I know I said I wouldn't start another story for awhile, but I don't think this will interfere with Entropy because it's a completely different fandom. I don't know how popular Mulan is as far as readers go, but I'd love to get some feedback!
Anyways, chapters for this story will be longer than the chapters I typically write. I expect over 3000 words per chapter, which is about 1000 more than I usually write. Enjoy!
This chapter is mostly setting the scene for everything, by the way.
Warnings: Mentions of torture in this chapter. Not something that happens in Disney movies (except it's alluded to in The Hunchback of Notre Dame) but this is rated M and not, in fact, an actual Disney movie, so things will be a little more realistic in this story.
In Mushu's opinion, things had been going rather well up until the whole 'finding-out-he's-a-girl' part. Mulan had shown extreme bravery—and a fair share of stupidity as well, if he did say so himself—in setting off the cannon that had caused an avalanche, thus burying the Hun army in thousands of tons of snow. Had Shan Yu not injured her in his furious last act and had she not strained herself so much saving Shang, things might have turned out okay. She'd be known as a war hero, the Fa family would receive great honor, and Mushu…well, he'd have his job back. Probably the most important part of the whole outcome, really.
But Shan Yu had injured her and she had strained herself saving Shang, leading to possibly the worst outcome—the discovery of her true identity. Although, he thought, it could have been worse, given that because she'd saved Shang's life, hers was spared.
Cri-kee was shivering and the small fire, made possible by broken arrows used as kindling, was pathetic at best. His charge was wrapped tightly in the blue saddle pad from Khan, although luckily it was more of a blanket than anything else.
"I'll have to face my father sooner or later," the young women sighed, her short, choppy hair falling around her face. "Let's go home."
It was now time to return to the Fa family home, all of them in dishonor for something or another—except for Cri-kee, he just had to live with the fact that he wasn't a lucky cricket and clearly had never been one, either.
"Yeah, this ain't gonna be pretty. But don't you worry, 'kay? Things will work out. We started this together and that's how we'll finish it." The small red dragon hugged his charge—and now friend—and then nodding resolutely, she mounted Khan and tapped him lightly on the flank, urging the large black stallion to take them home.
Hayabusa the faithful falcon soared overhead, screeching as his sharp predator's eyes scanned the snow covering the Hun army. He knew his master was not dead; a man so great would not be trumped by a little snowfall.
His thoughts were confirmed as a large, black-gloved hand shot up out of the hardening sheet of snow and ice, followed by a strong arm shoving the snow aside and bursting forth from the would-be coffin.
The man known as Shan Yu, leader of the Huns, stood at 6'3 and was all muscle, despite the broadness of his shoulders and thickness of his body that would have led any other to believe him overweight. He had been known to wrestle bears and wolves and come out alive; his clothes were made from the pelts of such animals. His hood had been lost in the avalanche, leaving his half-bare head to glean in the weak moonlight, obscured by clouds. His long black hair was rustled by a gust of wind, whipping it around his face as he looked for survivors. Yellow eyes, like a wolf's, searched for his men…they would not all be felled by the snow.
His height led those to believe that he was a half-blood, Hun mixed with some other descent that would allow him his towering stature. It was well known that very few others were his size. Thusly, he could easily snap an adult Han man's neck with one hand and easily fight off another with his sword, his agility despite his muscled weight astounding to any adversary who lived to recount seeing him fight.
No, such a great man would not fall to even something like an avalanche; he was meant to go on to do great things, to plunder and conquer, to finally rule the Middle Kingdom.
Hantu and Baatu appeared soon after he resurfaced from the snow, the twins' bare torsos seeming impervious to the cold. Shuurkei, his famed archer, slid down from a ledge that had protected him from the avalanche and Orochi seemed to have found a small haven on the side of the towering mountain, which upon seeing his leader, he had swiftly exited with his sword still dangling from his hand as he shook the remaining snowflakes from his long black hair. Lastly, Malgai, who was only partially covered in snow, tore himself from its icy grip and appeared alongside the others.
"This war is not over," their hulking leader said, his voice rough and deep from the cold. "Let the fools believe they have won. Maito is on his way with the rest of our men…and then China will be mine."
"Shall we make camp?" Shuurkei asked in his high-pitched, wheedling voice, his hand never leaving the bow on his back—he knew his leader would not wait idly.
"No," Shan Yu replied. "We will infiltrate the Imperial City and take the emperor hostage. When Maito arrives, the city will fall, as will all of China."
He grinned toothily, showing his sharp canines as he looked at the Forbidden City, already alight with so-called victory, their unworthy soldiers now thinking they were war heroes. Only one of them could be considered truly heroic, however…
"Besides, there is a certain…cannon-wielding soldier I am most interested in meeting."
~One Week Later, Forbidden City, the Imperial palace~
The Forbidden City was in flames.
The emperor of China was now dead—beheaded publicly for all the people of China to see—and the Imperial army was in tatters, disbanded and useless. The rest of the Hun army had arrived two days prior and Shan Yu was now the emperor of China—although he referred to himself as a khan, a more fitting title for a Hun ruler. He had successfully merged the two territories he controlled and Hun women and children were already making their ways to the more temperate, forgiving lands of the Middle Kingdom.
However, the new khan of China was not satisfied yet.
He had imprisoned the once-heroes of the Imperial army—the no-longer-captain Li Shang, a stout but impressively strong man named Yao, the large man named Chien-Po whose strength rivaled Shan Yu's, and the lanky but intelligent Ling. The rest had been put to death, but he refused to kill these four men until they gave up the identity of the soldier responsible for his Shan Yu's near defeat in the mountains.
Shuurkei was an expert in interrogation and torture, at least by Hun standards, but still had not been able to get the information his khan so dearly wanted.
The first and only thing that Li Shang would give up was that the soldier was dead, but Shan Yu knew better. If there was any man strong enough to lead a rebellion against the new regime, it was this nameless soldier. There was no way the previous captain would give up the identity of their only hope, much less allow the new emperor of China to know of his whereabouts or living status. He would want to divert the attention to other matters.
However, there was one singular doubt that plagued the khan's mind: why would this soldier, by all means the most heroic of them all and the one with the most to gain from the success of the avalanche, not be present to receive the honor of his act? It was the only thing that gave Shang's word any credibility, but still, Shan Yu refused to accept that his greatest adversary had been defeated by the avalanche that he himself had caused.
Nonetheless, as the khan stalked down the hallway leading to the dungeons to intimidate the captured soldiers and perhaps finally gain the information he sought, Shan Yu felt the slightest twinge of annoyance at his situation. The soldier from the mountains was not dead—the brave and foolish warrior would not die by any other's hand except his own.
Shuurkei met him at the base of the stairwell to the dungeons, having already received word from Baatu that his khan would be coming.
The thin man bowed, his ever-present bow still slung over his back. "My khan, the prisoners have still refused to speak."
Shan Yu shrugged minutely. "Their loyalty does not surprise me. However, I believe that their loyalty may be their downfall yet." His toothy smirk made Shuurkei grin and they proceeded to the underground cells.
The dungeons were a sorry place to be kept prisoner. They were made completely of stone and iron-cast bars set no more than eight inches apart made up the doors. The prisoners had a hole in the ground for their bodily needs and a straw pallet to sleep on. Occasionally a bucket would be brought for them to bathe with, simply for the fact that they could not get sick and die before he found his soldier in the mountain. The hallway was dimply lit with torches, casting eerie shadows that no doubt made simple things more frightening than they truly were.
"Fetch the small one and his friend," Shan Yu ordered the two Hun guards. Shuurkei stood a few steps behind him, pointing to the door where interrogations took place.
"You will find that I have already used it to capacity," the archer told him as they entered the small room. There was a solid wooden chair in the center with metal manacles attached to the legs and armrests.
It was true; blood stained the stone floor, as well as other bodily fluids that often released themselves when one was afraid enough.
"Have it cleaned after this," the khan said, and as he observed the amount of crusty brown-red matter, "I trust you didn't go too far? It is important that they retain their mental faculties."
Shuurkei nodded and shrugged. "Blood tends to appear in greater quantity than what is truly spilled."
Shan Yu said nothing. His archer was correct—he knew that better than anyone.
The short man, Yao, was the first to be thrust into the room. He was beaten black and blue and marred with cuts and lacerations, but overall did not seem too damaged as far as torture victims went. Shan Yu motioned for the guard who had brought him to restrain him. Under normal circumstances the gorilla-like man might have been able to overpower the Hun, but Shan Yu knew as well as Yao that it would be pointless to try and escape.
Soon followed the man called Ling and he appeared to be in worse shape than Yao, although not by much. There was still a fire in the young man's eyes, which was proof enough that Shuurkei had not damaged him too badly.
Although perhaps it was evidence that he had not been broken enough.
Ling was the one thrust into the chair and clasped down.
"You know we'll never talk," the thin man spat.
"Perhaps not," Shan Yu conceded, but the glint in his yellow eyes spoke of a different assumption. "Your loyalty your missing comrade thus far has proved…valiant. And yet…I am curious as to how far your loyalty extends to the other, more present soldiers."
Shan Yu motioned to the guard restraining Yao and the short man was forced to his knees. The khan drew his jagged blade and walked casually over to him.
"If your loyalty extends to my quarry, who abandoned you in your time of need, perhaps it extends to the life of your friend?"
"…He did not abandon us," Yao growled, despite the sword that was poised over the back of his neck.
"Then why isn't he here?" Shan Yu replied, running his blade slowly over Yao's spine. Then he turned to Ling. "Surely the life of one is worthy of a life of another?" He raised the sword, maintaining eye contact with the thin man.
In a downward arc, he swung the sword down, making to decapitate Yao.
"Wait!" Ling cried, clearly not willing to forfeit the stout man's life.
With all the finesse and poise of a master swordsman, Shan Yu halted his blade an inch from Yao's neck. Eyes focused on Ling, he stayed straight-faced to urge the man forward.
"His name was Ping," the man panted. "He was dishonorably discharged."
This was what Shan Yu had been waiting for. "And why was he dishonorably discharged?"
There was a hesitant pause before the man continued. "He lied about his family and was sent home."
The khan frowned, but assumed it to be another nuance of the fickle Imperial army. "Where is he now?"
"Nobody knows," Yao replied, glancing at Ling before bowing his head again. "He lied about his family. No one knows where he's from."
It was better than nothing, Shan Yu decided. They would live to see another day…but when this 'Ping' was finally found, all of the captured soldiers would die.
Without a word, Shan Yu motioned for the prisoners to be returned to their cells. He left the dungeons, at last satisfied with what he'd heard.
He would find the man responsible for the loss of so many men and he would kill him with his bare hands.
~Two Months Later, Fa Mulan's province~
News spread quickly to Mulan's province; Shan Yu had defeated the Imperial army and was now emperor of China.
Things might have returned to normal if it had not become clear that Fa Zhou was alive when many of the other villager's husbands were not, telling of his lack of participation in the army, as well as Mulan's sudden return. Through the gossip chain, lies and half-truths were spread and now no man would accept such a dishonored woman into a marriage and certainly would not want to have anything to do with the Fa family.
They had fallen on hard times. Many of the villagers would not sell to them and the little food they had would come from out-of-town. It was expensive to import the necessities of life and in the already-hard times, much of China's people struggled to make their livelihoods and survive. Even so, they would not sell to the still-wealthy Fa family, perhaps out of spite or jealousy that their husbands or sons had not been spared while the Fa family was dishonored but still whole.
It was tense at home. Fa Li, Mulan's mother, who was normally soft and patient, had become impatient and short-tempered. Fa Zhou spent much of his time in a depression and grandmother had gotten sick. Luckily, the singular doctor of the town took pity on the Fa family and tended to the elderly woman, although things were not looking good for her health.
Mulan was perhaps the only one who hadn't given up. She was, despite the dishonor and disappointment of her family, freed from the possibility of an arranged marriage. She trained every day, ignoring the mean looks and spiteful words of the women of the town. Truly, there was nothing else to do, but the young girl held out hope that their luck would change.
And then, two months after her return home, word got out that a multitude of Huns had been sent out to gather women for Shan Yu's harem. It was time for him to have an heir, for although he was by no means towards the end of his life, he was much past the time when he was traditionally supposed to find a wife and have an heir. Now that he was khan and emperor, however, it was important that he do so.
No longer a man, no longer 'Ping,' Mulan knew that there was only one way to defeat Shan Yu then and it was as a woman.
Become a part of his harem and find a way to kill him.
However, as time went on and they waited for the thundering hooves of horses approaching the town to choose girls for the emperor's harem—and to Mulan's surprise, many of the girls were eager to take this chance to become royalty—Mulan decided that becoming a part of his harem might not be all that good of an idea after all. She'd thought and thought about it and she decided that even if they could get past her nearly-flat chest—she wouldn't have deceived the Imperial army if she'd had a voluptuous figure—and the fact that she was apparently 'too skinny' and 'not good for bearing sons', she would have to pretend to be eager to sleep with the man who was the downfall of her country.
Mulan had impersonated a soldier and done rather well at it. She had also tried to be someone she was not for the better part of her life. All things taken into consideration, she would have been considered a rather good actress and probably the best person to infiltrate Shan Yu's harem to kill him.
And yet…it was the one thing she could not bring herself to do.
Even if she smiled, the hate would be clear in her eyes. Even if she played coy, there'd be a wave of killing intent every time she was near him. Even if she…slept with him, she would not be able to pretend that she wouldn't rather castrate him and end his line before an heir could be realized.
No, that was not going to be the way she would save China.
So the small town waited for the Huns' arrival with bated breath and Fa Mulan plotted for a way to end Shan Yu.
Now that Shan Yu knew the name of the man who'd conscripted, he'd been able to search the records for a 'Ping', who unfortunately did not have a valid family name according to the soldiers he'd captured.
He could not find the man 'Ping' in the list of recruits before his departure, so he determined that he would search for the man himself on the trip to gather his women.
The last two months had been busy with repairing the Forbidden City and reshaping the economy to accommodate the influx of his people and then with finding women to become his wives. He would not have the palace concubines as they were still too loyal to the old regime to be of use. On top of that, he did not want just any woman to be in his harem, not just any woman to be his khatun. Unlike in the Chinese tradition, although the Huns could have many wives, there was a chief wife to whom he considered primary and the most important relationship.
So, leaving his elite warriors Shuurkei, Baatu, Hantu, Orochi, and Malgai, as well as his brother Maito in charge of the Forbidden City, he set off to ride with his men to handpick women for his harem and to potentially be his khatun. He would have no woman from the Forbidden City—like the palace concubines, they were too loyal to the previous regime.
Besides, he wanted virgins for his harem; no used-up woman would be of use to him.
The trip to find his future wives would take him all around China, but he only had a few specific places he was interested in—namely the small towns in small provinces that had little nobility and would be rife with women who wanted a chance at royalty. It would be these who were the most trustworthy, for these poor girls would, like any other woman, be greedy for the chance to live a life of extravagance.
It was these villages he visited in the allotted two months he would travel, but it wasn't until the last one that he found the woman to be his khatun.
Khan - the Hun term for basically ruler. Shan Yu will be referred to as both 'the emperor' and 'the khan', depending on whose perspective it's coming from. The Chinese will think of it as emperor while the Huns will think of him as khan. Hope that's not too confusing.
Khatun - the Hun term for the khan's chief wife. Hun men can have multiple wives, but there is a chief wife who's kinda the top dog, so to speak. In this story, the girl regarded as 'khatun' will also be regarded as the empress. (Three guesses as to who that's going to be...)