Featured image art “Elsa and Sora” by Arute (@ast05water)
Warning: Graphic depictions
Clad in an intimidating, all-black military uniform that accentuated her figure, Katina Romanov, princess of Russia, stepped onto Arendellian soil, from the lowered plank of Reaver, the royal Russian flagship. Her heeled boots clacked across the burning wood of Arendelle’s docks as she made her way to the ruined plaza. All around her, Arendellian landmarks were burning. Even the castle in the distance was heavily damaged.
The sky was burning red, having overcome the residual blue hues of Elsa’s magic.
Katina grinned. “Just like Purgatory,” she whispered, flicking her pink and brown, braided ponytail.
She’d waited so many years for this, ever since her father had been humiliated by Elsa and Colisa. Years of planning and gathering the Grand Dukes. More years of amassing her forces and preparing her strategy. Arendelle had fought well, and Russia had suffered immense losses as well. But now she stood on the cusp of victory, finally able to complete her promise of making Russia overlord of all Eurasia – including Europe.
And it was so worth it.
Now, all that was left was to find her loyal angel Sora, confirm the Snow Queen’s defeat, and then place Anna under house arrest. Once Elsa was beaten, there was no way any of Arendelle’s remnant forces – even the Ottoman army of that damned Tileke – would bother resisting the inevitable. Indeed, Katina ground her teeth at the thought of Tileke. Anna deserved a dignified house arrest, and she’d be treated with respect throughout the negotiations. But Tileke? She’d be thrown to Katina’s dogs back in Saint Petersburg. That was the right punishment for someone like her – a champion of a hated enemy, who’d killed so many Russians and was aiding Arendelle.
“Speak of the devil,” proclaimed Katina, as she heard the flapping of large feathered wings. The flames around Sora flared as the angel slowly descended on Katina, holding a limp Elsa in bridal style. The Snow Queen’s eyes were closed, her arms and legs limply dangling toward the ground. Her hair was messy, flowing down. In a strange sense, both women looked incredibly beautiful.
“You wanted Elsa’s head? I went one better, my princess,” said Sora grimly, boots landing before Katina. She knelt down and placed the Snow Queen, apparently unconscious, on the ground. “Here’s her whole carcass.”
“My good and faithful servant,” snarled Katina, feeling a rush of pure adrenaline as she saw the defeated Fifth Spirit. None of Arendelle’s enemies had ever seen Elsa like this – helpless, completely at their mercy, and so vulnerable. “You’ve done extremely well! Thanks to you, our victory here is certain and complete. All that’s left is to negotiate with Anna and reconfigure Arendelle as our new base for invading the rest of Europe.”
She smiled darkly. “It’s such a pity – a true shame – that we had to lose Nykras and Yaraslaf. Weak as they were compared to you, they were true warriors that served Russia with a one-minded determination. But Team Romanov endures through me and you, Sora.” She put a hand on Sora’s shoulder, her boot avoiding Elsa’s prone body. “Just a bit longer,” she told the angel softly, staring into Sora’s emerald eyes. “Without Elsa to oppose you, the whole Continent is a sitting duck for us. It won’t be long before Russia will be secure for generations, and I’ll no longer chase after shadows of vengeance and ghosts of past humiliations.” For the first time, the princess smiled, squeezing Sora’s shoulder. “I’ll come back to you, and we can be as happy as we were years ago, free from fear of foreign forces.”
Sora nodded wordlessly.
“Now, let’s see what to do with this prize,” declared Katina, peering down at Elsa and turning her limp form over with a booted foot. She looked burned, battered, and bruised, and Katina was about to grab her scruff and interrogate her personally, when Sora’s voice broke out, and it was sober and sad.
“Katina, you didn’t wage this war for Russia’s interests. You’re not acting on behalf of our empire. Instead, you’re drunk on pride and power. You’ve thrown away much of your army and two of your Grand Dukes in the name of annexing a peaceful kingdom that, while not perfect, never provoked you. You claim to have planned this conflict in a foolproof way – yet after so many losses, all you have left is me, no?”
Katina barked in disbelief, forgetting Elsa momentarily. “What the hell are you talking about? What’s with the sharp and insolent tongue?”
She scornfully looked up at Sora, but then she heard the spitting of flame from the angel’s sword.
Her eyes widened in pure stupefaction as Sora raised her sword, which had ignited in holy fire.
“Katina Romanov, you won’t be winning this day,” cried Sora, her voice rising, “for you’re open and exposed before me!”
Katina felt her jacket buttons burst and her chest being cut and singed with angelic fire as she fell back to the ground, and Elsa correspondingly rose, unmistakably battered, but still far from dead. Groaning and stretching, Elsa took her place by Sora’s side, squeezing the angel’s arm gratefully. Meanwhile, Katina gasped as she felt a sharp but non-fatal wound opening from her right shoulder to her left hip. “What… what is the meaning of this?!” shrieked Katina, as her buttocks landed on the ground painfully. She looked up at Elsa, and then at Sora in complete disorientation. She’d had an inkling that Sora disagreed with many of her methods, but never had the angel so openly rebelled against her to the point of even hurting her, albeit mildly. “What’s going on?!”
“Zhou Yu attacks Huang Gai.” Anna, Tileke, Michael, and Alan emerged from the rubble behind Elsa and Sora. Anna stepped forward, aqua eyes glinting. “That was the strategy that Lord Yixin proposed to us to draw you into a vulnerable position. For my sister and your guardian to have at each other, Elsa on the losing end, until you came here to claim victory. And here you are, taken in by the ruse that Elsa and Sora pulled, dropping your guard just enough for Sora to get close to you and be incapacitated.”
“What?” screamed Alan and Michael, who upon realizing why Anna had been so tense about Elsa’s and Sora’s brawl earlier, instantly both harboured mixed feelings about the strategy proposed by Lord Yixin. Anna, Elsa, and Sora had played their roles expertly, and that felt unsettling… even if it had indeed led to a checkmate by Anna’s forces.
“Lord Yixin? All this…” whispered Katina in equal stupefaction, “all this was just a show? Explain yourself, Sora!”
Sora’s expression was sombre as she sheathed her sword. “There’s not much to explain, Your Highness. I fought the Fifth Spirit and didn’t hold back one jot. I hurt Elsa, even though I didn’t want to, so that you’d believe me, so you’d get close to me, your guard down. It’s time to wake up, my love. I’m not going to fight this war that will only lead to our and Arendelle’s destruction. I’m going to save you from yourself.” She stepped closer to Katina. “Please. Let’s go home, you and me, and make peace with Arendelle,” she begged.
Katina rose in disbelief, snarling as she drew her sabre. “Sora,” she hissed, her low growl heightening into an enraged shriek. “How could you betray me like this?”
“Even Anna was in on this trick.” Alan felt his heart roiling in turmoil. “This is why you told us to just watch?”
“No more, Alan,” said Anna, eyes glinting. “No more merely watching.” She glared at Katina. “She’s all yours now, Alan. Tileke!” she barked suddenly. Confiscate the princess’s flagship!”
Alan and Tileke’s expressions changed from faces of shock and hesitation to that of enthusiasm. “Now we’re talking!” cried Tileke, as she dashed past Katina, drawing her scimitar and running at the plank of the docked ship. There were cries of fear from the Russian soldiers as Tileke launched herself into the air and landed on the deck. Meanwhile, Alan placed himself in front of Katina and drew his own blade, rushing the Russian princess and landing several blows against her raised sabre. Bleeding and weakened by Sora’s blow, Katina returned his attack with an angry riposte, checking his sword swing and launching a vicious elbow against his face. Alan felt the crushing pain, responded with an angry headbutt that struck Katina’s nose, crushing the soft cartilage within. Ignoring the warm blood streaming past her lips, Katina swung an upward elbow and struck his chin, and he reeled back, stunned. She roared and slashed at his midsection, prompting him to leap back, skidding on the ground. He ran back at her, spinning and clanging his blade against Katina’s sabre, but just as she readied her counterattack, he aimed his hand at her, and to her shock, a blast of lightning-fast ice formed before his palm and hit Katina point-blank. She staggered back, her furious eyes betraying her surprise. Elsa and Anna also gasped in shock.
“Alan!” cried Elsa, “you possess ice magic too?”
“I never wanted to use it so often. But for Katina… I’ve been waiting for this day a long time, ever since we first met her in Saint Petersburg!” cried Alan, piling blow after blow on Katina. He felt a surge of exhilaration as he finally revealed this secret that he’d been harbouring for years. But mostly, he blamed Katina for making Elsa and Sora come up with their dangerously risky strategy, which had been predicated on hurting Elsa. “You’re not setting one foot inland into our kingdom, Romanov. We have you checkmated,” he shouted at her. He finally got in a decisive blow, knocking Katina off-balance, and as she stumbled back, Alan sent a new icy blast at her, the spiked rime hurling her onto the ground painfully. She scrambled away in panic, fear shining in her eyes for the first time.
Anna stared balefully down at Katina. “Princess Romanov, by my authority as queen, I’m placing you under arrest for the attempted conquests of Arendelle and Northuldra.”
The sun was dipping down the fjord’s horizon, spilling a haunting red hue across the calm waters. It was the colour of Sora’s bright red flames, and the same shade of crimson that bled across the injured Katina’s military uniform. She’d been jointly defeated by Sora’s surprise attack and Alan’s unexpected onslaught.
“I’ve been set up!” cried the princess. Weakened by Alan’s blows, she struggled up, still clutching at the light wound cleaved across her upper body. “You betrayed me,” she shrieked at Sora, eyes wild with psychotic fury. “You tricked me and pointed a sword against me!”
“Don’t vent at her, Katina,” warned Anna, crossing her arms. “It’s me you want.”
But Katina ignored her. Her voice was dripping with venomous hatred as she snapped at her guardian angel, spittle flying from her lips. “I have no need for a useless guardian like you! What you’ve done, how you’ve foiled my plans, is unforgivable. Begone with you!” In the face of such a mighty celestial creature, she, a frail human being, was powerless. But with a single charged, supernatural incantation, she was all-powerful over Sora. She took a deep breath.
“I release you from the service of the Romanov family!”
Sora stared at Katina in shock, before slumping in despair. “You can’t mean that,” she whispered, and Elsa stared at her uneasily. Something was wrong. She’d never seen Sora this… sad.
“I mean it. There’s only one way to go for anyone that betrays me,” snarled Katina sadistically, eyes glinting in her unleashed cruelty. “Down, down, down! Back to hell with you. All the way to where you belong!”
The fallen angel glanced at Elsa, and Elsa’s eyes widened as she felt the angel suddenly grab her roughly. “Out of the way!” cried Sora, as she shoved the Snow Queen with superhuman strength, hurling her back several feet.
“Ow! What was that for?” cried Elsa, skidding along the ground in a crouch, but then she stopped short, eyes widening as something tore into the fabric of the air behind Sora. It stretched open, and from it erupted sinister, horizontal ribbons of fire and the screams of the damned. “Nykras?” whispered Elsa. It looked like a portal. “No – this doesn’t look like his work,” she stammered, staring at the membrane of the portal, which exploded into an all-consuming fire and enveloped a fearful Sora, setting alight her wings and body. With her limbs ensnared and her torso and waist being slowly devoured, Sora let out a sharp scream, and it lengthened into a high-pitched screech – it was the first time Anna and Elsa had ever heard the invincible angel in pain.
The light in Katina’s changed slightly as the burning gate continued to eat away at Sora. No one, not even the tsar, Katina’s father, had told her that the dismissal was going to be this literal. This painful. This brutal.
Sora gazed at Katina despairingly. “What have you done?” she whispered. With no mortal covenant to bind her to this world, and powered by the feverish, deluded will of her master, the hellish gate’s irresistible gravity pulled the angel inward, flames licking at the angel’s limbs and body. This wasn’t the kind of angelic fire that Sora wielded – it was the fire of a much darker place, from which she’d been liberated to watch over and protect a mighty royal lineage. Now, thanks to Katina’s dismissal, the hellish inferno began to eat away at her armour and skin, calling her back into the lake of fire. Sora’s clenched, agonized face told it all, and her shrill cries of agony expressed both emotional and physical suffering as it became clear where this gateway led to.
“This was your big idea, princess?” shouted Elsa, furious. “To condemn Sora – have you any idea what you’ve unleashed on your own guardian?”
“Sora! Oh, God, Sora – ” Anna rounded on an increasingly bewildered Katina. “She came here to save you,” shrieked the Arendellian queen. “Don’t you see?” Tears streamed down her freckled cheeks. “Sora is your truest friend. She only wants to keep you safe!”
“Wait…” Katina’s voice rose. Her expression had changed from one of sadism to flickering uncertainty. Now, it was fear, and before long it had become a face of utter dread.
Sora’s screams rang from the blazing gateway. “Please… I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to go back.”
Oh, it had felt good to shout out that dismissal, but never did Katina imagine that it would literally mean the return of Sora, a fallen angel, back to the pits of hell. “I revoke your dismissal. I revoke your dismissal!” screamed Katina in panic, as Sora shrieked in agony over the roar of hellfire. Her physical form was being incinerated from the earth, and by the time her banishment was complete, she’d be a husk-wisp of her former self, condemned to wander in the wastelands occupied by the one third of angels that rebelled against the throne of heaven.
Sora, barely able to open her eyes from the pain, stared at her terrified ward as she felt herself burning from the cosmic heat of ten suns. “All I wanted… was a second chance. To walk the soil of the Earth, among human beings once more. To redeem myself,” whispered the dying angel, sobbing mournfully. Her attire and flesh had melted away. She reached out with a mutilated arm, with only her hand in recognizable shape. “Katina…”
“Sora,” cried Katina, as the Arendellians around them stared in helpless horror. “Oh, no. No, no, no. I’m so sorry. How can I take this back? Tell me! Tell me!”
Sora looked gruesome, an entire portion of her face now burnt away. With the last ounce of her strength, she glanced one last time at Anna and Elsa. At the stunned Michael and Alan. Michael lifted his hand slightly, unsure of what to do. Sora smiled weakly. “What a joy it’s been…” she declared to Michael, “to be with you and Alan.” She looked at a shaking Elsa, barely able to speak. “Thank you… for sparing her.” She then gazed at a crushed Katina, enjoying one last look at her pride and joy before her eyes melted away. “I’ll… always… watch over you.”
“Sora,” whispered a broken Katina. “What have I done?”
“No, Sora. This isn’t what we planned!” cried Elsa.
“No!” bawled Katina, while Anna and Elsa reached out helplessly, unable to pull Sora back from the all-consuming inferno. “I can’t lose you.”
“Somehow… someday… I’ll find a way back to you. I promise,” the angel whispered with what was left of her lips, before the hellfire incinerated her half-melted face completely. With no more corporeal form, the underworld gate sent her falling into an endless darkness, to where Lucifer’s angels were condemned to. But instead of seeing the horrific countenance of the devil, Sora glimpsed a laughing girl with braided pink hair. The girl took her hand, urging her to come with her, to take care of her. She sighed blissfully as her body was ripped from her divine spark, leaving her disembodied spirit to be tormented in hell until the end of time.
The sky of Arendelle was a clear, beautiful blue, and Sora, guardian angel of the Romanovs for a thousand years, was home at last.
There was a dreadful silence as the portal to hell winked out of existence, leaving a tearful Anna and Elsa to run to where the gate had been. “Sora. SORA!”
There was nothing left.
Tears streaming down her face, Anna looked at the slumped Katina in absolute fury. “How could you? She sacrificed everything for you, and you’ve sent her back down to where we all dread to go!”
Traumatized, Katina sputtered incoherently, staring at her trembling hands. “I was just so angry. I couldn’t put up with how she deceived me. I… I didn’t know that if I released her from her duty to me… that she’d return…”
“You… goddamn fiend!” roared an infuriated Alan, lunging at Katina. Katina instinctively struggled up to defend herself, and she managed to parry several blows from Alan’s sword, but he forced her back, waving his hand and sending a blast of ice directly into her midsection, freezing her on the spot and crushing the air out of her. She felt her ribs break painfully as Alan sent another funnel of winter rime at the princess’s legs, making her slip. She fell to the ground, trying to scramble up as Alan’s sword radiated with magical cold. As Katina winced from the chill, he slashed at her hand, forcing her to release her sabre. She tried to throw a punch at him, but Alan easily evaded her weakened attack and sent a brutal knee into Katina’s midsection, further splintering her ribcage. She barfed up last night’s dinner and fell to the ground on all fours, and for good measure, Alan thrust another hard knee into Katina’s face, cleaning breaking her jaw. His blow’s force sent her spinning almost ridiculously in the air before slamming to the ground, groaning and twitching pathetically. He launched himself on her terrified form, raining fist after fist on her –
“Enough!” cried Anna, running over and pulling Alan off the bloody and bruised princess. “She’s done. Sora’s gone,” she added, her voice breaking. “Arendelle still stands. There’s no route to victory for Russia now.”
Alan slumped, allowing Anna to release him, and threw his sword to the ground, swearing repeatedly. “Damn it. Damn it!”
It didn’t matter anymore. Even laying into Katina felt so empty. There was no triumph here, no parade to be had in the wake of victory.
Michael walked over and stood before the exhausted and heartbroken Katina, unshed tears shining in his eyes. “I think Sora foresaw your insanity, the cruelty with which you repaid her love,” he declared, his calm voice wobbly with anger and grief, “and that I was supposed to hold on to this until it was the right time.” He gritted his teeth, staring down at the bleeding and sniffling Katina in white-hot fury. He reached into his coat pocket and revealed a worn piece of paper, which the Russian leader recognized instantly as a missing page from her childhood scrapbook.
“Oh, God,” she moaned in agonized regret, eyes brimming anew with tears. “No, no, no – this can’t be with you. She gave it to you?”
Michael snarled. “Live with this for the rest of your life,” he cried, throwing the scrapbook page in Katina’s face.
The princess reached out at the descending piece of paper with both hands, unfolding it and letting out another anguished moan. “No,” she wailed, staring at the drawing she’d done on her fifth birthday. Stick figures of herself and Sora, child and angel holding hands and beaming in front of a tree and smiling sun. When they were actually happy. “Sora. My Sora,” she wept, running her fingers over her drawing. Her shoulders slumped in defeat as her world finally came crashing down around her. “I can’t hear your voice, darling. I can’t see your face,” she wept, breaking down completely. “Come back. Please come back. Protect me from my enemies. Stay with me…”
As she descended down the plank of Katina’s flagship, having defeated all the Russian soldiers on board, Tileke glanced at Anna nervously. This wasn’t what she’d expected at all. The queen looked absolutely miserable, forlorn and sullen. It was almost an anti-climax. Despite the fact that Elsa and Sora had averted Arendelle’s destruction and subdued Katina together, it all felt empty.
Anna stood before the prostrate form of Katina, wondering whether she should tell her. “I have one final thing to say, Your Highness,” she said quietly. “I’m formally telling you that I’ve agreed to join the Exalted at Lord Yixin’s request, and that he’s stepping down to make way for me. Even though you’ve led your country to defeat, His Imperial Highness has promised not to pursue you. In his place, I’m going to spare your life, but as the group’s new leader, I’m expelling you from the Exalted.” She sighed inwardly. Kicking Katina out of the Exalted felt nowhere near as good or cathartic as she’d imagined.
Katina nodded listlessly. “I suppose I should have seen this coming. Sora must have struck some bargain with him, and you probably did too. Whatever. I don’t care anymore.”
“Katina.” Anna tenderly knelt down and placed a hand on Katina’s white-knuckled fist. It was quite incredible, but perhaps expected, that after all was said and done, there was something more important to Katina than victory against Arendelle or Exalted status. “I need to repay my debt to Yixin very soon, and you need to return to a life without the Exalted or Sora. That’s going to be hard. That’s the price I’m afraid you must pay for invading us a second time and your great mistake. But when we’ve sorted through our losses and come to terms with our grief… ” Anna smiled sadly. “I hope you’ll let me join you on your journey to find Sora once again.”
Katina began to weep softly, surprised yet again at Anna’s clemency. They gazed at each other. “I’m at your mercy, Queen of Arendelle. Do with me as you will. I trust you.”
Her heart as big as ever, Anna pulled Katina into a gentle hug, before rising and looking at Alan. He returned her distressed gaze compassionately. “Please draft the armistice with General Mattias. I want Katina treated like a foreign dignitary until we repatriate her to Russia,” said Anna.
“Leave it to me,” replied Alan, who’d calmed down slightly. “You’re not demanding unconditional surrender?”
“What’s the point when both of us are so broken? Just a few days ago, I fantasized about throwing Katina into prison to use her as leverage against her government. But I’m as exhausted as she is,” said Anna tiredly, looking at the crying Katina. “Look at us. Do we look jubilant?” She stared at Alan again. “No. An armistice. All we desire is peace. It’s what Sora would want.”
Alan nodded. “Consider it done, Anna.”
Anna neared the tired Elsa, slowly taking her hand and relieved that at the very least, her big sister had survived with relatively light injuries. Only the plaza and docks would require rebuilding. “In the end, Katina did lose. But what she lost was something far more precious than this war, or even her seat on the Exalted. It was her beloved angel,” said the queen to Elsa quietly.
Elsa nodded sadly, before glancing on the ground.
There were still several solitary angel feathers, burned off Sora’s body.
Elsa let go of Anna’s hand, picking a feather up and holding it to her chest. She closed her eyes reverently. She whispered under her breath, her own heart aching.
“Goodbye for now, beautiful angel. And thank you.”
ALL THREE GRAND DUKES HAVE FALLEN.
ANNA STANDS TRIUMPHANT.
THE WAR IS OVER.