|The making of an Emperor
Author: The Outlander PM
Emperor Sagacious Tien is dying. Only his son and heir, Prince Tiang, can save the legendary Emperor and stop the young Jade Empire from falling apart. in-progressRated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Supernatural - Chapters: 14 - Words: 67,799 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 01-04-13 - Published: 12-11-07 - id: 3941330
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Notes; It's been over two years since I last updated this sotry, and it's simply great to be back. I lvoe this story so much, and I hate myself for not finishing it sooner! I have rekindled my interest in writing fanfiction, and I hope I can keep it up until I finish all chapters. I don't expect anyone to actually still read this after so long, and with such a dead (albeit great) fandom, unfortunately, but any feedback would certainly help me keep motivated. Thanks for reading this, you are awesome!
Chapter 10.2: I, Righteous Tiang
"Right," I said, as the farmers stood in front of me. Men and women alike, with weapons of poor quality, no protection and courage than hung by a thread. It was then, as I spoke my first word, I realized I had absolutely no idea where to begin. It seemed like a fool's errand. Why had I let myself be carried away like this? Why did I suddenly want to stand up for a bunch of commoners who were an insignificant speck on the map of the Empire? Why didn't I think about the greater good? I had set out on a journey to find two of the Holy Scrolls, yet here I stood.
But then I realized. I was here because I was the son of the Emperor. I was to embody all that is great in the world. I was here because I chose to be.
"Which one of you has ever fought before?" I said with renewed courage, yet that courage quickly sunk into my shoes when no one reacted. "Anybody? No?" I let out a soft sigh. I was not about to show my weakness to them. Because they were even weaker. Compared to them, I was strong. How could I ever expect to be successful if they didn't believe in me? How could I expect them to be successful if I didn't believe in them? "Well, no worries, because what matters most in group combat is not technique; not skill. This is not an arena we will be fighting in, but it is your home. Your land! What matters most is courage. Resolve. Cunning. Intelligence. Those are the things we must rely on if we want to beat them. We can not best them if we face them head on. They are warriors, ruthless, fierce, remorseless, experienced. Patience is the key. Tactics will be vital. What you need to know is how to strike a deadly blow. So you can be quick and efficient."
I was reciting the words I had been taught by my masters in the Imperial Palace. I hadn't been the strongest kid in class, but had a memory like an elephant demon. And even I had to admit the words of his master had sounded great at the time.
"I will try and teach you to fully use your surroundings. We will attempt to strike from the shadows. And when they have been lured out, blinded by their overconfidence, that's when we will strike. But we will have to be ruthless. Remorseless. We must stoop down to their level if we want to beat them. We must show them the mercy that they would show us. Because our intentions are good. Our intentions are pure. We must never forget that it is they who have come here to rob you, they who who have come here to steal your food and force you to live your life in fear, they who step on you as if you are nothing more than a dirty cloth. I am here to tell you that that is not the case. I am here to tell you that we can resist them. I am here to tell you that we can beat them. I am here to tell you that you can be free!"
A soft cheer of approval emanated from the farmers. I knew I had spoken well. I know I had spoken like a leader.
"So, how was your day?" Jejna asked me.
"Not bad," I answered truhfully, content I could give that answer without having to lie to the old man's face. "First I taught them basic deadly blows. Then we scouted the area for hit-and-run places. They know the village well. If we plan this carefully, we really stand a fighting chance."
"I have faith in your conviction, Jin," he said to me, for I had not yet revealed my true name and nature. "I am sorry I can not be of any aid to you. If I were 20 years younger it would have been an honour to stand next to my fellow villagers, taking up arms against these oppressors. But I'm afraid I no longer have the fire in me. And I would slow us down, I'm sure."
"There's no need to justify yourself," I assured him, "I understand completely. Everybody in the Empire has his place. Yours is not on a battlefield."
"Neither is theirs. They're just farmers."
"No, but they are where they need to be, and go where they're needed. They do what they can. So do you; there is no shame in that. It is not a crime to be old."
"You are a kind young man," Jejna smiled. "It is a shame you have to live a life without renown. Guys like you should be destined for greater things than... this," he said, adding a vague gesture that encircled the living room in Jejna's house.
I answered his gentle smile with one of my own. The good man had no idea who he was talking to. And that made the compliment even better. He was talking from his heart, unlike the grovelling members of court, who would say everything that would appease me, a Prince of the Empire. But Jejna, just like Jin and Tang, talked to me as a friend. Whenever Jin said I had a golden tongue, I believed it. When Tang complimented my after I tore down the fortress of Saed Tisst, I felt proud. Like I did now.
"I am sorry I can not offer you anything but food and shelter for your services," Jejna continued. "We have a hard enough time with our own upkeep."
"It is of no consequence," I assured him. I wanted to tell him that he had nothing to offer I could possibly want, but I didn't want to sound arrogant. "I am not in this for the silver." Silver was something I had plenty of, back home. After my father, I was probably the richest person in the Empire, and that made my presence here all the more awkward. I was used to grand halls, soft, large beds, hot baths and servants. Now I had to be content with a bowl of rice and a cup of tea. But I didn't really mind, I just thought what my father would say. He'd call it a 'lesson in humility'. An important lesson, one that I was learning well. I had never been in contact with a lot of commoners before I set out on this quest with Jin, Linmei and Tang, but since then I had fought bar patrons, executed a criminal ex-general of the Imperial Army and helped train a bunch of peasants who had better business wielding a pitchfork than a spear. And my quest was nowhere near completion. It should have been when I reached the Smoking Mountains with Linmei and Jin, but fate had decided otherwise.
"I better be off to bed," Jejna suddenly said, interrupting my stream of thoughts. "Might I suggest you follow my lead soon? Nothing like a good night's sleep to revitalize!" he added while standing up and walking towards his bedroom door. It was already late in the evening, and his wife was already sleeping. His daughter Jene and his son-in-law Zu were nowhere to be soon however. I suspected they stayed away because of me. After all, I had rejected Jene only the night before, and Zu hadn't really liked me from in the beginning. He had been part of the group that I had been training all day, but I had felt he was the most reluctant of all of them to follow my orders. Slowly, I got up and made my way to bed. Even though it felt as hard as a rock, it didn't take long for me to fall asleep.
I was awoken by soft, sneaky footsteps in the room. I could tell that whoever was walking around was doing so barefooted. My heartbeat increased. It felt suspicious, and I prepared myself for an incoming strike. I didn't know why, but years of sound sleeping in the Imperial Palace, where a servant could be flogged for waking one of his masters, made me a very light sleeper. Years and years of never having been woken unless desired had triggered an internal alarm now that someone was sneaking around my room. It hadn't been much of a problem in the countryside or in the taverns where I had stayed, but I suspected that was in no small part due to the presence of my cousin and... well, Tang, of whom I was no longer sure what he meant to me. I pitied him for having lost his father, but in the end, I knew he was an evil person. And I felt uncomfortable being around him. As if his superiority was being constantly rubbed in. It annoyed the living hell out of me, but it didn't matter much now.
The figure came closer, and I prepared myself. Two steps later I rolled out of bed, grabbed the figure by the wrist and dragged it to the floor. I followed it up by jumping on top of it, pressing it down hard with both of my knees.
"Ouch! That hurts!" it said. I looked closer to see who the intruder was, and as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could make out some features I recognised.
"Jene?" I realised, and quickly let her go. I got up, and Jene followed my lead, wiping the dust off her white gown,
"I...I'm sorry, I didn't know it was you," I stammered, trying to apologize.
"Are you always this jumpy at night?" she asked. She had traces of a coy smile around her mouth, and I wasn't sure how to react to that. I had anticipated a mad woman whose honour had been violated, but then I remembered Jene was just a little peasant girl, not a stuck-up bitch at court. Somewhat relieved, I let my earlier guard down.
"I don't know what to say," I truthfully answered. "Why... are you here?"
"Company," she simply stated, as she walked towards me. My heart started beating a bit faster. Was she coming onto me again?
"Look, Jene," I continued, as I backed down. "I... don't know what you want from me, but..."
"Oh, Jin," she said as I had reached the edge of my bed. "Cut it out." She gave me a tiny push, causing me to fall on my back. The hard mattress caught me, and I tried to get up using my elbows, but Jene had already planted herself on top of me. Her knees were next to my chest, and she touched the top of my shirt, pulling it softly.
"Look, Jene," I said again, grabbing her by the wrists, "I really don't want to do this. I really don't," I repeated, trying to get through to her.
"Why not?" she answered with pouted lips.
"For the same reason as the previous time you tried to seduce me!"
Jene let out a little laugh. "I thought you were just playing hard to get! You do realize it's usually the guys that have to chase the girls, right?"
"I. Don't. Care. Get off of me."
"Fine," Jene sighed and she rolled off. "I don't understand you, Jin, you could die in a couple of days defending our village, do you really want to die a virgin?"
Her words came somewhat as a blow to me, allowing my earlier doubts to resurface. What she said had been the absolute truth, but I had never fully realised it up until now. I could, in fact, die while doing this. I wasn't a warrior of great renown and skill. Tang could wipe the floor with this band of mercenaries, but he was gone. He had gone back to the Imperial Palace for his father's funeral, and Dragon knows what else. Jin was probably halfway across the Jade Empire by now, and so was Linmei. No one was going to come to my rescue if I failed. Tang had saved me from certain death once already.
And the other thing... I had never felt the warmth of a woman's body either. At least, not in great detail. I had kissed Linmei, if only once, but that was it. And as wonderful and magical as it had been, that was as far as my experience with bodily desires went. Did I really want to die a virgin? Did I even want to risk it? None of those things seemed particularly attractive. But what was I to do? Should I, Prince of the Jade Empire and heir the the Imperial Throne, waste my divine seed on this lowly peasant girl? Should I, Prince Tiang, throw my life away in defence of this insignificant community? Something Tang had once said to me resounded through my mind as loud as a roar of the mighty Dragon. "Let the weak fend for themselves." But it was a low path to follow, I immediately realized. It wasn't the philosophy I was brought up with. It was the right thing to do.
But then there was the matter of Jene. Should I do it? Should I do... her? I looked at the girl. She was staring at the ceiling, as if she was expecting me to say something, but didn't really care what. So I asked her a question.
"Why do you want it? Have... intercourse with me, I mean."
She looked at me, raised her eyebrows and snorted, then immediately covered her mouth. "I'm sorry, but you have no idea how funny that sounded," she added, still grinning.
"Just... a question," I answered. I felt my cheeks were glowing out of embarrassment.
"Okay, I'll try to answer your question in a serious way," Jene nodded, obviously feeling guilty for ridiculing me. "Look, I am a simple girl. My life is simple. The people I hang out with are simple. The guys I meet, they're simple, the ones I have sex with are simple. What do you think I feel inside when someone comes along and tells us we can be more than what we are? You told us we can break free of our chains, Jin."
"Tiang," I suddenly corrected her.
"My real name. It's Tiang. Not Jin. Jin's the name of my best friend."
"Oh. Why did you say your name was Jin?"
"I don't know. I just... I didn't want you to... find out."
"Find out what?" Jene asked, looking really confused. "That you have the same name as the son of Sagacious Tien? We don't really care about that."
"No, it's..." I struggled with my words. I had almost told her that I was, in fact, the son of Sagacious Tien. But what difference would it make? Would she believe me? Would she throw herself at my feet in reverence of my status, would she scold me for being a stuck-up noble? Would she run away, afraid of me? "Look, just forget I said anything," I concluded. "It doesn't really matter."
"Fine," Jene shrugged, which relieved me immensely. I was glad she didn't make a thing out of it. "I understand people have their secrets. At least now you know why I... did what I did."
"Yeah..." An awkward silence fell between us as we both sat on the edge of my bed.
"So..." Jene eventually said, "how about it?"
"By the Dragons, Jene," I sighed, "I don't know. I... For some reason, it doesn't look like the most honourable thing to do."
"I know," she nodded. She got up and walked out of the room.
"Where are you going?" I asked as she opened the rickety bedroom door.
"I'm going to bed, obviously. Alone."
"Could you... do me a favour and don't tell anyone I lied about my name?"
"Sure thing," she smiled. "Don't worry about it. I don't really understand why you lied, but your little secret is safe with me."
"Jene, I want to thank you for being so kind to me since I got here. You people have all been magnificent. Well, except for your brother, perhaps. But I want you to know that I really like all of you. And that I will do my best to help you."
"That's good to hear," Jene grinned as she walked through the door. And just before she closed it, she added, "because you will be spending a lot more time with us after this is over."
I wanted to ask her what she meant by that, but I was too tired and already more than confused, so I let it drop. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.
I dreamt about raping Jene; then brutally stabbing her to death as I saw my face transform into Tang's and Jene's into that of Linmei's.
I spent the next couple of days training the peasants and scouting the surroundings. After about a week or so, I believed we were as ready as we were ever going to be, and Jejna confirmed he could send a messenger to draw Zong's mercenary band here. Jejna believed they would attack at full force, as they always did, to intimidate us as much as possible. I had hoped for that, because it wouldn't be much of a victory if Zong still had more than enough troops at his disposal in his base to come and oppress this village over and over again. The plan was to defeat the bulk of his troops here, and then I would go over to Zong's base to claim two of the six Holy Scrolls. I had told Jejna nothing of my true quest, nor of my true heritage, and I was glad to see that Jene had kept her word and revealed nothing. Her nightly visits had stopped, and her interest in me appeared to have faded. I was surprised to find myself somewhat missing the attention, sometimes even feeling flashes of jealousy when I saw Jene talking to other guys from the village. But then I thought about my duty, my quest and my love for Linmei, and I realised that it was better like this.
9 days after first arriving in the village, I finally took the decision. I walked up to Jejna, who was feeding the oxes. "We are ready," I said as he looked up in surprise. "It happens tomorrow."
They were coming. In the distance I heard their galloping horses coming closer and closer.
The villagers were hidden away in a small patch of trees about a mile South. Jejna had taken them there and had left me and those who were willing to do battle behind. They had prepared themselves well, but the reports of the scout that there had been as much as 80 armed bandits coming towards the village had sunk the courage of many. We were about 50 in total, and the only advantages we had were those of surprise and our knowledge of the terrain. At my order and after a full day of training, most of the houses had been booby-trapped. As soon as a bandit would enter a house, their heads would be smashed by a swinging flail. It was a neat little trick I had remembered from an early lesson by Weaponmaster Dahtan a long time ago. He had explained it to me as a joke, rather than something I would actually need one day. And up until a week ago, I never suspected I would have.
We had split ourselves into two groups: I led the first, and Jene's brother Zu led the second. The plan was to catch the bandits off guard, so they could be easily killed. We wanted to lure them inside the heart of the village and let most of the booby-traps spring. If we saw some mercs isolated from the main horde, we'd attack them and kill them, then run back to our hiding place. We had dug many of those, as well as erected fake walls next to buildings and placed crates and bushes we could escape into to remain hidden. It wasn't a great plan, and it probably wasn't going to go exactly the way I had planned, but I genuinely believed we had a fighting chance if we fought them like this.
When the bandits rode into the village, they suspected nothing. We were hidden in the Eastern part of the village, and Zu in the Western part. They came in from the North, riding their horses straight into the heart of the village , the village square. We heard excited cries, some laughed, some jeered. We heard one man issue a loud order. "Find them!" he yelled at the top of his voice, and my men and I anxiously waited to see what would come next. Tien's Justice had become slippery because of my sweaty hands. I wondered if the booby-traps would do their work.
The cries of agony and anger affirmed my suspicions. They had done exactly what they had been designed for. This boosted my confidence, and I could tell from the soft mumbles behind me that the rest of the men was inspired by this first show of success. I gestured at them to keep their voices down.
I peeped through the viewing hole our hiding place, a large hole dug in the ground covered by moss, grass, leaves and dirt, provided. I didn't see any of the mercenaries yet, and thought it best to wait until some had approached so we could take them by surprise. I was delighted to see only two mercs coming near our hiding place, both with a longsword in hand. They had obviously all split up, which benefited us greatly. As soon as they had come within striking range of our hideout, I sprang our trap. Without trying to make a lot of sound, I emerged from the improvised hiding place and appeared right behind them. I planted the bladed spade of Tien's Justice in the spine of the bandit to the left. It was an exhilarating feeling to see him go down like that. He only let out a minor cry, but was dead seconds after he hit the ground. The cut had been deep. I dispatched of the second one with relative ease, slashing the mercenary's neck with a swift swipe of my spade. I planted the crescent-shaped end of Tien's Justice into his back to make sure he was dead and wouldn't get up. I signalled my men to get out of the hole,and they did. It was as good a time as any to emerge, there were no mercenaries in sight, and we couldn't stay together in one place for too long. Our enemies had obviously split up in small groups to find us, and we had to take advantage of that. I ran towards the nearest house, using it as cover. The other followed my example, as I had instructed. We were on the edge of the village. Any bandit coming out on this end would fall into our trap. But obviously we couldn't wait for that. I ordered half of my group to stay behind and retain their posts for now, and some I ordered back into our hideout in the ground so I would have backup troops at my disposal in case of an emergency. I, along with five other, went deeper into the village to find isolated enemies we could finish off. After a minute or so we found another two of them, standing over the body of one of their fellows whose head had been bludgeoned by one of my booby-traps. We approached them from behind. I almost decapitated one of them by sticking my spade into his neck. One of the peasant-turned-warriors impaled the other one with a spear. Luckily, their armour was weak.
"So far, so good," I nodded at them.
Then I heard them. Loud screams coming from the other end of the village. I looked up in shock, not knowing what was going on. Then I heard the sound of a gong resounding through the streets.
"Zu!" I realised, and my heart skipped a beat. I had instructed Zu to use it in case of an emergency. I had placed one in each hidden hideout, and apparently Zu and his men had just been discovered.
"What do we do now, sir?" one of the peasants asked. I didn't really know what to do. So I took a rash decision. Something I knew was foolish, but I did it anyway. Stupid heroics.
"Stay here, go back to the others. Tell them to retreat and stay hidden at all costs!"
"And what about you?"
"I'm going to help them."
I don't know if it was a surge of power I felt rushing through my veins or a foolish display of severe overconfidence in my own abilities, but, acting on instinct, I did what I felt needed to be done.
I arrived at the village square, but even my wildest nightmares had not prepared me for the scene I witnessed there. The bodies of dozens of farmers were laid out before me, the mercenaries mercilessly slaughtering those that still drew breath. "How could this have happened?" I wondered. This couldn't have happened. Not if we had stuck to the plan. My attention was drawn to the large man who was standing in the centre of the square. I recognised him immediately, he was the guy who had beaten me the first day I had arrived here. He was holding someone by the neck. Someone who was down on his knees, weeping.
"Zu!" I shouted, drawing the attention of all the bandits, as well as Zu, who seemed to be the last man left alive of the group of peasants.
"Jin!" he shouted with a squeamish voice, "I'm sorry! We emerged too early and got caught. It's all my fault, I'm..."
He was cut off by the large bandit who inserted his blade into his neck. Zu collapsed to the ground, dead before he even hit it.
"No!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, and the large bandit laughed as he disrespectfully kicked Zu's lifeless body.
"Well, well, well," he grinned. "I recognise you. Didn't I badly beat you some days ago?" He approached me, but I didn't back down. Anger took over my being, and I gripped Tien's Justice tight with my perspiring palms. "There must be others on the other side as well," he said to his companions. "Find them and kill them!" he ordered.
"No!" I screamed again. "I can not allow that. I will not allow that!"
The bandits laughed. "My boy, can't you see it's over? This little village is done for. I don't know what you did with them that actually convinced them to take up arms against us, but it failed in the end. I must say, I'm impressed. You killed at least a dozen of my comrades with those cleverly set traps of yours, but did you honestly think that was going to be enough? Did you honestly think these disgusting peasants would stand a fighting chance against the troops of Zong the Wicked?" He grinned.
"You will pay for your crimes here, mercenary," I spat. "I will personally see to it."
The bandits laughed again, this time even harder than before. Their commander answered me again. "But my dear, dear boy, you simply don't get it do you? You're already dead. You just don't know it yet. And so is that pitiful Jejna, whose son I just killed. And I will kill his wife and his daughter too, after I rape them!" He spat on Zu's dead body.
I felw into a rage. In blind madness I raised Tien's Justice and stormed towards the large bandit. He had not expected this, but he evaded my incoming strike, albeit barely. I turned around, sweeping my spade at his legs, the most vulnerable area of a man of his size. But he jumped over my attack with surprising athleticism, and drew the giant broadsword from his back that I had already fought against once before. His attacks came in relatively slow, but I had to use every bit of focus I had to evade them. His blows were so devastating that I wondered if even Tien's Justice could block them. I rolled out of the way of his relentless assault, and decided that I wasn't going to win this fight up close. I flipped backwards, enlarging the distance between us, and I drew upon the power of the Open Palm. The Earth itself sprang up at my command, and lumps of rock floated between my palms, ready to be thrown at will. I shot forth countless of rocks, but the bandit kept diverting them with his large sword. I felt my chi draining fast, and I didn't know how much longer I would be able to keep using the Stone Immortal style. I tried something I had only done in training before. I switched to the Spirit Thief style. I launched a powerful blue beam at my adversary, but he rolled out of the way, drawing closer to me. I unsheathed my dual sabers just in time to blocked an incoming strike of his sword. I collapsed under the impact and both of my blades flew out of my hand. The bandit kicked me down as I tried to get up and put one foot on top of my chest, rendering me immobile. "This one's coming to see the boss," he said, as he stood over me victorious once again. "Kill the rest. Slaughter all you can find, be it man, woman or child."
"No!" I shouted. I tried to wrestle free from underneath his overpowering weight, but after a big blow of his heel that connected with my temple, all went black before my eyes.
I woke up in a dark, cold room. I was tied to a chair, the rope chafing my painful wrists and ankles. I tried to move my neck, but it simply hurt too much. I tried to open my mouth, and dried blood crackled as my lips budged. I had a throbbing headache, so I was painful the room I was in was dark. My eyes adjusted rather quickly, and I could now see I was in a bedroom of some sorts, probably that of Zong the Wicked. It reminded me of when I had been held prisoner in Saed Tisst's fortress. It made my failure look even worse. Because I had failed. And I had failed badly. I had good reason to believe everyone who 'fought', if I even had the right call it that, at my side had perished. I had no idea if Jejna, Jene and the other were still alive. I tried to look around, but the pain kept me from doing so properly.
"Ah, awake a last, I see," a voice from behind me said. As he crept into my vision, I could distinguish a small, burly man in ugly yellow robes. He took a chair and sat right in front of me. His menacing features were apparent. He had a shaved skull, and a long, thin, curled moustache. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Zong the Wicked, but I'm guessing you knew that already. And you, little fellow, are my prisoner."
"You... monster," I brought out. "What did you do to... the others?"
"Killed them, of course," he said as if it was nothing to be worried about. "Some are still on the run, but we'll get them. Soon. But that doesn't matter right now. What does matter is the reason why those people did what they did. And that's also the reason why you're here. Because you can tell me. Can't you?"
"What... makes you think so?"
"Oh, come on now, I've heard the reports. My top lieutenant says that the day you arrived you fought him. And now all of a sudden this? It must've been you. But why? That's what I want to know."
"You were exploiting those people. I could not allow it."
"And it did you much good, apparently," Zong snorted. "Look here you have ended up."
"This was not about me. It was about them."
"Yes, and look how they have ended up. All dead. Hmpfh. Some saviour you are. All dead. Because of you."
His words stung me deeper than any blade could. The painful realisation that I had led these people to their deaths over a matter of foolish pride began to surface. A tear emerged from my left eye and left a salty trail on my cheek. As apparent a sign of weakness as it was, I could not suppress it.
"Shedding tears for the weak," Zong chuckled. "How... righteous."
I looked up at him, not with fear, regret or sadness, but with anger. "You're damn right I'm righteous, and I'm proud of it!" I shouted with a voice as strong as I could muster. "If the world consisted only of people like you, there would be no legends to tell, no stories to be heard. No tales of legendary heroes. Just... Cruelty. Murder. Death. Emptiness."
"Tales of legendary heroes, hm? Like your father's?" Zong suggested with a smile, stroking his moustache with a long, dirty fingernail.
"How... How do you know...?" I began, in disbelief.
"How do I know you're Prince Tiang, son of Sagacious Tien?" he asked me instead, rising up from his chair and walking over to what I believed to be a desk. "Simple," he continued, picking something up and walking back over to me. "This."
He held out my Monk's Spade Tien's Justice in front of him, his dirty hands degenerating its purity with their touch.
"Tien's Justice. The Spade that Sagacious Tien himself held when he summoned the Dragons. The weapon used to unite the land. The heirloom of the most famous man in these regions of the world. The legendary weapon of the first Emperor of the Jade Empire."
"Don't touch it with your filthy hands!" I groaned in disgust.
"Now, now, is that a way to talk to the man who decides whether you live or die?"
"Is this a way to talk to your Prince?" I asked, emphasizing the last word.
"Touché, my dear Prince. And if you were accompanied by a couple dozen of your Imperial Guardsmen, I would certainly acquiesce to your request and speak to you in a... yes, a slightly grovelling manner, even. I would even release you. But as that is not the case, I see no reason whatsoever to bow down to you. Because let's face it," he casually added while inspecting his fingernails, "the risk of detection is... rather low, don't you think?"
"You won't get away with this," I warned him. "Others know where I went. They will not let this slide. If you kill me, they WILL come for you." It was not at all a risky bluff. After all, both Jin and Linmei knew where Tiang had gone. They both could come and look for him. They could even involve Tang again, who would beat the living crap out of every single bandit without even breaking a sweat.
"Possibly," Zong admitted. "But then again, I do not plan to kill you. You make a very fine hostage. Great for dinner parties and... awfully high ransoms."
"You're doing this for silver?" I said, almost having to snort out of disbelief. This much cruelty for a bunch of coins, it sounded too unbelievable to be taken seriously.
"No... Not silver," Zong corrected me. "Power. The Emperor is dying of divine wrath, I know so. I have heard it from Saed Tisst, who has great sources within the palace. As soon as I heard it, I set out with 2 fellows and we captured the Six Holy Scrolls in the Smoking Mountains. That way, it would be impossible for anyone to ask the Great Dragon to aid him. Which is exactly what you set out to do, isn't it?"
"Yes," I admitted. "I do not deny it. I have no wish to deny it. And why should I? Your plan is crumbling, old man. Your game is as good as over already. Saed Tisst is dead. Zao The Abated and Lang the Barbaric will follow soon, if they even still draw breath."
"Bah; you're bluffing," he said, dismissing my claims with a wave of his hand.
"I am not. And before this day is over, you too will get what you deserve."
Zong the Wicked laughed. "And how will that happen, I wonder? Magic? Divine intervention?"
"Exactly," I mumbled, gathering all my remaining strength. I focused all of my chi to my brain, stretching out my mind Heavenward. "Great Dragon, grant me strength. Lend me your power, so that I might end this man's evil. Allow me control of your qualities, so that I might revere you. Allow me, and the Empire will exist FOR you."
I had absolutely no idea if it was going to work. It was a desperate attempt if anything. Yet only seconds later I felt a surge of power rushing through my body. My wounds healed instantly, and I felt my strength increase hundredfold. My vision became clear, my mind became bright. My focus was immense. My body became powerful. Almost effortlessly I snapped the chains with which Zong had bound me, and before he could even blink I had grabbed him by the collar of his robe and lifted him into the air with one hand.
"The Scrolls," I said forcefully. "Now!"
Afraid of my newfound and unexpected power," Zong handed me the Holy Scrolls he had held in his hands. With a flick of my wrist I threw him against the wall, hearing a painful snap as his head hit the ground. I took Tien's Justice from his desk. My dual sabers were nowhere to be seen, but I cared little for them at this moment. They were replaceable. I walked over to the only window in the dark room. It was too small for me to fit through. I placed my palm of the wall and with a small rush of kinetic chi it simply blew away. Still somewhat amazed by my new, temporary power I leapt out of the large hole and landed on the ground 20 feet below with ease. "This is how it feels to be powerful," I said to myself. I had the Holy Scrolls. But there was also unfinished business I had to attend to.
They had been found. The bandits were approaching her, as she tried to shield her parents and the few remaining survivors from the bandits.
"Leave us alone!" Jene shouted with tears rolling down her cheeks. "Just... Go away!"
"Sorry, kitty," the bandit menacingly replied. "But I look forward to ramming my cock into your..."
He was cut off. Jene blinked. The three bandits in front of her stood before her motionless, speechless. They looked at each other. All three of them had huge, gaping holes in their bellies. Blood poured from them, and as they fell over, the figure of the man responsible was revealed.
"Jin!" Jene shouted as she recognised him. "How did you... I didn't even see you..."
She ran up to me and hugged me. She was in shock, I could tell, and so were the people behind her. "Is this all that's left?" I asked Jene, looking at the two dozen people behind her.
"Yes," she shook her head. "Oh, it was terrible, Jin. What happened? Where's Zu?"
"Zu is dead," I sighed. "He revealed himself too early to the bandits and they got slaughtered. I managed to get away just in time. I'm sorry."
"It is as I feared then," Jejna said, emerging from behind Jene's back. "We gambled and we lost. Everything. Our village. Our crops. Our animals. Our villagers. My son..." he added with a trembling voice. "And for what? For a fool's hope."
"No," I said, walking over to the old man, "listen to me Jejna, that's not true! We fought for what we believed in, and the Dragons have granted us victory in the end!"
"What do you mean? There is no victory in this. Not while that madman still lives"
"Zong the Wicked lies dead in his castle," I corrected him with a sense of pride. "His troops have been slaughtered. Every single last one of them."
"I did it, Jejna. I appealed to the Great Dragon for help, and she granted me strength. We have suffered many losses here today, but your community can and will rebuild with what little you have left. I want you to have Zong's castle, Jejna, and do with it as you please. Sell it, use it, whatever. I will make sure you will get whatever you need when I return home."
"When you return home?" Jene asked, somewhat disappointed. "Will you be leaving us, then?"
I sighed. "I have to admit something. I am not a common warrior. I am no traveller. I am Prince Tiang, son of Sagacious Tien, heir to the throne of the Jade Empire. I will make sure you can rebuild, Jejna, I give you my word."
"I...I...I..." Jejna stammered, "I can not believe it."
"Believe me you must, my friend, for it is true. I will never be able to compensate you for what you gave up today, and I am truly sorry I could not stop all of this sooner. I am sorry I could not find the strength to stop all those people from dying, I am sorry I could not rescue Zu. But promise me one thing, Jejna."
"Yes, My Prince?" he asked with a shaky voice.
"Promise me that you will honour his ultimate sacrifice."
The old man nodded his head, tears flowing from his wrinkled eyes.
"There is one thing you never told me, Jene," I told her as we made our way back to Zong's former outpost to claim it.
"What's that?" she asked curiously. She had taken everything pretty well, considering. I guessed it was safe to ask this question.
"You never told me how you convinced your father to take up arms against these criminals."
"Oh," she said and added a faint smile to her words. "It's... Stupid really. It's... No, it's best if I don't tell you."
"Come on, Jene, tell me. Don't treat me differently because I turn out to be your Prince."
"Well," she hesitantly began, "I... told my father you had promised to marry me once this was all over."
"Eh?" I said, realising it sounded a lot ruder than I had intended. "That's... Strange."
"Yes, I know. But it did the job. He was anxious to see me in a steady relationship, and you looked like an admirable and honourable man. So he was overjoyed at the prospect of me being bonded to you. But I guess that's... not going to happen, is it?" she asked rhetorically.
"I'm afraid not. You must understand..."
"it's okay," she interrupted. "I understand. You're a Prince. I'm a peasant."
"Eh... It sounds so negative when you put it like that. I don't think of you like..."
"Your Highness, you don't need to explain yourself to me, you really don't."
"Please don't call me like that. Not you. Just call me Tiang."
"What do you mean?"
"If you're going to be Emperor one day, you must have a title, no? What's it going to be?"
I wondered. And wondered. And then I knew it.