The Imperial Guard marched out of London, followed by a thousand men from the Royal Army in their red coats, heading south. A core remained behind to watch over the Empress, but the rest formed a block of grim-faced men behind their Emperor, who along with a few officers was mounted on horseback. Horses pulled cannon behind them, though Don was unhappy with how few they had with them.
Scouts had returned, saying that two thousand men marched towards them, with twenty cannon.
It took only half the day to reach their position, just as the Sun was beginning his long journey into night. The Baron of Maidstone's castle rose before them, a broken and shattered ruin.
Don had been the only man to hear what the raggedy man had said, and had given a certain amount of inquiry into the property. The Earl had been happy to oblige him the information.
The Baron of Maidstone had been one of King Harold's cousins, and had risen up against him, when Harold was newly crowned. It had ended badly for the Baron, when Harold marched a twenty thousand strong army to his castle, and proceeded to level it with catapults. Then he'd stricken the Barony of Maidstone from the world, razing the nearby town with a zeal which Don had not sensed in the old man.
Now it stood, like a dried husk, before them. And arrayed before it were the serried ranks of the invading army, with several cannon apparently having been emplaced in the castle itself.
"Stand by the guns!" The Earl, who had not been at all unwilling to accompany the army, bellowed. "Get them into position!"
"Simon, spyglass please." He said, taking the spyglass with a murmured thanks. A group of mounted troops had broken off from mass of Coronan's, and was riding forwards under a white flag of truce. "Let us see what they want, Earl."
Together, he and the Earl rode forwards, a solid group of guards arrayed around them. As they drew up a few paces from the opposing group, Don growled.
"Hello, Donner," Prince Eugene sneered, looking quite different than he had the last time Don laid eyes upon him, "Or should I bow and call you Emperor?"
One of his eyes was covered by a patch, and his face had lost all of the boyish handsomeness that Don had felt a bit of envy for during his time in Corona. He stood differently as well, seeming to slouch in the saddle where once he had sat proudly.
"I don't care what you call me," Don replied, straining to keep his voice level, "But if you don't remove this army, and the threat against my family, I will kill you."
Nothing could have shocked Don more than the raucous laughter that burst from Eugene's lips.
"Does dear King Harold feel the same way?" Eugene asked when he'd finished, "I bet he doesn't, since the man is mad as a hatter. But nonetheless, you won't kill me here today, boy. This… This is where you, and your puissant little Empire ends."
Simon flinched beside him, his hand going to his pistol at the insult. But Don held up a hand, knowing the game Eugene was playing. He wasn't going to continue to listen to this, and so he turned his horse, heading back towards the waiting army.
"Be sure to say hello to Elsa and Anna if you see them again," Eugene called, "Thought I think the men I sent will make sure you don't get the chance, even if by some chance you win."
Many battles were started by a gunshot, the slash of a sword, or a misplaced word. The Battle of Maidstone Castle started with a flash of lightning, as Don turned and fired a bolt of lightning into Eugene's chest. The Prince Consort was blasted backwards off his horse, but too Don's shock was able to struggle back to his feet.
Confusion reigned as the Imperial Guard charged, their bayonets glinting. The Englishmen hesitated a moment, before charging as well. The Coronan's formation stayed steady, the front rank taking a kneeling position, their rifles ready to fire.
"For the Emperor!"
Cannons fired, and men began to die. The Brimstone Blade came out of Don's scabbard smoothly, but he left his pistol in its holster, instead letting his rage fuel his powers. That was when a strange sensation ran up his arms, seeming to follow the path of the scars that ran up his arm, and the ground began to shutter.
A small, hooded form stepped out onto the parapet of Maidstone Castle, and lifted her arms into the air.
Anna and Queen Katarina sat with the children, while Elsa paced the windows nearby. The four ships which they had sailed on had sailed out of the harbor hours before, but still the mighty thunder of cannons rattled the thin glass in the windows. One of the forts at the mouth of the harbor was aflame, a beacon in the rapidly darkening skies.
"Elsa," Katarina said, her accent heavy, "Please, sit down. Your husband the Emperor will be fine."
Elsa squeezed her arms even more tightly around herself. Katarina had been a new and unexpected friend, and Elsa knew she would likely enjoy any correspondence between them in the future. If there was a future for them all. Even with Katarina's seemingly inherent hope, Elsa found herself seized with worry, to the point that she could barely control her powers.
"Please, Elsa," Anna said, stroking the hair of a sleeping Kari, "They can feel your worry."
Ansgar, Erik and Ivan stood at one of the windows, watching with wide eyes at the fighting out in the harbor. Elsa let out a sigh, going to the chair that her husband had slumped into only a little while before. Things had never before been so desperate for her family. Even when Don had gone to Weselton to deal with the uprising of the neighboring nobles she had not been this worried, with many thousands of men at his back. Now… He had only two hundred men. Loyal, well-trained men, but still not enough. She'd tried to get him to take the rest, but he had refused.
"Mother, who are those people outside the window?"
One of the guards went to investigate, even as Elsa and Anna stood. He looked carefully, but seemed to find nothing. As he turned back however, the glass behind him shattered, and he collapsed to the floor. The newly formed hole in his forehead leaked blood into the expensive carpet. A figure leapt in through the hole, a ragged, feral looking man. One of his eyes was a ruin of scar tissue, but Anna let out a scream, a horrible, animalistic noise that Elsa had never heard before as the next man appeared.
"So, we meet again, little princess," Julian Martinez said, his wicked eyes seeming to yellow in the candlelight, "I thought I killed you the first time. Thank god I have the chance to finish the job!"
A pair of guards went at him with swords drawn, but recoiled as the man's body began to roil and convulse, bones and muscles seeming to writhe and dance under his skin. His teeth lengthened, even as his face followed suit. The children ran screaming as the creature let out laughter that grew into a throaty growl. Elsa barely noticed the other man had changed the same way, because the… the… werewolves, struck like lightning. The two guards who'd drawn their blades were caught off guard, as the pair of towering creatures tore their heads off with the same ease one would pull the cap off a bottle.
"Erik!" She screamed as the lead werewolf made an attempt to snatch him. A blast of ice struck the creature, but only knocked it backwards a few feet. "Guards! Help!"
The door to her right slammed open, and the crack of a musket deafened all in the room. Elsa saw the second werewolf shutter, but it didn't fall as she thought it should have. When she looked down the hallways, she saw that another fight was taking place in the hall, though it seemed to be of a more conventional nature.
"Go!" Duncan called, as he dropped the smoking musket and drew a pair of pistols. "The Guard will get you out!"
He calmly fired each pistol, taking time to aim as Elsa and her family rushed past. Then he kicked the door closed behind him.
A guardsmen Elsa didn't know by name led them down a small stairwell, into the waiting arms of a dozen more Guards. They all looked haggard and worn, and several bled from wounds. They were in a servant's passage, which allowed servants to get about without disturbing their nobles.
"My Lady," One of them said, "The guards at the gate have been killed. Men in the uniform of the Royal Army stormed them, with men wearing priests' robes."
Elsa held her sister, who was standing, shocked, covered in a thin layer of blood.
"We must get my family out of London, now." She said, her resolve tightening. Erik gripped her leg, while Ivan and Ansgar watched from behind their personal armsmen. "Get us to the fleet, please."
The men nodded, tired but ready to do their duty.
"I don't think that will be possible," The Count of Birmingham said as he stepped from behind a pillar, "Because I must arrest you for the kidnap of the Queen, and the heinous murder of King Harald."
Don was stunned, so stunned that even his anger was checked for a moment. Roots were leaping from the ground, snatching English soldiers and his own Guardsmen.
"Sire," Simon screamed over the din of the battle, "We must get you out of here!"
Lightning leapt from Don's hand, incinerating a particularly large root that looked to be preparing to attack one of his men.
"Sound the order to retreat. We must get back to London," He said hurriedly, burning down more roots, "The Empress and the Princes are in danger!"
Simon nodded and fired a flare.
"You coward!" The Earl of Marlborough screamed, wheeling his horse to face Don, pistol in his hand pointed at Don's chest. "You offer alliance and then run at the first sign of-"
A sharp root several inches thick burst through his chest and dragged him to the ground. The hair on the back of Don's neck stood on end, and he barely dodged out of the way as a similar root tried to impale him as well.
It's the figure up there… He said, feeding off his anger. He burnt the root that had tried to kill him to cinders, and then lifted his hands to the sky, fingers outstretched.
Dark clouds began to form immediately, piling atop each other like an avalanche. Thunder cracked, an evil noise that no natural storm would ever make, as lightning began to flicker through the clouds.
"All of you… Get down!" He screamed, as great bolts of lightning began to leap from the clouds, and a harsh wind and rain began to crash down. The lightning drew great furrows through the ground, instantly turning any man it touched to ash. Don directed his power towards the retreating Coronan's, and watched with a sick pleasure as the lightning, his lightning, slayed his enemies. A bolt of lightning played across the castle, melting several cannons placed there, and pulverizing the wall the small figure stood upon, sending it seemingly plummeting over the side, though he saw a group of roots reach up and grab hold of…
The hood pulled back to reveal a young, dark haired woman. An Easterner by her almond-shaped eyes. She looked towards Don, and he quickly sent a bolt of lightning towards her, but a wall of roots sprung up from the ground to block the bolt. When it disappeared, she was gone, and the battle was seemingly over.
Don turned, still buffeted by the winds of the storm, and looked at Simon. To his relief, it looked like a good portion of the Imperial Guard had survived. But the seventy or so men that had survived watched him with wary eyes.
"Quickly, find me the Prince Consort!" Don ordered, bellowing into the screaming winds. There would be no stopping this storm. "Then we must return to London."
That seemed to snap his Guards out of their funk, and they moved forward like the professionals they were. After a cursory search, one of Simon's lieutenants returned, shaking his head.
"No sign of his body, Sire," He said, "You must have gotten him with… well, that."
Don nodded, but withheld his suspicion that the man had escaped. He looked at Captain Simon, nodding slowly.
"I think it may be a good idea to gather up what horses we can." Don said, stepping close to be heard over the storm. "I have a feeling everything has gone wrong in London as well."
Three strangely attired men joined the Count of Birmingham, as did a dozen men in the red coats of the Royal Army. They were boxed in, and…
"I have not been kidnapped, My Lord," Katarina said excitedly, "We have just been attacked!"
"Well, since you clearly won't listen to reason," The Count said, stopping to speak a few foreign words to the three strange men, "It seems that you were all killed resisting arrest. How unfortunate. Take them."
The strangers drew no swords, instead spreading out, and the room seemed to grow hotter. Then they struck, and Elsa was forced to watch as another man was burnt down.
Magic! Her thoughts screamed, as she parried one of their attacks with a blast of ice. They stopped for a moment, looking at one another in shock. One of them yelled something at the Count, who had retreated to a safe distance, and the Count responded. Then the trio approached even more cautiously. Behind her, she heard her guards fighting with the freshly arrived redcoats, and someone repeating Anna's name over and over again.
She was inexperienced in something like this… The only other time she'd ever fought a magic user was when she'd attacked Don, and even then, she never would have beaten him if he hadn't let her.
But she had her family behind her, and…
An icy blast flashed past her, hitting one of the men in the arm. The limb immediately froze and he screamed in pain, as he scrabbled at the icy remains of his arm. Elsa took a moment to look behind her. Lillian stood, arm outstretched, a look of horror on her face at the pain she'd just caused.
The two other strangers attacked as one, using the distraction to get closer to Elsa. That was their mistake, as Elsa summoned great pillars of ice from below them, which smashed them with bone crunching force into the floor above them. The Count and the third stranger smartly fled, even as the final two men of her Guard killed the last redcoat.
"Mama!" Erik was beside her, "Mama, you're hurt!"
That was when Elsa collapsed, and noted the burning pain from her right side. She had apparently not escaped unscathed. Katarina rushed to her side, though Anna still stood dazed. The two remaining guards, began to recover weapons from the redcoats, but stopped as the sound of clawed feet on stone began to emanate from the other end of the chamber.
"My ladies," One of them, with a long sword wound across his chest, wheezed, "You must go."
He pointed to another stairwell like the one they had only moments before scrambled down. Elsa tried to stand, but the pain was too great. That was when two pairs of little hands grabbed her and lifted her, with some effort, to her feet. Ivan and Ansgar carried her down the passageway, though she could feel them shaking from the effort. Behind her, Kari, Adrian and Lillian led their mother down the passageway, as Erik stood close by Katarina.
When they stepped out of the little hallway, they found themselves on the Palace grounds. Yelling could be heard somewhere in the distance, but there did not seem to be anyone nearby. Elsa grunted with each step, even with the two boys assisting her, but they were able to make it out onto the street.
They headed towards the continuing sound of gunfire, towards the harbor that offered a possibility of shelter. And it was at a crossroads that the mob surrounded them.
From four sides, at first hundreds, then thousands, of Londoner's that had heard of their King's murder, trapped them.
The yelled worse things, and she felt the boys tense under her, but the crowd fell silent for a moment, many pointing towards the sky.
That was when she felt the first rain drop, and looked up at the dark clouds.