Rudolph and Fireball flew at Frosty’s neck, a silver cable strung between their harnesses. These were animals who were fast enough to circle the globe in a single night, but even their speed and power were no match for the magic of Christmas snow. The cable dug into the snow, then lodged there, whipping the two reindeer at one another. The impact would have crushed them both, but Rudolph ducked low and triggered an emergency release.
Fireball wasn’t fast enough. The cable wound him tighter and tighter until he slammed into Frosty’s neck. The giant snowman tilted his head, casually crushing the second reindeer.
Rudolph cried out, his nose bright with grief, but there was nothing anyone could do.
Streaks of flame played over the lower portion of Frosty’s body, slicing into his frozen flesh like knives, but the wounds refroze as quickly as they melted, leaving scars of clear ice in their wake. One ground-shaking thump at a time, Frosty moved inexorably closer to the heart of Santa’s home.
Other elves aimed their weapons at the ground, using their flamethrowers to melt a moat ahead of Frosty. Steam roiled forth from the water. Frosty crushed two elves who were too slow to get out of the way, then slid into the shallow water.
For the first time, the giant snowman let out a howl of pain. The boiling water ate his frozen flesh like acid. But he soon waded back onto solid snow, and his club lashed out with greater violence than before.
Elfin snipers tried to shoot the hat from Frosty’s head. Bullets chipped away at the ice encasing the hat, but none could penetrate. Not even grenades or RPGs could dislodge that tiny silk hat.
Toy planes carried out kamikaze-style attacks, smashing into Frosty’s eyes. The coal began to burn, eliciting a second shout from the snowman.
Mrs. Claus looked away. She couldn’t afford the distraction.
“I can feel the warmth of your breath and blood. You can’t sneak up on me.”
“War was never a part of Frosty’s nature.” Snow crunched beneath Mrs. Claus’ boots. “I can’t imagine how much strength it took to turn him to this.”
“Less than you might think. He’s my friend. Once he learned what you had done, it was simple enough.” Karen Foray turned from the carnage. The little blonde girl who had named Frosty all those years ago was gone, replaced by a middle-aged woman with sunken eyes. Where once she had worn earmuffs and a heavy red coat, she dressed now in layers of silver and pale blue that draped her body to the ankles, leaving her arms bare. A crystal snowflake hung from a silver chain around her neck. Smaller crystals circled her wrists. “How did you find me?”
Mrs. Claus touched her crown. “You’re using the Snow Queen’s weapons to enhance your magic.” Standing before Karen now, Mrs. Claus saw what she should have seen years ago. The resemblance was undeniable. The truth sapped her anger and determination, leaving only weariness. “When did you know?”
“Earlier this winter. Frosty and I were walking these woods together when I set off one of the Snow Queen’s old mines. It should have killed me, but as the magic reached into my blood, I turned it aside without thinking. The power in that crystal awakened the same magic inside of me.”
“You enchanted Frosty’s hat,” said Mrs. Claus. “You’re the reason he came to life that day.”
“I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know what I had done, what I could do.” Karen circled Mrs. Claus, her hands twitching as she spoke. “Frosty and I used the fragments of the Snow Queen’s trap to find others. Each piece awakened more of my inheritance. Eventually, they led me to the site of her death.” She shivered. “The echoes of the battle are still frozen in the air. I relived it all. I heard your taunts, the cruelty with which you goaded her. I watched you murder my grandmother.”
“She betrayed the North Pole. She betrayed Santa.” Santa couldn’t have children. How had Martha hidden her affair and her child? Had it been before or after she fled the Pole? Not that it mattered anymore. “Karen, you don’t have to do this.”
“Did Santa know about me? Did you?” Tears froze to Karen’s pale cheeks.
“Neither of us—” Had Santa known? Was this another truth the he and the Pole had forgotten? “I had no idea, Karen. I’m sorry.”
“I belong here! The North Pole is my birthright. Mine!”
“You’re right.” Mrs. Claus held out a hand. “Call off Frosty. Come home.”
For a moment, she thought Karen might agree, that this war could end without further death. Karen looked longingly toward Santa’s workshop, and in that instance Mrs. Claus saw the girl Karen had once been, full of joy and wonder at Christmas magic. And then her expression turned cold.
Mrs. Claus didn’t wait. She ripped one of the glass orbs from her belt and threw. The red globe shattered in the snow, and candy cane spikes shot up, piercing Karen’s feet. Karen screamed, and seconds later, her magic turned the spikes to ice that melted away in rivulets of water and blood.
Karen’s counterattack was swift and brutal. Cold wind knocked Mrs. Claus back, the snow abrading her exposed skin like sand. Magic reached for her heart, and it was all she could do to use the crown to deflect the power away. To either side, spruce trees cracked and toppled, frozen from within.
In the distance, Frosty’s progress slowed. Mrs. Claus forced herself to laugh, though her heart was numb. “You’re new to this power. Your attacks are clumsy. Your grandmother would be disappointed.”
“I saw how you killed her.” Karen stepped back, panting for breath. “I won’t let you taunt me into the same mistakes.”
Mrs. Claus drew the Summer Blade. The air rippled around the blackened steel blade, and the heat hurt her raw skin.
Before she could attack, Karen raised a hand. Pain stabbed through Mrs. Claus’ side, originating from the icy splinter the Snow Queen had left behind. She could feel the ice piercing muscle, digging deeper. She hurled another globe. This one wrapped loops of razor-thin red ribbon around Karen’s limbs.
Mrs. Claus glanced toward the battle below. Frosty’s left arm was on fire. In addition to flamethrowers, the elves had brought out fire hoses that sprayed scalding water. It took twenty elves to control each hose, but they had managed to freeze the snowman in place. Mrs. Claus stepped forward, but the movement drove the sliver deeper, making her cry out.
Karen’s cold smile promised a slow death. The ribbon turned brittle and shattered. “Christmas snow can never be destroyed, remember? You can’t stop him. You can’t stop me.”
Mrs. Claus wasn’t close enough to use the knife, but there was one other weapon she could try. With her free hand, she pulled out a silver-and-gold inlaid revolver. Her limb stiffened before she could bring it to bear on Karen. When she pulled the trigger, the bullet vanished harmlessly into the snow. The sound thundered through the trees.
“You’re too old,” said Karen. “You don’t have it in you to kill me.”
Mrs. Claus felt the surge of Karen’s magic, and Frosty renewed his assault, ripping his own burning arm from his body and hurling it at his tormenters. She tried to dispel Karen’s magic, to use the crown’s power to thaw her elderly bones, but Karen was right. She had grown old, and she lacked the will. Her body stiffened.
Karen yanked the gun from her hand, then reached up to take the Snow Queen’s crown.
“I’m sorry, Karen.”
Karen touched Mrs. Claus in the side. The sliver of cursed ice wiggled in response. “For murdering my grandmother, or for trying to do the same to me?”
“Neither.” She closed her eyes, listening to the distant sound of battle, and beyond that, the whuffing, snarling grunt of an approaching beast. “For this.”
Drawn by the sound of his friend’s gun, Bumble exploded through the trees and threw himself at Karen. His first blow broke her arm. They smashed into the snow together, his fists pounding and clawing her body. His dentures couldn’t pierce flesh, but the elf-made teeth crushed skin and bone. Karen managed to free one of her crystal snowflakes and drive it into Bumble’s fur. He roared, but didn’t let up.
Frosty turned away from the Pole and hurried toward them, but he was too far away to prevent what followed. Mrs. Claus threw off Karen’s enchantment and limped forward. She clutched her side with one hand and raised the Summer Blade with the other.
Bumble howled and rolled away, the Snow Queen’s curse spreading through his blood.
“I’m sorry,” Mrs. Claus repeated, and brought the blade down.