Alan, commander of the Borealis Corps, and Hilde Von Altheim were locked in a desperate struggle to free Viola Mundilfari.
Suspended above her own throne hall, the immobile Countess could only watch helplessly as Hilde and Alan faced down the most powerful foe that Arendelle had faced so far. True, Majestic Maximilian hadn’t encountered Elsa or the full force of the kingdom’s army yet, and not even Anna was aware of his existence. Vi had intended to keep it that way by confronting him early on as he infiltrated Mundilfari Keep. But he had crushed Vi effortlessly, trapping her in a cocoon of pure light, the enchantment perpetually torturing her undead flesh without allowing her to die.
She was initially fearful for the pair, as she watched them duel the Moonborn. She wanted to shout, to warn them about his dizzying mastery of sunlight. And he held nothing back as he blinked and winked out of existence and slashed at Hilde and Alan with white-hot arcs of radiance. He surpassed Katina Romanov’s Grand Dukes easily, and perhaps…
Even Elsa… she would struggle against Majestic Max. Perhaps even lose.
But as the battle continued, much to Vi’s impressed shock, Majestic Max was visibly struggling.
How long had it been since she’d been imprisoned in this durance of light? This radiant place that resembled a celestial cloister, something out of the stories of heaven in many cultures and religions? Yet this radiant prison was that: a jail, a tortuous cell of pure light that burned away at her undead flesh twenty-four hours, seven days a week without leaving a single burn, leaving her in perpetual vampire’s agony. She needed to scream, but no one could hear her. She could barely hear herself over the perpetual hum of solar light, its forever-scorching incinerating every extremity of her body and melting away at her core – all while simultaneously keeping her agonizingly alive.
The Mundilfari heiress – the Countess – the prime minister’s crimson eyes were clenched shut. It was all she could do to try and forget the light burning her moment-to-moment.
That was the curse of Majestic Maximillian. That was the hell that he’d prepared for undead like Viola Mundilfari. Not the hell of fire and brimstone, of sulphur and isolation from God. No, this was a celestial hell that Majestic Max had crafted specially for the dark champion of Arendelle.
It was morning. Or was it night? It didn’t matter, not anymore. Her gaol was perpetual. Majestic Max telepathically suspended her naked body in the air of her own throne room in Mundilfari Keep, paralyzed, melting away forever with her consciousness cruelly intact. He smiled sadistically as he enjoyed the crackling of sunbeams wrapping around Vi, having watched her in this state of torture for over several weeks.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Arendelle’s expanding global footprint, along with its increased contact with countries and cultures across continents, has given it unprecedented access to some serious cultural talents. From art and music to theatre and the printed press, Arendelle is emerging as a plausible alternative, if still inferior relative to, Paris, Amsterdam, and London as a European cultural center.
Critics and writers in the clubs of England, the tea houses of Constantinople, and the saloons of the western United States are all talking about visiting (and resident) talents eager to have a showing in Arendelle, for they will be performing for a most extraordinary royal pair who surpass even Britain’s Victoria in queenly charisma: Anna and Elsa.
It was a quiet morning at the Grand House that overlooked the hillside of Arendelle. It was an imperious structure, even though it was a significant downsize from Keep Mund in the Jotunheimen Mountains. “Pass the butter, sweetie?” requested Tess Gaunt, sitting at one side of the six-person, mahogany dining table, where Hilde and Vi joined her for breakfast. Vi sat at the head, and she silently passed the silver butter keeper (all the silverware had been transported from Keep Mundilfari to Arendelle) to Tess. The Englishwoman glanced at Hilde, who ate her usual fare – scrambled eggs, a piece of bread, and some fresh fruit – also in silence.
“Are the eggs okay?” asked Tess gingerly. “Do you need some pepper?”
“Hm.” Hilde’s grunt was warm and not curt, but her gold eyes couldn’t mask the fact that she was thinking about something, engrossed in her own thoughts.
Deep in the forest overlooking Arendelle, a werewolf lunged at a quiet librarian who was in possession of an ancient set of weapons.
“Just as the Mundilfaris were among the founding families of Arendelle, and like how the Von Altheims trace their ancestry to the Germanic tribes that brought about the fall of Rome…”
Selene Severin was utterly calm as a raging, howling Hilde sprinted at her, her growing trunks of arms outstretched. Her newly formed sword, a coalesced, combustible medley of energy that lit up the night forest and metal, crackled in her hand. “… I had to turn to an ancient heritage to be ready to counter your power, Hilde.”
Hilde smashed into Selene, hurling her into a tree and causing it to topple, felling several other neighbouring trees as Hilde pounced on the royal librarian. “How – dare – you!” roared Hilde through sharp teeth and her elongating mouth. Her voice was guttural. “You betrayed the royal house’s trust! You deceived my Lady! And now you hold her hostage?”