Guess who's back with a brand-new story! It was requested by Merciless Ruby a few months back, and I'm finally through writing it. I know a few other people have been waiting for this one as well, so thank you all for your patience. The wait is finally over!
A huge thank you to PaperWishes, my awesome beta for this story! And because I'm now getting these chapters beta-ed, the updates may be slower, but rest assured, in due time everything will be posted up.
This is a Hitsuhina story based on Mulan.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach (Tite Kubo), or Mulan (Disney)
The pages of the Middle Kingdom are decrepit – weighed down with an eon of tales – but the winds of time cannot ruffle the edges. Nothing can alter the pages within this ancient tome, and we cannot hope even to sweep away that which we do not want to see. Penitent for history will not be overshadowed, but neither will glory. For on these timeless pages lies a tale so illustrious, to surpass it is but a fleeting dream.
But first, like every story so meticulously woven, we must start at the beginning.
Tang Dynasty 700 AD
Another day was dawning in the capital of China, Chang'an, also known as the Imperial City. Towards the outer perimeter of southern Chang'an, brown workhorses ploughed through the wide dirt streets, wooden carts strapped behind them. The sound of their shoes drumming on the road mingled with the early risers: the merchant citizens that needed to set up and open their street stalls. Soon the air was infused with the smell of freshly steamed pork buns and spiced bear meat. Commoners who worked in the rice fields slowly streamed out of the city. The bulls that pulled their empty carts ambled in the premature hours.
Further in towards the north, the dirt streets transformed into clean and levelled cobblestone roads. The wealthier citizens began to awake. Some began to get ready for the day ahead, getting ready for their jobs. Children ran out wildly, gathered in groups and ran off to play and explore. The keepers of the small monasteries and family shrines started to light incenses, so that the fragrance of camellia and cherry oak would be ready for the day's prayers.
Right up against the northern end of Chang'an, surrounded by high walls on three sides, was the imperial palace. It was the city's architectural edifice with its splendid white walls and red pagoda roofs. Two identical towers flanked both sides of the main three-tier building, and stairs of a hundred steps – wide enough to accommodate six large horses side by side – ran from the enormous square courtyard to the equally large front doors.
The sun was well above the horizon now. A young boy with a mop of brown hair walked through the bustling streets holding a bamboo scroll under his arm. The clothes he wore today were the finest ones he owned for today he would finally enter the imperial palace. Although he was only five years old, he was extremely literate. He headed towards the imperial palace to show his great promise to Emperor Yamamoto's scholars themselves.
"Sosuke dear, watch out!"
His mother pulled him back next to her. If she had been even a second late, her son would have been trampled under the horse's hooves. She bent down and brushed the dirt off his clothes.
"Thank you, Mama."
He smiled impishly when he received a pat on the head and continued on his way to the palace, this time staying by his mother's side. They walked into the imperial courtyard – which was always open to public – and began their ascent of the hundred steps to the front doors. There, they gave the guards their official invitation and were permitted inside the palace.
"Welcome, honoured guests. Our scholars will be with you momentarily."
The young servant bowed and walked away, leaving the two to take in the scene around them in awe. Soon the scholar came, dressed in a robe of crimson lined with gold. Both Etsuko and Sosuke Aizen placed their hand together and bowed in respect, albeit it being a little difficult for the young boy. When they straightened themselves, the scholar motioned for the bamboo scroll.
"Ah, what a wise composition for one so young. You show great promise for the literary arts, Sosuke Aizen." The scholar closed the scroll but did not hand it back. "I shall go and fetch the Emperor."
As soon as the scholar's robes were out of sight, Etsuko bent down to hug her son. "Mama is so proud of you, Sosuke. Emperor Yamamoto will be reading the very words you wrote!"
The scholar returned, leading them straight through the entrance room and into the Emperor's throne room. It was decorated heavily in red, the Chinese lucky colour. Many tapestries hung on the walls, embroidered with gold oriental dragons. At the top of a small flight of stairs, sitting on a legless and wide cushioned throne was Emperor Shigekuni Genryusai Yamamoto. His black hair was showing no signs of turning white, but he was approaching his later years. The three bowed in respect, lifting their heads back up only when told to.
"Sosuke Aizen," Emperor Yamamoto addressed. "Indeed you show great promise for one whose life has barely begun. Should you continue to work hard and strive to expand your thoughts and learn about the world around you, I have no doubts that you will become a personal consultant of mine."
"T-thank you," the child managed, scarcely concealing his pride.
"Until we meet again young one. I expect to see you in the examination halls when you come of age."
Fifteen-year-old Sosuke Aizen stood proudly with his head held high as Emperor Yamamoto read through his examination. Ever since he last met with the Emperor ten years ago, he had spent every day studying diligently for this moment: the moment when he would be made a part of the Emperor's consul. Even before he met with the Emperor, it had been his greatest dream. That dream was fortified and made more into a reality when the Emperor spoke words of encouragement to him that day so long ago.
One could only ever take the examination once, but he held no doubt in his ability to pass. So close to realising his dream, basking in the knowledge of all his hard work and natural intelligence, he failed to see the eyebrows of Emperor Yamamoto crease more inwards the further he progressed through the bamboo scroll. He reached the end of the scroll and paused before rolling it back up. He handed it to the servant next to him, who promptly scurried down to hand back to the examinee.
"Sosuke Aizen, I regret to inform you that you have failed the examination."
The smile on his face fell down and he cautiously looked from the Emperor to the scroll in his hands in complete and utter shock. He didn't understand it; failure? There must be some mistake!
"With all due respect, your Excellency," he began, voice wavering almost inaudible, "why have I not passed? I have studied hard – extremely hard, every single day for the past decade. Why, what did I do wrong?" he pleaded, desperation edging his words.
"It is simple. You failed to heed my words. To become a part of my consul, you must open yourself to the world around you and seek to broaden your horizons."
"B-but your Excellency, I've studied upon the history and the victories of our Middle Kingdom, the great rise to our capital, even analysed the very essence of our life! I have memorised many books in our archives and have accumulated knowledge in all imaginable aspects!"
"But no matter how many of the worldly texts you commit to memory, it does not change how closed and narrow your mind remains. I am afraid my consul will find no use of vision as shallow as the puddles."
The Emperor said no more to him and called for the next examinee. Sosuke Aizen was lead numbly out of the palace. He stood frozen and listened as the gates into the palace slammed behind him with a thunderous bang. The sun was setting; it was nearly the end of day. The scroll rested in his slack grip as he half-consciously plodded down the front steps. He found himself stopping when he reached the middle of the courtyard. Turning around, he gazed upon the imperial palace.
All of his dreams were born inside those walls, and inside those walls was where his dreams were mercilessly shattered. As he looked upon those white walls, he realised that if the Emperor had never said those words to him, then that dream could have never sprouted. It would have died off as a bud, as many dreams that children have do. Ten years of his life was wasted on some old fool couldn't even govern the country without the help of his precious consul.
He tightened his grip around the scroll until his fingernails tore through the bamboo. His brown eyes burned with passionate fury. Casting the scroll into the dirt, he scuffed it under his shoes until it was damaged irreparably. Without a second look at the palace, he walked back into town with nothing but revenge on his mind.
Winds whipped through the Mongolian forests, forcing the sturdy trees to bend at their will. Hundreds of pine needles were blown off, threatening to stab anything in their way. It was the darkest hour of night, and the moon and stars were well concealed behind a thick blanket of clouds. A large and muscular horse with a coat that rivalled the night slowly stepped out from the forest. Riding it was a hooded figure covered in clothes sewn from thick wolf pelt. Small puffs of mists appeared and faded with each deep breath the figure took.
Stretched before the figure were the frozen plains of Khitan; further down rose into the hazardous Honshu Mountains; and beyond that, the imperial capital of Chang'an.
"Are we going directly for Chang'an again, Aizen, sir?"
Two more figures rode up next to the black horse on their own mounts, though neither horse could compare with that of their leader. Aizen pushed back his heavy hood, revealing a chiselled face, brown hair and heartless eyes. He smirked at the terrain that stretched before him.
"Yes. It's about time my revenge is extracted."
It had been ten years since he last set foot in Chang'an, but twenty-five in total since he fled as a boy. After he escaped from his hometown that day, he travelled down the path of a nomadic warrior. At first he trained deep in the nearby forest, surviving off the game he caught and the water from the river. It was extremely difficult to get by at first; he had never done anything like this before, but his ever-growing thirst for revenge drove him to continue.
The great intellect he was blessed with was an invaluable aid to him. During the first four years in the forest, he survived by crafting makeshift weapons out of sharpened rocks. Soon, with the aid of his crude spears and daggers, he had access to many different pelts and bones, using them to ease the strain of survival. To this day he still had the very first spearhead he crafted. The Emperor was wrong. To see such banalities as weapons; was that not proof in itself that he possessed a mind as broad as the heavens?
Aizen smirked and patted the small leather pocket which kept that spearhead close to him. The idea of plunging it into the Emperor's heart, taking his life and becoming the new Emperor of China excited his senses in every way. He slipped his hood back on and looked smugly at the army, his army of two hundred thousand emerging slowly from the forest.
:) It feels so good to be posting something up again! I'm working on my next one-shot for One, Two, Skip a Few, so hopefully that will be out soon. Also, the title will be explained in the next chapter!
Thank you for reading! Please review!