Featured image art “The New Exalted” by Arute (@ast05water)
Welcome to Journals of the Exalted! This is Part III 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
The queen of Arendelle stood before the window in her study, surveying in silence the glistening waters of the fjord beyond her castle. It was the Fjordspring Festival, and the distant yells of delighted children could be heard all the way across the bridge to the village square. She was glad that the kingdom was enjoying this traditional festival celebrating the return of spring. It helped to get everyone’s minds off the horrid last few months since January, when Arendelle’s fate hung in the balance and Anna’s defenders desperately fought back against the Russian invasion.
Elsa was among those defenders, and she’d very nearly died. That was what set Anna on her new course of action, her new Grand Strategy of ensuring Arendelle would never be in a position to be attacked again.
Kristoff and Colisa had agreed to join the Exalted in the name of helping Anna, and this was the first time not just one, but two Arendellians comprised the four-member secret society. Even Chatho, Arendelle’s closest ally, had representation through its queen Colisa. Yet there was one member whom she couldn’t touch; the one member who was technically Anna’s senior. The one that Anna would need to watch carefully and bide her time with. She was meeting her today.
I hate myself for thinking like this, she chastised herself silently. Since when did I get so… calculating?
“Announcing Miss Peony Sinclair,” came Kai’s voice from beyond the door. Anna called to him to let her in, and the equestrian-outfitted woman strode it, dignified and patrician as ever. It had been a long time since she and Anna met face-to-face. The last contact they’d had was Peony’s letter to Anna, which divulged to her the true purpose of the Exalted and encouraged her to begin assembling its new members. Anna had been free to admit anyone and expel any incumbent, and so the queen had done so with Katina and Harrison.
But Peony was the exception.
“Welcome back to Arendelle, agent of Lord Yixin,” said Anna pointedly. “That’s your true identity, isn’t it? International diplomat, English socialite and networker, co-founder of the colonial Hong Kong Equine Club… but your true work is to ensure the world, and its many kingdoms and empires, move in the direction of Lord Yixin’s Exalted.”
She stared at Peony, at her rich blonde hair and silver eyes. “Now that I’m the leader of the Exalted, what has Yixin asked you to do with me? What’s our relationship supposed to be like?”
Peony smiled mildly. “There’s no mystery about it, Anna. I’m here to help. If I was planning to disrupt your plans, well, you’d be in big trouble by now. Why would His Lordship give you the Exalted and then try to undermine you?”
She stepped closer to Anna’s wide desk. “I’m here simply so that we can have a relationship at all. Remember that His Lordship always wanted an Arendellian to lead the Exalted.” Peony’s expression turned dark. “First, Elsa refused His Lordship. Then Countess Vi refused me. You’re their truest successor, and the only one who’s freely joined us. Your ambition far surpasses theirs, and you’ll take Arendelle further than they ever managed.”
“I hope you’ll tell me soon why His Lordship is so fixated on our family,” said Anna, grimacing.
Peony’s eyes flashed. “Oh, he will. You already know that our true purpose is to secure the elixir of life. Once you set sail for Peking, even more shall be revealed.”
Anna’s freckled face flushed as she thought of Vi. “So you tried to recruit Vi once. I now understand that she’s had a long and troubled relationship with you guys, before I made her my prime minister. She’s quite the charismatic woman. A dark angel.”
Peony smiled bittersweetly. “Undeniably. I once fell for her too, and hard. Perhaps it was because of my lingering fondness and lovesickness that prompted me to support a more lenient policy toward Arendelle. And His Lordship, to his credit, indulged me.” Her eyes shone. “He’s been watching how you handled Katina Romanov and the Russian Empire’s invasion. You deserve your new position of power, Anna. No force or faction will ever look down on Arendelle again.”
Anna shrugged helplessly. “Well, my war on Russia nearly cost me everything, and it’s already cost the lives of many. And as far as I’m concerned, I just want to protect Arendelle and Elsa from any future violence – forever.” She glared at Peony. “I need you to tell me more about this elixir of life that you claim is our true objective.”
“This isn’t simply a pursuit for personal immortality. In fact, I don’t think he needs it,” came a smooth yet strong voice. The doors burst open as Vi, in her voluptuous magnificence, strode in. Kai hastily closed the doors behind him as Anna and Peony turned to face her. She glanced at Peony. “Hello, love,” she said quietly.
“You’re a creature of the night now, I see,” replied Peony tersely, jaw clenched. “I see the depths of hell in your crimson eyes, vampire.”
“Harsh words will never mask the way you look at me,” declared Vi, smirking before settling into a more self-deprecating one. “Nor can my taunts disguise the affection behind my words.”
There was now a standoff between three of the most powerful women holding influence over Arendelle.
Peony Sinclair, the avatar of British power in the Celestial Empire.
The dark Countess and First Vampire.
And Anna, the queen herself.
Anna raised an eyebrow. “Do you two need some time alone, Peony?” she asked, jabbing a thumb at Vi.
Peony’s silver eyes shone. “No. Whatever passed between us faded away some time ago.”
Anna suddenly giggled, holding her stomach in sudden and overpowering mirth. Vi and Peony stared at her. She wiped away a gratified tear. “Sometimes I forget that even with your lofty station, you’re still a woman like Vi and me. Desirous of love and loving another.”
She glanced at both Peony and Vi. “I think we need to break the tension. How about we move to the drawing room, where it’s much more comfy and we’ve got some couches to relax on and a chess set? I’ll ask Kai to bring up some refreshments.”
The agenda was simple. Peony wanted to ensure that Anna was on track to visiting Peking in a few weeks. Vi wanted to tell Anna about a nightmare she’d had. Vi wasn’t usually one who cared what she dreamt up in her sleep, but this felt too meaningful to simply forget about. A world without Elsa in which Anna had snapped and crowned herself Empress of Arendelle?
The Last Sister?
It was a potential future too frightening to ignore.
“The two matters are related,” said Anna, stirring a teaspoon in her cup of black coffee as she sat on a couch, leaning over the rectangular table. She was remarkably calm after listening to Vi’s recount of such a disturbing dream. She sat back, holding the saucer and cup, and took a drink of delicious, pure espresso ground from Brazil.
“I’m not surprised that I’d snap, should I lose Elsa on my watch… especially after we’ve embarked on this mission with Lord Yixin. I still feel very uncertain and confused about the elixir of life, but if something happens to Elsa along the way, I only foresee immense pain for the world… and a lot of it could be even inflicted by a heartbroken and venomous me.”
“I’m glad you’re mindful of what risks befall you now that you’re the Exalted’s leader,” said Vi, sitting on the couch at the end of the table.
“This is one thing Vi and I agree on,” said Peony, nodding at Anna from the sofa across her. “The last thing Lord Yixin wants is for you to fail. He wants the opposite – for you to succeed. So you’ll have nothing but support from myself and your other handpicked Exalted members, not to mention Elsa herself and all her family – Danny, Michael, Alan, and the others.”
“They won’t fail you,” said Vi to Anna, and the queen smiled gratefully.
“I’m sorry for my attitude earlier,” she said to Peony. “I appreciate your long experience and past with the Exalted, which will be useful to me.” She smiled, setting down her cup and saucer on the table, and the three women stood up together. “Now all the Exalted have been assembled, and my trip to Peking is nearly ready.” She glanced at Peony. “I look forward to working with you, Sapphire Phoenix.”
The Sapphire Phoenix nodded, giving a small smile. “I’ll protect and guide you, Anna. We all will.”