It was a day the soldiers and servants of the Imperial Household would never forget.
The carriage was run-down, rickety, and looked like it was almost falling apart as it came to a stop before the massive gate of the Alexander Palace, the Romanov family’s favorite retreat.
One sharp-eyed guard remembered who had set off inside this humble vehicle, and panicked. “Oh, God. It’s Her Highness. It’s Her Highness! She’s back! Summon the Imperial Guard, right now!”
He hastily opened the gate so that the carriage could labor its way toward the steps of the palace. The Imperial Guard were quickly called to the steps below the great pillars lining the entrance of the palace, and from the carriage stepped out Katina Romanov, her attire nearly unrecognizable – she wore a tattered, mouldy cloak with a hood over a simple top and leggings, typical of peasants from the wastelands far away from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Her hair, once in an elegant ponytail, draped down her shoulders and back, unkempt and smeared with grime and dirt. Her own face was weathered and slightly hardened, and her hands had visible calluses on them, perhaps from riding horses or working on the farm. “Your Imperial Highness!” cried the members of the Imperial Guard, who looked visibly horrified as they streamed out of the palace.
Anna wanted some time alone. When Elsa wasn’t around, she would go to a place that represented not only Arendelle’s rise to world prominence and prestige, but also served as a symbol of her political savvy and ability to build bridges. This was Arendelle Hall, which had been built with Viola Mundilfari’s sponsorship and where the Arendelle Philharmonic performed regularly. Arendelle Hall represented, to Anna, everything that she was focused on protecting: a community center around which the whole kingdom could gather and everyone could bask in the national culture, identity, and aesthetic taste they had built together as a kingdom, united by the Diarchy and taken forward by Anna.
It was why she felt at home here when she needed some time out of her throne room. To think. To brood. Even a queen needed privacy, away from her ministers and jarls, all of whom were clamoring for explanations about the sudden disappearance of the prime minister, Vi herself. Legislation stuck. Laws, bills, and proposals languishing amidst political chaos and factional infighting. And there she was, every single day in the parliament of the Great Assembly, looking and feeling like a fool as she tried to hold her government together without Vi’s stern yet charismatic hand… the darkness to Anna’s light. Her shadow. Her companion.
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.”
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.”
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.”
A small kingdom in the north, watched over by a Diarchy of two queens. With Elsa watching over the world as the Fifth Spirit, and Anna securing her legacy as Arendelle’s greatest queen, a vast world beyond the lands of Arenfjord await them.
This is the story of Anna’s reign after Frozen II, in a world full of allies, foes, and everything in between. Where will you explore next?
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.
RE: The global situation, as concerns Her Majesty and the Exalted
Selene Severin’s agents have spread across the planet and begun gathering important intelligence about the elixir of life. Soon, Her Majesty may approach you to mobilize the Borealis Corps or the larger army to act on the intelligence that the Ravens provide. Perhaps the Exalted themselves will choose to act and come to our regions of interest. We have begun identifying these regions based on meticulous collating of local information, rumours, legends, and accounts. We have tapped into local networks, government figures friendly or allied to Arendelle, and, where appropriate, reached out with attractive rewards for the more mercenary-minded.
In our first report, we will relay to you what we know about Queen Anna’s targets of South America (Queen Colisa’s jurisdiction), Africa (Honeymaren’s assignment), and Inner Asia (Peony’s specialty).