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.
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.
1841. Before Anna became queen, and before Vi became Mundilfari clan head
Viola Mundilfari hated visiting the Celestial Empire, and not because it was so far away. Oh, it wasn’t because China was necessarily an unpleasant place to go sightseeing. The Qing heartland was vast and ancient, thousands of times larger than Arendelle, and blessed with five millennia of civilization and dynastic splendor.
But she hated setting foot in the Forbidden City, and she sure hated being called to the Summer Palace – the regal, jaw-droppingly majestic headquarters of Yixin. It was all because Yixin had summoned her here for the most unpleasant of reasons.
She stood before the Summer Palace’s throne hall, a uniformed Commander Hilde standing quietly at attention beside her. Vi’s face was curled into a contemptuous grimace as she felt her host’s serpentine eyes run over her with matching disdain.
Vi was looking at a distant gold-wreathed figure, which rose from its chair and stood aloofly. He was at least twelve feet away and held an open red fan covering part of his face.
“Why am I even here, Manchu overlord?” called out the Mundilfari noble to the distant throne, smirking darkly. “I gave your retainer a clear answer a few weeks ago, but you don’t seem to want to accept it.”
“Step closer,” echoed the hiss of the Qing prince regent, the leader of the shadowy Exalted cabal of global rulers.
1839. The year Anna turned 18 and Iduna and Agnarr were lost at sea…
For years, Commander Hilde had watched over the dark countess and heiress at school, protecting Viola Mundilfari from the cruel bullying of other girls for her otherworldly yet beautiful red eyes. It was a painful childhood, during which Vi was still angry and upset about the destiny chosen for her. A destiny forced on her by a demon that held her family in thrall to generation after generation of servitude in return for near-limitless wealth and power.
Hilde had watched over Vi ever since the latter began her training. She’d watched Vi master the Ulv (Wolf) school of Arendellian fencing, becoming one of the kingdom’s best duellists. She’d kept Vi company as the other threw herself into the ancient aristocratic traditions of the Mundilfari Viking clan. She’d helped Vi memorize tomes of dark lore and learn the Mundilfari way of politics, manipulating the dukes, popes, and kings of Europe from behind the scenes. And, of course, she’d watched Vi learn to communicate with Mephistopheles, though Vi was humiliated and rattled every time she spoke to him. For he never missed a chance to remind her that her soul belonged to him unless she was able to give him the power of Northuldra’s five elemental spirits. That was the primeval promise made by the first Mundilfari noble, which had never been fulfilled. So, until that day, Vi was Mephistopheles’ property. His plaything.
The Countess was disgusted with herself, ashamed for her family, and heartbroken about her future.
There’s an old Mundilfari legend that the clan heads tell their children.
Long ago, when the ancient Greek city-states and Troy still stood, there was a dragon that lived in the mountains, guarding a colossal mound of precious gold. One night, as the dragon slept in her cavernous grotto, by some enchanted miracle, the gold transmuted into a beautiful young woman. The dragon was bewitched by this girl of gold. She swore an oath to always protect her from adventurers and assailants, and the alchemic girl also promised to stay with and love the dragon forever.They never forgot their oath to each other: even when the girl of gold’s distant descendants swore a much darker, infernal pact with the great manipulator of mortals, Mephisto, who hungered for the power of the nature spirits.
Yes, that girl of gold’s progeny through the millennia would become what we know as the Mundilfari clan. And the dragon’s? They came to call themselves “Altheim.” The rest of their past – in particular, their encounter with the royal family of Arendelle – is history.
It’s only a myth, one that didn’t even appear in circulation until the 14th Century. But however accurate – or outlandish – the folk memory and family lore might be, this much is true. There are always two – the guarded and the guardian. The protected and the protector.The treasure – the girl of gold – and the dragon. The Mundilfari and the Altheim.
The ancient forest below Mundilfari Keep rumbled with gunshots, blasts of mystical light, and the labored panting of two guardian dragons.
Like two sentient shooting stars, they collided into each other, before drawing back and smashing against one another again. With every violent impact, their blows grew stronger. And with each ferocious clash, the forest floor shook, and the trees rumbled. Even the northern lights above in the starry night sky seemed to waver.
One dragon in ethereal white, one dragon in ebony night.
The Fifth Spirit radiated angry heavenly light as she hurtled at her opponent, her restraint and sense of time giving way to intensifying fury at anyone who laid a hand on her little sister. Meanwhile, the Spirit Killer hungered for the ultimate prize with which to gift her lady and mistress – the Snow Queen’s head.