Warning: Violent depictions
Featured image “Baltic Brawl,” by Arute (@ast05water)
The cries and screams in the distance had quietened down slightly, with cannonfire between Muspelheim and the Baltic Fleet still shaking the palace. But it was the late afternoon, and Anna knew that both the Russian and Arendellian troops were surely exhausted. She crossed her arms as she stared out the window, to her study, biting her lip as the afternoon sun bathed her in red light.
Elsa was on her mind, and sure enough, Elsa walked into her study. “The door was open. I wanted to talk to you,” came the Snow Queen’s gentle voice.
Anna didn’t look back. Elsa glided across the study and moved closer to Anna, who avoided her gaze. “It’s time.” The queen of Arendelle remained silent, but her predecessor pressed on. “Now it’s time for you to send me out there.”
Anna closed her eyes. “I had a nasty feeling that we were going to talk about this.”
“Yaraslaf fought me to a standstill in Saint Petersburg. We’ve never faced anything like the Grand Dukes before. Who knows what tricks Nykras and Sora will have for us? This isn’t the time to hold back. You have me, Anna. Use me. We don’t even know if Mattias and Hilde have won, and I can help tilt the balance – “
“Please don’t say that.” Anna looked away. “No, Elsa. You’re not a weapon of war. I’m not going to treat you like that. You’re my everything. If you got hurt…”
“Anna, I volunteer myself, happily and wholeheartedly.” Elsa took Anna’s face in hers, cupping her freckled cheeks with her smooth hands. “Oh, Anna. You’re struggling so much, taking on the burden of an actual war with a great power all on your shoulders. You’ve solicited my help in many respects. What makes this any different?”
Anna grabbed one of Elsa’s hands. “Because I don’t want to become a darker shadow of myself,” she whispered, “because that’s what wars turn leaders into – rulers that tolerate violence, exploitation, and aggression more and more.”
“My dear-heart,” chastised Elsa, “there will come a day when you’ve defeated Katina and you have time to take stock of what it cost us to win this terrible war. But for now, your mind needs focus.” Elsa’s eyes shone with the power of the four elemental spirits. “Direct your big sister against your foes, Anna. She’ll protect you with everything she has.”
“Go, then,” conceded Anna, her voice a whisper. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
Anna nodded, her aqua eyes reflecting renewed resolve. “Go help Mattias and Hilde against Yaraslaf. Kick his ass. I’ll be rooting for you from here. Me, your biggest cheerleader.”
Grand Duke Yaraslaf roared in surprised fury as an enraged Mattias, screaming Hilde’s name, plunged his magic-wreathed sword into his side, the general seemingly no longer inhibited by his severely battered body. How could Mattias not move? He’d just seen his compatriot, the Von Altheim commander and werewolf, nearly cleaved in two. Yaraslaf had, by some miracle or mistake, missed her head. Still alive – just barely – she crumpled to the ground, bleeding profusely and her body soaked in her own blood. First Severin, and now her? No. It would not be her, and there would be no one else.
“Your rampage ends today, Yaraslaf,” roared Mattias, ducking from the werebear’s increasingly clumsy swings and lifting his sword, bringing it down on Yaraslaf’s forearm and slicing hand from wrist. Yaraslaf roared in agony, dropping his Moonscape Halberd as blood gushed from his severed arm. As Anna and Vi had predicted, Mundilfari silver and magic were taking their toll on the werebear. Mattias danced away from Yaraslaf’s paw, looking around at the blasted, smoking battlefield. Some distance away in the deep-water sea, the Baltic Fleet was still exchanging cannon-fire with Muspelheim, but the iron-clad warship, despite sustaining heavy damage, inflicted even worse on the Russian navy. Mattias could see Poseidon starting to sink, and he heard weary shouts of triumph from the Arendellian troops.
“Admiral! Poseidon has sunk,” came a cry from a Russian lieutenant. “What should we do?”
Yaraslaf grunted. If he were to retreat with nothing to show for it, Katina would surely punish him. Yet he didn’t have many troops left to take the island, and even though the Arendellian army was decimated, he wasn’t in the best condition to hold the island – not with the Baltic Fleet in such bad shape and Pride of Elsa prowling Arendelle’s waters. “Damn it!” he shouted. All around him and Hilde lay the expressionless, masked bodies of the Court Guard and the Russian soldiers they’d taken with them to the grave. The Mundilfari shock troops had crushed much of the Russian army, but had themselves been annihilated. Yaraslaf had several divisions of troops left, but they were exhausted. So were the remaining Arendellians fighting them. He blocked another flurry of attacks from Mattias, who seemed to be newly possessed by an unusual fury.
“Get Hilde out of here,” barked Mattias to his remaining troops. “Bring my ship, Nobility, around the shoreline.” Four Arendellian troops rushed to Hilde, scooping up the critically injured woman and gingerly but firmly carrying her away. There were some surviving medics on the battlefield, and one of them happened to be carrying a stretcher. “Retreat back to Arenfjord and take Hilde back to the castle! Pride of Elsa can stop the Baltic Fleet from any further advance. We’ve already blunted their momentum!” shouted Mattias. Yaraslaf tried to stagger after the soldiers carrying Hilde, but Mattias blocked his way, having picked up his shield. “How does it feel,” he cried, for our small kingdom to have fought your great empire to a stalemate?”
“You insult me if you think I’ll let her live. I still have one paw,” snarled Yaraslaf, lurching towards Mattias. Mattias was about to dash at him when he stopped, staring at a light snowflake drifting in front of him. Yaraslaf also noticed that the air had gone suddenly colder, and he looked up, growling as he saw Elsa land in a crouch on the ground. She slowly rose, her gossamer, rhinestone-embellished slitted skirt trailing behind her as she slowly walked towards Yaraslaf. “A long time ago, I also fought Hilde, Grand Duke,” she said to Yaraslaf suddenly. “She was deadly, a bit frightening, and uncompromisingly loyal to her Countess.”
“And what of it?” barked the werebear, slowly turning to face Elsa. “I crushed her, and I can crush you, too.” For the first time, he felt apprehension. He hadn’t expected Elsa to appear before him, not after he’d defeated Hilde. Damn that Mattias, he thought furiously. He put up a much tougher fight than I expected.
“Commander Hilde. Fearsome werewolf. Ruthless strategist. Devoted guardian. A surprisingly innocent heart.” Elsa’s glowing eyes shone as a blizzard enveloped her, before the freezing, cutting hail came together and shot mercilessly at Yaraslaf. The ice pummeled the Grand Duke, bruising and bloodying him more. He barely managed to block the magical-elemental attack, crossing his severed arm and his good arm in front of him with difficulty. He couldn’t force himself forward like he usually did with magical attacks.
“Elsa!” cried Mattias.
“The queen of Arendelle sends her regards, Yaraslaf!” cried Elsa, eyes glowing with ethereal light. “Well fought, and goodbye!”
Behind her back materialized the four diamond-shaped symbols of the four elements. They surrounded her, descending onto the ground and forming a pillar of light that swallowed Elsa and expanded outwards, the radiant shockwave cutting into Yaraslaf and hurling him back. But Elsa was just getting started as the entire battlefield and sky filled with diamond-shaped elemental symbols, stunning the awestruck Arendellians and Russians alike into silence as Yaraslaf felt his body suddenly weakening from the blast of elemental presence. He swayed, his massive body staggering, as Elsa conjured a swirling misty haze from below him, and roared, screaming as she pirouetted gracefully and slammed her hands into the ground. The mist imploded directly below Yaraslaf, and his polar bear eyes could barely widen as he felt his body disintegrating upon the impact of Elsa’s full and undivided attack.
“No. No! Impossible – ”
The Grand Duke’s burly, furry body exploded – there was no other way to describe it – as Elsa’s cloud of pure power sent his physical form careening everywhere from the gigaton pressure. There weren’t even chunks of flesh or shards of bone left behind by the shredded corpse. Yaraslaf died instantly, with not even a chance to beg for a fight to the death, and his inglorious, unceremonious, almost anticlimactic end was accentuated by the screams of horror, cries of shock, and murmuring among the surviving Russian soldiers.
“The Grand Duke is dead!”
“Did she just kill the admiral?”
“I’m not sure if we stand a chance.”
Elsa’s eyes shone as she gathered herself, slowly rising back up as sweat dripped down her face and she panted quietly. An astounded Mattias simply stared at her, gobsmacked, and she nodded. “Tend to Hilde and the other wounded, and gather the dead,” she said quietly. “I’m going to offer our Russian foes the chance to evacuate this island and retreat immediately.” She looked outwards at sea. Muspelheim had sunken Charybdis too, and was making quick work of Scylla. “The Baltic Fleet has been bested too, thanks to your and Hilde’s strategy of a pincer attack.” Mattias nodded, still in awe of Elsa as an uncertain cry of victory rose among the Arendellians. It grew more confident as the realization of victory slowly dawned on them, and they cheered Elsa’s name, many of the soldiers crying in relief and embracing each other as their hearts soared and broke alike.
“ELSA! ELSA! ELSA! ELSA! ELSA!”
It was almost like being back at the Battle of Odinland, during her first war with Russia. Elsa closed her eyes, allowing the remnants of Arendelle’s decimated army to celebrate Anna’s expression of the kingdom’s power and resistance – the Snow Queen herself. “Anna, you were right. In times of peace, I shouldn’t be a weapon of war. But whenever war finds you, I want to answer its unwelcome presence on your behalf,” she murmured softly to herself.
“Just for you, I’ll be a weapon.”
Yaraslaf’s polearm lay on the bloody ground of the Arendellian islet, forgotten and abandoned.
“The Baltic Fleet has been defeated by General Mattias of Arendelle,” reported a Russian agent standing before Katina Romanov. “More accurately, they fought to a standstill, before the Snow Queen’s intervention overwhelmed Yaraslaf. In his weakened state after fighting Hilde Von Altheim and Destin Mattias, he wasn’t in a position to resist Elsa’s full attack.”
He continued his report after several moments of silence from Katina, who was freshly garbed in an intimidating military uniform. The princess stood by a window overlooking the square below the Winter Palace and nodded. “The good news is that Yaraslaf took down effectively the entire Arendellian army with him. We’ve suffered heavy casualties as well, including the decimation of the Baltic Fleet, but it seems that Arendelle doesn’t have much of a standing army anymore. Their survivors amount to little more than several companies of men.”
The agent looked up from his report, bowing and retreating when he noticed Katina waving a dismissive hand. “Yes,” she murmured to herself. “No doubt Yaraslaf is a great loss, and I mourn him. But with the Arendellians losing most of their manpower in a single battle, they’re in much more dire straits… even without my Baltic Fleet to bombard Arenfjord.”
She turned away from the window, cold eyes glinting. “Arendelle is weakened and in no shape to face two more of my Grand Dukes. Northuldra is the next chokepoint I must take. The spirits and the tribe are too much of a threat, and will eventually come to Arendelle’s aid. I also know that the Ottomans are on their way to interfere with my plans. Nykras will have to take the forest and establish a southern route towards Arendelle.”
She was walking across the lavish Nicholas Hall when she heard the ruffle of wings, and she instantly knew who it was. “What is it, Sora?” asked Katina. She heard shuffling, and curiosity piqued, turned around, her eyes falling on the angel, who was kneeling. “What is this? Do you have some kind of request?”
“There’s an old story that Lucifer was cast down from heaven because he refused to bend the knee to Adam, the first human,” said Sora. “Now I come to you, on bended knee, my child, to beg you to halt hostilities with Arendelle.”
She raised her head to look at Katina. “Yaraslaf is dead. You still have the advantage, but there’s no guarantee whatsoever that Nykras – or I – will overcome Anna’s defences. And if I fall myself… ”
Her voice cracked. “Who’ll be here to protect you?”
Katina glared down at her in fury. “You wouldn’t dare contemplate defeat!”
“My most important priority isn’t just one war, but the preservation of the Romanov family. That means you, darling child.” Sora gritted her teeth. “I’m reluctant to prosecute this war already, but now that Arendelle is resisting with all it has, I’m even more worried that you’ll find yourself without your Grand Dukes, without even your guardian. Please… just come back to me and let’s be like we were when you were a child. When all I had to worry about was you, and all you wanted to do was look after the Russian people. We can still have that. Together.”
For a moment, the little girl in Katina’s eyes seemed to reach out for Sora. But then… “I do want to protect Russia, to take care of all my citizens,” replied the princess, fuming. “But it’s not just that. If I lose to Anna, Lord Yixin will force me to pay a price. My life is already up for grabs, as far as Peony Sinclair has intimated. Yixin will definitely give my spot in the Exalted to Anna, I just know it. He’s had his eye on the Arendellian royals since Agnarr and Iduna were on the throne!”
“So what if you lose your place in his little club?” cried Sora. “Do you know how petty you sound? And why not let him set you free, if your place with him has become a burden or danger?” The guardian angel slowly stood up. “He might see himself as elevating Arendelle into a world power, but Arendelle’s growing strength will also help his own empire recover from years of decline. He wants his realm to have a central place in the world order – he’s the puppet master of the Middle Kingdom, after all.” Sora pursed her lips. “I know the Exalted are like a government above all governments, but if you cut yourself loose early, Russia can still be strong, even if Arendelle replaces us – “
“No!” shrieked Katina. “I will not have that upstart queen usurping me! Russia’s place in the Exalted will never be replaced by a tiny kingdom like Arendelle.” She pointed a finger at Sora. “I won’t lose to Anna. I’ve planned the annexation of Scandinavia for too long to give up. This war is ours to lose.”
Sora wanted to cry in frustration, for now, she bowed her head.
THE BALTIC FLEET HAS BEEN DEFEATED, BUT ARENDELLE’S FORCES HAVE BEEN DECIMATED.
THE BATTLE OF ARENFJORD HAS CONCLUDED…
BUT THE WAR CONTINUES.