Featured image art “The New Exalted” by Arute (@ast05water)
Welcome to Journals of the Exalted! This is Part I of a four-part series exploring each member of Anna’s new Exalted. Now that she’s accepted leadership of this secret society, she’ll also be responsible for putting it together… before Lord Yixin tasks her with his ultimate objective.
Make sure to follow each member’s story:
Overture: Your Burden
Part I: The Gold Reindeer
Part II: The Ruby Tiger
Part III: The Sapphire Phoenix
Part IV: The Emerald Dragon
It was midnight, but Anna’s private time in the drawing room was just beginning. There were maps, secret messages from her overseas agents, and other secret documents scattered about on her coffee table. There was a full moon out tonight. A single burning candle allowed her to read, with the rest of the room unlit. She was sitting on the couch with her arms over the sofa’s headrest, her legs spread apart boyishly now that no one was looking.
Well, not exactly everyone.
“Hey, prime minister,” said Anna softly, not turning around as two, glowing orbs of undead red burned into the darkness of the room. Those mesmeric, demonic eyes. “Thanks for coming. I needed your advice.”
“You aren’t a Nosferatu, like me,” said Viola Mundilfari, Arendellian noble-turned-something else. The beautiful, chestnut-haired vampire emerged sultrily from the shadows, her elegant purple dress accentuating her curvaceous and buxom body. “Get some sleep.” She meandered languidly to Anna, sliding down behind her as she gently slid her smooth hands on her shoulders. “The night is for us undead,” she whispered, her red lips lightly kissing Anna’s reddening ear.
Anna smiled and reached for Vi with one hand, and Vi obligingly took it. She felt her face flush as the Countess’s rose scent and vampiric charm paralyzed her senses. A supernatural and immortal being, Vi exuded unique pheromones involuntarily, but the combination of her rich aura and darkly intoxicating scent meant that mortals around her couldn’t help but also respond in a partially involuntary way. “I called you here to ask a question.”
“What, Your Majesty?”
“You’re so powerful, like Elsa,” said Anna, her open and emotionally unrestrained personality particularly vulnerable to the arch-vampiress. “Badass. Immortal. You know… the kind of person the Exalted would have preferred to have instead of a small potato like me.” Anna tilted her head away from Vi, slowly and tantalizingly exposing her own jugular. “If the queen dies suddenly, our laws say that the designated successor is the prime minister. Ironic, no? Once we were enemies, and now I sit here before you, my throne one bite away from you…”
“You’re not yourself tonight,” replied Vi quietly, though Anna’s veins looked tempting… so very tempting. “What’s going on, sweetie?”
“What would it… feel like?” moaned Anna, her legs shivering. She felt like undoing her hair. The toes in her boots struggled to quiver.
“For you to turn me?”
“Ecstatic,” whispered Vi, although her voice betrayed uncertainty and even concern. “But your price wouldn’t be eternal life, but death and eternal slavery to me.”
Anna sighed woozily. “That doesn’t sound too awful.”
The vampire stared at Anna’s dazed face, and her loosely shut eyes. “I admit: it would feel magnificent to turn you and make you mine forever. I’ll go one further and admit that in my darker fantasies, the yearning has crossed my mind more than once. But we’re straying dangerously far from playful banter.” She pressed her forehead on Anna’s shoulder in mild frustration. “Enough jokes, my queen. We were once foes, but you’ve become… deeply precious to me. I owe you dearly, and I don’t wish to hurt or betray you.”
She pulled away from Anna, but didn’t let go completely as she kept her hands on her shoulders. Anna slumped, forcing herself to resist Vi’s near-irresistible power. “Sorry, Vi, for tempting you every darn time,” she murmured in self-reproach, her breath heavy and mingling with the vampire’s own.
Vi growled. “It’s infuriating how readily, how willingly you are, to be vulnerable. Naked. Exposed. But I suppose your vulnerability draws many to you,” she replied. “Besides, I suspect you’ve been thinking a lot about life. About death. Our energy matches your ruminations tonight.”
“Yes. I guess that’s why I’m particularly open to your vampirism,” declared Anna, exhaling loudly. “Elsa nearly died at Nykras’ hands, and the Russo-Arendellian War was too much for me to bear. I won’t let Elsa be hurt again, not if I can help it. So…” The queen stared at the coffee table. “If what Lord Yixin offers is Arendellian supremacy and a way to protect my sister and my people forever… the price of leading the Exalted seems a small price to pay. Especially since the last letter from Peony Sinclair indicated that I’d be free to reshape the Exalted in my own image.”
Her expression grew grim. “You’ll never believe how my eyes popped out from my face as I read her message about what the Exalted was founded for. It’s exactly as Katina had outlined. The elixir of life. Eternal life, like yours. I’m still not sure whether to believe it.”
It was one of those letters in which Peony came with a claim so absurd that it felt insane to even believe her. Yet there were her words, recorded in her own hand.
Through the Exalted, you’ll rule the world. And through the world’s resources, you’ll hunt down the elixir of life.
Vi pursed her lips. “Peony, my old lover. Hmph. Well, you know how I feel about the Exalted. Among the three of us – Elsa, myself, and you – you’re the most junior, the most inexperienced. We know Yixin has had his eye on all of us. Playing into hands would seem foolhardy.”
She left Anna’s side and slid onto the couch opposite to the queen, flinging off her high heels and folding her legs on the sofa. Her red eyes stared into Anna’s cerulean irises. “Yet, the Fifth Spirit and I would concede that you’ve achieved much more than we ever did, especially on the world stage. That’s why I’m not fazed by your joining the Exalted.” Vi sighed. “I wish I could be of more help to you, my queen, but I advise you to speak to Elsa. Immortality is a lonely thing, I can assure you – but I’m under the curse of Mephisto, which is an even greater evil than loneliness.” Her luscious lips parted slightly, and Anna gazed at her elegantly shaped fangs.
“If the prize that Yixin and Peony are hunting for is real, then this could change your relationship with the Snow Queen entirely. Whether or not you yourself desire this elixir, you should talk to her first.” Her crimson eyes glimmered. “But I’m grateful you approached me too.”
Anna nodded. “I’ll talk to her about this soon, Countess. But I need to see a few more people first.”
Vi snorted. “Let me guess. Your mountain of a fiancé.”
“Now, now. Don’t be jealous.” Anna fluttered her eyelashes at Vi, but didn’t say another word.
Even though he was the tai-pan of the Princely House – the supreme leader of a global corporation that went toe-to-toe with the East India Company – Kristoff lived pretty much the same way he always had since moving into Arendelle Castle years ago. He also went to bed much earlier than Anna. He was resting in Anna’s room on their magnificent king-sized bed, topless and wearing nothing except for a pair of pajamas. He didn’t bother staying up for Anna. She’d told him that she needed to speak with Vi, so Kristoff played a few rounds of chess with Olaf, went downstairs for some crackers and hot chocolate, then came back up and crawled into bed.
It was three in the morning when Anna quietly opened the door and slid inside. She watched her fiancé snore quietly, his mussed blond hair all over the pillow. She beamed at him, eyes soft. What a man. The real kind of man, worthy of a queen’s devotion. She walked over to their bed and crawled in, running her slender fingers delicately, ticklishly, along his mighty pecs and protective shoulders. He stirred, turning his head and gazing at Anna with groggy eyes. “Hey, babe,” he said, smiling gently. By the spirits, that smile. Anna could watch Kristoff grin all day. “Did you have a good talk with our favourite vampire?”
“Hey, cutie,” whispered Anna apologetically. “Sorry for waking you up. But I have something urgent to discuss with you.”
Kristoff yawned and stretched his muscular arms. Anna wanted to kiss them and tease him, but she took advantage of the ice master’s silence to press on. Kristoff might not always be the best fellow to bounce ideas off of, but he was easily the best listener, second only to Elsa. “I’ll just cut to the chase. Would it be too much to ask if I invited you to join the Exalted?”
Kristoff lowered his arms, his warm brown eyes gazing at Anna’s face in the darkness. If he were honest with himself, he’d never expected to be the managing director of a sprawling company that had dozens of clippers sailing the world, buying up property and land across the seas, borrowing and investing hundreds of thousands of Arendellian kroner in businesses of all kinds, and locked in mortal competition with other tai-pans. At this rate, Arendelle becoming a member country of the Exalted didn’t seem so outlandish. But it still felt weird for him. Kristoff remembered his old days as a sole trader, travelling the expanse of Northern Europe with Sven – it’d been just them for as long as he’d remembered. But now he had hundreds of people in his employ, hungry corporate enemies waiting for him to make a mistake, and a queen to serve. He was doing well, but he never thought of himself as some hotshot magnate.
“Isn’t the Exalted full of world leaders? A political cabal? I’m kind of out of my depth, aren’t I?”
“I wish to make a statement to Lord Yixin that for the first time in its history, the Exalted will have two members from Arendelle.” Anna stared at Kristoff. “And it’s going to be a team. You and me. Together, we’ll steer the organization and represent Arendelle’s – Elsa’s – interests. I need your business savvy and connections if I’m going to assemble the resources I need. “
“You told me you took over the group because we’ve got a chance to prevent a war like the one you just fought. So what’s up with the whole eternal life thing? It sounds crazy and I honestly don’t know what to make of it.”
“Then let me put it in the simplest terms – ” Anna grinned. “If you’re in, I can kick Harrison out. We’re staying with four members, so…”
“Why didn’t you lead with that? Don’t even ask – I’m with you,” chuckled Kristoff. Harrison was the Virginian-born Exalted member and China trader that once came to political blows with Anna and had wrested trade concessions from her. His face turned serious. “But I’m there only to help you. Nothing more. You and the others have the big ideas. I’m just here to make sure you get a good deal.”
Anna gave Kristoff a kiss on the lips, and they breathed in each other’s scent. “That’s exactly what I had in mind. Then we’re agreed,” whispered Anna, slowly drawing away. “You’re now the Gold Reindeer, second among my new Exalted. I’ll need you to come to Peking with me, then. You’ve never been to China before, even though you’ve got an ice house branch in Hong Kong.” Anna’s plan was to assemble the new members of her Exalted and then heading to the Celestial Empire to see Yixin. With Colisa, the queen of Chatho, rescued by Tileke and now on the way to Arendelle, the day they would set off to the Celestial Empire wasn’t too far away.
Kristoff chuckled. “Just lead the way, Anna. I’ll follow you wherever you go,” he said, putting an arm around her as Anna scooted closer. She nuzzled against him, hand on his chest as he traced his finger on her forehead, playing with her red tresses and locks. “I don’t know how much I can help, but I’ll help you stay the course so that you don’t lose your way.” His chestnut eyes glimmered. “You can easily go off the rails while searching for immortality. It’s happened to lots of people throughout history.”
“Thank you, sweetie. I know that too,” whispered the queen. “You can’t imagine how lucky I feel to have you watching over me. I’m so tired, and I’m not even sure if I’m still myself sometimes. I need your support.”
“Rest with me,” said Kristoff quietly, squeezing Anna tighter. He was warm and firm. “You’ve done enough today for Arendelle. Let me help you now.”
The stubborn and passionate Emerald Dragon obeyed, closing her eyes and allowing the Gold Reindeer to whisk her away into pleasant dreams with him.