Other Fan Fiction ❯ Omis Ravir ( Chapter 17 )

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CHAPTER 17: Omis Ravir

The manticore gargoyle pawed the ground, thick haunches rolling
up on its stone body. Full length, it had to be twenty feet
long.

« What do we do? » Ariel asked.

« Maybe it’s friendly, » Rapunzel said.

It leaped forward, charging them. Ariel dove to one side.
Rapunzel to the other. Elsa stumbled back, leaving a jumbled growth
of ice spikes where she stood. The beast crushed them with its
stone pillar legs. It raised a leg before Elsa.

A blast of light knocked aside the canis’s face.

« Hey, over here! » Ariel shouted. She held out her trident, aimed
at its head.

Seeing a more immediate threat, the colossus turned towards a
new victim. « What do I do? What do I do? » Ariel shouted.

« Shoot it! » Elsa said.

Ariel blasted it with lightning. Its stone head jerked back, but
couldn’t be hurt.

Elsa saw her chance. A smooth patch of ice spread under the
monster’s legs. As it stepped on, the ice cracked into a
spider-web. It must have weighed tons–too heavy to slip up.

Ariel backed against the border of the clearing. « Help me,
guys! »

Rapunzel backed against a tree. She heaved her hair over a
branch and skittered up. After a few more wraps, she made a leaping
dive off. She swung in an arc across the clearing, screaming like a
savage. The beast craned to look, but its neck was too thick for a
full turn.

Rapunzel landed on the monster’s back. She slammed her frying
pan down with a resounding iron clang. « You. Leave. Her. Alone, »
she said, each word emphasized with a blow from the pan.

Its eyes squinted with each blow, head bouncing with each jolt.
Ariel ran back to open ground.

The beast shook its haunches like a wet dog, slower and
heavier.

« Whoa, whoa, whoa! » Rapunzel wobbled back and forth until she
couldn’t hold on anymore. She flew off headfirst, toward a nasty
fall on the hard ground.

Elsa followed her with her hand. A snow drift appeared in front
of Rapunzel where she landed, buried. She popped up, a pyramid of
snow on her head. « Thanks, » she said.

Elsa nodded, hiding her annoyance. She had the best chance of
defeating the beast, if she wasn’t spending all her time saving the
others. « Ariel, get behind her, » Elsa called out.

While Ariel maneuvered away, Elsa concentrated on forming jagged
balls of hard ice. The beast turned its head. The ice chunk fell on
the monster’s head, jarring it. Then another. Another. Another. All
it did was make it madder. She tried bigger ones. No reaction.

Elsa gritted her teeth. She shot melted ice shards at the
colossus. A jagged glaze of frost coated its head, belly and front
legs. The beast shook it off, pawing away the bigger chunks.

« It’s a rock, Elsa. It doesn’t care about freezing, » Rapunzel
said while Ariel helped her out of the snow.

Elsa didn’t listen. Bigger ice. More ice. A blizzard as intense
as the arctic. She would bring down this monster or die trying.

Elsa’s eyes faded into a white glow. Constant ice shot out of
her hands. The monster ran forward. Elsa was concentrating so hard,
she didn’t think about getting out of the way. She had to stop
it.

Ariel fired her trident. Two shots hit it in the jaw. The third
sideswiped its legs.

It burbled in pain and lost its footing. Eight tons of stone
slid straight toward Elsa, scraping away topsoil. Rapunzel tackled
her out of the way.

When Elsa’s eyes re-opened, they had lost the white glow. « You
were going to be killed, » Rapunzel said.

Ariel continued to pelt the beast with lightning bolts as it
regained its posture.

« This isn’t working, » Elsa said.

Rapunzel glanced around. If they couldn’t stop it with their
powers, maybe something else…

« I got it, » she said. « Get me on that thing. » She started
sprinting towards the stone monster before Elsa could ask.

The beast was beginning to turn toward Ariel. Elsa created a set
of ice steps under Rapunzel’s feet. She climbed up and jumped on
its neck. Taking a swath of hair, she wrapped it around the
monster’s eyes. It roared like a bull while Rapunzel wound three
more loops, making sure the beast was blind.

The beast swung its head back and forth, but Rapunzel stayed on,
holding her hair like reins. It bucked up and down, each jump
bouncing Rapunzel into the air. The ground shook under their
feet.

« Elsa–ice barrier! Ariel–shoot the tree! »

« What? » Ariel asked.

But Elsa knew what to do. She swiped her hand across the beast’s
path, making a thick wall of ice. The colossus crashed through with
the force of mountain meeting mountain. Dazed, it fell on its
belly, legs splayed out.

« The tree! That tree! » Rapunzel shouted and pointed. A gigantic
oak tree, thick as a castle pillar, leaned into the clearing.

Ariel pointed the trident and shot the tree’s base with as much
force as she could will. The blast blew through the trunk, sending
splinters and bark flying, creating flames at the impact point.

The oak made a heart-wrenching creak, then leaned further
forward. Its looming shadow shrouded Rapunzel. She yanked up her
hair and dove out of the way, landing in Elsa’s arms.

The beast propped itself up on one leg. The trunk smashed it
back down, followed by a tremendous explosion of leaves.

Ariel rejoined her friends, panting with hands on her knees.
« Everyone okay? »

« We’re fine, » Elsa said.

Once the chaos settled, they could see the beast struggling to
stand. But the weight was too much. It made a crooning bellow,
equal parts anger and humiliation. Its glassy blue eyes faded to
black.

« What do you think it was? » Ariel asked. « Did Omis Ravir make
that as a guard? »

« Maybe it was meant to keep him in. Like a prisoner, » Rapunzel
said.

« No, » Elsa said. « Omis made it. A monster to keep people
out. »

« How do you know? » Rapunzel asked.

« Because I made the same thing. »

Elsa pulled open the cathedral door and beckoned the others in.
Inside was an unlit chamber held by arched roof. No altar, no
lectern, just a bare pulpit. Pews had been broken away, leaving an
austere stone floor. Random beams of dusty light streamed through
broken bricks and cracked windows.

Their footsteps echoed down the center aisle. « Hello? » Elsa
called out. « Is anyone here? »

« Someone has to be here, » Rapunzel said. « That stone statue
wasn’t guarding nothing. »

Ariel’s head turned, tracking a possible shadow. « Did you see
that? » Rapunzel and Elsa hadn’t.

They entered the transept. Grass and moss covered the pulpit
like a carpet. « Mr. Ravir? Are you here? We need to talk to-« 

The doors slammed. Light fluttered like a gas lamp. This was no
wind brushing trees, this was magic.

« What’s happening? » Ariel asked, clutching her trident.
Unearthly sounds whirled in, like groaning earth splitting.

The floor below illuminated a glyph in bright cyan. Its
intricate spirals and angles stretched from corner to corner.

Rapunzel shrieked. She was suddenly levitating. Her hair
streamed upward like a ribbon as she floated toward the ceiling.
Elsa grabbed her outstretched hand. « Don’t let go! »

It felt like resisting a hurricane wind. For a moment, Elsa
gulped. As her toes were about to leave the ground, Ariel wrapped
her arms around Elsa’s torso. They both grabbed Rapunzel,
struggling to pull her down.

Ravir had seen their fight, knew how well they’d worked
together. « Don’t let them split us up! That’s what he’s trying to
do. »

They managed to overpower whatever force possessed Rapunzel. The
invisible energy released its hold as Rapunzel’s feet touched
ground.

« Where is he? » Rapunzel asked.

« Show yourself! » Elsa demanded. « We know you’re here. We
know-« 

Wind rushed around them, forcing their eyes closed. Elsa back
retreated into her friends, making a back-to-back-to-back
formation. Rapunzel held her pan to protect her face. Ariel peeked
through the tines of her trident. As the vortex intensified, the
light around them dimmed.

« I can’t see! » Ariel shouted. « Everything’s dark! » Her red hair
flapped in her face while Rapunzel’s spun into the center of the
cyclone.

« Please stop this! » Rapunzel shouted.

Elsa tried shooting her ice, but the tempest swept up the
particles into its mass. Rapunzel and Ariel screamed, but the air
was sucked out of their mouths. Ravir wasn’t going to let them
leave. He wasn’t going to help them. The darkness was going to
swallow them.

« Rapunzel! Sing! » Elsa said.

« Are you kidding? »

« The light! »

Rapunzel didn’t sing so much as scream. « Flower gleam and glow!
Let your power shine! »

Her hair’s radiance flickered like a dying firefly. The vortex
was sucking the light from under them. But the wind weakened.

Elsa bellowed. « Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back
anymore! »

Ariel caught on. She sung the same tune when Ursula had taken
her voice. The same that brought Eric to her. « Ah-ah-ahhhh,
ah-ah-ahhhh… »

Patches of windlessness permated the air. White light exploded
from the center of the vortex. Rapunzel’s golden hair fell behind
her in a heap. The cathedral was empty again.

« Who are you? »

The voice had a childlike timbre mixed with the brusqueness of
age. They couldn’t pinpoint the source due to the building’s
echoes. It seemed to be everywhere.

Ariel aimed her trident fiercely. « Are you Omis Ravir? »

A pause. « I know not of this person. »

« Please. We need to find him, » Rapunzel said. « We’ve all been
afflicted by some kind of curse. Some arcane magic no one
knows. »

« Do not look to me. My business with your world ended long
ago. »

« Then maybe you know something? Please. We’re desperate. We
can’t find a single person or book that can help. »

A pause. « You can find no help here. No knowledge. »

« But we can’t leave. You’re our only chance. My kingdom’s at
stake. All our lives, » Elsa said.

The voice responded, « I live in isolation to protect myself and
others. I hold no obligation to you or your people. »

« We’d still like to talk to you. Can you show yourself? » Ariel
asked.

A pause. « You wouldn’t like what you see. »

« I don’t know. I’ve seen some pretty weird-looking fish, » Ariel
said.

« I’m friends with bar thugs and ruffians. Some of them have
hooks for hands, » Rapunzel said.

Silence. Elsa’s fingers twitched. She had to suppress the urge
to bellow « I am Queen Elsa of Arendelle. She’s the princess of
Corona. She holds the trident of the sea god. Unless you come down,
we’ll send our combined armies to tear this place apart. »

But she didn’t have to. Out of the corner of her eye, a form
appeared as if he had been standing there all along. Ariel and
Rapunzel lined up next to Elsa.

The man was gaunt–emaciated to the point where a man shouldn’t
be alive. His mottled, cobalt skin stretched over the bones of his
arms and legs like tight canvas. A sunken cavity lay under his ribs
where a healthy stomach should have been. His only clothes were a
burlap waistcloth and a mantle covering his mouth. Black stringy
bangs hung over opalescent eyes.

Elsa’s eyes bulged. Rapunzel gasped.

« I am Omis Ravir. Look upon me. This is the magic you seek. »

Elsa stepped forward. « What happened? »

« What all power does–corrupts. The more there is, the more it
despoils. »

« It’s okay. » Ariel placed a hand on Ravir’s shoulder. He
twitched. « We’re not going to hurt you. »

« I attacked you, » Ravir said.

« You’re not attacking us now, » Ariel said. « My name is Ariel.
This is Queen Elsa and Princess Rapunzel. »

Ravir blinked his glowing eyes. « You have such rank, both
political and spiritual. Someone has seen fit to glut you with
privilege. »

« We weren’t always this way, » Elsa said. « Rapunzel’s hair should
be normal, brown, and shorter. Ariel was a mermaid who became
human, but now she keeps turning back. And we think the only magic
capable of doing this came from an ancient cult leader named
Temeris. Do you know anything about him? »

« I was a knight. A crusader and scholar. Appointed by king to
seek wisdom rather than conquer lands. But I do not pretend my
journey was noble. My order required small skill in necromancy.
Those who stood in my way are now stains on a sword. The journey
led me to the Cult of Temeris. Two others sought the same, for
their own reasons, and I joined them. We discovered their crypt
through fortune and will, and made short work of the remaining
members. The cult’s strength had withered like old men. In the
catacombs, we found the three faults. »

« What were they? » Ariel asked. « What did they look like? »

« Three canopic jars, containing a heart, a body, and a
brain–the mortal remains of Temeris. Each of us selected one, so
none could claim envy. Each took what they believed to be the
stronger of the other two. »

« And you took… his brain? » Elsa asked.

Ravir nodded. « All the knowledge, the cunning, the sagacity. A
universe of insight. It consumed me. People, places, seemed less
interesting. Hollow representations of meaning. The insipid spirals
of their petty contrivances changed disregard to disgust. At first
only the dregs of society suffered my wrath. Soon, no one was
beneath my contempt. My loathing manifested until exile became my
only recourse. »

« How long have you been here? » Rapunzel asked.

« Time no longer has meaning to me. It is a human construct. You
wouldn’t understand. » Ravir held up his hand to silence the
girl.

« Are you the one who sent us a message? » Rapunzel dug out the
blank letter from her knapsack. « Elsa got one too, but they’re both
blank. »

« I sent you nothing. » Ravir peered at the fine sheaf, dragging a
finger down it. « But this page is not blank. »

« Can you read it? Is it in some magic script? » Rapunzel
asked.

« It was meant for you and you alone. The explication is tied to
your soul. »

« Okay, » Rapunzel said. « So… what does that mean? How can I
read it? »

Ravir sighed. He pointed at a spot in the center of the church.
« Stand there. »

Rapunzel walked up to it, letter held in front of her chest.

Ravir held his arms over his head. A yellow ball formed,
crackling with energy. He threw it into the air over the pulpit. It
shot through the stained glass window, raining fragments around
them. The girls shielded their eyes.

« Look, » Ravir said.

Light streamed through where the window had broken, bathing
Rapunzel in a beam of light. On the sheet of paper, etchings glowed
where the sunlight struck.

« Of course, » Rapunzel said. « My power comes from a drop of sun
that fell to Earth. It’s even the symbol of Corona. I should have
thought of it before. »

« What does it say? » Ariel asked.

Rapunzel held out the paper and read.

I haply dote on thine magician’s gaze
Command me spell bound my heart to find thine
The sun beweeps red tears of flame from rays
Doth brightest cans’t to match thou brilliant shine

Time’s tyranny of tide calls forth impart
But tread most feather-light across its flow
E’er contra the raucous tow of mine heart
And bid us route to wedding’s altar glow

That, lo, the nupt of fruits bloom ripe thereof
By lost and lonely gods of yore. Let past
And future both attend the vow. For love
Bear guard through eyes of patience none outlast

At nocturne sweet rends mine and thou to we
Whence join sweet Iris lock to pair’ed key

« I have no idea what that means, » Elsa said.

« What is it supposed to be? A love poem? » Ariel asked.

« I can only show you the door, » Ravir said. « To walk in is your
quest. »

« If you didn’t send this, do you know who did? » Elsa asked.
« What about your two friends? Do you know where they are? »

« Not friends. Travelers of circumstance. A common goal led us
down the same path temporarily. Once we had what we wanted, we left
our separate ways. Their names were Lowther Vonde Brackridge and
Arcius Cansteth. If one of them knows the source of your turmoil,
pray it not be Arcius. That man lacked humanity before the magic
corrupted him. »

« Was he some kind of sorcerer too? » Ariel asked.

« I shall tell you his tale. Cansteth committed heinous crimes
for the sole purpose of being sent to prison. Twelve years isolated
in Ogrestone, condemned to death. For twelve years he labored in a
windowless cell, preparing, refining, perfecting. Its doors never
opened. Once a day, he received a tray of gruel shoved through a
slot. At his trial, the only statement he made was that he would
walk out of prison with a smile. »

« How did he get out? » Rapunzel asked.

« The eleventh year, he begins claiming he’s not Cansteth. He’s
an officer. That the real Cansteth is one of the guards. The
officers open his cell and inspect everything, but find no
evidence. Each guard that passes he tells he’s not Cansteth. Every
man that walks by, Cansteth yells that he’s been replaced. The
others ignore it, thinking he’s gone insane.

« On the day of his execution, he asks for a single razor, as a
last request. He shaves off all the hair of his body–twelve years’
worth. The priest enters. Cansteth knocks him out. Glues his hair
to the priest’s head and takes his place. The priest yells that
he’s not Cansteth. That he was knocked out. »

« And Cansteth walks out the door, » Rapunzel finished.

« With a smile on his face, » Ravir said.

The three girls stood in silence, contemplating what kind of man
would make such a sacrifice to learn power.

« Elsa, what about your letter? Maybe the ice…? » Rapunzel
said.

Elsa filched through the knapsack. She held the letter by one
hand. Sparkles drifted down from her other hand, coating the paper
in a sheen of white frost.

Line after line of cryptic symbols scattered across the page:
squiggly lines and slashed lines and lines with other lines through
them, letters and arrows and half-triangles and circles.

« What is this? A cipher? » Rapunzel asked.

« I don’t see a pattern, » Ariel said. « Unless… okay, so there’s
a line here, and a slanty shape here so… never mind. I don’t get
it. »

Elsa stared at the shapes, waiting for some meaning to pop out
at her. Was there anything magical about it what she was reading?
The point of encryption was to make sure only the receiver could
understand the message. Since whoever wrote it knew them, they
might know enough to…

« Agh, I was so stupid. Look! »

She held the paper out to them. Rapunzel and Ariel shrugged.

« This curly-cue here. It means a divisor over Gaussian integers.
It’s a geometric formula. »

Ariel’s eyes brightened. « You know geometry. Can you figure it
out? »

« Maybe. I need some tools. A compass. Graph paper. »

« We have all those back at the castle, » Rapunzel said. She
turned to Ravir. « Will you come with us? We could use your help.
You’re so powerful… »

« It is for that reason I dare not leave this domain. »

« It’s okay, » Rapunzel said. « You don’t have to be afraid… »

Ravir shook his head. « My appearance is but a fraction of my
antipathy. I no longer count myself in humankind. The only safe
place for me is here, away from the world. »

« I was shut away from the world once too. But it’s easier to
rejoin than you think. People would accept you. You just need to
get to know them. »

« My place. Is here, » Ravir grunted.

« Please? » Rapunzel said. « You don’t have to spend all of your
life alone-« 

« I said NO! » Ravir said.

The black wind rushed at them. Elsa, Ariel, and Rapunzel held
their hands in front of their faces. Old paper and dry thorns
brushed at their arms. The ground under their feet coiled and
sprang like a trampoline. Then the wind ceased.

Bright sunlight. They were standing in a field, in front of a
forest. Ariel turned around.

« Look! We’re back at the castle, » Ariel said. « He transported
us. »

« We should be thankful he didn’t transport us farther, » Elsa
said. To Rapunzel, « Why did you make him so angry? »

Rapunzel sighed. « Maybe I pushed too hard. »

Elsa sighed « It’s all the better, I suppose. We couldn’t force
him. »

« You can lead a captain of the guards to water, but you can’t
make him drink, » Ariel said.

A contingent of royal guards was riding out to meet them–the
same soldiers who escorted them. Rapunzel smiled at the story she
was about to tell.


Flynn whistled a happy tune while carrying the tray of food. He
knocked on the door to the drawing room. « Knock, knock, » he said.
« I’ve got some yummy treats for some hard-working girls. » He opened
the door.

Elsa sat alone at the long mahogany table, buried in scrolls,
inkwells, pencils, and wooden doodads. She and Flynn stared at each
other in uncomfortable silence.

« Oh. Where’s everyone else? » Flynn asked.

She lowered her eyes back to the puzzle. « Rapunzel’s with Ansel,
educating him about Arendelle’s tactical strengths and weaknesses.
I don’t know where Ariel is. »

« Shouldn’t you be with Ansel? You’re the queen,
right? »

« But I’m the only one who can figure out this message. And
Rapunzel knows Arendelle well enough. »

Flynn carried the tray in and placed it on the table. « I thought
they’d be helping you. »

« Does Rapunzel know anything about hexadecimal notation? »

« Uh… I’m not sure anyone in the kingdom does. »

Elsa examined the tray. « Is that coffee? »

« Sure is. I even brought milk and sugar and all that fancy
stuff. »

« I actually prefer tea. »

« Oh… » Flynn picked up the pewter mug. « You ever have coffee
before? It’s great for waking up on those cold mornings. »

« No, thank you. I prefer tea. » She placed on the graph paper to
draw lines.

Flynn pulled up a velvet chair and sat on it in reverse, legs
straddling the back. « Is it tough? »

« Not for me. I just need to draw out the formula now. Means a
lot of complex calculations, and I won’t know if I’ve made a
mistake. »

« Gotcha. There’s no tutor with an answer key. » Flynn picked up a
protractor, looking through the hollow space. « So what’s it like
being a queen? »

« Irritating. You work long hours reading documents. You grind
out a deal, make a compromise, and then no one’s happy. Everyone
depends on you and you get no credit for it. »

« So Rapunzel has that to look forward to for Rapunzel. » Flynn
leaned back. « But Rapunzel’s eager to learn and Queen Arianna’s
sure happy to teach her. I never imagined I’d get along with my
mother-in-law so well. But then, I have to or she’ll cut off my
head. Heh-heh. I bet she’s just as thrilled having a thief for a
son-in-law. They not only regained a daughter but earned a
son. »

Elsa looked up from the tops of her eyes.

« Um… on that note, I should… check how she’s doing. » He
staggered off the chair and backed out of the room.

Elsa muttered to herself as he closed the door. « I never thought
I’d say this, but I miss Olaf. »

Flynn walked across the castle to the war room. Rapunzel and
Ansel stood at a chalkboard with Arendelle’s coast drawn out. In
the middle of the room, there was a large table with a map and tiny
boats. Pascal crawled across the ocean, shifting models around.

« The two biggest ports are here and here, » Rapunzel said.

« But are they the strongest? » Ansel asked. « They may have
overtaken certain defenses at this point. What are the wind
conditions this time of year in Arendelle? »

« I’m not sure. They seemed fine when I was there, but they’re
having odd weather anyway. »

Ansel turned back to the chalkboard. « I believe we should
concentrate on ocean territory as much as possible, use the land
for boundaries. Using the Diekplous maneuver, we can separate their
ranks. I’m assuming calm seas and average depth in the bay. »

« I don’t know. Elsa would. » Rapunzel sighed.

« And I don’t think you want to disturb her, » Flynn said. « I
brought her some coffee and she turned it cold just by talking to
me. Are you sure she has ice powers? Because she sure is a
drip. »

« She likes tea, not coffee. And she’s comfortable working
alone, » Rapunzel replied.

« No one’s that comfortable. Even I made friends as a
thief. Well, until I skipped town with the loot, but that’s
different. « 

« I asked if she needed help and she said no, » Rapunzel shrugged.
« I don’t think I could have helped anyway.

« Your highness, » Ansel interrupted. « I have an idea. If the
attack begins here… » he circled Arendelle’s inlet, « we can push
them to the coast. They’ll have no maneuverability and no time to
move into formation. They won’t expect such an onslaught. »

Pascal knocked one of the ships over.

« Don’t let them retreat into the two surrounding fjords, or
they’ll have the kingdom surrounded, » Rapunzel said.

« Or perhaps we do… » Ansel said. « If their fleet splits,
they’ll retreat, then they’ll be trapped in the canals. No armada
has ever won a battle on two fronts. »

« Maybe… » Rapunzel said. « I’m worried about the damage they
could do to the town. If they think they’re not getting out alive,
they’d act like trapped rats. »

« One must expect collateral damage in a war. And this is only if
we have to engage at all. I’m confident they’ll surrender on
sight. »

« Or at least entreat negotiations. » Rapunzel put down the
chalk.

« My commanding officers are rallying all the available men,
loading supplies. It’s my policy to stay twelve hours away from
full mobilization at any time. We will leave as soon as we’re
ready. Just after midnight, by my estimate. »

Pascal knocked away all the ships representing the enemy off the
board, whacking one with his tail.

Elsa walked through the door to the war room, holding a large
sheet of paper. Several loose hairs from her tight braid wisped
around her head.

« I finished decoding the letter, but-« 

« You did? » Rapunzel squealed. « You got it figured out? What does
it say? »

Elsa held up the paper.  » I have no idea. »

Rapunzel’s face fell.

« It’s some abstract thing. » Elsa showed her a graph of
concentric shapes, wavy lines, and number-value pairs along the
side.

« Did you make a mistake? »

« I triple-checked everything. I’m pretty sure this is the
message. All the coordinates follow a logical pattern, it just…
just doesn’t mean anything. »

The two princesses stared at the ground in dejection. « Where’s
Ariel? » Flynn asked. « Maybe she could help out? »

« I think she left to explore the castle, » Rapunzel said.

« What about the sonnet? Isn’t she working on that? » Elsa
asked.

« I’ve got the castle artistes trying to figure that out. They
know about structure, sound patterns, form. She only knows
Atlantican poetry. »

Elsa grunted. « She should be doing something. Come help me find
her. » Elsa headed into the hallway before Rapunzel responded.

Ansel nodded. Rapunzel didn’t worry about him having his tasks
completed. She jogged after Elsa.

« What’s wrong? » Rapunzel asked Elsa, alone in the hall.

« We’re here slaving on these ridiculous puzzles and she’s
frippering around? I know she couldn’t have helped me, but why
isn’t she there for you? »

« She said she didn’t know much about war strategy. I think
that’s why she left. »

« I’m getting really tired of her attitude. Her trident is
powerful, but anything that requires a modicum of experience or
effort she shrugs off. She thinks everything can come to her by
wanting it. »

« Well, maybe she’s still getting used to… living in a
different world. I think she’s doing very well for joining a new
species. »

Elsa stopped a passing guard and asked him where Princess Ariel
was. « I think I saw her going up the northwest tower, your
majesty. »

Elsa started in that direction without a thank you. Rapunzel
huffed up the stairs after her. « I think her… previous kingdom
was more relaxed. She doesn’t like being controlled or bound by
rules. »

Elsa turned and gave her a hard look. « She’s still a princess.
She has responsibilities. It’s like she forgets she has a curse. Or
that we do too. »

« I think she’s done a lot for us, » Rapunzel said. « This ‘curse’
has been hard on all of us. I’m sure we can figure it out, if we
all keep working at it. »

Elsa stopped and turned around. « That’s another thing. I’m
getting tired of your sunny disposition for everything. You have a
non-problem. »

Rapunzel scowled. « What’s that supposed to mean? »

« Ariel can’t stay on her feet for more than twelve hours. My
kingdom is under attack–by both the elements and another country.
You? You have long hair. »

« I just spent seven hours working with Ansel to send out ships
to your kingdom. We’re taking money out of Corona’s coffers
for Arendelle, just because we’re family. I’m doing this for
you. »

« And while you were there, I was all alone, doing nothing but
geometry problems. Your husband came to visit me. You didn’t. »

« You said you didn’t want us to help you. »

They reached the top of the parapet. True to the guard’s word,
Ariel was there. She stood in the glory of the mid-afternoon sun,
letting the north wind blow her hair back.

« Have you seen this view? It’s breathtaking. There’s mountains,
rivers, plains–all in the same view! And the castle! Rapunzel,
it’s amazing. There’s a theater, a greenhouse, two music rooms, a
Turkish salon-« 

« I know. I live here, » Rapunzel said.

« Why are you up here? You’ve been fooling around while we’re
working, » Elsa said.

« I’m not… I didn’t think anyone needed my help. You’re doing
military stuff and geometry. I’m no good at that. »

« So instead you’re playing around? »

Rapunzel tugged on Elsa’s arm, warning her she was going too
far, but Elsa shrugged her off.

Ariel held her hands behind her back and looked away. « Well, I
didn’t think you needed help. I’m sorry. Is there anything I can
help with now? »

« No. That could have been a little more meaningful seven hours
ago, but I am done, thank you. »

« If you didn’t want to help, you could have at least sat in and
learned something, » Rapunzel added. Elsa’s righteous anger was
infectious.

Now Ariel frowned. « Well… what about you? You’re sending ships
to another country. How is that helping our situation? »

« It’s helping her. » Rapunzel nudged Elsa. « Part of ruling a
country means assisting allies. Do you even know anything about
being a princess? »

« I’m the daughter of a king, » Ariel said angrily.

« So are we all, » Elsa said, crossing her arms. « If it weren’t
for that trident… »

« Is that all you think I’m good for? Blasting things? » Ariel
asked.

« Right now, that’s all you’re good for, » Rapunzel said.

« Do you know what it’s like having your legs torn apart and
sewed up again every day? Do you know what I sacrificed? I almost
destroyed the whole sea kingdom for these. » She gestured to her
legs. « I changed my entire way of life. »

« My way of life was torn apart because of this. » Elsa held up
her gloved hands. « The first moment someone found out my power they
called me a monster. I had to run away to the north mountain to
live in isolation-« 

« Do not bring that up, » Rapunzel said. « Don’t even try. I was
locked in a tower for eighteen years. Is that anything like you
experienced? No, it isn’t. Because you only spent, like, a day up
there. »

Elsa backed away, hunching her shoulders. Her hands clenched and
nostrils flared.

« Yeah. And it was your choice, » Ariel said, joining the reversal
gang-up. « Don’t act like you had rough. »

« Rough? You? » Rapunzel whipped back to Ariel. « Every time you
talk about your adventures it’s all music and parties and beautiful
scenery. I swear you want to go back there. »

« If I knew I’d have to work with you kind of people, I might
have changed my mind. »

Elsa flexed her fingers within the gloves. « Do you smell smoke? »
she asked.

Rapunzel sniffed and smelled it too. Wood fires typically burned
throughout the castle, but not at the top of a tower.

Ariel pointed down to the city. « Is that supposed to be
there? »

A cloud plume rose from the patchwork of houses in the middle of
Corona. Rapunzel’s silence meant it was not normal.

« What’s in that area? » Elsa asked.

Rapunzel’s eyes widened. « The library! » She treaded in a circle,
ensnaring herself in her hair.

« We have to get down there, » Elsa said.

« Isn’t there a fire brigade? » Ariel asked.

« Yes, but who better to put out a fire than a snow queen and
master of the seas? »

Embedded in the tower was a pole. It held a tensile cable that
reached down to the courtyard so supplies could be pulleyed up.
Rapunzel hooked her hair over and slid down. Ariel followed, using
her trident as the trolley. Sparks flew as the friction made a
severe zipping sound.

Elsa coated her hands with ice and glided down the rope, the
ground growing ever nearer. She stopped panicking when she was
close enough to the ground not to break anything if she fell. Ariel
and Rapunzel, one on each side, stopped her breakneck speed and
caught her.

« Come on. » Rapunzel led them to three horses. They raced into
Corona’s village.

A gathering crowd hampered their progress to the door. They
dismounted and maneuvered up to the front.

Smoke curled up at the doorways and windows. Ropes of fire
chewed through curtains and books. Splintered, blackened wood
jutted out of the entrance like briar thorns.

« My library… » Rapunzel mumbled.

« Is anyone still in there? » Elsa asked the townspeople.

Most of them shook their heads. Then a crying child yelled, « My
mommy! »

Rapunzel looked up. « Ariel and I will search. Elsa, you go
around and stop the fire from spreading. »

She nodded. Ariel and Rapunzel rushed in without another word.
Elsa ran into the alley between buildings.

A window spewed flames. As she shot her power, the air crackled
and tinkled. The forming ice fizzled as soon as the fire touched
it. She tried again, coating the window frame with ice. Nothing
happened, except a faint hiss of steam.

« Why isn’t this working? » she muttered to herself. No matter how
she forced it, the fire lapped it up. She didn’t understand why the
fire wouldn’t let ice form–mounds of snow would appear almost
instantly.

Wait, that was it. Elsa rolled her hands. A ball of snow
appeared over the flames. When it dropped, the fire hissed,
defeated, as white powder slumped to the ground. She walked the
perimeter, dumping snow on flames as she saw them.

At the back of the building, space was tight–all shadows except
for a foot-wide swath of light. Thick smoke and high-reaching
flames covered the roof overhang of the library. Part of the
adjacent building had already caught. Elsa pointed, hammering it
with dense snowballs. A few more and the fire withered away. Elsa
smiled.

Glass shattered behind her. High above, wood groaned as part of
the roof broke off. A charred flaming timber dangled from a thin
hinge.

Elsa summoned her power but it did nothing. The timber broke.
Elsa screamed again as it tumbled down.

An explosive yellow light shot out of a broken window, pinning
the timber against the adjacent building with a smack. It glowed
amber before disintegrating into black dust.

Ariel poked her head out of the window. « Are you okay? »

« Uh-huh, » she said breathlessly.

« Saved your life, » Ariel grinned and returned inside.

Inside, flames rippled across the ceiling, dropping ash like
snowflakes. The mural of Flynn Rider was melting into a hideous
goop of colors, except for the nose.

« Ariel! » Rapunzel shouted, muffled by a layer of hair wrapped
around her mouth and nose. She held up a chunk for Ariel to do the
same.

They hadn’t found anyone yet. The dancing light and smoke kept
objects and their shadows jumping. Whoever they were looking for
would have to be right under their nose.

« There! » Rapunzel stepped over the scattered small fires from
books. Ariel followed her, chained like a mountain climber. One of
the bookshelves had toppled onto another. Beneath, a woman reached
out her hand.

Rapunzel grabbed it. « We got you. » She clutched the shelf and
pulled with all her might. But the shelf didn’t move. Ariel joined,
but they still it couldn’t budge. Rapunzel regretted asking for
Kingwood bookshelves.

Ariel backed up and stuck her trident in, using it as a lever.
Rapunzel lifted while she pried, but it was no use.

Rapunzel pulled down her mask. « Tie my hair. » The two of them
wound the golden tresses around the wooden plank several times.
Rapunzel tied a knot as tight and fast as she could.

« Ready, » Ariel said, giving her the thumbs up.

Rapunzel launched forward, her feet dug into the floor like a
carthorse. If she could pull people up a forty foot tower, she
could do this. She wrenched her head forward, groaning.

The bookcase lifted. Ariel slid the woman out, wriggling like a
snake.

« You okay? » Ariel asked. Coughing, the woman nodded. Ariel
pushed her toward the door. « Go, go. »

« Ariel, help! »

Rapunzel tugged on her the ends of the knot, struggling to free
herself. Both of them pried their fingers into the hair. Their
chests hurt from the constant fits of coughing.

Ariel poked the center of the trident into the knot, digging
like a giant toothpick. Rapunzel pulled apart the loose threads and
yanked herself loose. Ariel helped unraveled the hair from the
shelf.

« Got it, » they both said. Rapunzel and Ariel dashed for the
exit.

The entire ceiling had cracked into a spider web, bulging like a
heavy water balloon. Persistent groaning grew louder through the
fiery crackle. Cracked roof beams bowed out, like spindly arms that
couldn’t hold anymore. And they were right under the center.

A thunderous crack sounded. Ariel and Rapunzel shrieked. They
crouched and turned away.

Elsa stepped in the library entrance. Ice had never fired from
her hands faster or colder. The room filled with hissing and fog,
swirling everything to white.

Rapunzel and Ariel blinked open their eyes. It was eerily quiet.
No sound of the fire or breaking wood. They looked up.

A thick icicle hung down from the ceiling, like a frozen wasp’s
nest. Blackened roof debris jutted out, caught in midfall.

Ariel and Rapunzel crab-crawled from underneath the icicle. Elsa
pulled them out of the doorway. The girls embraced in a three way
hug as cheers erupted.

« Saved your life, » Elsa said. « You all right? » She thumbed away
a smudge of soot on Rapunzel’s cheek.

« Fine, » Rapunzel said between coughs. « Feels like I haven’t
breathed in a week. »

« Now I know what a fire is, » Ariel coughed, « and why it
burns. »

The head librarian waddled up to the three of them, arms full of
scrolls and documents. « Paden? » Rapunzel asked.

« Princess. Thank goodness for your help. You are a saint. »

« Is everyone all right? »

Paden grinned. « Everyone is fine and accounted for. Even the
fish. And I managed to save the rarest documents from the archive. »
He held up the pile in his arms.

« How did it start? » Rapunzel asked.

« No one seems to know. The dry paper didn’t help any. Maybe a
gas lamp knocked over. The fire spread like it had a vengeance to
sate. »

Elsa’s eyes widened, locked on a scroll rolling on top of the
librarian’s pile. « What’s this? » She plucked it off.

« Oooh, you have good taste. That’s the Nordsoen monograph, one
of the earliest oceanic maps of our region. »

« This is it, » Elsa said. « This is what I drew. »

She let the others see. « I was so close to the problem I didn’t
see the whole thing. It’s a map. »

Room to Breathe
Island in the Sun