Featured image art by Arute (@ast05water)
The ancient forest below Mundilfari Keep rumbled with gunshots, blasts of mystical light, and the labored panting of two guardian dragons.
Like two sentient shooting stars, they collided into each other, before drawing back and smashing against one another again. With every violent impact, their blows grew stronger. And with each ferocious clash, the forest floor shook, and the trees rumbled. Even the northern lights above in the starry night sky seemed to waver.
One dragon in ethereal white, one dragon in ebony night.
The Fifth Spirit radiated angry heavenly light as she hurtled at her opponent, her restraint and sense of time giving way to intensifying fury at anyone who laid a hand on her little sister. Meanwhile, the Spirit Killer hungered for the ultimate prize with which to gift her lady and mistress – the Snow Queen’s head.
“If I can present Mephisto with your carcass, Her Ladyship will be free of both him and Anna!” declared Hilde, her voice a guttural roar as her sword clanged against a row of crystalline snowflakes that shielded Elsa. Her eyes were glowing pure yellow, the mysterious power of the Von Altheim family enveloping her completely. “She’ll never have to suffer the insult of being subjugated again! The Mundilfari name will return to its rightful place at the zenith of Europe’s exalted lineages.”
“Is that how you see Anna? She isn’t Vi’s boss. Not like how you’ve gleefully enslaved yourself to the Countess’s will,” said Elsa, summoning a spinning snow-disc that smashed into Hilde, sending her skidding back and slamming painfully into a tree.
Dazed momentarily, Hilde shook her head and fired her anti-spirit revolver, Kanone des lichts, and a hail of cursed bullets hurtled from its barrel at Elsa. But Elsa lashed out with a hand, a sheet of jagged ice erupting from the soil and whooshing up from the ground. The spikes of rime shattered the bullets and would have impaled Hilde’s body had she not staggered back just in time. Elsa pressed her advantage, commanding a new wave of ice stalagmites to burst from beneath Hilde’s feet. The general leapt up, barely managing to evade them, but one of the spikes stabbed into her calf. She skidded away, blood trailing from her left leg. She pulled out the ice and tried to sprint at Elsa, but visibly winced in pain.
Anna and Viola peeked out from behind a shrub, trailed closely behind by Alan and Michael. “They’re lost in each other,” said Viola, stunned. She couldn’t help being awestruck, her eyes wide as Elsa and Hilde released more and more of their power. “Their martial dance… it really is quite beautiful.”
“What in the world are you talking about?” cried Alan, pointing at Elsa. “If you don’t stop Hilde from hurting Elsa, I’m going to go in there myself!”
“Don’t be a fool,” snapped Viola. “You enter that maelstrom, Hilde will thrust her zweihänder in your ribcage faster than you can blink.”
“Still, you made a promise,” Michael reminded Viola. “They mustn’t harm each other further.” He nudged aside his coat and drew a Colt revolver, one he kept by his side to warn off the rare band of brigands or highway robbers that would waylay a successful trader. He never considered himself a warrior, but one didn’t have to be in the army to be an excellent shot. As Elsa and Hilde charged at each other again, he fired a well-aimed bullet into the air. The bang was loud enough for them to reflexively leap back. They glanced at the trade minister, breathing heavily.
“Enough, ladies!” he barked. “What happened to dinner and friendship?”
Anna and Viola stared at him in shock. “What are you doing?” hissed Viola. “You’re going to get yourself hurt!”
“No. We’re saving them both,” said Alan, and he ran out, standing between Elsa and Hilde. “Snap out of it, Commander,” he yelled. “You and Viola are friends with Elsa and Anna. You all know that, but you’re in too deep! Get a hold of yourself, take a deep breath, and back off!”
“One more step towards Elsa, and I fire at you this time, general,” warned Michael. “We mean you no harm, Hilde, but everyone’s got to calm down, especially you.”
“They’re right. I’ve also injured you. You’re powerful – incredibly powerful. But you’re only human. Yield,” demanded Elsa, an orb of pure power gathering in her open palm.
Hilde slowly and reluctantly dropped her sword and gun.
“Good,” said Michael. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“You… and you…” Hilde glared daggers at Alan and Michael, seething. She looked outright disturbed, foaming at the mouth as she shuffled towards the unsuspecting Alan.
Suddenly, a chill ran down his spine.
What do you see in her yellow eyes?
It was then that Anna realized something was horribly wrong. A hole opened in the pit of her stomach as Hilde bared her teeth, and her countenance somehow looked misshapen, deformed. Her teeth, that was it. They looked way too large and sharp, like they had become fangs.
Since when did her teeth resemble those of a canine’s?
And why were her yellow eyes turning more… feral?
Hilde’s voice was still recognizably that of a young woman, but it was quickly lowering into one of a growl-bark. “I’m only human, you say, Elsa? Human?! You think I’m some ordinary servicewoman?!”
“Watch out, Alan!” screamed Elsa suddenly, as Hilde’s hand came down on him. It wasn’t just a young woman’s calloused hand, but a huge, paw-like thing with deadly sharp claws that could rip apart flesh like wet tissue. Elsa threw herself in front of the stunned Alan, barely managing to conjure an ice shield for them. But such was Hilde’s supernatural strength that her attack smashed past Elsa’s defenses, shattering the ice. Hilde hurled her back, sending her crashing through several trees, and all of them toppled loudly onto the forest floor.
“Elsa!” roared Alan.
“Sister!” shrieked Anna. “Oh, my God. ELSA!”
Michael almost dropped his revolver as he stared at Hilde. “What’s going on?” he whispered in disbelief.
Back sore, Elsa tumbled to a painful stop on the ground, wheezing. She groaned, struggling to get up as Hilde let out a bestial bellow and slowly advanced, her silhouette growing gradually larger and hairier. The ground shook. Long hair spilled out behind her, Elsa rolled over on her back, clutching her side and panting. “Hilde, please,” she moaned, as the general appeared in a flash over her, her speed almost too fast to even perceive. Hilde’s increasingly muscular arm shot down, grabbing Elsa. Her claws dug painfully into Elsa’s sides, and the Snow Queen cried out, her face twisted in agony and exhaustion. “Gaaaah!”
Hilde ruthlessly tightened her grip, her growing arms trapping Elsa in a brutal bear hug. Shoulders heaving, she let out a low growl, tufts of fur emerging from her cheeks, her ears gradually morphing and lengthening. She raised her head and began to howl, a haunting, triumphant call that had terrorized fearful humanity since the Dark Ages.
It was a beautiful moon out tonight.
The Von Altheims’ dark secret, the legendary source of their Gothic dread, which the Mundilfari family had tamed. Elsa could barely speak as she finally realized the full extent of Hilde’s power.
“Just like Fenrir, the devourer of spirits from our Viking legends,” she gasped, coughing blood as she felt Hilde crushing her slowly. She could hear Anna’s screams, and Michael and Alan’s panicked cries. “You’re a… we… were…
Was this the monstrosity, the secret weapon, that Viola had once wanted to unleash on Elsa and Northuldra?
Hilde’s face was elongating grotesquely before Elsa’s eyes, her nose and mouth turning into a wolf’s snout. Slobbering, she snapped her sharp teeth angrily at Elsa, who recoiled, wincing in disgust. Feeling faint, she conjured an ice spike, and with her arms still free, desperately thrust it into Hilde’s shoulder. But Hilde barely noticed, her form beginning to burst out of her uniform. Buttons popped everywhere, seams tore, and her badges and honors fell to the ground as her coat and shirt were shredded, leaving her bosom bare as fur continued to bristle from her body. She threw Elsa roughly aside, and the Queen Emerita flew an entire yard away, crashing again into a tree, which promptly toppled. The Fifth Spirit rolled away, groaning, as Anna rushed to her side, scooping her up in her arms and cuddling her. “Are you okay?” blabbered Anna breathlessly.
“Bruised and cut here and there. I’ve never seen anything like her,” replied Elsa wearily. Her entire body aching, she buried her face in Anna’s chest as her little sister covered her face with comforting kisses, relieved that the blows that she’d suffered weren’t fatal. But Hilde wasn’t finished with them. She disappeared, too fast for the human eye to see, and reappeared before Alan and Michael, looming over the two stupefied men.
A low snarl came from the back of the she-werewolf’s throat. She was about to attack again when an elegant bark rang through the cold late night air.
“BAD GIRL! BAD!”
Hilde’s face twitched at Viola’s voice. The Countess had finally made her move, dashing in front of her general, who had truly lost herself in the joy of battle. Viola gestured for Alan and Michael to back away as she stood before Hilde. “I knew you wouldn’t let up, sweetheart. You’re scary enough with all your training and military experience, and your battle trance is what makes you so dangerous. But now you can’t resist a being of such power like the Fifth Spirit. You think Elsa is worthy to duel you in your dread form. You’re really going all out on us, and as much as I enjoy seeing you in all your lycanthropic glory, I won’t permit it.”
Hilde was still in the middle of transforming. She growled softly, eyes faltering as she stared down at the diminutive Viola. “A few months ago, I’d have been delighted if you’d slain the Snow Queen and ended my servitude to Mephisto at last. But I’ve broken that pact to join Anna. My honour won’t let me break a vow again. Your jealousy of Anna and Elsa is showing. You’ll fight for me, not over me!” demanded Viola, glaring up at Hilde. She suddenly lowered herself and whipped out a dagger from a sheath affixed to her laced boot. It seemed like a useless weapon, but in fact it was their only chance.
“I’ve been waiting for this opening, for you to show your strongest self but also your critical weakness. Now is the time to strike!” She raised the ornate dagger before her glinting crimson eyes. “Blessed silver, and a wise insurance passed down by my ancestors, for when our Von Altheim protectors go a little too far for our liking.”
She smiled grimly to herself. “Her Majesty calls me Vampire Vi. But I just look like one, while you’re the real deal, love. Expect to get your own nickname very soon, Howling Hilde.”
Then, in a sudden attack, she slashed her own guardian cleanly across her chest with the silver dagger.
“Forgive me for what I’m about to say, Hilde,” whispered the Countess, as Hilde reeled back.
“Your Majesty! Elsa! Now’s the time!”
THE SNOW QUEEN AND THE SPIRIT KILLER
TO BE CONCLUDED!