Disclaimer: I own my own people: Shui Jing, Ming Hua, Tiao Zao, Fung, Jun Dui, Tian Shi and Chien-Po's parents.
CHAPTER NINETEEN – All the Protectors
Dedicated to: Everyone who's wanted this chapter for months!
A/N: Whoa, not updated for four months, give or take. I had almost completed forgotten about this story until I found all my notes about it in my room. I hope you will read this chapter and review it, especially my very loyal reviewers who have reviewed since Chapter One. Thank you!
P.S. Also, have scrapped the idea of two parts, when I've just realised I could squish it into one part.
The ten people in the waiting room shot to the door, flung it open and burst into the scene of an angry woman, soaked man and a man sniggering behind his hand.
"Tao!" Ming Hua cried. He pushed past Chien-Po, with difficulty, and flung his arms around Tao, who patted his back and grinned. "I've missed you so much." Ming Hua said, pulling out of the hug. "What happened to you? Why are you here? What have I missed?"
"A lot," Tao smiled. "I've missed you too, little brother,"
"What's going on?" Shui Jing demanded. She looked over at the drenched Tao, who was wiping his face and standing next to a beaming Ming Hua and opposite a raging Mulan. "Who the hell are you?"
"I am Tao," Tao replied solemnly, bowing before them.
Shui Jing raised an eyebrow. "Who?"
"What are you doing here?" Ling snarled. "Don't you think you've done enough damage?"
The Emperor looked at his eldest son sadly. He felt sorry for him, he knew why he came back, he knew the compassion that lay buried in his heart.
"Tao," The Emperor moved forward, gliding along the ground.
"Father," Tao bowed low to his father.
"Father!" Shui Jing said, confused. She looked to Ling for answers but got none. Ling did not pay the slightest attention to her, and neither did anyone else.
"Do not be hard on my son," The Emperor said, laying a hand on Tao's head. Tao took it as a sign to get up and pulled slowly out of the bow.
"Don't be hard on him?" Mulan yelled indignantly. "'Don't be hard on him!'"
The Emperor nodded.
"Are you friggin' kidding?" Yao roared. "Look at what he's done here! He's the father of Fa Li's child! He's the one who was a Hun and killed so many people! The death of Mulan's father is due to him!"
Tao did not say anything but looked at Mulan, who was red and breathing heavily. Shang laid a hand on her shoulder. Fung got the sense Mulan wanted to shrug it off but refrained from doing so. He had to smile and Mulan couldn't help smiling slightly back.
"Are you all right?"
Mulan felt a tugging at her skirt. She looked at Tiao Zao, who looked perplexed.
"I've been better," She replied.
"Is this your child?" Tao said, gesturing towards Tiao Zao to Ming Hua. Ming Hua nodded proudly.
"This is Tiao Zao." He turned to his son. "Tiao Zao, this is your Uncle Tao,"
"You're my uncle?" Tiao Zao demanded of Tao, who nodded. "The man who raped Mulan's mother, was kidnapped by Huns, threatened Grandpa with a sword and locked all my friends in a dungeon?"
Tao did not reply but the colour drained out of his face. Mulan, despite her anger at him, began to feel increasingly worried.
Ming Hua stared at his son and exploded. "Tiao Zao! Do not talk to your superiors like that! Especially your blood relatives!" He turned to the Gang and ranted at them too. "How dare you expose my son to all these issues that he should know nothing of-!" He broke off, distracted.
Shui Jing had strode up to Tao and slapped him round the face. "You were a Hun?" She glared at him. "You destroyed my village! You killed a hundred innocent people! You burnt women and children to the bone! Don't try and get out of it, I saw their burning bones, the corpses of men who had tried to fight back. Do you have any feeling inside your black heart?"
Tao shook his head. Then he looked up. "I did not destroy your village. I have never destroyed a village, never. I have only ever killed with a sword,"
The Emperor, Ming Hua and Mulan looked worriedly on.
The scene was broken by a maid and a lady running down the corridor then paused when they saw the thirteen people forming a block in the corridor. The lady was pregnant.
They parted, smiling painfully as the maid and lady hurried through to the doctor's room. As soon as the door snapped shut, the attention instantly went back to Tao.
Tao looked over at the group and then paused at Chien-Po. He smiled. "I see you're better, my friend. I'm glad to see that,"
"What? How did you know that I-," Chien-Po stared at Tao. "Did you leave those flowers?"
"I did. They're flowers that are mainly used by Huns. They heal almost everything," Tao said knowledgeably.
Chien-Po looked at him as though he was a god. "I don't know how to thank you, I really don't. You saved my life; I am indebted to you,"
"That is okay, my friend," Tao mustered a smile for Chien-Po, who replied it with a hearty grin.
There was a scream from inside the doctor's room.
The door fell off its hinges as thirteen people charged in, trampled over the remains of the door. Tiao Zao reached the door to where the operation room was and flung it open.
Inside, there were two beds, one with Fa Li lying on it and the other was occupied by the lady who had entered the room later. She lay flat on her bed, the baby held by a maid who was wiping blood of its head. They all looked at as thirteen people stuck their heads around the door frame.
"Excuse me!" The doctor cried. "What are you doing here? I'll have you know, this is a-," He broke off suddenly, due to a cry from the maid with the baby.
"Doctor! Doctor, the baby!" She cried. The doctor bent over him as the mother sat up, clutching her heart as Fa Li looked over in fear too.
The doctor stared in horror and then his face sagged. He ran his fingers over the baby's neck, willing for a pulse. He waited, with baited breath, but when he felt nothing his head collapsed and he could barely look up.
He turned to the lady, who was staring at him. "I'm sorry," He bent his head.
"No!" The lady shrieked before bursting into hysterical crying. Her maid gripped her hand as she sobbed into her other palm.
Mulan's blood turned into ice. She could feel tears falling down her own face and Tiao Zao was trembling in front of her. She felt cold and scared, she had never felt more terrible before. She was intruding in someone's private moment but she could not will her legs to back out the door.
Fa Li began to weep also, her maid bent over her and hugged her. Fa Li clung to her as she were her own daughter. Mulan watched on in sorrowful silence, ignoring Shang's hand trying to curl around her stone fingers. She pushed past him, Fung, Tao and Yao to get to the door before striding through the waiting room and through the doorway with the eyes of Shang, Tao and Fung beating down on her back.
Shang watched her leave, distraughtly. He turned to Fung, wringing his hands together and unwilling to break the silence of sobs.
"Should I go after her?" He asked Fung.
Fung looked at him scornfully. "You shouldn't ask me that," Shang stared at him. "You should already be there," Fung turned away from him to watch Shui Jing snivelling into Ling's shoulder and Tiao Zao weep into Ming Hua's arms. "Like Tao is,"
Shang's head moved quicker than it had ever moved and within a split second he noticed that Tao had gone and he was hurried out the door as fast as lightning before colliding with someone.
"Where are you going?" Grandma Fa asked.
"After Mulan," Shang said, trying to slip past the old woman. She moved in front of him.
"Oh no you don't,"
"What? What do you mean?" Shang snapped frantically. He moved to the left but the old woman got there first.
"I meant what I said, son. Now listen to me," She said sternly.
Shang looked at her hard worn face, creased with wrinkles and worry lines. Yet, buried beneath, the faint remnants of beauty remained and her eyes reminded him too much of Mulan and her burning personality.
"All ears," He replied sarcastically. He heard the phrase in his own head and winced. "I'm sorry ma'am. I did not mean for it to come out like that," He pulled himself up to his full height and the hardened look of the General fell over his features.
"I don't want Mulan to be hurt. So just leave her alone with that Tao person. I don't know who he is or what he's done previously-,"
"He raped your daughter-in-law!" Shang insisted.
Grandma Fa continued on as if she had not heard him. "I don't know what he's done previously but I do not care,"
"You don't care?" Shang cut in hysterically.
"No I don't because I am grateful to him. Let me remind you, General, that when Mulan was at that Hun camp she could have been subjected to different forms of painful torture but, because he was the leader, he stopped that from happening. For that I am grateful, his love protected my granddaughter," Grandma Fa stated simply.
Shang shifted uncomfortably on the spot. "I know. I know he did all that but she doesn't love him in return. Wouldn't it be better for someone who she loved to be there with her, when she was in pain?"
"How do you know she doesn't love him?"
"Because she loves me!" Shang said desperately. The General look gone, it had been taken over by a hysterical red face and round, pleading eyes. "I know she does,"
"It is possible to feel love for more than one person," She replied, looking at his face. "And there are many different kinds of love," She added.
Shang looked at her and sniffed. "What should I do? It seems like…I can do nothing right! I tried so hard to tell her how much I love her and whenever I tried, I couldn't! Then, everyone laughed at me! Now, I've finally managed to tell her and to have her tell me the same…you could not overestimate how happy I was. But look now! Now I'm with her, I can't go after her? I have to wait while someone else goes forth to her?"
Grandma Fa blinked slowly and Shang could feel his eyes brimming.
"I don't understand it. It's so hard to be with her, it strains me every day and everything I do I have to thing about. People say love is spontaneous but it isn't…not for me. I have to work at the relationship and I fear she isn't. It's not me…I can't do this. I don't know how,"
"You know why it's so hard," Grandma Fa said.
"I do. It's just…I'm afraid of saying it to myself," Shang broke down and tears rolled down his face. He dabbed at them with his sleeve. "This isn't me, I don't know why I'm like this," He sniffed.
"The relationship is one-sided, Shang. The love and work is only coming from one side," Grandma Fa sighed. "It won't work,"
"She says she loves me. She says she does and I was so happy…I believed her. I don't know why she did it if she doesn't believe it. It was as if she was…obliged,"
"Obliged," Grandma Fa smiled sadly. "She owed it to you. You had done so much to help her and it was just…expected of her to love you back. So she did. She's a kind child, Mulan; she will give and do what is expected of her, you can have no doubt about that. But now…after the triumph of killing Shan-Yu she had finally experienced carrying out her own free will and doing what she wanted. It was not expected of her to join the army but she did it because she thought it was expected of her, as she was the child of a non able-bodied man in the time of war,"
"I don't want to lose her just when I've finally got her. But, if I carry on like this…I can't. I'd break down," Shang said. "I don't know when it starts,"
"It's started," Grandma Fa smiled and patted Shang's hand. "To be honest, I never thought there was this much to you Shang. I had taken the General cover for granted and assumed that was you all over,"
"Fung used to call me 'The Iceberg'," Shang smiled and then frowned. "As well as 'Biscuit Boy'," He chuckled to himself.
"I wouldn't have believed you were Mulan, if I didn't know your face," Tao folded his arms. "Why have you changed?"
"Lately…I've been much whineier. I keep crying, I keep worrying. I guess I had reasons with the whole Chien-Po thing and then my mother's pregnancy…but…" She stared distressingly into Tao's face. Her dark eyes glinted. "I don't want to be like this! I hate having to complain all the time! I want to be like me, the fun me who laughed at everything! I'd pull pranks on everyone with Fung and Tiao Zao, but look at me now! Have I changed that much?"
They were only a corridor away from Shang and Grandma Fa but neither of their conversations had been heard by the other. Mulan had her arms folded and looked thoroughly put out while Tao was trying to look thoughtful but failing. He looked annoyed.
"I think you have. Some for the better, some for the worse," Tao's eyes were dark and reassuring.
Mulan sat down on the floor, leaning against the soft material of the curtain. She ran the material through her fingers, marvelling at its softness and rich texture.
"Cheer up," A voice came from above her. Tao was standing over her, smiling. "I think the whole reason you're like this is because you've gone through so much it's just bottled up and then over. Like an overfilled bath,"
Mulan burst out laughing. The sweet sound was music to Tao's ears and he could feel his mouth opening into a grin.
"Of course you're still that person, the same person you've always been. If you really want to do something about it, just smile. Laugh, joke…be the person you are. You're not this sad, solitary person who has been apparent lately. That was an act and you know that. You're not like that. You couldn't be,"
Mulan stood up slowly. She smiled at him and as she did, she felt a whole weight lift off her shoulders. The smile was so much more natural; it came and was not forced. Her eyes shone as Tao enveloped her in a hug.
"How come Tao makes things so much better than Shang does? It just takes a smile from Tao and I feel so much better," Mulan thought as Tao's strong arms held her close.
"Do you still have my pendant?" Tao's voice murmured from her shoulder.
Mulan nodded in reply, the familiar jade lying against her breastbone.
"Mulan?" Tao waited for her to acknowledge he was speaking before carrying on, "I love you,"
What Mulan and Tao had talked about, no one knew or asked when they arrived back in the doctor's rooms.
Mulan had ruffled Tiao Zao's hair before going over to her mother and perching on the stool next to her. Fa Li looked frightened by her daughter, frightened by the stern look in her eyes but was then slightly reassured as they melted into sorrow and remorse.
What Mulan said to her mother for her to be forgiven and for them to be on friendly terms was a mystery to them, even Tao, who had not talked to Fa Li since arriving. There had been one fleeting look between them of recognition but both fell into a blank state and neither of them had looked at the other since.
"Chien-Po!" Tiao Zao cried. "I've gone wrong!"
It was the same evening and Mulan's mother had not given birth.
The group of friends had split and gone their separate ways.
The Emperor, Ming Hua and, at the Emperor's insistence and the Gang's glares, Tao had returned to the Emperor's Suite.
Jun Dui and Tian Shi had excused themselves and retired to their room.
Mulan, Shang, Grandma Fa, The Gang and Shui Jing had wandered back to their common room, a large room where they all gathered for the betting and whenever they were looking for each other. The table with gold coins that had previously been lying on its side with the numerous coins scattered all over the floor had been righted by Fung, who reminded the betting group, and informed Grandma Fa and she agreed to it with absolutely no hesitation, about the bet and the stakes. Mulan had been in the bathroom at this time and Shui Jing and Shang had not arrived in the room.
In order to keep themselves busy and to do something for Fa Li, Mulan suggested they decorate the doctor's room.
FLASHBACK (When they were discussing how to brighten up the doctor's room):
"I think we should paint a mural on the wall," Ling suggested. "A nice big one with a smiley sun," Ling grinned, showing white, crooked teeth. It made him look friendly but, in Mushu's opinion, ridiculous.
"How could we paint a mural on the wall?" Fung asked him incredulously. "The doctor would never let us, not to mention it would be a huge distraction when Fa Li is giving birth,"
"Okay fine!" Ling fired back. "What else can we do?"
"I think we should hang things from the ceiling," Fung said.
"Oh yeah, like that wouldn't get in the way," Ling said scornfully. Fung pushed him off his chair.
"That's a nice idea," Mulan said as Ling surfaced, giving Fung evil looks and death threats under his breath. "I reckon we'd be allowed to do that, provided we took them down when my mother had given birth,"
"Okay…so what could we hang?" Tiao Zao asked.
"Birds!" Yao cried.
Mulan sniggered. "Birds?"
"Birds live in the air! It'll give the impression of flying and the great outdoors!" Yao opened his arms and flapped them.
Tiao Zao squealed with laughter and Fung began to splutter. Shui Jing laughed into her hands at Yao's insane bird act. Chien-Po, however, looked thoughtful.
"Birds would be a nice idea…actually, that would be possible,"
"Yeah? How?" Mushu asked.
"Origami. I can make birds out of paper so I could teach you. Then, we could thread about five on each piece of string and hang them all from the ceiling!" Chien-Po smiled, pleased at being able to suggest a way for Yao to turn his bird idea into a real concept.
"That would be great!" Tiao Zao agreed.
"We'd better start now," Shui Jing said. "I have coloured paper in my room, wait here and I'll go and get it,"
"You've folded the wing wrong," Yao said, peering over. A stack of paper birds sat in front of him on the floor where he was sitting, leaning against the chair which was occupied by Tiao Zao, curled up and annoyed.
"How?" He demanded, brandishing the paper bird in Yao's face.
"Fold it the other way," Yao said before returning to his own bird.
Tiao Zao corrected the mistake and passed the bird over to Mulan, who was puncturing each bird with a small hole and then passing it on to Shui Jing and Shang who were threading birds onto long pieces of string.
"This hurts my fingers," Ling whined, sucking a paper cut on his thumb. "I still stick with my painting of a mural,"
"That was a silly idea," Mushu said, pinching his bird's beak to bend them closer together. "This beak won't stop being fat!"
"Just leave it," Cri-Kee chirped, tying knots at the end of each piece of string to stop the birds falling off before taking another string from Shui Jing.
There was a knock on the door.
Everyone looked up as the Fa Li's maid entered the room. She looked exhausted but pleased.
"The baby has been born. I was sent to tell you by Madam Li,"
For a moment there was silence. Then, an explosion took place as everyone began to woop and cheer.
Mulan scooped Tiao Zao up into a hug as tears of relief and joy poured down her face. They were then flattened by Fung who picked them both up and squeezed them in a big bear hug.
Shang and Ling grasped hold of each other as Shui Jing jumped up and down with Yao, who was red and crying.
Mushu began blowing celebratory flames around the room, no one caring most of the furniture was wood or bamboo and there were paper birds lying around. Cri-Kee jumped up and down and hugged Mushu for delight.
It was a tremendously excited group of people that burst into the doctor's room, everyone wearing strings of paper birds around their necks and waists as well as holding them in the their hands.
As soon as they opened the door to the room, Fa Li disappeared under the pile of people hugging her. The maid stood to one side, holding her hands together before Shui Jing hugged her and she too, began to cry.
The Emperor, Ming Hua, Tao, Jun Dui and Tian Shi hurried into the room and all began to laugh at the pile of people hugging Fa Li. The doctor stood at the back of the room, bending over the baby as was the other maid and both of them were ignoring the noise coming from the people surrounding Fa Li.
"Guys!" Shang, Tiao Zao and Mulan broke apart from the Fa Li crowd and ran over to the people standing by the door.
The Emperor hugged Mulan hard and continued to laugh as she placed two strings of paper birds around his neck.
Ming Hua gathered up his son in his arms and hugged him tightly, Tiao Zao's tears staining his shirt. After his father, too, had been decorated in paper birds, Tiao Zao joined Mulan in hugging Tao and throwing paper birds all over him.
Shang hugged his brother and placed a paper bird in his hat as Chien-Po bear-hugged his sister and tied paper birds around her waist.
Fa Li emerged from the swarm of Grandma Fa, Yao and Fung, completely covered in paper birds.
"Here she is," The doctor brought the baby over to Fa Li, who sat up and took the small, moving bundle from the doctor.
"It's a girl?" Fung whispered. The doctor nodded.
"We won the pot!" Ling and Fung cried, as Cri-Kee jumped up and down, his tongue out at Mushu.
"What pot?" Mulan asked him before Fa Li touched her arm.
"Look at her," Fa Li said and pulled the blanket back from the baby's face.
Thirteen people bent over the baby's face and smiled at her chubby cheeks, her flecks of dark hair and her piercing eyes, which were open and looking up at them.
"What are you going to call her?" Tian Shi asked Fa Li.
Fa Li looked to Mulan. "What are you going to call her?"
Mulan looked shocked. "No…I couldn't name her,"
"What are you going to call her?" Fa Li repeated, with no added emphasis.
Mulan bent over her baby sister and stroked her forehead. "Yu Pei," She whispered.
"That's beautiful," Shui Jing smiled.
"What's it mean?" Ling asked.
"'Jade Pendant'," Mulan replied, looking up at Tao, who gave her a wide smile.
"Hello Yu Pei," Everyone began cooing, clustering around the baby girl. "Hellooo!"
Yu Pei gurgled. Everyone burst out laughing and Ling held out his little finger, which Yu Pei grasped with her whole hand.
"She's precious," Ling whispered. He could feel tears welling up and quickly brushed them away with his other hand.
Tao stared, entranced, at his baby daughter. He had never seen anyone so beautiful and who brought so many emotions to the surface. He could not stop smiling; she looked so happy, so young and innocent. He hated the thought of her being born into a web of lies and hurt that was the relationship between him, the Fa family, the Huns and the Imperials.
"Tao?" Fa Li looked up at the father of her daughter. She sat up and held Yu Pei towards him.
Tao gave a shaky smile and reached forward to take the squirming bundle from her arms. He held his daughter close to him and slowly rocked her, as her brown ears stared up into his. He could feel his heart bursting, he had never felt so grown-up before.
He looked up to see everyone, even Shang, smiling at him. But he only had eyes for Yu Pei, his daughter and the most precious thing in his life.
An arrow shot through the crack in the window and pierced Fa Li in the heart. Her scream echoed around a silent room.
Yu Pei started crying.
Everyone's heads snapped up to the window, to see a Hun's ugly face grinning and his arm placing another arrow in his bow. Ever the soldier, Shang's fingers closed around his dagger and flung it at the Hun, before he was able to fly his bow. He fell back, two daggers in his neck. Shang looked around to see Fung's empty dagger sheath.
Shui Jing let out a shriek, as did Tian Shi.
Mushu leapt into Mulan's collar and sat there, quivering, as Cri-Kee took refuge in her pocket. She noticed neither of them, she was too busy staring at her dead mother's face.
Screams were heard from outside, the sound of breaking wood began to be heard.
"Get out!" Ling yelled. When no one replied, he yelled again. "Get out! Come on!" He ran pell-mell for the door, the rest of them after him.
Mulan stayed behind, clutching her mother's hand and weeping. Fung scooped an arm around her as Tao waited with Yu Pei and then they ran out the doctor's room.
It was pandemonium. Palace staff, advisors, visitors were running up and down the corridor. Fires had spread and were licking the walls.
"They haven't broken in yet!" Tao called over all the noise.
"This way!" Shang yelled, running the same way the Palace staff were fleeing. As they rounded the corridor, a much larger sound of wood breaking came to them, followed by the horrifying cries of yells of triumph.
"Are they Huns?" Tiao Zao cried to his father, who was holding him in his arms, tight-lipped and white. Ming Hua did not reply but followed the Emperor, who was surprisingly fast.
A scream that was much closer was heard from behind and everyone skidded to a halt, to stare behind at the form of Grandma Fa lying face down on the ground, an arrow in her back. Looking up, they saw a black wave of people running towards them.
Huns. There must have been fifty of them coming towards them, firing flaming arrows.
"Get out the way!" Shang pushed Shui Jing down as an arrow flew over her head and struck the wall, setting fire to the walls. Being made of wood, they shot up into flame instantly, blocking one corridor for them to escape by.
"Mulan!" Tao called to her. She did not stop but slowed as Tao raced up to her and thrust Yu Pei in her arms. "Lead the women to someplace safe,"
"What?" She yelled hysterically, stopping. "No! I'm not leaving you, you can't fight all of them by yourselves!"
The Emperor grabbed a screaming Yu Pei out of Mulan's arms and forced her into Shui Jing's arms, who clutched her tightly and ran with Tian Shi. "Don't let them see her with you! Don't let them know the Fa line is continued!" He cried at her, before grabbing her arm and dragging her down the corridor.
Tao watched her go before joining Jun Dui, Shang, Chien-Po, MingHua, Yao, Ling and Fung fight the oncoming Huns.
Chien-Po sliced a Hun in half with his sword, snatched up his dead opponent's sword and threw it into another oncoming Hun's heart. He fell and Chien-Po ran past him, snatched up the sword and carried on fighting.
Yao was parrying blows from a ferocious Hun before the Hun fell forwards onto Yao, crushing him. Ling stood over the dead Hun, looking pleased with himself before dragging its corpse off Yao, who got up and glared at Ling before grinning and hurrying off.
Fung and Jun Dui were excellent fighters and polishing them off if they were in arms reach. Jun Dui parried blows with a Hun before Fung struck him in the heart.
Shang and Ming Hua had both snatched up Hun's quivers and bows and were using them to push back the driving force of Huns. Ming Hua was excellent with a bow and was able, more than once, to shoot a Hun that was about to strike one of his friends.
Just when they thought they were winning and started to retreat, another wave of Huns came down upon them.
An arrow struck Ming Hua in the back and he fell to the ground. The rest of them were too busy to notice their friend had fallen but when they did notice, it was too late. The six of them ran down the corridor before an arrow was fired and Fung fell, clutching his stomach.
"Fung!" Shang cried and ran back to his childhood friend.
Fung looked weakly up at him. "What are you doing here? Run before they take you too!"
Shang's eyes moistened. "No…no! I can't leave you here!" He grabbed hold of Fung's arms and started to drag him, handling him with the care of a sack of potatoes.
A hailstorm of arrows battered down upon them, striking Shang in the leg. He pulled it out and Fung laid a hand on him.
"Go. Go on," Fung said. "Don't waste your time here,"
Shang looked at his friend and began to weep. He bent his head and kissed Fung's forehead before running, without looking back.
"Halt!" The Huns had caught up with Fung's body and one of them stepped forward.
"He is an Imperial," Another Hun said. "Kill him!"
The rest of the Huns cheered but the first Hun held up his hand. He reached forward and pulled Fung up by his cape.
"Do you know Fa Mulan?" He rasped.
"Yes I do," Fung replied shakily. His breath caught in his throat and he winced.
"Is the child alive?" He demanded, shaking Fung so his head flailed from side to side.
"What child?" He spat, summoning all the anger he could and making his speech sound threatening.
"You know which child I speak of," The Hun drove a dagger into Fung's leg and he cried out, gasping out in pain. He felt cold but he wasn't going to show weakness in front of his enemy. "Is the child alive?"
"No," Fung hissed. "It died when it was born,"
"That's true," One Hun said. "We found a dead child in the doctor's room,"
Fung pursed his lips, remembering the lady and her still-born child. He blinked and gasped in pain.
"Well, we have no more need for this one then," The Hun barred his teeth in Fung's face before punching a hole in the wood walls. "Goodbye," He laughed before flinging Fung out the hole.
Fung bounced on a lower balcony before crashing into the rail. Blood trickled out his head and he lay still, no longer breathing or blinking. His eyes glassed over and the sword he had been holding fell from his limp fingers. Yet, there on his face was a smile, a pure smile of happiness.
Tian Shi, holding Yu Pei, ran down the corridor before screeching to a halt. The Emperor, Shui Jing and Mulan crashed into her. They could hear Huns coming towards them. They were in the middle of a crossroads.
Mulan hurriedly turned to Shui Jing, Tian Shi and the Emperor.
"Shui Jing, take Yu Pei and look after her for me. They cannot know she is a Fa. Bring her up as if she were your own child and do not tell her about her parentage and history. Please, do this for me," She begged. Shui Jing nodded and hugged Mulan tightly. She held Yu Pei up to Mulan, who bent over her sister and kissed her before turning to a crying Tian Shi and hugging her too.
"Don't look back," Mulan whispered to them. "Don't you look back,"
Shui Jing looked at her and smiled. "Thank you for everything Mulan. Everything ever since you rescued me from the snow," She gave her one last smile before running to the right with Tian Shi and Yu Pei.
She stood watching, as her family ran away from her, screaming at the noise. All the Fa family were now gone.
She looked at the Emperor. She read his mind and hugged him hard.
"Do not cry for me. I am old and I must go some day. You brightened up my life Mulan, for which I am thankful," The Emperor smiled and stroked her hair. "Now run,"
Mulan nodded and ran to the left, looking back just once. It was the first time she had run from open battle and it was strange but it was even stranger that she was alone.
She could not block out the commotion behind her. She could hear the Huns interrogating the Emperor, they hadn't seen her run away. Then it happened. She heard a blade whistling through the air and then a cry was heard a thud. Mulan wept as she cried, the father figure when hers was not there was gone, gone and nothing could bring him back. Nothing could bring the Emperor, Yu Pei, her mother, Grandma Fa, her father…anyone back. They were gone, all the protection she had ever had. She was more alone now than ever.
It was a dead end. Nowhere else to go, Mulan ran into a room and shut the door, leaning against it and breathing heavily.
She had entered a ballroom. It was tremendously large, beautifully decorated with paintings and furniture but none of it mattered to her. She did not see the pretty ornamental china ladies in the cornor, she felt none of it mattered. The beauty of the world had been stripped from her eyes and all she could see were four walls, a floor and a ceiling.
She tried to block out the screams and fighting she could hear. A stirring in her collar made her look down as Mushu and Cri-Kee climbed out and looked at her.
"They've come for me Mushu," She said quietly. The noises were now becoming louder
"Be brave honey," Mushu whispered, wiping her tears. "We'll never be apart. I'll always be your guardian," He hugged her as tightly as she could as Cri-Kee hugged her too. Two more protectors.
The door broke and heavy footsteps thundered on the floor. Mulan turned slowly.
Huns filed in, organised and in lines. Fifty must have filed in before a Hun stepped forward.
"I am a Chi," The man said.
"I know of the history between our families," Mulan said, with no expression in her voice.
The Hun did not want to waste anymore time evidently. He raised his bow and pointed it at Mulan, who stood her ground and did not waver.
The arrow flew slowly from the bow and whistled through the air as the door burst open and Tao, Shang, Yao, Chien-Po and Ling ran in. They did not look at the Huns and they did not look at them either. All eyes were focused on the arrow that hit Mulan, not quite in her heart.
"NO!" Tao bellowed. The world fell down upon him. His blood turned to ice and, to his eyes, it took an age for Mulan to fall to the ground. Yet, she fell gracefully, curving around before lying down on the ground, her eyes shut and her face as peaceful as if she were asleep.
Shang, Chien-Po, Yao and Ling cried out in horror. They all ran forwards to her body as the Huns left the room. The Hun who shot her turned to Shang before he left.
"No more blood will be shed tonight. Not now," He left the room as someone else entered.
Blood stained and wearing ripped clothes, Tiao Zao stood in the doorway, staring at Mulan's body and the group around her. He did not move, he did not cry and he made no attempt to stop the Hun who killed her from passing. He simply stood there as if he were stone.
"Mulan?" Tao gathered her up in his arms and bent over her. "Mulan, wake up. Please, please wake up," His tears were falling thick and fast and he held her body tightly.
Shang and Yao gripped each other. Shang felt like he was dying inside, he could not imagine his life with Mulan. He couldn't picture his life with her, life without her was just…unimaginable. He looked forward so much to seeing her everyday, to hear her laugh, to see her smile. He broke down and collapsed.
Ling held Mushu and Cri-Kee tightly on his shoulder, the scene crushing all three of them. They had all seen death before but nothing hurt them like this.
Chien-Po sat behind them, crying weakly, while humming a chant to pass her soul smoothly to her Ancestors. He could feel the tears wanting, waiting to fall but he did not let them, he couldn't. Not now. One last moment of weakness, he had to avoid. She had been so strong for him and now, he could repay her and be strong for her.
"Tao?" A weak voice came from Mulan's pale lips.
"Mulan?" Tao gasped and looked down at her white face. She shut her eyes. "No! No! Don't leave me, no, Mulan, please…I can't go on without you!" He wiped tears away from his cheeks as she opened her eyes again.
Shang, Ling, Yao, Mushu and Cri-Kee moved back, to give Tao some space. Now, they all knew how Mulan and Tao felt about each other. Shang had accepted that, now, when it was needed the most.
"It's over," She smiled. "I saved China again. It's over. The Huns won't attack now. The Fa line is ended," She smiled to herself and drew a shuddering breath. "Almost,"
"Yu Pei?" Tao asked her gently.
"I've given her to Ling and Shui Jing," She whispered. "I want them to bring her up, so she doesn't know she is a Fa. Then, this'll all happen again,"
Tao nodded. "That's fine. I won't let this happen again,"
"I know you won't," She said, her voice getting fainter and fainter. "I know you'll not let my death be in vain,"
Tao grasped her hand and kissed it. She smiled.
"I love you," She whispered.
"I love you too," Tao bent over her and kissed her briefly, for he felt her shudder. He pulled back and looked at her face. It was lifeless, white and still.
Tao reached over and shut her eyes, marvelling at her soft skin and how it still shone. He stared at her, wanting to gather everything he knew about her together, in one last attempt to pull her closer to him but he couldn't. There was still so much unknown about her but now, just knowing her was enough.
Slowly, the pendant began to fall. Everyone in the room from Tao to Tiao Zao, watched as it fell slowly through the air. It touched the floor and shattered into a thousand tiny fragments of jade, its green colour shining brightly.
The last protector of China had gone but she had so many to protect her.
Fung, who fell protecting her and her line.
The Emperor, who gave her time to run.
Her mother, who gave birth to her sister and carrying on the line.
Her father, who protected her from harm when she was young.
Her grandmother, who understood her and protected her when she was young.
All the people so privileged to know her protected her, and she did for them. None of them knew the riddles about her, none of them knew all her secrets, but now, just to know her was enough.
And the jade sparkled.