Chai Xianghua. Age sixteen. Born Friday, April 2nd, 1571 in the Ming capital of Peking. The largest city in the world at the time, it was known as a Mecca of trade, travel, and most of all, the martial arts. Amidst this background of cultural exchange was an influential family that had produced seasoned warriors of China for generations – the Chai.

The temple that was the pride of this age's martial arts community was the Ling-Sheng Su, and its monks were legendary for their fighting prowess. Chai Xiangfei was born in the area around the mountain, and her father sent her to the temple in order to train in the art of Tai Chi Jian. The woman proved to be a natural at swordplay, going so far as to surpass those who taught her their once-secret arts. Though she felt angry that her gender made her ineligible to become a candidate for the temple's sacred sword, Krita-Yuga, she managed to content herself with the knowledge that she was the temple's most skilled swordsperson.

After the death of her father, Xiangfei increased her training regimen tenfold to dull the pain of loss, and it was during this time that she had an encounter that would affect her for the rest of her life. One of her trainers, a monk named Kong Xiuqiang, caught her fancy. Unfortunately, the relationship was ill-fated from the beginning; in a rather cruel twist of fate, Xiangfei discovered that the man she had fallen in love with was the most prominent candidate to inherit the temple's sacred staff, Kali-Yuga. And in order to be a legitimate candidate, one had to stick to the true path and maintain a vow of chastity. Thus, such an illicit romance was forbidden.

But neither of them seemed to care.

Though they managed to keep it a secret for quite some time, few people ever think clearly when they are in love. Through these clandestine meetings, a child was conceived. The child's name was Xianglian. Much later in her life, Xianglian would play a critical role in shaping the fate of the world, though neither parent knew it. However, Xiangfei would never get to see her first daughter grow up, because the temple had finally discovered their affair. They adopted the child as an 'orphan' on her second birthday, despite the spirited protests of her parents.

This weighed heavily on Xiangfei's heart. Soon, she decided to leave the temple. Xiuqiang was urged by his sworn brother, Han Dongxiu, to leave with his lover and start a family to 'create his own destiny', but the man was insistent on staying at the temple in order to complete his training, so he could atone for the wrongs he had committed. Chai Xiangfei agreed with his decision, and said her goodbyes.

However, she would not be leaving without a farewell present.

Dongxiu aided Xiuqiang in sneaking a vital treasure out of the temple – the sacred Krita-Yuga. It served as a promise that Xiangfei and Xiuqiang would meet again someday. Unbeknownst to the monk, who would later be exiled from the temple for what he had done, his love had also left with a second child. Born months after Xiangfei had surreptitiously returned to Peking and began living in the Chai family household, this girl was named Xianghua.

By the age of four, the impetuous girl was beginning to show the same level of skill as her mother with the Ling-Sheng Su's Tai Chi Jian form. Training with her mother's old sword, which was the Krita-Yuga in its concealed form, she began displaying remarkable talent. Her mother, meanwhile, was distinguishing herself within the ranks of the Ming Emperor's personal guards, and soon she became a valuable asset to the Dynasty. Unfortunately, after Xianghua's tenth birthday, her beloved mother passed away.

"You were born to carry out an important task," Xiangfei said to her daughter as she breathed her last. "Cut your own path through the future, however unpredictable it may be..."

These words would remain with Xianghua as she continued training for the next six years. So proficient was she at swordplay that she entered the Imperial Guard at the tender age of sixteen.

She would soon find out just how unpredictable the future could be...


Within the gardens of the Ming Emperor, a duel was being staged, and a rather impromptu one at that. It wasn't very polite of the younger woman to insist that her new nineteen-year-old friend fight her at this hour, but she simply could not wait. The two of them had already moved into ready stances, waiting for the other to act first. However, both girls were perfectly aware of the other's reputation, and neither wanted to make the first move. Still, someone would have to attack eventually, and after years of training and practice, Mi-na had learned to control herself, and she was no longer so eager to rush headlong into a confrontation.

Xianghua was not so patient.

"Here I come!" she shouted as she ran forward, sword pointed towards her adversary. She had to close the distance, since she was the one with the disadvantage of a shorter weapon range. Mi-na swung the broadsword ever so slightly to the right, knocking the incoming attack away. But it wasn't actually an attack. The follow-up, however, was. Xianghua turned and swung to her left, an attack that Mi-na also blocked, sparks flying from the two blades as they clashed. To the right, and another block... and then Xianghua turned again, dodging Mi-na's incoming downwards chop. However, she was shocked to learn that the Korean was indeed as fast as the stories had said... She had to raise her sword, tip towards the ground, in order to block a horizontal swipe directed at her chest.

'What!? How did she-'

And while she was thinking about that, Mi-na was pressing her advantage. She moved in once again, stepping forward and ramming the back end of her guan dao into the small of Xianghua's back... before sending a right roundhouse kick snapping into her face. The younger woman stumbled backwards, and the older fighter came charging in again. The last thing Xianghua saw was Mi-na's massive weapon being twirled around as if it weighed no more then ten pounds... before she had to block once again as the cheek of the blade came to ram against her right side. After that, all she had to do was give the younger woman another nudge with said blade and sent her opponent staggering again.

The guard captain's hands were shaking and her grip was so tight, her knuckles were bone-white. The blade of her double-edged sword trembled, while the as-yet unperturbed Mi-na settled into a loose stance.

'She's good...' thought Xianghua. 'She's got the advantage and she knows it. That's why she's so aggressive. How am I supposed to close the distance when she's so damned fast?'

And against a long, heavy, and unusually agile weapon, no less.

The Seong prodigy, while still unassuming, was a bit disappointed. She had been through many battles by now – she had come to expect much of her opponents these days. This so-called guard captain, the youngest of the Chai family, was supposed to be the toughest opponent she'd had yet. Still, she wasn't arrogant enough to let her guard down... or hold back. Mi-na wasn't the type to let an opponent come to her unless she had to. Her legs tensed as she prepared to charge forth.

'I should end this quickly. No sense in playing around.'

With that, she got a move on. The world seemed to blur around her. Xianghua settled into her fight stance as soon as she noticed Mi-na approaching at a very hi- whoops, she was already here! The older fighter thrust her weapon towards Xianghua's head, which forced the Chinese woman on the defensive again. The thrust was deflected with the cheek of her sword, but Mi-na quickly followed up by hopping back a step and rushing forward again with a flurry of stabs. Block, block, two more blocks... and then, on the fifth attack, Xianghua met the attack with her sword, twisted backwards in order to get the attack out of the way and behind her... and then turned back around, lunging forward and thrusting towards the Korean's pretty face.

'Gotcha!'

Unfortunately, Mi-na had enough sense to bend backwards before the attack could make contact, the weapon clearing the front of her face by inches.

'What the hell!?'

Mi-na whistled appreciatively. "Not bad. Excellent parry," she said before withdrawing her guan dao and kicking at Xianghua's exposed midsection at the same time with her right foot. The younger woman was sent sprawling to the ground roughly four feet away while Mi-na slipped into a stance again. "I guess you're the real thing, all right. If you had come at someone who wasn't ready for that, they'd be dead."

By now, Xianghua was quite frustrated, and quickly pulled herself off the ground. "I'm not going to be beaten before we even start!!!" With that declaration, she started walking forward again, the blade twisting and whirling around her person. Mi-na waited for her calmly, wondering what exactly she was going to do this time. As Xianghua moved within striking range, the Korean woman pressed forward, thrusting with her guan dao towards the incoming opponent.

Not this time – Xianghua turned gracefully to her right, and ducked low as Mi-na swung the long-handled broadsword in a horizontal swipe. This was followed up by a low swing in the opposite direction, and Xianghua jumped over the weapon, twisting through the air before landing and advancing further. Mi-na continued chopping and cutting, chuckling to herself as her young opponent continued advancing. She whipped the long weapon around like some kind of spear instead of a heavy broadsword, and the Chinese woman kept dodging the blade like a practiced acrobat.

Soon, Xianghua was close – she was almost near enough to score a hit... and when she was finally within range, Xianghua thrust her sword towards one of Mi-na's ankles, hoping to take away some of her mobility. Her opponent was quicker though, either in thinking or in reflexes, and positioned the rear end of her guan dao in order to stop the incoming attack, and lifted the targeted leg off the ground.

Xianghua pivoted and turned to her right, aiming to cut Mi-na's legs out from behind... and just as soon as she did, the Korean quickly lifted herself upwards while swinging her legs forward... and the weapon was cleared magnificently as she flipped backwards, taking the guan dao with her. But as soon as she landed, she found herself under attack again as Xianghua lunged forward, thrusting towards her opponent. The only thing she could do was swing the back end of her guan dao forwards, twisting to one side as she did so. Suddenly, they both froze.

Mi-na felt cold steel brushing against her skin, the edge of the blade pressing lightly against the side of her stomach, and Xianghua could feel the wood of the heavy weapon against her neck – specifically, against a particular pressure point on the left side. It would have taken her down quite quickly...

"I think that's enough," Mi-na said with a smile. "Is that proof enough for you?"

Xianghua nodded shakily. The Korean had almost gotten her that time – but at least her opponent would have gone down with her. The two women decided to call the match a draw. They were lucky that no one had heard them – otherwise, they would have had to endure some awkward questions. As the two women stepped back from one another to catch their breath, Xianghua couldn't help but feel a little excited. 'She is as good as they say. This might be the easiest task we've ever had! Too bad she's not doing it for free – that would be quite a bagrain. But you can't always get what you wish for.'

Mi-na, on the other hand, fixed Xianghua with a thoughtful brown-eyed stare. 'She's good. That was some decent technique and footwork before I almost put her down – I might have to watch out for her.'

Xianghua cocked her head to one side and asked, "What? Do I have something on my face?"

The older woman smiled and approached the palace guard, stopping just a few feet in front of her before leaning forward, staring directly into Xianghua's eyes. "No. You're just cute."

Xianghua blushed, her cheeks turning a shade of pink. "I'm not cute..." Then she grinned. "I'm sexy."

Mi-na blinked in surprise, momentarily taken aback, and grinned widely. "I like your style! You know, I think we're going to become great friends..."


Mi-na almost laughed as she saw the theatrical costumes lined up in front of them. "Please don't tell me we're gonna be wearing all THAT."

Xianghua nodded, trying to suppress her own laughter as well. Since they were going to be disguised as a traveling opera troupe, they would need to look the part. However, the local theater had provided them with so many props, costumes, and instruments it wasn't even funny.

Well, okay, it was a little funny.

"Hey, if it makes you laugh, think about how funny it'll be to all the people who'll be watching us perform." The Korean nodded, glad that she would be doing something besides fighting for once. As she looked over all the theater items in front of her, Mi-na's thoughts turned to Soul Edge, and she wondered where they would be going first.

'I doubt we'll find it in China, and all the stories in the West seem to have died off as well,' she thought to herself. It was as if the Soul Edge had dropped off the face of the earth. Still, that wouldn't stop her from searching for it until it was found. It seemed like everything that the Korea Coastal Defense Force tried against the Japanese raiders either wasn't effective enough, or simply not working at all. The small contingent of pirates she had dealt with a few years back, as well as the hundreds more she had fought over the years, were only a small fraction of the larger problem.

Obtaining the so-called 'Sword of Heroes' was the only option left.

However, she couldn't worry about the predicament of her home country, as much as it pained her, lest she be distracted from her quest. For the time being, she needed to focus on following any leads that she might find. Still, she realized that she couldn't believe everything she heard... including that bit about Soul Edge being evil. But the seed of doubt had been planted, and she couldn't help wondering what the nature of the mythical sword was.

'Best to find out for myself.'

Naturally, since it was damned near impossible to know what was what these days, the group of warriors had to play things by ear, and traveled to the nearest city. Barely a week after they had set out, they happened upon a rumor of something that might have been related to Soul Edge. Monsters had attacked a port city in India, just beyond the Himalayas. However, they would have to cross the rugged mountain range in order to discover whether this rumor was true or not, and the troupe was not entirely ready for a trip along the forbidding, frozen cliffs. Instead, they chose to spend a little more time in the city, Yunnan Fu, so they could give a performance and wait to hear anything else. One night, they heard of a pair of men within the city who had, supposedly, survived the monster attack.

One was a monk of some sort, and the other was a pirate from the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Mi-na was not bothered by the occupation of the latter. She had dealt with pirates before, and she would put him down quickly if he tried something stupid. Still, nowadays, the Korean never fought unless she had to – so she would leave him alone, provided he did the same. But if he did anything to endanger her, Xianghua, or the rest of the group... he would pay for it dearly.

But when they went to see whether the rumor was true or not, the situation turned out much different than Mi-na had expected.

They went to the teahouse that the pair was supposedly staying at, went inside, and got something to eat as they tried to spot these men that they had heard about. Naturally, Xianghua insisted that she pay for everyone's meals, including Mi-na's. Her companion tried to protest – by now, she had earned more than enough money to take care of herself. But when she told Xianghua so, the Chinese woman just beamed. "Look, it's the least I can do. Besides, what are friends for, if not to provide free food?"

The older woman smiled and laughed softly. "Alright, alright…" She thought it was admirable of her to pay for everyone, even if it was only a drop in the bucket for a member of the Chai family.

It was then that a man caught the Korean's attention, out of the corner of her eye. Scars lined his upper torso. A very odd sash with mirrors all along its surface was slung across his right shoulder. He had brown hair and eyes... and a staff that looked almost new, as if it had never been touched before. Next to him was another man, with a black curl of hair that hung oddly in front of his face. He was dressed a bit oddly… and the way he held himself reminded Mi-na of many of the pirates she had fought over the years.

She decided to wait until they had found someplace to sit before approaching the pair. On the second floor of the expansive tea house, which overlooked the first like a balcony, the opera troupe seated themselves at a couple of unoccupied tables. Xianghua found herself sitting across from Mi-na, who was watching the men on the floor below.

As she studied her friend in the soft lighting of the teahouse, Xianghua was suddenly struck by how… pretty Mi-na looked. Her long brown hair shone like silk, and her smooth, toned skin seemed to glow serenely. Xianghua's gaze traced her graceful features, set so firmly in an expression of concentration.

She didn't realize that she had begun to stare.

That's when she looked into those bottomless pools of almond-brown – those deep, captivating eyes that had the ability to hold one's attention like a vise. The younger woman suddenly felt as if she could fall into those eyes, and be lost in them forever… and for some reason, that idea didn't bother her at all.

Mi-na wasn't even aware that the other woman was staring at her, completely entranced. Thus, when she turned to look at her traveling companion, she had to raise an eyebrow as she met her friend's dreamy gaze. "Um... Xianghua?"

Abruptly, the Chinese warrior snapped out of her trance, blinking a few times as her conscious thoughts came rushing back to her. "What?"

Mi-na dismissed it as a temporary lapse in the younger woman's focus, and leaned closer to whisper to her. "Those two at the front, when we came in, did you see 'em?" Xianghua nodded. She had indeed noticed them, but she hadn't put two and two together until now. Mi-na continued speaking in a low, almost conspiratorial tone. "I think they're the ones that survived that monster attack we heard about. I can feel it."

Xianghua blinked. "You're sure?"

Mi-na shrugged and replied, "I don't know. I think it's worth finding out, though."

The younger woman glanced at the floor below, and said, "You got any ideas on how to get them to talk to us about it?" Mi-na had to think about that. She was reluctant to just walk up to them and ask about what happened, and she didn't think it was wise to ask about the Soul Edge, either. There were far too many people that might overhear their conversation.

Still, it couldn't be helped. They needed that information.

"We'll just have to get up, go over there, and ask them. We don't really have much of a choice. We have no other leads."

Xianghua nodded in agreement. She could see the sense in the Korean's words – if they didn't get the information now, they might not get another chance. "Okay then. Let's go."


A few minutes earlier…

The two men sat alone at a small table, far away from the other teahouse patrons. The brown-haired young man's head hung dejectedly, as if he were trying to hide behind his bangs. His staff was propped up against a nearby wall... very nearby... and the odd, crystalline sash was slung around his right shoulder. The man's eyes seemed to be blank; distant and lifeless.

'I've done it again... just like that night.'

The black-haired man with the odd, brightly colored clothing was apparently trying to cheer his companion up… trying and failing, it seemed. He had been attempting to talk his friend out of his depression for a whole hour now, trying to get him to see that, even if things were bad, there was always a silver lining. "Come on man... say something, will ya? You haven't spoken once since we escaped that damned place, and frankly, it's starting to worry me."

Well, it was more irritating than it was worrisome... but he didn't say that.

At that point, the mirrored sash that the brown-haired man carried flashed momentarily, reacting to something. The reflective, crystalline surfaces radiated light for a brief moment, as if the sun had decided to pay a brief visit. It was barely noticeable to anyone who wasn't paying attention, but it caught the black-haired man's attention. He had, since the battle in which he had met the monk, discovered that the mirrored sash known as Dvapara-Yuga had mystical properties. It acted as a metaphysical barrier against negative energies – a shield, if you will.

And if it were removed... well, he had seen the effects of that firsthand.

He saw the sash react, and then he saw the reflection of two women heading towards their table. Well, there were also several men with them, but it was the women who caught his attention. Within the depths of the crystal, he noticed that one of them carried an ordinary looking straight sword, sheathed at the right hip. Nothing special about it at a glance. She was a pretty thing – five feet even, dark brown hair, eyes of the same color. Delicate face, gentle curves – cute, in other words.

The other woman was taller by a foot, and had a much longer weapon. Longer, larger, and much heavier-looking. The weapon must have weighed about ninety pounds – perhaps more – and she carried it around as if it were some kind of toy. The woman herself was stunning. Not cute-stunning. The shape of her body was much more pleasing to the eye, so to speak. More mature. Brown hair, a lighter shade than her younger friend, and eyes of the same color. Said eyes immediately captured his attention, though he was only looking at her reflection in the sash. They were both lookers, but this one had more to offer. And there was a look of confidence about her. He liked that.

When he looked away from the sash to check them out directly… they had already walked past the table, heading for the stairs. The man with black hair turned towards his companion again, saying "Oi! Did you just see -"

The man had not. He still had his head down.

'Damn, this guy's becoming a pain in the ass.'

He raised a hand as the group of people went upstairs, signaling to a waitress that he wanted another cup of wine. He was going to need it, if he planned on continuing to hang out with this guy.

However, three cups later, he wasn't feeling any better. Still, at least the brown-haired man before him was starting to show signs of life.

"Hey, you're awake. Just in time for a cup or two, hmm?"

The brown-haired man shook his head, smiling politely. "Thanks, no. I will be fine. So, where do you think we should go now? Our means of fast travel is gone ever since that attack. Since we don't really have enough money for horses, I doubt that we'll be doing anything but walking."

This, by the way, was fine with him. But not his friend.

"Are you NUTS? Look, I still have plenty of money. Did you think just because my ship is gone means I have nothing? Please, don't be stupid."

The brown-haired man raised his hands defensively. "Alright, alright." At this point, the monk looked behind his companion. "Hey... someone's coming." The pirate turned... and raised an eyebrow. It was those girls again.

'I think my day just got a bit better.'


Mi-na and Xianghua took stock of the two men sitting before them. One of them had a smug look on his face – he seemed pretty sure of himself. Mi-na noticed that he had a pair of hardwood nunchaku tucked into his sash. He smiled, and she smiled back politely. She didn't really appreciate the suggestive looks he was giving her, but she held back any harsh criticism and scathing glares – they needed information, and she didn't want this guy to be uncooperative.

"You guys mind if we sit here?" Xianghua asked, smiling brightly. The man with black hair shrugged and the brown-haired man shook his head. The two women took seats. "So, why are you guys hanging out here, all alone? I'm sure there are plenty of other, friendlier places to be."

The man with black hair smirked. "And are you two offering to get friendly with us? Because I got plenty of time." The man with brown hair gave him a disapproving look, but chose not to say anything.

Mi-na glanced at Xianghua, who was obviously bewildered and turning a deep shade of crimson – obviously, she'd never had to deal with this kind of thing before. As Mi-na had feared, the man was going to be a nuisance, though not in the manner she had expected. Still, as long as they got the information they needed, she could put up with it. For now, she remained quiet, waiting for the right time to speak.

Mi-na's face was a calculated mask of indifference, and she watched both men closely, watching for any signs of discomfort or deception. By now, Xianghua had talked up a storm, shyly attempting to escape the topic of 'getting friendly'. So far, it was working, and she had both men chatting away quite freely. She even managed to get one of them to reveal his name: at one point, she accidentally called the black-haired man Li Long (she didn't know why, but it had just felt like an appropriate name for him), and he laughed before correcting her – his name was Maxi.

'Maxi, huh? Interesting name…' thought Mi-na, who turned her attention to his companion after that. 'Hmmm... I wonder why his buddy's so quiet?'

She noted all the scars that could be seen through the front of his open shirt... she couldn't help but wonder how he had gotten so many. The young man noticed her intense gaze and looked back, unblinkingly. His brown eyes had a distant quality to them... but still regarded hers in an unflinching way. Mi-na couldn't help but nod, quite impressed with his ability to hold his ground. So she leaned forward a bit, placing her elbows on the table, and increased the intensity of her gaze. He wondered why she kept staring at him without saying a word, so he simply stared back.

That was a mistake. Soon, he was transfixed by the full force of her gaze. In her youth, Mi-na had discovered that she could get most of the boys at the dojang to do whatever she wanted, simply by giving them a certain look. Even her rival, Hwang Seong-gyeong, had been susceptible to her soft, brown, endlessly deep eyes. She didn't really understand why, but that didn't stop her from using the ability to her advantage.

At this point, Xianghua took a break from her conversation with Maxi to look over at her companion, and furrowed her eyebrows as she saw the way that Mi-na was leaning forward and staring intently into the eyes of the other man, who was responding in kind. For some reason, she felt… uncomfortable. She didn't know why, but she wanted them to stop…

Meanwhile, Maxi had also noticed the little exchange taking place between the Korean and his companion, and he grinned slyly. "Well, it seems my buddy here has taken an interest in your lady friend. Good for him, eh?" Xianghua didn't respond, wondering why the black-haired pirate's comment made her feel agitated, and just a little hurt…

"So," Mi-na said, once she was confident that she was in control of the situation, "What's your name?"

The brunet answered, clearly and smoothly, "Kilik."

Mi-na nodded. Well, that was one thing out of the way. "Nice name, that. So what's a guy like you doing in a place like this?"

Kilik responded in the same tone as before, without hesitation. "I'm on a quest. There's a great evil spreading in the West, and I have to dispel it. Maxi was going to take me over there with his crew, but monsters came and attacked us, and we were forced to flee. The ship's gone, the crew is dead, and we have no means of travel besides our own two feet."

Maxi's eyes shot wide open, and Xianghua blinked. Just like that, the monk had spilled their whole story to a woman he didn't even know in a neat, tight little summary. Needless to say, Maxi wasn't very happy, since the two of them had made an agreement earlier to keep all that information under wraps. "What the hell?" he hissed under his breath to Kilik, who didn't hear a single word he was saying. "What'd you have to go and do that for? We were supposed to keep this a secret! If this gets out, only God knows who or what is going to come after us!"

Mi-na pretended not to pay attention to his remark. "And I trust you know where this evil is coming from?"

Once again, his answer came forth without hesitation. "An evil blade called Soul Edge."

Mi-na's face was suddenly wiped clean of expression, and Xianghua's eyes became as round as saucers. There was a long, tense silence… then, hesitantly, the Korean asked, "How do you know?"

The response came with the swiftness and clarity of a mountain stream. "I have witnessed its evil firsthand. Every single brother and sister of my Order was massacred because of Soul Edge. I am the only surviving member of the Order."

As both women attempted to digest this disturbing information, Mi-na asked yet another question. "Could you take us with you, to find Soul Edge?"

As Kilik shrugged and agreed to her proposal with no hesitation, Maxi's eyes narrowed, and his hand drifted slowly towards his nunchaku. He was starting to get a bad feeling about this woman. However, Mi-na noticed the movement in her peripheral vision. Suddenly, there was the slap of flesh meeting flesh as her hand clamped on to the pirate's wrist, though her eyes did not stray away from Kilik's. "Hold on there. Don't be so quick to jump to conclusions. We can help you."

Maxi glared at her suspiciously, hiding his shock at how fast and strong she was. "And how the hell is a pair of girls supposed to help us, eh?"

Resisting the urge to snap his wrist after the 'girls' comment, Mi-na continued speaking. "I'm sure you noticed the group of men that went upstairs with us. Well, those are Imperial guards. They're with us. We're on a mission from the Emperor to find Soul Edge."

Maxi sneered. "Oh really? Well, even if you are working for the Empire – which I'm not entirely ready to believe – why would I wanna cooperate with a bunch of Imperial thugs?"

"Look," she said, "you can either lead us there of your own free will, with a whole group of Imperial soldiers to back you up, or we can have those nice men upstairs throw you into a dungeon until you tell us where it is. Your choice."

As much as Maxi hated authority and the government, he hated imprisonment and torture even more. "Fine," he hissed through his teeth, prompting the Korean woman to release his hand. He started rubbing his sore wrist tenderly, wondering what he had just gotten himself into. Meanwhile, Xianghua, who had been watching all of this, was having her own thoughts.

'The West... There have been no stories from that place for weeks, nor rumors – and now we come upon this. With the state this Kilik guy is in, I don't think he can lie… and that must mean that the Soul Edge really is evil.'

It was neither a warm nor friendly thought. It was, to say the least, disconcerting. The Emperor was looking for an evil weapon. There was no telling what'd he do with such an artifact of power, and it troubled the young woman. They couldn't let that happen.

Finally, Mi-na turned away from Kilik, finally breaking the spell. As he sat there and blinked repeatedly, wondering what in the world had possessed him to tell her all those things, Mi-na turned to look at Xianghua. The Royal Guard met her gaze, and nodded, understanding the silent message completely.

They had to destroy it. And the Emperor could not know about it, or their heads would roll. Hell, their heads would probably roll anyway. But no one could get their hands on this weapon, especially not someone in a position of power.

Xianghua turned to Kilik, and said, "Please, tell us more about this evil."


Within the span of a month, they had traveled from the Himalayan mountain range to the border of the Ming Empire, at which point they had to start following the old Silk Road. Mi-na had been along this route and back many times in her travels. The rest of the group, however, had not. But that did not stop Xianghua from pushing herself and the guards under her command forward. Fortunately for them, Mi-na knew the road quite well by now, so the headlong march was not blind. Heading out from Xi'an, they made their way out towards the West by horseback, stopping in one city after another along the ancient route. Of course, Kilik and Maxi accompanied them. After they had first started accompanying them, the two men were distrustful of the group. After traveling with them for a while, though, all the tension of the night at the teahouse slipped away, and both Mi-na and Xianghua found that they made pleasant traveling companions.

Still, their time in the Taklamakan desert wasn't without problems...

They traversed the unforgiving sands across the southern side of the desert, a route that many considered much easier to travel than the one to the north. That said, it was still indescribably hot. As if that weren't bad enough, the nights were even worse due to the temperature drop. It wasn't called the "Place of No Return" without good reason. Fortunately, they happened upon one of the oasis towns near the southwestern end of the desert, Hotan. When they came in sight of the city, he sun was on its downward arc, setting just in front of them and turning it into a dark, intimidating silhouette. To some, the black towers might have seemed forbidding, but to the weary travelers, it was a welcome sight.

The inn they found in town was more comfortable than they had expected, and quite roomy. Still, later that night, Mi-na wanted to be outside for once. Standing atop the roof as the cool, soft wind brushed through her brown hair, she considered what she would do when she made it to the West. At this rate, it wouldn't be long... and she wondered what would happen when she finally found it. It wasn't easy, learning that the object that she'd been seeking all these years to save her country was actually evil…

'And here I was, trying to be some kind of hero or something. I can't live in such a small world, believing in stories and legends.' She recalled someone saying that if she had such little knowledge about the Soul Edge, she should not have left home. Perhaps that woman had actually known what she'd been talking about.

Mi-na frowned. 'She's still an ass, though. Next time I see her, things will end differently.'

At that point, her thoughts turned to travel. She thought about her knowledge of the world, and how living such a secluded lifestyle in her youth had affected her. Perhaps it would be best if she stayed away from home for just a little bit longer... that was, after she had destroyed that accursed sword, so no one could go seeking it foolishly like she had, ever again.

"Can't sleep?"

The Korean turned her head to look over her left shoulder... and found Xianghua, looking enchanting in a silk robe. "Neither can I," said the younger woman as she sauntered over, and stopped beside the Korean woman, looking up at the night sky. "I hope you don't mind if I stay here with you for a bit, Mi-na."

The Seong prodigy shook her head and said, "No. I could use some company."

As the women stood beside one another, admiring the cloudless, diamond-specked sky, neither spoke. For once, the petit guard captain was silent as she stared contemplatively towards the heavens. However, a few minutes later, she whispered one word.

"Mother..."

Mi-na turned her head ever-so-slightly to look at her... and spotted a tear running down Xianghua's face. Mi-na was a little surprised – she had never seen her friend cry before. Not in front of her, anyway. She didn't know what to say... so she did the only thing she could think of: she reached over with her left arm and pulled her younger friend close, hugging her gently. Xianghua let it happen.

A minute passed… Two… Three... All spent in silence as the wind stirred their hair gently.

Finally, the silence was broken. This time, it was Mi-na.

"I... never knew my mother."

Xianghua looked up at her companion, eyes still shining with tears. "You didn't?"

Mi-na nodded. "She died when I was still a baby, so I didn't get the chance to really... y'know, connect. My brother died around the same time, too. After that, when I was old enough to start, my father started training me pretty hard. I didn't mind though – I loved it." Mi-na smiled, her eyes lighting up like candles. Seeing that look on Mi-na's face made Xianghua smile again. "There were so many weapons to play with, and my father taught me how to use most, if not all of them. Still, the fact of the matter is that in the end, he wanted a son." The younger woman remained silent as the tale continued, listening intently. Like that night at the teahouse, she found herself transfixed.

Time passed.

"… So he tried to get me hitched to my best friend. Key word here being 'tried'," she stated with a chuckle. "Apparently, he was trying to get him adopted into the family, and knew that there was only one way that would happen. And I had no say at all! So I figured, if I couldn't join the Coastal Defense Force, I just might prove myself otherwise."

Xianghua nodded. "So you went looking for the Soul Edge."

Mi-na scoffed. "Some help that turned out to be. I had barely left the school when I caught up to Seong-gyeong, and told him about the planned attack on our shores. We've got as much trouble with Japan as you guys do, and they're practically next door. Only problem was, he wouldn't let me go any further... and I got shipped right back to where I'd started. It hadn't even been a month."

Xianghua laughed. She couldn't help it – it was funny. "That had to be really embarrassing."

Mi-na smirked and said, "I don't get embarrassed."

Xianghua quirked an eyebrow and said, "Oh, really now? You mean, you've never been embarrassed before?"

Mi-na shook her head. "Never."

Xianghua giggled to herself, trying to think of something to say that would make Mi-na blush, and something occurred to her. "So tell me, what do you think of Kilik? Or Maxi?" The Korean blinked for a moment, caught a bit off-guard by the question. But she quickly realized that her friend was just trying to tease her, and smirked. "Kilik is a monk, Xianghua. I doubt that he'd be in for a roll in the hay. Maxi is too tall, and he thinks he's everything that a woman desires. Not exactly what I would look for in a guy. Besides," she said with a hint of distaste, "he's a pirate."

Xianghua grinned. She had hit a nerve. "But he's cute, don't you think?"

Mi-na frowned. "But he's a pirate. Being cute doesn't redeem him for that."

"So you admit he's cute."

Mi-na's expression started to go sour... until she saw an opening in this little verbal spar of theirs.

"You sound like you're into him."

Xianghua's mouth went so wide, it would have been easy to stuff her foot and most of her leg in there. "You can't be serious! I wouldn't go for a man like that if we were the only two people in the world!" Xianghua shouted. Now she was flustered, and it made her face flush and her eyes shine in the most... attractive way. Mi-na chuckled in amusement, and Xianghua brought her little fit to a halt as she realized what was going on.

"...No fair. You tricked me."

Mi-na's laughter deepened. "Hey, never start something that you're not sure you'll win." Mi-na paused for a moment as something occurred to her, and said, "What about Kilik?"

Xianghua adopted an expression that practically screamed, 'What, are you kidding me?'

"Oh, no. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who's all that interested in girls – at least, not like that. Seems more like a brother than a lover… Come to think of it," she continued, "I don't know who I like, really."

Mi-na gave Xianghua a searching look, as if trying to look straight into her soul. After a brief period of silence, she muttered, "I don't know who I like either…"

Xianghua felt her face flush again, and she turned away, wondering why her heart had started beating faster so suddenly. After a few seconds, she said, "Well… it's getting late. I should probably head to bed." She glanced at Mi-na, who hadn't looked away from her yet. She swallowed nervously, trying to control her heart rate, and whispered, "Good night."

"Good night," said Mi-na, who finally looked away at last, and Xianghua headed back inside. As she walked towards her room, she couldn't help wondering what had just taken place between her Korean companion and herself…


The following day, the caravan was preparing to leave. For Seong Mi-na, this meant she needed to find something to do to pass the time while the Imperial entourage packed everything up. Today, she was wearing an outfit that differed from her usual gold-and-crimson attire. She wore a white silk tunic with full sleeves, instead of a sleeveless tunic. Atop this, she wore a green dress with blue trim near the top. She had even done away with the headband she usually sported. A small ball sat on the ground beside her.

Xianghua, on the other hand was wearing her Imperial Guards' uniform, which was all red silk with gold trim. The legs of the pants were cut short, just below the hips, exposing most of her legs. Her shoes were soft silk, held together by a pair of cloth cuffs on her ankles. It was a rather racy outfit, compared to what she usually wore, but it served her purposes adequately.

As they stood in the courtyard in front of the inn, waiting for their entourage to finish packing, Xianghua asked, "So, how do you play this again?"

Mi-na smiled and explained again, placing her right foot atop the ball. "Like I said, it's simple. You keep this ball in the air for as long as possible using just your feet. No hands, no head, no other part of the body besides your legs and feet. The one who can do it the longest wins. Easy enough, right?"

Xianghua grinned. "Sounds a bit too easy."

The Korean smirked. "Fine then. You go first," she said as she slid the ball out from under her right foot, slid her toes beneath it, and flicked the ball towards the female guard, sending it sailing casually through the air.

Xianghua caught it easily with her left foot, the ball sitting just atop her instep before she flicked it straight upwards. With that, she calmly began to kick and flick the ball in the air. Her heels, her toes, her knees, anything that wasn't above the waist was used. Well, almost everything... when the ball bumped against her left hip, she knew that she had lost, because the ball was knocked towards the wall of a nearby building. "Shoot!"

Mi-na smiled and said, "Pretty good. There's a way to avoid what just happened there, though."

Xianghua looked back over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow she went to retrieve the ball. "Oh, really? Why don't you show me, then?"

She threw the ball towards Mi-na, who promptly let it bounce off of her left knee and started mimicking what Xianghua had done to keep the ball afloat. Just like it had with the Chinese woman, the ball headed towards Mi-na's left hip... Xianghua smirked, thinking that she would meet the same fate.

She didn't.

Rising up on her toes slightly and turning her back towards the ball a split second before impact, Mi-na bumped it upwards just enough for it to sail right over her head, and right back into play. Xianghua's jaw slackened and her eyes widened, the pupils dilating to get a good eyeful.

'Did she really just do that?'

Mi-na let the ball rest on her right instep for a moment, smiling confidently at Xianghua. "See? Simple."

Xianghua walked towards Mi-na and said, "Teach me how to do that."

The Korean raised an eyebrow. "What, you mean now?"

Xianghua nodded. "Yes, now! We have time, don't we? That was great – I want to be able to do that."

Mi-na smiled and said, "Sure thing. Turn around right quick."

Xianghua obeyed eagerly... but she wasn't so eager anymore as Mi-na placed her hands on Xianghua's hips. A heated blush coated her cheeks, and her heart started thumping a little faster. "What in the world are you doing?" she whispered urgently.

Mi-na smiled. "Be calm. I'm only trying to help." Still, as she slipped her long, strong fingers around the smaller woman's hips, she suddenly recalled the moment that had taken place between them the previous night. She'd felt a bit odd, then, and ever since, she'd wondered what it was that had made her feel that way... and as she thought about that, she found herself marveling at how… soft and… smooth… Xianghua's hips felt, even through her clothing.

Suddenly, she felt odd again, just like she had the night before.

She shook her head to clear these thought from her mind, and got back to teaching. "Okay. First, push your feet into the ground by bending your legs." Xianghua did so. "Okay, now push upwards with the balls of your feet, but don't jump, and thrust your hips outwards when you do it." Again, the younger woman did as she was told, and Mi-na felt her breath catch as the muscles in Xianghua's hips tightened beneath her palms.

She felt herself blush for reasons unknown, but Xianghua did not see. 'What's wrong with me?' she thought, trying to force herself to stop blushing. Fortunately, she was still able to keep her voice calm and level as she spoke again. "Okay, now do it again, but with less bend in your legs." Xianghua nodded, and did it again. Once again, her hips responded correctly, and Mi-na almost had to remove her hands.

'This is really weird...'

But she did not pull away as she asked for Xianghua to perform the action one last time, and to bend her knees even less while doing so. "It was how I was able to turn around, pop my legs, and hit the ball in one movement."

Xianghua smiled and said, "You really are something else. But would you... um... move your hands this time?" Xianghua turned her head to look at Mi-na over her left shoulder, and the adorable little blush on Xianghua's cheeks did something strange to Mi-na's heart rate. "You're distracting me."

Mentally, Mi-na acknowledged that she knew how the younger girl felt, but she said nothing. She pulled her hands away, and watched as Xianghua performed the movement. Her eyes drifted to Xianghua's behind as she did it again… and as she watched that rear end of hers bob up and down, Mi-na felt the blush returning to her cheeks once again…

"Perfect," she managed to say, albeit a little hoarsely.

Xianghua turned around and smiled brightly, gesturing at the ball. "I want to try with the ball now, to see if I can actually do it."

Mi-na managed to push the strange thoughts out of her head, and smirked. "You sure? Might want to work on your footwork before you do the turn. This isn't a simple move – it takes timing and precision."

Xianghua pouted. "So you're saying that I can't do it?"

Mi-na chuckled as she picked up the ball with her instep, and flicked it in a graceful arc through the air at Xianghua. "Go for it."

After a few kicks to get the ball in position, Xianghua tried to apply the technique that the Korean had taught her. This time, Mi-na watched intently, doing her best to keep her mind clear of the strange thoughts. And lo and behold, the ball bounced off of the young woman's lower back, sailing cleanly back into the air, over her head, and back down towards the ground, heading for a spot that would require the same technique she had just used. Xianghua dipped low, using her legs to pivot and turn halfway around before bumping the ball back into the air.

As she watched Xianghua hips bobbing up and down, Mi-na suddenly found herself imagining her hands on Xianghua's waist, caressing it gently with her long fingers… this time, without any clothes between her palms and the younger woman's skin…

Blushing furiously, Mi-na forced the thoughts from her mind. Still, they had left an impression, and she couldn't help wondering why she was having such thoughts in the first place. More than a little confused and embarrassed, she looked down to hide her face with her bangs.

Meanwhile, now that she had gotten the hang of the trick, the young guard captain played the game quite skillfully. By now, a few of the guards had stopped to watch her play. Every now and then, they would clap whenever she managed to pull off a particularly difficult maneuver. Finally, the ball struck the ground after a good two minutes, far exceeding Mi-na's time. Xianghua picked the ball up, and bowed to her applauding audience, who returned to work.

"Looks like I won, huh?" she said, turning to look at the other woman. The Korean did not respond, and Xianghua inclined her head in curiosity.

"...Mi-na? Are you okay?" she said, walking over to her. Still, the Korean did not react, and Xianghua bent down so she could look into her face… and froze. Suddenly, they found themselves transfixed by one another's gazes. Xianghua was hypnotized by Mi-na's chocolate-brown pupils, and Mi-na was lost in the younger woman's radiant eyes.

"...Pretty..." Xianghua whispered, hypnotized.

Mi-na responded without thinking. "Yes... yes you are."

Xianghua felt herself flush. For the longest time, they stood there, not able and not wanting to look away. Compelled by an intense, primal urge, Mi-na started leaning toward Xianghua, her eyes drifting shut slowly. Xianghua parted her lips slightly, letting her eyes slide closed as well as their faces drew closer…

"Ahem…"

Suddenly, they both snapped out of it, and the both of them quickly pulled away, blushing furiously. They looked up, and saw Kilik standing there, looking a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable. The man was a bit naïve, but even he was perceptive enough to realize that he had just interrupted something. "Errrr… we're ready to go. Just thought you should know…" When he received no response, Kilik swallowed nervously, and hurried away.

"We… we should probably get going," said Mi-na, who kept her eyes locked on the ground.

"Yeah…" replied Xianghua, who couldn't seem to rip her eyes away from the wall of a nearby building. After a few more seconds of silence, when neither of them had anything else to say, they walked away and headed for the cart that held all their equipment. Xianghua sat on the end of the cart, while Mi-na opted to walk alongside it. The whole time, they avoided one another's eyes, and battled with the storm of confusing emotions that raged inside each of them.

Even as they left Hotan, neither of them could stop thinking about what had almost taken place, and neither could figure out why they felt the way they did...


One week and three days later, they were about to exit China's territorial control. Now in the city of Kashgar, the final stop in China's section of the old Silk Road, they had found another inn to rest at. As they entered the city proper, and the sun made its final descent below the horizon, the sky was painted twin shades of red and gold, as if to mimic Mi-na's choice of clothing.

Later that night, as they performed in the vast center of trading and commerce, they heard that things were getting rather interesting near the city. The guards had been put on a higher state of alert, but nothing had broken out in Kashgar itself yet.

This new information troubled Xianghua. Was it Soul Edge? Was it a battle? Or was it nothing at all? She wanted to investigate immediately, and she voiced her opinion as they headed toward the inn that the older woman had already arranged that they stay at, but Mi-na wasn't exactly keen on that idea.

"We need rest, Xianghua. It's been almost a month in this desert – we need to get ready for the rest of the trip. Besides, we have no idea whether these stories are true or not. It's better to try and talk to someone who's actually been out that way."

Of course, Mi-na spoke reason, but Xianghua shook her head. "But if we wait, we could lose even more information! I don't want to be the last one to know things, especially where the Soul Edge might be concerned. Besides," she continued, making a counter-point of her own, "Whether it's true or not is best found out by going out there and seeing what's what, don't you think?"

Mi-na smiled. Xianghua never liked to be last in anything, but at least she was beginning to improve in that department, just like Mi-na. Once upon a time, coming in last place would have been unacceptable to the Korean. But she had gotten past that – matured. She could forget things now – let go of all those injuries and hurts that seemed insignificant in retrospect. She fought, and she moved on without looking back.

In any event... she placed a hand on Xianghua's shoulder with an amused smile. "You're gonna have to trust me on this. We can't just go flying in there without any sort of information. Wait for now, okay?" The sun happened to shine in just the right way today, because Mi-na's eyes sparkled as if they were lit with some kind of inner fire. Xianghua couldn't help but agree with her, when Mi-na's eyes did that. The Chinese woman nodded in response, her eyes wide in fascination.

Mi-na nodded tersely and said, "Good. Let's head inside, okay?" She walked towards the inn with Xianghua in tow.

As she walked behind her, Xianghua kept her eyes on Mi-na's back, but a few moments later, they slid down… and fixated on Mi-na's rear end, swaying from side to side invitingly. 'It looks so soft...' she thought, and was suddenly possessed by the powerful urge to reach out and touch it.

Xianghua's fingers twitched, and she started to reach forward… Fortunately, she realized what she was doing, and drew her arm back quickly, as if stung. She blushed furiously, and darted around Mi-na to head inside.

Mi-na, surprised as a bright red Xianghua sprinted past her, called out. "Hey, Xianghua, are you al-"

"I'm fine!" the younger woman called out before disappearing through the door, leaving behind a puzzled Korean.

After the show, the Imperial entourage had gone to the inn ahead of the two women, and taken the liberty of carrying everyone's things to their respective rooms. Xianghua stopped only once to breathlessly ask one of the Imperial guards where her room was. After he answered, it was there that Xianghua ran, and as soon as she was inside, she slammed the door shut behind her, and pressed her back against the wall beside it.

'What's happening to me!?'

Meanwhile, Mi-na headed to her own room, and stepped inside. The way the younger woman was behaving mystified her… but not as much as her own behavior. Ever since meeting Xianghua, she found herself thinking and feeling things that confused her. And she did not like being confused.

She also did not like being hot, and her room, thanks to the desert heat, was broiling. Being on the edge of the desert didn't mean that the intense, burning temperature of the sun wasn't there all the same. 'Damn, I need to cool off,' she thought, and opened a window… but even the air was warm. Warm plus hot equaled unbearable, and there wasn't much she could do about it.

"You gotta be kidding me," Mi-na groaned as she fanned herself with one hand. There was only one thing she could do to remedy the situation, and it wasn't a pleasant thought.

'This is humiliating,' the Korean brooded as she took off her top, underneath which she wore nothing. 'If I were at home, I wouldn't have to endure this," she thought. Then again, it was one of the rigors of the road. She'd just have to suck it up.

Soon, her entire wardrobe from that day was on the floor. Now she stood alone in the middle of the room, wearing nothing but the thin sheen of sweat that coated her silky, shapely curves. And yet, it was still damned hot. "Sleep," she said resolutely. "I need sleep." She figured that a rest would to cool her off, or at least help her ignore the sun. Barring that, she could always try taking a bath. With that thought, she slipped into the bed, and pulled the sheets over her shoulders.

In a few minutes' time, she had passed out.


Chai Xianghua could not sleep.

She had attempted to get some shut eye after she had gone to her room, but to no avail. And it was all because of her: the Korean woman whom she was becoming increasingly attached to, and having some very odd thoughts about. Her heart stirred whenever she thought about her, and it did so even now. It was becoming frustrating, and she had no explanation for it. But she realized that she had to do something about it, and her impatient nature demanded that she do it right now.

Yes, that's right, in the middle of the night. When Xianghua wanted something, she wanted it right then, and didn't dawdle with pleasantries.

She knew where Mi-na's room was, sure enough. Sure, she was asleep at the moment, but she could always go back to sleep later. Right now, there was business to tend to. These feelings demanded to be heard and felt, and Xianghua would express them, if only to get some sleep. That said, she approached the room at the end of the hall and... found that the door opened quite easily.

'She must have forgotten to lock it,' she thought as she stepped into the room.

Abruptly, Xianghua froze. She felt a powerful shock run up her spine. Her pupils stretched as wide as they could go. Her breath felt like a block of ice in her throat. Her heart felt as if it was going to explode.

'Mi-na... she's...'

In the midst of the night, Mi-na had pushed the sheets down her body, exposing everything above her waist, and even part one leg. The moonlight pouring through the window of her room made Mi-na's skin glow in an unearthly manner. As she looked at her, Xianghua felt like liquid fire had been poured into her veins. She was compelled to move closer; get a better look. She went forward, and stood beside the bed, looking down at the Korean.

Mi-na's body was powerful, honed by training. But despite this, her curves were all woman. Her hair had become completely undone during the night, and it fanned outwards in a circle of brunette silk. It made her look... ethereal, in a way, as if she were a beautiful spirit descended from the heavens. Xianghua had never felt so… so… excited. Her heart was hammering so fast it was as if it wanted to leap out of her chest to be with Mi-na.

She wanted to see more.

Xianghua reached out slowly, grabbed a fistful of sheet, and started to pull the covers away so she could bear witness to any other wonders that this goddess of loveliness had to offer...

"Mmmmmm..."

She froze as Mi-na stirred. 'Shit!' she thought, as desire and excitement were quickly replaced by the fear of being caught. Xianghua released the sheet, which still covered the most intimate parts of the older woman, and backed away slowly, trying not to make any noise as she made her way out. As soon as she believed she was clear of any creaky floor boards, she left, closing the door behind her quietly. With that, she made her way down the hall as fast as she could, bolted inside of her room, closed the door, and locked it tight, panting heavily.

'My God… she was… I can't… so beautiful…'

Every single one of her nerves felt like it was on fire. She could feel something powerful coursing through her, causing her to shake uncontrollably. And all she could think about was Mi-na, laying there and looking so enticing…

The pale skin, shining like a lantern. The wonderful breasts, full and mature. Those hips, or rather what she could see of them, smooth, with hollows and curves pleasing to the eye. Xianghua's emotions took control as something started building within her. Instinct told her that she needed relief. Not standing up – definitely not standing up. Something told her that losing herself while standing up would end rather painfully, especially for her knees.

The juncture between her legs throbbed invitingly, and she whimpered softly. Xianghua drifted towards her bed slowly, her fingers undoing her sash as if they had a mind of their own. Her silk robe slid slowly from her shoulders, pooling around her feet and revealing her young, bare curves and soft, delicate skin. The air in the room was warm and stifling. Yet her body felt even hotter, and her skin started to glisten with sweat; partly because she was so hot, and partly because she was so excited. Xianghua sat on the edge of the bed… and acting on instinct, she reached hesitantly for her breasts…

Hands caressed, squeezing gently. A gasp, and a gentle moan. Xianghua's eyes turned a shade darker as they widened in awe. She squeezed a bit harder, and squeaked as the fires in her body flared, sending a shock of heat through her body. She also noticed that her palms were against her nipples and began rubbing. A moan turned into a purr.

She didn't even really know what she was doing, but she liked it. A lot. 'This is... what Mi-na makes me feel?'

Xianghua giggled, pleased with herself. 'I love it!' She fondled some more, her hips squirming and shivering slightly with every rub and squeeze. Other parts of her tingled, begging to be appeased in the same manner. In fact, everything begged. Hands, arms, elbows, shoulders, anywhere that had skin wanted a piece of the action. She soon discovered that her fingers were tingling.

Curious, she slid one of the fingers on her right hand into her mouth and suckled. To her surprise, a moan resonated from her throat. She suckled just a bit harder, trying to see where the limit was. A louder moan was the result. The excitement she felt was almost overwhelming, but still, there was something else needed to be doing; something else that needed to be pleased. Her left hand was no longer satisfied with just the breast, so she moved it along her skin, fingers playing against her belly as if it were some kind of instrument.

She had to remove her fingers from her mouth after a while in order to let the sounds she was making be heard, and the sweet music resonated from Xianghua's throat. "Mmmm... Ahhhhh..."

Her right hand was at her breasts again; she couldn't get enough of them. But now her left was heading towards parts of her body it had never traveled before… at least, not in this manner. Her legs happened to be one such place. The fingers of her left hand had passed the point where her heat was at its center, not daring to venture there just yet. But it wouldn't be left unattended for long, at the rate that this was progressing. Xianghua's inner thighs trembled as fingers strummed over and along them, causing her to produce noises that she had never made before. And still, she continued squeezing, massaging, and playing with her breasts, causing her to coo with pleasure.

Everything within her was building. Everything she did was causing her excitement to pool in that one place, the juncture between her thighs. The tingling there was becoming unbearable. She hesitated… then let her hand drift towards it.

'S-so hot...' she thought as her hand neared it, though it did not burn in a bad way – in fact, she did not know how to describe this new type of heat. She paused momentarily as her fingers hovered over the core of her desire for a moment... then the fingers of her left hand stroked the petals of her flower, and she jumped.

It felt like a small bolt of lightning had struck her, an electric shock traveling all the way from the top of her head to the soles of her feet, and then running back up to the junction between her legs.

'Yes! Good!!'

Her head rocked backwards as she started stroking gently, and wave after wave of pleasure pulsed through her being. Slowly, she leaned backwards on to the bed, and continued caressing her soft, moist entrance.

'Mi-na...'

Her name had an odd effect. The fires climbed higher, and Xianghua's hand started moving faster. At this point, through the haze of pleasure and passion, Xianghua realizes something profound; something that caused her to shiver violently and made her whimper desperately with overflowing passion as the discovery struck her like a white-hot mallet of emotion.

'I need you, Mi-na..."

Her hand moved even faster, and at this point, she found another bliss. One of her fingers had accidentally slipped inside of her body. Her inner walls seized up, clenching tightly around the intruder. Xianghua yelped and looked down in surprise. She saw the index finger of her left hand buried inside of her, and she moaned softly, strangely aroused by the sight. Slowly, she began moving her finger in and out, back and forth, and moaned loudly as the waves of ecstasy began anew, but even stronger than before.

'What… what if Mi-na were doing this to me?'

Xianghua shivered. The thought was exciting. Very much so. And as she thought about the possibility, her mind actually envisioned Mi-na participating in this wonderful, worldly exchange. It wasn't Xianghua's hands anymore, but the Korean's. Touching her where she touched, feeling what she felt, sharing her need. Her heart felt like it was about to burst from her chest as a sort of ecstasy rolled over her. Coherent thought was scattered to the four winds as she began moving her finger faster and faster. But it wasn't enough. No... not full enough.

She added another finger.

Xianghua had to bite her bottom lip in order to prevent herself from crying out. Her hips began to tremble uncontrollably. Had she been standing, this was the point where her legs would have given out. She didn't know why, but something within her, perhaps the flames that came from where her fingers kept slipping into her body repeatedly, told her that she was close to something beautiful. Her fingers were guided along by something wet and slippery. She didn't ask what it was, she simply kept going, kept feeding the fire.

Xianghua was consumed by her passion. Her sense of self, that innocence, was wiped clean – replaced by something new. Something wild and untamed. Something that she could dive into and be lost in. She had been awakened. Her heart was full now – full of her need to scream, to cry, to shout to the heavens.

It was barely restrained.

'Just a bit more... almost there...'

Her fingers moved at a frantic pace. Xianghua's arm began to get tired. She switched hands and continued, trying to pick up where she left off. She blankly stared at her slick, wet, right hand, the first two fingers coated in nectar. Without a second thought, she placed them in her mouth, tasting herself. It was exquisite, and brought her to a new level. The moan was stifled; suppressed.

Suddenly, she wanted to remove her fingers and let out a howl to the moon.

She had hit something sensitive. Something that felt so good. The sensation in her body transcended from a raging fire to something on the scale of an inferno. She reached out again... and found it once more. Another burst. And another. And...

"Mmmmmmhhhhmmm!"

The building sensation within her finally burst, spilling white-hot ecstasy into every inch of her body.

Xianghua arched her back, curled her toes, clamped her eyes shut, and thanked whatever divine powers were watching over her. This was everything... she felt like she had touched the sun and taken a piece of it back with her. Her body was alive, more so than it had ever been. Every thought in her mind had been erased, save for one. It wasn't even a complete thought – just a name. In the state she was currently in, thought immediately turned to speech.

"Mi-na..."

It took her a while to calm down. She didn't even notice that her fingers were still moving.


Seong Mi-na could not sleep.

The Korean woman sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes as she wondered what had woken her. Her eyes opened slowly, and she looked around, still drowsy. She noticed that the sheets had slid off most of her body, but she didn't pay it any mind. After seeing that her room was empty, Mi-na almost went back to sleep... until she heard something. The noises were strange – things that she had never heard before, and they seemed to be coming from down the hall. She was possessed by curiosity.

'Ah, well,' she mused. 'I'm awake already, so I might as well do some investigating.'

Mi-na got out of bed and dug through her trunk full of belongings for a robe. She found one, slipped it on, and tied the sash around her waist. Quietly, she slipped out into the hall, noting absentmindedly that she had forgotten to lock her door, and headed towards the source of the noises, wondering which room they came from. But when she finally traced them back to their source, her eyes widened. There was no way that Xianghua was making those strange sounds, was there? No possible way. Mi-na tried the door. It was locked. She couldn't get in.

Her mind ran through all the possible explanations as to why Xianghua could be making those sounds. Was she having a bad dream? Sick? In pain? That last thought motivated her to jerk at the door quite hard, but it wouldn't even budge, and the sounds within the room continued. She backed away, prepared to kick the damn thing down... and then, she began hearing sounds that were entirely too odd. Wet noises... cute squeaks... even a giggle or two. Whatever she was doing in there, she certainly wasn't sleeping or in pain.

'Okay, what the hell?'

Mi-na pressed her face against the crack between the door and the doorframe. The sight that she was met with was... well, to say the least, eye-opening. The Korean's mouth went dry and her heart rate skyrocketed at the sight of her Chinese friend pleasing herself. She shivered.

'Not now!' Mi-na lamented as something within her burned. She wanted it. She wanted to do what Xianghua was doing, with her no less. When she witnessed the guard's fingers sliding into her mouth, her legs suddenly felt like jelly, and she struggled to remain standing. A part of her felt ashamed for spying on what was obviously a private activity, but an even bigger part of her wanted to keep watching…

Xianghua was beautifully naked. She was approaching adulthood, and her young curves were beginning to come into their own. Her swift hands flowed over her skin, which glowed in the moonlight. Her black hair seemed to shine and wink as if there was stardust in her raven locks. Mi-na, whether she wanted to admit it or not, was captivated.

As the older woman stared, questions began forming in her mind – what had possessed her friend to do this? She remembered the conversation atop the roof, while they were out in the desert, and began to consider that Xianghua had lied to her.

'Is she… attracted to Maxi? Or Kilik?'

And if not them, was it someone amongst the other guards? Seong Mi-na found that her heart twisted in the worst way, and clutched a hand to her chest. It was a feeling she was familiar with. It was the feeling she had when someone else had something that she wanted. Jealousy and pain, but on a scale that she had never experienced before. Her heart felt like it was about to be torn apart. And then, another thought came on its heels... a thought that no longer shocked her.

'I… I care about Xianghua, and… I want her.'

Now, she could admit this irrefutably. And she didn't want anyone else to have her. Her thoughts organized themselves as she was filled with a sense of conviction. She would come to have her young Chinese friend, via any means at her disposal. Mi-na knew she had to claim her before anyone else caught Xianghua's eye. However, she suspected that she was a little too late, and her heart clenched again. If that were the case, she had lost before the game had started.

And Mi-na did not like losing.

It got to the point where the feelings became all too much, and her conviction was replaced with despair. Now she wanted to go back to her room, so she could be alone for a bit, but she still found herself rooted to the spot, still transfixed by the Xianghua. Only when the Chinese woman flopped back on to the bed was she able to blink, just once. It occurred to her that she should probably get back to her room before she sunk any deeper into depression, and she started to walk away, but before she was able to take more than two steps, she heard one final squeal from the Chinese woman. Despite the fact that she knew she shouldn't, Mi-na turned and headed back towards the door, wondering what had caused such a noise. As she looked through the crack, Mi-na saw Xianghua's back arch off the bed, which made her heart clench again.

Her mind reminded her that she should leave before she was caught, and she began to do so a second time. But before she could even take a step, she heard the one word that erased the pain in her heart, trading it for shock and elation. Just one word; a name:

"Mi-na..."

She stopped where she was, stunned. Her name… that meant that Xianghua had been doing that while thinking about her. Mi-na was suddenly filled with excitement and happiness. How could she have been so foolish, to have doubted how Xianghua felt about her? The signs had been so obvious… how had she not seen them before?

The Korean walked back towards her room, her heart beating fiercely in her chest and her legs unburdened, as if she were floating on air. It was impossible to describe how happy she felt.

She would sleep well that night.


A Prelude, Part 3- A Destiny Revealed

...Wow. That was a complete one-eighty in the direction I thought I'd take. I have just one person to thank for this... my beta reader. He told me what people were looking for (or rather, what he himself was looking for) and informed me of any changes I should make. Which is what good betas do. Humongous shout out to Master Nemesis for his big, bad, biting comments. He chewed me out so much, I swear I'm starting to bruise.

But this is the result!

Well then, now that I've started the scenes, will you all please review? I would appreciate feedback very much. Thanks, and good night. There will be one more prologue chapter before the remix of the opening is complete, so stay put!