Featured image “All we survey,” by PURY (@puryartist)
BREAKING: Arendelle and Russia square up for final confrontation
By Jorgensen, Senior Staff Writer for The Arendelle Guardian
ARENDELLE – With the defeat of Nykras by a combined force of Northuldra and Arendellians, including the former queen-turned-Snow Queen Elsa, the final battle between Anna and Katina approaches. This confrontation will decide whether Arendelle and the rest of Scandinavia becomes a province of Russia, greatly strengthening Russia’s claim to the whole of Europe, or if Arendelle, a much smaller power, repulses Russia a second time, heralding an era of decline for the Romanov empire.
Nykras was Russia’s second Grand Duke. He overlaid his nether world onto Northuldra, inflicting heavy losses on the tribespeople. He also sealed away the three spirits of Bruni, Gale, and the Earth Giants, before nearly succeeding in traversing the Dark Sea to Ahtohallan. Honeymaren, Amira, Elsa, and the Nokk were eventually able to slay Nykras. But Elsa and Yelena were severely injured, and Arendelle is on high alert with its former queen convalescing with her successor by her bedside.
Foiled from establishing a base in Northuldra for any future land army, Katina’s position looks increasingly tenuous. Nevertheless, she plans to unleash her final and most powerful Grand Duke, the Romanovs’ guardian angel Sora, against Arendelle. Ottoman leader Tileke’s reinforcements have bought Arendelle precious time, but Elsa’s weakened condition could not have come at a worse juncture.
It hasn’t been easy for Her Majesty, either. The queen of Arendelle has suffered multiple personal losses that have weighed heavily on her, especially Elsa’s recent misfortune. She has also disclosed to her inner court that there’s something much larger and more sinister behind the war. What this force or purpose specifically is, Anna hasn’t told the press or the public.
While her allies like Elsa, Kristoff, and Countess Vi may be aware of what’s happening behind the scenes, we can only speculate as to how much deeper the queen’s challenges are about to get.
The Forbidden City, the Celestial Empire
In millennia past, Chinese emperors saw a comet appearing across the sky as omens of disaster. But the present regent, Yixin, knew better. This comet was something, someone else – Katina’s most senior lieutenant, Sora.
He glided to the great hall where he usually received guests, his fan waving at his face lightly as he observed the angel unfurling her wings before him and getting up from one knee. “Your Imperial Highness,” greeted Sora quietly.
“Guardian angel of Katina Romanov,” acknowledged Yixin. Impeccably dressed in her equestrian outfit, the golden-haired Peony Sinclair, ace agent of the Exalted, stood behind the ruler of China in the shadows, observing the visitor quietly.
“I always liked you, young one. You’ve served our fellow Exalted member well, caring for Russia’s royals for centuries,” said Yixin, looking inscrutably at Sora, who as imperial Chinese protocol dictated, had to stand ten feet away from the Dragon Throne. “You’re humble, respectful, and kind-hearted. You may have as much time from me as you wish. Now state your purpose of business. It’s not every day that the Forbidden City receives Russia’s Grand Dukes.”
“I come of my own volition to you, Your Imperial Highness. No one knows I’m here,” replied Sora. “You’ve made it clear that if Katina loses her war with Anna, she won’t just lose her membership of the Exalted, but also her life. Peony hinted it as much to her before,” she added.
“Lordship, I wish for you to spare Katina. So many Russians and Arendellians have been lost to both sides. There’s no meaning to killing one more person when it’s all over – even if she’s a Romanov.”
“You speak as if the war’s already decided,” sniffed Yixin. “Your mistress has lost two of her three Grand Dukes, but you, the most senior, remain. Arendelle is exhausted and Anna is at breaking point. And most critically, Elsa’s recovery won’t be complete by the time Katina sends you to Arendelle. You still have plenty of advantages.”
“It’s clear to anyone with eyes,” objected Sora, shaking her head. “You’re paving the way for Anna’s victory, although Katina can’t or won’t acknowledge it. Membership of the Exalted was always a dream come true for her.”
Peony stepped forward. “Yours is a mighty accusation, Sora. What evidence do you have to insinuate that His Lordship has some grand conspiracy in mind?” She stopped as Yixin raised his free hand, still keeping his fan to his mouth.
“How flattering, Sora, that you see me as capable of such cunning machinations,” said Yixin, his voice betraying pleasure. “Continue, little angel.”
Sora stepped forward. “A great war with Russia should be an existential crisis for Arendelle. You paid close attention to the crises that Anna had to handle. You sent Peony to advise Anna and to help her allies. You personally visited Arendelle to tell Anna to destroy Viola Mundilfari after Hilde’s razing of a tiny place like the Southern Isles. But now you treat this war that Arendelle must fight like some betting game? It doesn’t add up. And I think back to years ago, when Katina was easing into her role as our princess. You tried to get Elsa to become a member of the Exalted. You failed. You tried to coerce a substitute, Countess Vi, into joining. You failed again. But you’ve never given up; you’ve always wanted an Arendellian member.” Sora’s eyes shone. “And now, you have a potential one in Anna. If I were being honest, I’d say you have no use for Katina anymore, do you?”
Peony looked nervously at Yixin. “My Lord, you’re not obliged to say anything if the time isn’t right!”
“No, no, my little flower!” cackled Yixin. “Whether it’s the angel’s advanced wisdom, or some magic that she can use to read my mind, or simply because she’s smarter… ” He rose from his throne. “It matters not. But you’re right, celestial child.”
He walked over and circled Sora quietly, like a hungry predator. “Everything changed when Elsa was born. Katina knows this as much as any other world ruler. For Arendelle to one day have membership among the Exalted is… inevitable.”
“What do you want Anna for?” asked Sora.
Yixin paused. “Ah, now this is where you must give me something if I’m going to reveal more than what you’ve already deduced, little Sora. What will you do about Katina, if I agree to sparing her life and allowing her to walk away from her invasion of Arendelle? If I let her off despite the natural punishment that must come after defeat?”
Sora took a deep breath. “I’m willing to stop Katina with my own hands,” she declared, “but in my own way. So I’ll continue to do my duty, and if she asks me to launch a final assault on Arendelle, I’ll have to play the game. But I’ll find a way to convince her to stop this madness so that she can escape the humiliation of any defeat… and your imminent punishment.” Sora bit her lip. “Even if it means ultimately hurting her.”
“A big commitment. Back it up with a big promise,” snapped Peony, in a rare show of authority.
Sora looked at Yixin. “Please. I came on bended knee to you.”
Yixin shrugged and looked away. He didn’t contradict Peony, signalling that he agreed with her demand.
Gritting her teeth, Sora sighed and lowered herself to the ground. But she did more. As she knelt, she pressed her palms on the ground, lifted her head, and smashed her forehead on the hard floor three times. Bang, bang, bang. Peony gasped at the loud thumping and Yixin grinned in glee. “Good. Good!” exclaimed the prince regent, his delighted expression hidden by his open fan.
“You know about this ritual?” asked a shocked Peony, as Sora raised her head. For any mortal, such an act of self-harm would have meant a bruised and bleeding forehead. Instead, Sora had instead left three deep dents on the floor.
Yixin laughed, baring his shark-like teeth at Sora. “Deal, then. Perhaps you and Katina may still have a place in my plans, even if Katina might no longer sit among the Exalted,” he said airily, gliding to Sora and helping her up from the floor. The Exalted leader had accepted her offer and was holding her to her promise. “Then I leave the matter of handling her exit from this war – which she started – to you. It’s no longer my concern and I won’t interfere.”
Sora nodded sadly. “Thank you, prince regent.”
Yixin waved his fan. “You spoke of Anna’s destiny. As a token of trust, let me show you.” He allowed Sora to see his grin, two rows of vicious teeth bared. His free hand revealed a crinkled letter, triumphantly handing it to the angel. Sora took it, her beautiful eyes running over the words. Her jaw quickly dropped in disbelief as she glimpsed the crocus coat of arms. The seal of the royal Arendellian family. Then she saw the message.
“Impossible,” she whispered.
“Wrong. This is Anna’s own letter, written personally by her hand.” Yixin walked back and forth, his serpentine eyes pleased. He stopped and gazed at Sora.
“I wish for Anna to not just join the Exalted, but to lead it. For her to build a new, younger council of members, while I step down to guide Anna and the Exalted toward their true purpose!”
NEXT: THE ANGEL’S PACT HAS BEEN SEALED.
BUT WHAT PACT HAS ANNA CONCOCTED WITH YIXIN?