Disclaimer: All characters, etc. from the Disney movie belongs to Disney. Any characters, events, etc. that resemble those from the movie 'Hero' belong to the brilliant director Zhang Yimou and the other producers of that movie.

Summary: Takes place 3 years after the movie. China is under the rule of a new Emperor, whose brutal and excessive rule has brought about famine and suffering throughout the country. Mulan and Shang meet again for the first time since he returned her helmet; but they're fighting on opposite sides. What will happen?

A/N: Mulan was believed to have lived during the Sui Dynasty, and I have set this fic in that time period. It is not a historical fic per se but the story is based on a particular legend from that time. Once again I have warped and collapsed the timeline for purposes of the story and to stay somewhat within the confines of the timeline of the Disney movie. I have also used fictional names for the Emperors since I have changed things (also I can have more leeway than if I actually used the historical figures which I only know very general things about); however the old Emperor in the story is modeled after the real-life Emperor Sui Wen Di and his son after Sui Yang Di. I will give background about the real events and accounts as they come up so the readers have an idea of what the actual history is.

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Chapter 1

General Li Shang retired to his tent, tying the flap tightly closed to keep as much of the cold and wind out as he could. He lit the candle inside and sat down on the mat that would be his bed for the night, removing his gloves and rubbing his hands together to warm them.

Winter had just started and it was already a bitter one. They were supposed to march further today; he'd been hoping to reach Zhengzhou that evening. They would rest there for a short time and prepare for the next leg of the journey. But he decided to give his troop and himself a break and found a spot to camp earlier so they could get out of the cold.

Their destination was a small village called Shangqiu, in the eastern part of the Henan province. A jolt of electricity had gone through his body the minute the word was off Luo Di's tongue. Shangqiu was Mulan's village.

He'd been there about three years ago after the war they'd fought together, she disguised as a man in his camp, revealed after she was wounded. Wu Di, Luo Di's father who was the Emperor at the time, had declared her a heroine and had bowed to her in homage. He'd even offered her a position on his council. But she had only wanted to go home.

Shang went after her to return her helmet. He hadn't even known what he wanted to say to her. He only knew that everything had happened much too fast; the battle in the Tung Shao Pass and then in the Imperial City, her revealing, the Emperor's homage to her. And then she was gone just as quickly. He felt like he needed to see her again, to get to know her, and to grasp everything that had occurred like a great, tempestuous storm.

If she had accepted the position he would have seen her all the time, being on duty in the Imperial City. Despite the fact that she had chosen to stay home, he had made up his mind to find a way to still see her sometimes after the day he returned her helmet and was invited for dinner.

He'd been too busy to go all the way to Shangqiu and he just hadn't been able to bring himself to write a letter. He didn't know why. Perhaps he felt that she was just too extraordinary for someone like him.

There were several times that he thought he'd seen her in the palace and had hurried toward her; but they were fleeting moments and every time she was gone by the time he reached the spot where he thought he'd seen her, and nowhere in sight when he looked around in every direction. He was convinced that he'd imagined her every time.

He wondered if he would run into her again now that he was going to be in her village. He sighed and shook his head. Just because he was available didn't mean she was. He was sure she was married now. Maybe she wasn't even living in that village anymore.

A wave of emotion swept through him, a mixture of regret and relief. What would he say to her anyway? So much time had passed and they weren't close. They'd been comrades in the war, friends in the context of the army, and she'd saved his life. That was really all that existed between them. And then he'd never met her again.

He shook it off and dropped his head in his hands, closing his eyes, thinking now about the sights he had seen during their travels, signs that did not bode well for this mission.

There had been a drastic change for the worse in China since Luo Di had ascended to the throne. Shang had witnessed it as he and the troops rode through the countryside on their way here, passing through small villages and past farms, many that had been ravaged by drought and neglect. It was obvious that people here were starving, some of them just managing to eke out a meager living, others not able to support themselves at all.

A memory was sparked by those sights. Before he left the capital he had attended a dinner given by Luo Di for all of the generals. A foreign diplomat was visiting at the time and the Emperor had all the trees around the palace decorated with colorful silk. He remembered overhearing the diplomat ask Luo Di, "How is it that your majesty has clothing for trees when the people have no food?"

Shang had been struck by the comment, but at that point he hadn't seen the countryside in a long time. He had been stationed in the capital for the last three years or so, guarding the Imperial palace. It was a shock to be out riding in the countryside, out of the bubble, to actually see what that diplomat had been speaking of.

He was a military man, not a politician. But he wondered if serving this emperor was really the honorable thing to do. Rumors of pending uprisings were rampant and Luo Di had sent him to lead a troop to the east to put them down where they existed there. Other generals were dispatched to do the same in the north, south and west.

One of the main bases of the uprising in the east was believed to be near Shangqiu.

If the rumors were true, he could certainly understand. After seeing the way people away from the limits of the Imperial City lived, he could understand why they would rebel. He felt a tinge of regret that he had to be the one to lead his troops against them. They weren't treacherous or evil; they were hungry and desperate. They deserved to be helped, not punished.

Still, he was the Emperor's general and an Imperial order was an Imperial order.

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Mulan heaved a heavy sigh as she stood before the mirror in her old room and wound the bandage around her waist. It was time to be a man once more. After returning from battle, she never thought that she would ever have to disguise herself as a man again.

She slipped on the man's tunic and trousers that she had obtained and took a seat on the bed, glancing out the window toward the garden. Winter had come and it was already unbearably bitter and cold. The grass was covered with a thin layer of frost this morning, just as it had been the day she left for the palace three winters ago. A wave of sadness swept through her as she thought of it and the path that her life had taken now because of it.

She had turned down the Emperor's offer to be a council member, only to be called back to the palace to serve three months later when Chi Fu was dispatched on a diplomatic mission to the west.

She did not serve for very long under Wu Di. He died a few months after she came to reside in the palace. It was believed that his son had murdered him and seized the throne; but those were just whisperings and no one dared stir them up again out of fear of being overheard. People had been losing their heads for less since Luo Di had come into power.

Wu Di's death had saddened her greatly. He had been a kind old man, respectful of her, almost like a grandfather. He was understanding and greatly concerned for her well-being. It was Wu Di who had arranged for her to sit for her government exams and he arranged for her to get help studying for them. His rationale, in addition to her being better prepared to serve him, was that the other council members had worked very hard to pass those tests and earn their positions. As it was they were resentful of the woman warrior who had been placed among them; for her to have this position without working as hard as they did to get there would have made them all livid.

Some of the councilmen came to accept her but there were several who still grumbled and obviously resented a woman having the same position as them, even if she was China's heroine.

Unlike his father Wu Di, who had been a wise, just and moderate ruler, Luo Di lived lavishly, flaunting his power and his wealth and taxing the resources and labor of China. He also had an insatiable appetite for beautiful women.

It was Tian-mu, Wu Di's oldest friend and closest aide who told her about both father and son when she first got there. Tian-mu was a mature man, tall, thin and wiry like her father despite his age, with greying hair and a grey moustache, and it was he that had helped her prepare for her civil service exams. He shared the same ideals and values as his former Emperor.

Wu Di cared greatly for his subjects, thinking of them in later years as 'his children'; and he felt guilty that he lived so well when many of his people were starving.

"You would be too young to remember," Tian-mu had told her when she first arrived. "But fifteen years ago there was a famine in the land. Wu Di, in order to inspire us all to be more considerate of the people, invited us all to dinner. Instead of the meal we were accustomed to getting here in the palace he had a simple farmer family's meal brought out to everyone. So we would know what it was like. He openly declared to all that he was incompetent and to blame for not being able to improve the lives of the people.

"Even when he was younger, he lived a pious and frugal life," he explained. "He never kept concubines. His son, on the other hand, has always had a ton of concubines. He keeps them hidden from his father, as well as other aspects of his excessive lifestyle, because he knows his father would be very angry that he was living so extravagantly when so many people don't have food."

Li Tian-mu had turned out to be absolutely right about Luo Di. He was a man of lust, excessive and brutal in his spending and power. He initiated several projects on a grand scale, including the building of two additional capitals. Why he needed three capitals was beyond her. She thought he was crazy insisting on a second one. But, she supposed, a man of his appetites and his need for power required three capitals and three palaces from which to throw his weight around.

Still, the treasuries had become exhausted due to these projects as well as others, and the cost for him to journey back and forth to the other capitals.

Rumors were rampant that the populace had become disaffected. Luo Di was suspicious that there were assassins out there who might have reason to come after him. It was for this reason that so many were being executed these days. Anyone who spoke of anything that was perceived as potential treason would be seized immediately and put to death.

Mulan thought that she would be dismissed after Wu Di's death, and that his son would pick his own aides. But Luo Di had kept most of his father's aides, including her and Li Tian-mu. She supposed it was in honor of his father. Tian-mu had been his father's closest aide, and it was obvious to everyone that the Emperor had a special bond with the 'young man' who was the newest council member.

She had wished that Luo Di had dismissed her. The atmosphere in the palace became tenser and more oppressive with each passing day. And Luo Di had started giving her the eye, which was the last thing she wanted. Fortunately, there were younger, prettier women in the palace to keep him occupied and she was never approached.

Then the executions started. They appeared to be random at first. Whole families were brought before Luo Di and put to death for reasons that she hadn't had a clue about until now.

Two weeks before, Li Tian-mu and his entire family had been executed and she found out the reason why. And that was the day she fled the Imperial City and her service to the Emperor.

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A/N: More to follow shortly, including an explanation of why it was that Shang never caught up to Mulan even though they were both in the Imperial City. Please review and let me know what you think so far.

Note: Shangqiu is in the eastern Henan Province and is believed to be the historical Hua Mulan's hometown (according to one account).