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6 yrs ago
Current Only an instant does this world endure.
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Nadara V’lanis


There were such precious few places that offered any semblance of life the way it was before the Reapers. In this system any way. Who knew how many other resort style spas still remained standing in the galaxy? Until the transportation issue was fixed there was no way to know. As Nadara sauntered toward the familiar hotel entrance, she realized her talents may have been better suited elsewhere. Surely, now that the war was over many would be just as curious as she was about where they could escape the reality of post-war life.

I should’ve started a review business, she thought suddenly. One of her parents would undoubtably have a ship she could use, with the promise of regular rental credit reimbursement. As it was, she’d had to hire a chartered shuttle for her journey to Cuba. Their stores had dwindled quite a bit due to the war efforts... In any case, Nadara had the connections to make this venture work, and the number of subscribers to her digital blog had started steadily increasing again recently. She would need to charge a small fee for access to this invaluable information, perhaps perform a side job or two, and the appropriate funding would be secured. People were eager to regain normalcy, and she would gladly provide what they wanted. In return, they would happily provide the credits. Complementary stays at whatever resorts were still functioning in this corner of the galaxy was a given, including unlimited access to all of their facilities and amenities. Once word got out, they would reap the benefits of sold out rooms, and in their gratitude, would offer her a free lifetime membership. The rest of her days would be spent lounging by sparkling pools with a cool beverage, laying atop a comfortable mattress as dexterous fingers and hands massaged the worries from her body, relishing the delectable offerings of five star restaurants, or offering her assessment on resort nightclubs.

All Nadara needed now was to find someone willing to locate these places so she could travel to them and begin her work. There had to be others she hadn’t heard about yet. She’d been pleasantly surprised when the SRN indicated this as their meeting point. Hmm, if they knew about this resort, perhaps they also knew of others? A contact within the SRN would be easy to acquire… As she considered who might best be suited for the role, an attendant interrupted her thoughts.

“Welcome back to the Meliá Resort, señora Nadara,” a short woman with dark hair pulled back into a tight bun greeted with a pleasant smile. She loved the way the locals pronounced her name. It had been years since she’d last been here, but she was registered in their system and had clearly been recognized by the computers when she entered the premises. “I hope you enjoyed your arrival in Havana.”

The woman held out a tray on which sat one of Nadara’s favored drinks, a smooth cocktail that included mango juice, rum, and just a hint of lime juice among other ingredients that she couldn’t be bothered to remember. She took the offered glass and gave a tentative sip before returning the smile. “Thank you, this is delicious! Havana was a welcome respite from my recent haunts, I assure you. I found a number of delightful trinkets among the various stalls that were on display today. A kind gentleman offered to have them delivered to the resort on my behalf, so please deliver them to my room once they arrive.”

The smile faltered from the woman’s lips momentarily. “That is not something commonly offered. Did you get the señor’s name?”

Nadara brought a finger to her chin as she recalled the earlier interaction. Many bags hung on either arm as she struggled to make her way through the crowded narrow streets when a handsome face approached her with the kind offer to help lighten her load. “You know, now that you mention it, I don’t think I did. I was so grateful for the assistance, I handed off my bags to him and immediately made my way here. I was hoping for a little soak before my meeting.”

Distress colored the woman’s features, and Nadara wondered if perhaps the pool had been closed for some sort of maintenance. “We will do our best to locate your purchased items, señora,” she said finally after a moment, seemingly lost for words. The poor woman, was she new? At least she didn’t contradict Nadara’s plans to delve into the cool waters.

“No need to search, I’m certain he said he would bring it directly to the front desk. Now, about that soak… I’ll have a change in my room first. Which suite have I been checked in to?”

“The SRN assigned you to a room previously occupied by your predecessor,” the woman explained with a tentative look behind the Asari. “Señora, did you also hand over your luggage to be… delivered?”

“No, no, I couldn’t take advantage of that poor man... After I gave him all of my purchases, I asked if he provided luggage delivery as well, but he said I’d given him more than enough. Besides, I’m traveling light these days.” Nadara held up the medium sized suitcase she held in her hand. “This is all I’ve brought with me for the time being.” Seemingly satisfied, the woman indicated with her arm towards the hotel and began guiding Nadara inside. “Did you say, ‘previously occupied’?” Her lip curled up at the thought. Of course, staying at a resort meant all the rooms had been occupied by others at some point, but she’d never knowingly stayed in a room of a recently deceased person. Surely, she wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

“Yes, it’ll be right this way. Please take these elevators to the sixteenth floor.” As if on cue, the elevator doors opened. “Yours will be room 1609,” she said as Nadara stepped inside. Just before the doors closed, the woman uttered a final sentence that stunned Nadara into silence, the doors closing to her gaping mouth. “We were asked not to perform our regular cleaning services, the SRN believes there might be helpful evidence from your predecessors left behind.”

Disillusioned, Nadara drug her feet through the carpeted hallway until she stood before room 1609. She’d received information on the Salarian she would be replacing on the team. What had been his name? Unable to recall, she pulled out her datapad to check only to find an unread message notifying her that she should have been at the cigar lounge 5 minutes ago. “By the goddess, I have to stay in an unclean room previously housed by a deceased person, whose items are likely still strewn about, and now I don’t even have the option of de-stressing at the pool before this meeting!”

With one final pout to herself, she held out her hand to the door scanner, which opened with a low click. The antiseptic smell of omnigel greeted her immediately, along with the sight of what she only hoped were omnigel stains. A quick once over told her all she needed to know, the Salarian had left behind a few trinkets on the unused bed, and papers containing animal sketches, which made no sense to her. None of this would be useful for the mission. At least I’ve confirmed as much and can now ask for the cleaning to be done with a clear conscious. She gently placed her suitcase on the floor, careful for it not to come into contact with anything else, and turned away from the room, glancing into the bathroom before making her way out into the hallway again. Thankfully, aside from more omnigel packets and what appeared to be a used towel, everything seemed to be in order. Her opinion of the SRN as an organization was decreasing steadily.

What a horrible reception, she thought, pulling out a stick of bubble gum to calm herself as she made her way back downstairs to find the cigar lounge.

When she arrived, most others had already situated themselves around the woman she recognized as the SRN representative, Lizbeth, and were chatting quietly among themselves. When offered a cigar, Nadara motioned to the gum in her mouth, preventing her from partaking, though she didn’t pass up the rum. Something had to help calm her after all, the gum on its own wasn’t quite up to the challenge, and the drink from when she had arrived had been downed before she and the attendant had reached the elevators.

When the meeting officially began, it was all Nadara could do to pay attention. Her thoughts swirled with the idea of using the credits she earned from this job to begin her resort review company. Nadara’s Reviews. Nadara’s Relaxing Reviews? Nadara’s Notice of Nurturing Resorts… She would finalize the name later. Did she even need the credits from this job? From the state of things when she arrived, everything seemed mostly untouched by the war here. Perhaps this could be the base of her operations…

Her interest was finally piqued when Lizbeth mentioned Mayor Thul’s party. She’d seen advertisements for the event while exploring Havana, and had been excited to reacquaint herself with high society once more. It had been a number of years since she’d seen Bragus, it seemed like he’d done quite well for himself in his mayoral duties.

After the others gave their opinions, Nadara placed her glass of rum down and spoke up. “I’d be happy to do whatever the group decides, but I think it would be best if I accompany Liz,” her eyes swung to Lizbeth with a small smile, “I can call you, Liz, right?” Without waiting for a response, Nadara addressed the others once more in the same breath. “Well, Liz and I could attend Bragus’ party and get as much information and assistance from him as possible, oh excuse me, I mean Mayor Thul. He and I go a ways back. And I have no doubt I can help persuade doctor… the doctor, to wait a while longer while we investigate.”

A mean looking woman, Nadara had forgotten her name, snapped, “I’ll get the shuttle,” before standing as if to leave, prompting the Asari to blink in surprise. How rude…
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.
I’d also like to vote for the Doom Blade, please!

I really enjoyed it. It was well written, and even though we had such a short time with Gaul, it being a short story, his characterization was still done wonderfully. The transformation was timely and by the time he interacts with the tax collector, things start sinking in. His killing of the thugs in town made sense, there was obviously something magical about the sword, but it wasn’t clear to what extent yet, and his reaction was understandable. When he moves forward with killing the tax collector, it becomes more obvious that something is wrong, and the chilling scene with his wife asking him to put it down was just the right touch of unnerving. I thought it was a nice touch that the sword itself changed too, and I was not expecting Gaul’s physical appearance to change so that was a fun twist. I’m glad we were spared Trinity’s reaction and that she didn’t witness what happened. The ending was nice and ominous.

Thanks for the fun read!
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.
Cai was forced to take a circuitous route to his building, avoiding fires and groups of fighting Folk. He wasn’t sure what was going on, who was attacking, or why, but he knew he didn’t want to get involved any further. It would only prevent him from reaching Zhao-Fu.

He glanced down at the man in his arms and coughed, his lungs still sore from all the smoke inhalation. Had he been right to take this man with him? He could suddenly hear Zhao-Fu’s voice loud and clear in his mind, reprimanding him for such a thought.

“Life is precious, Cai-Su, you know this. Had you not saved this man, he would have surely died from exposure, trampling, blood loss, or any number of other terrible fates.”

Sighing, Cai hoped his mentor would have enough energy to tend to the old man’s arrow wound when they arrived to the apartment. He wasn’t sure how much of the chaos had reached their door, and was still optimistic as he approached the last corner before his street.

His breath caught as he noticed the plumes of dark black smoke wafting high into the sky ahead. Please, let it not be my building, he prayed silently as he rounded the corner.

The sight he beheld dropped him to his knees.

The entire street was ablaze in embers and thick black smoke. What was once a crowded mess of apartment buildings, a street full of people going to and fro, awash with chatter and laughter from residents was now reduced to rubble, ash, dying embers, and smoke. Bodies were strewn about where they had been slain or where they had fallen from burn wounds or other maladies. It was a horrifying sight to behold.

The fact their enemy had reached this far outside the city center in the short time span indicated they were not only ruthless, but well organized and large in number. It wasn’t safe to remain in one place for long while they were about. But Cai’s mind was far too preoccupied to bother with such information, he was frozen in place, kneeling at crossing, facing the remains of what had been the building where he’d resided with Zhao-Fu for the last three years. His eyes saw scenes that had nothing to do with what was before him.

The old man in his arms stirred, coughed, and groaned in pain. His arm reached out and a shaky hand touched Cai’s shoulder. “Thank you,” he rasped, before overtaken by another fit of coughing.

The action was enough to shake Cai from his stupor.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said gravely after collecting himself. They should have been safe here, but it seemed nowhere had been spared the enemy’s ferocious attack. Survival instincts demanded Cai run, get as far from the city as he could, but he wouldn’t give up hope that his mentor had somehow survived until he had evidence of the contrary. “Will you be alright if I leave you here for a bit? I need to check on something.”

The man looked at their surroundings, his eyes wide and worried. “Is it safe?”

“Nowhere in the city is safe right now.”

“Please,” the man paused and was wracked with coughs again. It took several breaths before he was well enough to continue. “My daughter. I must find her.”

“One thing at a time,” Cai said, in what he hoped was at least a partially reassuring voice. “I have someone I’m looking for too. It shouldn’t take too long.” There was barely anything left of their building to look through, part of it had disintegrated to rubble, but a small section of the first floor seemed sufficiently intact, scalded and blackened as it was. If Zhao-Fu wasn’t there, it meant his mentor had escaped somewhere and there would be a chance for reunion. He gently placed the man on the ground, careful with his injured leg. “Do you have somewhere outside of the city I can take you?”

The man considered the question and Cai stood, taking the opportunity. It was best to leave the man with a task while he checked the apartment. “Think on it a moment, when I return, we’ll handle that arrow and head out of the city.”

As he approached what remained of the building, Cai found himself holding his breath. Please don’t let him be there, please don’t let him be there, he repeated mentally to himself as he pushed aside a blackened door and stepped inside.


The old man looked up, startled by the large figure that approached him. The haze in the air made it difficult to recognize the Moeku, but as soon as the man who saved him was near enough to make out his features, Lian felt himself relax.

The Moeku seemed stiffer that earlier, his words clipped as he checked in with the man before kneeling down to him to tend to the arrow still protruding from Lian’s thigh. In his hands he held a long red pole that had burned in a few places, and a burlap bag from which he pulled the materials necessary to dress the wound.

“I cannot thank you enough,” Lian said, o when he was back on his feet once more, leaning heavily on the Moeku for support. “What can I call you?”

“Cai-Su. Did you think of somewhere I can take you?”

“Ah, yes, I did think of a place. Let us hope my daughter did as well and will meet us there. Come, it’s this way.”
Cai held two full bottles of sweet plum wine, their soft amber color covered by the dark bag they were kept in. The vendor had been pleasant enough to deal with, the man had barked his query as to what Cai had wanted and then filled his request with no further small talk, accepting the amount for the alcohol with a tight-lipped, curt nod. An unmemorable transaction was always better than the alternative.

As he worked his way through the wider streets, there were some merrymakers still trying to make their way to the royal palace to listen to the Emperor, while others realized the futility of approach and merely hung back, waiting for the address to finish. Those intent on their approach scrambled at the edges of the crowds that filled smaller alleyways leading towards the Ruby Palace to the brim. The appeal was lost on Cai. There was never anything new pronounced, merely the same address every year, the man made his platitudes to the larger community and expressed the same well wishes.

In his opinion, it wasn’t worth being cramped together in the crowd of Folk like sardines, even if his presence would have been tolerated within their numbers. Hm, now there was a thought – would Zhao-Fu have had enough strength to prepare dinner this evening? Cai considered stopping at one of the food stalls before going home. Fish perhaps? But as he turned to consider his options, the sounds from the crowd nearby turned from merriment to confusion to outright panic.

He heard the screams first, alarmed and hysterical, before the first waves of Folk and Hofokun alike scrambled away from the palace square in a stampede. The cacophonous sounds kept him from hearing the whistling of arrows that rained down from above, but he quickly became aware of their effect as bodies began dropping around him.

In his shock, Cai stood very still. A tree that the current of people surged around in their attempt to flee. The sounds of battle and moans of pain from those that had fallen, or the screams of anguish from their loved ones suddenly transported him back to the Jade Plains Tribe five years earlier.

He would have stayed like that, or worse, if a slice on his shoulder from an incoming arrow hadn’t shaken him awake from his stupor. Grimacing, he looked around and noticed things had escalated. Arrows were now trailing fire and targeting buildings which burned and smoked, as well as citizens, who had begun to battle each other as well as guards who had already made it this far out.

Shouldn’t they be focusing on the Emperor?

Momentarily overwhelmed by his senses, Cai forced himself to breathe deeply, only to choke on the black smoke that had begun to accumulate. This wasn’t Banhet.

This wasn’t the Jade Plains.

He was in Bianwei.

Would he sit by and watch as another massacre happened before his eyes?

The decision was made for him when a small body plummeted into his side. A young Folk held tightly to his arm which bled profusely, tears streaming down his face as another Folk of a similar age approached with a sword that dripped crimson.

“Come now, Lee, you’ve suspected me of something nefarious for weeks. Aren’t you oh so pleased to have been right?” A sinister, lopsided smirk was visible beneath a dark mask.

The younger Folk looked up at Cai with a pitiful expression and the Mokeu sighed, wishing he had his staff. As it were, all he had on him was the two bottles of sweet plum wine. Regretting the decision as soon as the idea occurred to him, Cai took action before changing his mind.

The attacker was so focused on his target that he didn’t register the quick movement as Cai pulled out one of the bottles and threw it with devastating accuracy onto his head where it splintered and washed him in wine. A surprised scream was heard as the older Folk ripped the mask off and rubbed at his eyes.

“Run,” Cai urged, as he too turned to flee. Without a weapon, he was a sitting target ready to be picked. Thank the ancestors he hadn’t been killed off already in his earlier daze. He lost sight of the small Folk who ran quickly despite the wound to his arm. He found himself hoping the boy would make it.

Now wasn’t the time to be focused on others, though. The attacking Folk would be recovering momentarily, and Cai needed to find cover. The streets were too risky with raining arrows, so he ducked into a nearby boarding house that hadn’t yet gone up in flames.

Inside the boarding house was nearly as hectic as outside. Furniture was scattered across the sitting room as people madly made for the upstairs area or cellar, pushing and shoving over one another. With a hiss a flaming arrow streaked through a nearby window and stuck into the floor setting a place rug aflame almost instantly as the silk curtains of the window curled and blackened from the lick of fire.

Several people screamed and began to rush for the front door shoving fiercely by Cai only to be met with a volley from across a nearby rooftop - three Folk and a Honfokun woman falling back across the doorway filled with arrows. Outside more flaming arrows were then released and pelted across the front of the boarding house and the roof.

As people continued to madly push for upstairs and downstairs alike another arrow darted through an open window striking someone in the upper leg and sending him reeling across the floor. He was an older man, adorned in fine garments with a golden medallion dangling from his neck, he cried loudly in pain as people hopped over his fallen form and made for the stairwell in the back of the boarding house. The flames were spreading fast, the burning rug had been the catalyst that spread the fire within as it rained down from the outside.

Seeing the towering Mokeu the elderly man extended one hand outward as he futilely rugged at the arrow in his leg. He made no sound other than pained gasps but his lips formed the word “Please” as he fearfully glanced around at the orange and yellow blazes spreading across the sitting room.

A. reaches to lift up and carry the wounded man downstairs.
B. reaches to lift up and carry the wounded man upstairs.
C. reaches to lift up and carry the wounded man out the back door.
D. pulls the golden medallion from the mans’ neck and then escape.
E. ignores the wounded man and heads downstairs.
F. ignores the wounded man and heads upstairs.

I chose…
C. reaches to lift up and carry the wounded man out the back door.

The elderly man looked nothing like Zhao-Fu of course, he was a Folk and Cai’s mentor a Mokeu. Even so, the similarity in age and feebleness was uncanny and as Cai watched the man pleading for help he saw his mentor in his mind’s eye. So much so that a lump caught in his throat as a wave of guilt washed over him at not having thought of Zhao-Fu’s well being immediately.

I need to get to him.

Fear made his knees wobble at the thought of returning to their shared home and finding nothing but rubble. He needed to move quickly.

In one sweeping motion, he bent down and wrapped the older man’s arm around his shoulders, easily lifting him up like a babe in his arms. Folk were so light.

Smoke stung his eyes as the fire raged inside the room, spreading fast. He swung his head to the stairs but decided against that route, the fire meant they would just get stuck regardless of which direction he went. Cai coughed and his lungs burned. The four bodies lying at the entrance, blood pooling around them, was enough warning against that exit. Time was running out, the fire was approaching, angry and hot.

There was only one viable option.

Cai secured his hold on the man and made a dash for the back door, hoping no one would be waiting to ambush them there.

As the flames spread so did the smoke making a choking black cloud that hung in the air. The fires raced about the room undeterred, the walls turning an angry red - pillows, rugs, rags, and the strewn furniture acting as kindling for the flame. When Cai reached the back door he would discover it to be blocked from the outside, not budging in the slightest. The smoke was thick now to the point of blinding and it poured into the Mokeu’s lungs. The smell of cinders and all manner of burnt objects was strong enough to make ones’ mind spin and stomach churn. The old man Cai carried coughed and gagged between gasps of pain, futilely pressing both hands against his face to try and block the smoke.

Cai could try and burst through the back door, he had the strength after all, of course there was no telling what was blocking the door or who was waiting on the other side. He could try and circle back but that seemed an even more risky choice as the smoke now veiled the entire ground floor.

A. attempts to break through the back door. (Might)
B. makes a run back in the direction of the front door, avoiding small fires and scattered debris. (Perception)
C. looks for a window along the nearby walls. (Perception)

I chose…
C. looks for a window along the nearby walls. (Perception)
Check Failed. [My roll: 14 DM roll: 18]

As he coughed and blinked against the tears welling in his eyes, he regretted the option to attempt an escape through the back. Of course whoever was attacking the city would have made sure the exits were blocked. Based on what he’d seen outside, their goal was to kill as many citizens as possible.

The old man in his arms shook with bouts of coughing which were only interspersed by groans of pain from the arrow still protruding from his thigh. Cai cursed and realized he would have had a better chance at survival if he’d gone up the landing and jumped out of a window.

An idea struck him suddenly. The small corridor at the back of the house might have a window they could jump out of. It would be much safer to do so than from the second floor, after all.

The thick haze of smoke made seeing close to impossible. It hung like a dark rain cloud over Cai’s head and he found himself crouching to avoid the worst of it. The stinging in his eyes he could have lived with and the toxic burning scent of the room’s adornments would have been more tolerable if it wasn’t also mingled with the horribly sickening smell of burning flesh that wafted throughout the room from the four bodies at the entrance. The fire ate at them like a hungry predator and Cai couldn’t stop picturing the image of skin melting off of bone as he tried to think.

He couldn’t put the man down. The fire was rapidly spreading across the wooden floors and the soles of his bare feet were scalded by their heat.

Keeping the elder Folk’s body awkwardly balanced on one arm, Cai reached out with the other and blindly felt along the wall for a window. His eyes remained closed. He couldn’t see anything past the smoke anyway and like this, the stinging was only significantly painful instead of intolerable.

All his fingers found was black soot that he was certain similarly covered his entire body.

He attempted the other wall to no avail. Ancestors curse it! Time was running out. The man had stopped coughing and Cai knew that wasn’t a good sign.

I chose…
A. attempts to break through the back door. (Might)
Check Passed. [My roll: 17 DM roll: 16]

With no other options, his last recourse was to attempt to break through the barred door into whatever was awaiting them on the other side.

Cai coughed, his throat and lungs burning, breath heaving as the oxygen quickly diminished in the room. He needed to get out now.

Wrapping his arms securely around the man once more, he leaned forward, jutting his shoulder out before him, and moved forward until he felt the wooden door before him. He took two steps back and then used all his force to shove his shoulder into the door.

He had never been so grateful to hear the splintering of wood.

Why hadn’t he just tried this from the beginning?

A few more slams into the door and it gave way.

Cai stumbled over what seemed to be a small cart that had been placed against the door as a makeshift blockade. He blinked through the tears in his eyes as he steadied himself, grateful not to have dropped the man in the process, who hung limply in his arms like one of the many sacks he’d spent all day hauling.

No one was waiting for them in the alley behind the boarding house. Cai supposed the masked attackers hadn’t expected someone of his stature or strength to break through their trap, and wished he had the strength or time to tell the others he’d seen in the building that there was a way out.

As it was, he needed to get home and check on Zhao-Fu.

A quick glance to the man in his arms was enough for him to notice shallow breaths, and Cai breathed a sigh of relief. He was still alive.

He considered briefly where he might leave the man, but realized no safe place remained in the city. This stranger was safer in his arms than anywhere else, and Zhao-Fu would be able to offer assistance with the smoke inhalation and arrow wound.

Cai’s shoulder throbbed painfully, the other stung and bled slightly though he didn’t know from what, and his feet blistered painfully from the burning floors inside the building but this didn’t stop him from taking up a steady trot in the direction of his shared home in the outskirts of the city. His lungs burned and felt as though they couldn’t hold nearly as much oxygen as he’d been used to, which slowed his pace, but at least he was moving. At least he was still alive.
With the last of the heavy crates placed in a neat order along the outer walls of the barn, Cai heaved a sigh and turned only to find his employer overlooking his handiwork with a satisfied expression.

“Thank you, Cai-Su.”

Cai sighed once more, but this time not from the physical effort he had exerted, and refrained from rolling his eyes at the short, balding man before him.

“Just Cai, please, Lao Fang. Zhao-Fu isn’t here to correct you.” It was the first year Cai had worked the fields without his mentor.

He had tended Fang Xiaoli’s rice harvest for the past two moons, much as he had for the last few years. The Folk was a kindly enough farmer whose sons had departed their home in pursuit of their own futures, which apparently didn’t include farming. Cai couldn’t blame them for choosing something different than their father wished for them, and truth be told, if they hadn’t gone, he wouldn’t have the job he’d just completed.

Zhao-Fu had discovered that the man required assistance in the fields during the spring and harvest seasons three years prior and successfully secured a contract for the foreseeable future. It was a welcome find to have the comfort that came from a secure job on a yearly basis. Especially after Zhao-Fu’s strength declined to the point where he regularly remained resting in their shared home on the other edge of the city. The walk alone had proven too tiring for him at the end of the previous year.

Since then, Cai had been hard pressed to secure other contracts on his own, making this job all that much more precious. Two Mokeu were a better deal than just one, he supposed.

“Ah, yes, that’s right but it’s become habit after all. Come,” Fang said with a good-natured smile, motioning to the barn doors. “You’ve worked well past sundown and the festival is in full swing. If you leave now, you might be able to catch the fireworks.”

Cai had to restrain himself from sighing once more to refrain from offending his employer. It was the same every year. He never cared much for the celebrations of the Folk, but for whatever reason, the citizens of Bianwei and any surrounding cities for that matter, seemed to celebrate Wan Yue with more fervor than any of the other festivals. The city streets would surely be packed with visitors and citizens alike, clamoring at the food stalls and crowding the activity booths. It wasn’t an appealing prospect, especially when Cai was certain he’d be met with stares and followed by whispers of discontent if not outright discrimination. He’d learned early on in the Yongcun cities that drunk Folk were not always the friendliest, and many drinks would indeed be served tonight.

The farmer must have taken his silence as consent because he took the Mokeu’s hand then and pressed a few more gold pieces than was owed into Cai’s palm. “Get some sweets and enjoy your night, my boy!”

Feeling awkward, Cai bowed his head respectfully. “Your generosity is much appreciated, Lao Fang.” Zhao-Fu had taught him to utter the phrase whenever he was paid, though he didn’t use the polite address to any of his other employers.

The man chuckled and pushed Cai further away from the barn. “Yes, yes, you’re welcome, Cai-Su. Now hurry! The first of the fireworks have begun.” As the man pushed, the explosions from the center of town could be heard even from the outskirts of the city where they were and the sky was lit briefly in bright hues of red, blue, and yellow.

Cai bowed once more to his employer before turning away and heading toward the center of town. At first, he did so with only the intention of making it appear to Fang Xiaoli that he was indeed headed to the festivities. But as he approached the growing mass of Folk, it occurred to him that he might stop at a stall and get some sweet plum wine for Zhao-Fu.

Sweet plum wine was his mentor’s favorite, and he had always made a point of getting some during the festival, even if Cai hated being among the throngs. In his current condition, he wouldn’t be able to continue the tradition this year, and Fang had given him a few extra coins than anticipated…

With a resigned sigh, Cai steeled himself for the crowds as his feet refused to change direction and continued leading him toward the city center.

To his luck however, the gongs indicating the emperor’s speech rang out shortly after he’d made headway toward the main stalls and the numbers of merrymakers diminished quickly as they all flocked to the Ruby Palace.

A contented smile played on his lips as Cai approached a short line for a spirits vendor. Zhao-Fu would be pleasantly surprised.
Gah, so sorry, I posted in the Character tab accidentablly.

Hope this is alright.
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