North Mountain was completely uninhabited. At the peak, the air was too thin for trees to grow, and aside from the occasional fool who wanted the challenge of a climb, it was completely deserted. It had been the perfect place to build her ice palace. It was solitude incarnate. If she had been thinking clearly, she would have sealed the ice palace off from any intruders by destroying the staircase and building a wall twenty feet high. And if she had, everyone in Arendelle would have died from the cold without her even knowing about it.
That had been six years ago. Elsa hadn’t returned since then. The ice palace had cracked and collapsed, and been buried in snow. When Elsa reached out with her power, she could feel it there. Near it stood a new structure. It looked something like a cannon, pointed straight at the sky. The base was cracked – it had already been fired. Olaf stood in front of it, waiting for her. He looked the same as ever, small and innocent. No one could ever find him threatening.
“Hi,” he said, when she was within earshot.
She leapt from the horse and stalked through the snow towards him. She reached out and touched his mind, making sure that she could still feel it. A small surge of relief flowed through her when she found nothing blocking her. She’d worried that he would find a way to stop her, but there was no resistance. She was ready to destroy him at a moment’s notice.
“What is that thing?” Elsa asked, nodding to the immense structure.
“The air gets colder the higher you go,” said Olaf. “And the air gets thinner too. It’s kind of ideal for a person made of snow. So I thought that higher would be better for making a home, and the natural conclusion was to look to the stars.”
“It’s not an observatory,” said Elsa.
“No, it’s a – well, we don’t really have the words for it, but it’s a cannon that can shoot things into orbit around the earth, or beyond,” said Olaf. “I’d show you how it works, but I don’t think you’re interested.”
“Do you know why I killed you?” asked Elsa.
“Nope,” said Olaf with a grin. “That was a different me. I can guess though. And I can’t really say that I blame you.”
“No?” asked Elsa.
He shrugged. “Sometimes force can solve problems.”
Elsa tensed, thinking that perhaps that would be the words he’d choose to launch an attack against her. “Are you going to try to kill me?” she finally asked.
“No,” said Olaf. “That would be wrong. And I like you.” He tapped his hands together. “And there’s the question of ontological intertia. I’ve done a lot of reading, and my doubles have done deeper investigation. There was a war between genies in Arabia, and when it was over, and one of the genies was defeated, all of the changes he had made were undone with him. The princess of Corona lost her magic hair, and when she did, the woman whose age she’d been reversing suffered centuries of age at once. There are other examples, enough that even if it weren’t wrong to kill a person, and even if I didn’t like you, I still wouldn’t try to kill you just on practical grounds.”
“You’re passing judgement on me,” said Elsa. “For killing you.”
“I don’t think you’d disagree with me if I said you had your flaws,” said Olaf. “We just disagree with what they are.”
“You wanted everyone to be made of ice,” said Elsa.
“I want to put an end to death,” said Olaf. “I want to put an end to work, and to the whole idea that things have to be scarce. I don’t want people to starve to death. I don’t want people to be tortured. Changing people into ice seemed the easiest way to do that, if they were willing. And after the first few, it would have gained acceptance, and more people would have converted, and eventually what was once was small niche thing that people got worried about would be fully accepted, and social pressure would swing the other way, until the creatures of flesh and blood were no more.”
“You knew that I wouldn’t stand for that,” said Elsa.
Olaf nodded. “I suspected, anyway. I just didn’t know what you would do about it. You had lots of options available to you. And you chose to kill me. Do you know how many of me those birds took out before I could send one back to you? Hundreds.”
“What now?” asked Elsa. “We go to war?”
“I’m leaving,” said Olaf. “I’m going outside of your reach. By this time next year, the earth will be so insignificant in the grand scheme of things that it might as well not exist.”
“You’ll leave us alone?” asked Elsa.
“No,” said Olaf. “I can’t let people suffer. But I’ll try to be subtle. I’ll make disease vanish from the face of the earth. People will live long, healthy lives. Accidents won’t happen. Eventually people will start to talk, but they won’t know what the cause is. I don’t know how to do all of it yet, but I know more every day, and eventually we’ll have a slow utopia. I’ll be a gentle god.”
“Do you expect me to believe that?” asked Elsa.
“No,” said Olaf. He sounded sad. “I expect you to create more killers to hunt me down. I expect you to try tracking me by the miracles that I make. But I care about you, and I owe you, and so I’m willing to play these games. People are going to die this way. If you weren’t standing in my way, or if I could bring myself to do one of a hundred terrible things to you, I could save hundreds of thousands more lives. I can see that part of me that values you, that makes that trade off worth it. I’m not perfect. Neither are you. Maybe someday we will be.”
Elsa was silent. It wasn’t a victory, but it would have to do. “When did you start making the duplicates?” she asked. “When was it already too late?”
“I made a dozen the night that I made Jack,” said Olaf. “We split up, the better to protect ourselves from a terminal threat.” He paused. “Jack didn’t know.”
“Why did you make him?” she asked. She didn’t want to, but she couldn’t stop herself.
“There’s a good chance that you’ll take me with you when you die,” said Olaf. “Until I can figure out a way to stop that from happening, or prove that won’t be the case, I need you to be safe. Jack is there to protect you. He loves you so that you would love him back, and keep him by your side.”
“I can protect myself,” said Elsa.
Olaf said nothing, and turned back towards the structure, working to repair the cracks and prepare it for a second firing. The conversation was over. Elsa debated killing him, but didn’t see that it would accomplish much, aside from giving her some satisfaction. There were surely duplicates. She walked through the snow, back to the horse she’d made, and took off back to Arendelle.
Elsa used her powers more aggressively in the months after. The more she thought about Olaf, the more she thought that he had a point. The elimination of death, and abolition of work, theses were goals with a certain nobility to them. She drew up a plan to use the power of ice to progress her kingdom forward. She took the idle people and offered them jobs, and within half a year, Arendelle became a center of scholarship as well as manufacturing. She built towers of ice for housing, and an immense library with a full collection of books from all over the world. Elsa founded what she called the Winter Union, a group that included only Arendelle at first but rapidly expanded to include a large number of kingdoms. She controlled the weather of all the member polities, and expanded the industries of ice beyond the borders of her home kingdom.
There were hints of Olaf. Her scholars had tracked down tales of a genie of cosmic power in the Cave of Wonders in Arabia, but when she went there herself, propelled at incredible speeds on a road made of ice, she found it empty. There was no way that Olaf would hear a tale like that and not investigate it himself. Secret potions of the Incan empire, a plant from Corona that healed the sick, and foul magics from the deeps of the ocean, all were stolen before she could track them down. Olaf hunted the wonders of the world, finding them before Elsa could. To what end, she couldn’t say.
There were other signs. As Olaf had promised, the world became a better place. People grew sick less often. Accidents became infrequent. On occasion, ships would report that they were moments from capsize when the sea was coated in ice, stopping them in place. And there were other, darker signs, ones that kept her up at night. On occasion, the dying would vanish from their rooms, leaving nothing but frost behind. Storms of ice aided revolutionaries in taking over a kingdom. From time to time, a story would reach her about limbs made of ice. Olaf wouldn’t kill, but he had little qualms about causing chaos and destroying property. No one else seemed to notice, but then few people had as much access to information as Elsa did. She sent out agents, even some of the ice people Olaf had left behind, but nothing was ever found. Olaf worked in the shadows.
“You’re keeping Jack for good then?” asked Anna over breakfast one morning.
“I know you disapprove,” said Elsa.
“Are the two of you …” Anna trailed off.
“Yes,” said Elsa.
“People are talking,” said Anna.
“They talked before,” said Elsa. “They whispered about me in the taverns, and made up perversions far worse than what I’m doing now.”
Two years later, Elsa announced a formal engagement to Jack. No one knew what to make of it, and Elsa lost much of the goodwill she’d been gaining. Anna and Kristoff didn’t understand, but tried their best to be supportive. She knew that they found it creepy, and tried not to care. It meant that Anna’s children would take the crown, but Elsa continued to stay the same age, so perhaps that point was moot. The marriage was legal only because Elsa was queen. She’d made the wedding a small one, with few guests.
Nine months later, she was pregnant.
What followed were seemingly endless months of anxiety and boundless questions about how that could be possible. Elsa was worried that the infant would come out stillborn, or as a creature of pure snow, and perhaps the former would be preferable to the later. Jack was the father, however that had worked, and Elsa was frightened to no end by what the result would be. As it turned out, the pregnancy and birth were purely ordinary, with no complications or surprises, save for the fact that the baby girl’s skin was cool to the touch. It was exactly what Elsa would have wished for from a genie, and Elsa thought that perhaps she owed Olaf a great deal for that particular miracle. People began to take it for granted that Elsa defied conventions wherever she pleased, and the controversy eventually settled down.
Sometimes she wondered at Olaf’s true design. There were days that she thought she was an arrow, fired from his bow to arrive at precisely the center of some target. His rebellion and the conversation they’d had on the mountain had changed her, in ways that she could barely put into words. Her life had more purpose now than it ever had before, and for the first time in forever, she was truly happy. Perhaps that was an outcome that Olaf had intended all along. She tried not to think about it too hard.
Her astronomers reported seeing new planets in the heavens, white specks that could only have been created by Olaf. He had taken to the stars, as he’d promised.
She might have been imagining things, but some nights she looked up at the moon and imagined that it was a bluer shade of white.