By Political Reporter Mikael and Crime Correspondent Helga
The Arendellian Great Assembly and palace are in a state of near-panic as government affairs grind to a halt in the absence of the prime minister, Countess Vi Mundilfari.
Domestic issues of tax levies, the funding of charities, and shipping are as neglected as relations with Central Europe’s kingdoms, trade with the New World, and the most recent drafts of the Northuldran treaties.
The queen has offered a personal reward of 100,000 kroner for information leading to updates about the situation of the noblewoman, who is famously known as Arendelle’s first and only vampire and an extremely influential political player. She was once Anna’s rival, but has since been an important ally. In the last few weeks since she departed Arendelle for her home estate of Mundilfari Keep, she has not returned to the kingdom.
“I’m worried about her personal safety. I’m concerned that something has gone wrong, even though she insisted that no one follow her,” our queen said in a heartfelt personal statement. “I need her back by our side, with me in the Great Assembly, governing and guiding the kingdom. Without her, we’re in trouble. Without her, my agenda isn’t just incomplete, it’s in peril.”
Rumors have swirled giddily among palace courtiers that another Arendellian noblewoman, Hilde Von Altheim, is moving to investigate Mundilfari Keep. Hilde is known to many as Vi’s right hand, the loyal shadow that serves her unconditionally and faithfully: a lethal threat, but also a formidable ally for the same reason. It’s said that the queen has given Hilde permission to follow in Vi’s footsteps and investigate the circumstances of the Countess’s disappearance.
In the name of national interest, our own newspaper of The AG has commissioned a group of senior reporters with investigative training to work with private investigators to delve into the Countess’s whereabouts.
Vi felt extremities seared to the point as if they were melting. She felt faint, but could at the same time feel both scorching heat and the coolness of the void around her. A few paces before her, back turned, was Majestic Max, his hand staring at his hand as he inspected his fingernails.
“Where am I?” growled the immortal undead woozily, unsuccesfully trying to move her ankles and wrists. They were immobile, and she was suspended in mid-air, her surroundings completely black.
“We’re still in Mundilfari Keep, your home,” said Max snootily. “This is a pocket realm of my own craft, which allows me to hide my physical presence, even though you could sense me moving through the walls. Every Moonborn can do this.” He turned around and looked Vi in the eye. “I plan to use you to get close to Anna, but I think it’ll be good to let Arendelle stew for a while before we return together, and you get me into Anna’s inner circle. But I have a different prize in mind, one that I want to eliminate before we go to the queen.” He smiled. “Hilde. Your general. Your lady knight.”
“She’s coming for me?” groaned Vi, unable to hide the concern in her voice. “I told her and Tess to stay out of this.”
“I’m counting on her coming for you,” declared Max. “You and Hilde are the only people in the entirety of Arendelle that can match the snow queen Elsa’s might… in fact, the three of you are the only few that come close to challenging us Moonborn. That’s why, once I have you under my thumb and Hilde defeated, I’ll be in a much stronger position to seize Arendelle, and destroy the heart of this plot to steal our elixir fragments from us in the bud.”
Vi snorted, mind racing on how she could get out of this mess… and somehow stop Hilde from making a rash move against Majestic Max. “Shouldn’t you be blaming Yixin for our conflict, anyway?”
“Oh, I hold him responsible too. But his rivalry with us, with Mother, is measured in millennia. While you and Anna shouldn’t flatter yourselves. At most, you might be a threat to us for a few centuries, and even then Anna will be long dead. At worst, you and your Exalted friends are nothing more than nuisances.” Majestic Max licked his lips. “I’m going to defeat Hilde, along with the Mundilfari Court Guard she no doubt will bring with her. And then, I will be free to move into Arendelle, with you under my control and my sights on Queen Anna herself.”
Vi’s crimson eyes glinted. “Nice plan. Except you forgot Elsa. Even if you could topple Hilde, which I have serious doubts about, Arendelle will never fall or lose hope as long as Anna’s big sister watches over us.”
“I defeated you easily. Why should I not expect to do the same for Hilde or Elsa?”
Vi shrugged. “Oh, perhaps you would take either down fairly easily. But what about them both? I sense that they will come for me, together.” Her smile broadened as Majestic Max, for the first time, pursed his lips.
“I suggest you check your arrogance. Bet against Elsa, Anna, or the rest of my friends if you wish, but prepare to lose much money. In fact, I’m not even sure if you’ll get as far as taking me back to Arendelle Castle.”
“Shut up!” cried Majestic Max. “I’m a Moonborn of Mother Chang’e. I’ll beat your friends easily.”
“We’ll see, loony,” smirked Vi. For now, she stopped struggling, content to enjoy the superbeing’s discomfort at the prospect of being confronted by a werewolf and the Snow Queen.
It had been quite some time since she set foot on her ancestral estate.
“Countess, we’re here. Welcome back. To Mundilfari Keep.”
Vi opened her red eyes, remembering that she was in her carriage. She’d opted for a week-long journey up to the Jotunheimen Mountains, the traditional route she’d always taken when she was still a human being and heiress to her clan, which she’d wiped out herself. In times of old, Mundilfari nobles would descend from their lofty castle, symbolically condescending to hold court with their monarch in the unwashed main town of Arendelle. Vi had seen it fitting, in an attempt to break with her family’s poisonous past and ideology, to move out of the Keep and into the Grand House overlooking the hillside in Arendelle, near the buildings of the Great Assembly, the parliament that served Anna.
The prime minister looked around her sumptuous interior, before calling out to her carriageman, “The courtyard will do, Andreas. thanks.”
“Certainly, ma’am.” Vi could hear the horses’ hooves clopping to a stop, and she opened the door, lightly levitating from her carriage before lightly descending on to the ground. She looked around the decrepit plaza, a flood of memories surging back in this spacious place, where she used to receive guests… guests like Anna. A long time ago, they’d met here for the very first time, when Vi still believed in her family’s mission to control the royals. Anna had resisted. The two women quickly became rivals, and for a while, their political contests nearly defined Arendelle’s future direction: would it be one steered by Anna’s vision, or one by the Mundilfari creed?
That was so long ago, before Russia invaded Arendelle in the greatest test of Anna’s life, and Vi journeyed to England and, through a series of dark twists with a demonic man called Thomas Hunt, became the kingdom’s first vampiress.
Vi chuckled to herself. “It feels like an age away. Now, I couldn’t imagine not being with her. Working with her. Supporting her.”
“Countess,” said Andreas, “should I wait for you here?”
“No,” said Vi, shaking her head. “Return to Arendelle and report back to Hilde. I’ve already ordered the evacuation of this whole castle, from my groundskeeper and my gardeners to the cooks and the remaining few maids that keep this place from falling into complete disrepair. But now, its time has finally come. This old home where I used to play my grand piano and enjoy the mountain breeze, Mundilfari Keep, is no more.”
“What… what do you mean, my lady? Surely we all serve you with devotion. We must stay with you!”
Her vampiric eyes gleamed. “I mean, Andreas, it’s not safe here. Now shoo, before I bare my fangs at you.”
She left the courtyard, entering into one of the corridors that led to the many halls of the castle. Even as her high heels clacked on the ancient stone floor or pressed against the mouldy old carpeting that had pressed on said stone for centuries, she could feel an oppressive weight weighing on her shoulders, its powerful aura suffusing the very walls of her old dwelling.
She took her time strolling about, trying to get a feel of the presence that seemed to be watching her from every angle. Her mind raced as she wandered into the dining hall, staring at the long table where she used to dine with Anna and her friends, now bare and empty. She reminisced about playing chess with her queen in the drawing room, its fireplace dead and cold. She went out to one of the balconies, breathing in the cold mountain air and gazing at the forest below. This was the balcony where Hilde had given Anna a friendly spar, and the forest below was where her werewolf general and Elsa once had a mighty duel – one that Vi and Anna had to stop.
She smiled to herself. “That night was a close call.”
She sighed. Despite the memories of a bitter and lonely childhood, as well as a vicious family past in which she’d been complicit, the Keep held good memories too, many of which had accumulated while Elsa and Anna were around. Now, all of that was coming to an end.
She’d sensed it, weeks ago, all the way from her Grand House. Not even Hilde, with her heightened werewolf senses, nor Elsa, could feel the incredibly suffocating presence that had infiltrated Mundilfari Keep. Of course they couldn’t. Anna had stirred the Moonborn from their hiding, and one had evidently set up shop in the Keep, allowing only its master to detect its presence. This was no mere ghost or haunting. Such was the power of the Moonborn, to be able to make themselves invisible to all the senses. It was how they’d lain low for so long.
Vi whispered a sentimental goodbye to her home as she finally felt herself ready to call out the intruder. “I know you’re there, watching me. Get out of my walls.”
“You should be thanking me,” came the echoing voice, as from the aether stepped an elegant leather shoe. The man moving into sight was dressed in a three-piece white suit, immaculate and elegant, his green eyes glinting imperiously. He had short, blond hair that was shaved at the edges, and he wore circular-framed glasses that lent him a scholarly look. Yet his aura bore down on Vi like a ton of bricks, malevolent and hostile. “I came to this home of yours and did a little… pest cleaning.”
“The demon that dwells here, Mephistopheles. He knew what I was, and who I’d come for – you. He didn’t want to relinquish you. You were his slave, after all.” He tittered delicately, adjusting his owlish spectacles. “So I, Majestic Maximillian, killed him. He’s gone, dead, kaput. Yes, just like that.”
Vi felt a dreadful sinking in her gut. “The demon that has held me hostage all my life… is defeated?” she confirmed in disbelief. It was too much to take in. Either this freak was lying, or… She regained herself, crimson irises glinting. “Your name is stupid, by the way.”
“Mock me all you want, but to strangle an ancient demon with minimal effort is cakewalk for a Moonborn. Who do you think we are? We’re beings of galactic power. You and your crowd truly don’t know what you’re messing with. What you’ve awakened,” snarled Majestic Max.
“Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re free, far from it.” The interloper suddenly waved his arms, and from thin air crackled four whip-shaped beams of light. “You’re now going to serve me. For Chang’e.” The whips suddenly launched themselves at her, and Vi dived forward, rolling along the floor and sprinting at the man with her fangs bared, roaring. But Majestic Max clicked his fingers, and the whips turned around, striking Vi in the back with the heat of the very Sun. Vi screamed as she felt the white-hot flame opening her pale skin like a hot knife carving through butter. She staggered briefly, mind blank for a few critical moments. She dashed away as the Moonborn’s serpentine weapons continued their relentless assault, snaking their way to the Countess. Her physical form exploded into a warm of bats as she fluttered away, soaring up high to the ceiling before descending onto Majestic Max. At the last moment, she reformed into her humanoid appearance, smashing into him and sending their snarling bodies tumbling along the ground. “Oof!” cried out her adversary, as he scrambled up. He dusted his lapel off and adjusted his glasses. “How inelegant and brutish of you. But you managed to land a scrape on me. That’s impressive.”
Vi howled out a bestial, vampiric roar and slashed at his face with her hand, sharp and indestructible nails aiming for his eyes. Usually, her preternaturally swift attack would have torn a human being to shreds, and even Hilde and Elsa would struggle to parry her. But to her shock, Majestic Max caught her wrist inches from his face, his green eyes staring into hers. She pivoted as fast as she could with a kick aimed at his knee, which would have cleanly sliced through a mortal’s leg. But not his. Instead, he grabbed her in mid-motion with his other hand and twisted, sending her body flying in a gravitational counterattack that sent her crashing to the ground. Just as she scrambled up desperately, he whipped out from his coat pocket an ornate, circular medallion engraved with a crescent moon. Before Vi could react, the whips encircled themselves around her extremities and burned into her skin and flesh. The pain was excruciating, and a screaming Vi collapsed to the floor, before she felt her body being hurled back up to a levitating position, her terrified gaze meeting Majestic Max’s. He raised his medallion, and the Countess felt her arms being forced up and her legs pulled down like a prisoner on a medieval rack.
“The… sign… of a Moon?” whispered Vi, groaning. She was immobilized.
“This is a Lunar Seal,” said the invader triumphantly, “insignia of us Moonborn, children of Chang’e. But it’s so much more. It’s the source of our individual powers, and allows us to channel the immortality bestowed upon us by Mother to manifest whatever power we desire.” The man cackled gleefully. “And it just so happens, mine is holy fire, a solar flare… perfect for undead monstrosities like you. And therefore I choose to seal away your power with energy from the Sun. Not even the First Vampire can take sunlight point-blank in her face. The more you struggle, the more it shall hurt.”
He walked up to the struggling vampire and struck her in the stomach, his fist tearing a fearsome bruise across her abdomen. Vi doubled over, coughing blood.
“Yah! I’m glad that hurt. Now, Countess Mundilfari,” snarled the Moonborn, “if you know what’s good for your precious Hilde and Tess, you’re going to get me close to your beloved queen, Anna.” His eyes glinted with glee at Vi’s helpless glare. “Repeat after me, girl: Majestic Maximillian is the scion of Noble House Heinrich and he comes bearing gifts to the queen. Well, that’s the identity I’m assuming, and that’s how you’re going to introduce me to the Arendellian court.”
He raised his Lunar Seal, snarling, “One last time – don’t try anything funny. I serve Mother Chang’e and the great mission of keeping the elixir of life safe. Your queen has made it her mission to take the fragments from us. And now, I’m going to infiltrate her government and kill her.”
Vi screamed, despite the agony of the rings of light cutting into her wrists and ankles, “You don’t stand a chance against Elsa. If I can’t rip you to shreds, she will.”
Majestic Maximillian smiled.
“Well, she can try. But thanks to you, filthy vampiress, she and Anna will never see me coming.”
We had just wrapped up the Summer Session of meetings with the ministers and PM Viola Mundilfari at the Great Assembly, and I was feeling the burn-out! It was time to get a breath of fresh air and finish up what was waiting for us in our offices.
If you’ve read the small, independent paper, The Arendelle Times as well as our beloved Arendelle Guardian, I had some fires to put out and hired staff to delegate a lot of the business of being trade minister. Our Queen Anna has been quite the busy bee, making new friends with many nations and kingdoms as we extend trade relations abroad. The high point was meeting with the trade minister of Russia, Baron Krüdener, who presented me with the stunning image of a wind driven rail car made by Evan Thomas of Baltimore, Maryland from a place I know well, the United States.
Queen Anna talked about when she had visited her big sister, Elsa the Fifth Spirit, in Northuldra. How all the leaves were just so brilliant and lovely in the Enchanted Forest. So the last weekend Elsa was home, she found me not in my study working or just reading or joining in with Anna and Kristoff, visiting with her. I was not even at my favorite place having a good cigar or pipe! I was just on my couch, passed out tired from all the work I had from the session, plus, the logistics and support for an upcoming mission for Anna. I felt like a worn out dish rag after Gerda, Olina and the kitchen folks finished washing dishes after a big state dinner! So, seeing my door open, Elsa looked in and saw her poor, overworked uncle sacked out and seemingly dead tired to the world.
I felt this cool, refreshing breeze with a bit of light snow on my brow as I stirred up slowly. I saw this slender, gentle hand with fingers, gingerly wiggling over me with snow flakes appearing out of the air. It felt really good as I saw Elsa, leaning over me.
“Uncle,” she said in her gentle voice.
“Oh, hey there, Elsa,” I said as I rose up to an inclined position on the couch arm.
“Anna says you’ve working hard lately.”
“Oh my gosh, yes,” I replied. “Meetings, arranging supplies for our exploration for the Elixir: holy cow, I’ve never been so busy! I’ve hired on some great folks to help in handling the additional duties, it seems like there’s never enough time in the day.”
Elsa said, “You know, we’ve appriciated you when you help us with your advice and wisdom when we have problems, especially when you came back and I was learning how to deal with my powers, anxieties and fears. You mind if I returned the favor with you?”
I replied, “Sure, sweetie. I don’t mind. What’s your suggestion?”
Elsa suggested, “Come with me to Northuldra. You should see how the forest is now that Autumn is here. Maren, Ryder, Yelana, Bruni, everyone would love to see you! Stay with us for a week or two!”
“Sure! Why not?” I exclaimed. “Besides, Vi said she was going back to Keep Mundilfari. Maybe our resident vampiress needed a getaway from here. I could see her just now, soaking up in the warm mineral springs under the Keep with a good libation, just chillin’ like a villain!”
“Good,” I said. “I’ll pack and meet you at the door to the fjord.”
Elsa then met with Anna to tell her our plans. Unfortunately, Anna couldn’t join us as she was needed at the castle for ongoing royal business with Kristoff and Lady Kam in China. So, I packed up for the trip and met my nieces at the gates. We mounted Nokk to my wagon, Elsa sat with me, she gave Nokk a look, and off to Northuldra we went!
I wish I had Nokk pulling my freight wagon. Talk about making time! Once Elsa said, “Hold on, Uncle!” ZIP! We were off and flying up the fjord!
We made good time with Nokk pulling us a the way to the stone monoliths as we then slowed to enter the forest. We followed the wagon trail that home minister Maren oversaw in making into the Northuldrans’ settlement village. Maren, Elsa and the earth giants really made it nice!
We arrived in the late afternoon as Nokk came to a stop in the middle of the village. The Northuldrans saw us come in and welcomed us as the Northuldrans’ leader, Yelana and Home Minister Maren emerged from Yelana’s tent. Elsa exited the wagon first then embraced Maren in a hug as Yelana said: “Welcome home, Fifth Spirit.”
“Thank you very much,” Elsa said. “I’ve brought a special visitor,” she noted, gesturing to me as I stepped forward and greeted Maren.
“Ah, welcome back to Northuldra, trade minister. What brings you here so unexpectedly?”
“Thank you very much, Yelena.” I answered. “Just call me Mike or Michael. The ‘Trade Minister’ is still in Arendelle!” I said with a smile and a chuckle. “It’s been so hectic lately, Elsa took pity on her poor old Uncle and suggested a trip here to Northuldra in the fall and unwind.”
“The colors are just exceptional this year, trade minister,” said Ryder. The young, strapping gentleman had come up from the reindeer herd he and the others were handling.
“Just Mike there, Ryder ole’ buddy!” I greeted. We shook hands, smiling.
“I trust you’ll be joining us for dinner tonight?” Yelana asked.
“Looking forward to it.” I said.
But then, a red bolt came right at me. It was Bruni!
“NO, DOWN BRUNI, HEEL HEEL!”
THOOMP! BOOM! Down I went! Mugged by a crazy fire salamander! Slurp, slurp, slurp!
“Ha, ha, ha! I’m glad to see you too, you little flaming turkey!” I boomed in laughter. It was so nice to see him again.
“Okay, okay, Bruni,” Elsa said as everyone laughed. Elsa made Bruni’s favorite snow flakes to draw him over to her hand.
“It wouldn’t be a complete vacation up here without getting mugged by Bruni!” I said in amusement!
Dinner was roasted veggies with some fine Northuldran salmon over an open fire, with fresh hot tea following. Fine eatin’. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was bedtime under the stunning Northuldran moon and stars uncovered by clouds.
Next morning came with a good, rich breakfast of fresh fruits, especially berries. Afterwards Elsa, Honeymaren, Ryder and myself, packed up for a picnic and overnight camp out. Bruni even came along with us! When he wasn’t out ahead of us, he mostly was taking in the snowflake treats from Elsa! He’s such a cutie!
Autumn in Northuldra is magical. Having the Fifth Spirit, my Snow Queen niece Elsa as tour guide, made it all the more special.
I was given a unique gift by the settlement elders: an exquisite wooden cane, carved out of Northuldran oak, to assist me in walking with Elsa and Yelena. It was sturdy and beautiful. It came in handy as we walked along the woods and marvelled at the colors that the forest just burst out in.
Elsa and Gale put a little show on of swirling the leaves as they fell from the trees, making a colorful display of wind and foliage, ablaze in reds, yellows, greens and golds before falling to cover the forest floor.
Elsa led our little expedition to a spectacular overlook that showed the entire valley below in a breathtaking scene of color!
We stopped here and enjoyed our picnic lunch with fish, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers for sandwiches, some of the locally made fruit juice and such. “This is just so beautiful and serene,” I said as we sat there, enjoying the day and the gorgeous scenery.
“You’re looking a lot better, Uncle Michael,” Ryder said, and it was true. I was definitely feeling much better.
“I think Elsa got that same smile from you, Mike,” Honeymaren said, sitting next to Elsa.
“It’s not a bright as Elsa’s, believe that,” I said as Elsa shyly grinned!
“I also think that you’re feeling alot better, Uncle. Your cheeks have a healthy flush, and, and there’s a skip in your gait,” Elsa said.
“Just doing as the Snow Doctor said.” I joked.
We packed up and started down the hill and passed by where the Earth Giants were. They recognized Elsa and were very friendly with us. We found the clearing right by where they sleep in the valley’s river, so we made camp for the night.
We sat around the campfire that night, eating a small dinner of leftovers and such I stopped at the candy store for chocolate and marshmallows, then the bakery for a new thing called “graham crackers” before Elsa and I had departed from Arendelle. We made a new treat called “s’mores.” Elsa really had to really watch it with the chocolate! We settled in for some tea. I dug out my pipe for some good aromatic tobacco to relax and enjoy the company by. Maren and Elsa chatted away the evening as Ryder and me listened.
We spent the rest of the evening gazing at the stars on a lovely, clear night. The stars shone so brilliantly. Elsa leaned over to me and asked, “Uncle, do you remember my invitation to come to Ahtohallan? I’d love to take you there and see all of the memories in that river and show you what I saw.”
“I do, and I’m very much looking to go!” I said. “I’m always interested in seeing what you and Anna have going on.”
“Well, maybe the day or so after we can go?” Elsa asked.
“Sounds great! I have my warm clothes with, so, sure!”
Just as we looked up, a beautiful yet angry face was formed by the stars.
“What constellation is that, Elsa?” Ryder asked.
Elsa looked up and was puzzled, then concerned. Honeymaren and myself looked up. I said, “Oh. My. Gosh.” We were all puzzled at what we were seeing.
Next morning brought breakfast and more questions as Gale came in with a message.
Elsa received the message from Gale and thanked her. Elsa opened it. It was from her sister, Queen Anna.
Dear Sis and Uncle,
I hope you guys are having a great tome in Northuldra, hiking and enjoying the fall leaves in The Enchanted Forest. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to come up this weekend to be with all of you.
General Mattias just stated that our advance trekkers near Khara-Khoto in the Gobi Desert have been killed, save one, Babuhai, by a mysterious enemy. Lady Kam is doing all she can while laying low as almost all of her cash was spent to cover all tracks and keep the Qing from executing Babuhai. I’m sending Peony to see what can be done.
“By the Spirits!” exclaimed Honeymaren.
“There’s more.” Elsa said in consternation as she continued.
I have also just learned from Commander Hilde that Viola was not going to Keep Mundilfari in the Jotunheimen Mountains to vacation. Rather, her groundskeepers and stewards who take care of the Keep have been subjected to some very deadly and terrifying attacks by a mysterious force. Just as the Khara-Khoto news came, some of her staff were murdered in ways that are reminiscent of the London murders she investigated. Plus sounds of gutteral howling and laughing in the numerous hallways of the Keep, terrorizing the servants. Vi has gone there to investigate and may have to face this invader of her ancestral home.
We’ve been targeted by the Moonborn and/or supernatural powers intent on targeting us.
I hate to ask you and Uncle to shorten your vacation, please come to Arendelle quickly.
Love, your sis
“We’ve just recovered from Grand Duke Nykras’ assult,” Maren pointed out somberly. “Now this.”
“I know,” I said. “I have a bad feeling, guys, that this may have answered our question about what we saw last night.”
“That with the attacks in the desert and Jotunheimen,” Elsa said. “It may be best to head back to Arendelle Castle quickly to see if Anna needs help. I’m sorry if this ruins our plans.”
“Don’t fret. Matter of fact, you read my mind, Elsa,” I said. “We need to cut this vacation short, the safety of our lands and homes are at risk.”
“I’m sorry to hear this too, Mike,” Ryder said. “Maren and I will come with you.”
“Thanks you two. I think Queen Anna and Prime Minister Viola are going to need all the help they can get.”
Well, it looks like our trip to Ahtohallan has been postponed. We packed my wagon, said our goodbyes to Yelena and the Northuldran folk, and hitched up Nokk for a fast ride back to Arendelle.
I hope my Anna didn’t eind up going over her head and pay grade with this…
The news from the Celestial Empire was grim. The expedition to Khara-Khoto had failed. Months of intelligence gathering by Arendelle’s agents, discreet dealmaking in the back streets and private tea rooms of Chinese cities between Anna’s intermediaries and mercenary trekkers and explorers, and finally, leveraging the influence of Kristoff’s Bjorgman House among friendly Qing officials whose coffers were enriched by trade with Arendelle to turn a blind eye to a foreign-funded expedition in Manchu-ruled territory.
All of that. Wasted.
Anna’s top commanders, Mattias and Hilde, delivered the grim news to the queen in her throne room, standing several feet from the royal as they announced the ramifications.
“Fortunately, Lady Kam, being the careful businesswoman that she is, covered her tracks carefully. She outsourced the retrieval of the bodies of Yelu and Arban to the Qing authorities,” said General Mattias, reading from his notes. He winced. “It was a complete disaster, Anna. I’m so sorry.”
“And, of course, Kam had to lobby hard to stop them from executing Babuhai, to keep his silence. Far easier for the governing Manchus to wipe this failed exercise from all records, leaving the three trekkers to be forgotten by everyone,” added Hilde, her hands behind her back as she stood at attention.
In the scorching region of Khara-Khoto, amidst a town of eerie structures that had been abandoned centuries ago, several shrouded figures were huddled around a campsite, their visors screening their eyes from the inhospitable howling of tempestuous wind.
“Is this the place, Yelu?” shouted one of the trekkers. “We’ve been trying to get here for weeks.”
“Yes. The City of Black Water, called Etzina in the writings of Marco Polo, that Venetian explorer. There are whispers,” cried the other called Yelu, over the screaming wind and holding up his scarf to stop too much sand from flying into his mouth. He paused, mindful not to gasp or panic, or else his mouth would be filled with even more grit. “That this could be the place. The place where a fragment of the elixir of life is located.”
ARENDELLE – It’s that time of the year again, and the summer solstice is bringing happiness and joy to all. The kingdom held a warm and intimate gathering at Arendelle Castle’s dining room for the citizenry, with tables, chairs and food prepared for guests to come in and out throughout the day. True to tradition, the gates were flung open for a small fete in the courtyard of the palace, with children’s stalls, balloons, and a massive birthday cake made with ice cream and touched by Elsa’s own hands.
In contrast to grander receptions held for dignitaries and politicians (which Arendelle Castle is more than capable of hosting), Anna’s birthdays tend to be family-oriented, community activities that are open to everyone, at any time. “That is why Her Majesty wanted to keep the palace open all day today, well past dinner, so that people can come and go as they please. We’re here to welcome them,” said Getrude, one of the party planners for this year’s Queen’s Birthday, told The Arendelle Guardian’s gossip columnist. “The last year or so has seen so much change come to Arendelle. While much of the change might be a point of pride for the kingdom’s powerbrokers and leaders, Anna wants her birthday to represent something homely and constant, a point of happiness and contentment that her friends, family, and fellow Arendellians can always rely on.”
Featured image art “Family man” by Arute (@ast05water)
By Michael, trade minister of Arendelle
Since the meeting with Countess Viola in the Grand House of the Family Mundilfari, we’ve been very busy with preparations for our friends. Several are to embark on the search that Yixin has set for our Queen Anna, the Emerald Dragon of the New Exalted. Strategies, logistics, plus the normal day-to-day: it gets hectic.
I have added some folks to my own staff to make sure this goes off as smoothly as possible.
Not only have I enlisted Selene Severin’s keen assistance in research and her flock of “ravens,” but I also have brought on board a young man named Gunnar Weighorst has come from Sweden to Arendelle with know-how in trade and business. He’s become very valuable in my Ministry staff, especially with the new trade pacts that Queen Anna has been wanting to establish with Great Britain, Peru, and Russia.
Gunnar and Selene have figured the ins and outs with Peru and Britain. Queen Anna and Queen Victoria have been friends for a while now, so that agreement may be easy. Peru is a bit harder, since they have their own economic troubles since the end of their war for independence from Spain. I have some hope for this to go through as we received some Peruvian Arabica coffee beans as gifts from Presidente Ramón Castilla yMarquesado’s trade cabinet. I must say, these beans make some of the best coffee I have ever had.
BREAKING: ANNA PRESSES POLITICAL ADVANTAGE BY SIGNING THREE TREATIES
In yet another signal to the world’s major powers of her growing clout, Queen Anna of Arendelle has announced that she will sign a flurry of trade treaties and alliances with Great Britain, the new country of Peru, and, surprisingly, with the Russian Empire.
In a press release jointly published by the Office of the Prime Minister, Countess Vi, and the palace, which is still headed by Anna, the government was at pains to stress that the process was still ongoing, and there were conflicting perspectives and interests to be hammered out in negotiations by Arendellian diplomats and their foreign counterparts. Nevertheless, the fact that Anna has gotten the ears of the world’s largest naval power, a newly independent state in the heart of the New World, and a former adversary (whose leader was at Arendelle’s throat just less than two years ago), attests to Anna’s growing ability to lead not just from the front, but behind the scenes with competent and loyal deputies, pulling strings and asserting a presence that gets things done for her kingdom.
The result is a network of friendships, some mature, others budding, that bode well for the future of Arendellian influence throughout the world.
The princess of Russia, Katina Romanov, was decked in her black military uniform, her favourite, as she sat down at her long breakfast table in her favourite dining room, one of many, in the Alexander Palace. Before her were several slices of toast, and a stainless silver cup of caviar. Though she had been defeated by Arendelle, she still held absolute power in Russia, and even if she no longer cared about the performative pomp of being the empire’s de facto ruler, it did feel nice to have some luxury grub once more.
It had been a grueling year in the Russian countryside and wilderness, eking out an existence in the midst of rebuilding her shattered heart and pride. In self-imposed penance, she found the strength to let go of her anger and self-hate, and even came to terms with her respect for Anna, the only sovereign to have ever bested her. And now, she had the chance to build bridges she once thought burned by her callousness.
It was a beautiful morning. The Russian Empire’s leader was back.
The servants were fussing about today in Alexander Palace, the main residence of Russia’s most powerful woman. Olga and Alina, two of Katina Romanov’s maids, were in the immense bedchamber of the Russian princess, hastily folding Katina’s freshly-pressed military uniform, coat, and trousers. The wardrobes, bed, and vanity table were all dusty; the room hadn’t seen its master for many months. And now, she was back, and taking a nice long soak in the lavish tub inside her en suite bathroom.
“How could Her Highness have spent so long in the wilderness? I’m surprised her countenance hasn’t changed into a deathly pall. That’s what Siberia would do to her lovely skin,” muttered Alina, drawing back the high curtains of the window by Katina’s bedside.
“It’s not just Siberia… I hear Her Highness has gone everywhere. Villages, hamlets, rural settlements all east of Moscow, and south of Saint Petersburg… she’s even visited the auls, fortified towns of the Caucasus peoples we watch over, the kishlaks of the Turks, and the Cossack stanitsas,” said Olga. “It’s like her priorities completely changed upon returning to Arendelle.”