This was written for LJ's Sci-Fi Big Bang challenge between July 2009 and October 2009. Special thanks to Yappichick for beta'ing!

Disclaimer: Jade Empire belongs to Bioware and Microsoft. I have no rights to the game. This piece of fanwork is unofficial and not making a profit.

This was the first time Kia Min had ever seen the Imperial Palace.

She knew that the Guild Leader kept many places at his main base of operations to avoid suspicion and to keep from being cornered by disgruntled slavers and their customers. He often kept his "right hands" stationed at select locations depending on where the interests of the Guild lie. They rotated seasons at a time, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, until their mission in that area was accomplished. But there was one place she never once considered, despite the rumors flitting about the Empire and among the Guild members, one place she never once suspected.

And so, when the flyer the Guild Leader had sent for her took port in the floating palace above the Imperial City, she grabbed her staff and prepared to fight her way out of an arrest. Being one of the Guild's top agents was tricky and dirty business, even if they were helping to restore the Jade Empire to its former glory. Often in busier cities she would spot scrolls requesting the arrest of any of the leaders of the Guild. This was usually by the mandate of the city's leader, and not by imperial decree, and the descriptions of the culprits were very vague.

The pilot of her flyer laughed when he saw her grab her staff as he turned off the machinery. "Min," he said, "I know your skill with the staff made of bamboo is legendary, but it is no match against the Lotus Monks."

"Are you so sure about that? The tales are true, you know. I have killed Lotus Monks with this staff, when they were known as Lotus Assassins." She left out the part where she had nearly died when she was only one against many of them. Besides, that was for lack of skill at the time--not because her weapon was made out of bamboo.

The pilot shrugged. "Well, you can leave it behind, anyway. The Guild Leader will be here to meet you shortly." He paused. "But I get the feeling you won't. Leave your staff behind, that is."

"Of course not," she hissed as she opened the door to the flyer carefully. "You brought me to the Imperial Palace. Why would the Empress shelter the head of the Guild?"

"Maybe because," said the pilot, "she's sanctioning it. Oh look, here is the illustrious Guild Leader now. Good luck, Min. I'll be here when you're done."

She peeked out the flyer and saw the man in question approach, his hair pulled into a topknot for the first time since their meeting in the alleyway those years ago after she chased him down. He was not wearing his Guildsman black outfit, either; his attire was the same blue robes with white wispy clouds he wore at that meeting as well. She frowned. What was going on?

Kia Min hopped out of the flyer with her staff in hand. "You should have told me to dress more appropriately for visiting the palace," she chided.

"What, and risk you not coming because of the fear it'd be a trap?" he said, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Come. We have much to discuss, and in private."

He led her through the large doors, and she followed a few paces behind. Her eyes wildly scanned the halls of the palace, catching sight of nobles in brightly colored silks and servants in earthly shades of cotton bustling about. The Guild Leader had a condition for when Guilders visited him: not to wear anything or look like anybody who may be a member of the spiteful syndicate. She was happy that he had done so; at least nobody looked at her with anymore than scorn. No suspicion, no spite, no fear.

They came to a modest office at the far end of the corridors, and he opened the door and ushered her in. The door clicked behind them, and she stood in place beside it while he walked over to scroll-covered desk.

"I have some good news for you," he said. "By the last Imperial report, we have successfully driven all of the slavers out of business, and most have been imprisoned. The others are identified, and the Lotus Monks and the Imperial Army are after them now."

"That is good news," she said slowly. She already knew that, but she knew she must be patient: this man was never to the point.

"What I wanted to accomplish with the Guild is done," he continued, "and so I feel it's time for me to retire. But I cannot disband the group. Most of what we have done was accomplished through... less than legal means. And we've gotten away with it. I'm not about to unleash an entire army of crooks upon the Empire. Sun Lian would have my head, son or no."

She took a moment to take everything in. "So it's true, that we are sanctioned by the Empress?"

He regarded for a moment, and then he chuckled. "It would look bad if she ever publicly admitted it, or even to the court, but, yes. And she ordered me not to tell anybody but my wife. Not even my most trusted confidant. That's why I never brought any of you here. But now that I'm retiring, the Empress is sure to forgive me this trespass.

"Kia Min," said Sky, "I want you to take my place as the Head of the Guild."