Spring was in the air, and just as nature was reborn every year, Sir Alan, commander of the Borealis Corps, also felt like he’d enjoyed a makeover.
He had arrived at the outskirts of Arendelle, where the woods began. The air was crisp and cool and fresh, and when he exhaled, having taken a deep and happy breath, freezing mist issued from his lips – a foreshadowing of the power he had attained. A hint of the might he was planning to unleash on Arendelle’s enemies.
He trekked further in, deeper into the forest, where his appointment awaited. He felt rather uncomfortable in his military-style uniform, but it was his duty to look on tip-top form wherever he went; such were the trappings of his high office, the most senior rank just below General Mattias himself. In fact, the kingdom was now protected by what the Arendellian press called the Big Three. First there was Mattias, who commanded the army and navy, and then there was Alan, who’d been knighted by Queen Anna early on in her reign and led the Borealis Corps as Anna and Elsa’s royal guard. There was one more, the most shadowy of the trio.
And it just so happened that she and Alan had an appointment today.
The “shadow” commander of the fierce dark protectors of Arendelle, Hilde Von Altheim, stood in a forest clearing, having left behind her intricate and stuffy Mundilfari military uniform a full year ago. Her attire was much plainer these days: a tight black top that allowed her maximal movement and flexibility, showing off her taut, rippling muscles. She kept her ponytail but her once-formal trousers were now replaced by camouflaged, understated pants to which were affixed various belts that held knives, daggers, explosive powder, and other weapons that could be deployed in any situation on the battlefield.
She glanced at Alan as she noticed him walking towards her, fiddling with her tactical gloves. “I smell something different about you today,” she said, yellow canine eyes gleaming.
“It’s not my cologne,” replied Alan jokingly, as his hand rested on the handle of his saber. After all, he would soon draw it.
“No,” remarked Hilde, “it’s not.” She stared into his eyes. “You’ve done well. I’ve never had someone train under me before, not even my lady Vi. But it’s fitting that you were my first, and that we’ll go to Mundilfari Keep together to bring the Countess back – and stop whatever the Moonborn are trying on the castle grounds.”
“I’m ready, Hilde,” said Alan. “I’m more ready than I’ve ever been. And even if the Moonborn prove more powerful than any foe we’ve ever known…”
He smiled at her. “Thanks to you and our work together, I’ve got at least a fighting chance.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Do you remember how unrefined you were before? Yes, you had raw power, and your ice magic is nothing to scoff at. But training alone, with no smith to forge your skills in the fires of combat… it wasn’t enough. And you were indeed alone.”
I remember, Alan thought to himself, recalling with a slight twinge of embarassment that humbling day…
Last year. 1844
It had been three years since Anna’s coronation and Elsa’s vacating the throne and three years since Anna’s coronation, and two years since the Russo-Arendellian War. Alan had fought his damndest against Katina’s army, and especially against her Grand Dukes. But it had been barely enough.
He was in the forest clearing that would become his future training space, staring listlessly at the trees before him. The light pitter-patter of combat boots could suddenly be heard behind him. “You seem down,” came a stern feminine voice from behind. He turned, and it was Hilde, who was breathing heavily as she jogged on the spot. Muscular, lean, full of vitality and magnificent powere, the beautiful but deadly werewolf was in her new outfit, her hair done up in her familiar bun, sweating it out as she stared at him.
“Hey,” said Alan dully. “This is your usual jogging route, isn’t it? You’ve recovered pretty quickly for someone who almost died against Grand Duke Yaraslaf, the werebear who almost seized Arenfjord.”
“I’m a werewolf. As long I don’t die, I can never be killed.”
“What? That didn’t even make any sense,” grunted Alan. He had to give it to her – despite having her body almost torn apart by Yaraslaf, here she was, on her usual morning, twenty-kilometer jog: all in a day’s workout for Hilde.
Hilde stopped her run, cracking her neck and stretching her arms as she joined Alan. “Snarkiness is not you. You seem down, Borealis commander.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve been training my butt off long before Russia invaded us – heck, I’ve been training even harder since Anna made peace with Katina.” Alan gestured with his hand. “Actually, I’ve been working on my punching, bodywork, and sword today. But I still feel that even after my ice magic awakened, I have barely been able to grow its strength, leaving me only being able to supplement my martial arts with some frostbite and ice blasts. And it’s nowhere near enough.”
He sighed. “Not if I want to be a worthy beloved for Elsa. Not if I want to be a good Borealis commander for Anna.”
Hilde’s lip curled slightly. “You’re right. Elsa duelled me to a standstill some years ago on Lady Vi’s estate. If you wish to be strong, truly strong, you should be able to at least hold your own against me. For at least a few seconds.”
Alan rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, you’re awesome. Thanks for making me feel better.”
“I’m being serious,” said Hilde, pointing at herself. “I’m inviting you to test yourself against me.” She jabbed her finger at her chin.
“Well, hit me, then.”
“What? No,” cried Alan, who was always a gentleman. “I’m feeling down, and it’s a lovely cool morning. I haven’t even had breakfast with Uncle Mike yet. I’m not going to fight you.”
“Who said this was a fight?” said Hilde. “You can’t break through your ice magic plateau, and your martial arts are unbefitting for someone who Anna has made her top commander.”
Her hand shifted and beckoned him forward. It was a challenge.
“You need a partner and teacher.”
Alan felt adrenaline rushing through his veins as he shrugged. Hilde was always so cool and collected, so he wanted to be, too. “You’re proposing to train me?”
“Let’s see if you’re worthy of it first.”
“Ooooh, now you’re just asking for it.” Alan grinned and cracked his knuckles, easing into a boxing position. His boots scraped across the forest dirt as he took up Hilde’s taunt, running at her and summoning all his strength. He let out a sharp cry, throwing a powerful right cross that struck Hilde directly on her right cheek. The forest shook with the impact.
His punch would have knocked out any human being cold. But instead, Hilde slightly turned her head at the impact, her body not budging at all. Alan felt his fist bashing against skin, flesh, and bone, but it was as if he’d hit an unmoving wall. She simply looked back at him silently as his eyes betrayed his unease. He almost wanted to back off, to give up, but he steeled himself and resisted her wordless intimidation, her overwhelming aura.
This is a werewolf’s aura… he thought to himself forebodingly.
He tried to fortify himself with another roar, lunging again and launching a flurry of punches, knees, and roundhouse kicks at her most vulnerable spots – her face, her ribs, her chest, her knees. And it wasn’t as if they missed; they all hit true, smashing into Hilde again and again. Alan felt the impact of his crushing attacks at his knuckles and insteps, sounds and slight aches all, but Hilde just wasn’t moving, completely unbudged, like a tree rooted to the ground, in defiance of what Alan thought should have been knock-out blows. Panicking, he felt his fist ignite with cold winter mist, so cold that it felt white-hot, and he threw it at Hilde in a wild haymaker.
BAM. Alan landed a clean blow on Hilde with his fist and ice magic, and he felt his whole body burning, muscles straining all over. He panted noisily, feeling his clenched hand against Hilde’s skin. As the mist parted, he saw that Hilde had caught his fist in her palm, inches from her face.
What the hell? he thought in fearful wonder. She blocked me?
Trying not to panic, he tried to pull away, planning to kick her, but she gripped him tighter, not letting go.
“Enough,” grunted Hilde. “Relax. We’re done.”
It took a few seconds for him to settle himself. Heart still pounding, unsure if Hilde was about to unleash a counterattack on him, or – spirits forbid – go all werewolf on him, Alan slowly backed away after Hilde gradually released his hand.
Hilde slowly brushed at her lips with her thumb, where a trickle of blood emerged from the bottom of her mouth. She stared at it closely, before flicking it onto the ground.
“Hm,” was all she said.
Alan felt a pit of dread open up in his stomach. He’d landed crushing blow after crushing blow on her, and all this while she’d been offering herself as his punching bag.
Just to test his skills.
Just to see how strong – or weak – he was. To see how far he had to go.
And from her expression – from how casually she’d shrugged off his very best – he had a long way.
“You’re really the strongest of us all,” breathed Alan in awe and slight despair. “The perfect warrior of the Von Altheims, and the strongest werewolf to ever protect the Mundilfaris.”
“And that’s why you and I need to work together to protect my lady, because I wouldn’t be able live with myself if she ever got hurt. And you know how much it hurt to be unable to protect Elsa. I feel the same way about the Countess.”
“Yeah,” said Alan sadly. “I feel you.”
“I must not fail. But we need to help each other.” She stared at him. “You love Elsa, don’t you?”
“More than anything in the world.”
“Then you should aim for the pinnacle, along with me. Your ice magic could have really hurt me. That’s why I actually had to catch your last blow.”
Hilde gave a small smile. “Alan. How would you like to undergo military training under my ancient Von Altheim style?”
Alan’s eyes widened as he felt a thrilled surge of excitement. “And combine it with my ice magic? Hell, yes!”
He’d come so far, and now he was ready for the Moonborn.
“I owe you,” said Alan, slowly revealing his blade and its curved guard, before pointing it at Hilde. In any other situation, this would have been a hostile act, but unbeknowst to many, even the queen herself, this had been a common thing between Alan and Hilde for a while.
“When you suggested that I combine my growing ice magic with your military-style training, I never thought I’d reach such heights of strength. But now that I have, it’s time you see the fruits of your tutelage. Teacher Von Altheim,” he added affectionately.
Hilde rolled her shoulders, turning to face him. “It’s time, boy. Time for you to test your skills against the Moonborn. Against the Countess and our queen’s enemies. But before all that, you must first impress me.”
Alan’s eyes began to glow an ethereal blue as the ground around him suddenly erupted in icy flames.
This was something that no one else had ever seen before.
He slowly raised his head as a howling blizzard erupted from him, encircling him and Hilde. Hilde, meanwhile, snarled softly, her fists clenching in preparation.
Preparation to give her student his final test.
“Let’s go,” hissed Alan over his mighty snowstorm, his eyes glowing, his sword raised…
NEXT: SEE THE FRUITS OF ALAN’S TRAINING…!!?