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Fist of the Iron Ogre


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The great dynastic capital of Chang'an had grown in both wealth and size immeasurably since the Emperor Triyun II first put together the Empire now known simply as Tianxia, 'All Under Heaven'. After facing down the harrowing rebellion of the Long Clan, his successor Jia I founder of the Yuan Dynasty made the Empire greater still, expanding its borders and moving it from a harsh legalist framework to a tolerant confucian based society, which under he and his Empress, the barbarian Maria Theresia Hapsburg cultivated both foreign and domestic religions as well as sponsored many new schools of scholarly Daoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, alongside Confucianism. Chang'an now stood alongside Alexandria, Byzantium, Baghdad, and other great cities of the world as a cross roads of civilization and a beacon of hope to the world. It was a true pole star. The scholarly class repeatedly praised Tianxia as truly worthy of the mandate of heaven and an example to the world of moral righteousness.

Yet, all was not well with the Eastern Lands. While a renaissance of scholarly work blossomed, many areas of the Empire remained poor. Many parts of the Empire were resentful of the Barbarians and their influence at court. Especially troubled were legalists and their allies amongst the Shinto Daimyos of Japan, resentful of their weakening role, and the creation of a tolerant and open society. It was amongst these voices that the !@#$%^& son of Triyun II, Yen Goushi was able to raise an army as the self proclaimed Triyun III. Sealing his army with a marriage to a daughter of the former Japanese Royal Family, he soon lead a rebellion from Japan and the legalist ranks of the Army to capture the Northern city of Dadu and fortifying a northern power base from which to challenge the current dynasty.

Catching the peaceful kingdom off guard, he flung it into civil war, allying himself with conservatives who wished to repeal the reforms of the Imperial Family. As chaos overtook the lands, the Empire south heros to restore the way and bring harmony to the once peaceful kingdom.

It was a balmy night in the Imperial Gardens of the Summer Palace. The peach trees were in full bloom, and the moon shined brightly illuminating the lotus ponds around the remote region of the garden. The vast grounds of the Summer Palace enclosed the Imperial Court in a world wholly different from the one outside its gates. It was peaceful, there was still laughter in this place, but Rhee knew it would not last. The Imperial Knight leaned against the peach tree, waiting he had hoped his letter would reach the Imperial Princess.. and that she would see him.

The knight had been close to Princess Angelika for some time, but recently it had begun to become something more. At first their rendezvous were rare. But increasingly his feelings towards here had become stronger and stronger. Yet he knew they would have to be careful, if he courted her openly he'd be liable to be punished severely.

Even with Jia I's the loser attitude towards protocol, the Imperial Court was still a place of ceremony and great expectation, no one man could change that. When he had first tried to approach the subject with the Emperor, the officials spoke before the Emperor could even get a word in lecturing Rhee about his duties and his place. The Imperial Family was considered near sacred, a national symbol. The Officialdom and the Eunuchs of the Court, left over from dynasties past, were strict in their interpretation of the world. They believed in the continuation of the Great Tradition and the State. Even verging on implying that this transcended the whims of the current holder of the Mandate of Heaven. Chief among these was that the Imperial Family could not consort with commoners. At the end of the conversation, Jia took Rhee aside and explained to him that with the situation in the North, his authority in court lay on the tip of a needle. He could not risk fighting a battle with the Eunuchs and Officials inside his court, and the false Emperor in the North at the same time. For the sake of the Kingdom, he would have to compromise, and refuse Rhee his blessing. Since then, Rhee had not been allowed to see Princess Angelika openly.

Yet despite this refusal, Rhee still could not bring himself to give up the court ship. He had begun sending her notes through her hand maids whom he could trust, and so they had begun to meet secretly.

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A warm breeze navigated its way through the veranda that circled the west wing of the Imperial Palace. Below the balconies, the garden stretched throughout the center of the compound where in the shadows of the peach trees a lone figure looked up at the palace walls, this figure was met by a pair of shimmering eyes on the veranda. Angelika received all of Rhee's notes, slowly passed into her hands by her maids and then she would meet him in quiet halls of the palace after the parties ended or on nights when the moon was hidden behind clouds and they could speak in private. It must have been an odd sight seeing the two together, they had been partners years ago, during the destruction of Seoul, when the Princess risked her life to save Rhee from being turned into a minion of Bridgette Saenger. Rhee did not come away from the encounter unscathed, but cursed with the power of the Ogre, giving him unnatural strength and a yearning for destruction and chaos. Angelika became his support, controlling his outbursts and consoling him when he felt this change would be eternal. Soon their meets became romantic and it was this point when Angelika's sister and the Imperial Court stepped into end their infatuation.

Instead, Angelika and Rhee only met more frequently, going under the eyes of the Imperial Couple and their spies to continue their romance. Normally they were much more secret, but tonight Rhee wanted to meet in the open. After dismissing her maids, the Princess walked out and closed her black robes tightly. Her sand colored hair fluttering in the wind as she descended into the garden. Her clothes were loose fitting, much more comfortable than the constricting fashion of the West and her bare feet sunk into the mud and gravel of the winding garden path.

Finally she reached the peach tree where Rhee had his arms crossed, leaning against the bark. Leaning up, she kissed him and smiled. "We shouldn't be here in the open. Theresia is already suspicious and if you're caught again trying to court me, they'll exile you, or worse." Angelika smirked and ran her hands down his face. "I'm not worth that and you know it." Then she narrowed her eyes and sighed, "What did you want to speak about?"

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Rhee's face brightened as he saw her approach. It was one of the few things that could crack his hardened and serious demeanor. Returning her kiss, he took her hand and guided her off the path. "Don't worry." he said with a wink, "They say I've got a good nose." he joked, it was a side effect of the ogre rune, one of the few benefits of receiving this curse. Clasping her hands he smiled, "Come on, there is some place nearby I've been wanting to take you to." he said gently pulling her off the path towards a small brook flowing out into the ponds.

It broke over several groups of small rocks going up a short hill to a small cave, "Its up there." he said to her with a smile, "Don't worry, eunuchs and old men in scholar robes aren't going to go anywhere where their silk robes could get muddy." he joked as they ascended the hill. Reaching the top, looking out the canopy of the trees covered most of the large palatial structures which littered the skyline. He turned to her, "That cave, up there is what I want to talk to you about."

As they entered into the dark passage, he fumbled around till he found what he was looking for. A small lamp, lit up illuminating the area around them. In the dry part of the small passage, there was a small mat, a group of prayer beads, and surrounding it were claw marks dug deep into the solid stone . Rhee guided her over to the mat and sat down, "Do you remember when we first met?" he asked. "How I could barely hold myself together, how I couldn't keep myself from hurting people indiscriminately?"

He sighed. He looked nervous as he looked around the small cave, "It wasn't easy. Most people would probably have the sense to put me down like an rabid animal, but you insisted they didn't. It was because of that act of kindness you showed me, that I came here once a day for the past couple of years, that I practiced meditation to try and control this, this thing in me." he said. "I wanted to ask, why'd you do it... I mean back then. You didn't know me, you didn't know if Bridgette had some secret method to take control of me, why didn't you let the Emperor or your sister order me beheaded?"

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Sentimental attachment had never been one of Angelika's emotional strengths, but climbing up into the cave and seeing the prayer beads and meditation mat on the ground, she couldn't help but smile. Sitting down near the mat she ran her fingers over the groves made by his claw marks and closed her eyes. "Back then, when everything first happened, I guess I felt bad. There was some innocent guy who got dragged in way over his head. He got mutated into a monster and he couldn't help himself." She shrugged, "My sister and her husband can be hardheaded. They do what's best for the country, but not always what's best for the person." With a sigh the Princess clenched her fists, "She got that from Magdalena and that's what made me the rebel. Remember, your boss hates me deep down," Angelika laughed.

Picking up the beads she patted the ground next to her, offering Rhee a seat. "But then you were my partner, we fought together and you took care of me when I was injured her distraught. That's what soldiers do, that's what friends do." She said and picked up his chin and kissed him again. "How's it going by the way? Do you feel more controlled?"

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Rhee sat down next to her on the ground, "Yeah, you're right, but still, even with all that, what you did was incredibly nice for me, something I didn't think I deserved. But I guess, we've both been a bit of black sheep haven't we?" he said laughing lightly. He liked that her behavior routinely shocked the masters of ceremonies at various state functions. She was still untamed by the Imperial Palace. As she asked him about how he was handling his transformations, he had a brief moment of hesitation, wanting to say something but not sure just how to say it.

"I think I've been going about it... wrong." he said as he clasped her hand a bit tighter. "I've spent all these years, trying to suppress something, to expunge something, thats never going to go away and its going to be a curse. At least long as I think its a curse."

He thought back over how the last several days, all the times he had rehearsed on what he would tell her. Looking deep into her blue eyes he resolved to go forward and smiled, "...You know you're probably the only one besides me who'll never quite be one hundred percent in the fold here... Some of the court may hate the Empress, but most love her. You're different though, you still confound them, and better yet you don't care. Its part of why I ignored what the Emperor told me, you're worth risking whatever punishment for, I think you're the only one who can understand me." he sighed, his voice still unsure even at this late juncture.

"Angelika, I don't want to fight this nature anymore. Its just a life of frustration and loneliness. I don't want to be a feral beast, but I don't want to be a closed off monk either. I need to learn how to embrace this, learn how to exist within it, ... and learn how to share it." he said as he leaned in to kiss her passionately, his skin turning a slight blueish gray as he did.

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Wally watched quietly from his hidden corner without his usual silent electronic commentary. Quite frankly, he's not even sure what the hooplah is about, but he's damn pissed off about it. The sheer volume of trash he's had to process over it all has reduced his left tyre to a veritable shambles of angry discontent and mechanically induced irritations. If he could he would have waved a fist at the two and screamed, "GET OFF MY LAWN," but instead he just remained quiet as he filled out a slew of requisition forms for spare parts to put his rear axle into proper trim.

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"Rhee, I...don't know..." was all Angelika was able to say as he gently laid her onto the ground. Sharing their love, she thought, was a beautiful thing to say as darkness surrounded them in the cave and only the gentle echoes of their passion could be heard through the garden that night.

When the Princess awoke, rays of sunlight were already shinning in from the outside and she could hear birds singing in the garden. They had slept in, later than their usual nights of passion lasted, but yesterday was different. It was more than just a causal night, it was love and as she walked naked towards the mouth of the cave, Angelika closed her eyes and smiled as the sun baked her body. She didn't care now what Jia, her sister, or the other couturiers thought, she could damn the traditions of the land, because she deserved Rhee and he needed her to take care of his condition. But when she looked out across the garden her mouth widened in both surprise and fear. Across the courtyard Theresia with five maids-of-honor and ten palace guards began walking up towards the cave. Behind them there seemed to be a legion of palace bureaucrats and Eunuchs, her greatest fear was coming directly towards the cave.

"Rhee!" said the Princess turning around, "You have to wake up."

She ran over to grab her robes, piled up on the ground next to where they had made love. But it was too late and by the time she only threw the robe over herself, light dainty footsteps and the clanging of iron boots echoed in the cave.

"I was told I would find you both here," said Theresia as she stepped forward, her body illuminated by the sun shining through the cavern's entrance. She frowned and rested her hands over top of each other. "How could both of you be so stupid, the Emperor and I both left very clear instructions, this relationship is not allowed at Court."

This was the chance, however, for Angelika to make good her boast. "Who are you, little sister, to tell me who I can and cannot love. No one in Austria approved of you marrying Jia and yet you did so, you wouldn't show the same courtesy for your only sister."

Theresia's eyes ignited in a terrible flame as she narrowed their distance, her bulky European clothing nearly engulfing Angelika's body as she grabbed her arms. For being the younger sister, the Empress was a formidable person. "It was an arranged marriage that I am thankful for every day that Jia is a good man and did not lock me up in some harem like most rulers. But you have a duty and part of that duty is to tradition; something that you can't just ignore."

"In all honesty, Theresia, $%&@ your tradition." Angelika said and pushed her sister backwards.

The Empress stumbled for a moment before straightening herself, "On the eve of Magdalena's funeral, you pull a stunt like this, guards!" she hollered and the ten palace guards stormed in, knocking Angelika to the ground and placing Rhee in chains. "If he tries to use his power or becomes a monster in any way, end him. Then take them both to the throne room, the Emperor will decide what to do with them now." Theresia said and started exiting the cave.

"Theresia! Theresia! Don't you turn your back on me! Don't do this!" Angelika screamed, tears rolling down her eyes as she looked up from the ground, feeling shackles being clamped around her wrists. Soon both her and Rhee were on their feet, being dragged off into the palace to the throne room and the feet of the Emperor.

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Rhee woke up in a daze, as Angelika cried out. His body had returned back to normal and for the first time in a years he did not feel as if the urge to become the terrible beast was mere moments away. It was a feeling of bliss, but only momentary, as the fear on Angelika's face shattered it. Soon the Empress, maidens of honor some who he'd used as couriers, and guards were all upon them. Rhee looked out at them as they approached, dread and anger filled him. His mind briefly thought of assailing them, but the prospect of harming Angelika or her one surviving sister, or worse failing and bringing greater punishment upon his love restrained him.

As Theresia and Angelika argued, he knew he could not resist, even if he could over power the guards, there were no doubt more, and the punishment would be more severe. If he went quietly they would probably just punish him and leave her unharmed.

"I'll go with them." he said softly as the two sisters yelled at each other. "I'll go." he spoke up. As they placed chains on him he turned to Angelika, "I knew the risks, but I can't let anything happen to you on account of me Angie. I love you and even last night was my last night on this Earth I don't regret it at all."

With that a guard shoved the back end of his pike into Rhee's kneecap, causing him to drop to the ground in a sharp jolt of pain, "Enough from you beast." the guard said spitefully. Many in the palace never approved of his abilities, and quite a few felt it unseemly such a man had been granted the position of Imperial Knight over more deserving Chinese Warriors.

Rhee's gaze met Angelika's, she was weeping. He felt a pang in his stomach looking over to her, "Don't cry, you're a..." he started.

"No talking!" yelled the guard strike him again. Rhee winced, his eyes turning red with rage, the guard just smiled. "Just try it." the guard taunted, "We'll run you through."

"Enough!" a voice shouted. The guards turned to see Ryu come out of the hall way, the Imperial Knight Commander looking sternly at them. "This is the Imperial Court, not some thuggish backwoods dungeon. The prisoners will be treated with respect. Judgement is only the Imperial Thrones, not yours."

Ryu looked over at Angelika, then at his subordinate, it was a cool look of disappointment. One between master and pupil. "The Emperor will see you now." he said folding his arms.

The two were then brought into the large room. As Theresia and Ryu assumed their places on either side of the Emperor, the two prisoners were brought to the floor beneath the large stair case. Behind the throne was a large golden silk embroidery with 大元 the symbol of the dynasty sewn in fine silks. On either sides were rows of eunuchs and officials, competing for spots in the cloak and dagger worlds of the highest Imperial positions.

Jia looked at the two, his face filled with a mix of sorrow and anger. Had times been different perhaps he would not have had to forbid it but the timing couldn't have been worse. The Rebellion in the North was increasingly forcing Jia to make compromises with the court's conservatives for support. Worse, the death of Magdelina had put the Empress into a depression, and he'd have to dance around that needle while dealing with Angelika, meaning he'd need to be harder on Rhee.

Rising he spoke, "I had warned you." he said angrily. "I had warned you both."

Turning to Rhee, "Do you have anything to say?" he asked.

"No. Just let her be." Rhee said, to murmurs of traitor in the crowd.

Jia turned to Angelika, "And you anything?"

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Angelika stared up at Jia, her clothes ripped and torn from not being able to change into something decent in which to present to the Imperial Throne. "What am I supposed to say? I'm sure my sister has told you everything anyways. I'm not allowed to pick who I want to spend my days with because a bunch of castrated fools disagree and it's against some forsaken tradition? Don't you know they don't really like a white skinned golden haired empress either!"

She fell to the ground as one of the guards smacked her back with a spear, her face beaten and bruised with dried blood running across her arms. "I have nothing to say to you."

"Majesty," said the guard and struck her again.

Angelika turned with her teeth barred, "If you strike me again, I'll put you through a wall."

"Enough!" said Theresia jumping up from her throne, "This stops now! The Emperor can decide what he will do with the Knight, but I will discipline my own sister. Angelika, we warned you about breaking a fragile tradition in a fragile nation, even now there are conflicts raging in the north and you are undermining Imperial Authority in the very capital. There is a Christian convent in the south of the Empire in the province of Laos, you will go there and take up the cloth, perhaps God will teach you some humility and respect for tradition." Tears stained the Empress's eyes, "Magdalena would like that, you know she would."

Angelika closed her eyes and sighed, smarting from her bruises. "I know."

"Jia," said Theresia turning back to him, "You can punish Rhee anyway you see fit, I need to lay down." She stood up and looked at the bureaucrats with a sneer. "Don't think I can't hear your murmuring. I suggest sleeping with a weapon." Then disappeared into the back rooms of the palace.

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Jia looked disapprovingly at the guards and then at the audience. "I will have no more of this in my court. Those who try to turn this into mob rule would do well to remember [i]how I became Emperor.[/i]" he said placing his hand on his blade. His demonic gaze, the gaze he wore to war shined out over the crowd. "There will be no more talk about the attributes of my wife, she is Empress and you owe her all your allegiance, and she alone will judge Princess Angelika."

Despite his ferocity and fury, he knew he could only direct it in one place. He had seen to it that Theresia would not lose two sisters. But that meant Rhee, would have to be thrown to the wolves. Looking at Rhee he could tell that the knight knew it too.

"Your Highness." the lead eunuch said, "What then of the traitor, surely we will not spare his life because of sentimentality as well."

Jia sneered, "Watch your tone. Lest I think you doubt my rule."

"The code is clear, we must behead him, so that other commoners do not think they can force themselves on those of the.." one of the officials began.

Rhee practically lunged at the man in anger over the charge before, Ryu stepped in drawing his sword at Rhee's neck, shaking his head.

"There will be no more of that." Ryu said, "This is a Knight of the Emperor, and you will not taunt him. His crime is he disobeyed an order of the Emperor, a highest offense in and of itself and nothing else."

"How long do these knights act themselves above the court?" one of the eunuchs retorted. "Acting high and mighty, no respect for tradition or..."

"You're coming awfully close to treason." Ryu barked back.

"ENOUGH!" Jia shouted. "I will not have anymore of this. The knights are not on trial, nor are we going to offer this man up as a sacrificial lamb to that. But Rhee, you have committed an act of the most severe disobedience. So I have one question. Did you or did you not know death was the only punishment for this?" The Emperor asked, his voice lowering to a calm tone.

"I did." Rhee responded.

"Then I must punish you to death." Jia said.

"I understand." Rhee nodded back.

"Good, then let us do it before sun set." One of the officials spoke up, "We should do it before the people as they gather in the square so they may see justice be done."

Ryu cleared his throat, "My lord. If I may, Rhee is one of my best knights. I know you may not spare him, but the rebellion in the north is claiming many lives. Until this point he has always conducted himself with honor. Let us put him at your vanguard at every battle, let it be that when he falls a hundred of the enemy fall with him. That alone is a death sentence, and one towards a purpose."

"We cannot trust a traitor at the vanguard!" one of the eunuchs objected.

"Nor can we trust a eunuch, but this man has protected both the Emperor and myself in more battles than you and your spineless kin!" Ryu shouted back. "If you doubt his skill..." the knight commander began.

Jia shot a glare at Ryu disapprovingly, this was more taunting than was necessary, even if the Emperor felt the same way. "Thats enough. But I agree. There is no sense wasting a weapon, if reports from the front are as bloody as they say he'll die within a week, and we'll have given innocent men a few more weeks with their families before they are sent to war. A good ruler must not only see justice, but also be judicious. Rhee, Knight of the Empire, I hereby sentence you to death by... Rebel. If you have any respect for your oath left, see that you preserve the lives of those who have not yet forfeit theirs with their stupidity." Jia said.

Rhee looked up with a frown on his face, first towards Ryu and then towards Jia, "I will." he said. Looking down as he was lead away he felt a sharp pain. Angelika would be safe but she would be to the south far far away from him. He would be flung into the fires of battle once more, and he knew he could not flee. Ryu and Jia had given him a chance to reclaim some honor but in doing so they guaranteed that death would be his only out. If he shirked his last duty now he would truly be a disgrace.

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The sun was barely raising its red hues in the eastern sky overlooking the fields surrounding the city of Binxian when the drums started to make a cacophony of taps and booms, rousing the mass of individuals from their slumber. Unlike the rebellious and treacherous members of the eastern portions of Tianxia, the western members of the empire had not forgotten their due, and had moved to march immediately when whispers of rebellion in Tianxia had reached their land. At the head of a column of two thousand of his Imperial [i]Kheshigs[/i], Shah Aden al-Timur, having recently stylized his last name to reflect his heritage like his father, and his consort, Caroline of Bernadotte, his faithful wife, had made the long journey at a blistering pace, from the relative safety of a rebuilt Herat, their capitol, to the Imperial Capitol.

Aden had not forgotten the due he owed the Emperor for where he was now, having been granted a position of power to rule as the 'Khan of the South', having narrowly lost his lands and people to the clutches of Ancaceleon, only to escape by the skin of his teeth from the crumbling Timurid fortress and capitol of Herat. He also did not forget the bonds he had with the Empress, with whom he had joined for part of her quest that took them across the steppes and to Bactria, where they had narrowly escaped a young death. It was why when a messenger arrived from the Daimyos of Japan, he only heard the messenger out for probably a total of a minute, before ensuring the messenger did not return any message. What it [i]did[/i] leave was a large bloodstain that would leave the stewards grumbling as they scrubbed the immaculate marble floors of the throne room of his palace, and ensured that when the Imperial messenger arrived from Chang'an, they would not find the Shah there; he had left almost a week earlier.

Unlike his previous campaign against the Mad Dragon, where he had sent his dearly beloved away to the Steppes with a number of guards, one obvious reason being she was pregnant with their third child, Caroline of Bernadotte, the Swedish Queen whom Aden had courted and married after saving from an untimely death, would accompany him. Although a number of the Imperial [i]Kheshigs[/i] would murmur their reservations of having a female accompany them (despite their being female members of the [i]Kheshigs[/i] who oversaw the security of the Shah's Consort), they would dare not openly mention it in front of Aden. Aden himself had been reluctant to bring his fair wife along on the journey, but Caroline was well able to handle the rigors of long journeys, having spent months with him in the saddle on the steppes, she was also a very capable warrior herself, having proven herself in a number of wars in Sweden.

Leaving the Shahdom in the very capable hands of Aden's cousin and close confidant, Talia al-Timur, they had left Herat at the head of twenty thousand soldiers, although nearly twenty thousand of them were a mixed force of foot and horse soldiers, who could not keep up a fast pace. Aden and Caroline would ride ahead with two thousand Imperial [i]Kheshigs[/i], the twenty thousand they left behind would just have to catch up with them. After almost three weeks of hard riding and exchanging horses whenever they could, the nearly exhausted riders of the vanguard of the Timurids would make camp only a morning's ride from Chang'an, and that was where they found themselves when the red sun rose in the morning, the red sky leaving a pink stain across Caroline's face when Aden joined her outside the tent at the cusp of daybreak.

He slid his arms around her stomach from behind, and the smaller, but equally hard-bodied Consort leaned back into her husband, not startled by his sudden presence behind her. They had yet to don the light armor they rode in, with Caroline still wearing her nightrobe, and Aden his white undershirt and tie-trousers. "A red sky in the morning, a sign of things to come, love?" asked Caroline, as she snuggled back into her husband's arms against the cool river valley air. Her voice was not laced with a tone of worry, and sounded more inquisitive than anything else.

"Well, I wish I could say, maybe I can consult Oyona when I reach the Imperial City," responded Aden, referring to the shaman whom he had met from the Empress' vanguard of Amazons.

"My father used to tell me of an old sailor's saying, to take the red sky in the morning, as a warning against a storm," responded Caroline, with a light smile as she turned in the arms of the Shah, looking up into his eyes with her deep blue ones, her blonde hair, usually elegantly braided, askew from shifting throughout the night. Caroline and Aden were both very fair, the latter much like his father, Sham, who had gotten his fair skin from his Russian mother, and subsequently Aden getting it from Sham and his English mother, Robyn Barker. Aden still had the blood of Tamerlane coursing through his veins, nonetheless, he was one of the direct descendants, and he had inherited Timur's penchant for being a capable warrior, and he bore the battle scars to prove it, much like his wife. Despite Aden's foreign appearances, his subjects had taken well to his rule, and despite being a stern, paternal figure, he was also known for compassion and gentleness where it was required.

"Well, there lies a storm ahead of us, we can only surmise how ferocious it is when we reach it, the divisions in the Empire are deep as you and I know, hopefully not too deep that they cannot be sewn shut," he said, in a whimsical tone.

The drums continued to tap nearby, as she gave him a light kiss, allowing the moments of uncertainty pass quickly, before saying, "Thank you again for bringing me along, as your equal." They shared another kiss, before she added, "Although I don't think my rear-end shares the same sentiment."

Aden just grinned, before they disappeared into their large pavilion tent, to don their riding clothes, along with sets of light armor, with elaborate designs of rearing warhorses clashing on the chest pieces, their domed helmets with three red dots on the center, right above their foreheads. They would also strap on their weapons, both carried shields, whilst Aden carried the Scimitar of Tamerlane, Caroline donned a longsword more appropriate of her Nordic heritage, she was also very adept with a war hammer she carried in a sling on her left hip. As Caroline finished strapping on her belt, they emerged from their pavilion tent as the fifes (something Caroline had introduced to Aden's court) and drums took up a stately [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnFslAH6Gro&feature=related]tune[/url], signifying their intent to ride.

As stewards and squires moved to break down camp, the Shah and his contingent would begin mounting up to the sounds of fifes and drums, the sun not even cresting the hills surrounding them. Many men were still satiating their morning appetites, still chewing on food they had been able to procure from local citizens as they hauled their aching joints into their saddles again. The banner of the Timurids was unfurled again, and the color bearer rode forward to the cheers and shouts of the [i]Kheshigs[/i] chasing after Aden and Caroline, who slowly trotted towards the head of the column of horsemen.

Gathering his reins in his hands, Aden turned his horse to face his followers quickly, the horse grunting and letting out a few verbose snorts as it turned to face its peers, rearing a little. "Today, my friends, my brethren, we ride to the Imperial City, we have rode many leagues to get to this point now, whatever task is appointed to us there, we will undertake with new vigor. Our bones are tired, our joints painful, our legs chaffed and blistered, rest will come soon, when we can walk our horses home with pride in our step, honor in our hearts, and victory a twinkling star behind us. There are enemies that would seek to destroy all that we have come to enjoy and love with those who sit upon the throne, it is time, to fight for what chances at life that have been given us. Onwards to Chang'an!" called out Aden, over the hushed crowd, who let out a whoops and shouts, the issues of horns adding to the cacophony of noise as Aden turned and urged his horse into a steady gallop down the beaten road, Caroline next to him. Above them, a familiar cry from an old friend circling in the skies above them would be issued, a lone Berkut riding the updrafts as he followed the column below.

About five hours later, the same eagle, soaring majestically above the hills, and the cloud of dust to the west of Chang'an would signal the arrival of an old comrade and ally of the Court of Jia I.

Edited by TheShammySocialist
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The Imperial Road stretched for miles rolling down valleys and over distant mountains. A lone carriage bumped across the trail as Angelika, in the robes of a nun, sat in the back next to two guards and the abbess of the convent she would be placed. Life truly couldn't get must worse at this point. She had been taken from her comfortable life at the Imperial Capital, Rhee had been sentenced to death on account of their love affair, and now she was being installed at perhaps the most boring place imaginable. That was not to say Angelika had no respect for the clergy, but she definitely did not have a calling from God to enter a convent. She was a solder, she had killed men before, she liked to drink, she liked to spend money, and she liked to have sex. Philosophically the stone walls of an Indochinese convent was no place for a rogue princess.

Looking out of the carriage window, she felt the cool air of the early morning blow into her hair. This too would be gone, replaced by solitary chanting and prayer, which Angelika could not stomach. She thought about Theresia and Jia and their supposed duty to the court and the nation. Didn't they also have a duty to family? Jia she could understand, he hated her after all and she still wasn't a huge fan of the Emperor, but they not only exiled her, but sent Rhee to his perpetual death. An Imperial Knight who had served the Empire better than any of the Eunuchs or the bureaucrats. The officials, they were the true traitors to the Empire, not loyal knights and it made her angry.

The bouncing of the carriage didn't help nor did the cramped quarters she was in, surrounded by the guards and abbess. With claustrophobia pushing against her, sadness of the life and person she was losing, and anger of the entire situation; Angelika could feel a terrible rumbling down in her stomach.

"Abbess," she said breaking out in a sweat, "Stop the carriage, I need to get out."

The old Thai woman with long graying black hair sneered and shook her head. "Calm yourself, Sister, we don't have time to pull over. What's wrong?"

"I feel sick." Angelika said clenching her fists. "I need to get out of here." She could feel a rumbling in her stomach as her breath quickened, she could feel her legs beginning to tingle with warmth and it began to travel up the rest of her body. Her sweating increased as she leaned her head back and panted, trying to control the warmth, but she felt terribly hot, uncomfortably hot. "Abbess, please, I'm dying."

"Control yourself Princess Angelika, that is an order."

"I..." she moaned and tossed her head back once more, "CAN'T!" Suddenly Angelika reared her head up, her eyes glowing with a white aura. Her hands clenched the seat cushions tight as the sounds of bones popping filled the carriage, her fingers lengthening and the change began to head up her arms as the sounds of fabric began to stretch as her biceps grew underneath. "What...what's happening?!" Her entire body was aflame now as she moaned, her chest thrust forward, ripping through her fabric as her body escaped the confines of clothing. "Yes!" She roared and with an explosion of power, grabbed the bodies of both guards and hurled them out of the carriage. Her legs tore through the dress finally, leaving her standing in front of the abbess in tattered clothing, the cross still around her neck as her hair completely whitened and her skin turned to a dark gray.

"Princess! My..."

Angelika only smirked and tore off the door to the carriage as she jumped out onto the Chinese highlands. Without knowing it, Rhee had given Angelika a gift of love, he imparted his gift...his curse into her and had become a beast herself. Free of everything, she roared into the sky. She didn't care about anything, Tianxia would feel her passion and her anger.

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The black smoke of battle wafted across the Great Wall, as the Pretender's Armies smashed against its large barricades. The two armies had been stretched across a vast front of in the West, smashing against each other as they jockeyed for positions along the Great Wall. Rhee looked up as the seige ladder attached itself to the wall, and the white eyes of the first of the enemy came up the embankment.

His mind raced back to a few days ago, when he had been first sent here. Upon passing the sentence, Ryu had put him on the first chariot to the Wall, knowing it was probable the eunuchs had an assassin's mace ready for him. Ryu's last words were, "The Emperor isn't lying, the situation in the North is bad. We had to appease the eunuchs, but treat this as you would any of your other missions. The lines have to hold. If not... the catastrophe would be unthinkable."

Rhee took Ryu's words to heart. True he had foresaken his oath, but he was a man of deeply engrained honor and loyalty. He knew Ryu had helped him keep his abilities under check in those early days and he had been the second person after Angelika to give him a chance.

As he approached the wall, he had seen the horrors which the enemy army had inflicted on the Empire. Bodies of soldiers were being carted back, as lines of fresh recruits from the South were marching replace them. This had become a war of attrition, one which would eclipse that of any the Western World had seen. Most of the soldiers were peasants, who had barely held a sickle much less a sword. Looking at the youth on their faces, the knight couldn't help but feel ashamed at not being here sooner. He could sense the desperation in these men, they too were taken from the ones they loved and thrust into the furnace of war, many never to be heard from again.

Now he stood atop the barricades, this was the second assault of the week, loud drums echoed through the mountain passes. The enemy had begun besieging the wall firing seige weapons over it in the night, sustaining their bombardment with a new technology, an explosive powder which hurled iron balls into the wall at incredible rates. Now they were amassing to send troops over the wall.

As his eyes met that of his first opponent, he felt the savagery within overtake him. Ever since that night, he knew something had changed, letting go of his restraint, the rune inside of him had begun to change. He no longer felt blind compulsion towards violence, but the aggression and fury within him were building to points he had not felt before. He needed to channel them along with the anger about losing Angelika, and he would make this unfortunate swatch of the enemy take it. His first punch sent the man flying off the wall as Rhee then drew his large maul. He thrust it into a soldier's tower shield shattering it before howling. He felt the rune within him start to burn.

Spinning around in a circle he became like a cyclone fighting off soldiers as they scaled the walls. Soon the dusty winds of the mountains were blowing around them as red dots of blood littered the great wall. Rhee was now one with his surroundings as he channeled his anger into passion, passion for the fight. The enemy would smash up against him, but he would not let them get through. He felt himself embracing this side of him for the first time in a long time, and he was fighting like he had never before. He felt as if every move built on itself feeding the animal spirit inside, he felt [i]alive[/i].

By the time the battle had ended, Rhee's post on the wall was secure. Though other sections would need to be retaken, Rhee had slewn over a hundred of Triyun III's soldiers by himself. That night, the men of Army of Jia I celebrated and drank toasts to Rhee. His legend would be spread down south with messengers bringing word of victory, and still more calls for men to the front. The war was bloody but they had a new hero.

Rhee for his part, for the first few hours after the battle cut lose. Always reserved all his life, he drank heavily and feasted. But it was not long before his thoughts turned to Angelika. Looking up at the setting red sun over the Gobi he thought of what she was doing now.

In the Capital Yuan Jia had given Aden Dawkins and his entourage permission to enter the Imperial Court. In the days since Rhee and Angelika had been sent away, the court had become more bitter than before. Theresia was still depressed, about Magdalina, about having to send her sister away. The Eunuchs were unhappy with both Jia and Ryu for how they sent Rhee away. Wei was informing Jia of increasing unrest amongst the Officials. Increasingly Jia's thoughts were turning to simply drafting the entire Palace and sending them to the front to see if they complained so damn much.

When the Khan of the South finally arrived, Jia sat up and smiled, "At last someone whose actually tasted the grit of battle in their teeth. Welcome to Chang'an." he said warmly, "Have you come to fight or !@#$%* like these ball less sycophants?" Jia asked mischievously.

Edited by Triyun
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[quote name='Triyun' timestamp='1348122373' post='3032163']
In the Capital Yuan Jia had given Aden Dawkins and his entourage permission to enter the Imperial Court. In the days since Rhee and Angelika had been sent away, the court had become more bitter than before. Theresia was still depressed, about Magdalina, about having to send her sister away. The Eunuchs were unhappy with both Jia and Ryu for how they sent Rhee away. Wei was informing Jia of increasing unrest amongst the Officials. Increasingly Jia's thoughts were turning to simply drafting the entire Palace and sending them to the front to see if they complained so damn much.

When the Khan of the South finally arrived, Jia sat up and smiled, "At last someone whose actually tasted the grit of battle in their teeth. Welcome to Chang'an." he said warmly, "Have you come to fight or !@#$%* like these ball less sycophants?" Jia asked mischievously.

Aden and Caroline would enter the court as a duo, alongside one another, along with Aden's personal [i]Kheshigs[/i], who walked at a distance behind their monarch as the two proceeded towards the throne of Yuan Jia. The couple were both dusty from their ride, the lower extremities of their legs covered in mud, and their eyes appeared to show the effects of their long travel, but grim determination shone through those hints of exhaustion they displayed. As their presence was formally announced, they would step up before Yuan Jia and take a single knee, bowing their heads, before raising them as he made his initial statement.

Both would grin when Jia remarked on the seemingly rhetorical question, and Aden spoke first, "Thank you for your welcoming, my lord, it seems as though your enemies have a long reach, I think they extended it too far to the west." With his statement, Aden produced a bloodstained scroll that the Daimyo's Japanese messenger had read to them from, which promised a great many things to Aden and his people had they joined their cause, or even remained innate, and threatened his lands with destruction if he joined Yuan Jia. After producing the scroll, he would hand the scroll to one of the Emperor's attendants, so he could give it to the Emperor himself. "Unfortunately for the Daimyos, I believe that any response has been indefinitely delayed, and I daresay, I hope the blood of the wretched indiviudal who delivered it still stains the floor of my court. I'm afraid that my temper finds itself aroused when a man threatens my wife with a lifetime of harem servitude, and it unfortunately overlooks typical diplomatic niceties when aroused."

"And these messages of conflict and division are why my husband and I have journeyed to reaffirm the Western lands' allegiance to the Imperial Throne, Yuan Jia," added Caroline, earning a sideways glance and grin from Aden in the process.

"At this moment, the Timurids march to assist in the disposal of these rebellious dissidents, twenty thousand men at arms are still en route, and possibly more behind them, but myself, my wife, and two thousand of my finest are here and now, at the service of the Imperial Court. The Timurids will see to it that any due we owe your majesty is repaid in full, we do not forget those who granted us what we have now," said Aden, in a firm voice, his eyes affixed on those of the Emperor.

Edited by TheShammySocialist
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The new freedom Angelika found in the Beast was amazing. She felt alive, more alive than she had felt throughout her entire life. The air was crisper, her vision clearer and her energy seemed to be never ending. All of Tianxia now stretched out in front of her, but the vastness of the empire didn't seem as large now. She took her steps in stride, holding onto the tattered robes of her nun's garb that clung to her gray body as she walked through the wilderness, knowing to stay away from villages and crowded cities as she was still a strange sight to behold. At six foot, eight inches, the gray huntress would tower over most anyone in the Empire and pound anyone she met into the ground. That was another feeling she felt, a pang of anger which ran through her mind, but also a drive for passion and even battle. Something deep within her psyche called out, Theresia had become Queen of the Amazons, went on long adventures, slayed beasts, and as the oldest Hapsburg sister to date, Angelika knew she had to prove herself.

Taking a rest on the top of a large hill overlooking the southern Chinese countryside, Angelika sighed staring off into the distance. She didn't want to return to the capital, in fact, she had no desire at the present to see Jia, Theresia, or any of her other friends; though she did want to rip apart a few of the palace officials. Who she wanted to see, now, more than ever, was Rhee. With a semi-clear mind, the Princess wanted to tell him what he had done to her that through their passion he had given her the Beast Rune and that somewhere their destinies were being intertwined. She knew that Rhee had been sent north to die at the hands of the rebels. There was no telling how long he would last, but Angelika had hope that he could survive at least for a few days while she would make the journey north.

There was one problem however, Angelika was now a near seven foot tall Amazon with gray skin and tattered clothing. She couldn't just gallivant through the Empire half naked.

Moving through the wilderness, the Princess traveled throughout the afternoon and into the evening before seeing a small village as the sun was beginning to set. The country folk of the Empire were an interesting bunch, very religious and very superstitious, though even for their presumed xenophobia, often time she had been grateful for the help peasants had shown her during her stay in Tianxia. Angelika realized now, she would need to call on country kindness once again. She walked down the hill towards the village and saw the torch lights burning in a few houses as she stepped closer, a gray giant walking into their community and the giant spoke in a sultry, but clearly feminine voice.

"Please, I need help."

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Wolf Cub Village was a sleepy town in the midst of South Central China. In later years it would be home to tales that would transform the landscape of China. Today it would see the grey beast through her journey. Lao Zhou, a old man who oversaw the village in those years had spent some time in the capital before being summoned back to oversea his village. He had seen the strange barbarians who came with the golden empress and told tales of their incredible stature and hair. But never before had even he seen the creature which had approached them. She appeared human her dark skin and flowing white hair were something all together different.

Looking at her, his brow furrowed. He did not know if she was a demon deceiving them or what, but he was fortunately one of the few who knew the value in being humane and not hostile to those whom he did not fully understand. "We will help you then." he said approaching her.

The village leader brought her to his house in the center of town. By palatial standard it was small, only the size of a single apartment. But it was among the largest in the village. A hot bath was drawn, and Zhao's wife, began sewing together fabrics to make clothes for the giant as she waited in the path while Zhao prepared a meal for her. When she emerged from the path a long flowing robe had been sewn for her from patterns which had lined the shades of their curtains and a steaming pot of mustard greens, tofu, and rice was waiting for her along with a cup of tea. They remembered the phrase of Confucius, 'what good fortune it was to have friends come from afar.'

The two elderly farmers waited for her smiling with a sense of pride and hospitality in representing their village to someone from the larger world. "We are honored by your presence here." Zhao said. "I am Old Zhao and this is my wife Li." he said. "What part of the world are you from?" he asked.

In the Imperial Capital meanwhile, Jia smirked at Aden's answer. "Hah. Indeed." he said, "The Japanese were never known for their discretion or judgement in matters of state or common sense." he added amused. "Would that I could say that some in the North had your loyalty."

Jia scratched his chin as he looked down at the map which had been sprawled before him in the court by his war advisers. "It seems many in the North have fellen to this pretender rather than staty true to the oaths they took when they became hard." he sighed in frustration.

"I suppose though that means that they will find themselves stripped when preparations are complete and we kill this upstart. Tell me Aden are you prepared to go North and fight on the front lines of this battle?" The Emperor asked.

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Angelika was grateful, firstly because she was not completely run out of the village and secondly, because Zhou and his wife had given her shelter. In the warm bath, the Princess finally got the chance to actually look over what she had become. She wasn't displeased in any way, becoming this colossal figure and thinking about the front, with her presence and new strength she could free Rhee and deal with the assault of the Japanese rebels. Thinking of the frontier as she dipped her head under the warm water, Angelika strung out her white hair and stepped out of the tub into a flower print robe. It dawned on her in the apartment that she was also unnaturally tall and it brought a measure of self-consciousness into her mind, but the welcoming smile of Zhou and Li and the smell of food at the table placed the Princess into a peaceful trance. Though she wasn't quite prepared for the amount a Beast needed to eat.

Plowing down food, well past her third helping, the Princess finally looked up at her hosts and blushed. "I'm sorry. I don't know what is coming over me." She couldn't tell what they thought about her, aside that they knew she was strange and wanted to know more, but it was up to her to determine how truthful she could be with the villagers. "Where I'm from?" she looked down at her hands and then back up at Zhou. "Europe, actually, I am one of the bodyguards of the Emperor. However I was thrown out of his court and my lover was sent honorably up to the frontier to fight against the rebellion. I am trying to find him to bring him back to me, so we can live in peace together."

Sitting up on her chair, the Princess smiled. "I must thank you for the food though and your hospitality. I know I may look, strange, but it was a gift given to me, by my lover so that I will have the strength and stamina to find him later. I must as though, Zhao, does the village have a blacksmith, I need a weapon and if possible more, permanent clothes and armor."

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Zhao tilted his head slightly with suspicion as he spoke of her origins. Contrary to the legends, he knew that Europeans were not [i]that different[/i] from the Chinese. However, he remained quiet as she spoke. The woman reminded him of many other desperate souls they had found wandering into their village many times before. Who was he to demand of her. He merely nodded his head as she spoke.

"Love is a very strange thing." Zhao said, "It is considered a virtue yet it encourages us to foresake our duty." he said. He took a sip of tea, "You must find your own path child. I will tell the armorer in our village of you in the morning, he has been hard at work making armaments for the war. Everyday more and more of our soldiers march North, to fight in a war that seems to have no end." he sighed. "But I have burdened you with too much."

His wife turned to the massive woman, "I apologize, but the bed I have for you is too small. We offer you what hospitality we can though." she said.

In the morning the village elder would lead her to the armorer Chen. Normally the forge would be filled with horseshoes and plows to till the land. But as the war intensified, and villages were expected to provide recruits and materials, it had begun forging weapons. Chen looked up to greet Zhao before being taken back by the massive beast behind him. "Oh my." he said, astounded by Angelika's stature.

"This woman." Zhao began. "She says that she is heading [i]North.[/i]" Zhao said emphatically.

"I see." Chen said contemplatively. "One moment." Leaving the front of his forge for a moment, he returned with a long curved blade, it stood the height of a small man. "This is a blade forged to slay cavalry. It is made from the finest steel the village can afford." Chen said. "Please use it well." he asked.

Zhao turned to Angelika, "Understand, the North costs us more each day. They say a hero has emerged there, one such as yourself. Who has started winning battles. When this war began I had three sons. Today, two are dead, and a third fights there. The longer this war goes on, the more children we lose. But it is not only that, we also lose farmers, crops go unattended. Soon there will be a famine. I hope you find your lover, but please, know we also need heros." Zhao pleaded.

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"Thank you," said Angelika bowing her head and accepting the blade. The blacksmith also gave her armor, mainly leather and thick cloth with the only steel located on her shoulder and waist. She would spend the night with Zhou and his wife then in the morning, would bid farewell and set back upon the road heading towards the northern frontier. Even clothed, armed, and armored now, Angelika still needed to be mindful of who was traveling down the main highways of the Empire, she did what she could to remain in the wilderness and outside the larger towns. However she was ultimately passed by farmers, merchants, and other soldiers heading to remote areas in Tianxia. Every time they would almost stop and stare at the gray giant tramping down the road, she was asked whether she was a demon from frightened old women or a demi-goddess sent to clear the rebels from the north. The Princess never answered but in her head, she often thought she was both a demon and goddess combined in her new body.

A warrior of unmistakable power as she pushed her way to where the weather grew cold and the land grew dark. Battle raged ahead and Angelika needed to prepare herself for the storm.

Meanwhile however, at the Imperial Palace, a particular rumor began to filter up from the south. The abbess who had been responsible for Angelika's escort to Laos returned to the palace accompanied by the two guards and burst into the audience between Jia, Theresia, and his vassals. At first she was nearly thrown out before one of the guards shouted. "It's about Princess Angelika! She's gone!"

"What?!" Theresia shouted and jumped up from her chair. "What do you mean she's gone?!"

From there the guards and the abbess told the story of how they were traveling south when the Princess began to sweat profusely, before long she grew rapidly out of her clothes, how her skin had turned gray, and that she howled joyfully to the sun before rampaging off into the forest. As silence overtook the throne room, the Empress' eyes began to twitch. "He, he turned her into..."

"He forced the Beast Rune upon your sister, Highness." Said one of the Officials.

"AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Theresia roared and slammed her fists against the arms of her throne and sat breathing heavily, her eyes aflame. However, behind her throne came a quiet laugh as a woman in long military robes walked out behind the Empress' throne. Commander Zhen P'an was the rising star of the Imperial Military, she had served under the Empress during the Sino-German War for the conquest of the Caucuses, she had been one of the heroes who destroyed the Great Dragon, and there were rumors that she was even considered to becoming an adoptive daughter of the Empress, this meant that if Leopold or Cecilia would meet untimely deaths, Zhen P'an could find herself as Empress of all of Tianxia. With long flowing black hair and shimmering onyx eyes and grabbed the official hard on his shoulder.

"It would be wise, perhaps, to hold your tongue." Her voice cast a spell on the official as his knees buckled. "Your Majesties," Zhen said walked to the front of the room. "There is nothing to fear, it is clear that the Knight, Rhee, has infected the Royal Family with a terrible curse. This is a terrible crime and he must be brought to justice, in addition, the Princess must be brought back to be helped in any way she can. I will undertake this campaign."

"You would do that, Zhen?" said Theresia.

"It would be my honor." She said and her eyes sparkled brilliantly.

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Rhee had been in the Wilderness for a week. The sprawling desert beyond the Great Wall was like a game of cat and mouse. There were no watering holes for miles, and the two armies engaged each other in small patrols in between sieges. The Imperial Knight was able to move without horseback across the vast stretches of territory and thus had been a prime candidate to be sent on patrol.

"We're three days from the wall and still no sign of the enemy." one of his men complained. The Viet had been used to the humid and lush countryside of the South. The dry North was taxing on them especially. Rhee looked around sniffing the air. "They're close." he said.

The patrols were tasked with hitting points of Triyun IIIs army, destroying them to prevent them from massing to lay sieges while the Imperial Army continued to gain in strength and power. It was difficult for many of the men though to see how small victories contributed to the greater whole, and it was increasingly hard to find able volunteers to take the patrols as opposed to the safety and comfort of the barracks of the wall forts.

Rhee had caught a sent, the strong odor of camels and horses, along with the mixing of the black powder. Its sulfur stench was unmistakable. "Three li north." Rhee said pointing in the direction. "Ready yourself."

He began running off leading the party towards the camp. The vast distance of the desert went by at a fast clip. Upon approaching the camp, Rhee leapt into the fray. His maul smashed into the head of one of the soldiers killing him near instantly. Roaring he swung it around, striking the pot where the black powder mixture was sending it spraying into the fire where two shocked alchemists were. It ignited in a bang.

Leaping to strike them, he felt something brush past him. A cut moved across his chest as he landed. Blueish blood trickled down. A black hair woman, with pale skin looked at him, the lower part of her face covered by fans with razor blades protruding from them. Her eyes were a blood red. "Hmph the creature has arrived, just as planned." she said.

Rhee watched the woman as he raised his maul. In the chaos of battle he had not noticed most of his party had been run through. Emerging from the sands of the desert, men in sandy cloaks had been laying in ambush. In their hands ball and sickle chains were spinning through the air rotating with a terrible whistle. It was not long before he realized he was surrounded.

"I want him alive." the woman said, "But barely."

Blades flew through the air coming at Rhee, catching two with his maul he pulled the men holding them forward. His fist slammed into the first punching his eyeball out of his socked. Another blade came from behind cutting into him. Screaming with anger he ran towards the assailant thrusting his maul down upon his chest caving it in. Three more came from behind cutting deep gashes into him. Grabbing the chain from his latest victim, Rhee flung it at them, knocking them down.

He barely had time to notice as the woman threw three spherical objects at him. He could smell the black powder as they discharged, iron shards embedding into him. Rhee roared angrily, as chains flew around him grabbing his arms and legs. Several men on each chain pulled as the woman walked back up towards him. Rhee struggled to pull free, but it was a struggle. Blue blood dripped from his body.

"Impressive beast." she said derisively, "So uncivilized though." Her hand removed a stiletto blade from its hilt. A green liquid was distributed along it. Thrusting it into Rhee's stomach, he felt himself grow woozy. "Quickly before the poison wears off..." she said as he faded into unconsciousness.

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[quote name='Triyun' timestamp='1348197050' post='3032555']
In the Imperial Capital meanwhile, Jia smirked at Aden's answer. "Hah. Indeed." he said, "The Japanese were never known for their discretion or judgement in matters of state or common sense." he added amused. "Would that I could say that some in the North had your loyalty."

Jia scratched his chin as he looked down at the map which had been sprawled before him in the court by his war advisers. "It seems many in the North have fellen to this pretender rather than staty true to the oaths they took when they became hard." he sighed in frustration.

"I suppose though that means that they will find themselves stripped when preparations are complete and we kill this upstart. Tell me Aden are you prepared to go North and fight on the front lines of this battle?" The Emperor asked.

Aden nodded at the Emperor's statement, "It seems that oaths are taken at convenience, but when the time comes to uphold them, the intent evaporates, unfortunately. Although, I must say, even if I had doubts about moving to rightfully join your cause, I think my wife would disown me for dishonor. I'm not sure whose culture, the one of the Timurids or the Swedes, disparages dishonor more." Caroline would share a sideways glance with him, with a light blush and grin on her face.

"On another note, I have always been at the vanguard of my armies' column, I see no reason to change that philosophy or tradition now, it is my intent to rest here until the morrow, and depart for the north with all possible haste," he stated, with a firm look at the Emperor, his eyes flicking between the two monarchs that sat before the duo.

"And it is my intention to dep-," started Caroline, in a similarly firm voice, before being taken aback by the interruption of the court that was brought about by the almost-crazed Abbess.

Both Aden and Caroline stood aside and observed the exchange between the Empress and the various officials and members of the court's guard, exchanging questioning glances with one another over the fate of Angelika, having not been informed of her internment in a convent. Having not been acquainted with Angelika personally, they only garnered information from various messages and bits and pieces of news they had heard of the Hapsburg. The mention of a curse brought a new wave of slight inquisitive glances to one another, as Zhen P'an spoke, and Aden's demeanor appeared to be more tense then when they had first been brought before the Emperor. Aden and Caroline also appeared to be taken aback by the seemingly calm and collected Empress explode into an outburst; having been a companion of hers at one time, and from what he knew, Aden knew what was upsetting her enough to break the calculated manner in which she seemed to conduct herself was [i]extremely[/i] important.

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As Rhee began to fade from consciousness, however, a piercing scream sounded through the night air.

She had been traveling for days and Angelika watched as the scenery around her grew darker, colder, and more depressing. The villages and towns she passed in the north had been burned to the ground from rebel assaults and fields and farms were lain waste due to constant fighting between the rebels and Imperial soldiers. As she journeyed the rumors of a great warrior of the Empire, a beast, filled her ears and the more frequent the rumor became, the closer Angelika was to finding her lover. The rumors took her to the desert where, beyond the wall, she attempted to keep up with an advanced scouting party looking for rebel positions. She remained far enough behind to stay away from the scouts, yet constantly was on the look out for enemy patrols in the same region. If she was captured here, there would be no hope to find Rhee or to return home.

Then she saw the party get ambushed and the beast appear. Angelika felt her heart leap as she looked beyond the crest of the dune, but that joy quickly turned to sorrow as she saw how fast the party of defenders fell into the sand. Rhee stood strong, but after the strange woman appeared and pierced him with throwing blades, even the beast could not fight back. The Princess growled and unsheathed her sword from her back. She had come too far to lose him now.

With a roar, Angelika jumped from the dune and charged into the band of captors. Her first swing decapitated one of the slavers as the others drew their weapons and a terrible melee ensued. By the end, Angelika stood panting, blood, both hers and of the dead captors running over her torn body. She glared at the woman finally as she spit onto the ground.

"He is mine."

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Jia smirked, "Yes wives can be... persistent about... things." he said diplomatically as he observed Theresia's cautiously.

"I would then have you head to the front, the battle now rages along the Great Wall, and we need every able body we have to hold it there. Hosts are being assembled not just from the Timurid but from the Khmer, Thai, and the Tibet. When they arrive we will have the strength to go on the attack, but till then we must sap the enemy's strength as much as possible." Jia explained. "Most of the imperial knights have gone there to the North. Join with them as the tip of the spear until the rest of your forces arrive."

Jia's eyes turned to watch the exchange between Theresia and her adviser. Jia never quite liked people who were too well positioned for advancement. The Emperor felt more at home with those who were at ease and genuinely seemed to enjoy or at least be intrigued by the tasks of statecraft rather than see each task as the next point on a list of laurels. However, Theresia trusted Zhen and quickly took to the woman's suggestions.

The Emperor himself frowned, unsure of what would come of this. Yet he demurred holding his voice. This matter was a delicate one and it would be unwise for him to insert himself into a sisterly feud unless he felt there was truly a irreversible mistake being made. Theresia had not yet crossed that threshold.

In the North, the Japanese princess was beginning to move Rhee East towards the coast. From there he would be taken to the warlock whom had given promises to the Fujiwara Clan. She felt triumphant, it was easy just as she had thought. This Rhee character was illogical and emotional. He was no match for her carefully chosen strategy of attack. [i]Soon this phase of their plan would be complete and Shina would be reduced to its natural borders.[/i]

It was only then that she noticed a second creature approach. It easily dispatched of her warriors, having taken them by surprise. The savagery and protectiveness it displayed were a site to behold. For a moment, doubt crept into the arrogant shell of the princess.

"Heh. Too cowardly to face me alone I see." she said to Rhee, "This is but a momentary delay." as she tossed out several smoke bombs containing noxious fumes."

As the smoke cleared, Rhee could have sworn he smelled Angelika's scent slightly. But he was still groggy from the drug which the princess had injected him with and a grey creature not unlike him was standing in front of him. He let out a labored breath, he, "Are you... Angie?" he said before collapsing back into unconsciousness, a pool of blue blood from the wound coming out from his stomach.

Edited by Triyun
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[quote name='Triyun' timestamp='1348317981' post='3033024']
Jia smirked, "Yes wives can be... persistent about... things." he said diplomatically as he observed Theresia's cautiously.

"I would then have you head to the front, the battle now rages along the Great Wall, and we need every able body we have to hold it there. Hosts are being assembled not just from the Timurid but from the Khmer, Thai, and the Tibet. When they arrive we will have the strength to go on the attack, but till then we must sap the enemy's strength as much as possible." Jia explained. "Most of the imperial knights have gone there to the North. Join with them as the tip of the spear until the rest of your forces arrive."

Jia's eyes turned to watch the exchange between Theresia and her adviser. Jia never quite liked people who were too well positioned for advancement. The Emperor felt more at home with those who were at ease and genuinely seemed to enjoy or at least be intrigued by the tasks of statecraft rather than see each task as the next point on a list of laurels. However, Theresia trusted Zhen and quickly took to the woman's suggestions.

The Emperor himself frowned, unsure of what would come of this. Yet he demurred holding his voice. This matter was a delicate one and it would be unwise for him to insert himself into a sisterly feud unless he felt there was truly a irreversible mistake being made. Theresia had not yet crossed that threshold.[/quote]

Aden and Caroline would have their attention drawn away from the exchange between Theresia and her officials by Jia's sudden interjection addressing the duo, and Aden would nod, his hand resting on the top of the pommel of the Scimitar of Tamerlane. He noted the urgency that the situation now dictated, and he reversed his initial statement, "I will depart for the Wall with a dozen of my best right away, Caroline, will depart tomorrow in the morn with the rest. All I need is fresh mounts for myself and my men, the rest of my men need to rest themselves."

Caroline opened and closed her mouth, and put her hand on his shoulder to show her discomfort for the sudden change Aden had taken, but she did not say a word.

He looked at her firmly, to allay her fears, mouthing, "The men need to rest, and I would have no other lead them right now." She smiled lightly at his reassurances, but still appeared to be uneasy about her husbands' previously unknown early departure.

He turned his attention almost as quickly back to the Imperial Couple, standing above him, "If that is all you would have me do, Yuan Jia, then consider it done." He and Caroline both balled their hands into fists and put it over their hearts, Aden nodding sagely at the Empress momentarily, before they both bowed their heads toward the Emperor.

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In the nearby Kingdom of Bhutan major movements were underway, the King in his wisdom had ordered the deployment of a significant portion of the Bhutan military to Tianxia to support them in their war on the Japanese rebels. Under the command of General Hon Shu this force of sword and spearmen would march southwards, their armour and weapons shining brightly in the sunlight whilst bowmen accompanied them with their quivers and bows across their backs. As they departed the peasants of the land put down their tools and came forward to wave them on to victory or to stand back in worry as this would be the first ever military action of Bhutan, in between them all ran the children who did not have to fear such worries for long years to come.

South they all marched a great dust cloud forming as their feet beat against the hard and dry mud roads of the land, the heat was quite terrible for the men but they made no sound of complaint instead remaining focused on the march. At the head of the army rode General Shu and his sub commanders with Shu being mounted atop a glorious white horse whilst the other men of leadership rode lesser beasts of various colours. On and on they marched stopping only for a short time to rest before continuing as they passed out into the wilder lands of Bhutan the towns gave way to villages and then to hamlets before simply becoming nothing but open country. It was here that the army picked up a small detachment of light cavalry who wore leather armour and fought with short sword and shield on their horses still they did not stop and soon they passed the border into Tianxia.

It was when this happened that General Shu sent forth a handful of mounted messengers, one of them rode hard for the capital where Emperor Jia and Empress Theresia ruled from whilst the others went from town to town letting the inhabitants and guards know of the approaching army so as to not panic them. The sole messenger whose duty was to report to the Tianxia rulers barely stopped for rest, food and drink so focused was he on his duty thus when he arrived at Chang'an he was covered in dust and mud from the journey but still he did not stop heading straight for the Emperor's palace. There he would present himself to the first guard or authority figure he could find and hand over a written scroll to be delivered to the Emperor upon which was the simple but elegant message informing him of Bhutan's desire to help purge the land of the rebels and that even now Shu's army was marching to Chang'an to be sent where it was most needed.

Edited by Kevin Kingswell
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