Featured image “The New Exalted” by Arute (@ast05water)
By Fitch, Politics Reporter for The Arendelle Guardian
There was a palpable mix of pride and anxiety as Arendellian citizens gathered at the docks to send off their queen, who finished packing last night and is now aboard her flagship, Pride of Elsa. In her most recent column in the Sunday edition of The Arendelle Guardian, Anna reassured the kingdom that her upcoming voyage was a trip of goodwill among Arendelle’s allies in Asia: in particular, the Great Qing Empire (known to most as the Celestial Empire), the British port colony of Hong Kong, and the Shogunate of Japan.
The queen leads an entourage of friendly heads of state and senior figures connected to the royal household: Elsa the Snow Queen, Kristoff, her husband-to-be and managing director of Bjorgman, Queen Colisa of Chatho, and the mysterious English-born diplomat working for the Chinese imperial household, Peony Sinclair. Anna has left the running of day-to-day affairs in the hands of her prime minister, Vi, while other major matters are tended to by people she trusts, like Michael and Alan or Mattias.
Rumour is rife among the press that Anna has private objectives that she’s declined to disclose to the public. The Arendellian military, led by General Mattias, has gone out of its way to call this trip “of utmost importance of national security,” using this as a pretext to avoid questions about why so much of the outing will be focused on Peking, the capital city of the Celestial Empire.
This is the longest and most perilous journey she has taken since her outing to Northulda when Elsa was still queen – a trip around Scandinavia, punching straight across the Arctic Sea, and circling the easternmost part of Russia before passing the Korean Peninsula and then the secretive islands of Japan, which are ruled by the Tokugawa. She will finally make a stop on Hong Kong island, where Kristoff has business interests and where his branch of Bjorgman was mysteriously attacked by arsonists. The cause of the fire remains suspicious and it’s strongly suspected that she’ll be opening a covert investigation there.
The group will then travel by land to Peking, entering the Chinese heartland by overland route after taking a boat from the Hong Kong colony. Far up in the north, the Forbidden City awaits them.
We at The Arendelle Guardian wish Her Majesty a smooth trip, and pray for her return to her beloved kingdom. We await her with profound eagerness and confidence that she and her friends will be safe.
Hong Kong, Ice House Street
Kristoff’s corporate branch, until midnight last week, was located on Ice House Street. Now rickshaw pullers (known disparagingly to British administrators as “coolies”) no longer dared to seek passengers there thanks to the recent arson. Amidst the building’s charred ruins, a man in plain Chinese clothes crouched down, sifting through the rubble. His queue was a single braid of hair that hung down past his shoulder, indicating that he was a subject of the emperor. All Chinese-born men had to adopt this hairstyle on pain of death. Beside him stood a similarly garbed friend, who was looking around skittishly. “The limey coppers will do their usual rounds again, Ah Bo,” he warned. “Best we find what we came for and get back to Lady Kam before they arrest us for tampering with evidence.”
“Ah Chen, you know as well as I do that the British governor ain’t gonna do squat about the Floodgate triads, if they’re really the ones behind this arson. Given how the police are keeping mum about all this, I bet several sergeants and lieutenants have been paid off to suppress this. It’s up to us, initiated members of the Crocus and Lotus, to find proof of the Floodgate’s involvement. So that Lord Kristoff’s comprador can send in our brothers without getting him in trouble with our colonial masters. But Lady Kam’s nothing if not discreet. She’ll direct us when the time’s right.” Ah Bo continued to lift aside wood, brick, and marble, and to his relief, the mission was far easier than he thought – by some miracle, the arsonist had been foolish enough to drop a coin while perhaps handling his torch. The coin wasn’t a British penny with Queen Victoria’s face on it, but an American one.
“No American in Hong Kong has a presence like Will Harrison,” said Ah Bo, gazing at the coin in his palm.
“And we have proof of Harrison & Co. employing the Floodgate,” declared Ah Chen quietly. “Secret missives and letters, agreements of employment, and so on.”
Ah Bo suddenly sensed imminent attack. “Move!” he cried, as he and Ah Chen dived past a hail of small and razor-tipped darts that struck the rubble of Kristoff’s ice house. Ah Bo glanced up and rolled away as several more darts came flying at him, and he scrambled forward to meet his attacker’s curved broadsword head on, catching the interloper’s slashing arm in a counterattack and twisting, forcing him to release his blade. The newcomer, dressed completely in black with a dark hood, somersaulted away and landed on his boots as Ah Chen and Ah Bo advanced, their hands raised in disciplined fighting stances. “You’re Floodgate, aren’t you?” snapped Ah Bo.
“And you’re members of the Crocus and Lotus,” spat the agent. “A triad society, like us in the Floodgate. Except you guys take your orders from Lady Kam, comprador to that Arendellian tai-pan, Kristoff.”
“The wealthiest woman – nay, person – in the entire colony,” said Ah Chen with a hint of pride, “and don’t go around lecturing us when you trash in the Floodgate will do way more for Harrison than the usual clandestine smuggling – murder included. Every comprador has connections to the underworld, and Lady Kam’s founding of the Crocus and Lotus was only to protect her boss and his fellow Arendellians from people like you.”
He and Ah Bo went on the offensive, quickly beating back the Floodgate agent with a flurry of flying fists and well-aimed kicks that went for the enemy’s knees and hip joints. The hooded man managed to parry the rival gangsters’ attacks for a short while, but soon was forced back, nearly stumbling to the hard ground after being kicked in the stomach by Ah Chen. He quickly whipped out a sachet of gunpowder and hurled it to the ground with a sharp cry, forcing Ah Bo and Ah Chen back momentarily. The small but sudden explosion neither blinded nor deafened, but it did distract the Chinese allies of Arendelle, and that was enough. The agent made a run for it, from Ice House Street on to the main road of Queen’s Road, the longest and busiest in the island colony. Ah Chen wanted to pursue, but Ah Bo put a hand on his shoulder.
“Later, brother,” said Ah Bo, smiling and holding up the American penny. “Let him disappear. We just need to give this to Lady Kam, and she’ll wage a shadow war against Lord Kristoff’s enemies right under the noses of the limey authorities.”
“So, Anna and her new Exalted are on their way here. The press doesn’t even know the true purpose of her trip: to meet the prince regent, Lord Yixin, for the ceremony that will formalize her role as the Emerald Dragon… and more.”
A moment of gentle, contemplative silence.
“Thank you for your comprehensive report. And I’m glad you made it back safely to me.”
Ah Bo and Ah Chen beamed as they listened attentively to the calm and feminine voice from the shadows. “You honour us, Lady Kam,” they said together, bowing deeply.
There was only the slightest hint of a female figure in the darkness of the lavishly carpeted room, with Chinese lanterns emitting dim red light from the wooden ceiling. Her slender hand repeatedly flipped the coin that Ah Bo and Ah Chen had found on Ice House Street, catching its blurry form every time it fell.
“Kristoff wouldn’t like to see what the Crocus and Lotus get up to in the shadows. But that’s the whole point: a comprador of a trading house like me gets my hands dirty; I oversee the real workings of the company in China. I look over every single transaction, debt, and loan, and every coin that comes in or out of Bjorgman. And it’s been the tradition of every comprador to have their will enforced by triads loyal to them alone.”
She shifted slightly into the light where Ah Chen and Ah Bo stood alongside an entire company of well-trained, muscular men and women. They kneeled before her devotedly. “The world may call you gangsters, or secret societies, or the Chinese underworld. But as long as you belong to the Crocus and Lotus, you’re under my care, and in the employ of Bjorgman itself. You fight for Arendelle and its queen. As long as Kristoff trusts me with his business in Asia, we’ll defend the interests of his kingdom – and China’s – to the death.”
“Yes, Lady Kam!” arose a collective cry.
“We’re going to take care of and protect the queen while she’s in China. That means we’re going to foil every single one of Harrison’s plans,” declared the shadowy woman. “For Kristoff and for the Princely House. Understood?”
“Yes, Lady Kam!” thundered the Lotus and Crocus once more.
THE COMPRADOR OF THE PRINCELY HOUSE REVEALS HERSELF!
NEXT: INTRODUCING LADY KAM AND THE CROCUS AND LOTUS!