Featured image art by Alanna (@alhuart)
1841. Before Anna became queen, and before Vi became Mundilfari clan head
Viola Mundilfari hated visiting the Celestial Empire, and not because it was so far away. Oh, it wasn’t because China was necessarily an unpleasant place to go sightseeing. The Qing heartland was vast and ancient, thousands of times larger than Arendelle, and blessed with five millennia of civilization and dynastic splendor.
But she hated setting foot in the Forbidden City, and she sure hated being called to the Summer Palace – the regal, jaw-droppingly majestic headquarters of Yixin. It was all because Yixin had summoned her here for the most unpleasant of reasons.
She stood before the Summer Palace’s throne hall, a uniformed Commander Hilde standing quietly at attention beside her. Vi’s face was curled into a contemptuous grimace as she felt her host’s serpentine eyes run over her with matching disdain.
Vi was looking at a distant gold-wreathed figure, which rose from its chair and stood aloofly. He was at least twelve feet away and held an open red fan covering part of his face.
“Why am I even here, Manchu overlord?” called out the Mundilfari noble to the distant throne, smirking darkly. “I gave your retainer a clear answer a few weeks ago, but you don’t seem to want to accept it.”
“Step closer,” echoed the hiss of the Qing prince regent, the leader of the shadowy Exalted cabal of global rulers.
“Since you’ve so recklessly and ungratefully spurned Peony’s offer, I suspected that she had made a mistake. I wanted to give you one more chance to accept membership of the Exalted,” came his scornful voice.
Peony Sinclair was Yixin’s top agent, a diplomat that balanced the world’s powers against one another, maintaining a delicate world order that stopped empires from completely destroying each other. “Arendellian representation would mean that Arendelle can slowly become a great power with my help. Arendelle will weather the inevitable geopolitical storms far better. You’ll serve a cause greater than that of your own country – one of maintaining order across the world.”
“Since you’re the boss of your little clique, I suppose it’s natural that you’d see things that way,” said Vi, looking at her elegantly painted fingernails coolly. “But as far as I know, Will Harrison and Katina Romanov don’t seem particularly faithful to your paternalistic ideals. Are you sure your leash will hold them, even as they strain to be let loose?”
She smiled slyly. “Even Peony, when push came to shove, wanted me to join just because she wished for me to be by her side. Did she tell you what even happened that night, when she found me at Baron Wilms’ ball in Munich?”
Silence from the dragon throne.
“She said everything you’ve told me, right here,” continued Vi, crossing her arms. “She did everything you asked her to, flawlessly. I assure you, it isn’t her fault that I spurned the Exalted’s offer.”
Her crimson, vampiric eyes glinted. “It’s because I refused to be at her mercy. Just as I refuse to subject myself to your supervision, to your control. I’m a free spirit. You’ll never have me.”
“Yet Peony, even after coming home, called you worthy,” replied Yixin, his voice dripping with fury. “Even as she stood before me with tears streaming down her cheeks, telling me that she’d failed to turn you.”
Hilde glanced at Vi, who grimaced. Vi raised her voice. No point in dissembling or hiding the truth, she supposed. “That’s because she loved me, and I loved her – ”
“You know nothing of love, stupid girl!”
Yixin’s sudden, harsh scream thundered through the yawning hall. Vi fell silent, and a tense, pregnant pause punctured their exchange.
“Call me that again,” whispered Vi, her chest white hot with rage as she stared murderously at the dragon throne.
“Gladly! You’re a petulant child who needs to be chastened,” spat Yixin shrilly, and Vi could sense his spittle hitting the back of his own fan. “Peony was wrong – you’re unworthy in every way imaginable. Arrogant, impulsive, and foolish. To see your prestige and power crumble before the Arendellian royal family will be your just deserts. Yes,” he cackled gleefully, as he noticed Vi tense up. “That’s surely the Mundilfaris’ worst fear, isn’t it? You think your machinations are so ingenious that they can last forever? I know that you’ve set your sights on subduing the Diarchy, Elsa and Anna. I know you desperately want to destroy Northuldra to break free from your ancient curse.”
His eyes glinted. “Well, I have a mind to turn both sisters against you. You can never defeat Elsa, not if she’s fulfilled her true potential as the Fifth Spirit. Your curse will be with you forever.”
“Don’t you dare,” warned Vi. “No one – not even you – will interfere in Arendellian affairs.”
Yixin sniggered hatefully again. “The Exalted will move where they wish. I will puppeteer whoever I want, and unless you accept my offer of membership, you’ve no power to negotiate with me. You, free? Again, you’re a stupid little girl. You delude yourself. Your family is barely fit to lick the backside of that low-grade demon that enslaves you – ”
“You’ve insulted my Lady for the last time,” barked a red-faced Hilde, glaring at Yixin. She couldn’t take it anymore; she’d heard enough. So furious was she at Yixin’s violent rant that she didn’t even give a warning, but just allowed her lycanthropic rage to take over her mind and body, wolf’s fur exploding across her pale skin and bursting from her black uniform, shredding it as muscles bulged across her entire body. Her ears elongated, and her yellow eyes focused on the man before her. The Altheim guardian of the Mundilfaris roared, hungrily watching the Manchu prince.
“Hilde,” warned Vi, “don’t be rash.”
Yixin didn’t budge, his serpentine eyes unmoved, as he observed Hilde the werewolf raised her head and howled.
“Keep your dog leashed, demon-slave,” he said thinly to Vi.
“I’ve had it with you!” crooned Hilde, her voice lowering into a wolf’s snarl.
“No!” cried Vi, unable to stop Hilde as the commander sprinted towards Yixin, slobber flying from her canine jowls. Yixin didn’t budge as the she-werewolf’s muscular, furred legs crossed the hall in just a few steps. Two imperial guards suddenly appeared from behind the throne and tried to block her, but she swiped aside the elite soldiers with ease, her claws sending their bodies crashing painfully into wooden red pillars. She descended on the prince regent, her fearsome fangs and dribbling mouth moments from his face.
She’d gladly bite his head off.
Still keeping his fan raised, Yixin lifted his free hand and dismissively flicked Hilde in the forehead, his fingernail just hitting the center of her brow. In the heat of the moment, Hilde barely saw or felt the deceptively effortless counterattack and prepared to dig her claws into Yixin – until she felt her limbs going limp, her nerves shutting down, and her head rapidly getting lighter and lighter as she crashed into the floor, twitching as her entire body went into a seizure, convulsing on the ground helplessly as she whimpered in bewilderment and fright. Her entire world was going black as her werewolf form rapidly receded, fur retreating until she was a half-naked mess, fainting into unconsciousness.
“Hilde! Hilde!” screamed Vi, in total shock at Hilde’s complete defeat but also feeling that white hot rage once more engulfing her chest. She rushed to Hilde’s prone form, putting her hands on Hilde as the latter twitched pitifully.
“Baby,” whispered Vi frantically, her hands caressing Hilde’s morphing face wildly.
Hilde moaned. She was back to her human self, and she closed her eyes, perspiring and exhausted.
“Have a nap,” snapped Yixin. “Now, where were we?”
Vi glared up in raw, burning hatred at him, her red eyes now like the flames of hell. “I’m going to kill you,” she barked at him. “I’m going to kill you and destroy every Exalted member except Peony!”
Yixin’s fan ever so slightly began to move away from his face.
“Yes, show me,” demanded Vi, not caring anymore, enjoying how she could goad him. She hadn’t even her sword with her, but thought nothing about her own life now. “Show me what must surely be something very ugly and dark behind that fan.”
“I’ll enjoy tearing your throat to shreds,” said the prince regent quietly, as Vi was just about to look upon his widening lips and gleaming fangs –
“Da ren!” came Peony’s outraged voice. Speaking the words for “master” or “my lord” in Chinese, Peony opened the door to the hall, and stepped in, her silver eyes puffy and red from crying.
“Stop this at once,” demanded the elegantly dressed equestrian, stepping between Yixin and Vi. They were easily still several feet away from each other. “I made the mistake of choosing Vi as a potential Arendellian Exalted member, your lordship. It was my assignment and I own its failure, just like I’ve owned all my successful missions.” She turned to Yixin and stared into his cold eyes. “My lord, the Mundilfari head has no interest in joining our group. If it were anyone else, you’d have simply moved on, and we can do the same with Arendelle. There’s Elsa, even Anna, to consider. Yet you just had to interrogate me about Munich, and you just had to summon her here.”
Yixin snarled behind his fan. “She deserved to be taught a lesson. None have ever defied the Exalted – or me – like this. And I can’t have Arendelle, this special kingdom, spoiling my plans left and right. I need Elsa and Anna to be the lights unto the world.”
“It simply means that you were right, master,” said Peony smoothly, “that you identified Arendelle as a special realm that deserved to have a member in the Exalted.” She gazed at Vi, expressionless. “I’ll handle this countess. Please, master. See me in her, and perhaps you’ll be inclined to show a bit of mercy.”
Yixin sullenly raised his head, observing the two young women before him. Were it not for Peony’s words, he would have had Vi and Hilde both killed already, their bodies dumped into a nameless pit for common criminals. He shouldn’t have had to waste his precious time with these low-ranking nobles, but since Peony seemed to truly harbour affection for the Arendellian countess, well…
He’d come to look upon Peony as a kind of surrogate daughter, and the English orphan had blossomed into his most loyal and competent agent. His will was her own, but early on, when she was in her teens, Peony had made it clear that it was to be a two-way street.
He shot a look at Hilde. “Get that drooling dog out of my sight,” he snapped, and two attendants instantly glided to his side and moved to Hilde and Vi. Vi was about to fight them off when Peony shook her head.
“She’ll be fine, Vi. They’re just taking her to the infirmary. When she’s better, you’re both leaving. You’re not going to join us, so there’s no reason for you to be here anymore,” she said, as the wardens lifted the weakened Hilde away.
She shot Vi a look. “A word, Countess.”
Vi looked at Yixin uncomfortably, before following Peony out of the hall of the Summer Palace, their heeled shoes clacking. His serpent’s eyes trailed her unsympathetically.
“You’re in trouble now,” he cackled, enjoying how his protégé seemed to wield some emotional power over Vi.
“Damn it,” groaned Vi. Hilde, her champion, her best warrior, was completely at the prince regent’s mercy. And now Peony was going to take her to task about what happened between them in Munich some months ago.
This was going to be a long day.
“I hate the Celestial Empire,” she sighed.
What happened between Vi and Peony in Germany? How will Vi’s relationship with the Exalted shape their plans for Elsa and Anna?
The Great Game over Arendelle begins here in this prologue short series!
MUNICH MOONLIGHT: TO BE CONTINUED!