Mrs. Claus pressed her hand to the security scanner. The frost on the glass melted at her touch. Not for the first time, she noticed the way her brown skin had loosened and wrinkled with age, like an old glove one size too large. She had been so young the last time she rode into battle. “Code: In hora mortis nostrae.”
The vault door swung inward. She stepped into a cold room no bigger than a closet, what some of the elves jokingly referred to as the Santa Sanctum. Inside were some of Santa’s most powerful artifacts: an ice sphere created by the Winter Warlock. A green and gold robe from the 18th century. And the crystal crown of the Snow Queen.
“How did you beat her, ma’am?” asked Emma. She and Hermie waited outside the vault. Neither had clearance to enter, and the vault’s defenses were unforgiving.
For more than seventy years, Mrs. Claus had tried to put that day behind her, to forget like the rest of the Pole had done. Sometimes she thought even Santa had erased Martha’s betrayal from his memories, along with what his new wife had done to destroy her.
“I taunted her. I stoked her rage. I flaunted my youth. I planned the most public wedding the Pole had seen, showing her that Santa was now mine. That she was old and replaceable.”
The Snow Queen had been cold and cruel, finding strength in the unforgiving, unfeeling ice. With her fury inflamed, she had acted without thought, attacking the wedding with all of her might. The ice storm that preceded her arrival had cut down all in her way. Elves, animals, and more had fallen, their blood staining the snow red.
Mrs. Claus touched her side, feeling the hard lump of scar tissue and the sliver of eternally frozen ice lodged below. She had no sensation in the area around the old wound.
“I requested a favor from Mother Nature.” She reached for a flat, insulated box approximately two feet long. “A blade formed from the essence of summer. The blistering sun parching your skin, heat so intense the earth cracks and the air itself begins to melt.”
Her radio crackled. The vault’s walls distorted the signal, but she was able to make out most of the words. “Frosty is here. He’s … southern border. Elves … huge. Heading for the—”
She retrieved the box and the crown, exited the vault, and made her way to the nearest video intercom. “Do we have eyes on the snowman?”
The image jumped about, making it hard to focus. The caption in the lower right corner noted that the feed was from reindeer cam #14. That would be Rudolph’s wife, Clarice. The picture stabilized briefly, and Hermie whispered the strongest profanity an elf could utter:
“I don’t believe it.”
“He’s made of Christmas snow,” Mrs. Claus said. The same snow covered much of the North Pole. Frosty had recovered from his battle with Bumble, rebuilding himself into a monster three stories high. His silk hat was a ridiculously undersized bump atop his head. His arms were pine trees stripped of their branches, and he carried another such tree as a club.
“What do we do?” asked Emma.
The old scar on her side throbbed as she placed the crown atop her own brow. “We protect the Pole.”