Hidden 4 mos ago Post by POOHEAD189
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POOHEAD189 Warrior

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Yazju Fleetscale


A collab with @SouffleGirl123

The two companions were surviving, and racking a formidable kill count, though every thrust of the sword was an unsurety. Every moment in combat was another moment they risked their lives. Yazju already had various wounds, though most were superficial and all would heal in time. He roared, something he did not often do. Yazju had always been a more docile soul, but the melee brought out the beast so many associated him with.

Fujiko's eyes fluttered toward the place for a moment as she struck down another opponent. They were still quite a distance away, less on account of actual mileage and more so the piles of opponents throwing themselves at the duo. As her attention turned to another oncoming attacker she heard the warcry of her reptilian friend behind her. Although she showed no external response, internally she was shuttering. It was rare Yazju let out such a sound, only really in the heat of such an intense battle. She glanced over to him, he was as banged and bruised as she. She wondered how long they could keep up this pace, her own response wasn't so optimistic.

The Zauri cleaved a path through the throng, doing his best not to harm any of the city watch or the personal guard of the emperor. They fought well together, blocking and cutting in ordered ranks and pockets of resistance among the usurpers. Yazju thought he could just make out the Emperor a few paces over from his pointy hat and the lack of assailants in his face, though many seemed to be trying to make it to him. They had to stop that from happening, if for no other reason than to keep the integrity of this wonderful land Yazju now called home.

Fujiko idled up next to her partner in battle. "What do you reckon our chances of getting up there are?" she asks, nodding in the direction of the palace. "I suppose we should carve our way through the steps, climbing doesn't seem all that wise with this many assailants," After engaging in another short battle for life she looks back at the palace, attempting to map a somewhat safe route.

Her Zauri friend blocked a sword thrust on his shield and batted it away, clashing blades with an assassin. He stepped forward and brute forced his way into knocking his opponent over, slashing ferociously.

“We can do it! Just guard my back, friend Fujiko!”

Fujiko nodded, following his directive, Yazju was truly a good battering ram. She raised Otto Boyuja and gave a yell that likely resembled a war cry. She made light work of protecting her friend's flank and sides, retrieving a few prize scars of her own along the way.

Yazju made good on his word, charging headlong through the throng. Some men barred their path, but most were too distracted by the maelstrom of blood and swords, and it proved to be far easier than if they were facing a true shield wall. Yazju added another cut to his snout for battle scars (though cuts rarely turned to scars for Zauri) but they made it through. Yazju burst out of the battle like a trout leaping from a stream, and there was an opening in his wake for his companion as he stomped up the stairway leading to the palace doors.

Fujiko followed the path oh-so-kindly laid out by her friend. Eventually he led her through the fray, she was glad as she was unsure of how much longer she could go on hacking and slashing. She put a hand on Yazju's arm, as his shoulder was just a bit too high, as they made their way up the stairs. "Good job, Yazju," she says softly before continuing her ascension up the grand stairs. As they reach the palace doors she dodges the flailed arm of a soldier haphazardly hitting at an enemy and slips in, ensuring the doors are open enough to fit Yazju.

The throne room!

Even the Zauri was in awe. Wealth and splendor were seen in different terms in his homeland, but the opulence of the vast chamber was still very impressive. He felt inadequate, standing there dripping blood with his friend in tow, but before him, a scene unfolded.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Atalanta
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Bashira vomited again in the corner of the throne room. No one noticed, just like they hadn’t paid her any attention when she came inside. They were too busy fighting for their lives in knots of bloody struggle tumbling through the rich, red room like dice in a tavern. Why had she come here? Escape in this tumult would be so easy, and wouldn’t it feel better to run away? To start over, instead of trying to understand this chaos?

She pressed her back against a column and closed her eyes, an island of still in all this insanity (wasn’t she?). It was so loud, the clank of weapons—they only rang in stories— the shouts, the screams of dying. Everything smelled of blood and shit and piss, and some sweet, after-smell, like the throne room had once been full of tendrils of incense smoke, now overpowered.

Her eyes opened. A woman dressed like a peasant stumbled towards her, hands wrapped around a bloody sword hilt, and tried to run Bashira through. She slipped out of the way, and instead of unsheathing her sword, she grabbed the woman’s head and threw her into the column, her forehead connecting with a sharp, horse-whip crack that filled Bashira’s mouth with the hot taste of salt. She swallowed, trying not to vomit again.

Now, to find him. That’s what she had come for, wasn’t it? Her father. She had loved him before. Until the war started and then again for a long time. Even after her mother got fed up and left them both. Even after the bruises. Bashira squeezed her eyes shut against the self-loathing. Why had she let herself stay so long?

Most of the fighters paid no attention to her weaving through them, locked into their own survival. She didn’t get involved either unless she was attacked, and then she put an end to her opponents as quickly and effortlessly as she had the first. None of the caliber of the long-haired man challenged her in here, and she did not draw on Bad Luck to dispatch them.

“Shinxi!” she yelled over the tops of their heads. “Shinxi!”

He didn’t turn or answer, but she saw him all the same, slipping into the throne room from a side hall with a man with long hair. He wore a ragged cloak and an oni mask, only unlike the one hanging from Bashira’s belt, his covered the entirety of his face. Its eyes gaped like empty sockets, and one cruel horn was crooked above its snarling teeth.

General Shinxi looked at that masked fiend and gestured toward the center of the room. “There’s the emperor.”

The masked man barely looked at him, just tuned and strode with unerring purpose towards the emperor. As he went, the shoddily clothed attackers seemed to gather strength and reform. Guards fell, lamellar armor pierced, and welling blood against an already slick floor. Their heads rolled, still attached to their glittering helms, and the defenders around the emperor began to falter.

Bashira let them. Her father’s face was still, almost bored, his eyes on the masked man tearing away from him. He did nothing to stop any of this, just sat back and allowed it to happen, like he wasn’t the same man who had stood in her door that morning—had it really happened such a short time ago— and told her that she needed to give back to her empire. He was a part of this, part of the attacks, the deaths.

She unsheathed her sword, and found a cocky smile to hide behind. “Hello, General. It looks like you’ve kept this position for an even shorter time than the last.”

When he turned to look at his only progeny, his expression didn’t change. “You might have avoided all this, you know. I offered you an out. Come with me before the duel, or never duel again.” He laughed. “There won’t be a city to duel in after Wakuno is finished.”

Bashira came to a stop a few feet away, the tip of her sword stretching out before her toward the floor. Her palms were slick, her fingers trembling so that she had to press her right hand against her thigh to keep her blade still. She looked back up at her father. “Why?”

“What do you mean why? They discharged me! For—for nothing! It ruined all our lives. Mine, yours, your mother’s. We could have had something.”

“I think I like my life how it is.”

“Look at you! Are you drunk still, or is this just the aftermath, the withdrawal of a body so used to alcohol that it can’t quite function without it? You need something to fight for, girl, and I’m going to give it to you.”

“Better a drunk than this slaughter.” Listen to her taking the fucking high ground! She should have just left, just stolen away in the dark like her mother. This wasn’t going anything like what she had expected. She needed to ask him, to ask— “Did you do this to me?”

“Do what, make you a drunk? You might blame that on me, daughter, but you’ve made your own choices since you left.”

“No,” Bashira gasped, pressing her fingers to her temples. “The duel. The blood. Hiuping. Did you trick me into killing him?”

“You killed your dueling opponent?” Laughter cracked from his mouth like thunder. “Why the fuck would I have needed to? The city was going to burn either way. You know your mother was a bit crazy too. I guess it just runs in her family.”

“No… no, no…” Bashira shook her head. “You have to have done it. There was the light in my eyes—a mirror?— I couldn’t see him—“

“What? Were you drinking, Bashira?”

Her grip tightened around her sword, and she glared up at him through the dark hair falling over her face. She hadn’t been drinking. Not since the night before. He was lying. Trying to fuck with her head. She just needed to breathe, to figure all of this out.

“Everything will be forgiven if you join us. You’ll have something to work for, to believe it. You’ll be able to save yourself.”

He sounded so reasonable, so trustworthy. Just as he always had when she was young. Do this for me, Bashira, and everything will be better. She’s fallen for that lie a hundred times, but she was older now. She’d made a name for herself, hadn’t she? Before it all came crashing down. She could find her way again.

“The only person I’ve ever needed saving from is you.” Bashira raised her sword and launched forward, but there were more peasant warriors rising to stop her—had they been there all along?— and by the time she fought them off, her father was gone.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Shift
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Working their way around the plaza was a lot more of an annoying, tedious job than either Bó or Akira had really hoped for this evening. The end of this day had been supposed to be one of glory, relaxation and overall joy and not the chaotic massacre it had turned into. What bugged him the most however was just how little idea he had about everything: the city's layout, any potential culprits for this whole affair, whether there were any procedures the guards would follow in such cases and, last but not least, who actually was an attacker and who was defending. Akira certainly could have provided a lot of guidance, but this was no good time to stand around and have a complicated talk despite all the shouting and screaming going on around them.

So Bó had to rely on his own senses at this point, but the folk around him looked all the same somehow. Much smaller individuals with as many legs and at least as much pride as a Mokeu, but far less fur and no tail! Just even trying to figure out who'd be dangerous for the two of them and who wouldn't took away even more time they didn't really have. So he did his best to guide them around everybody. Had it not been for some last-ditch measures of Akira to notify him of going into the completely wrong direction, he probably would have led both of them into oblivion in the process.

Instead, they ultimately found themselves close to a large hole in the city wall. This one had a pair of humongously large and reinforced wooden panels attached to it.

"What's the matter ?" Akira asked, almost smirking. "Never seen a city gate before ?"

"Mokeu don't need this! When you enter some other tribe's territory, you'll notice it without such demarcations soon enough! Now you think your father's here somewhere ?"

"That'd be the logical place for him to go. However I've got an idea. Would you be so kind to lend me a helping hand... and your shoulders ?"

And then, as if Bó himself would have been hard to overlook, Akira climbed on top of his shoulders and ensured her position was stable before taking advantage of the added height for her search.

As the pair walked slowly through the city toward the eastern gate, Cai was grateful the fighting had died down. Here and there a few clangs of steel on steel could still be heard, but most of what they encountered were wounded caring for themselves or others, the toxic tang of smoke, and the skeletal remains of what had once been considered a glorious city.

There was little conversation between he and the old man, it was all Cai could do to keep moving. His mind felt as hollow as his limbs, which seemed to be functioning of their own accord. He was simply an observer, accepting the shifting weight of each foot fall as he would the falling rain. It was something that occurred without his input or direction. His thoughts were a fog, and if he didn’t have the older man to assist, Cai might have just ceased all together, sitting comatose within what had once been the apartment he shared with—

“Ah, there it is, finally,” said the old man.

Cai’s head shot up, appreciative for them distraction from his scattered thoughts. Before them was the massive gate and a small gathering crowd of citizens who had survived the attack. Some, like Cai’s companion, were searching the faces for family or friends, others were simply trying to push through the mass of bodies, bulging packs in their hands and balanced on their bent backs. Apparently, some had been spared from the fire’s grasp.

“Cai-Su, my daughter, she’s…” The old man trailed off, and Cai looked at him quizzically, having expected a physical description so he could help in the search, but instead he found the man gazing dumbfounded ahead of them. “She’s there!”

The old man pointed to a young Folk who bizarrely enough, was atop the shoulders of another Mokeu.

“Akita,” the man called, rushing over to his daughter, who was just as eagerly trying to climb down from the Mokeu’s shoulders.

How tolerant, Cai thought, warily. What could he be up to? It wasn’t common for one of his own to take kindly to others, much less someone of an entirely different species.

When they finally approached, the man embraced his daughter, the relief and joy evident in his features.

Cai maintained a safe distance and nodded once to the Mokeu. The odds of something like this were beyond his comprehension. “Perhaps it is a meeting of fate,” murmured a gentle voice in his mind.

Bó felt Akira's weight suddenly shift on his shoulder, but it wasn't enough to disbalance him dangerously. He had enough of an opportunity to let her climb back down onto the street, but only by the time she already ran off towards Cai and the elderly man next to him did he actually realize what was going on.

Another Mokeu... how interesting. The sight made Bó briefly forget about the small family reunion going on between their respective companions as he wondered whether to greet the other individual of his kind or to prepare for a fight. Personally and given the overall circumstances, Bó felt certainly not in the mood for the latter, but there were extremely agressive tribes out there that wouldn't miss the opportunity. Even if nobody would be there to witness any pride and glory gained in a victory.

He decided to maintain his fair bit of distance to Cai, but raised his hand as a gentle greeting. Had he just observed a nod or had that been the wind moving the other man's fur in a deceptive manner ? Ultimately, Bó did not want to wait anymore. He approached Cal, then bowed in front of him. If Cai had hostile intentions, that would be the opportunity for him to strike at Bó's neck with ease -- which made the peaceful gesture all the more significant. Or at least so Bó hoped for it to work.

Cai tensed as the Mokeu approached him, his fingers tightening reflexively on his staff, ready to spring to action. But his alertness proved unnecessary, wise as it was, when the darker furred Mokeu prostrated himself before Cai. It was unheard of for someone of a different tribe to expose their vulnerabilities in this way, and for a sharp instant, Cai wondered what it would be like to rip the other’s neck apart.

A bit taken back by his own impulse, he took a step back and shook his head. To anyone else, it would have seemed like he merely disapproved of the other’s actions.

The old man’s daughter stepped in then, and Cai was spared having to say anything to the Mokeu, which he was grateful for. Such an awkward situation.

“Thank you for saving my father.” She smiled widely at him and took his hand in hers. His was easily twice the size of hers, his palms wider, his digits longer. No female Folk had ever touched him in such a manner in all his life. His staring at their joined hands didn’t seem to bother her though, and she held on tightly. When his eyes traveled up to hers, he saw tears in them. “I don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t.”

The old man nodded his agreement, clapping the other Mokeu on the shoulder. “And thank you, son, for bringing my daughter safely here. What could have been added tragedy to an already marred day has ended in a happy reunion, and we are both grateful. Akira tells me you are called Bó.

Well, Bó, Cai-Su,” the old man looked to Cai as well. “We will both continue to our property outside of the city from here, and I believe we should be capable of traveling the rest of the way on our own. You have both done far beyond what would be normally expected of you in such a situation, and I’m sure you have your own matters to attend to. Thankfully, it seems whatever this assault was, it has for the most part been quelled. I will confer with city leadership in the next few days. Be assured that your actions tonight will not go unnoticed.”

Cai opened his mouth to object, say he was merely doing what anyone would have done in such a situation, but the old man stopped him with a raised hand. Besides, Cai knew that wouldn’t have been true. He was familiar with how some less favorable people might have reacted in his situation, much less Bó’s.

“Please,” the man continued, his arm now resting securely on his daughter’s waist for balance and comfort. “We wish to honor you for what you’ve done. It will take time for the city to recover and for your deserved recognition. For now,” he paused and pulled at a silver cord around his neck. From within his shirt appeared a golden medallion attached to the silver cord. “Take this as a token of my appreciation. If anything else, I’m sure your tribe will be grateful for such a sum as this can bring.”

Cai knew the man meant well, wanted to offer the Mokeu responsible for saving not only him but his daughter as well, who might be his only family, but his true colors showed through now. Honestly, Cai should have expected no less from someone who was in a position to ‘confer with city leadership’. The man’s privilege and entitlement which had been overpowered by the peril they had been in was now in full view. Cai gave a sideways glance to Bó, wondering if the other would speak up or let this pass. The old man had assumed they were tribe mates, after all, and that their tribe would not only have use for such a trinket, but would be grateful for it. But he doubted it, the other Mokeu had showed such deference to him when they’d just met, he imagined Bó would react with similar respect now. What’s his deal anyway?

It took effort to maintain a passive expression when he wanted to scoff and roll his eyes. “He is trying to show you kindness,” the same murmured voice from earlier echoed in his mind.

Instead of his authentic reaction, Cai bowed his head to the man. ”Thank you for your kindness—” It was in that moment that Cai realized he’d never asked the man’s name.

“Lian,” his daughter provided for him. “Lian Chen, Member of the Imperial Court.”

Maybe it was a good thing that, while bowing, Bó was just unable to see Cai's most immediate reactions. Otherwise they might have triggered a second thought about calling his own doings into question, and spotting disapproval might have raised aggression inside the larger Mokeu very much.

Seeing the old man almost lifting himself onto his toes in order to clap Bó onto the shoulder might have seen rather ridiculous to any outside observer, but every single touch of the man's hand sent an internal, gentle shudder both down Bó's spine and into his feelings. Just when had anybody expressed gratitude towards him that way, or when had just anybody expressed gratitude towards him the last time at all ? It would have been more likely for his shoulders to be hit by an axe or a spear than by a gentle hand. Bó just did not know how to react properly, so he just stood there halfway frozen like a, though very furry, statue.

It was the shiny metal suddenly appearing in front of the old man's neck that took Bó out of his confusion. Your tribe ? he repeated internally and darted a very stern glance towards Cai. That Mokeu was not of his tribe! Not that he himself had any chance of knowing how his tribe far away truly looked like now, but Cai's fur pattern just didn't match. Was the old man just assuming they were all the same ? "Please, you really don't need to do this. Family heirlooms are to be kept in family." Bó replied, making a rather desperate guess. He was not in the mood of even trying to explain how Mokeu society did see gold and valuable coin differently than people of the Folk, but even less so was he in the mood of trying to explain how they'd have to chop the precious piece in two just in order to have an equal share -- even just assuming Cai and himself would find a way of converting this into something actually useful.

"Lian. Akira. We have just done what we felt was the right thing. And we think that you should keep this token. Gratitude can be expressed in so many different ways and I am certain you will find a good one." Bó just hoped that not outright declining any reward would lure Lian's attention away from pure trinkets and money. Rewards were always good, just... not rewards that weren't rewards after all. Of course he could also just hope that he had picked up on Cai's thoughts correctly.

Lian frowned, clearly not expecting those of a lower stature than him to decline such an ostentatious reward. “Do these brutes not know what they’re turning down?” Cai imagined him thinking.

“We mean no disrespect, Imperial Court Member Lian,” he said quickly, hoping to maintain the friendly atmosphere. “This Mokeu and I are of different tribes, and we would be unable to easily divide such a prized artifact.” Cai had become accustomed to callous discrimination throughout his years in the city, but Lian seemed instead to be simply a product of such a culture, instead of harboring ill will himself. At least, this seemed to be the case after Cai had saved him.

The old man’s easy smile returned. “Oh, is that all?” Thankfully, he was undisturbed by their refusal, but he continued to hold out the medallion. “In that case…” Lian stepped toward Cai and pressed the round golden object into his palm, the second time someone had done such an action that night. It was heavier than Cai had expected. "Please, you may call me simply, Lian."

Do I seem like I need charity this badly? He wondered briefly, but in all honesty, he did need money. Even more so now that—

“Cai-su, please take this,” Lian continued. He motioned to his daughter, who removed a large ring from one of her delicate fingers.

Akira smiled up at the other Mokeu, and held out the ring for him. “And I hope you can accept this, Bó.”

“It will take long weeks, or even months before the city can recognize your actions tonight, and I do not wish for our saviors to walk away empty handed. I will not accept no as an answer. My and my daughter’s life was saved because of your actions.” Cai held the medallion firmly and bowed low. “We will continue to my property just outside of the city. Are you in need of a place to stay?”

“You are far too generous, Lian Chen. I thank you for the offer, but I will be fine here in the city.” Cai straightened and stole a glance to his counterpart. He wondered what could have happened to have made him so docile.

Bó felt the ring's weight in his hands, but even more so he felt the weight of the task that it would certainly be to turn this gift into something useful. Should he just try and address the next trader who looked as if being well situated enough to handle this item, ask for a 'fair price' and then just believe that whatever sum was offered was indeed that without truly having any idea ? The thought of being ripped off was not far away, and Bó had no reason to think this city wouldn't try with him. So he'd have to keep this trinket around as what it was: a fairly useless item, only suited to attract attention. Neither did it fit around his fingers, nor was it anywhere massive enough to be used as a weapon in a fist fight.

How much Bó's facial expression betrayed of these thoughts was unknown to him, the Mokeu just tried his best to visually offer some gratitude instead of disappointment. "I accept." he replied gently, then bowed just as he had seen Cai doing in the corner of his eyes. Had the other Mokeu just glanced towards him ? The thought of Cai attacking him as soon as Akira and Lian were out of sight and their surroundings would offer the opportunity did cross his mind. Going after each other so one would get the whole set of ring and amulet while the other would get the whole set of nothing would be very much what any 'proper' combination of members of different tribes would likely do.

Hopefully the overall circumstances had sufficiently pacified Cai, just as they had done so with Bó himself.

"That is the very least we could do!" Lian replied, taking a stance of pride. Bó could almost see the imaginary rostrum in front of Lian as he was about to deliver a speech in front of the city council. A lot of talking, that was how these Folk covered up their conflicts before actually solving them in the back room, right ?

"And now we have got important business ahead of us, and I'm certain you two have so, too! I can't spread the word of your good deeds while standing here, right ?" and Lian was on the verge of laughing, grinning. It almost looked as if he was slightly dragging Akira behind him as his steps accelerated the best they could given his injury. Bó looked after them, then towards Cai halfway expecting the latter to drop some kind of facade now. The Mokeu's palm closed firmly around the ring already, just in case.

Cai sighed as the pair walked away and out of the gates.

Around them, others were still reuniting, taking account of their possessions, and preparing to either follow Lian and Akira out of the city or to return to its depths.

He looked at the sack he still held tightly, within it were all the possessions Cai was able to recover from the burnt husk that had been his home with Zhao-Fu. A stab of pain coursed through him, but Cai gritted his teeth. A small clink from within the burlap told him the last remaining bottle of sweet plum wine was still intact within.

I must prepare the rites for Zhao-Fu.

Raising his head, he met the other Mokeu’s eyes and nodded solemnly. Bó had been one of a small handful of his kind that Cai had interacted with since departing The Jade Plains. He wondered briefly if he’d heard of the infamous tribe. “Perhaps we shall meet again,” he said.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Shu
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Shu ☕️

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Ubagai Wakuno kicked aside the guard crumpled down before him, blood trailing from the man’s mouth as he fell back hard onto the floor. Wakuno slightly adjusted his mask as he turned to quickly look over the spectacle in the throne room. His brothers were fiercely rattling blade and shield with the zealous guards who fought like madmen to defend their emperor. Wakuno might have found it honorable and heroic were it not a grand act of blasphemy. Bodies were strewn across the decadent chamber and blood ran in trails and formed puddles as it did out in the streets of the burning city.

The numbers were even but Wakuno knew that more guards were on their way into the throne room. This was his only chance. The Emperor sat on his throat still as a statue as he watched his devout protectors shed sweat and blood for him. It momentarily reminded Wakuno of the death battles that the kings of the Mokeu would host in their strongholds for their amusement - but only in slight. The Emperor looked none to bemused but rather was as white as the moon and his face locked in a look of fear and despair as the bodies fell before him. Even from where he stood Wakuno could see a sheen of sweat across the man’s face, running like morning dew down limestone.

Truly a successor of Xiao Hui, vanquisher of yaoguai.

Wakuno took a step towards the direction of the throne when a sudden motion in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He turned his head to see two figures standing in the breached doorway of the throne room. A towering Zauri and a female Honfokun at his side, heavily armored, and both were spattered in the blood of those they had killed. Wakuno did not recognize them as his own meaning they were interloping do-gooders or maybe Free Wardens. If the latter was it then he needed to move now.

Wakuno turned back to face the throne where the Emperor sat still, Wakuno shoving past a pair of guardsmen as he broke into a fast trot towards the throne. As he passed one of his brothers dueling with another guardsman someone shouted, “He is going for the throne, he tried to kill our emperor!”

“Someone stop him!”

Wakuno barreled over a wounded guardsman who tried to block him, the Emperor sat frozen as he caught site of the masked man coming right for him. His knees were weak, his legs quivering, and his heart pounding. Several guards tried to make to stop Wakuno but were blocked or tackled to the ground by Wakuno’s fellows. Wakuno was closer now to the Emperor but still had to shove by a few guardsmen lingering about, mostly wounded or disarmed, slowing him down.

Fujiko and Yazju…

A. break into sprints and try to shove through the crowd and tackle Wakuno.
B. throw their weapons wildly at Wakuno’s back.
C. grab a single nearby bow and arrow so that one of them can shoot Wakuno in the back.
D. do nothing.

(GM granted two choices.)

@POOHEAD189 and @SouffleGirl123 choose C. Failed!

@POOHEAD189 and @SouffleGirl123 choose A. Failed!

For a split second moment Fujiko was almost taken aback by the scene of the palace. She was unsure if it was those towering walls splattered with scarlet blood or the sight of the brutal battle before her. She was very quickly snapped back to reality with the screams of guards claiming an attack on the emperor. Fujiko looked up and truly the man had an aggressor, a lean man who had a mask on his face that almost seemed to resemble a twisted version of her kind. He was skillfully plowing through the guards with only one goal in sight; the Emperor. The honfo scanned the room for some way to intervene and noted the corpse of an archer close by, an oak bow in his hand. She made her way to him and wrung it out of his cold, lifeless hand and pulled an arrow from his quiver. She swiftly aims it at the back of the attacker's chest and lets it fly.
As swift as she was to attack, Wakuno was faster. Her arrow whizzed past him, not even a scratch left. In the meantime her opponent was taking even more precous steps toward the emperor. In moment of desperation she did the only thing she could think - running at the man full force.
She was consumed by the crowd, tangles of arms and legs all in the way of her and her adversary. She looked over for her Zauri friend. He too was taken by the crowd. They had failed.

- -

Wakuno closed in on the throne, Emperor Xiao Shang staring at the black clad killer as he approached. He had nowhere to run, and even if so, Xiao Shang would not break for it and leave his throne - he was no coward, even as his heart pounded and sweat poured down his face and soaked the neck of his robes he would not run crying out like a frightened child. His vision was blurring and his throat was constricting. This was it, this was where Xiao Shang would meet his end. So young and he had done so little, he would not leave this world as one of the more renowned of his line - or renowned at all. Stabbed to death on the festival of Wan Yue as his city burned, hardly worthy of his proud lineage. But so it was, ready or not this was his end. His final thought as he was grabbed by the throat and the killer’s blade glinted overhead was, May the gods save the Empire.

Ubagai Wakuno brought his blade down into the chest of the Emperor, the sharp blade slicing through silk and flesh, cutting deep and causing blood to come pouring. Emperor Xiao Shang’s eyes bulged, a strangled gasp escaped his throat. Another strike and more blood, yet another choked gasp, then a third strike - the blade finding the heart this time.

Ubagai Wakuno’s eyes glimmered behind his mask as Emperor Xiao Shang’s eyes closed, his mouth dropping open and his entire face going lax. The killer twisted his blade around, the blade shredding open the Emperor’s heart with the confines of his ribs. Cries of despair rang up across the throne room mixed with shouts of victory, the guards all exclaiming in rage and fear even as the attackers all shouted with glee. Emperor Xiao Shang weakly tried to raise one arm but the last wisp of life ebbed from him and it dropped heavily against his thigh. With a loud grunt Ubagai Wakuno pulled free his blade and using his free hand jerked the limp body of Xiao Shang from the throne sending it tumbling down onto the hard floor. The beads from the Emperor’s hat broke free as it landed near and they skittered about, rolling and bouncing through puddled blood.

Ubagai Wakuno stepped onto the seat of the throne and, holding his blood soaked weapon high, shouted coarsely, “Xiao Shang is dead!”

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by POOHEAD189
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POOHEAD189 Warrior

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Yazju Fleetscale

Yazju knocked a man aside with a big arm, breaking the assailants nose and sending them to the ground. Yazju shoved and pushed, but he couldn't get through the mass of attackers, and the defenders harried him as well. They didn't know he was trying to help, and it would cost them the life of their charge! Yazju roared, but there was nothing he could do. All of his and Fujiko's efforts were for naught, and he watched helplessly as the blade plunged into the Emperor Xiao Shang. Yazju had always wanted to meet a folk leader, and now not only did he lose his chance, but the attackers had triumphed.

He hissed at the proclamation of the man, looking very much like a huge crocodile about to slide into the water for a meal.

He and his friend Fujiko could not save the Emperor, but they could avenge him. He attacked again with renewed fury, hacking and cutting into assassins like a butcher, shouldering his way through and doing his best to ignore what glancing wounds he received. His eyes focused on Ubagai Wakuno, mouth open wide with sharpened teeth extended. Yazju had a bad habit of being scatterbrained, but this was one goal he would see to the end! The death of the Emperor's murderer.
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Shu
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Ubagai Wakuno leapt to the side of from the throne, bloody blade clenched victoriously in his hand. Several of the Imperial Guard shouted in rage, surging forth weapons raised in their own pursuit of the Emperors’ killer. Wakuno was swift, too swift, and easily outmaneuvered his would-be pursuers. He dashed between his brothers who were all rushing for the destroyed doorway, parrying away the swords and spears of the guards. With the Emperor dead all that was left was for them to escape. Wakuno was among the first to reach the doors and scurried down the great stairs after passing by the splintered frame. The city of Bianwei was captured in an orange, ominous glow as the flames of battle consumed all, the stars above obscured by black clouds of smoke. Wakuno and his brethren vaulted over wreckage and danced around guards who would chase them all the way over the stone walls of the city, never stopping even as they burst through the forests and hurtled into the Emerald River. All that was left was to return to their betters and speak of their success to which Wakuno looked forward.

And so it was Emperor Xiao Shang was dead, murdered sitting upon his throne as the capital burned - all at the hands of an army of zealots who set upon the city amid what was to be an eve of celebration and kinship. The fires lasted all through the night consuming entire districts amid the chaos. As smoke blotted the night sky blood painted the streets, the blood of the hundreds cruelly cut down in the attack, the attackers scattering from the city and vanishing into the darkness their foul deeds committed in full. Men and women spent the night desperately searching for friends and family members harrowing the smoke and fires while children screamed in the streets for their mothers and fathers.

As the sun rose on the next morn the body of Emperor Xiao Shang lay cold and the terrible truth of the matter finally set in; the last emperor was dead and the throne for the first time in history was empty. As the people scraped through the charred wreckage of Bianwei they looked to the guard, they looked to the Imperial Council - neither had comfort or answers to be given. The Council hesitated to send word across the land of the emperors’ death for fear of the panic it would cause as well as the possible sundering of Yongcun. With no known heir to the throne many feared what may come next. The Imperial Guard and Free Wardens rushed to keep order but found this easier said than done.

Regent Jia Chong declared martial law later that day in Bianwei and ordered that no official word be sent to the surrounding cities confirming Xiao Shang’s death, not yet. If the Empire was to survive this devastating tragedy there would need to be order and proper planning, though even Jia Chong found himself filled with doubt. Uncertainty wracked all those who had survived that perilous night before and a shroud of hopelessness seemed to be descending from above.

A single phrase that filled the streets resonated with all those in Bianwei, “Dark days are upon us.” It will be seen just who will survive the coming darkness.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Shu
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The Twenty-Second Day of the Month of the Moth,
404 Imperial Era

Ubagai Wakuno took long, eager strides down the great stone corridor before him. His light boots padded across the ancient floor, barely audible. The dull grayish walls were illuminated by crude clusters of flickering candles spread down the length of the corridor, their melted wax pooling across the floor and seeping into the narrow cracks of the stone. Behind the masked man could be heard the devotions of the true believers, short mellow ululating along with a steady chant in the old language of Folk with the rhythm of hardwood clappers in the background. Such was endless here as this place was a grand sanctuary of spirituality and connection with the gods; singing, chants, and all kinds of instruments playing was constant.

Wakuno soon reached the end of the corridor, the distant music and song echoing still as he stood before a pair of large rosewood doors. With a forward stride he pushed the doors open in unison just enough for him to pass through, the doors swinging hard closed behind him. The hard strike of the wood together making his hair bristle. Wakuno was within a massive chamber resemblant of a throne room. Lanterns hung all along the walls gave light to the chamber, white tapestries reached down from the dark ceiling just short of touching the floor. On the opposite side of the chamber stood a towering grey statue of a bald and near naked monk, a simple sash reaching around the statues’ torso and bundled about in its lap. The reflecting light of the circle of lanterns gave the visage of the statue a flat but hardened look, like that of an impatient father peering down at his rowdy child.

At the feet of the statue sat perched a modest raised platform of stone, the base of it surrounded with drooping candles like those in the corridor hallway. On the platform were three people huddled together, their sitting position like that of the monk statues’ - legs crossed and hands resting on their knees. The three were draped in heavy white robes with billowy hoods pulled low over their heads casting a concealing shadow around their faces hiding all, even their race and gender. From across the room and even with their faces hidden Wakuno could see them looking in his direction expectantly, waiting for him to approach and address them.

As he had many times before Wakuno took a short breath of preparation and crossed the chamber towards the three, his shadow stretching out behind him from the light centered around the platform. Wakuno stopped just short of the front row of candles, arms at his sides, and bowed long and low. No words were said, the figures merely waiting for Wakuno to raise back up and speak, and so he did.

“It…” Wakuno fought a straining in his throat, “is done. Xiao Shang is dead by my hand.”

Silence for a moment, the three looking between themselves and then back to Wakuno. The figure in the middle was the first to speak in a low oily voice, “Well done, Ubagai Wakuno.”

The masked man felt a swell of pride in his chest even as his throat grew tighter. Wakuno said nothing, merely nodding in response to the simplistic praise.

“Our work has only just begun.” said the figure to Wakuno’s right, his voice harsher in tone.

“Yes.” the middle one replied, turning his hands over on his knees palms facing upward. “With the Xiao bloodline ended as necessary the true struggles must now come.”

Wakuno swallowed to clear his throat, “Then… we will begin mustering all our strength here?”

“Not all.” the center figure retorted.

The figure on the left spoke up, a soft but firm woman's voice, “We must further weaken Yongcun. Xiao Shang may be dead but even now the realm remains mostly stable. I imagine those in Bianwei move to assure that the people do not yet know of Xiao Shang’s demise, at least until they can form some new pillar of stability.”

“Tell us,” the figure on the right demanded, “whom else do you know of that was fell, Wakuno? Did the council die?”

Wakuno shuffled his feet, a twitchiness lingered about his masked face. “Our people inside of the Ruby Palace failed to kill the councilmen. The Imperial Guard got them to the underkeep, we only barely managed to trap Xiao Shang in the throne room.”

Silence came again but only for a breath, the middle man speaking, “It is of little issue. Xiao Shang was the one marked for death, the council will have no shortage of struggle in holding the realm together. It is up to you and the rest of our brothers and sisters to pull it apart at the cracks.”

“Yes.” Wakuno said with a sharp nod of understanding.

The middle man cocked his head slightly rustling his robe, “You must be weary. Go, take several days to rest your body in the comfort of the sanctuary. Meditate. You will be summoned forth once you are needed once more, and that will be soon have no doubt.”

Wakuno nodded, it was true that he was very, very weary. After the killing of the emperor and the escape from the Ruby Palace Wakuno and his brothers had all scattered into the surrounding forests, others making for the river. Wakuno spent the whole next day on foot, staying to the wilderness and foraging wild fruits for his food. The day after he managed to steal a horse from a lone hunter he crossed, leaving the man dead in his wake. Wakuno rode hard straight for the sanctuary stopping only to sleep in the woodland when he needed it and rationing the food that was in the hunters’ saddlebag over the next few days. Wakuno rode the horse all the way back - the exhausted animal now tied up in the stables outside - and not stopping to eat but instead hurrying to tell of the emperor’s death. Now he just wanted a scalding bath, a full meal, and to rest - he had earned it and more after all.

Wakuno bowed again and turned to leave when the woman suddenly spoke up, her words stopping him cold, “Where is Tsio Bu?”
Wakuno hesitated, half turned away and his mind growing a bit restless at the question. He slowly looked back to directly face the woman, replying in a slow, careful way, “Tsio Bu… did not survive the night in Bian Wei.” Wakuno let his words hold in the air for a moment then continued, “He and I parted ways just before we sprung, Tsio Bu joining our brothers in taking the square at the foot of the palace. I did not see for myself but as we fled the city the others said he was struck down in the fighting.”

The tension in the air seemed to be growing thicker with each breath, the two white-clad men slowly turning their heads to face their female counterpart. Wakuno felt his throat tightening again as he waited for her reaction. Her hood hung low shrouding her face but Wakuno could feel that she was not looking directly at him, either at the floor or past him. The masked man wiggled his toes in her boots nervously as he stood frozen in his half-turn.

“I see.”

The hooded male in the middle raised his right hand slowly as if to place it upon the woman but she sharply waved the gesture away with a sudden outward flick of her wrist.

“Go, Ubagai Wakuno, rest. We will call upon you when you are needed. For now the rest of our fellows will continue our work across the realm. You will need all your own strength to help when the time comes.”

Wakuno nodded and turned to leave, this time undeterred, the only noise to be heard was his light footsteps and the closing of the rosewood doors behind him.

“Is it true?”

Jia Chong looked up from his writing desk and was met with the towering shape of Keola, Imperial general and Swordmaster to the late Emperor Shang. So absorbed was he in his working that Jia Chong had not even heard him come lumbering in. The large green Zauri was fully adorned in his red and black tunic and armor, his long halberd gripped in his right hand - the tip just short of grazing the ceiling of Jia Chong’s room. Any others would have been awed and may even go scrambling backward at the site, but Jia Chong had known Keola too many years to be scared of or even concerned by him.

The Imperial Regent scratched at his right eye as he sat up straight, setting his writing quill back in its ink pot. “Is what true, Keola?” he asked.

“The White Lantern!” Keola hissed down at the seated Folk.

“Ah,” Jia Chong started, inhaling through thinned lips, “we… believe so, yes.”

“But they were to have been destroyed,” Keola rumbled deeply, “they-“

“We all saw the lanterns outside of the city, Keola,” Jia Chong interrupted, something few others would do, “those of us who went outside the walls that is. And the handprints.”

Keola growled low in his throat but said nothing more. While he had not seen anything himself the Zauri had heard the reports; the morning after the attack seven days ago white lanterns were found strung along fence posts down the roads and bobbing in the Emerald river - scores of them. And then all throughout the city random handprints in white chalk and dyes were found on fallen bodies and on the sides of buildings. Those who knew their history knew it was like the stories of the old cult of zealots that had been plaguing the Eternal Empire since its earliest days. And the attack on the night of Wan Yue, Keola thought grimly, it was like the one so many generations ago. When they tried to destroy Bianwei…
Keola found his thoughts drifting back to the battle that night; endless waves of armed men and some women, most dressed as commoners or guards while others were adorned in robes and veils of white. Arrows rained down setting homes aflame and striking down citizens in the street. Those who avoided the arrows had to flee for their lives to avoid being burned to death or cut down by blades or axes. Keola squeezed the haft of his weapon fiercely, so many had been killed that night - without consideration or mercy. And worst of all the Emperor was lost, the man Keola had always been sworn to protect as both a personal oath and a service in his station. Xiao Shang was the last of his line and now…
A splintering could be heard and then a fierce snap, Jia Chong flinching as the upper half of Keola’s weapon broke off, the metal blades and an arms’ length of the haft of the halberd bouncing across the wooden floor. Keola hissed loudly and cast what remained in his hand through the nearby door out into the hallway.

“Keola…” Jia Chong warned as he stood. But the Zauri was not done, grabbing up a nearby sitting stool and with another loud hiss slamming it down on the floor with a terrible crashing - fractured wood pieces flew every direction.

“This will change nothing! Do not destroy my room in your fits!” Jia Chong shouted scrounging around his desk. Keola met his eyes and for the first time in memory Jia Chong felt a cold wave of fear in the Swordmasters’ presence as he looked into his yellow reptilian orbs. Still, the regent held his ground and despite the growing lump in his throat kept his voice level, “I can imagine how you feel…”

“You cannot.”

“I can,” Jia Chong attested, “I was sworn to serve him as you were, and…”

“I was sworn to protect his life.” Keola grumbled.

“I know that,” Jia Chong snapped, “I…” The regent stopped then slumped his shoulders, shaking his head slowly. He wished he had something to tell the great warrior before him, something to calm him, to assure him, to give him hope, but Jia Chong had nothing of the sorts. “All we can do,” Jia Chong started, choosing his words carefully, “is try to help the people of Bianwei and keep word of the Emperors’ murder from spreading.”

“You cannot hide it from the people, not forever.” Keola challenged.

“Not forever,” Jia Chong acknowledged, sliding back to his seat, “but long enough I believe.”

“Long enough for what?” Keola snorted.

Jia Chong slipped some parchment from a small drawer on his desk, rolling it out across the top and then dabbling his quill in the ink pot nearby. “Tell me; how go the efforts in the city?”
Keola noticed the deliberate change in topic but responded in kind to the regents’ question, “The guards have secured the palace and the noble districts in full, however the common areas are in a horrid shape. The fires destroyed much and hundreds are without homes, squatting in the streets or in the spread of encampments outside the walls. And many have just left to go elsewhere.”

“I imagine there manifold refugees making their ways to Toknam and Shanjing,” Jia Chong said as he began to scribble away on the parchment, “not just from within Bianwei but the surrounding villages and communities. I just hope the magistrates handle things well, we do not need any sort of discontent or unrest from the masses - not now.”
Keola said nothing, merely another snort.
“I have had missives posted that his majesty was ‘grievously wounded in the attack’ and his duties have been passed to me and the council for the time.” Jia Chong said. “As you know.”
Keola nodded.
“I have also sent news of the attack onward to Karitu, humbly requesting any help that the Seshkyo and his vassals might offer. The markets and most of the cities’ shops were destroyed in the attack, perhaps the Merchant Guild can be of help. And then of course we must immediately begin organizing rebuilding of homes within the city. I will put out a call for carpenters and stonemasons, triple the pay of usual tasks.”

Realizing that he was beginning to blather, and peevishly wanting to pry more out of Keola, the regent asked the Zauri if he would be able to keep his men who witnessed the murder of Emperor Shang silent. Keola flatly stated it would be so and that any who were heard uttering of the killing would be executed by his order for treason against Imperial mandate.
“But,” the Zauri said, “I cannot say for the… others.”

Jia Chong’s writing hand froze, quill half lifted from the paper on his desk. The regent met the Zauri’s eyes, this time with a concerned and questioning look in them. “Others?” Jia Chong asked.

“The night of the attack - of the murder - there were others in the throne room. Others than my men and the attackers. They fought at our side but wore no crest or uniforms, I remember seeing another of my kind and… a Folk female, and a Honfokun as well. And…”

Jia Chong raised an eyebrow, “What became of them after?”

“I know not.” Keola said flatly.

“Perhaps you should find them, or at least see if you may.” Jia Chong replied. “Murmurs about our emperor possibly being slain are one thing but a handful of people saying they bore witness to it in part with the Emperor nowhere to be seen… that would bring unrest and distrust.”

“Hiding death brings mistrust.” Keola barbed though Jia Chong did not react to the spiteful statement.
“Mind you waste no effort or time in pursuit Keola, there are other matters far more important to see to in the wake of this terrible happening, but any loose threads must be cut away.”
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Fetzen
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One might have thought that the death and destruction caused by whatever had decided to attack Bianwei had not been picky, but much to Bó's bewilderment this did not seem to be the case. Either that or the overall efforts of repairing and rebuilding were not evenly spread to say the least. Going from a commoner's district to one inhabited by the rich, even if only for the purpose of taking a shortcut, had caused that feeling of entering a different world ever since, but now it was on the level of transitioning to a different plane of existence. Even the smoke still wafting though the narrow, now rubble-filled streets appeared to vanish just a few yards behind that imaginary line.

Or was it simply because it couldn't compete against all the parfume residue already coming from the noble buildings here again ? Maybe it was even the scent of that precious looking and no less massive wooden door he was standing in front of ?

Massive doors asked for strong knocking! The speed at which some guard showed up from the other side and even more so the grim expression on the man's face told Bó that he had succeeded in his efforts and he could even make his answer collide with the question right away by stating loudly "I would like to speak with the lord of this house!" Putting inaudible emphasis to his words, he raised his hand and presented the golden ring resting on his fur. The guard's jaw dropped slightly as he recognized the precious trinket.

That's the ticket, laddie! was the equivalent of Bó's thoughts at this point. If you received anything like proper instructions then you'll...

Ah, there it was already! That not very appreciative, but still nodding gesture of the guard's head accompanied by the whole body moving aside to make room for the unusually large visitor.

One ring to rule them all... Bó grinned almost unnoticeably as he was let in without further ado. He was guided into a small antechamber that probably was even more decorated than the office behind the other door. A large, very well cushioned chair was there to accomodate those waiting for his lordship, Lian, and Bó found himself presented with a large cup of tea just barely after he had settled in.

"Lian should be here in the next half an hour. He is currently attending to a council meeting and very busy. I apologize for the inconvenience." the gentle voice of the female servant chirped towards him, not even mentioning the obvious elephant in the room that pretty much everyone in Bianwei was on red alert at this point. Really, this whole empire was weird, but Bó also felt as if starting to understand how things worked here at least a tiny bit.

Or, to put it more bluntly, he just was forced to do so. Now that it was pretty much impossible to do any business and a lot of the dirtiest, cheapest inns and dwelling places for rent had been destroyed, Bó was pretty much broke and needed a job. If he truly was one of Lian's new best friends, then the councilman surely wouldn't mind some very direct kind of approach, right ?
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Gunther
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Gunther Captain, Infantry (Retired)

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Taichi had been named Hero of the Prefect five years earlier. Sousuke served as Hero after the death of his friend, Tomichi twenty-one years prior. When Sousuke was an old man, he felt he was no longer capable of carrying on the duties expected of him and requested retirement. His request was granted with honors, returning to the countryside and life of a farmer with his wife. He grew vegetables in a small garden and raised a small number of livestock.

Taichi and Sousuke had a high amount of respect for Kenichi’s father, Tomichi. He was a fair man who took care of the Senshodo he was charged with overseeing. The two Heroes felt his son, Kenichi was a good and honorable warrior. He developed his skills, training with others frequently. They believed one day he had the potential to be named as well, but Taichi was only six years older than Kenichi and may never get the chance unless something terrible happened to Taichi.

The Hero of Cimanu stood 6’ 2” tall, his frame thick with muscle. His cream-colored horns were smooth and thick above his forehead. They both extended nine inches horizontally out to the side of his head then curled up and pointed forward. He enjoyed poking his opponents with a head butt when the opportunity arose. It could be fatal. In fact, the left tip was missing the last three inches from that type of incident. The horns contrasted with his purple skin, black hair, and green eyes. The Honfokun Senshado had a great deal of respect for Kenichi.

“Kenichi, Jeong-Ho, Jeong-gwon, Daku, Gin! Gather around,” Taichi called to five of his warriors. When the group circled him, Taichi told them about the recent events in Bianwei. “I just received word from Seshkyo. There has been a tragedy at the Wan Yue festival. The details are not clear, but it appears emperor Xiao Shang has been assassinated.” Taichi paused to let those words sink in. Jeong-Gwon who was taller even than Taichi with brown skin and black horns curving backward across the top of his head as though they were windswept was visibly taken aback. He was often given to impassioned speeches and displays. It was no surprise the large man would be deeply affected by an emperor he loved.

“We will march at dawn with a hundred Senshodo and a few others. I want you five marching at the front of our column. Say your Goodbyes to your family. I will gather the Honfo to let them know who is coming with us.”

In the morning, four wagons were assembled. A driver and a cook sat on the driver’s board to carry supplies for the soldiers on their march to the capital city of Yongcun. The Senshodo warriors were adorned in armor, carrying their weapons. They said their goodbyes to their family and fell into a formation of three ranks with thirty-three or more people per rank.

Five of the men mounted horses to ride at the head of the column with the four wagons following behind the marching company of soldiers. Two doctors and two of the Seshkyo’s advisors accompanied Taichi and his men to Bianwei.

“Hana, look after the boys. You have Hiroko to help you. I know she is only eleven, but she is wise beyond her years. She reminds me so much of my mother.” Kenichi’s mother, Haruka doted on her children. She was very attentive to their needs and watched them like a hawk. Hiroko is the same way with her brothers Yoshio and Taemon who are only two and three years younger than her.

“The boys don’t seem to mind her orders for now. But I am sure they will stand up to her in a few years.” Hana commented about the children and then turned to her husband. “Kenichi, I want you to promise me that you will come back to your family when you have finished your mission in Yongcun.”

“I shall return, my Lotus Blossom,” Kenichi smiled and kissed his wife goodbye.

As the retinue of Senshodo warriors marches out of the majestic city, they head northeast along the shores of the Sunrise River. “It will be a five-day trek along the Bianwe road,” Taichi addressed the doctors and advisors accompanying him. “We will make camp on the other side of the border with Yongcun. Settle in and enjoy the sights.” Kenichi walked with his Kabuto (helmet) attached to a hook at the back of his armor. He preferred to see where he was walking.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Shift
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Cai rose from the base of the large cypress where he had been meditating with a soft sigh. The gnarled trunk was wide and strong, the branches that sprang from it thick and healthy, reaching out in all directions. A half day’s walk from the city of Bian Wei, it overlooked the river from an embankment surrounded by stones covered in moss and an assortment of prints along the ground representing the many creatures who frequented the relaxing location, be it for respite or a drink of the refreshing water nearby. The cypress had been rooted here for many generations, sustaining the environment, offering shelter, and now, served as Zhao-Fu’s eternal resting place.

Turning to face the tree, Cai bowed his head and brought his right fist beneath his extended palm, thumb slightly tucked in as a symbol of utmost respect. “I hope this is an acceptable location for you, mentor.”

After the night of the attack, it had taken over a day to locate an appropriate site to lay Zhao-Fu to rest, but Cai ultimately settled on this tree after recalling he and his late mentor had spent several nights beneath these very same limbs before securing housing in the city. They had fished along the adjacent bank, cooled their feet in the current, napped in the comforting shade offered by the wide-reaching branches.

“Trees are sanctuaries, Cai-Su, they give peace to the souls of Mokeu. Without them, we would quite literally be without our own roots. Strength and patience, endurance and growth. Much is there to learn in their silence. If you listen carefully and watch closely, you might come to understand these poems that Earth writes upon the sky.”

Zhao-Fu’s words from their time spent together in this now holy location rang in his ears as if his mentor had only just uttered them. Raising his head, Cai reached out his hand and lay it on the tree’s trunk with a quiet prayer before departing. The only thing indicating any external presence had been there was a single bottle of auburn liquid resting against the trunk.

Days had passed since the attack on the city, and there was no apartment left for him to return to. He’d considered departing Bian Wei altogether, but death rites demanded recurring visits to the burial site for at least a month. After that, Cai would assess whether the commotion from the attack had calmed sufficiently to allow for comfortable travel between cities once more.

Until then, he would fatten the coin purse tied to his waist. Undoubtably, many noblemen would be seeking out muscle to protect either themselves or their property during this time of upheaval. Perhaps one of them would welcome a Mokeu within their ranks.
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Hidden 22 days ago Post by Atalanta
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After, when the fighting had stopped and the emperor was dead and none of the guards made any moves to stop her, Bashira went home. The streets were a riot of fleeing people, calling desperately for each other over the crackle of flames and the crash of broken glass, but her door was still shut tight against them. Inside, all the noise and destruction faded, muted by the comfort of walls.

She pulled herself slowly up the stairs, still trembling and aching in all her parts, though it seemed as though her stomach had finished its protesting. The windows were closed, and her bedroom too warm, but Basira didn’t open them to let in the tumult. It would be soon enough when the guards came for her. Instead, she laid her sword on the far side of her bed and stripped out of her dueling costume to slide beneath the soft cotton cover bare.

Bashira didn’t leave her bed the next day. She didn’t let herself think of her father. She didn’t let herself think of the duel. Only lay still and wondered when the guards would come from her between fits of uneasy sleep. What would she tell them? That she had not meant to kill that stupid noble boy? What did it matter? Her father had been right. No, no. He could not be.

The second day, Bashira peeled herself from her sheets and went to bathe, scrubbing away sweat and dirt and blood. The hot water took some time to boil one kettle at a time, but it was worth it in the end. The heat soothed her sore muscles and released the tension in her shoulders. She was so tired. It had been the worst day of her life, hadn’t it? Yesterday. No. The day before yesterday. It couldn’t have been that much time yet.

Bashira went back to bed.

On the third day, Bashira woke up and reached for a bottle. There wasn’t one there. Someone—not her, certainly— had picked up the broken pottery, but the floor next to her bed was still sticky with dried wine from the day before— before everything had happened. She couldn’t sleep anymore, so she got up and pulled on a robe. The sword was still lying there like a lover, pillowed atop her sheets in languid repose. She left it and went downstairs.

It would be so nice just not to feel, to slip away from this wreck of her life. Bashira didn’t want to think about how she had no career left, how they’d never let her duel again in this city or how difficult it would be to start over well past the age when anyone was likely to sponsor her. She didn’t want to think of the throne room, of the emperor’s death and the destruction in the streets of her home. She didn’t want to think of her father. Just for a moment. Just to relax. She had earned a chance to let go.

Bashira stepped onto the first floor, its empty, dust-tracked floors spilling out around her like an infinite, unfathomable space, so much bigger and colder than the bedroom above. There was a second room behind it for preparing food, also barren and set into the floor, the door to a cellar. Bashira heaved it open and climbed into the swallowing dark, closing her eyes as cool air caressed her barely-covered skin. It smelled like earth, like home, like the sweet notes of a summer wine, and the dim light from the open hatch above illuminated clay jugs stored neatly on simple, wooden shelves.

The earth was cool against Bashira’s feet, and below the house, the noise from the street could no longer be heard so that silence, soft and complete, settled around her shoulders like her dark hair, clean but unbrushed after her bath. All she could see, though, was herself lying naked on the floor of her bedroom, drenched in stale wine and stinking of some lover whose name she could not remember. Or her father, sweating and filthy, staggering up from a rotting straw mat to swing at her in a thick, unknowing rage.

Were you drunk, Bashira?

Bashira threw the first shelf onto the floor, shattering glass and pottery in a cataclysm of dripping wine shards, small cuts stinging in her bare feet when the alcohol clawed them. Everything smelled stickier than cherry blossoms or dragon’s beard candy, and once started, the urge to destroy took hold of her like fighting fury sometimes did, a strange, half-delirious thrill. She tore another shelf from the wall, ran along its up-turned edges, and swept round-bellied jars pregnant with drink from their long nesting places. It was a symphony of tinkling, crashing splashes, the bouquet of a spring plum’s ripening, and then it was over, and Bashira was alone again in the mess of her rented cellar, dripping blood from thin cuts bathed in wine.

On the fourth—was it?—day, Bashira rose and left to find food, only to end up in a bar instead.

The sun was yet to break over the horizon when Fujiko awoke. Although she did tend to be an early riser, she tended to be up with the sun other than before it. Four days had passed since the attack on the emperor, yet she still had nights filled with tossing and turning, her dreams of dread outlining her failings were broken by moments of her thoughts racing, she eventually just stopped trying to sleep. She sat up with a quiet groan, trying to not wake up her large Zauri friend snoozing across the room. Their little room was modest at best, just a couple of basic sleeping mats and a small area for cooking and eating. Although a mat on the floor may seem similar to a mat on the earth there was something nice about not being exposed to the elements every now and again. Deciding she was going nowhere by being idle she grabbed her blade and quietly stepped around Yazju.

Fujiko journeyed a good hour or so out of the city to a nearby meadow. There was something freeing about being outside of the cluster of buildings, especially after the death of their emperor the air was suffocating. Thousands of people were holding their breath to see what would happen next, and it was Fujiko’s weapons that had allowed it to come to this. She took a shaky breath before pulling out Otto Boyuja and swinging at the air, coming up with other ways she could have approached the prior night. Maybe if she had slashed like this, she would have left more room to move swifter, or perhaps if she ran like this, she would have made it to the attacker. Fruitless thinking that had been crossing her mind for days. She did not seem to come to a conclusion on what would work, and worse still, even if she did, she was too late, it was all in vain, she had already failed. Fujiko hated failing.

”The hell was I meant to do?!” she screamed in frustration, throwing her weapon at the ground before dropping to her knees. She wasn’t sure who she was yelling at, whether it be Kizunatsu, herself, or her katana and the remains of her husband within. Her eyes flutter to her katana, the blade having stuck itself in the soft dirt when she threw it down, leaving the hilt hanging in the air. ”What would have you done?” she asked gently with a sigh. Nothing came back, as she very much expected, the dead are no better at conversation than steel. Fujiko needed a drink, and a good one at that. She released herself from the tranquility of the meadow and returned to the city, where a solemn feeling lingered in the air more than ever, as if more people knew of their emperor's early demise. Fujiko had noticed a small Izakaya when she had arrived at the city only days ago. It looked like a small dingy place, but they seemed to serve drink at the best prices and be less likely to cut one off early. She went inside and took a seat by the bar.

There was a folk woman beside her, already nursing rice beer, her dark hair pulled back from a pointed face, one cheek slashed badly, the cut new and scabbed over. The forearms of her green robes were sooty where she had rested them on a part of the counter kissed by the fires that had ravaged the city only a few days ago, and a two-handed sword hung from her belt. There were a few such scorch marks around them, but it seemed that whoever had been defending the Izakaya had done a decent job at putting them out before they spread. Minutes passed without her seeming to notice Fujiko, but when she did, it was with the half-suppressed start of recognition. “You,” she said. “You were there.”

Although there was only a chair between Fujiko and the stranger, she didn't at all mind the silence between them. Honestly, she barely noticed the fierce folk's presence. She ordered a rice beer for herself also and was only a sip or two in when the woman started a conversation, reminding her of her presence on that wretched day. Fujiko turned her head to get a better look at the woman, she didn't recognize her from the attacks. Although, she doubted she would have recognized the head guards let alone anyone else in the crowd, all of which had become blurred faces despite her zauri friend. The woman's scars paid testiment to a recent battle, likely the same one Fujiko was in, she had figured. "Unfortunately," was the response she settled on before taking a swig of her rice beer. "Yourself?"

Bewilderingly, the woman looked away as though taken aback. “It was real…” It was a ridiculous thing to say, given the destruction that still tainted the city, but perhaps she meant the throne room. The Emperor’s death. The horrible, unstoppable masked man who did it. The woman raised her cup. “Well, here’s to surviving that shit bath.”

"Unfortunately it was," the Honfokun mused. Admitting the event had happened brought back a flood of memories, the stench of mass death, the blanket of silent horror as the emperor was impaled by Wakuno's sword. Fujiko was already raising the glass to her lips when the folk woman raised a toast. Fujiko raised her glass in reply "To, somehow, not being dead," she responds before taking a swig of her rice beer. "Looks like you got a good battle, how does the other guy look?" she asks, nodding to her fellow drinker's cheek.

The woman frowned, touching her face where the scabbed cut crossed her skin. “That wasn’t the battle, but the aftermath,” she said dryly. “I’d say everyone I fought was dead, but there were so fucking many of them, who knows. Dressed in rags and appearing like a swarm of locusts… What do you think will happen now that the emperor is dead?”

"Ha, sounds no different from my experience," Fujiko replied dryly. She took a few moments and a few sips of rice wine to think through her answer to the question. "I suppose there will always be someone to step up. I guess it comes down to whether the emperor had an heir or if someone battles their way to power."

“Who fucking says the emperor is dead?” Too late, the women looked up to notice that they were not entirely alone. A large man—a laborer by the size and strength of his hands— had been standing nearby, waiting on drinks for his table. He turned to the companions waiting on him. “Did you hear that? These say the emperor is dead!”

“Like any trash rabble could get to our emperor! Load of snivelling scared bullshit.”

They were just drunk. Men and women who worked hard and then spent that money on a little escapism at the end of their week before dragging themselves back to their jobs after a too-short day of rest. The sort of people who believed in their leaders and hoped for a brighter future for their children when they could have no hope of anything better for themselves. There was absolutely no reason to fight them if it could at all be avoided.

But the woman with the long sword stood up and turned to face him. She was every bit as tall as he was, and she pressed threateningly into his space. “The emperor is dead. We saw him die to a man in a demon mask, and if you can’t admit it, then you’re coward scum brothel frequenter whose mother ought to have given birth to an empty pigskin instead. Fuck your ancestors to the eighteenth generation!”

Well. That was one way to get a fight if you wanted one.

The man swung, and Fujiko’s unfortunate drinking companion dodged—surprisingly light on her feet for someone that must be inebriated. She landed a blow to the underside of his chin that sent the man stumbling back into another table, and from there all was chaos. Lubricated men and women from all across the Izakaya stood up, some to head to the doors, but most to lend their fists and cups and tables to the tumult.

Fujiko didn't come to the Izukaya to fight, far from it, she came to forget that very thing. She could have easily ignored the drunkards, spewing ignorant arguments of the emperor’s non-death. She very much considered doing so. Even when her new acquaintance shouted back, Fujiko had no intention of playing a role, then the folk woman had to insult someone. Soon the whole bar seemed to turn on Bashira. Fujiko groaned as the men and women surrounded the pair. She was going to be in the midst of the battle whether she lent a hand or not. "Fine!" she groaned, grabbing her cup and clobbering a middle-age folk man in the chin with it, precious drops of rice wine spilling out of the cup.

The folk man stumbled back a few steps in shock, running a hand down his chin, a dark bruise forming where he was hit. He ran at Fujiko. Unfortunately for Fujiko was not as dexterous as her drinking companion when she was sober, luckily she could still withstand a good attack. Her recently instituted brawling partner slammed her against the bar, and without missing a beat, Fujiko returned the favor by punching him in the cheek.

Fujiko turned her attention to the rest of the crowd, most of their attention was on Bashira, although there did seem to be a few sizing up the Honfo. Her eyes glanced at her drinking buddy turned brawl partner. She seemed to play this scene like a dance with poise and grace beyond what Fujiko could do in this setting, she must have done this before. "I take it this is not your first?" she called out to the folk woman as she shoved away another attacker.

The woman just laughed, and then they were too absorbed in the melee to speak. Fujiko lost sight of her for a time, blocked by a tall folk man wielding a clay bottle like a short club. He swung it artlessly in front of himself and lost his balance when Fujiko took hold of his arm and pulled him forward into the bar, his head connecting with a thick clunk. Her drinking partner was kicking over a table into the legs of two opponents, bottles and cups crashing into the floor. Everything smelled of sour beer and sweating people. It seemed to last forever.

And then the woman’s growl spilled over the riot in a stream of colorful insults. A guard had her, his comrades laying about the fighting people with clubs and fists and the butts of their spears, and though she wrenched herself forward, she couldn’t seem to get away. The fighting just died, all of the squirming bodies falling still like an anthill treated with poison, and in the silence, a roughly-dressed man pointed. Fujiko thought it was one of the first group her drinking companion had insulted. “That’s the other one. The Honfokun.”

Fujiko was so engulfed in battle she hadn’t noticed her companion being captured at first. It wasn’t until silence fell and someone had mentioned her that she turned to see Bashira held in place. Fujiko growled and run at the man only to be pulled back by the arms before she could. She whipped her head around to see the gruff face in a guard's uniform. ”Unhand me right now!” she screeched, attempting to writhe her arms out of the folk’s large hands but it was fruitless. Once again she had failed. She gave a defeated sigh, lowering her head. ”Fine, what do you want from us? Coin? I have coin,”

“We do not want your coin,” her captor responded. He gave no other clarification but began pulling her toward the door. Part of Fujiko was intrigued, there was little a lower rank guardsmen would do for coin, and there was no reason to send higher ranks to break up a bar brawl. At least for now, she would follow his instructions. Worst come, she had a lifeline in her Zauri friend, or perhaps her father would take pity on her and call for her release.
Hidden 21 days ago Post by Salsa Verde
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Wind swept through the great plains with a force seeking to shake the landscape of the lush green grass in the foreground. Tall grass flickered and rustled in every which direction, almost dancing in the presence of the wind. To Bizi Gan it looked more like cowering which left him unamused. His gaze was fixated on the unmoving and stoic presence of the dense trees that created a thicket of understory canopy for him to relax in. While their leaves shuttered from the wind only a few fell, perhaps their only purpose. Beyond the howling was the incessant noise of scratching, the sound of stubby fingers running through coarse, matted fur. It was enough to know that he had gone a few days without bathing from the sheer scrunching. As noble and intelligent of a race they were, escaping the primal ceremonies of the Mokeu ancestors was harder than anticipated.

He spent an unsanctimonious amount of time properly grooming himself and checking for any hitchhikers that accompanied him like a ferry. A strand of barley or some kind of wheat stuck out of his mouth, slowly moving back and forth through his molars. It only took a few months, but the old coot had finally decided to begin his descent from his perch above it all. He wasn’t confident in his assumption, but there could be more information on Zhao-Fu. Wishful thinking it may have been, yet it was enough for him to begin his journey. Assuring he had everything he needed he took in the surrounding once more before turning his back on his home for the last time. This time the grass didn’t look like a dance ensemble, instead in some sense, they were waving him farewell.

Days turned into nights, terrain turned from grass to mud to stone and back again. Some days were sweltering hot only to be disrupted by swelling of clouds followed by a downpour that felt like salvation. Nights brought on a brisk cold that was no match for his fur. Bizi-Gan experienced it all with unwavering patience. And while the scenery changed around him, he remained unnerved with the same unyielding expression. It was rather obvious when he was entering civilization once more, open fields were replaced with decadent buildings of varying sizes. Livestock was huddled into little farms connected to bridges and paved roads. The shrill sound of children’s happiness and sadness echoed through bustling streets of commerce. Had the opinion of Mokeu people changed since he locked himself away?

Whatever the case he ate when he wanted, rested when he needed and continued on. With the entrance of humanity he was able to learn of gossip and news loose on the lips of anyone who would have it. The most poignant information that burned through the towns was the talks of the emperor’s death. The festivities of Wan Yue cut short in the grand city of Bianewi by imposters adorned in regalia of the people. Bizi-Gan traced the grooves on his jade bracers when they mentioned the Ruby Palace. The contrast of the two minerals felt intentional, with his being a bit more auspicious. He rose from his seat and decided to venture to the Imperial Square. More questions than answers it seemed to pose.

It wasn’t more than a few days before Bizi-Gan arrived. The city was clearly still in a period of mourning. The people had fallen on harsh times and even worse living conditions. Finding suitable work or information here would be harder than he imagined. Nevertheless, he ventured into the once source that flowed with information in the shape of a glass, a tavern.
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