Featured image banner “Team Romanov,” by PURY (@puryartist)
WARNING: Extreme violence
By Mikael, Senior Reporter for The Arendelle Guardian
ARENDELLE; SAINT PETERSBURG – In a show of unprecedented naval might, the Baltic Fleet of the Imperial Russian Navy set off on a charted course for the North Sea last night.
Led by the Grand Duke and admiral, Yaraslaf, the Baltic Fleet was rebuilt and streamlined by Katina after her father Nicholas I’s loss to Elsa. The Baltic Fleet currently consists of three Imperator-class battleships – Poseidon, Charybdis, and Scylla – and dozens of smaller vessels providing artillery support and transportation for Russian troops. Larger and more powerful than her father’s generation of battleships, Katina boasted to the Russian press that Poseidon, Charybdis, and Scylla would be more than a match for Arendelle’s ships: Pride of Elsa, Muspelheim, and Nobility.
“The time to ensure Russia’s future security is now,” declared the princess, who doubles as the supreme commander of the Russian campaign to annex Arendelle. “We’re a multicultural, multi-ethnic empire. We’ve managed great tracts of land for centuries, more than Arendelle could ever dream of. Arendelle won’t be forced to give up any of its traditions, and I guarantee that as citizens of the Russian Empire, taxes will be fair and even lower than that of Queen Anna. The only difference is that the Arendellian royal family shall rule in partnership with a tsar-appointed governor, who’d be little more than a glorified plenipotentiary.”
She did not specify what powers this intended future governor would exert, but it’s highly unlikely that Anna will acquiesce to sharing rule with a Russian representative.
All eyes are now on the North Sea as countries scramble to consolidate, negotiate, or assert their interests. Anna’s Entente of Small Kingdoms, consisting of five nations, has moved to neutralize the Russian advance. Our correspondents will have more details of the conflict as they come.
Princess Danny, Elsa’s adopted daughter, fell to the ground suddenly, head throbbing, as she saw in her mind’s eye terrible visions of flaming ships and sinking vessels. She’d been walking in the corridor alongside Anna when she crumpled, and Anna grabbed her shoulders in horror. “What’s wrong?” cried Anna. “Are you seeing something again?” For the past few months, Danny had been able to see events. Future happenings that no one knew had transpired yet. It was her foresight power, something that only the Norns of legend possessed but had been mysteriously passed to her.
“Please, you’ve got to warn them,” said Danny, her voice a hoarse whisper as she stared at Anna. She heard echoes of cries and groans, a cacophony of the injured and dying. She clutched her head as she then felt a great rumble, a primal bellow that echoed throughout her skull, reverberating through her mind. The roar of a polar bear. “I know it sounds mad, but I’ve a really bad feeling about this.”
“Warn who?” cried Anna. “The Duke of Weselton and Hans? But their ships are already bound for Yaraslaf and the Baltic Fleet!”
“Yes,” wailed Danny, “and they’re in big, big trouble.”
The Arctic Ocean, several miles away from the inland Russo-Arendellian border
Hans stood at the head of his flagship, Ambition, peering into his set of mounted binoculars out into the vast emptiness of the roaring sea and turbulent waves. The sky was grey and dull, the air heavy with the taste of seawater. “Can you see them yet?” came the voice of the Duke of Weselton. He’d emerged from his cabin to walk onto the deck, flanked by his ever-vigilant bodyguards. “Our ships have been waiting here for hours. The Arendellians had promised their intelligence was right.” The Duke wrinkled his nose. “We’re supposed to be ambushing the Russians, not the other way round.”
“This is the only route that the Baltic Fleet can sail from Saint Petersburg to Arendelle,” declared Hans, studying the mist and the waves ahead. “According to our oceanographers, the enemy will be passing by one nautical mile from starboard. That’s when we fire everything we have, then beat a retreat back to the Chatho fleet. We’ll resupply, and then raid Yaraslaf’s ships two to three more times, before withdrawing and letting Queen Colisa take up the fight. That’s Anna’s strategy.”
“Hmph,” replied the Duke, “Anna plans to disrupt Yaraslaf’s pace and dampen his navy’s morale, before letting Colisa perform the real counterattack? Fine by me. We’re still risking our necks, though.”
The prince and the Duke, two of the five leaders in Anna’s Entente of Small Kingdoms, stared out at the waves, their faces grim. Still, there was nothing. “Remember, no one is supposed to get mired in a protracted exchange today,” said the Duke, glancing nervously at his two bodyguards, Erik and Francis. Francis was clean-shaven, with a crafty expression, while Erik was taller, with full facial hair and a brutish look. “We might not like Anna, but I quite like being Duke. And being alive. My nasty experience with Harrison and those horrible Exalted members showed me beyond doubt that we must come together to resist the great powers of the world. Katina Romanov is doubly worse than Harrison.”
Hans nodded. “I have to admit, Anna’s right on this one. I’ve also just begun rebuilding my life, and I’m not going to let the Southern Isles fall into Russian hands. Katina has made it clear that she’ll show no mercy on Arendelle, but she won’t spare us even if we try to join her. So we might as well stand with Anna.”
Suddenly, the mists began to shift, slowly parting as the waves became more violent. Hans and the Duke tensed as a great bellow in the distance seemed to rock the very deck of Ambition, and Hans yelled out at the seamen to prepare themselves. “This is it. The Russians could be coming. All cannons,” he cried, prepare to fire!” Behind Ambition was the combined Weselton and Southern Isles raiding fleet: five battleships, manned by experienced sailors and staffed by several dozen elite men-at-arms. Still, there was no sound, and Hans felt himself sweating from the tension as they waited…
“Are we going mad?” whispered the Duke nervously.
Hans was about to answer with an impatient remark when a deep, snarling voice answered them back, echoing from all directions and unnerving the allied seamen. “Oh, you’re very much sane.”
Hans and the Duke blanched as they whipped around, searching for the source of the voice. “Chief Mate! Where is the enemy? Port or starboard?!” cried the Duke.
The Chief Mate, poor man, could only look up in horror as, far too late, he saw the shadow of the Russian warship Poseidon bearing down on them head-on. “Their… their warship! She’s right in front of us!” he cried, frantically grabbing the ship’s wheel from the equally shocked helmsman and trying frantically to maneuver out of the way. But it was too late as with a mighty, foreboding CRUNCH, Poseidon rammed directly into Ambition, splinters of wood flying everywhere as cries of concern and confusion rose up among the coalition fleet. “We’re hit! We’re hit!” screamed the First Mate, as the Duke and Hans scrambled for cover.
From the helm of the much larger Poseidon emerged a towering werebear. He looked like a polar bear, except with a immense bipedal frame. His only clothing was an elaborate loincloth affixed to his waist by a decorated belt. His right shoulder was encased in a single pauldron, and his furry wrists were wrapped in protective strips of cloth. His polar bear’s face shifted as he sniffed the air.
“I love misinformation,” he declared, his voice a chuckle. “You think I didn’t prepare for a naval ambush on the way to Arendelle?” he barked. “It was a simple matter of feeding your spies a commonsense route and altering our course ever so slightly – one that would instantly turn the tables on you.”
His caniform eyes glinting, he raised his trunk-like arms to declare his arrival, each paw clutching a deadly one-handed axe. Each of the twin weapons was as large as a small human being, and Yaraslaf himself was a behemoth, towering over Hans and the Duke.
“Grand Duke Yaraslaf, admiral of the Baltic Fleet! All hands on deck!”
Hans and the Duke hand only just caught sight of Yaraslaf, their eyes as wide as saucers, when two other ships emerged from the port and starboard of Poseidon: Scylla and Charybdis, Yaraslaf’s two other ships. They were monstrosities, much bigger than Ambition and the other coalition vessels, and from the port of Scylla and the starboard of Charybdis emerged row after row of powerful cannons. Not only had Poseidon smashed into and occupied Ambition, but now the raiding fleet was sandwiched by Charybdis and Scylla. Just like in the Greek legend.
Yaraslaf grinned, baring his sharp teeth. “But first… blow these puny allies into splinters and chunks of flesh!”
As cries of confusion and nervousness rose among the disoriented and demoralized Weselton and Southern Isles troops, it suddenly dawned on the trembling Hans that Yaraslaf wasn’t just some rampaging brute. Despite his looks, he was a strategic, methodic planner, and they’d totally underestimated him. His eyes widened as he realized, in that split moment of slow motion, when Scylla and Charybdis fired a simultaneous barrage into the hapless ships…
What they’d brought to the table was almost insulting to Yaraslaf.
He was going to crush them.
And in that white light of annihilation, with the Baltic Fleet completely surprising, outmaneuvering, and firing again and again on the quickly sinking allied ships, hurling human beings and their spinning arms and legs, other gruesome body parts, and chunks of uniforms, armaments, and vessels into the air…
Hans could only listen.
To the symphony of his lightning-fast, almost embarrassing defeat.
Wallow in how stupid he’d been to think he could outwit a Russian Grand Duke.
He had to warn Anna.
There would be no harassing or weakening the Baltic Fleet.
Yaraslaf was coming to Arendelle, and he was about to board Hans’ ship.
Yaraslaf spread his arms and let out a deafening roar, hoarfrost exploding from his jaws as he leaped high into the air, incredibly agile for his huge bulk. His powerful legs sent him hurtling far from the helm of Poseidon and onto the deck of Ambition, his impact splintering the wood underneath. Yaraslaf slowly rose, grinning, as Weselton and Southern Isles troops quickly surrounded him and began to fire their rifles. He raised his arms and crossed his battleaxes as he humoured his attackers, allowing them to sink a few rounds of bullets into his tough fur and tougher skin. “You think me a brute,” he growled, barely noticing the blood spurting from his pierce wounds, “but I actually hate risking the lives of my men unnecessarily. Can you say the same about how Queen Anna has thrown you and the Duke of Weselton in my path, Prince Hans?” he wondered aloud, smiling at the puny royal, who’d drawn his sword.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. Because today I don’t need to lose my valuable sailors and soldiers to small fry like you. It’s General Mattias I want to challenge, and that Commander Hilde woman. I want to fight and beat the best. To slay Anna’s top general and the champion of the Arendellian Mundilfari clan.”
He grinned ferociously. “For now, I’ll sink your entire fleet on my own!”
The Grand Duke exploded into action, one swing of his battleaxe sending an entire contingent of soldiers hurtling into the sky and off the ship. His reach monstrous, he bashed aside five more men and cut down ten more with two slashes of his weapons, cleaving massive, lethal wounds across Weselton and Southern Isles bodies alike. He turned around as he felt three men stabbing and thrusting their bayonets into his leg frantically. He grinned, bringing down one of his axes, and his elemental strength was enough to split one soldier in half, his eyes expressing deathly shock as his corpse’s two pieces fell to the left and right. His comrades began screaming and hacked more frantically at Yaraslaf, but he simply struck them with his clenched paws, and their heads flew off their spinal chords from his casual force. “Oh, there they go,” whistled Yaraslaf, watching the hurtling heads plop into the sea at a distance. He turned his head, grinning as Erik and Francis fired their rifles at him, and he allowed them to score several hits, spreading his arms as he lumbered towards them.
“Valiant and loyal to the end. I love it. Respect to you,” bellowed Yaraslaf, as he spun with blinding agility and smashed his battleaxes against Erik, who raised his rifle just in time but was hurled several yards away and into the sea. Francis had barely managed to slip away, but couldn’t escape as Yaraslaf’s hand shot out and grabbed his leg, and he swung the screaming man over his head and smashed him into the wooden deck. “Off you fly!” he laughed, throwing the broken body away, which landed with another loud, sickening plop. Hans and the Duke warily approached Yaraslaf, looking at each other. There wasn’t even any time to be terrified by this force of nature. In this ultimate test, their moment of likely death, they couldn’t even exchange words with each other or their enemy. They simply did their best, charging at him despite knowing he would barely notice them, dismiss their weapons and desperation as fleeting resistance like a blade of grass struggles against a mighty storm…
Yaraslaf howled in triumph and the exhilaration of battle as he raised his weapons high in the air and sent the axes’ curved blades into the already ruined deck of Ambition, the mere force from his strike slamming into a shellshocked Hans and Duke as they were thrown like limp ragdolls off their own ship and into the sea, joining dozens among dozens of bodies in the Arctic Ocean. There was no way they’d be able to survive in those freezing waters for long. “THIS. IS. THE. END!” Yaraslaf bellowed in glee as he raised his battleaxes in triumph, his human soldiers on the three Baltic Fleet ships cheering. “Prince Hans? Prince who?! The Weselton duke? Never heard of him!” he crowed, throwing down his axes and thumping his chest with his clenched fist-paws, daring his routed adversaries to fight back.
“Men, board any remaining allied ships and arrest stragglers or survivors! Next, we’ll take on Colisa of Chatho, or whoever Anna thinks fit to sacrifice to my blade!”
He paused, putting a paw to his snout thoughtfully, forgetting about the exuberant cries of victory among his troops. “But the queen of Arendelle and her generals don’t know yet. She doesn’t know that I’ve crushed her allies.”
He grinned as he approached two of his lieutenants, who had boarded Ambition. “We’re going to cut off the Entente’s members from each other. Princess Katina doesn’t want to make the same mistake as her father did. We won’t underestimate Arendelle’s friends or let them join up. Especially Elsa and Colisa, who foiled our invasion once before,” he said to the two officers, who he dwarfed.
“Send a carrier pigeon to Queen Anna,” commanded the Grand Duke, looming over them. “Forge a letter with this message: Hans and the Duke of Weselton have inflicted damage on the Baltic Fleet. They’ll join Colisa in the next attack on Yaraslaf. No need for reinforcements, things proceeding as planned.”
“Yes, Admiral,” said Yaraslaf’s human subordinates, saluting.
Pleased with his own cunning, Yaraslaf grinned as he looked out at the wreckage of the Weselton and Southern Isles’ fleet. He began to chuckle. Soon Anna’s strategy would lie in ruins, and her only hope would be to hold him off at the North Sea near Arendelle’s shores.
“Let’s give some good old fake news to sew confusion among Anna’s circle while we crush Colisa! The queen of Chatho won’t know what hit her. Mattias and Hilde, I’ll be coming for you soon!”
BREAKING: ANNA’S FIRST DEFENCE FAILS DISASTROUSLY! YARASLAF MAKES DIRECTLY FOR COLISA AS THE BALTIC FLEET GATHERS MOMENTUM…