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.
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.
Featured image art “Supreme commander” by PURY (“puryartist)
FROM: HH Katina Romanov, princess of Russia
TO: HE Michael, trade minister of Arendelle, and HM Queen Anna
Dear Michael and family,
Thank you for your letter. I read it over several times, and it still lies open on my desk. It was very kind of you to think of me even after the conflict between our countries concluded. In truth, I often think of you and your queen, and the kindness you all showed me even after my disgrace. I’ve come to accept my role in that whole fiasco, and I’ve made peace with the fact that I must live with my mortal error of banishing Sora, my companion and protector. The one who never gave up on me.
I’m not used to writing letters that discuss intimate matters. I envy you, Anna, and the rest of your beautiful circle. It must be so nice to never have to have one’s guard up among those you love. I had that with Sora, although it was always me that pushed her away. And then I betrayed her.
My defeat at Anna and Elsa’s hands was well-deserved. Just as I know that Anna has tried to swallow her lingering anger against me for my mass invasion of her home, I’ve tried to accept my defeat with a humbled heart.
Featured image “Second Death,” by PURY (@puryartist)
Warning: Violent depictions
Above the wet and rough sands of the Northuldra coast, an eerie portal shrieked open. Two black hands with long, misshapen fingers seized the edges of the portal and pulled their owner from the void. Nykras’ wispy long hair trailed behind his mummified face, and his billowing cape followed his armoured form. His armoured boots stepped onto the beach that Elsa’s bare feet once treaded. Those feet had courageously sprinted and swum across the Dark Sea’s treacherous waters toward her destiny.
Across the stormy waves was Ahtohallan. Source of the five spirits’ power.
“Thisss isss my dessstiny too,” whispered Nykras to himself, “to encounter Ahtohallan myssself, and ssseize it for not jussst the eternal sssecurity of the Russian Empire… but for myssself too.”
It was true. To be imbibed with the source of Northuldra’s spirits would elevate the already formidable lich to unimaginably fiendish power. It would guarantee the subjugation of Northuldra and an effortless conquest of Arendelle proper, the seat of power for Elsa’s successor, Anna.
Featured image “Second Death” by PURY (@puryartist)
Warning: Violent depictions
You know who I am.
Grand Duke of Russia. Leader of this expedition into Northuldra. Faithful servant of Katina Romanov.
My name is Nykras.
Tell me, friend of Arendelle. Have you ever been stabbed from all directions by enemy blades, just as you watch your village burn before your your very eyes? To see women and children dragged away, their screams of terror and despair ringing in your ears even as you know you’re losing too much blood and haven’t a hope of catching up with the marauders that have so indiscriminately butchered and humiliated your people?
You haven’t? Then how could you possibly understand me?
How could Arendelle possibly understand the struggles we Grand Dukes went through in the name of defending our Slavic homelands?
Haven’t you heard of the age of the Mongol-Tartar Yoke? We sent terrified hostages and obeisant princes to a Khan we never saw. We paid taxes and tribute to fatten imperial coffers in a faraway land we never visited. When we overthrew the Golden Horde – when I wreaked my revenge by personally leading my undead armies against the last Khan – we resolved to be an even mightier Eurasian power.
Featured image “Second Death,” by PURY (@puryartist)
Warning: Violent depictions
Late afternoon. Northuldra
Honeymaren was back in her more mobile Northuldra attire, crouched on a large tree branch as she scanned the foliage-covered forest floor.
“Clear,” she whispered, and a rustle of floating red and brown leaves blew gently around her, before rushing to another tree some distance away. Gale had taken her words and was blowing them towards the huntress Amira, who had also climbed a separate tree. She was covered in camouflage and had war paint on her face.
“It’s clear here, too. I guess we have no choice but to wait for the portal from Nykras to open,” said Amira, her voice betraying frustration as Gale blew away, taking her words back to Maren.
“Right. The moment there’s movement, we raise our voices and shout the battle cry,” replied Maren.
Northuldra’s elemental and human residents were cooperating to defend their shared home from its greatest threat yet.
By Gudrun, Conservation Editor for The Arendelle Guardian
ARENDELLE; NORTHULDRA – The Russian Empire has been cut off from invading Arendelle by sea with the sinking of the Baltic Fleet. However, Anna has little time to prepare as Katina Romanov prepares the next stage of her assault. This month, it’s an invasion by land – a direct strike on the ancient forest of Northuldra. If successful, it will open a southern route to Arendelle that Anna can’t stop with her current forces.
The general leading this second phase is Grand Duke Nykras, who has taken over the invasion after fellow Grand Duke Yaraslaf’s death at Elsa’s hands. Nykras is an ancient being called a lich, a living corpse held together by black magic. The Arendellian High Command has credible reports from the Northuldra warrior Amira (who nearly faced down Nykras in a showdown on the Russo-Arendellian border) that he can open portals from his netherworld home at will. Honeymaren and Yelena suspect that he plans to overlay his dimension of undead warriors and corrupting magic directly into the forest, bypassing any need for Russian transportation.
By Mikael, Senior Reporter for The Arendelle Guardian
ARENDELLE – After a grueling and bloody battle that lasted for an entire day, the Arendellian army repelled an attempt by Russia’s Baltic Fleet to seize an island off the fjord of Arendelle (nicknamed Sudden Death).
Should the Russians have seized Sudden Death, Arendelle’s harbour would have been in the direct sights of the Russian navy’s cannons. At great cost, the Arendellians’ strategy of keeping the Russians off the islet worked, with Muspelheim, Countess Vi’s iron-clad warship, striking the Baltic Fleet in a pincer attack that ended with the destruction of Poseidon and the sinking of Charybdis and Scylla. Of the thousands of Imperial Russian troops that stormed the island, only about two hundred survived and have been taken prisoner by General Mattias. Anna has promised to display clemency, and will settle for expelling them from Arendelle. The Russians also lost their admiral, Grand Duke Yaraslaf, who was one of the most terrifying figures of the invasion force.
However, there is little mood in Arendelle to celebrate.
ARENDELLE; MOSCOW – The tsar of Imperial Russia, Nicholas I, has formally declared war on the Kingdom of Arendelle, marking a grim and uncertain new period of hostilities in Northern Europe.
It’s the beginning of a dark New Year in Arendelle as the kingdom’s unsettled citizenry share fears about the future in homes, bars, or in the village plaza. Futures of Arendellian products, in particular ice, timber, and fisheries, plunged on the Amsterdam stock market. Arendelle’s military, led by General Mattias, has begun movements in and around the Arendelle region, positioning troops at key strategic locations and deploying new weapons of war that Anna reluctantly commissioned.
By Gottfried, Defence Editor for The Arendelle Guardian
NORTHULDRA; ARENDELLE – With Imperial Russia expected to declare war on Arendelle anytime in the New Year (which will mark the formal start of hostilities between the two countries), Honeymaren and Yelena have been hard at work mobilizing the forest to be ready for the fight of its life.
At stake is the very balance of the natural world itself, mediated as it is by the four spirits of the Nokk, Bruni, Gale, and the Earth Giants. While these great and ancient mythic beings have no interest in political squabbles – even those of Arendelle’s – they have already reached an understanding with Elsa. They will happily defend the forest’s ecosystem and tribal residents from the impending attack of Grand Duke Nykras, an ancient lich, whose undead legions threaten to corrode and corrupt the entire land.
Anna has stressed to her tacticians that should Katina Romanov seize Northuldra, her southward route to Arendelle would be open, leaving the kingdom vulnerable to a pincer attack from the northern land route and the westward naval bombardment by Grand Duke Yaraslaf’s Baltic Fleet. There is too much at stake – the tribespeople’s lives, the way to Arendelle, and the very balance of the natural world – to allow Northuldra to fall into Nykras’ clawed hands.