Featured image art “Cosmic destiny” by Arute (@ast05water)
“You should probably sit down,” said Peony calmly, as Anna visibly swayed in shock. Yixin didn’t budge, staring thinly at the lavish gardens outside his lavish window. Elsa also looked stupefied, as did all the guests in the Qianlong Gardens. Peony handed Anna a soft handkerchief, and the queen of Arendelle gratefully took it, wiping her sweating brow.
At long last, Yixin had told them the whole truth and nothing but the truth. All this time, Anna and her friends had simply known him as a powerful figure in the Qing court, the power behind the emperor’s throne. Of course, he had a second identity as the leader of the Exalted, but even Anna hadn’t suspected there was so much more behind the organization. How he was a Moonborn: a unique class of beings born from an outer space goddess, Chang’e. How Chang’e had made the Earth’s Moon her domain. How at the dawn of humankind, she’d given her former husband, the mortal Hou Yi, a taste of eternal life through her holy elixir: the legendary ambrosia sought after by all that sought immortality.
And how Hou Yi had become civilization’s first tyrant, drunk on power and his newfound immortality, his cruelty forcing Chang’e to wage a cataclysmic war against him until Hou Yi was destroyed.
It wasn’t their familial drama that Yixin chafed at. What he couldn’t accept was Chang’e’s decision after Hou Yi’s defeat – that humanity wasn’t ready for the elixir of life and that it needed to be hidden from mortals forever.
“Let me get this straight,” said Anna slowly, rubbing the ridge of her nose with a weary thumb. She had a headache. “You were the strongest among the Moonborn, and you summoned your forces and waged a war among the planets and on the Moon against your mother.”
“Yes,” replied Yixin, “for I believed – and still believe – that humanity, even in limited numbers, must have the choice to partake in the elixir of life.” His serpentine eyes narrowed even further. “Young Anna, this world is fallen, degenerate, a pale shadow of the heights that the gods are used to. I stand before you in a greatly diminished state compared to the power I possessed five thousand years ago. Imagine how far humans could soar if they had a small group of immortals that could watch over them, guide them, through every step of human history. Imagine the knowledge accumulated, the experience and wisdom you’d have from bearing witness to every age and every culture that came and went!”
He nodded at Anna and Elsa, before staring at the rest of his guests. “That’s why you should follow my vision. Imagine, Anna, if you could lead Arendelle well past a hundred years, or two hundred, or more. Your kingdom would flourish thanks to your immortality, your long and fruitful memories of things that historians can only dream of seeing centuries from now. Yet there are too many people and too many countries. There can only be a select few who guide all the world’s governments… and that’s why I founded the Exalted. Its first members were Sumerian kings and Mycenean lords. Empires come and go, cultures rise and fall. Now it’s you, Kristoff, Colisa, and Peony, but the objectives remain the same.”
Anna nodded slowly, and Colisa and Alan looked as troubled as they were shocked at the revelations. But there were other lingering questions. Questions that troubled the Diarchy greatly, and whose implications made Yixin to appear more sinister than he was letting on. “And where are the rest of the Moonborn?” said Elsa quietly. “Your brothers and sisters, fellow children of Chang’e?”
Yixin waved his fan, his gaze withering. “There aren’t many left, my child. When Mother and I waged war against each other, my siblings took her side. When I fell from the stars to Planet Earth, they tried to finish me off. But my forces stood strong and overwhelmed them. They’ve scattered around the world and are in hiding. The Exalted’s goals – which Katina Romanov deviated from in her war with Anna, and why I supported her expulsion – are twofold.”
“And they are?” asked Colisa.
“When all is said and done, quite simple: to hunt down the elixir of life and destroy the Moonborn that still oppose me.”
“It sounds like it makes sense – at least, if we follow the logic of all this craziness,” said Alan, shrugging his shoulders. “But by being the leader of the Exalted, Anna’s taking a side and I’m still not sure who’s in the right – you or Chang’e. You’re putting an incredible burden on Anna to make a call and play for a team.”
“It’s not simply a feud between mother and son, between Chang’e and I. That would be petty,” said Yixin. “This is about humanity’s destiny. Chang’e believes that the elixir of life isn’t meant for human beings to consume, while I believe that with careful selection and guidance, there is a small minority of humanity – perhaps numbering no more than a few dozen – that would steward and protect humanity’s future if granted immortality. Mother is too fearful of what could go wrong, rather than what could go right. She’s blinded by her experience with my father, with Hou Yi. But I hold human beings in much higher regard.”
Yixin strode over to the new members of the Exalted and put a bony hand on Peony’s shoulder. She lowered her gaze diffidently, looking extremely pleased. “The potential of people like Peony is limitless. As is yours, Anna and Elsa. Especially now that Elsa’s ascended to a new state of spirithood. You want to stay by the Fifth Spirit’s side, don’t you, Anna? The elixir is the only way. There can be no Diarchy if one of you is missing. And without the Diarchy to lead Arendelle, and if you don’t have each other to protect…”
“We get it,” snapped Kristoff. “Look, I support Anna in whatever she wants to do, and that’s why I’m taking over Harrison’s place in the Exalted as the Gold Reindeer. But the way you appeal to her greatest fears – of losing Elsa, or conversely leaving her – is only making her hurt more from how Elsa was almost killed in battle earlier this year.”
“I agree with Kristoff,” said Colisa anxiously. “I’m not saying your plan for humanity is necessarily a bad thing, but…” She shifted nervously. “Shouldn’t we know Chang’e’s perspective, too? For a balanced perspective?”
Peony didn’t look too happy, while Yixin turned away to continue staring outside the window. “But you’re members of the Exalted now, and Anna’s our leader. She should be resolute in carrying out what we were formed to do. You all made a promise to the Exalted, to my master,” said Peony.
“No matter, Peony. There’s a reason why I stepped back from managing the group, even when Harrison and Romanov were running around doing their own thing.” Yixin lowered his fan, no longer hiding his barracuda-like teeth from his guests. “I trust that even if Anna’s heart isn’t completely certain now, she’ll honour our agreement and she’ll learn from our enemies the folly of my mother’s way. Her resolve isn’t in question to me.”
Yixin turned back to gaze at his new Exalted. “I’ve bestowed upon you your organization names and have affirmed Anna’s leadership. Your purpose here has been fulfilled. Now humanity looks to you to help me locate the elixir – so that we at last have control over it, and arrogate to the Exalted the right to choose who becomes immortal… and who is unworthy to see humanity advance into the new age.”
“And let me guess,” said Anna, her voice sharp, “you’ll be choosing who gets to live forever and who doesn’t when we defeat Chang’e and get the elixir of life?”
“No. I may have set the scene for all this as my mother’s nemesis, but I have a different protagonist in mind. With the elixir, she’ll decide the fate of not only the future immortals, but the world itself.”
Yixin smiled at the queen of Arendelle, who loved her sister, cherished her kingdom, and only wanted to be a good queen for as long as she could.
“It’ll be you, Anna.”
TEMPTATION BEYOND IMAGINATION… PROTECTING ELSA FOREVER AND SHAPING WORLD HISTORY.
ANNA’S LIFE IS ABOUT TO CHANGE FOREVER AS SHE EMBARKS ON HER NEW MISSION.
PART THREE: THE QILIN CABARET! CAN ANNA SURVIVE A FINAL TEST BEFORE HEADING HOME?