Featured image art “Moon Goddess” by hannah.digiart (@HDigiart)
The Forbidden City. Qing China
“Everything is going to plan, master.” Peony stood at attention in the darkness of the imperial hall, the throne before her swathed in incense-choked darkness. “Anna’s strength grows by the month, and Arendelle, step by step, is taking its place among the family of great powers.”
Peony pursed her lips. “Arendelle is a unique country among countries, headed by the Diarchy: the only leaders who are capable of taking on the very Moonborn themselves.”
She took a deep breath. “And, with help from her new Exalted, they’ll take what Chang’e, your mother, denied you. What she denied humanity: a fair shot at immortality.”
There was silence from the seated form a few feet in front of her.
Peony paused. “Master?” she asked, looking up as she heard Yixin shift. His robed body moved slightly, and two smoldering orbs of light that were his eyes gazed balefully down at his adoptive daughter.
“Excuse me, child. I have not slept in many years, but today I just found myself dozing off. How long it’s been since I actually fell asleep for a few minutes. Perhaps it’s because you’re right: everything is indeed falling into place and I simply need to wait for the fruits to ripen.”
Peony glimpsed his two rows of piranha-like, malformed teeth. She was the only person he did not raise his fan to his mouth to talk to. The eldest Moonborn slowly stood up from his throne and walked past the kneeling Englishwoman.
“Even now, after thousands of years walking this planet, long before Sumer, Egypt, or China ever existed… I dream about the great disaster that followed my defeat at Mother’s hands. Do you wish to hear of it again? I told you the same story many times before your bedtime, when I could carry you like a little monkey in my arms.”
Peony lowered her head further. “I never tire of it, lord. I remain in awe of the Scattering – in many ways, it was more painful for you than even when…” She shook her head. She couldn’t say it. It hurt her to even think of it.
Yixin glanced down at her. “You can utter the words. When my mother, the moon goddess, cast me down from the celestial endlessness of space and stripped me of much of my power. Yet I was the first she had fed the elixir of life to, so I’ve been wandering the Earth ever since, rebuilding my strength, waiting for the right time… and the right people… to transform this world.” He lowered a hand and ruffled Peony’s blonde hair. “You’re right, however. The Scattering – that which set me against my own brothers and sisters. Because of my mother’s foolishness, my siblings were forced to take sides against me.”
He clenched his deadly sharp teeth, beady eyes glinting angrily. “And I was forced to crush them. Some died by my hand, while others managed to carry out Mother’s will and hide various shards of the elixir around the world, away from me. I was too weakened at the time to chase them all down. I’d lost my cosmic fleet, too.”
Peony stood up, her silver eyes blazing. “They were misled by Chang’e, lord. They wanted to keep the elixir for themselves, denying humanity the priceless gift that you wanted to give them. How could they be so shortsighted?”
Yixin shook his head. “A tragic blend of self-interest, attachment to Mother, and yes, even the conviction that I’m wrong. That humanity isn’t ready.” He nodded at Peony, bidding her to stand to look him in the eye, and she did so. “But humanity is ready, my child. Elsa and Anna, the queens of Arendelle, are ready.”
Peony grimaced. “Locating the shards of the elixir, and hunting down and defeating your siblings – it’ll be no easy task. As you told me many times, some of them have gone into hiding while others actively guard the shards. But I can report that Anna’s already delegated the Exalted to regions of the world where the shards have been reported to be found. Even I’ve received an assignment. I won’t be far away from you, lord, and will keep you informed. I’m your eyes and hands.”
Yixin glanced at her. “You’ve managed to recruit Viola, Anna’s prime minister and head of the Mundilfari clan, into this grand project with the Exalted, haven’t you?”
Peony seized up, though she kept her voice as unemotional as possible. “She’s not part of the Exalted, but she serves Anna with loyalty and devotion.”
Yixin didn’t look back at Peony. “You still like her.”
Peony shook her head. “Please don’t taunt me, lord. I loved her for a very brief period, when you sent me to recruit her for the Exalted. I don’t need reminding of my failure.”
“Sometimes, it’s the briefest romances that scar us the deepest. I understand how you feel, little one. But I must ask you to keep her on your mind a while longer.”
Yixin stroked his chin. “In a way, Viola has achieved immortality of a certain sort, hasn’t she? Albeit in eternal servitude to a malicious demon. What a tragic little girl. As tragic as Katina, princess of Russia. My Romanov puppet.”
Yixin paused, his voice growing more reedy. “Keep an eye on these two women, my child. Katina and Viola. They’re wild cards, and have Anna’s ear and love. They’re fiercely independent leaders that have defied me before. They’ve submitted to my will for now, but in future…” The Chinese prince regent’s eyes glinted. “I want no one to stand in Anna’s way of seizing the shards of the elixir and putting it back together for me. For humanity’s future.”
He flicked his long, golden sleeve and walked out the open red door. “No one must get in the way of the grand destiny I have planned for humanity. Not even Anna and Elsa’s closest friends!”
Peony’s eyes flashed. “Yes, my lord.”