“Swinging Sisters” by Arute (@ast05water)
“Mr. Harrison will see you now.”
Radiant and beautiful in her Chinese dress, Anna reluctantly released Kristoff, who she’d been swaying leisurely with to the sound of romantic piano and lilting drums. She looked at Tiffany Hunsecker, Harrison’s second-in-command, with a defiant grimace. “So, does he expect the negotiations to go his way again?”
“Of course he does, as I’m sure you expect them to go yours,” said Tiffany smoothly. “Nothing personal. May the best dealer win.” She gave a small smile. “Who shall it be – the queen of Arendelle, onetime small Nordic kingdom to rising world power? Or will it be my employer, greatest tai-pan in the Chinese seas?”
“My point is simple. Harrison has you, Tiffany,” she said, staring down the secretary to the opium dealer. “I get to bring Elsa with me going in.”
“Out of the question,” denied Tiffany. “She’s the Fifth Spirit. Harrison isn’t stupid enough to be in the same room as her should negotiations with you collapse.”
“Why, you – ” snarled Alan, rising from his seat in the Arendellian group’s booth, but Elsa put a hand on his arm, and he reluctantly relented.
“Then at least let Anna bring in someone else. Maybe Alan, or Kristoff,” said Elsa.
“Yeah. I get to bring someone in the Exalted with me. It’s only fair,” contested Anna.
“That can be arranged,” conceded Tiffany, her gold eyes darting to Peony, then Colisa, and then to Kristoff. “Who’s it going to be, Anna?”
Peony shook her head. “I now serve you, Anna, and that probably means that my old comrade Harrison is now my enemy too. Still, I’d advise against choosing me. I have too many roots and connections here in China. You need an Exalted member who is more… maneuverable. Someone who, should negotiations with Harrison fall apart, can do what’s necessary to protect you while avoiding diplomatic consequences with the Americans over any… mishap with Harrison.”
“Then that wouldn’t be Kristoff, who’s an Arendellian like me,” said Anna. She nodded at Colisa, queen of Chatho and senior to both Elsa and Anna. “Colisa? Chatho is relatively peripheral to American foreign policy, and has balanced amiable relationships with the Celestial Empire and Britain. Could I ask you to watch over me, just like you did Elsa and me all those years ago?”
“It would be my honour, dear Anna,” said Colisa, nodding. “I’m the Exalted’s Ruby Tiger.” Her brown eyes shone warmly. “I’ll follow my Emerald Dragon wherever she goes.”
Anna beamed and nodded at Tiffany. “Take us to him.”
“Be careful,” called Kristoff, as Tiffany walked off, her high heels clacking on the floor. The Arendellian booth was beginning to attract attention and curiosity from the other guests in the lounge. It was rare for Tiffany to come out and make personal rounds.
“If Harrison tries anything funny…” growled Alan, punching his open palm with his other fist.
Anna and Colisa followed Hunsecker into a side door, where there was a study with Chinese lanterns hanging from the high ceiling. It was dark, with only the lanterns’ sumptuous lights illuminating the room. Then, sitting at the head of a long mahogany table, was Harrison, his eyes glinting as he glanced up at the arrivals, hands clasped.
“Anna,” he said, his lip curling.
“Harrison,” snapped Anna, stopping before him and putting her hands on her hips. “We’ve come here to the Qilin Cabaret at your request. What do you want with us?”
“Come on, Your Majesty. Can’t we have some small talk before getting down to business?” asked Harrison, spreading his arms. “Sit down!” he invited, gesturing at the two teak chairs before his table. Anna and Colisa looked at each other, then slowly accepted his invitation. “Tiffany, please fetch us some hot and fresh jasmine tea. Only the best for these two sovereigns,” he added, though Anna knew that he saw himself as very much on the same plane of authority at the two queens. “How do you find my… venue of entertainment?”
Anna smiled tersely. “It’s beautiful and deadly. I know I’m in the den of my enemy.”
“Well, at least there’s good music,” said Harrison as Tiffany walked off. “I spent a fortune developing the Qilin Cabaret as… well, you could imagine this as the Peking equivalent of the Nokk Club back in Arendelle. Only far better,” he couldn’t help adding noxiously.
Anna remained calm, but her words continued to simmer. “Shut it. You were behind the Floodgate triads’ attacks in Hong Kong, weren’t you?”
“Kristoff and Lady Kam’s business challenged me on my home turf of Hong Kong, where I have many warehouses,” said Harrison, his voice calm but unpleasant. Tiffany returned with an elegant bamboo tray with two porcelain cups of steaming hot tea, setting them before Anna and Colisa. The two allies didn’t touch them, preferring to listen to Harrison. “And don’t pretend that you haven’t heard of Lady Kam’s own underworld connections. It’s easy to be self-righteous. But you’re now the leader of the Exalted. You’ll learn how quickly your morals might be dropped for the sake of the greater good – whether for your business, your kingdom, or your secret society,” added Harrison bitterly.
“And is that what this meeting’s all about?” asked Anna. “To see if you can now patch things up with me so that you can join the Exalted once more?”
“Bah!” scoffed Harrison. “And subject myself to you? To fester under your leadership? No. No, no, no,” he laughed bitterly, relishing the chance to reject Anna, no matter how petty it was and despite the fact that Anna would never let him rejoin anyway. “I heard from my triads that you’ve been bestowed the title of Emerald Dragon by Lord Yixin – and your other three members have received corresponding labels. It’s not the secret society that I recognized and aspired to.” He clasped his hands once more, resting his elbows on the table. “But this I do acknowledge: you’ve grown too powerful. But you’re also only able to react to me, because I can strike at you without ever setting foot in Arendelle. So you, with only Arendelle as your jurisdiction, can do little to stop me either. Which is why my triads could hound you with such ease in Hong Kong.”
“Stuff you,” snapped Anna.
Colisa was calmer, but her voice equally scornful. “You’re not being very convincing with this whole negotiations thing.”
“I was getting to that.” Harrison narrowed his eyes. “I don’t want to be part of your Exalted. But if you’re willing to cut me a share of the ultimate prize…”
Colisa’s eyes widened. “What, you mean… the elixir?”
“Yes. If you cut me in, I’ll give you exactly a ten per cent stake in Harrison’s, my multinational empire of lucrative trade, and I’ll employ a team of lobbyists in Washington D.C., my home country’s capital, specifically to advocate for Arendellian interests, from foreign policy to trade deals with all the states of my Union.” Harrison smiled. “Don’t overlook my reach into the government. Oh, and I’ll also support Arendellian expansion of commercial business interests, here in China. This should be a pretty good offer from me, shouldn’t it? For more information about the elixir.”
Anna looked shocked. Ten per cent? That was effectively a majority stake for any one individual to hold: a generous concession for a businessman like Harrison. Harrison must have known that they needed more time to decide what to do, and had seized on a moment of weakness to open the negotiations process.
“In other words, you’re offering your terms in return for what would effectively be you joining the search for the elixir of life?” confirmed Colisa, pursing her lips. “The decision to share this elixir, as Anna was explicitly told by Lord Yixin, is her responsibility and decision alone.”
Harrison smirked. “What leader in this world wouldn’t want to at least find it?” he asked Anna. “Work with me, queen of Arendelle. I’m offering you the keys to Asia as well as my home country of America. That surely must mean something…”
Anna crossed her arms as she pondered Harrison’s words, the silent tension explosive.
Her first temptations as the Emerald Dragon had presented themselves.
PART TWO: ANNA’S BIG DECISION! AND WILL HARRISON CALL IN THE FLOODGATE?