Featured image “Snow Queen and Guardian Angel” by Arute (@ast05water)
“Tell me, child, have you heard of how Huang Gai of Wu endured a heavy beating by Zhou Yu, also of Wu, to fool the Wei warlord Cao Cao into thinking that they despised each other? Once Cao Cao had recruited Huang Gai, Huang Gai and Zhou Yu sabotaged him.
“In the art of war, if one is willing to suffer pain and another is willing to inflict it, such mutual connivance can fool even the most powerful of leaders.” – Yixin, to Anna
It was a crisp and fresh spring morning as Anna, Elsa, Tileke, Alan, and Michael awaited the final invasion force of the Russians, which consisted of a single, gentle individual. Gulls squawked above the harbour, waves lapping gently at the wood.
Soon after Sora had crushed Elsa and forced Anna to surrender, Katina herself would arrive on her flagship, all set to place her Russian governor or puppet-ruler before the throne of Arendelle. To bring the kingdom to heel, to rule it from behind the scenes, dictating how Anna would shape domestic and foreign policy… all on behalf of the Romanovs.
Once Arendelle was subjugated, the entire Scandinavian peninsula would serve as the Russian launching pad into Western Europe. At last, all Eurasia would be united under the banner of Katina, avenging centuries of repeated incursions and sackings of Russia at the hands of European powers.
That plan, of course, was one that Anna planned to foil. She stood in the evacuated village square of her small kingdom, flanked by Elsa and Tileke. “This will be simple,” she said quietly. “Russia no longer has a feasible invasion force thanks to the destruction of their Baltic Fleet and Grand Duke Nykras’ death. But their guardian angel, Sora, could overwhelm entire armies.” Her aqua eyes shone. The memory of recent events was roiling inside her.
She was now an Exalted member. No, not just a member, but its leader.
All that was left was to deliver the crushing news to Katina, who took extreme pride in her Exalted membership. That would have to wait, as the pleasant morning sky flared with a sudden, majestic glow of orange and bright red. Standing beside Anna, Elsa narrowed her eyes and put a hand on Anna’s shoulder as a miniature, shrieking fireball shot towards the plaza, burning the very air around it as it hurtled at the Arendellians. Their surroundings shook as even stone and wood and metal quailed before an approaching wrathful angel. Michael, Alan, Tileke, and Anna raised their hands, momentarily shutting their eyes tightly, as a vacuum of scorching heat blew all around, sweeping across the buildings by the ports and setting parts of the homes and shops alight. The entire ground suddenly felt hotter, with Anna feeling the searing air surging right through her wheat stalk patterned, heeled boots. She clutched at Elsa, who put an arm around her little sister as she glared at the inferno burning before them. Only after many long seconds did the sizzling fire dissipate, circling around the winged humanoid and shooting back up in the air before dispersing into the sky.
With a mighty whoosh, the crouched form before them rose, revealing the beautiful Sora with a sombre, somewhat sorrowful expression on her face. She looked around at the emptied village square, and at the burning buildings.
“Thank you for evacuating the vicinity, Queen Anna,” said the angel quietly, unfurling her majestic, radiant wings. She had dispensed with her civilian disguise, and was now clad in her signature armour, with shoulder pauldrons, knee-high boots, and a thin longsword at her side. Sora looked just like one of those angels painted on medieval manuscripts.
“This will be ideal for a fair battle. Let the fate of Arendelle be decided in this cozy village plaza by the fjord.”
“Shouldn’t I be moving against her, boss?” Tileke muttered to Anna, glaring at Sora. “Ya told me to stand my Mansure Army down, but I still wanna take a crack at her.”
Alan nodded feverishly. “I’ll be happy to subdue Sora. With Katina? I want to do much, much worse.”
“No,” said Anna sternly to her new trusted ally. “You’re here because I trust you and Alan with holding off any remnant Russian forces. Wait until Katina arrives.” She then directed her attention to Sora. “You’re Katina’s champion. Let me present mine.” With great reluctance, she stepped aside for Elsa, who had only recovered recently from the injuries sustained at the Battle of Northuldra – against Sora’s junior, Nykras the lich.
The Snow Queen grimly walked up to Sora, planting her feet in front of the angel as they glared at each other. The auras from both women were overwhelming in their elemental might, and Anna felt a tingle in her spine as they stared each other down.
“I hate that we must confront each other like this,” offered Elsa, forehead so close to Sora’s that they might have touched. Snow Queen and guardian angel felt each other’s calm breathing – Sora’s of Edenic warmth and cosmic fire, Elsa’s of glacial waters and bottomless Ahtohallan magic.
Sora stared deep into Elsa’s eyes. “I hate what this war is making us do,” she replied. “You know well how much I hated this conflict from the outset.”
“I want nothing more than to take your hand right now and walk away from this. But since Katina has forced us here…” Elsa pursed her lips. “You know the plan, right?” she muttered.
Sora suddenly gave a small smile that no one else could see. “It might work. But sadly, you’ll have to play along.”
Elsa nodded, and at that subtle cue, Sora suddenly exploded in a pillar of flames, hurling a singed Elsa back. Her body nearly crashed into a horrified Anna but instead smashed into an empty shop, splintering the painted wood and shards of tinkling glass audible. Alan roared in rage, but Anna raised her clenched fist, gritting her teeth. “You can’t fight her. I can’t fight her. Only Elsa… we must have faith.”
Stunned at the awesome power that was manifesting before them, Tileke and Michael scrambled for shelter as Sora drew her sword, the pillar of fire around her twisting and thinning into two ribbon-like, dancing threads of flame. Like krill being sucked into a whale’s mouth, the threads were drawn irresistibly into the uppermost tip of Sora’s sword, igniting the blade and enveloping it in sacred fire. A spurt of white-hot flames erupted from the golden guard. This was no normal weapon as Sora raised her apocalyptic sword and casually waved it at the Arendellians, creating an intense firestorm that ripped layers of tiles, bricks, and wood off the plaza’s structures, leaving many bare and with no roof. Horrified at how quickly the plaza was being ravaged, Anna ran for it, and Michael and Alan dived for cover as the entire square was set alight. They left Sora standing by herself among the flames that also began to creep along the wooden planks of the dockside. It would only be a matter of time before the angel’s uncontrollable power consumed the entire harbour.
Sora sighed, despising how she’d been forced to let loose on the Arendellians. She tightened her grip on her sword.
“Let’s get this over with.”
None among Team Arendelle could have been prepared for Sora’s might. She stepped forward, sword still flaming, and shot with supersonic speed at the dazed Elsa, who’d just emerged from the ruins of the shop she’d crashed into. Sora swung her longsword in a horizontal arc, flames spitting and lashing out at the Snow Queen. Elsa barely managed to weave back and dodge the blade, but the flames singed her pristine dress, nearly setting her alight. She fought back with a deadly circle of ice pikes that erupted from the ground, aiming them to all thrust right into Sora’s thighs, except that Sora swung her sword downward, a funnel of all-consuming fire melting all the stalagmites. As they fell to the ground as droplets in real time, Sora dashed forward, grabbing Elsa by the hand and trying to pull her close. “Elsa!” screamed Anna. Elsa reacted with an instant, point-blank blast of polar ice in Sora’s face. Sora staggered back, jaw partially frozen, as Elsa went on the offensive and sent an angry uppercut in Sora’s direction, summoning a huge, fist-shaped pillar to burst from the destroyed ground, hurling debris and stone everywhere, to strike Sora in the chin.
Stunned, her jaw dislocated, Sora hurtled into the sky, body spinning, and Elsa gave chase. In an elegant flurry of hands, she shot out dozens of circular discs of ice that stopped in mid-air, held in place by Elsa’s own mind. She jumped up onto one disc, and then hopped from platform to platform as she headed up higher and higher, only to see Sora recover, flapping her wings and snarling. Green eyes glinting, Sora hurtled back down as Elsa was racing up her discs of ice, raising her flaming weapon and making an arcing slash at Elsa again. The blast of fire melted the discs instantly, sending Elsa falling from dozens of feet up in the air. Elsa quickly conjured a winding slide to the ground, but before she could fall onto its curved surface and retreat, Sora sent another blast of seraphic fire at the Fifth Spirit. Elsa was caught off-guard and unprepared.
It was a direct hit, and the Fifth Spirit was enveloped in flames and smoke.
Following through, Katina’s protector flew directly for her, grabbing the stunned Elsa’s waist and hurtling higher, higher, higher with her. Elsa was limp as Sora lifted her helpless body, holding her by the waist while she raised her sword. The heavens erupted in flame, melting away all traces of frost and snow…
Sora stared at Elsa, freezing for a moment as she admired her ethereal beauty. She looked queenly yet vulnerable, especially with her eyes closed and her face and body lightly singed by celestial fire.
“I’m so sorry,” whispered Sora, biting her lip.
Elsa’s iridescent eyes fluttered open, and she instantly smiled as they fell on Sora. She gazed at the torn and uncertain angel compassionately. She raised her hand and stroked Sora’s cheek weakly.
“Let’s fight on,” she encouraged, “or she won’t fall for it when she comes.”
“Elsa,” objected Sora, “I’m getting cold feet about this idea. Nothing is worth hurting you.”
Elsa shook her head. “This is the only way to make Katina drop her guard.” She pointed at Sora’s sword. “You can never hurt me where it counts – the heart. Because I already know you have a heart of gold. So have at it. This must be convincing if it’s to have a chance.”
Sora growled in despairing frustration and flung Elsa away, sending her hurtling directly at Arendelle Castle. “No!” screamed Anna, as she watched below in horror at her own sister, the kingdom’s only hope, shooting down, her body crashing against the snowflake-shaped spires of the palace. The spire groaned, slowly toppling and falling head-first into the palace courtyard with a mighty BOOM.
“Elsa!” screamed Alan, as he emerged from the rubble with Michael. They couldn’t hear anything from Sora and Elsa, as high up as they were. “What are we doing?” he cried to Anna. “We can’t just stand by and watch! We need to take action!”
“Yeah, what’s going on, boss?” groaned Tileke, her hands held up to protect her head. “Wouldn’t I be more use to ya if ya let me fight Sora?”
“My niece,” questioned Michael in bewilderment. “What on earth do you have in mind?”
“Please trust me. Wait just a bit longer. Until Katina arrives,” replied a highly distressed Anna, resisting every urge in her bones to run to Elsa. As much as she hated this – as hard as it seemed to believe –
“Everything is going according to plan.”
Heart pounding and blood pumping, Anna stared at Sora, who was hovering in the sky and observing Elsa’s rising form. Elsa had enveloped herself in a mighty blizzard, whose howling maelstrom shrieked throughout Arenfjord. The sky began to darken with storm clouds, and the glimmering crystalline symbols of the elements began to appear throughout the sky. The cloud’s canvas was now being painted with violent, tumultuous colours: blood crimson and inflamed red, but also stormy hues of blue and the glow of the elemental symbols. Earth, wind, water, and fire.
Elsa flew at Sora, shards of ice emerging from the turbulent cloud around her, pelting the angel with sharp, jagged hoarfrost. Sora was forced back, the hailstorm of shards cutting painfully into her divine wings, drawing streams of blood. Gritting her teeth, Sora tried to incinerate them with another swing of her sword, but she couldn’t keep up as the elemental symbols discharged their energy, enveloping Sora in a mighty blast of pure energy that sent her plummeting towards the castle. She fell through the roof, crashing through every single level through the palace and leaving an angel-shaped hole on each floor. Elsa plummeted from the sky, pursuing Sora with her gossamer skirt trailing behind her. But when she descended through the ruined roof onto Sora’s body, the angel managed to struggle up and – to Elsa’s utter shock – raise two fingers in her direction.
“Twenty-fourth Holy Incantation: Geysers of Gehenna!” cried Sora, as the ground yawned open beneath her, and a succession of fiery geysers exploded from below, ripping apart Arendelle Castle’s foundations, and their volcanic force slammed cleanly into Elsa, sending her battered body back up crashing against the floors and back into the sky above the palace. She was barely conscious when Sora shot back up, wings boosting her velocity, and sent a deadly hook into her midsection, nearly reopening her healed wounds. Elsa gasped, winded, as Sora sent another flurry of divine fists into her chest and midsection, conspicuously avoiding her head. Elsa felt her world going briefly black, and her last sight was of Sora gritting her teeth and raising her sword, its double-edged blade exploding into flames once more.
“Stay down – please!” cried Sora, pelting Elsa with a torrent of devouring fire. Elsa’s ice shards shattered as she hurtled helplessly into the sky, with the angel catching her and hugging her close.
“Forgive me, Fifth Spirit,” she whispered, clutching the Snow Queen to her and stroking her wispy hair in frantic apology.
“Nothing… to forgive… loving, noble angel,” murmured Elsa, fearless and calm as she rested her head on Sora’s bosom.
A great explosion rocked the bleeding sky just as a black, forty-gun warship sailed into Arendelle Harbour. On that ship’s sails were the heraldic arms of the Romanov family.
Katina herself, finally, had arrived in Arendelle.
CAN ELSA AND SORA PULL OFF WHAT THEY’VE PLANNED WITH ANNA?
FIRST OF A SPECIAL, TWO-PART FINALE!