“Ashflakes,” by Alanna (@alhuart)
Members of Anna’s inner court:
At the request of the queen, please keep secret the information herein. If you have any objections, please understand that my task is simply to communicate Her Majesty’s wishes.
Since last week, Anna has taken on an additional role and duty which requires your immediate attention. She’s assumed membership among the Exalted, a private society of the most powerful leaders in several nations and empires, from the United States to the Great Qing Empire. Indeed, you know one of these members to be Katina herself, our aggressor in this ongoing and destructive war with Russia. In an attempt to oust Katina from her membership, Anna has negotiated with the Exalted’s leader, Yixin, an arrangement where she will lead the Exalted itself, ensuring Katina’s defeat and ouster. In return, however, we must prepare for a much more intimate presence of the Exalted in our castle halls, with Anna preparing to mobilize the Exalted for whatever mysterious purposes Yixin has.
Yixin’s letter to Anna bestowed on her the title of “Emerald Dragon.” While Anna and myself aren’t entirely sure of the purpose of this title, his letter mentions three others: the Sapphire Phoenix, the Ruby Tiger, and the Gold Deer. Anna and I suspect these to be names allowing members to assume Exalted identities while fulfilling their public functions, much like a Masonic lodge or some occult group.
Please keep the identity of the Emerald Dragon private, for she’ll be intimately involved with those that hold the other three names. Anna’s depending on you.
Elsa gingerly patted her stomach, rubbing her hips, and tentatively stretching her arms as she climbed out of her bed. The bandages had been removed from her midsection, and despite residual soreness, her many stab wounds from Grand Duke Nykras had closed up. Northuldra medicine, the best Arendellian doctors and surgeons, and a touch of healing magic had kept her in the world of the living. The worried words of her friends and allies rang in her eyes. Perhaps their voices had kept her going. She’d been immersed in loving care for the past couple of weeks, after all.
For now, she had more important concerns. No longer bedridden, she hurried to Anna’s study, still aching but able to make strides in her step. She knocked. “Do you want to build a snowman?” she called in a singsong voice.
“It doesn’t have to be a snowman,” came Anna’s melodious reply, completing their private password.
Elsa opened Anna’s door, glimpsing the queen’s tired form at the head of her wide mahogany desk, and hurried over. “Darling,” she called shakily and emotionally, prompting Anna to stir slightly. She’d been taking a nap, exhausted from hours and hours of work. “Hey.”
Anna got up, back slumped and red hair slightly disheveled. She rubbed her eyes, and upon glimpsing Elsa, scrambled from her chair and ran to her, embracing her hurriedly. The queen let out an exultant sigh, physically deflating like a balloon. Elsa felt all the tension from her little sister escaping her small and weary body, and her heart broke at how so much of Anna’s stress had been caused by Elsa’s recent misfortune. “Oh, sweetheart. My dearest,” whispered Elsa repeatedly,
“Be honest with me. I’m going to make sure you’ve actually recovered,” replied Anna, breathing in Elsa’s scent of fresh winter forests and crisp fjord waters. “I’m not letting you out of my sight if you’re trying to play tough. I’m still scared of the prospect of you going up against Sora, although I admit we don’t have much hope if you don’t.”
Elsa drew back, trailing her hand along Anna’s cheek. “Leave the battle with Katina’s guardian angel to me. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. We’re so close to fending off Russia’s last champion. Just a bit longer, Anna. If we can hold out, Katina will have to sign an armistice.”
Anna released Elsa and slowly went to her window behind her desk, staring out at the night sky and the stars. She beckoned Elsa to join her at the window ledge, which was lined with pillows, and Elsa and Anna sat down across each other. Moments like these were some of their favourites: conversing quietly about anything they wanted by the window ledge, in the drawing room on the sofa, or by the fireplace, wrapped in blankets and each other. “I’ve sent out a letter to the inner court,” murmured Anna, staring at Elsa, “telling them that I’ve joined the Exalted.”
Elsa nodded. “I’d sensed that your change in mood had something to do with a great shift how you wanted to govern and fend off our foes,” she replied, eyes shining. “At last, our family is within Yixin’s inner orbit. Something that even I was wary of, despite the respect and even cordial affection between us.”
“His eyes have always been on Arendelle, ever since Grandfather’s era at least. I just decided to answer his call, once and for all.” said Anna quietly. She tilted her head semi-playfully. “You’re not going to reprimand me?”
“You’re the queen. And you’ve got your own ideas of how you’ll direct the Exalted to our advantage. I just want to support you in whatever you do.” Elsa pursed her lips. “Outmanoeuvre Katina.”
Anna nodded, hugging her knees to her chest. “I want her out of the Exalted. In return, I’ll sit with the rest, as Yixin wanted.”
“Deny Sora victory,” said the Snow Queen, rubbing her chin.
“Exactly. That’ll mean you fending her off long enough for Sora and Katina to meet on the battlefield… our kingdom,” said Anna, tapping her knee as she stared absently at Elsa. “Katina will come personally. But I think Sora has a surprise waiting for her princess – Yixin’s told me as much.”
Elsa took a deep breath. “Rebuild and consolidate.”
“Yup,” agreed Anna. “Tileke will help me rebuild our alliances and retrieve Colisa, Mari, and the rest, while Vi will help me reconfigure the administration of this kingdom into one that can move more nimbly.”
The Fifth Spirit drew closer, embracing Anna. “Then that’s that,” she said airily. “All I want is to understand your plans and support you. You must believe in yourself and have faith that your path is the right one.”
“I’m glad I could bounce my strategies off you, love,” said the Emerald Dragon quietly, savouring how tenderly Elsa held her. She felt rejuvenated and encouraged. “Whether it’s the looming battle with Sora and Katina, or your deeper involvement and leadership of the Exalted… I know you’ll have my back. With you by my side, Elsa, Arendelle will never fall and go from strength to strength.” Anna’s eyes flashed in renewed resolve.
“This is only the beginning.”
WITH BATED BREATH, THE KINGDOM AWAITS AN UNPRECEDENTED SHOWDOWN.
THE BATTLE OF ARENDELLE – COMING SOON!