Agrabah was burning.
The streets were silent with a choked fear as the allied soldiers of Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and France marched through the sandy Arabian streets, the soldiers thundering in disciplined lines as they made their way to the sultan’s palace – or at least, it used to be the royal family’s home, since they had fled a few days ago. The throne room was empty except for one lone figure, draped in a long general’s coat and an Arendellian army jacket, emblazoned with military honours bestowed by multiple countries.
She took a deep breath, savouring the smell of smoke and gunpowder in the distance.
“The age of flying carpets and magic lamps is over,” she mumbled to herself, yellow eyes glinting under a mop of greyed hair. Endless war takes a toll, even on those who exult in it. “I’d have liked to have seen it, though… met this handsome pauper-turned-prince and his starry-eyed love.”
The door to the throne room boomed open, and a uniformed messenger strode in, striding towards the figure.
“Commander Hilde? Lady Hilde Von Altheim?”
“Don’t call me ‘Lady.’ I renounced my baronial title and possessions when I left Arendelle,” said the young woman, turning to the messenger. “What do you have for me?”
“I have a private missive from Countess Viola Mundilfari for you.”
Hilde’s yellow eyes glinted. “Speak of the devil. I haven’t heard from her since we were classmates. As I recall, I was the only girl she ever spoke to, or felt was her friend. She was a lonely one – such is the destiny of all Mundilfari clan members.”
The messenger held out a piece of paper. “She wishes that you cease your colonial ventures and return to Arendelle. She recently deployed her Order of the Rune against the queen of Arendelle herself.”
Hilde raised an eyebrow. “She actually fought our new queen? Anna?”
“On board the warship you’d built for her, Muspelheim. Her Ladyship was defeated and Muspelheim decommissioned. More importantly, she found the Knights’ equipment dilapidated and their skills lacking. Her knightly order was never in top shape.”
“What a waste. Viola’s not exactly the sharpest strategist or tactician. If I were there, we’d have occupied Arendelle long ago. I guess she was trying to accomplish something else.”
Hilde ran her sinister eyes over the note, which read simply: Come home, Hilde. My Runic Knights must be strengthened and sharpened into a great blade for their ancient and long-delayed destiny: the invasion of Northuldra. Let’s show Anna the true might we possess.
The general turned to look at the sultan’s throne. Within a few weeks, the imperial alliance she had led would install a puppet ruler on that seat of the newly colonized kingdom. It was a perfect time to take a break from her imperial rampage across the world. She grinned. “I’ve been travelling and conquering everywhere on behalf of empires like Russia, the Qing, the Brits, and so many more. But Arendelle will always be home. I guess it’s nice to have somewhere to be recalled to.” She adjusted her collar. “Fine. Let’s go. But I don’t need to stop at Arendelle’s docks. That’s not where I should be. Take me to Keep Mundilfari.”
In the one of the musky studies of Keep Mundilfari, a woman in a pink, double-breasted jacket was staring at a map of Arendelle, her hair dyed a rebellious and quirky purple. There were lines crisscrossing the map between Arendelle and the area marked “Northuldra,” denoting transportation and supply lines and cargo and logistical routes. Other spots marked were, “The Southern Isles” and “Corona.”
The door to the Great Hall opened, revealing a silver-haired young lady in a black sweater. Her bespectacled face was scholarly, almost reclusive – and the two glared daggers at each other. “Minister Madeleine of Corona, was it? What’s your business with Lady Viola’s plan here in Arendelle?” sniffed the young lady with glasses.
“To help the Countess sabotage the treaty between my kingdom and Arendelle, of course! Anna’s grand alliance is a pillar of her national security policy that defangs Viola’s imperial supporters,” growled the purple-haired girl. “I, Maddy, have served loyally as the Countess’s eyes and ears in Corona for years. Rapunzel and Eugene trust me completely. So what about you? Why’s a Northuldra half-blood like you even setting foot in this castle, Rosa Nattura?”
“Because I’ve studied the Northuldra thoroughly, and not just as a scholar. I’ve lived among them, moved in their elders’ circles. I know the political divisions among the tribe, and who’s in favour and not of Queen Anna’s re-integration plan. I know exactly who to leverage against Yelena’s fledgling government – and who would even like to take revenge on Arendelle.” Rosa grinned. “My theatre of operations is far more important than yours.”
“Come on, girls – we’re not here to argue who can serve Viola better,” came Hilde’s snarl. “That honour obviously belongs to me.”
The general glided into the room, with Maddy and Rosa falling silent.
“I’m glad you responded to my summons so promptly. I myself was recalled from Agrabah to reorient myself in Arendelle. We’re assembled here today as the vanguard of the Countess’s new approach against Queen Anna,” said Hilde, crossing her arms.
“Both of you are excellent sleeper agents, placed with strategic precision among the most critical points of Anna’s political and diplomatic channels. I won’t pretend to order you about things I don’t specialize in. I trust each of you to work independently,” she continued, looking pointedly at the Corona royal and the half-Northuldra woman.
“I don’t really care about how much progress you make, whether it’s turning the Northuldra people against Arendelle, or ensuring Corona’s hostility to Arendelle and provoking a war with them. My only job here is to rebuild the Runic Knights into a paramilitary for a ground invasion of the Fifth Spirit’s home. With us around, we’ve balanced the scales against Anna’s many allies and friends – and they don’t even know it. Time is on our side, like a coiled viper waiting to strike. And when we pull the rug from underneath Northuldra and Arendelle – that’s when the Runic Knights will be in shape to bring about Ragnarok.”
Hilde suddenly banged a fist on the table, startling Maddy and Rosa. “I’ve heard murmurs that Viola’s heart is softening, wavering, as she and Anna grow closer,” she snarled, baring her teeth. “Perhaps that’s why the Countess has brought me back: to force her to be cruel again. She’s Arendelle’s true mistress, the one who is destined to claim Northuldra and take the power of the Five Spirits.” Hilde grimly raised her clenched hands to her face. Maddy and Rosa looked at each other fearfully.
“I don’t need to care about Viola’s ties to the royal family, or to Anna! Let her heart grow soft. My iron will harden it back!”