft at the center. Looking around some more, she counted at least three exits, though where they led to was anyone's guess.
As she processed her surroundings, Elsa suddenly sensed she was not alone. There was a presence here. She turned her attention to the giant floating crystal. Just looking at it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She could feel a great power emanating from the crystal. It reminded her of the power she'd felt at Ahtohallan. Yet the more she stared at the crystal, the more she felt an eerie sadness and pain. Like she was looking at a wounded animal that had been abused and chained up.
Without fully realizing what she was doing, she stepped toward the crystal. She started to raise a hand to touch it...
Elsa froze in her tracks. "What the-?"
"Stay back! Do not come any closer. It is not safe."
Elsa instantly obeyed and took a step back.
"You do not belong here, child. You must leave now."
The voice came from nowhere, yet from everywhere at once.
"Who-who are you?" asked a bewildered Elsa, looking around but seeing no one.
"I am the Crystal you stand in the presence of."
Elsa turned back to the crystal. "You're... the crystal?"
"What's left of it. Once I was the Crystal of Truth. But the light has been all but drained from my wound."
As if her body was acting on its own, Elsa's head jerked upwards. She saw a crack at the top of the crystal. Squinting her eyes, she realized the crystal wasn't just cracked, it was missing a piece.
"Now," the Crystal continued, "I am a shell of my former self. A mockery of what was once noble and just. The Dark Crystal."
Had circumstances been different, Elsa might have felt sorrow for the Crystal's plight. At present, however, she struggled just to make sense of everything.
"Where exactly am I?" she asked. "And how'd I get here?"
"Your physical body remains on your world, safe and unharmed. But your essence - your soul, as you call it - has wandered into this dark dream. I do not know how you came here, but it does not matter. What matters is that you are in grave danger."
"Danger?" Elsa blinked. "But this is just a dream."
"It may be a dream, but it is not your dream."
"Then whose is it?"
"This is the dream of my tormentor. My jailer. The Skeksis Emperor. If he finds you here, he will destroy you."
Elsa bristled. "He can try."
"You are brave and strong, child," the Crystal acknowledged. "But your mind is far, far from your world - the source of your magic. Here, your powers are greatly diminished. Furthermore, even if you were to vanquish the Emperor here, he would merely awaken in his bed. But if he were to strike you down, you would never wake up."
"But this is just a dream," Elsa protested. "How can I actually die here?"
"This is no natural dream," the Crystal explained. "This is a product of the Emperor's reckless experiments with the Darkening."
"The malignant corruption that infects both me and the Emperor. It ravages the body, mind, and spirit. Nothing is safe from it. Not even you. If you die here, the Darkening will devour your essence, leaving your body an empty shell."
A shiver went down Elsa's spine. She still didn't fully understand, but if the Crystal was right, and dying here meant dying in the real world as well, then she had to find a way out as soon as possible.
"But how do I get out of here?" she asked.
"I cannot say for certain," the Crystal conceded. "It may be as simple as leaving this Chamber, though, I fear the dream is much more extensive than just this- Wait..." The Crystal's tone suddenly turned urgent. "We are out of time. You must leave the Chamber now."
"But I still don't know where I'm supposed to go!"
"There is no time! He knows! He is coming! Leave me!"
Something slammed hard against the floor behind her. Elsa spun around to see a tall robed figure standing at one of the chamber's entrances, holding some kind of staff in one hand. The darkness shrouded the figure's features, but Elsa saw enough to know it wasn't human.
"Well, well, well..." said the figure in a voice colder than any ice Elsa could have conjured, "what do we have here? An uninvited guest it seems."
"I, um, I..." Elsa scrambled to think of something to say. "This-this all a big misunderstanding."
"Is it?" The figure emerged from the darkness and Elsa couldn't stop herself from gasping. Before her stood the most horrifying creature she'd ever laid eyes upon. It stood well over seven feet tall and was garbed in multiple layers of dark robes. It had a vulture-like head, but with reptilian skin, crocodile-like teeth, and sunken eyes that gleamed with malice.
"You... Are you the Emperor?" Elsa asked, glancing briefly at the sinister-looking scepter held in one of the creature's clawed hands.
The creature nodded. "Yes," it said, baring its teeth at her, "I am Emperor skekSo - master of the Crystal and supreme ruler of Thra. Clearly you know of me, but I must confess, I have not a clue as to who, or what you are. Won't you be so kind as to introduce yourself?"
Elsa shivered involuntarily. As much as the Emperor's appearance frightened her, his voice scared her even more. Cold, harsh, and utterly inhuman, yet it carried an unmistakable air of unyielding authority that demanded - and received - the undivided attention of all who heard it.
"Me? I'm..." She paused. She had no intention of revealing more about herself than absolutely necessary. "I'm called the Snow Queen."
In truth, she had never been fond of that particular nickname, but it sounded innocuous enough.
"Snow Queen? Is that so?" said the Emperor, sounding intrigued. "Well tell me, Snow Queen, what brings you to my humble Castle? Are you here to challenge me for the throne?"
Elsa shook her head. "No. I, uh, actually came to see you, Emperor. I've heard all about your magnificence," she lied. "And your, uh, many wondrous deeds. I-I wanted to see for myself the glory of your... uh, imperial superiority..."
She trailed off. This was getting pretty lame.
The Emperor laughed and started advancing upon her slowly. "Is that your best effort at flattery? I must say, I've heard better. Now, why don't you tell me the truth about what you're doing here? Or do I have to squeeze it out of your soft throat?" He made a clenching gesture with his free hand.
She sighed and decided she might as well be honest. "All right, then. The truth is that I have no idea what I'm doing here or how I got here. This is all just an accident-"
"LIES!" the Emperor bellowed, causing Elsa to jump back a couple feet. He slammed the floor with his scepter. "No one enters the Castle, much less the Crystal Chamber, by accident. What are you really doing here? Are you a spy? A saboteur, perhaps? Did that hag Mother Aughra send you to steal the Crystal? Or are you a depraved assassin hoping to murder me in my sleep?"
Elsa bit her tongue to stop herself from retorting that he actually was asleep. The only reason why the Emperor had not attacked her yet was because he was still trying to figure her out. If he learned that this was in fact a dream, then all bets were off.
"None of those things," she answered truthfully. "Like I said, I don't even know how I got here. One moment, I was elsewhere. The next, I was here."
The Emperor sneered. "Ah, so you just appeared here out of nowhere. Is that it? You'll forgive me if I have a hard time believing that."
"I can't help you there. But I do apologize for any..." she searched for the right word "...inconvenience I may have caused you, Emperor." She bowed her head, hoping the gesture would placate the Emperor. "Now, if you don't mind, I'll be on my way-"
The Emperor stepped closer toward her. "Perhaps I did not make myself clear: I do not believe you. And even if I did, I wouldn't allow you to leave. No one - knowingly or otherwise - trespasses on my domain without suffering the consequences."
Elsa tensed. "Listen," she said, adopting a more forceful tone, "you don't want to mess with me. I'm more than capable of dealing with a brute like you."
The Emperor scoffed. "If you truly had the power to vanquish me, you would have done so already."
"Or maybe I'm just not looking for a fight," Elsa shot back.
"Only the meek look to avoid battle." The Emperor let out a long, raspy sigh and placed his scepter on some sort of hook attached to the back of his robes. "I grow weary of this conversation, Snow Queen."
He reached into his robes, and Elsa's eyes widened as he pulled out a massive sword. The Emperor pointed the sword at her. "You are clearly guilty of entering the Castle without the blessings of the Lords of the Crystal. The penalty is death!"
"I'm telling you, you don't want to do this-"
It was too late. With a roar, the Emperor lunged at her, swinging his sword with both hands. She dodged out of the way just in time to avoid losing her head. Snarling, the Emperor came at her again, swinging the sword downward this time. Elsa dodged again, and the blade struck the floor with such force it produced a shower of sparks. Moving backwards, she circled around the Crystal, wanting to keep it between her and her attacker. The Emperor, however, being much taller than her, outmaneuvered her and soon had her in his sights again.
He stabbed at her, and she dodged to the side, but even as she avoided being stabbed through the chest, the edge of the blade caught her on the left elbow, slicing through the ice crystals of her dress. A sharp spike of pain registered in her brain, and she stumbled backwards, fresh blood seeping from her wounded elbow. She clutched her injury, applying a small blast of ice to stop the bleeding. The Emperor laughed and charged again, intending to finish her.
Elsa had had enough. She raised her hands and unleashed her magic. A phalanx of icicle-spears burst from the floor between her and the Emperor.
The Emperor stopped just in time to avoid running face-first into the icy wall of spikes. While momentarily caught off guard, he did not retreat. Instead, he stared at the icicles with great interest.
"Ah... This must be the power you spoke of, Snow Queen."
"That's just a fraction of what I can do," Elsa threatened. She kept her arms raised, ready to unleash her powers again. "We can still end this right now. Just let me walk out of here and you'll never see me again. I promise."
The Emperor lowered his sword, but still did not retreat. "A tempting offer," he said, his voice rich with unambiguous irony, "but this has become far too... interesting to end now." He turned around. "Garthim!" he bellowed.
An ominous scuttling sound resonated throughout the Chamber. Something massive emerged from the entrance. Elsa's jaw dropped at the sight of the monster - a bizarre cross between a beetle, a spider, and a crab. It had an enormous pincer on one arm, and a hand with three wicked-looking talons on the other. It came to a halt in front of the Emperor, who looked up at it with pride. He raised his hand and, in a twisted display of affection, ran his fingers across the monster's face, which could only be described as a mouthless, noseless horror fitted with a pair of purple-glowing eyes.
The Emperor turned back to Elsa and bared his fangs at her in a twisted smile. "Now, Snow Queen, let us see how your powers fare against the might of the Skeksis." He pointed at her with his sword. "Garthim, attack!"
The monster scuttled past the Emperor and smashed through the phalanx of icicles Elsa had erected. Elsa threw a larger phalanx of ice spikes in its path, but the monster plowed right through it as easily as the first. She conjured more barriers, only to see them demolished almost as quickly as they were erected.
Realizing she needed to change tactics, Elsa sent multiple freeze blasts at the monster's numerous legs, encasing them in ice. The monster - the Garthim as the Emperor had called it - didn't even slow down. The ice just fell off its legs like bits of dead skin being shed.
Why isn't this working? a frustrated Elsa wondered. How can my ice be breaking so easily? She suddenly remembered what the Crystal had said about her powers being diminished here.
Distracted, Elsa almost didn't see the Garthim swipe at her with its triple-talon hand. She ducked just in time. The Garthim lunged at her again, this time with its massive pincer hand. Thinking quick, she turned the ground directly beneath her feet to ice and slid out of the way at superhuman speed. The Garthim lashed out again, and she created more slippery ice underneath her feet and skated out of the way. This little dance went on for several more rounds before her luck ran out. The Garthim's triple-talon hand slammed into her chest, knocking her to the ground, flat on her back.
The Garthim reached down toward her with its pincer hand, the claws opened wide and ready to clamp themselves down on her slender body. Despite the pain from the blow, she remained focused enough to freeze its pincer hand in a block of ice before it could grab her. The Garthim reeled back, taken by surprise.
While the Garthim struggled to free its pincer from her ice, Elsa got to her feet and made a dash toward one of the exits. To her dismay, she found it now barred by a solid stone door. A quick glance around the Chamber revealed that the other two exits had also been sealed off.
"Damn it," she swore.
The Garthim, meanwhile, broke its pincer arm free of the ice. It resumed scuttling towards Elsa, who had no choice but to flee. As she ran in circles around the Chamber, she hurled dozens of frozen projectiles at her pursuer. Spears, daggers, and arrows - all made of ice. None had any effect, save to bounce off or shatter harmlessly on the Garthim's armored shell.
At one point, she conjured a row of ice spikes directly underneath the creature, hoping they might pierce its belly. Instead, the ice shattered uselessly against the Garthim's underside before they could fully take shape.
Does this thing have any weak points? she wondered, close to despair.
The Emperor's laugh echoed through the Chamber. "Having fun?" he mocked.
Even as she continued fighting a losing battle, Elsa couldn't resist clapping back. "Is this how you fight all your battles, Emperor? Watching from the sidelines while your pet does all the work? How brave."
"Use your tongue while you still can, Snow Queen," the Emperor snarled. "I'll make sure it's the first thing the Garthim rips out."
Elsa prepared to cast another worthless ice projectile, but stopped. Hold on... If he can have a pet, then so can I.
Refocusing her thoughts, she unleashed a tornado of snowflakes. It swirled forth from her palms, placing itself between her and the Garthim. The tornado shifted in shape and re-materialized as a giant monster made of ice. The newly created monster - a fiercer-looking version of Marshmallow - flexed its razor sharp claws and let loose a tremendous roar that rattled the Chamber.
"What the-?!" The Emperor stopped laughing, completely stupefied by this turn of events.
The Garthim halted - but only briefly to assess its new foe. It quickly resumed its attack run, and the ice monster charged as well. The two behemoths collided head-on and began tearing into each other with abandon. Diamond-hard ice claws slashed at the Garthim's armored carapace, while pincers and talons tore at the snow monster's frozen hide. The ice monster drove the Garthim away from Elsa and slammed it against the wall. The Garthim, despite being slightly smaller, managed to shove the ice monster back. Locked in each other's embrace, the two monsters rolled around the Chamber almost comically, like a pair of children fighting on the playground.
For a while, it seemed neither construct had the advantage. Then at last, Elsa's monster seized the Garthim by the underside and lifted it above its head. With a mighty heave, the ice monster hurled the Garthim into air, sending it flying towards the Emperor, who barely avoided getting crushed by his own servant. The Garthim struck the floor so hard, the marble cracked. It bounced awkwardly several times like a misshapen ball, before finally coming to a rest. Stuck on its back and unable to right itself, the construct flailed its legs and arms in the air helplessly.
"NO!" the Emperor screamed, shocked to see his prized creation beaten. Trembling with fury, he pointed his sword at Elsa. "You'll pay for this!"
Elsa smirked. "Well, what about this?" She summoned a long ice whip and slashed it through the air. The whip wrapped itself around the Emperor's sword. She jerked her arm back and yanked the sword out of his hand. It flew across the room and landed unceremoniously in a corner, far from its owner's reach.
The Emperor howled in outrage. "Insolent wench! You dare-?!"
"Or this?" She sent a blast of ice at the Emperor's legs, freezing his feet to the floor. He struggled to escape, but unlike his Garthim, he could not so easily break free of the ice.
Elsa fixed the Emperor with a murderous stare. The Crystal said if he "dies" here, he'll just wake up, she thought. And if he wakes up, then maybe I'll wake up, too.
"And don't forget this." Smiling ruthlessly, she tapped her ice monster on the leg, then pointed at the trapped Emperor. Reading her intent correctly, the snow monster let loose its loudest roar yet and lumbered towards the Emperor.
The Emperor's eyes widened in fear and rage. "No!" he screamed again. "I will NOT lose!"
The hook on the back of his robes - which Elsa suddenly realized wasn't a hook, but a withered hand - extended itself forward and handed him his scepter. With a desperate cry, he thrust his scepter high above his head, as if calling for something to bless it. The scepter's claw-like head glowed purple - the same as the Crystal. The ice monster raised its fists to pulverize the Emperor, who yelled out again and pointed his scepter at it. Purple lightning burst from the scepter's head.
Elsa threw up her hands to shield her eyes from the blinding light. She felt the air sizzle and her hair stand up. She heard her ice monster roar, followed by an ear-splitting cracking noise. Something exploded, releasing a shockwave that nearly knocked her to the floor. A sudden, dreadful silence descended upon the Chamber. Fearing the worst, she slowly lowered her hands.
Her heart skipped a beat. Her ice monster was gone. All that remained were a flurry of snowflakes drifting in the air, like cinders from a bonfire.
"Enough games!" snarled the Emperor. He pressed the still-glowing head of his scepter against the ice imprisoning his feet. The ice cracked and shattered. Freed, he took a step forward.
"Now then, Snow Queen," he growled, staring at Elsa with burning hate, "let me show you true power."
He pointed the scepter at her, its head glowing with an even greater intensity than when he had used it to destroy the snow monster.
"Behold, now, the wrath of the Darkening!"
Elsa hastily summoned a snowflake-shaped shield made of the strongest ice she could conjure.
With a roar, the Emperor unleashed a torrent of purple lightning from his scepter. The deadly energy slammed into Elsa's ice shield, spraying sparks and bits of ice in all directions. Even from behind her protective barrier, the impact felt like a hammer's blow to the chest. Elsa struggled just to stay standing. This energy - the Darkening - was unlike any magic she'd ever encountered. It was an unnatural horror made of chaos and rage. An insatiable hunger that devoured everything it touched. An unholy chorus that screamed into her brain with the agony of a million tortured souls.
Nothing had prepared her for such terrible power. Not her first encounters with Gale and Bruni in the Forest. Not her battle with Nokk in the Dark Sea. Not even the depths of Ahtohallan.
Already she felt her ice shield weaken, as the Darkening slowly but steadily chipped away at the barrier, inch by inch. Cracks appeared in the ice. Desperate, she poured more magic into the shield, attempting to repair the damage. It was of no use. The cracks grew in size and began bleeding purple light, infecting the once pure white snowflake with hideous purple veins.
Her strength waned. Her concentration slipped. Her magic faltered. Despair and panic overwhelmed her. She couldn't hold out...
"Oh shi-" The shield exploded.
She flew backwards across the Crystal Chamber, slammed hard into the Crystal and bounced off, landing flat on her stomach, barely avoiding falling into the shaft. Despite her brain being a jumbled mess, she remained coherent enough to hear the Emperor's triumphant laughter. Through her dazed vision, she saw him approach, contemptuously stepping over the scattered fragments of her shield.
Tired and hurt, but unwilling to give up, Elsa gritted her teeth and pulled herself up. She raised her hands to fight, but before she could cast any magic, the Emperor casually struck her in the stomach with his scepter, knocking the wind out of her already battered body. She doubled over and fell to her knees, grasping at her belly and gasping in pain.
Laughing, the Emperor gazed down at her. "Perhaps, I shouldn't kill you immediately," he mused, stroking his chin with a talon. "Maybe I should drain you of your essence instead. Oh, I do wonder what you'll taste like, Snow Queen."
He laughed again and licked his beak with his hideous black tongue. Revolted, Elsa looked away.
"How utterly arrogant of you to think that you could defy me with your puny magic," he sneered, "when there is nothing - absolutely nothing - in this world, or any world, that does not bend to my will!"
Elsa looked back up, her eyes narrowed. A surge of anger coursed through her body.
"You want to know what I taste like?" she growled. "Here, let me show you."
With a defiant cry, she sprang to her feet and threw herself at the Emperor. Before he could react, she slammed the palms of her hands into his chest. Magic ice pulsated through her fingers, through the Emperor's robes, and into the vile creature's flesh.
The Emperor staggered back in pain. He dropped his scepter and clutched at his chest. "Wha-what is this?!" he gasped. "What have you done?!"
Elsa collapsed back onto her knees. She looked up at the Emperor, giving him a grim smile. "Just made your heart a little colder than it already was."
Frost began to form on the Emperor's chest where Elsa had struck him. He stared down in horror as the ice rapidly spread across his entire body.
"No! NO! Stop this!" he screamed, terrified.
"Only one thing can thaw a frozen heart," Elsa said. "And I know for a fact that you're incapable of it." There was not an ounce of pity in her voice.
"Infernal witch!" cursed the Emperor, a frosty mist spewing out of his mouth. He pointed a trembling finger down at her. "You... will not... win," he rasped.
Elsa heard a familiar scuttling. The Garthim had somehow managed to right itself and was now coming for her again. Her powers depleted, her body exhausted, and her mind blank, Elsa just sat on her knees, eyes closed, resigned to the inevitable. The Emperor might be completely frozen soon, but not before the Garthim tore her apart. He would wake up, but she never would.
She started to wonder what would happen when the Northuldra discovered her lifeless body in her tent, when suddenly, the Crystal's voice boomed in her head: "To me!"
Her eyes shot open. "What?"
"To me! Quickly!"
The Crystal's words gave her the strength she needed to get back on her feet. She limped her way over to the Crystal, stopping at the edge of the shaft. She looked over her shoulder and saw the Garthim mere feet away, its claws descending upon her.
"Jump!" the Crystal commanded. "Jump now!"
Without a second's thought, Elsa jumped.
Time seemed to slow as she plummeted down the shaft. She saw a lake of fire waiting at the bottom. Already she could feel the searing heat. Pain blossomed on her left shoulder. She started to cry out-
Elsa bolted upright.
"Thank the spirits! Finally!"
Someone hugged her tightly. Too tightly. Elsa struggled. "Mmmphh?!" she protested. "Hey, what the-?! Honeymaren?!"
"Yes, it's me." Honeymaren released her and breathed a sigh of relief. "I was so worried. Thank goodness you're awake."
Panting hard, Elsa looked around and saw she was back in her tent, sitting on her cot. Her body was drenched in sweat and her heart was pounding heavily against her chest. She also became aware of a pain on her left shoulder.
Eventually, she managed to get her breathing back to a normal rate. She then inspected her hurt shoulder and saw a small burn mark there.
How did that get there?
She suddenly noticed Bruni standing at the foot of her cot, tiny wisps of smoke rising from his body.
"Did you do this?" she asked pointedly.
The salamander purred sheepishly.
Elsa rubbed her shoulder. "It's okay," she said, applying a patch of ice to the burn. "I think you might have just saved my life. But what's going on?" She looked at Honeymaren. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to check on you. The Earth Giants appeared out of nowhere and made a huge ruckus. Woke everyone up. Well, everyone except you."
"What?! The Earth Giants?!" Elsa jumped out of her cot. "Are-are you okay? Is anyone hurt?"
"We're fine," Honeymaren assured her. "The Earth Giants have already left. But what about you? When I got here, you were thrashing about in your sleep, like you were having a nightmare."
Sighing, Elsa sat back down on the cot. "You could say that again."
"I tried to wake you up, but nothing worked. That's when Bruni, well, you know... took action."
Bruni gave an indignant squeak, and pointed a claw at Honeymaren, as if to say, "She made me do it."
"Now, wait a minute," Honeymaren retorted, glaring at the fire spirit. "When I said 'do something' - I didn't mean light her on fire."
"Well? Is she awake yet?"
Elsa and Honeymaren turned to the entrance to the tent, where Yelena stood, her expression grave. The elderly Northuldra leader acknowledged Elsa with a nod, then motioned to someone outside the tent. "She's awake. You can come in."
A very familiar red-headed woman barged into the tent and ran up to Elsa. "Elsa!" she exclaimed as she threw her arms around Elsa.
Confused but overjoyed, Elsa hugged her little sister back. "Anna! You're-you're here."
"Yeah. We're here," said another familiar voice. Elsa looked past Anna to see Kristoff enter the tent.
Elsa did a double take. "Kristoff? You too? What's happening?" She let go of her sister. "Wha-what are you two doing here?"
"We were actually hoping you'd tell us," Anna replied, rather dryly. Elsa looked at her, then at Kristoff, and noticed for the first time that they were both still dressed in their nightclothes. They also looked extremely frazzled and unkempt, and smelled somewhat damp.
"What happened to you two?" she asked.
"What happened? Gale literally pulled us out of bed in the middle of the night, carried us through the window, and dumped us on top of Nokk, who brought us here," Kristoff explained. He rubbed the back of his neck. "It was not fun, by the way. I think I lost my supper on the way. Twice. Please tell me the spirits aren't angry at us, again."
Elsa shook her head. "I think they were trying to save me."
Kristoff frowned. "Save you?"
"Yes, save me. From burning to death at the bottom of the shaft. Well, that, and also from the Emperor. And the Garthim. And don't even get me started on the Darkening-"
"Wait, what?" Anna held up her hands. "Slow down, Elsa. Start from the beginning."
"Yes," agreed Yelena. "I think you should tell us exactly what happened."
Everyone sat down and waited for Elsa to begin.
Elsa sighed. "Well, all right... This might take a while."
By the time Elsa was finished, everyone was staring her, utterly dumbfounded - except for Bruni, who sat on Elsa's shoulder, licking the burn. Apparently the fire spirit still felt he owed her an apology, despite Elsa's reassurances otherwise.
"Okay," muttered Anna, "I was not expecting any of that."
"So, you were actually in danger of dying?" asked Kristoff. "Like, dying, dying?"
Elsa nodded wearily. "That's what the Crystal told me. If I died there, I'd never wake up here. Something about the Darkening eating my soul. I still don't understand, but I know it was telling me the truth."
Yelena rubbed her chin. "Yes... That explains why the Earth Giants were here. They must have realized you were in danger. If they hadn't woken everyone else, then no one would have been around to wake you up, in turn."
"And then I'd have died at the bottom of that shaft," Elsa murmured. "I guess I got the Earth Giants to stop fighting after all."
"Wow," Honeymaren remarked, shaking her head. "That is quite a nightmare. Still, at least you gave this Emperor creep one hell of a fight."
Despite all that she'd just been through, Elsa managed to grin. "Yes, I did."
Of course, she thought, I'd be dead if the Crystal hadn't intervened.
Her thoughts lingered on the Crystal and how it had saved her life. Her gratitude towards it came with a painful acknowledgement that even as she sat here with her friends and family, the Crystal remained a prisoner on another world beyond her reach.
Anna turned to Yelena. "How did this all happen?" the current Queen of Arendelle demanded, not bothering to conceal the anger in her tone.
Yelena pursed her lips. "Truthfully, Your Majesty, I can only speculate. Long ago, our wisest shamans could project their thoughts - some say their very souls - from their bodies while they slept. In this form, they could wander the Enchanted Forest and commune with the spirits, unhindered by any physical limits. They could even visit the dreams of their fellow tribesmen to provide counseling that they could not offer in the real world. Those shamans all died long before any of us were born, but I believe your sister may have done exactly what they did. She projected herself out of her body as she slept."
Elsa's mind reeled at Yelena's explanation. "I-I did?"
"But how?" asked Kristoff, sounding just as upset as his wife-to-be. "It's not like she was trying to do this. Right, Elsa?"
Elsa shook her head. "I didn't even know it was possible to... project my mind from of my body, let alone visit someone else's dreams. Definitely not the dreams of an evil bird-lizard emperor."
"I agree, none of this was intentional. But I wonder..." Yelena gazed around the tent, stopping when she spotted the empty cup that Elsa had drunk her tea out of earlier that night. She got up, picked up the cup, and sniffed it. "Moon moss," she whispered. "Of course."
"What's that?" Anna asked.
"Just some tea Honeymaren made to help me with my sleep," Elsa explained. "It's supposed to help me rise above my... personal worries."
"It may have done more than that, I'm afraid," said Yelena somberly, sitting back down. "The moon moss lifts an ordinary person's thoughts above their inner turmoil as they sleep. But you are not ordinary, Elsa. Your powers, I think, may have enhanced the moon moss's abilities, causing your thoughts to rise not just above your worries, but out of your body, out of the Forest, and even out of this world."
"Out of this world... and into the Emperor's dream." Elsa was stunned. "The tea did all of this?"
"In combination with your powers, yes. It seems that way. Though, as I said before, I can only speculate."
Honeymaren looked mortified. "But I gave her that tea... I-" She turned to Elsa. "I'm so sorry, Elsa. This is all my fault-"
Yelena held up a hand, silencing her. "The moon moss may have caused her to accidentally project her mind out of this world, but I think the more important question is why she felt she needed to drink the moon moss in the first place." Yelena turned to Anna and Kristoff. "And I suspect that is why the spirits brought you two here."
Anna and Kristoff stared at each other, then simultaneously turned to look at Elsa. Anna in particular gave her sister a suspicious glare.
Elsa's shoulders slumped (nearly causing Bruni to fall off).
Oh boy. Am I gonna get it now.
Yelena stood up. "We'll give you three some privacy. Clearly you have some... things to talk about." She motioned for Honeymaren to follow her. The two Northuldra women left the tent. Bruni crawled off of Elsa's shoulder and scampered out as well.
Left in her tent with just Anna and Kristoff, Elsa suddenly found herself wishing to be back in the Crystal Chamber with the Emperor.
skekTek dropped the sack of worms he'd been feeding to one of the more voracious specimens in his cages. He turned around and gulped. skekSo stood just a few feet away, still clad in his nightgown, trembling with rage.
"S-sire," squeaked the Scientist, "I-I wasn't expecting you to be up so early-"
"Quiet!" bellowed the Emperor. "I just woke up from my worst nightmare yet! I dreamt that I was turned to ice by some horrid pale-skinned witch who called herself 'Snow Queen'!"
"Oh my. That does sound distressing..."
"That sham potion of yours didn't just fail!" the Emperor ranted. "It utterly backfired!"
"Well, technically, it was experimental-"
The Emperor grabbed skekTek by the beak, cutting him off mid-sentence.
"I went through a thoroughly unpleasant experience thanks to your incompetence. It's only fair that I repay you in kind." He started dragging the Scientist out of the lab. "Come. We're going to pay the Ritual Master a visit."
By the time the sun rose on the Enchanted Forest, Elsa was feeling a lot better, having had a difficult but ultimately much needed conversation with Anna and Kristoff. After apologizing repeatedly for the trouble they'd gone through last night and exchanging a couple hugs, Elsa summoned an ice carriage and had Nokk tow them back to Arendelle. Elsa then spent the rest of the morning helping Honeymaren and Yelena feed the reindeer.
Meanwhile, as the First Brother rose on the Castle of the Crystal, skekSo sat on his throne and watched the Ritual Master pound red-hot spikes into the Scientist's tail.
Finished... for now
A/N: This is meant to be a one shot, but at some point, it may or may not lead to a larger story. I haven't really decided yet. I also admit this is one of the stranger fanfics I've written. I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless.