Featured image art “The New Exalted” by Arute (@ast05water)
Welcome to Journals of the Exalted! This is Part II 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
BREAKING: “It’s like my heart, twisted into a knot, has been freed”: Anna Overjoyed as Colisa of Chatho Arrives in Arendelle
By Brunhilde, Politics Editor for The Arendelle Guardian
In a remarkable turn of events, Ottoman general Tileke has succeeded in her rescue expedition, having retrieved Prince Hans of the Southern Isles and the Duke of Weselton from shipwrecks off the coasts of the Batavian Republic and Germany. She was also able to rescue Queen Colisa of Chatho, Anna’s primary international ally.
Our queen Anna, upon hearing of the news, was said by courtiers to have burst into tears of joy and emotion. It wasn’t lost on her high command that she instantly gave orders for Tileke to have Colisa come to Arendelle first. As of now, neither Anna nor General Mattias have disclosed their plans concerning Colisa with the press.
The three sovereigns, along with Mari of Vesterland, are members of Anna’s Entente of Small Kingdoms, an alliance that Anna formed in order to collectively resist the pressure of larger kingdoms, empires, and colonial powers. However, the alliance proved unable to mount an effective military resistance against the Russian invasion of Arendelle, with the fleets of Chatho, the Southern Isles, and Weselton obliterated and Vesterland neutralized. With Arendelle now in a position of newfound power and influence after standing alone against Katina Romanov, it’s uncertain what Anna will choose to do with the Entente.
Indeed, as naval powers like Britain had feared, Anna has summoned the European plenipotentiaries in Arendelle to account for their silence during the Russo-Arendellian war. The cat’s out of the bag: the Western powers had calculated that the Nordic kingdom wouldn’t survive Katina’s onslaught, and could be carved up after the war. Spoils of land and assets could have been split between the larger countries, with few tears shed over Anna’s partitioned domain.
But now the prestigious colonial powers face the embarrassing, and perhaps even dangerous, prospect of an empowered Anna prepared to throw her weight about on the world stage.
When it comes to Arendelle, Her Majesty has proved, size doesn’t matter.
Anna had given Colisa a couple of days to recover at her own pace after grueling weeks away from her homeland of Chatho. She’d been distraught when Tileke had carried the queen personally to Arendelle Castle. Colisa had been well taken care of by Tileke, but the Chathoan monarch needed more rest and healing at the hands of Honeymaren before she could properly reunited with the sister-queens. Now she was better, able to don her flowing red robes and radiant crown once more.
She had been summoned to the throne room, where Anna waited. The latter had breakfasted and was already there, with a large table just before her throne. There was a map of the entire globe, with figures and markers planted all over the continents.
When Anna caught sight of Colisa passing the guards, she rushed to her. “How’re you feeling?” she asked, giving Colisa a warm and gentle hug. “Are you in shape for a talk?”
Colisa smiled, catching Anna and running her fingers through her auburn hair. “Of course. I was fortunate enough to be able to have you and Elsa by my side over these past few days as I rested. Thank you for taking care of me. There are others I must see, no? Like Danny, Michael, and Alan?”
“We can go to them right after this meeting. Please don’t thank me. You took care of Elsa and me, in a way, back in the day,” replied Anna, drawing back and squeezing Colisa’s shoulders fondly. “You always looked out for my sister, even when you were visiting Arendelle and we were supposed to be your host. Elsa’s never forgotten that.”
“And I promised you that Chatho would always come to Arendelle’s need. I only regret that we could only mount so much resistance against someone as terrifying as Grand Duke Yaraslaf,” said Colisa sadly.
“No. I proposed the strategy, and it failed miserably,” said Anna, her gut twisting. “You lost many countrymen and women, and it’s my fault. I feel horrible about that, and yes, I feel bad for Hans and the Duke too. I know war will inevitably mean death and destruction, but for so many losses from so many countries to be on my shoulders…” Anna turned away, hands holding her elbows.
“I’ve been drowning myself in work, just to pass the hours in which I can’t sleep because of the war.”
Colisa’s jaw dropped. “Anna. That’s horrible.”
“Don’t tell anyone. Not even Elsa,” insisted Anna. “I’m no longer Katina’s enemy, but the unavoidable truth is that she inflicted terrible emotional pain on me. She’s damaged me in a way that… is obvious to everyone who knows me. In a way that might be irreparable.”
“Darling.” Colisa put a hand on Anna’s shoulder. “Monarch to monarch. Be honest with me. What is it I can help with? You know I’ll agree to anything.”
Anna sighed. “Two things,” she said, turning around. “First, I’m disbanding the Entente of Small Kingdoms. I’ll put it to a vote among ourselves next month. I wish no longer to put your countries into danger, to involve you in the messes I make.”
“Are… are you sure, my dear?” interrupted Colisa uncertainly, her brown eyes faltering. Disbanding the Entente, something that Anna had worked so hard towards? “This is… quite a dramatic move.” She shook her head, stunned. She’d been expecting something to do with reconstruction, or a consolidation of their influence, but this? If Anna had been thinking about it before, she certainly didn’t show it. This was so sudden. “Why, Anna?”
Anna looked at her hand and clenched it into a fist. “That’s not all. When I formed the Entente of Small Kingdoms, we were in a position of terrible weakness against Harrison, a member of the Exalted. Well, guess what, Colisa? Now, I have the Exalted, its membership mine to form and its power mine to wield.” She turned to look at a shocked Colisa. “This was why I requested you come to Arendelle first – not just to recover and recharge before going back to Chatho, where I’m sure you’re sorely missed. It was to ask for your support.”
Anna lifted an open hand, staring at Colisa. “To ask you to join the Exalted. To be my guide and mentor. I’d be but first among equals. I have no plans to keep things the way they were. My Exalted will be very different to Lord Yixin’s.”
She looked in the direction of her empty throne, her eyes haunted. “What does it mean to be queen… and the Exalted’s leader…?” she muttered pensively.
Colisa looked at Anna’s outstretched hand, then back into Anna’s shining eyes. Somehow, Anna’s air had changed. She seemed so mature, but like she’d been broken and then pieced back together. “Peony knows of this?” she asked slowly, referring to Lord Yixin’s top agent.
“Yes. In fact, she wrote me a letter detailing the true purpose of the Exalted, and urging me to hurry and consolidate the membership.”
“What’s greater to Lord Yixin than world overlordship?” asked Colisa cautiously, whose state had been a tributary kingdom of China’s for a several generations.
For the first time, there was a glint in Anna’s cerulean irises. She slowly withdrew her hand, mindful that she’d crossed a threshold. What she was asking of her friends was unlike anything she’d ever requested before. Not like a war, not like the Entente.
“My chance to protect Elsa forever, and the chance for us to never lose anyone again. The elixir of life.”
There was a pregnant, silent tension between the queens of Chatho and Arendelle.
Colisa took a few steps forward. “Anna… please. I say this as your friend. As someone who loves you and Elsa. Besties and soulmates must be able to speak frankly, from their hearts.” She stared at her Arendellian counterpart. “To us, the Entente meant something greater than just matching the colonial countries. Just because we failed as a team against Russia, doesn’t mean the idea itself was bad.”
She bit her lip, grown eyes shining. “And now you’ve won the war, and taken control of Exalted… to search for immortality? I can’t believe Elsa would approve of such a thing. Not in her heart. She probably told you she supports you, but feels as uncertain about this as I do.”
Anna’s eyes glimmered. She didn’t want to tell Colisa that she’d not seriously discussed her plans with Elsa – she was saving that for last. But her senior’s words hit home. “Sweetie…” Her voice trembled. “What you’re saying is true – all of it. Other sovereigns would call me an idealist, and I used to take it as a compliment. But after Elsa was almost killed by Grand Duke Nykras…” Her voice trembled. “I couldn’t take it. I’ve been powerless for far too long. The Russo-Arendellian War showed me that, clearly and unambiguously.”
She turned away, staring down at the global map. “If it’s for Elsa, I’m capable of anything.”
Colisa shifted to the table, eyes shooting back and forth between Anna and her map. What would she say, if she were Anna’s elder sister? For that was how she felt sometimes, with both her and Elsa. “Even tyranny? Even selfishness?” she cautioned. “Don’t forget, Anna. Our prize is dangerously seductive – monarchs through the ages have killed their own family for it.”
“Then keep me from falling into the abyss. I need your political guidance, too. I’m playing hopscotch while Lord Yixin is playing chess,” said Anna, turning and catching hold of Colisa’s hand. She lifted it to her soft lips and gave a light, respectful kiss. Colisa started and flushed at the sudden touch. “You can do that much more effectively by my side. As what Lord Yixin calls, ‘the Ruby Tiger.'”
“And you are…?” murmured Colisa, looking away.
“The Emerald Dragon,” declared Anna, eyes flashing. “Kristoff is the Gold Reindeer, and Peony is the Sapphire Phoenix. I’ll be seeing her next. But I need you and Kristoff with me in the Exalted. You two are my new members, the ones who’ll stop me from falling into darkness while chasing the elixir.” She squeezed Colisa’s hand. “Please.”
Colisa stared at Anna before sighing. “Promise me you’ll keep your gaze focused on Elsa and your people alone.”
Anna nodded. “Strike me down if I don’t.”
Colisa’s heart broke, and she pulled Anna into a loving hug. She had no choice. To protect Anna, she’d have to become her Ruby Tiger.
“My Anna is all grown up,” she whispered tearfully, jaw clenched, “and now your path is all the more perilous.”
ANNA GROWS IN STRENGTH.
BUT CAN HER FAMILY AND FRIENDS KEEP HER ON PATH SHE SET OUT ON?