Featured image “Emerald Dragon” by Arute (@ast05water)
The mansion of Peony Sinclair had been invaded. The chandelier above them shook, and the hall was filled with battle cries.
“It’s the Floodgate triads, I’m sure of it. Harrison’s men,” declared Lady Kam, Kristoff’s comprador and the manager of Bjorgman’s Chinese trade. Everyone had stood up, nervously readying themselves for a violent brawl, but Anna was still glaring at Peony, who’d just dropped a bombshell on them all.
“Lord Yixin is immortal? He isn’t human? I mean, I knew he was uniquely powerful, and sure, there was something disturbing and otherworldly about his appearance. Elsa and I have always known that. But you can’t just pull this revelation on me and then let this go,” cried Anna, putting a hand on Peony’s slender shoulder.
“I’m not letting it go. In case you haven’t noticed, the Floodgate gang has broken into my manor. I don’t have time to explain now. Let’s ensure your safety first, and then I shall reveal all. In fact, it’s still ideal you hear it from my lord’s mouth,” said Peony coolly.
The mansion rang with rapid footsteps as screams of the household servants rang out through the halls and rooms. “They’re attacking my people. Lady Kam, you’ve got to get out of here, and bring the queen and her retinue with you,” demanded Peony.
Kam stood her ground, licking her lips. “I’m your esteemed guest here. How can a guest abandon her host when the host’s property is being intruded on?”
Several men in black robes and hoods burst into the drawing room, wasting no time as a hail of throwing knives hurtled at Anna. Anna raised her arms instinctively, but Elsa dashed in front of her, conjuring a shield of ice off which the daggers ricocheted. “Anna, find cover! Behind the couch!” screamed the Snow Queen, as Kristoff and Colisa charged at the invaders.
“I’m not hiding while you’re protecting me!” screamed Anna. “Peony, do you have a spare weapon?”
“She doesn’t, but I do,” said Kam, tossing Anna a sharp and deadly dagger, which the queen gingerly caught. Anna swore to herself, nearly cutting her fingers with it. It wasn’t ideal, but it had to do as more men in black hoods and flooded the vast living room. “Prepare to fight your way out. They’ve probably seized the entire estate. To think they snuck up all the way from the harbour, coming all the way to Victoria Peak.”
Colisa drew her sword, pointing it at the hooded and masked men. “I don’t know this colonial harbour or its criminal elements well, but let’s drive them all out!” she cried, brown eyes flashing.
Lady Kam nodded. “Hold the line until my triads reinforce us. The Lotus and Crocus society is sworn to protect Arendelle’s queen and her friends when they’re on Chinese soil. The Floodgate gang works for Harrison. The Lotus and Crocus is loyal to you and me. They’re on their way – I promise.”
Anna stared in gobsmacked shock at Kam. “You mean – you lead another triad group that’s helping us?”
But there was no time for Kam to answer as the men charged at the group. Kristoff roared and dived, his mighty bulk tackling one of the triads and smashing him into an ornate stand on which a precious Ming vase stood. It toppled and smashed onto the gangster’s head. He dashed up, lifting his clenched fists as he and another triad confronted each other. “Come on,” he breathed, adrenaline coursing through him. “Just try and touch Anna.” The triad struck first, lashing out with a roundhouse kick, which Kristoff blocked with difficulty. His opponent dashed forward, trying a palm heel strike at Kristoff’s chest, which the tai-pan blocked again. He threw a few jabs to force the gangster back, before shooting out a strong cross. But the enemy weaved past his punch and sent a flurry of vicious punches into Kristoff’s torso and stomach, sending him staggering back. He was backed into a corner as the gangster’s attack intensified, raining down blow upon blow on the Bjorgman boss. Kristoff growled, wishing Sven were here.
He bellowed and forced himself past the triad’s punches and kicks, faking an uppercut that the enemy tried to block – “YOU’RE DONE!” he cried in triumph, throwing a wild hook with his free hand at the triad, who realized his mistake too late and could only stare at Kristoff’s approaching fist momentarily before having his nose reduced to bloody mush and being blown back, crashing into the steps past the entrance to the living room. Kristoff narrowly dodged a curved sword and scrambled back, trying his best to evade the weapons now aimed at him. Meanwhile, Colisa parried the curved sword of a triad, twirling gracefully and slashing at him, sending him crashing into his teammates. She ran forward, thrusting her blade into the leg of an assailant. He screamed in agony as she yanked her blade out and spun, her mid-air kick crushing his ribcage and sending him hurtling across the room. A triad snuck up behind her and tried to bash her head in with a mace, but Elsa threw a blast of ice that froze his arm, and Colisa whipped around and shoved him away. Elsa summoned the humidity of the Hong Kong air, air droplets crystallizing into hard ice as she hurled a hailstorm at the approaching gangsters, the ice overwhelming their raised weapons and arms and knocking them unconscious.
“Thanks!” cried Colisa, as she and Elsa drew closer, backs pressed against each other as they looked cautiously around. More men had surrounded them. But Elsa conjured a circle of bristling icy stalagmites that erupted from the ground, forcing their foes back. “They’re everywhere – Peony, help us!”
Peony coolly weaved and bobbed past the swords and knives of more than six attackers, before grabbing a rapier that was mounted by her wall and shifting into a fencing stance, one hand tucked behind her back. She looked graceful and gallant, but her gaze was cold. “You brutes think that you can touch someone who’s been taught by Lord Yixin in the combat arts?” snarled Peony, silver eyes glinting. “Know your place, vermin!” Her knees bent slightly. “En guarde.”
There was a blinding flash of silver, which shot from wall to wall, and by the time Anna blinked her eyes, Peony had stood up from a crouch, and four men behind her collapsed, their torsos exploding in a haze of blood and tissue. Even Elsa was shocked by the swiftness and brutality by which the men had died. Anna shuffled to Elsa’s side, trembling. “Peony – what have you done?” said the queen, unsure if this was the same diplomat who helped her broker a peace deal with Harrison so long ago, when he’d forced Anna into a corner and taken the Duke of Weselton and Vesterland’s Mari hostage to extort Chinese trading rights from Arendelle. Ah, but Peony was diplomat second. First and foremost, she was Lord Yixin’s most trusted agent. And she would fulfil her duty.
Peony flicked the blood off her rapier, calmly stepping aside as a triad tried charging her. She used his own momentum against him, suddenly grabbing his shoulder and pushing slightly, and he spun directly into the floor, snapping his head against the marble. Her bladework almost reminded Anna of Countess Vi when the latter was still human – preternaturally quick and unnervingly graceful. Yet there was a hard edge to the dance of the rapier as it tore through several more gangsters. This was swordsmanship devised to kill. “These are Harrison’s men. They won’t show us mercy, so we should show them none,” declared Peony. “That you, Colisa, and Anna refuse to kill is rather silly and dangerous. Lady Kam and I are much more mature about this whole thing. See?” she added, nodding at Kam.
Anna and Kristoff watched in horror as Kam showed no quarter either. She was surprisingly adept at melee combat, her knife slitting the throats of multiple men as they gargled, crumpling to the bloodsoaked tiles of Peony’s home. A gangster tried to grab Kam in a bear hug from behind, and the Chinese woman ducked, before her slender leg shot back up in an expertly aimed axe kick, her high heel smashing into the thug’s chin, breaking his jaw. But Kam went further, shouting in bloodlust and driving her stiletto higher into his mouth and through his skull. Only when his eyes rolled over into white did she pull out, spinning back on the ground and throwing a set of hidden daggers that had been on a belt strapped around her thigh. The daggers struck the chests of three more gangsters, killing them instantly and sending their carcasses crashing to the ground.
She gazed at Kristoff, covered in sweat and breathing heavily. “I’m sorry you had to see that, boss. But you should know that the Princely House’s comprador will do what she can to protect Arendelle – and even if it’s outlawed by both the British and Chinese authorities, a comprador must use all means to keep the firm and its queen safe.”
Kristoff held Anna tightly to him, nodding slowly. “I trust you, Chik-loei. We’ll have plenty of chances to debate the ethics of our different styles later.”
“Good…” said Kam, raising a fist. “Because my means also includes the use of my own connections in the criminal underworld!” she cried, as the remaining triads were suddenly cut down from behind by new arrivals, also cloaked in black. Elsa and Colisa glanced around, their faces hopeful as suddenly their assailants looked at each other uncertainly. All around beyond the living room and outside, there was a cacophony of shouting and gunshots, punctuated by the clash of metal swords. “The Lotus and Crocus are here,” cried Kam, spinning her knife in her hand, before throwing it at her last attacker’s head. It pierced cleanly into his cranium, and his gasping form folded. “Now, Floodgate members – you’re about to be outnumbered by my men, and outclassed by my new friends. Why don’t you go crawling back to Harrison? We know he’s responsible for the arson against our Bjorgman branch on Ice House Street.”
“And he’ll pay for daring to think Sinclair Mansion would fall to him,” called Peony.
As the shrouded, masked gangsters on Kam’s side bowed before a shocked Anna before swooping in to engage to Floodgate triads, Kam looked back at Anna and Elsa, who could finally take a breather alongside Kristoff and Colisa. Anna’s face betrayed her shock at the sight of these men and women of the underworld that had actually turned traitor against Britain and the Celestial Empire, choosing instead to swear fealty to Kam and therefore to Anna and the Arendellian flag. “We’ll be finished with these second-rate underworld dwellers soon, Emerald Dragon.” Kam’s warm but secretive eyes flashed. “Harrison is trying to strike a deadly blow against us. We must accelerate our plans, and get you to the Forbidden City sooner!”
Hi there. It’s Anna.
I… don’t know what else to write for my column today.
I can only repeat what I now know. And what I learned changes everything.
Lord Yixin… isn’t human.
The Exalted is his secret force to hunting down the elixir of life.
And now I’m in the middle of a millennia-old chase for this elixir… a chase in which I don’t even know who else is on the hunt for it.
I only know this: I must get to the capital of the Celestial Empire. Yixin will give me the resources I need to begin my search. In the meantime, I must stop Harrison before he hurts more people in this insane vendetta against me. Is he really going to pursue me to the ends of the earth?
Dear reader, I’m taking you with me to the Forbidden City. Stay with me. Let’s find the answers together.
ANNA GETS CLOSER TO YIXIN… BUT CAN SHE SURVIVE LONG ENOUGH TO START HER SEARCH FOR THE ELIXIR?