In the dead of night, with the grandfather clock striking twelve, the queen, the prime minister, and senior officials locked themselves in Arendelle Castle, waiting with bated breath to be saved from the shadowy hunter ruthlessly stalking them on the rooftop of the palace.
Arendelle Castle was inspired by the Stave Churches that were built during the Christianization of Scandinavia. It had a visually striking series of roofs, each one offset and becoming smaller as the palace reached toward the sky, with each roof having a majestic spire at its centre. Amira had already run the full length of the castle’s walled enclosure, her fur-enclosed feet pattering silently and smoothly on the wall’s roof. Using a long rope with a strong grappling hook, she’d gracefully swung around the watchtower that connected the east wall to its rear, where she’d be able to leap onto the roofs of the palace’s eastern wing. Anna and Viola had already retreated from the courtyard, and Maren had asked Alan to seal off the ground floor of the palace so that Amira couldn’t escape by the main entrance.
No ground floor? No problem, for a huntress like her.
She swung her hooked rope again, gathering speed as she ran and tossing it to reach the highest roof ridge of the east wing – just next to the very centre of the central wing. She shot up, her fur shoes slamming onto the side of the structure as she pulled herself up, swinging efficiently and landing higher and higher with each pull. She finally scrambled up onto the ridge, withdrawing her hook and rope, and began steadily walking towards the spire, her arms spread to balance herself.
“Stop, Amira!” cried Maren, who’d followed her, but couldn’t reach her.
Amira gave a dark smile. She neared the spire and grabbed the structure with one hand, swinging acrobatically around it and smashing her feet into the glass of the spire’s window. She folded her body and tumbled in.
The hunter was inside Arendelle Castle.
Maren swore and looked around in a panic, noticing a small window at the back of the east wing. She was two storeys above her, but she was already stalking the hallways and rooms, so there was no time to scramble up there. She hurled herself through the window, ignoring the sting of shattered glass, and rolled into the silent hallway, heart racing. Glass tinkled about her booted feet. She needed to stop Amira before the latter reached Anna, Vi, and any of the ministers. Mattias and Hilde were probably rushing back, but they could be too late if Maren didn’t hold off Amira. She took a deep breath and prepared to storm the third level of Arendelle Castle.
For some reason, the silence of the castle sounded more worrying than if there were screams or the clangs of blades.
The ministers were under lockdown in their guest chambers as Anna, Vi, and trade minister Michael hurried down the hallway. Anna was dressed back in her short blazer and free-form dress, with a sheathed sword by her hip. “Whoever is Amira’s target tonight, she has until Mattias and Hilde arrive. Then our combined forces would be too much for even her,” said Anna tersely.
“It’s probably me. She wants my head for my family’s ancient antagonism against Northuldra.” She looked at Michael. “Or perhaps she wants to disrupt your freight lines and supply chains between the two realms.”
Michael nodded. “Perhaps. But we need to know her objective. All we know right now is that she doesn’t want Arendelle and Northuldra to have good relations!”
Anna stopped as she suddenly saw Amira’s fur caped silhouette at the far end of the hall. Lined with portraits and oils, the hallway was spacious, but there was little room to maneuver except forward or backward. “Vi, Uncle,” she said calmly, raising a hand, “run down to the ground floor and get back with Alan and my knights.”
“We can’t leave you here,” snapped Vi, looking at her reproachfully.
“You’re more likely her target than I am.”
“Did you forget that you’re the queen?” countered Michael. “What if she tries to hurt you – or worse?” He drew his revolver; the same one he’d used to fire a warning shot for Hilde back in the forest below Keep Mundilfari when she was duelling Elsa. “Sorry if I wreck anything precious in here, Anna. But we can’t let her get close to you.” He aimed his firearm at Northuldra woman. “Grey Ghost! If you have a problem with Arendelle, we can talk about it. We don’t do political violence,” he called.
Amira suddenly burst into a sprint, green eyes flashing as she hurtled straight for them.
Michael instinctively fired at her, but as he pulled the trigger, Amira was already moving, leaping against the wall and launching her foot off it, dancing away from a second bullet as she spun and landed back on the ground, rolling forward and then somersaulting, revolution after revolution, at Anna. Michael’s shots grew more frantic as Amira’s dizzying, acrobatic spins brought her closer and closer to the three, and Vi grabbed Michael and Anna’s hands, growling. “Know when to fight and when to flee. None of us have a hope until Hilde arrives. Let’s go!”
Amira spun gracefully, horizontally into the air before them. Time seemed to slow down as she suddenly revealed her pulled bow, its taut string holding a nocked and ready arrow. Vi’s red eyes widened, and she and Michael gasped together. Still in mid-air, Amira smirked as she released the deadly projectile, shooting it point-blank at Vi –
Anna rushed in front of the stunned Vi, barely managing to block the arrow with her drawn sword. The arrow ricocheted off her blade and stabbed into the wall. Anna’s hands were shaking from the force of the arrow’s impact, and her entire body was trembling. Amira landed in a crouch, standing up and scowling at Anna. “Get yourself and the trade minister out of here!” barked the monarch. “If anything happens to me – ”
“Shut up,” growled the Countess. “You’ll come back to me, safe and sound. I only wish I had my weapons with me to assist you.” She glared at Amira. “I’m not an enemy of Northuldra anymore, in case you didn’t know. But you’ll never take my head. Make no mistake: I’d gladly fight and crush you.” She took Michael’s arm, and they rushed the opposite direction.
Beads of sweat rolled down Anna’s face as she raised her sword. “Finally, we meet in the flesh. You destroyed my flagship, Autumn Cloud, and have held my government hostage by hurting innocent officials and terrorizing the kingdom. I want to know what you want.” She clenched her jaw as Amira abruptly sprinted forward, grabbing an arrow from her quiver and thrusting it at Anna, who barely managed to parry it. Amira spun the arrow deftly in her hand, as if to show off her dexterity, before stabbing it at Anna’s direction again. Anna slipped past Amira’s attack, but was unprepared for the bow’s elm arc, which Amira swung and cleanly smacked Anna in the face with.
“Uuuungh!” Anna almost blacked out as she felt her face warp painfully. Her body was hurled back like a rag doll, spinning from the full force of the end of the Grey Ghost’s bow. She slammed onto the carpeted floor painfully, seeing stars as her sword landed a short distance from her. “My bow is a solid melee weapon too, Your Majesty,” said Amira coldly. She walked over to Anna’s dazed, spread-eagled form, raising her arrow and preparing to plunge its shaft into her arm –
“AMIRA!” Maren roared as she burst from the stairwell at the hallway’s end and raced towards Amira, who looked up and quickly fired a succession of arrows at her fellow Northuldra. Within less than two seconds, one, two, three, four, five arrows whooshed at Maren, who parried them and sent them ricocheting away with her rattan sticks. Anna rolled away as Maren closed the distance and Amira stashed away her bow, pulling out her curved Northuldra knife, the handle of which had ancient runes carved on it. They danced into the range of each other’s weapons, with Maren spinning her rattan sticks and Amira weaving through them, slashing at Maren with her blade. Maren, in turn, bobbed and weaved through Amira’s flawless swings, striking out with her sticks but being parried and deflected. Anna crawled back up, head still aching, and staggered forward, trying to grab back her sword. “Don’t think about it, Anna!” yelled Maren, as she managed to forced Amira back slightly. “Get back with Vi and Michael. Alan’s downstairs and soon we can trap Amira up here with Mattias and Hilde.”
“But Maren…” protested Anna woozily, still shaky on her feet.
Maren raised her sticks, glaring at Amira. “No ifs or buts, sweetheart. Just go.” Her chestnut eyes narrowed. “You could say that this is a dispute between two tribeswomen. Because I’ll never let this young lady hurt innocent Arendellians.”
Amira pointed her knife at Anna. “The buck stops with her,” she said angrily, “and she never stopped one of her kingdom’s precious noblemen from doing something I could never forgive.”
Anna stared at Amira. She was still dizzy, seeing three Honeymarens and four Amiras. “We… we can talk about this, Amira,” she said unsteadily. I’m sure there are problems, flaws, with our plan to re-integrate Arendelle and Northuldra. But we can work it out – ”
Amira smiled bitterly. “King Runeard’s Northuldra Children Protection Act,” was all she said.
Anna blinked. “That must have been before my time. What happened?” she asked, but she was too late as Amira whipped out her explosive pellets again, preparing to disappear. But this time Maren lunged at her, forcing her on the defensive as she swung her rattan sticks in a new onslaught that Amira calmly blocked with her knife. But when Maren managed to hit Amira’s wrist, forcing her to release her knife, Amira riposted with a one-two strike that sent Maren’s bruised face reeling back. The blade of Amira’s hand struck Maren’s elbow pit, and Maren dropped her other stick to engage Amira in hand-to-hand combat. Their green and brown pairs of eyes glared angrily at each other.
Shoulders swinging lightly back and forth, Amira feinted with her left before swinging from below, a punch that Maren checked with her elbow before dashing forward and shielding her face with her left as she brought down her forearm in an elbow smash, aiming for Amira’s head. Amira blocked with difficulty, grunting in pain, and Maren pressed the advantage with a burst of fists, recalling all the play-fighting and the Northuldra combat traditions that Yelena had (reluctantly) passed down to her in her childhood. She slapped away another punch from Amira, and checked the hunter’s side kick with her shin. Then an elbow strike from Amira nearly took off her head, and she managed to duck just in time, her cross-arm block saving her from a ferocious uppercut. Still, she was blown back, boots skidding along the palace floor as Amira raised her fists, smirking.
“You debase yourself by working for the queen, Maren,” she declared. “But I admit I didn’t expect you to be so wonderfully strong. You and I could make a great team.” She whipped out more pellets, licking her lips. “I’m outnumbered, and you almost outfought me. I’m not staying around to fight both Mattias and Hilde. But know this, Your Majesty – I don’t intend to let your government pass that Northuldra-Arendelle bill. My home is better off without any intervention by you.”
“Wait,” cried Anna. “You could at least tell us how that policy made you lose your faith in our government. In the hope of our two lands united.”
Amira shot her a dirty look. “I was one of Yelena’s chosen, selected to go to the University of Arendelle. When I found out what the sinister intention behind that policy, which was being carried forward right under your nose, Anna – I knew Northuldra not only doesn’t need Arendelle – Arendelle is the threat.”
She threw the pellets on the floor, once more disappearing in the flash and ensuing haze of smoke.
It was over.
Maren barely relaxed, drenched in sweat. Her knees suddenly trembled. “We did it,” she breathed, as Anna hugged her tightly. “No one was hurt. She struck at the very palace, but we survived.”
“You. Are Amazing.” Anna buried her face in Maren’s back before releasing her top diplomat and putting a hand to her face thoughtfully. “That policy Amira mentioned…” She grimaced. “It sounds bizarre, and it’s strange that it doesn’t seem to have been abandoned even though it was from Grandfather’s time. I think we’ll have to check the documents in the palace’s Secret Room. What does Amira know about that initiative that we don’t?”
Maren smiled tiredly, putting a hand on Anna’s arm. “Let’s send the ministers back home and rest. I’ll help you search for some answers.”