Featured image “Second Death,” by PURY (@puryartist)
Warning: Violent depictions
Above the wet and rough sands of the Northuldra coast, an eerie portal shrieked open. Two black hands with long, misshapen fingers seized the edges of the portal and pulled their owner from the void. Nykras’ wispy long hair trailed behind his mummified face, and his billowing cape followed his armoured form. His armoured boots stepped onto the beach that Elsa’s bare feet once treaded. Those feet had courageously sprinted and swum across the Dark Sea’s treacherous waters toward her destiny.
Across the stormy waves was Ahtohallan. Source of the five spirits’ power.
“Thisss isss my dessstiny too,” whispered Nykras to himself, “to encounter Ahtohallan myssself, and ssseize it for not jussst the eternal sssecurity of the Russian Empire… but for myssself too.”
It was true. To be imbibed with the source of Northuldra’s spirits would elevate the already formidable lich to unimaginably fiendish power. It would guarantee the subjugation of Northuldra and an effortless conquest of Arendelle proper, the seat of power for Elsa’s successor, Anna.
Only you remain, thought Nykras to himself, as the shore’s angry waters became even more violent. “Come to me, final defender of Ahtohallan. Sssteed of the Sssnow Queen!” His skull’s eyes glinted in anticipation as a whirlpool just beyond the shoreline formed a crashing vortex of raging waters. A roar from the sea’s depths blasted a torrent of water around the vortex, as if to announce the arrival of the Water Spirit. Nykras readied himself as the form of a shimmering, majestic equine exploded from the whirlpool, buoyed by the waves it commanded. Its haunting blue eyes glowed a bright cerulean, lightning crackling from pupilless irises.
“Come to me,” crowed Nykras, “and join your fellow elementalsss in my nether world!”
The water horse rumbled, turning around, and kicked its hooves at him, a tidal wave rushing the lich’s way. Caught by surprise, Nykras sent a blast of necrotic energy the Nokk’s way, but was quickly smashed into the beach sands by the crushing wave. He fell to his knees, gasping, as more and more freezing water slammed into him, forcing his grip loose and sending him spinning helplessly away as the currents carried him across the beach, before smashing him painfully against a rock formation. Drenched and wheezing, Nykras stumbled back up and sent his tendrilled fingers shooting at the Nokk, who galloped at him without hesitation. Nykras’ fingers struck true and pierced the Nokk cleanly, but the latter ignored it as the attack simply passed through its liquid form, failing to inflict any harm. Before Nykras could withdraw his tendrils and get away, the Nokk loomed over him, giving a great neigh-roar and striking the Grand Duke in the face with a well-placed, lightning fast kick of its back hooves. Nykras hissed in shocked disbelief and pain as he felt his ancient jaw dislocated, the hooves of the Water Spirit harder than those of any warhorse. He was hurled back again, but couldn’t even gather himself as the Nokk launched another attack, galloping towards him once more and, with another devastating kick, sent the Russian commander hurtling into the dark sky and into the angry, all-devouring waves beyond the shore.
Nykras, both panicked and enraged, sputtered and struggled to swim back to shore, albeit clumsily. But the Nokk was already on to him again, hurling his limp body about the waters like a pet’s toy. Nykras screeched in fury, aiming two gaunt fingers above the crashing tides.
“Enough!” he bellowed, as a dark portal opened above the Nokk, who was still kicking and smashing into Nykras and rapidly crushing the lich’s body. “Begone with you, guardian ssspirit!”
Almost instantly, the dark portal began to exert its own irresistible gravitation, pulling the Nokk toward it just like it had with the other elementals. The Nokk suddenly neighed in bewilderment as it felt itself unmoored from its own familiar territory, pulled back hooves-first toward the portal. Nykras cackled as the spirit bucked and thrashed about, unable to escape the field of the dark portal. “Share the fate of your friendsss, to be lossst as my prisssonersss for eternity!” crowed the Grand Duke, confident victory was at hand.
Taken apart, droplet by water droplet, the Nokk whined desperately, glimpsing defeat for the first time in its long and ancient life.
“Get your hands off my pony!” rang out the Snow Queen’s cry amidst the angry crashing of the waves and the sinister humming of the portal. Nykras had never met the Fifth Spirit before, but the moment she spoke, all could recognize her voice. The lich turned around, glimpsing a bright blue star hurtling directly from above. The glow enveloped the waters, temporarily blinding the lich. He quickly shot his tendrils at the shoreline, lodging his fingers into the sandy ground and launching himself back to the beach. The portal remained, devouring the Nokk’s physical form and the water that comprised it.
But the new arrival, Elsa, had other ideas. She landed near the Nokk, her hair and dress billowing towards the portal, and touched the Nokk’s evaporating neck gently… just as the water horse seemed doomed to disappear like the other elements. It neighed its distress at Elsa. She was a sight for sore eyes.
“I’m glad I got here in time, even without you to take me,” she whispered, calming the Nokk down. “I’m here, and we’re going to defeat this interloper together.” At the caress of her fingers, an icy shockwave exploded through the Nokk, freezing the spirit’s water-body and solidifying its entire form into an adamantium, crystalline ice. The Nokk whinnied in approval as Elsa swung up and straddled it, and its much heavier, cold diamond body was able to easily pull away from the dark portal. Rejuvenated and encouraged, the Nokk heeded Elsa’s urging and shot towards the shoreline, where Nykras was. With each hoof trampling the sea, the Nokk’s steps froze the water, forming a bridge that took Elsa to the Grand Duke. Elsa’s eyes were shimmering with immense, elemental energy, the ice magic blotting our her blue irises to the point they hissed out her eyelids, sizzling with incredible, explosive power.
“Nykras,” she cried over the roar of the waves leaping off the Nokk and somersaulting over him, “your incursion into Northuldra and despoiling of its sacred ground will never reach Arendelle.”
Her sandalled feet landed in a crouch on the sand, and she slowly got up, her toes not just standing, but levitating, off the ground – something she’d never shown anyone before. Glaring down at Nykras, she raised her hands, which were swirling with glacial energy. She thought of Anna and her worried, furrowed brow when Elsa had insisted on rushing to Northuldra to be deployed. Anna had never said anything, yet Elsa knew that there was turmoil behind her sister’s aqua eyes. She was determined that Anna’s reluctant approval not go to waste. Her angry tone rose into a sharp cry. “Enough of Katina’s invasion. Enough of all your nonsense!”
The lich snarled in quiet anger, waving his hand and closing the portal above the waves, preparing to meet the Snow Queen and her steed head-on. “I’ve been waiting for thisss, Sssnow Queen,” he declared, bending his knees in preparation to charge once Elsa got close enough to the shoreline. But he wouldn’t even get that far as a hail of arrows hurtled from the forest foliage behind him, and he seized up in shock as the arrowheads plunged into him.
“What – ” he snarled in irritation, but the following blows were much more painful as Amira’s arrows thrust into his back. The huntress and Maren burst from the trees, with Honeymaren closing the distance between them first. She quickly landed a flurry of blows on him with her battle staff while Amira provided cover for Maren with a rain of arrows from above. Nykras parried Maren’s spinning cudgel while also fending off Amira’s hail of projectiles, but suddenly heard Elsa’s sharp cry: “Heads up, Maren!”
“Got it!” cried Maren. Her next attack bashed across Nykras’ face, and this time, there was something new. Nykras reeled as the cudgel’s icy tip inflicted a deep laceration that didn’t seem to close up as quickly as usual. He picked at his rotting face in shock even as Maren looked at Elsa in surprise. The Fifth Spirit nodded at Maren and Amira, and they glanced back down at their weapons. Their eyes widened as they saw Elsa’s enchantments, which had somehow encased their weapons in magic ice without them even noticing.
“This is amazing, Elsa,” cried Maren. “I can’t even feel the cold from this ice!”
Amira quickly took advantage of Nykras’ shock as she leaped at him, shooting more ice-tipped arrows into his armour. He staggered back, the ice slowing down his undead regeneration. “Elsa’s hobbled his healing process. Keep it up, Amira!” she cried, as Nykras was sent flying back from another kick from the Nokk. He rolled along the beach painfully. The Nokk followed through, headbutting him and sending him flying back again. “Damn you all!” His face broken and bloody, the Grand Duke snarled in pain and frustration as he scrambled back up from the sand, shooting both fingers at the Nokk’s adamantine form. The usually sharp tendrils hit the Nokk point-blank, but bounced off uselessly.
In desperation, he conjured a new portal, attempting to swallow the Water Spirit or Elsa before dealing with Amira and Maren, but they and Elsa were much more nimble as the Northuldra warriors simply rolled out the range of the portal. They continued to hack and slice and strike at Nykras with their weapons, until Elsa made her move.
“The time is now,” she whispered. They’d been attacking Nykras all the way since he first merged his nether realm with the forest. From human warrior to nature spirit, none had been able to kill him. Not even her enchantments seemed like decisive advantages. Perhaps something much more drastic and creative was needed. Elsa sighed. “Give me strength, Anna.”
Gathering all her strength, she suddenly hurtled at Nykras from between Maren and Amira and grabbed him by the collar, pushing him all the way to the entrance of the portal. Sand was flying everywhere from the skidding of Nykras’ boots and Elsa’s sandals. He blanched. “What… what are you doing?” he cried, as Elsa stopped at the black edge of nothingness.
“This,” cried the Snow Queen, as she held Nykras tight and willed a great and thick pillar of ice into being. It exploded from the ground and shot up, its circular tip smashing into the portal’s edge and pushing it up higher, higher, and higher. The portal stretched high into the sky, revealing a yawning and endless blackness. Elsa gritted her teeth as Nykras struggled to escape her grip, refusing to let go even as he sent multiple tendrils stabbing into her abdomen and legs. Elsa gasped as his fingers shot through her, an explosion of gore spraying everywhere with each blow. “Guuuuuh!”
“An interesssting, if sssuicidal, ssstrategy,” mused Nykras, sending another tendril that pierced cleanly through Elsa’s thigh, and she screamed in helpless agony.
“Releassse me,” demanded the lich, staring balefully into her tear-filled eyes, “unlesss you want me to puncture you like a hole-ridden water pouch.”
Elsa bit her lip. “Not yet.”
“Have it your way. Die, foolish girl,” snarled the Grand Duke, as Maren and Amira screamed Elsa’s name. Maren felt horror and dread curling up her insides. Had she known what was going to happen, she’d never even have allowed Elsa to grab Nykras.
Elsa still wouldn’t let go as Nykras pierced her limbs and stomach repeatedly. Blood spilled past her lips as she coughed, slumping slightly. White-hot pain wracked every fibre of her being. But it would be worth it. Nykras gasped in disbelief as the Fifth Spirit clenched her jaw and ignored his vicious assaults, continuing to will the ice pillar into stretching apart the portal – higher in the direction of the sky, more, more…
“GALE! BRUNI! GIANTS! NOW!” she roared suddenly, gore from her injuries spurting and soaking into the sand. She maintained a rock-solid grip on Nykras. “I can’t hold him much longer!”
With the portal much taller now, a great rumble could be heard as the Earth Giants roared, lumbering out the portal in triumph. Gale followed shortly, funneling herself out while a gleeful Bruni rode her gusts. Honeymaren and Amira looked at each other joyfully as the elements frolicked gleefully at being released from that awful pit of endless darkness. “They’re out!” cried Amira, unable to help crying out in relief.
“Elsa’s saved them,” declared Maren, shooting up a fist in triumph. But her joy quickly dissipated. “Elsa. We’ve got to help her!”
Then, just as the foot of the last Earth Giant left the portal, Elsa suddenly dispelled her pillar, the ice shattering everywhere and raining down like hail. With no more support, the engorged portal’s edges hurtled down, collapsing back at her and Nykras. The blackness descended on them at dizzying speed. Nykras looked at Elsa in horror.
“You’re going to get usss both killed if the portal splits usss apart. No one can exissst between my nether realm and thisss world at the sssame time!” he cried, fear in his voice for the first time.
Soaked in her own blood, her glorious garments stained with crimson, Elsa’s eyes shone with determination – and sadness. “No. Not us both. This was the only way to beat someone as un-killable as you,” she replied weakly, as she suddenly lowered her free hand and shot a blast of pure frost into Nykras’ legs, immobilizing him from the waist up in unbreakable ice. Free from having to hold Nykras in place, she used her last burst of strength to scramble away, dashing back as the portal closed in from above. A shocked Nykras was stuck right between its border, between his own realm and the material world.
He stared back at the Nokk, at Maren and Amira, and finally at Elsa. Elsa could barely mouth a quiet “I’m sorry,” in time as the Grand Duke’s face finally broke into a genuine, haunting grin.
How long has it been since I rejoiced at battling a worthy foe?
“Well-played, Sssnow Queen,” admitted the lich, lowering his hands in defeat. “It ssseemsss you’ve found a way to deny me my cheating death.” He closed his eyes as the black border of his own magic fell upon the middle of his forehead, splitting his crown in half and then continuing down on his mummified head.
“At lassst… ”
Honeymaren and Amira looked away in horror and disgust as the border of the portal split Nykras’ body into two, slicing him out of both the material and the nether worlds as one half of his corpse disappeared forever and the other flopped onto the sandy ground, gushing out black blood and leaving only his baleful stare of a final death and his eerie skull grin, long hair spilling out from underneath him. It was a gruesome spectacle of necromantic black tar, with Nykras’ black blood macabrely mixing with Elsa’s. Elsa panted as she watched the portal finally close, sealing away the other half of his cadaver. It was probably floating somewhere in the dark aether, with neither half of the lich ever able to open gateways into this world again.
Without its master, the portal winked out of existence, and without a conjurer like Nykras to traverse between the realms, the nether world’s nightmarish creatures were sealed away, and the elemental spirits would never be trapped like that again.
Elsa’s ingenious ploy had worked.
But at what cost?
The Snow Queen felt woozy as she felt the pain of multiple stab wounds in her midsection overwhelming her. The nerves, flesh, and bone in her legs were punctured. Head light, she felt her legs folding as she collapsed onto the beach, blood spreading beneath her fallen, limp form. Her eyelids fluttered involuntarily, her world going black even as she heard Maren’s and Amira’s screams of panic and distress. The elemental spirits – the giants, the Nokk, Gale, and Bruni – rumbled, galloped, crawled, and blew over to Elsa’s unconscious form, whimpering and screeching sadly.
“Save me, Anna,” she whimpered, before losing consciousness.
The Battle of Northuldra was over.
“Elsa! Oh, no. ELSA!”
ANNA’S DARKEST FEAR HAS COME TRUE.
CAN A WEAKENED ELSA DEFEAT SORA’S FINAL ASSAULT ON ARENDELLE?