Featured image art by Arute (@ast05water)
The lush and ethereally beautiful taiga, which flourish at the foothills of Keep Mundilfari’s mountain, is ancient. The pines, larches, and junipers standing in these one hundred and twenty-four acres of a boreal ecosystem were gifted to the Mundilfari family by the High Jarl centuries ago. This was one of Viola’s grandest possessions: an entire primeval forest with its own flora and fauna, with regions not even its owner had explored yet.
Tonight, one of the forest’s trees, older than European civilization itself, was sliced neatly apart, its top half sliding neatly down its bottom in a diagonal angle before falling neatly to the coniferous soil. There was a loud boom, and the earth quaked.
Huddled together meekly, Anna, Viola, Alan, and Michael watched in trepidation as Hilde, in her full uniformed attire, lifted back up her zweihänder – a mighty two-handed German sword – and flicked off flakes of ancient wood from the blade.
“Fight me, Snow Queen,” she demanded softly, staring at Elsa, who calmly stood a short distance away. Her magical eyes met Hilde’s cold, stern ones.
“Did you really have to cut down that tree?” snarled Viola at Hilde. She stood beside Anna, arms crossed. “Are you sure you two want to do this on a full stomach?”
She lowered her voice, hissing at her companions, “Hilde’s feeling possessive over me, and your precious Fifth Spirit is annoyed at her for all the right reasons. Anna! It’s your fault, partly. Tell Elsa you don’t feel so bad about being beaten up.”
Anna put her still slightly-less-swollen-face in her hands. “I’m so sorry, Vi. I almost forgot how protective Elsa feels about me. Her major differences of opinion with the commander about handling Mephisto don’t help.”
“Hilde accepted Anna’s challenge because she knew she’d win with ease,” said Michael quietly, as Anna held on to his arm. “She wanted to draw Elsa’s anger out, knowing that she’d take exception.” He grimaced. “If the Spirit Killer is setting Elsa up for a match, then my dear niece should give one that the commander will regret. Watch out for any dirty tricks she may have up her sleeve, though.”
“I’m standing right here, Trade Minister,” snapped Viola, her crimson eyes flaring. “I might not be able to control Hilde when she’s on the warpath, but I can’t cheer on her defeat, either.”
“We don’t care, Countess,” sniffed Alan. “It’s Elsa. We don’t want Hilde to hurt or beat her. Simple as that.”
The force of nature that was Elsa looked relaxed, her fingers leisurely twirling strands of levitating snowflakes. “In the same way Anna would do her hardest to stop me from running into fire, I wanted to do the same for you, Hilde,” she declared. “I can travel the world searching for the right spell and ritual that’ll let us fight Mephisto on even ground. You have no such luxury. It’s obvious that the Countess loves you deeply and wants you here. She’s alone in her castle with Mephisto, and apart from the visits by Anna and her friends, who else does she have?”
“The Von Altheim family has protected every generation of Mundilfari nobles for hundreds of years.” Hilde’s yellow eyes narrowed. “I’m the youngest heir to that esteemed bloodline, and you think a newcomer like you can swagger to Keep Mundilfari and tell me how I should protect Her Ladyship?” she said, a hard edge in her usually even voice.
Elsa clenched her fist slightly, and the entire forest was suffused with spiritual energy. Anna gazed around in awe as the trees were wreathed in glimmering, hazy lights of constantly shifting colors. For now, reasoned dialogue wasn’t what Hilde was in the mood for, but a mensur: a traditional, honorable duel in the finest Germanic tradition. “If it’s a fight you insist on looking for, then you’ve come to the right place,” said Elsa placidly.
“Elsa, please be careful – and don’t go wild on Hilde either,” shouted Anna.
Hilde raised her sword in an upper guard. Her own body began to shimmer with yellow radiance as her low voice began to rise, culminating in a roar. “Commander Hilde, former Baroness Von Altheim. Heil Mundilfari!” Her trousered legs bent slightly, and Anna shuddered in fear. She was really going to get serious, nothing like how she handled the queen earlier in the afternoon.
Elsa’s eyes were illuminated with the star-fire of the northern lights. “My name is Elsa. I’m the Snow Queen,” was all she replied with, as cosmic heat hissed past her lips.
And with that acknowledgement, the two women charged at each other, hurtling towards one another like meteors as Anna and her friends scrambled for cover.
It was well into the evening, but the dark forest was alight with battle-magic.
Elsa’s hands surged with iridescent power as she twirled gracefully, her split cape trailing behind her. She conjured a hail of deadly-sharp icicles, which she hurled at Hilde. In a single arc, Hilde’s sword slashed in half the first wave, then the second, oversized chunks of ice falling from the air. Elsa made a note of how effortlessly that sword sliced through her cryomancy. Some special kind of metal?
Hilde smoothly slipped past the rest of the hailstorm, weaving and stepping past icicles that stabbed into the forest floor. Her boots scraped across soil and grass as she effortlessly dodged Elsa’s blasts of freezing rime, lifting her sword and slashing at Elsa, who ducked the attack and pirouetted away, a crushing pillar of ice erupting from the quaking ground and rumbling straight for Hilde.
The general didn’t budge, grasping her sword with both hands as she brought it down in a mighty overhead swing, splitting the pillar in two as its cleaved halves fell and crashed into two trees. Leaves rustled and fell from the canopy as Hilde glanced up, licking her lips. The Fifth Spirit had much more to offer than just cryokinesis. Elsa had enveloped the clearing in ethereal mist, obscuring Hilde’s view. Losing sight of Elsa, Hilde steadied herself as she sensed movement from behind. She waited patiently as she pretended to look around in front of her, and when she heard Elsa’s footsteps right behind her, she whipped around and made one clean slash.
Elsa’s expression was one of utter shock as her head flew off her shoulders. Blood spurted from her neck. Her body fell to its knees, limp, as her head plopped onto the ground.
Hilde’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t fool me,” she whispered, as Elsa’s magical decoy melted away into soft snow, the gore turning into cold water. The Snow Queen’s wide-eyed head also disintegrated into a melted puddle. Hilde turned around, eyes darting in every direction. “I know you’re here. Show yourself!” she cried.
The mists parted as the Snow Queen hurtled from the fog, her sandalled feet riding a wave of ice as she shot straight at Hilde. The Fifth Spirit roared as the heel of her palm struck Hilde’s sword, which the latter had raised just in the nick of time. Hilde gritted her teeth, legs burning, as her opponent pushed harder, her hand igniting with cosmic energy as she forced Hilde back, shooting a point-blank blast of ice that sent the general tumbling away. Pressing her advantage, Elsa leapt up, shooting past the treetops and hurtling into the sky. The moonlight illuminated her graceful and gossamer form. Taking a deep breath, she summoned another hailstorm as she descended, a barrage of large and painful ice pellets materializing above her head. She brought her clenched hands down, the hail shooting straight for Hilde at her silent command –
BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM. Elsa’s cerulean eyes widened at the deafening noise as a flurry of deadly bullets from below met her attack, and she danced away mid-air, landing gracefully back on the forest floor. Broken ice and squished metal pellets showered down on them, and Elsa could hear Anna’s cries of warning in the immediate distance. Hilde raised her hand and pointed an ornate revolver at Elsa. Except that this was no normal handgun, not like the Colt that she’d purchased from her American arms dealer. Without warning, she fired a flurry of shots again, and Elsa suddenly realized that these weren’t average bullets, deadly enough as they were. The Snow Queen conjured an ice shield that blocked the barrage, but one bullet managed to slip past and graze her cheek, drawing real blood from the Fifth Spirit.
Elsa winced in pain as she felt a cut open. She stomped her foot, and the ice shield hurtled towards Hilde, who dived aside to evade it. She rolled back up and aimed the revolver at Elsa again. Her gaze seemed even colder, as if she really meant to hurt Elsa now.
“Hilde,” warned Elsa, breathing quietly and calmly. Both young women were drenched in sweat. “Your bloodlust is taking over. It must be the soldier in you. We’re not going to go all-out on each other, are we?”
Hilde licked her lips. “Kanone des lichts. That’s the name of my revolver. It might be a modern tool of war, but the bullets within are made of the same metal as that of my sword. They’re melted from crosses and relics at Trier Cathedral, a sacred site of the Holy Roman Empire, from where the Mundilfari and Von Altheim branches emerged into history. The metal is infused with Mundilfari curses before being shaped into the weapons we need. These are alchemic creations we developed to destroy the nature spirits, from the very beginning when the Mundilfari clan launched their crusades into Scandinavia.”
The general lifted her sword in one hand as her other kept Kanone des lichts pointed at Elsa. “All the power of the spirits won’t save you from me,” she growled, as her two weapons gleamed in her grip.
Elsa gravely raised her hands as Hilde charged at her again. “I’m going to beat you, and then you’re going to have words with Anna and Viola!” she cried. A pillar of brilliant light enveloped her and exploded into the evening sky. She eased into a slight crouch, heart pounding in her ears as she met Hilde’s assault head-on.
TO BE CONTINUED!