Featured image art by Alanna (@alhuart)
It was midday. Early in the morning, at dawn, a terrifying apparition of a hellish warship had appeared in Arendelle’s fjord. Now it was the queen’s turn to meet this challenge.
Autumn Cloud glided straight for Muspelheim, her masts billowing. Standing with Anna on her flagship’s deck were General Mattias in his green military attire, and Maren, who had reverted to her traditional Northuldra outfit – it would annoy Viola, so that was a bonus. Behind Maren and Mattias were a twenty-strong regiment of Mattias’ elite warriors, Arendellian veterans in light armour with rifles and sabres. Hidden among the soldiers were a small team of demolitionists, who on Mattias’ secret signal would plant explosives on Muspelheim – at such short notice, their bombs probably wouldn’t sink the behemoth, but they might at least cripple her.
Anna could feel the sea spray gently kissing her face as she stared at the looming hull of Viola’s warship. The dark warship began to turn to starboard, exposing its right flank to Autumn Cloud. Concerned murmurs rippled through the Arendellian contingent, and rightly so: Muspelheim’s cannons were larger and almost double the number of Anna’s flagship. But Anna’s bet had been correct. As long as Anna presented herself to Viola, Muspelheim wouldn’t fire, and that meant that they only needed to board the ship, an unthinkable and foolish strategy if Muspelheim was actually going to fire its cannons.
It had never been the Countess’s desire to blow up the kingdom. The real prize was to have Anna accept Muspelheim herself, and deploy her power against those that Viola saw as Arendelle’s enemies.
It was definitely a trap, made by someone supremely confident in her leverage. But running into fire, as Anna always liked to put it, was better than letting it rage out of control.
Standing at the head of her troops, Anna’s mind raced as she thought of Elsa, of Kristoff, who waited for her anxiously back at the palace and would become king should the unthinkable happen. If only they could see her now, at the head of a full regiment. Her hands were clammy and shaking slightly, especially her right one, which gripped her sword almost as tightly as she held Elsa’s hand during their most trying situations. What would Elsa think of her right now? Gale hadn’t returned with her sister’s most recent letter, so there was no way of alerting her to this emergency. Fortunately, her ally and uncle figure Master Michael had managed to send an emergency courier to Northuldra. Anna could only hope that Michael’s intervention wasn’t too late.
“Prepare to board!” cried Mattias. The Arendellian contingent let out a great roar as three long planks extended from Autumn Cloud, slamming onto the gunwale of Muspelheim. Four grappling hooks were fired from Anna’s ship, catching the enemy vessel and pulling Autumn Cloud closer. Mattias and his sergeant directed the soldiers to run the planks, and the cheering soldiers found themselves on a great, open deck, with plenty of space to move into formation. Mattias and Maren treaded quickly along their planks, jumping onto Muspelheim. What they saw made them gasp in shock.
Wreathed in onyx-black and luxuriant, imperial purple, the Countess awaited them, and behind her was a host of towering men, their faces hidden by outdated, medieval helms and their bodies ensconced in dark capes and plate armour. Their weapons, however, were as modern as those of the Arendellians, with revolving rifles to which were affixed deadly bayonets. Others carried tall, intimidating halberds gleaming in the sun.
“How in the world does this lady have her own troops? A private army?” whispered Mattias, as his troops formed behind him.
Maren remained calm, but she was sweating as well. “If only Ryder and Yelena could see this.”
“Welcome aboard Muspelheim,” said Viola, spreading her arms. Her grin was hellish. “I want only Her Majesty. The rest of you can get out of my sight. Whether you retreat, or die here, is completely up to you.”
“I’m here, Vi,” came Anna’s terse voice. The queen emerged from behind her soldiers, in full royal regalia to match Viola. “As your queen, I order you to stand down. Right now!”
Viola’s blood-red eyes narrowed as she calmly stepped away and withdrew to the stern. “Runic Knights!” she barked, as the warriors behind her stepped forth and formed a wall, pointing their rifles and polearms at the Arendellian army. Maren raised her staff and Mattias drew his sword, raising his shield. The Arendellian soldiers advanced cautiously, forming a phalanx. There were an unbearable few moments of tense silence as Anna and Viola’s contingents sized each other up.
Anna kept her eyes straight ahead, not even focused on the Order of the Rune’s members. “Protect me, Destin. I’m going after Vi.”
“With our lives,” whispered Mattias.
Then, like King Runeard’s dam breaking, both sides erupted in a great, cathartic bellow and charged. Several rounds of rifles were fired, but the real, brutal back-and-forth came as the two sides crashed in a mob of warriors, halberds and bayonets stabbing and slashing against everyone else. Mattias pointed at Viola’s lithe, dark form as the Arendellian soldiers and Runic Knights heaved and shoved against each other. “Chase her! Maren, help Anna get to the Countess!”
Honeymaren dashed forward, spinning her staff in a graceful arc. She struck a Runic Knight in the side of the head, sending him flying back painfully. Another whirl, and she swept up the legs of another, his back landing hard on the deck. One attacker tried to close the distance with her, blocking her staff with his bulk and halberd. She whipped out her dagger, and in a flurry of slashes, forced him stumbling back.
“Protect the queen!” she screamed, gesturing at Anna and Mattias. “Anna, come with me!”
She sprinted her way through the increasingly chaotic crowd, dodging swipes from bayonets and slashes from halberds to clear a path to the stern. Mattias followed closely behind, his shield bashing aside anyone that tried to get close to them. A grim-faced Anna, in turn, followed Maren and Mattias, trusting in their protection. Together with his slashing sword and her spinning cudgel, Mattias and Maren formed a defensive circle around Anna, hitting, slicing, and stabbing at the Runic Knights that tried to hinder their advance. Mattias’ soldiers continued to press the attack, occupying Viola’s paramilitary as Mattias and Maren broke through the several dozen men and advanced up the steps leading to the stern.
The Mundilfari leader was waiting for them. Her vampiric eyes glimmered as she gazed at Anna, Maren, and Mattias. “I haven’t fired on anything yet. And I won’t. This was all a bluff, silly girl, to draw you to me. I wanted you here, on board this vessel with me. And you took the bait, sweetheart,” she said to Anna. “Are you sure you aren’t just looking for more excuses to see me?”
Queen Anna drew her longsword, heart pounding. “If you really love me, you’ll stop now. I’m the executive of the kingdom. If you walk away – sail away – I don’t need to arrest you,” she declared. “I can show leniency and mercy. But I can’t let you do this.”
“This is an act of war!” barked Mattias. “Anna should charge you with high treason!”
“Shut up, little dog. Play in the corner with your toy soldiers,” spat Viola, and for the first time, true venom showed in her voice. Mattias stepped back, shocked. “I don’t need mercy, Anna. I need a political settlement. Change your policy towards Northuldra from one of re-integration to one of conquest. Do that, and Muspelheim is yours. She’ll wipe out the fleets of any competitor kingdom, including Corona and the Southern Isles, and hold her own against anything the East India Company throws at you. She can be your personal fortress at sea, a perfect tool for projecting Arendellian power in this age of winner-take-all empires.”
Viola licked her lips. “There are nations that would go to war for this kind of ship. I don’t know what else I can do to prove to you my sincerity, Anna. I beg you: see me for what I can offer, not what I threaten to take away from you.”
Before she could finish, Maren and Mattias sprinted at her, their weapons raised. “No!” screamed Anna, but it was too late.
Viola’s red eyes glinted as they reflected an unsheathing sword – a longsword, similar in build to Anna’s, but darker, with a gold pommel.
Maren roared, leaping into the air and descending on Viola with her spinning wooden staff. Viola danced away as Maren’s cudgel smashed into the deck, splinters of wood flying in all directions. She weaved effortlessly out of the range of Mattias’ sword and parried Maren’s flurry of strikes, before riposting and slicing Maren’s staff neatly in half. “Maren!” cried Anna. “Watch out!” Without even blinking, Maren intensified her offensive, twirling gracefully and swinging her two sticks at Viola, forcing her further on the defensive. Initially, Viola looked to be unbalanced by Maren’s lightning assault, but in a precise heartbeat, she suddenly spun forward and blocked Maren’s sticks with her blade and left gauntlet. Caught by surprise, Maren stared into Viola’s wild gaze, but was too late to avoid the Countess’s savage head butt. Viola smashed her forehead into Maren’s nose viciously, cleanly crushing cartilage and shattering bone as Maren screamed in agony and fell backwards, blood pouring from her face. She tumbled down the steps, landing near the still-fighting crowd.
“Stay down, filthy Northuldra,” hissed Viola, staring at Maren’s writhing form. “Crawl back to your filthy yurt and hide. I’m going to burn every last tree in the enchanted forest down – ”
Mattias made a desperate dash, slamming into Viola’s small body with his shield. She crashed onto the floor, wheezing. Mattias ran to her, raising his sword. He’d barely gotten to her when he gasped in pain. A dagger had slid from Viola’s heeled boot, and she’d sent a well-aimed kick into his calf. He collapsed to one knee, groaning in shock as blood dripped onto the deck, and Viola scrambled back up, raising her sword. “I – told – you – to – go – play – with – your – toy – soldiers!” Her eyes glinted ferociously as she struck the general’s raised shield again and again, her force demonic. Mattias tried to fight back with a thrust of his sword, but Viola anticipated him and savagely swung at his right arm, cutting into his hand and sending his weapon spinning away. Mattias cried out again as Viola roared in victory and prepared to plunge her blade into his shoulder –
“ENOUGH!” came Anna’s scream, and Viola felt a shudder reverberating through her as she stared at the queen, whose blade had blocked her finishing blow for Mattias. Viola grinned and leaped away. “Don’t hurt them. Take me on,” begged Anna, as Mattias collapsed, incapacitated.
“Yes. Yes! I’m worthy of you, my queen. Worthy to test you here, to hold you to ransom and break you,” declared Viola, wolfishly circling Anna.
“And what will you do after you break me?” asked Anna, keeping her eyes on Viola’s hungry form. “It’ll only prove to the world how cruel you are.”
“What will I do? I’ll lovingly pick up your shattered self and remold you into a conqueror who’ll have the world at your feet,” replied Viola, her voice rising until it became a wolfish snarl. “I’ve been obsessed with you, sweetheart, ever since you destroyed King Runeard’s dam. Defying your family legacy, the legacy we Mundilfaris helped shape, without a second thought – I knew you were my destiny. I want us to risk each other’s lives, Anna! I want our blood to mix!” she shrieked, her gaze crazed.
There was a pregnant moment of silence between queen and countess as Mattias’ bombs went off, sending rumbles through the whole ship. Cries could be heard among the Runic Knights, mixed with encouraged cries on the Arendellian side. Viola looked around, shocked at the shaking. “What?”
“My demolitionists have sneaked past your warriors and planted explosives,” groaned Mattias triumphantly, leaning against the gunwale. “We can’t sink Muspelheim, but we can put her out of action.”
For the first time, Viola looked truly surprised. “Why… why?” she asked, almost in despair, turning to Anna. “Why are you trying to destroy Muspelheim? She’s all yours if you just… ” She gritted her teeth. “Why do you insist on protecting Northuldra and Elsa at all costs? When you have the world at your feet, right here and now?” she cried, voice breaking.
Anna gazed at Viola sorrowfully. “Because I can’t accept your gift, Vampire Vi.” The fires were growing, engulfing much of the ship. Surviving soldiers and knights could be heard abandoning ship, leaping into the fjord and swimming for safety.
“I can’t give you what you want,” said Anna, raising her sword above her head. “I’m as much at a loss about you as you are about me. So I can only give you… me.”
She took a deep breath. “You want to run into my fire, my crazy vampire? Then I’ll show you the power of Elsa’s blade, and the power of my love.”
TO BE CONCLUDED WITH: TWISTED LOVE!