Queen Of Shadows

A Jackie Chan Adventures FanFiction

Written by Nocturne No Kitsune

Concept Aided by Eduard Kessel

Beta'ed by ZimsMostLoyalServant

Thank you guys, you were of big help.

Summery: Last chapter, we witnessed as Jade suffered a trans-location and a transformation as Shendu's tampering with the Book of Ages went horribly wrong. We watched as Jade was suddenly overcome with her changes, both physically and situational, and fought to maintain a handle on herself. Now, Jade is trapped in a so far mysterious world, and surrounded by enemies. What will become of her now? Only time and experience will tell.

Warnings: Blood, light-to-mild violence, and possible light gore and cursing. If you're not one to like mental and moral issues, then this might not be for you.

Rated: T

Chapter two: The Status Quo

"This isn't a scarf… it's some animal's TAIL!"

At least, that is what she wanted to say, if not shout, out loud. Thankfully, Jade's adventuring instincts kicked in and she quickly slapped a hand over her mouth before aforementioned shout could escape. Unfortunately though, the act still produced a short lived if somewhat echoing clapping sound and she froze in horror as the half-whispers of conversation she might or might not have heard earlier came to a sudden stop.

With a frenzied yet silent urgency born from her years of child trickery, she quickly set the tail (of the poor animal to lose it) back in its cabinet and sat herself at the table with nary a ruffle to her kimono and waited for anything to happen with a well-feigned air of innocence and calm. Thankfully, she did not have to wait long as the screen door began to slide open...

:::Moments ago, somewhere nearby:::

Quiet conversation flowed around the table as the Generals conversed and argued with each other. Ikazuki and Ozeki subtly prodded at each other, carefully watched by Hiruzen while the demon shinobi politely discussed the recent activities along the coast with Kuro. All this was done with the absolute of civility, for the punishment for disrespect and unbecoming action in the Imperial Fortress of Nagai Kage Kyassuru* was harsh and swift, even unto the Generals themselves. Ikazuki had almost suffered it with his action before, his hot temper about to land him in hotter water if not for Hiruzen.

Hiruzen almost dignified it with a snort as the thought passed his mind.

Thankfully, at least for Ikazuki, this easily upset the Queen, especially since it was the Queen's duty to oversee the disciplinary action. Her Majesty was still young, and her steel was still soft and easily malleable. As it was Hiruzen's duty to see to the well being of their Queen, both physically and mentally, he would not allow that young fool Ikazuki to place her in such a position of discomfort. At least, not yet...

But that did not mean he could not pursue a more private arrangement for Ikazuki to be taught a proper lesson in holding one's temper in check at a later time, and away from the others. Perhaps some additional lessons in holding one's tongue would do the Samurai General well. After all, it was unbecoming if Ikazuki shared the events of their little time together with the others.

But before Hiruzen could continue his darkening train of thought, even as he continued an apparently innocent discussion with Kuro, a well-known sound reached his ears and caused him to stiffen. T'was the sound of gentle clapping, coming from behind the shoji screen doors that traditionally obscured her Imperial Majesty and her throne from view. All the other Generals stiffened as well, for the sound was a signal that the Queen was ready to be escorted out of her waiting room and grace them with her presence.

A sudden silence encompassed the table, and shadowed looks were shared all around before eyes settled on Hiruzen. As the Queen's personal bodyguard and adviser, it was his express privilege to escort their Queen to her throne. Not a word was spoken as the demonic shinobi stood from his seat at the head of the table, and vanished behind the sliding shoji with a bare whisper.

Behind the door was the Queen's throne, which stood softly illuminated by candlelight. Hiruzen spared it only a passing glance, instead continuing past it and to the separate set ofshoji that isolated the Queen's waiting room from the throne room. As was proper, he knelt on both knees before opening the door and bowed deeply, his forehead touching the Tatami mats and staying that way, even as he spoke.

"Your Imperial Highness, your loyal resident Generals are seated and await you for the morning reports on your empire."

If he had been sitting upright and able to see, he would have been greeted by the sight of his "Imperial Highness" being in an almost complete state of shock, complete with bugged out eyes and slack jaw.

Fortunately enough for Jade, he didn't, or else everything might have come crumbling down then and there.

:::Back with Jade:::

Now, Jade expected a lot of things to happen when that door opened. She had learned early on that trying to predict what would happen in her strange life was pretty much a impossible task, an unclimbable mountain. Things happened, and there was no way to tell what was going to happen or how it was going to happen or even when. So, she normally just went with the flow. She would even say it was a secret of survival in her line of work if you could call it that.

But this? This was even a bit over the top for her.

It was a standard Shadowkhan, which is how she had decided to think of them. But while his head was still covered, his clothing was more liken to a classic Japanese Hakama, though it was in the black and blue theme of the Khan. He had been on his knees when he opened the door and now he kowtowed to her before speaking.

"Your Imperial Highness, your loyal resident Generals are seated and await you for the morning reports on your empire." he said in a dark billowing voice.

So now she had Generals and an empire of all things; it was like taking a baseball bat to the back of her head. Why did it all have to just keep coming, how long had she even been awake at this point? Thankfully, there was no fainting involved, but Jade would admit to herself later on that the shellshock look she probably had would have been almost as bad as if she did.

But once again, Jade being Jade, salvaged it with an expert touch and fell into things easily enough. A stray thought came to her, and she wondered if in her past lives she was a strange mix of ninja, con artist, and actor or something along those lines. After all, where else would she be getting these skills? Either way, she wiped the stupefied look from her face and fell into her "Important Person" mode. She was still working on it, but Jade was a fair hand at bluffing either way. Watching all those movies helped a bit too.

So, she sat up a bit straighter, looked a bit more serious, and did her best at putting on a poker face that would make veteran card sharks proud. Thankful for a well place scroll on – herbalism? – That she pretended to be reading, she made a show of ignoring the strange Shadowkhan for a moment before looking up and over at him and in her best holier than thou tone addressed him.

"Thank you, you may rise now. Is there anything else you wish to inform me of?"

Inside, Jade was cringing and swearing she would slap herself silly later when she was alone. The tone and everything was authentic, and Jade herself was pretty sure that if she did not know better and heard herself just now, she would swear she was listening to a real high-brow and not pretending to be one. She absolutely hated people who thought they were better then everyone else just by simply existing, and now here she was pretending to be one.

Either way, she shoved it aside and replaced it with her typical Jadeness as the Shadowkhan in question ceased his bowing and instead took to standing ramrod straight. Even Jade had to admit, he looked a lot more intimidating than any other Shadowkhan she had seen. Something about how he wore formal clothing yet came off as completely ready to go ninja and kill someone.

Jade suppressed a shiver at the thought. Thinking something like that was not exactly a good idea in her situation. However, her attention turned back to the Shadowkhan as he lightly shook his head.

"No my lady, there is nothing else at the moment. Now then, you have finished your preparations? If so, the Generals await and I will escort you to your throne."

Jade nodded as her apparent escort turned to the side, opening the way for her to move past. She could also see the room beyond. It was not exactly barren, but from what she could see it was even more Spartan then the waiting room she was sitting in. Just an empty room with a rather grandiose throne, rows of lit candles, and a massive white pearl suspended over the aforementioned throne. Really, pretty barren in Jade's opinion.

Out of all of it, Jade was at least somewhat impressed with the pearl. The thing was huge, and must have been worth a fortune. Suspended from the roof by a set of silver chains, one to each corner, and set in a ring of black steel. It actually kinda reminded her of the moon, round and perfect in the night. She had to admit, it did look very pretty. She paid the most attention to it of all things as she calmly stood up and walked past the Shadowkhan, trying to barely pay attention to him as he fell into an easy step behind her. At the bare whisper of the sound of his feet, an idle thought struck her.

"Actually, not easy probably. He has way longer legs. I could probably never keep up with him if he started running, and I could probably never get away if it was me running…"

Jade once again suppressed a shiver, and could not help but wonder why she kept thinking like this. She was Jade Chan, fearless child adventurer! As she walked past the side of the throne and being careful to avoid catching her kimono on the candle stands, a small voice answered her in her head.

"Because, this time, you don't have Jackie to come save if you really mess up. Last time you checked, Jackie was still Shen-jacked, and do you really think that lizard is going to let him go just so he can come haul you out of the fire?"

She would have shaken her head and exclaimed herself loudly, banishing the un-Jadely thoughts from her mind, if not for the fact that she was being watched. So for the moment, she settled for setting her jaw in a grimace and tightening her hands into fists until she felt the sharp black nails digging into her palm. She had to stop when she almost felt like she was breaking skin, but it was enough. Turning around, she faced the throne in all its dark glory.

Now, from the back, the thing did not look too impressive. From the front, not so much, and it was fairly a given to say the throne all but screamed royalty. It was easy to tell just by looking at it that whoever got to sit in that massive thing was bound to be important, and when thought massive, it was. Apparently whoever designed the place had a thing with "Bigger is Better", since it was easily a great many times Jade's size. Even to an adult, it was probably pretty big. Like many things around her, it was carved from black stone, and with the way it seemed to shine, it was probably obsidian.

It was rather simple in its over all design, just a basic chair carved from a single piece, but as they say, it's the little things that matter. As the chair went up, so did the design. Blank stone gave way to intricate carvings and lettering. Careful attention, and you could see scenes etched into the dark stone after that, that ultimately gave way to a pair of snakes that wove around twin spires high above the throne sprouting from the back like trees. At the very top, the snakes came together and seemed to bite into a circle of steel, marked with a symbol of a fruit tree.

Over all, Jade was actually somewhat fearful that out of all the people she might expect to sit in that chair, it had to apparently be her. A small sigh, and she started up the steps covered with dark crimson carpet and ascended onto the throne. Taking the seat, she was actually surprised at how comfy it was. She attributed that to the silken pillows that it.

The only problems she found though were the facts that one, she could not reach the armrests properly, and two, if she tried to sit normally the edge of the seat would dig painfully into the back of her legs. So she settled for tucking her legs underneath her in a half-kneeling position. Staring ahead for a moment at the paper screen doors (she tried to remember what they were called) before she looked over at her escort and noticed his waiting expression. To Jade, he was apparently waiting for her to give him some sort of command.

Hoping for the best, she gave him a simple nod. And to her luck, it worked. He nodded in return, before banging a small gong. In his deep and billowy voice, he announced, "Her Imperial Majesty has arrived! Honor to the Queen of Shadows! Honor to the Empire of Shadows, and all its domains."

With that, he strode forward and eased open the paper screen doors, giving Jade the ability to see once again the room beyond.

And what a room it was.

Large, expansive, yet dark and shadowy with only bare lamplight set about in intermittent spacing. The walls and edges were deep in darkness, only the lightest hinting of various wall hangings and scrolls set in the alcoves. Directly in front her and down a small series of steps was a massive round table, looking for all means like one of the ones she saw in some old military movie. The top of the table was a single massive map, and if she did not know better, she would say it was of Japan. But before she could get too involved with examining the table, she forced herself to those seated at it. For once, she was actually glad she was used to living a life that made monster mash movies look normal, otherwise she might be slightly disturbed by the trio bowing to her in their seats.

Easily the most human was also the biggest, easily cutting equal with Tohru in sheer height and possible girth. She eyed the teapot and cup and wondered how in the world the huge Shadowkhan held them without breaking them. Shifting her sight to the second most humanoid, she was greeted by the sight of a much more heavily and elaborately armored Samurai Shadowkhan, with the exception that this one had blue-tinted lizard like qualities to his appearance. Finally, Jade set her eyes on the last one sitting at the table, if it could really be called sitting. To Jade, you sorta needed legs to sit, but it apparently did not deter the squid-like Shadowkhan. Bowing? That was another interesting concept considering that the Shadowkhan had... were those tentacles?

Jade just decided to stop thinking about it. She had ceremony to apparently deal. Much more pondering on the physiology of Shadowkhan and her head might explode. That, and while it tickled something inside her to see someone bowing to her, it was not in a good way. She just wanted to get this over with. So, she tried nodding again at the announcing Shadowkhan, hoping it was enough of a signal to get things moving. At this point, she didn't trust her tongue not to betray her.

Thankfully, her luck paid off again. The elegantly dressed Shadowkhan (were his eyes orange?) nodded at her in return, before facing the three figures seated at the table from his position beside the (her?) throne. Now that she was actually seated and not thinking constantly, just trying to remain focused, all sorts of random thoughts were bombarding her. She did her best to remain concentrated, and hoped to high heaven that she somehow did not screw this up. So focused was she on, well, remaining focused, that she actually missed whatever the Shadowkhan had been about to say, and now the three Generals were resumed sitting.

As it was, she even almost missed the question posed to her the next moment, and barely caught herself. Thankfully, something about that Shadowkhan's voice managed to penetrate through the fog of her mind.

"So your Highness, who do you wish to give their report first? I believe that Ikazuki has news from the front at Kyushu, while Generals Kuro and Ozeki have news from their respective posts in and outside the borders of the empire."

Jade, for her sake, had discovered the simple power of a nod and a straight face and decided to stick to it like a religion. Fewer words she had to speak, the better. Unfortunately, it seemed fate was not going to let her get away with just that. So, at random, she quickly picked one of the offered options. With a straight face and a straighter voice, she made her choice. Not that she knew who any of them where, just their names and not who went to them, but still.

"Ikazuki, you may proceed."

She would later wonder if those words might or might not have been a mistake.

:::The Generals:::

"Ikazuki, you may proceed."

If someone were to step in at that very moment, they could have heard a pin drop in the split second after that was said. As it was, a very small and silent ripple of shock went through the Generals, especially Ikazuki. With the Queen, even the slightest bit of attention meant something, and with the constant power play in effect by the different Generals for her favor it meant even more so. Being selected to give one's report first meant that your information and what you had to offer was considered more important then what the others had, and for Ikazuki that normally meant being selected to report last.

The Queen's distaste for violence had always been clear, if not the reasoning, which remained a mystery. So for him, whose sole reason for existence was to make war on as great and grand a scale as possible, saw much in the way of a silent distaste by their young ruler.

So, ignoring the looks from the other two Generals and the strange one from Hiruzen, he seized the chance for what it was. He would deal with the fallout later, as he did not doubt there would be.

Setting his drink to the side, the armored demon bowed deeply, and started his report.

"Thank you, your Highness. I, Ikazuki of the Buki tribe, shall present my report on your empire's armies and their efforts."

As Ikazuki started, Jade's mind went elsewhere. She had been thinking once she saw the table that she was in somewhere that was fairly like Japan. She was pretty sure of it, with everything else up to now. Oh, she might of looked like she was paying rapt attention to Ikazuki (apparently that was the blue-tinted lizard samurai's name) but in truth she was only half-listening to him while she tried to process everything. She roved her eyes over the map, drinking in the details, all in an effort to try to piece together more facts. Overall, the picture she got was not entirely pleasant, at least not for humanity.

Shikoku was completely covered by carved tokens depicting castles or soldiers, all of them looking scarily like Shadowkhan. Even the sea around Shikoku was covered with tokens, carved to look like miniature ships, each one sleek and fierce. Kyushu was only slightly better off, with the eastern coast festering with more Shadowkhan tokens while more lightly colored tokens stood opposing them. Japan as a whole was covered with a rainbow of different colored tokens, with the odd Shadowkhan one mixed in.

It actually reminded her of a Risk board and she suppressed the urge to chuckle at that stray absurd thought. As it was a shadow of a smile played across her face before the weight of even that idle thought hit home. While the expression didn't go unnoticed, it was misinterpreted.

A war, an actual war laid out before her like the pieces of a game, except those were real people and places it was happening to. Which, all in all, was just utterly fantastic. Just great. She had gone and popped into the life of a would-be child overlord in medieval Japan, complete with fortress, army, and council of demonic Generals. Her other Shadowkhan self would be drooling at the prospect no doubt. She was absolutely drowning in her own sarcasm, at least mentally. And this was just by listening to one General. She still had the giant and demon calamari to listen to, creepy as he looked.

But before she could get any farther into it, she was drawn from her musings by the sound of Ikazuki's sake saucer hitting the table, and him clearing his throat slightly before he resumed speaking. Not that she had even noticed him stop, but still that was a close call. Thankfully, she managed to keep her composure and not jump at the sound.

"And that, your Highness, concludes my report. Given the command to cease the standby and resume the battle, we can easily take virtually the entire eastern quarter of Kyushu in a fortnight, if not sooner. The Daimyo's are weak, and their armies are mere human rabble dressed in armor. Ashigeru, they could amount to something as such troops can, but their morale and leadership is equally poor. In an attempt to compensate for these shortcomings they seem to have swept up every man who can bear a weapon as if mere numbers could save them.

"The last I saw of the lines, a mere boy of fourteen years held a bow and arrow trembling beneath the banner of his master. Pitiful to behold, truly. I took it upon myself to at least give him a swift ending to his story, and he responded with surprising amount of honor, even as he trembled.

"Even the great samurai that lead are but loud and lazy men in gilded armor too tight for their bellies. Barely worth the effort to gut, much less a challenge to your forces. The true warriors fell battling our invasion of their coast years past. Such men are now far and few between, and are commanded by the old men and cowards who did not bestir themselves to that glorious company or fled in disgrace. I doubt they will meet us, in all likelihood they will cower in their fortresses with what strength they can muster in the vain hope of weathering our onslaught.

"And not to speak lightly of their kind, but the sorcerers they send to "purge" us are but weak and wizened men of years with but flash and powder to their name. With the coffers of Kyushu ever dwindling such refuse is all they can afford.

"The monks are of some concern. Shinto and Buddhist, the temples remain strong and a few exorcists of note have made their way to the lines planning to make a stand against us. But these holy men could never do more than be a rock to slow our wheels. We shall drown their efforts in our armies' might. I myself could best them all without drawing my blades.

Kyushu is all but yours, and we await your command to make it so your Highness," Ikazuki concluded. True he had also heard rumors that a sage of some sorts had made the passage to Kyushu. But as of yet even the sage's existence was a rumor upon the night winds. Nothing to concern Her Majesty with.

The Tengu* had been the only actual concern and their sometimes allies had stated they would have no quarrel so long as their territory and sovereignty was respected in the utmost; Ikazuki could almost thank Hiruzen for that bit of diplomacy. Though on the other hand the Tengu would certainly have made worthy opponents…

A moment before, Jade had been drowning in her own sarcasm and thoughts as she tried to make sense of everything. Now? Now she was all but sick to her core. It was not the way he so calmly and casually talked, but what it was about. He had easily and off-handily admitted to killing a young boy, not much older then her, and not just that, most likely many more. And to him it was no big deal; he only mentioned it even to prove his twisted point in bad mouthing the human protectors.

Suddenly, it hit her, truly hit her with understanding, that she had an army that was conducting a war. An army that was loyal to her, and did what she commanded, and they were out there killing people. Killing people for her, likely on her orders. He talked about gutting people as if it was an everyday affair, and she realized it might very well be just that. He talked about conquering a sizable part of Japan as if it was nothing to him. She had studied wars in school, and knew that the farther back in time you went the more brutal it became. Everyday people would not be distinguished from soldiers; they would just be killed along with them and anyone else that hefted a weapon for their homes.

And it wouldn't just be the Shadowkhan. The human leaders would have young boys drafted to serve from everywhere to fight the invaders, her invaders.

Suddenly, for Jade, her situation took a very sharp turn for the worse. She had assumed this was just like before, just like the last time she had been turned into a Shadowkhan by an evil tattoo. She would have the Shadowkhan wrapped around her finger, and could get away with whatever she wanted; except she was actually herself and not some crazy would-be child queen.

She would act like she was expected to by the surprisingly verbal and apparently more independently intelligent Shadowkhan until she figured everything out and found her way home, or a way to get in contact with Uncle and maybe Jackie if he was finished being Shen-jacked and they could come rescue her. So what if things were a bit weirder then normal? Weird was the norm when adventuring with Jackie. Stuck back in time? Piece of cake. Uncle would whip up some magic-mojo and she would be back in time for school and the baddies would be beaten and the Big Baddie would be sent packing with his tail between his/her legs.

No, not this time. This time, she was the Big Baddie, even if she was not in heart, mind, and spirit. That is what everyone around her thought. She was the leader; she was the one in charge. Could she honestly hope to have Uncle and Jackie save her this time?

Oh gods, she hoped so.

Because this was not some evil trying to break free, this was evil on the loose and causing all the problems you hear about in the opening of a story. And in a cruel irony not lost on her situation was a mirror opposite; before she had been delusional with power and the Shadowkhan at her fingertips as her puppets pretending to be a big shot. She was still pretending, but now she was trapped in the role and the Shadowkhan could well turn on her in a moment of they realized the truth.

Her thoughts darting back to story formula she realized this sounded like the situation where a hero arose to fight the seemingly invincible dark force. Normally she would be all for it, but right now she would be the mark for any aspiring hero!

Either way, they were apparently waiting for a response from her, as she felt their eyes upon her. Still reeling, Jade realized that she needed to deal with it later, or else she might just get killed. So that is what she did, and she shoved the disturbing thoughts and shaking revaluations to the back of her mind.

Not trusting her voice or even trying to open her mouth, she tried to put it behind her for the moment and nodded at the lizard demon, before turning to the giant and repeating the gesture. There had been no thought behind her choice of the giant over the squid thing; at the most her subconscious urged her towards the less inhuman.

But unwittingly Jade had dropped a bombshell that, while not equal to those that she had so rudely received, had been no less potent. Even oft inscrutable Hiruzen cocked an eyebrow, while Ikazuki for a moment failed to repress a sneer. Kuro's calm demeanor was only broken by the tightening grip on his saucer, the only outward sign of the confused anger that lead him to chase his own thoughts for answers.

The giant, Ozeki, nodded as Ikazuki settled himself with an unmistakable aura of satisfaction. For the samurai the day had in short order become nothing short of splendorous. He would have been more than satisfied at the honor done to him by giving his report first, which was the first time the young Queen had ever bestowed such favor on him. He had angrily, and grudgingly, resigned to the fact he would never hold favor with the Queen as he had with her mother and other royalty. But now, while this could be some errant fluke he could dare to hope the wind of change was guiding his vessel finally into the harbor of favor.

The slight done to the ever-scheming Kuro was a sweet end to polish off this tiding of good fortune. It was time the Queen recognized her error in placing such faith in Kuro and his tribe over the true might of the court. Perhaps, if matters still favored him when the ceremony was to come about, he could press for action on that thrice-cursed Tobi and its withered Lord? Far too long had they now resisted them, time and time again pushing back against their raids, even holding that otherwise worthless stretch of land that stood between the offending coastal city and Shikoku. As he settled, he started to slowly stew on the insults delivered to himself and the Queen by the humans of that coastal city.

Off to the side, however, Hiruzen was puzzled. He had seen no signs of Her Majesty's views shifting, and while true that she had a certain impulsiveness often born of youth that trait had not manifested in matters of the court. Not necessarily a vice, after all a meek ruler was like a dull blade, usable after a fashion but never achieving the potential of one with a lethal edge, but still. He pondered and thought to himself. It was a well-known fact that the Queen disliked violence and war, and was slow on the matter where it was concerned. As such, the Queen had always held a passive dislike for the Samurai General and his warmongering ways.

While not entirely good, Hiruzen himself had no love lost for the samurai as well. If the favor of the court was shifting, he would have to make himself acutely aware of where it was shifting. Perhaps this was the sign of a small bit of growth? If she was starting to accept the war and was willing to continue it...

"I shall consult with her later, while this is no great thing if this is born of foolishness rather than cunning or growth it needs correcting," Hiruzen decided. Satisfied with his course of action Hiruzen stilled his thoughts to better observe all around him.

Ozeki was the only one to remain truly as calm as his appearance, as he prepared for his report, placing a wide scroll on the table and a brush and ink well to the side. Unrolling the scroll he took a moment to confirm it was indeed the relevant information before bowing his head to his deceptively calm Queen and speaking.

"Now, I, Ozeki of the Sumo Tribe, shall state the most recent report on the empire's holdings and the integrity of its inhabitants."

Now, many could, and would, attest that Jade was not exactly the most attentive when it came down to the unimportant things in life. At least, unimportant according to her strange ranking of priorities and scale of relevancy. So, when Ozeki started rumbling off long tedious lists and numbers, her mind started to numb. Like so many lectures from teachers, parents or Jackie Chan himself the words first faded and then blurred together like Charlie Brown's teacher and finally became background noise to her own thoughts. Tuning things out was a skill she had long honed, allegedly in the name of retaining her sanity.

Jade was thankful for this, as it helped her enter that patent-pending state of mental ambiguity that any would-be daydreamer learned to pull off in order to look attentive while off in their own little world. It was a godsend, as it helped her take her mind off of the unpleasant things brought up by Ikauzki. In a twist of irony not unnoticed or really appreciated by Jade her boast about the skill being a sanity defense had come true as she pulled herself together behind the wall of the tune-out.

That was, until she got another bombshell. Though, in this case it was more like a battering ram breaking through the walls of inattentiveness to quickly seize the keep of perception. She was really going to learn how to dodge these moments, this couldn't be healthy, a sarcastic part of her commented.

But as it was, she jolted, suddenly giving her undivided attention to Ozeki. As it was, only Hiruzen noted the change in posture and while not exactly pleased he was far from surprised.

"On a separate note, the slave holdings are doing well. The general slave population is acceptably docile, and rebellion and dissension are at an all time low. While they continue in general to resent our presence, conditions are such that little to no seeds of active rebellion thrive. Rabble-rousers are not causing trouble since the majority fear association with such activity and actually have been discovered to quietly dispose of troublemakers to avoid the potential wrath of overseers. A most promising development. And of course we maintain our informants in the slave ranks, a system that has thrived with your Majesty's three-year plan. The loss of labor with the release of informants is far made up for by the greater efficiency of the areas we employ the system in.

"However, I do not think we can extend the system, since we cannot safely release humans on any conditions after they gain even passive knowledge of our core territories.

"Even with this, however, there are still moments where the slave's have become unruly. One such incident occurred in a processing camp to the north but a week past, normally used to process freshly acquired slaves from our coastal raids. In the course of one such raid, a village militia damaged one of the ships shortly before they were dealt with. As it stood, the ship was unable to make the needed journey to our shipyards for repairs without first unloading the prisoners, which also contained the crew of a warship belonging to some minor lord. Normally, they would be sent to a different camp, but the ship would have been unable to survive the trip.

"As such, they were forced to offload them with the captured villagers. Shortly afterwards, they apparently discovered a hidden stockpile of weapons we later discovered had been created by a earlier shipment of slaves in plans for a rebellion that was cut short. Armed, they attempted to stage a revolt amid the other slaves and attacked the resident Slave-master and his forces. Thankfully, they were betrayed quickly and were put down before serious damage was done to the camp. As it stands, the Overseer's office and a part of the storehouse were lost in a resulting fire, and three guards were injured. With only a minor loss in the records and some basic supplies, the revolt can be considered a total failure."

Internally, Jade was breathing deeply as she worked to keep the unpleasantness brought forth by Ikazuki and process Ozeki's little nugget of sunshine as well. Outwardly, she managed to hold her composure and retrain herself from an outburst. She wanted to say something, anything!

But she could not.

An evil Queen would not show concern for slaves, so she would try not too, at least openly. But inside, her stomach had soured at the thought. Either way, the broad Ozeki placed the scroll back underneath the table and bowed, apparently finished. Once again, they waited for a signal of some sort from her, and Jade simply nodded. If she could not trust her voice before, she could not trust to even open her mouth now.

She doubted, with all honesty, that she could not keep from emptying her guts onto the floor if she did.

Either way, Ozeki continued his report. And as it went, some of Jade's revulsion was relived as more facts were laid. And while she was still sick from the idea, Shadowkhan apparently treated their slaves fairly well from the sounds of it. Of course, if she was in control, she was sure as heck going to try and change that before she left. Maybe start some sort of mass rebellion and get them to safety. The thought was comforting in its own way, and lent its strength to Jade's conviction to return home.

After that, she just nodded and feigned various expressions as Ozeki continued to detail his report in an almost painful manner. It was actually harder then it sounded, and all this acting was really starting to make her face hurt. Apparently happy that he had managed to please his Queen in someway, Ozeki was continuing on a bit more energetically then before.

Thankfully, Jade was spared any more bombshells dropping on her. Instead, as the report wound down, she started to steel herself for what was virtually inevitable when the demon calamari gave his report. But to be honest, she wasn't sure she could take another report like the last two. First it was warmongering, then slaving. She was almost expecting that next they were going to report that those half dozen orphanages had been burnt to the ground just like she ordered, with every little orphan boy and girl still inside and afterward they had danced and made merry on the ashes.

No, she actually was expecting it.

The sharp and pointy grin of the demon calamari was not helping either. If it was any other situation, she would swear up and down to everyone around her that only sharks and dinosaurs had business having that many teeth. It was the kind of grin that was split into two meanings. The "I'm going to eat you" meaning, and the "I have a secret that I want to share" meaning. Both had her trying not to twitch in her seat. Once again, thank gods for natural talent. She observed as the inhuman figure took a drink of whatever it was drinking, before straightening up in his seat. This one just took a breath, and started to speak in a guttural tone, an odd mix of a rasp and a gurgle.

"Now it is time for I, Kuro of the Ika Tribe, to present my report on the status of the Honshu coastline and the Island Sea as well as our Navel efforts."

Far from the relaxed tone that his raspy voice offered, Kuro was actually far from being relaxed or remotely pleased. No, that was an understatement; he had fully expected to be called on first, with Her Majesty eager to hear of the state of her pet project. Instead he was last in her interest and supplanted by Ikazuki of all things.

Yet, he was not Ikazuki; allowing emotions to color his actions would be of no benefit. He could not think of anything he or Ikazuki had done to alter their place in the Queen of Shadows' favor, so he concluded the status had not truly been altered. This was a test.

Yes, it was quite sensible when you thought about it. Ikazuki was a creature of emotion and he would play a vital role in the coming war. Much of his dissatisfaction was already fading and would leave him clearer headed on the battlefield as opposed to acts of extremism to try and garner favor. It was a carrot before a horse, and the Queen acknowledged he would recognize such a state rather then impotently stewing as the samurai did.

Nonetheless, there was sill the matter of saving face among his peers. No great task, after all he was the only one among those present to appreciate the value of showmanship.

Jade, on the other hand, had to resist the urge to put herself out of her misery. Warmongering, slavery, and now if she guessed right she had a fleet of pirates out there doing gods know what. She somehow doubted it was sailing for adventure like they made pirates out to do like in her own time. More likely plundering, pillaging and burn down everything you can't carry back with you. Add in the fact that Ozeki had mentioned that they were raiding the coastline and Island Sea, and she was fairly certain of the fact. So far, the life she had popped into was getting uglier and uglier by the minute. And as Kuro started to go into detail with his report, she was proved right.

"So far, while not a completely dominant force, our Suigun* forces are still strong and feared upon the waves. We control much of the sea between the two coasts, and our forces reap great rewards from foolish traders or would-be Clan Ships while smugglers and the pirate ships foolish enough to attack us are quickly dealt with.

"Concerning Kyushu, our ships circle it like sharks about a sinking vessel. Traders no longer seek port fearing the loss of their ships and commerce between Kyushu and the human domains of Honshu is now conducted by the vassals of the Kyushan daimyos, who while brave and loyal enough to partake such a task our easy prey our reavers. Only the fastest and lightest of their ships have a chance to escape the blockade, or the slightest hope of returning past it. Even then, the supplies from such are barely worth the effort at all. A single ship like that barely has the cargo space to support even a small outpost, much less the fortresses of the various lords.

"By your will though, we have sought to seize these ships for ourselves from the humans and add those of worthy build to our own ranks. While many of the vessels have proven of poor quality or too damaged in the taking, we have added an additional fifteen vessels to our fleet since you made your will known. With this, we shall soon possess the might on the waves needed to ferry and supply an overwhelming force on Kyushu, while maintaining a true blockade about the island.

"In other matters, all along the coast of Honshu our ships are sailing and taking anything they deem of worth to your empire. From the fishing villages and ships we secure a great many slaves and other material. Much of which, I must add, is due to your wise judgment, your Highness. If not for your decision to steal the secrets of the Black Powder from the land of China, and the mighty weapons known as "Cannons" from the Men from across the Sea, these successes would have never come to be. With them, our foes cower and tremble as our ships boom and thunder and they find their hulls torn asunder. Thanks to them, we have easily won many victories. Even mighty harbors which we had never entertained the idea of raiding we bombard now, taking little but inspiring fear and chaos in those lands as never before. Only Tobi's defiance continues to stand firm against our forces.

"The only matter of concern, your Highness, is the growing involvement of a so called pirate lord. His vessels smuggle into Kyushu and even dare to challenge our weaker vessels with audacity. These pirates are skilled smugglers and I am ashamed to admit that even as we waylay one vessel another reaches its port. Their skill in battle is also great enough that four of our more minor vessels, mostly patrol or small supply ships, have vanished. After extensive searching, we have had no choice but to presume them lost and that the crews have meet definite casualties in combat against these humans.

"We have also yet to seize a single ship of this pirate fleet. Without fail when they deem the ship is lost to us they set oil coated holds ablaze, consigning themselves to the depths even as they do battle, and I have come to reconsider rumors that this Pirate King possesses the blood or favor of Ryujuin to inspire such in his men. We have not met such challenge from mere humans since the destruction of the Slayer Clan.

"Yet despite these difficulties we have attained more wealth, treasure and slaves than ever before in our history. I assure your Majesty and my esteemed peers, this is but a sampling of what my tribe brings to the Imperial coffers from beyond Shikoku's shores," Kuro grinned as he rose from his seat. He could feel the weight of his Queens's attention on him; if there were any doubts about her merits he would now erase them in the splendor of conquest.

With but a wave of his hand (tentacle), the formerly dark room was lit as great blinds and shutters were pulled open and allowed the late-afternoon sun to stream in. Jade had to shield her eyes slightly, as the sudden light stung and blinded her from being in the warm darkness too long. If she were able to actually see at the moment, she would have noticed that for the most part the Generals reacted similarly, with the exception of Hiruzen who had shielded himself at the last moment. After blinking herself free from the spots coloring her eyesight she could see that Kuro was no longer at the table, but had moved to a previously unseen door and was ushering something through.

And as Jade watched what seemed to be a progression of some sort start to march through the door with Kuro taking the head, she felt her jaw drop slightly. She offhandedly heard the shattering of something off to the side along with something similar to a reproving snort. From the corner of her eye, she could see Ikazuki angrily sweeping something into his hand off the table with a silent snarl on his face and Ozeki was looking put out for some reason.

Not like Jade couldn't guess why, what with the massive haul of loot that Kuro was marching towards her with the help of some of the Samurai Shadowkhan, and some especially large ones that she had to guess belonged to Ozeki. If anything, they shared proportions with him and Tohru, except they had far bulkier arms then the T-man and were garbed in a strange parody of ninja outfits complete with hoods and heavy plates of armor. It still took a moment for Jade to pick her jaw off the floor.

Just in time as well, for Kuro marched it all around the massive table and to the foot of the throne and laid it to rest, the escort for it vanishing off to the sides and leaving Kuro smiling a predator's smile as he stood beside it all.

And she had to admit, it was impressive.

It was all but an almost literal mountain of treasure, precious gems and golden coins with elaborate carvings set with silver and more laden into chests. She could even see armor and weapons dotting the king's ransom at her feet. It was hard not to let her eyes go wide at the sight. There was more here then she thought she had really ever seen up close. Her sight drifted to what dominated the haul however.

A massive statue, easily as tall as one of those Sumo-Khan (or whatever they were called) and almost as wide and bore the resemblance of a massive eight-headed snake, with each head bearing some sort of headdress similar to a samurai's war helm. Even more, it was carved out of what appeared to be some sort of ivory or something similar, and every inch set with individual emeralds shaped into scales except what counted as the snakes' "belly". The eyes were rubies set into a fierce gaze, and the helms on each head bore a distinct style and were crafted out of what appeared to a vast array of materials, most precious if she could guess.

On an estimate, Jade would think that the statue itself was probably worth just as much as the entire pile of treasure.

And then there was Kuro, who once again had far more teeth then he had business having. Her instinct was screaming at her that she was not going to be able to really nod her way outta this one. She needed to actually say something, and say something good. The guy might be creepy, but he just hauled more treasure then most museums had and from the aura in the air it was all to impress her. Generally, her knowledge of how things worked was that she was supposed to praise him or something. But how exactly do you praise for what he did to get it? The thought had that small ball of illness in her gut squirming again.

She had to think and fast.

Thankfully, life-saving inspiration as always struck as it did in times of need. She composed herself, and put on her best face. Looking down on Kuro, she spoke carefully as she made to keep herself from sounding too appreciative or too dismissive.

"Impressive, most impressive, but we still have some distance to go before achieving our empire's goals," Jade declared, channeling Darth Vader, a certain veiled sarcasm behind her words.

"These successes please me, and it is good you are so forthcoming on the troubles you are finding on the waves. Despite the difficulties this 'pirate lord' is gibing you, you are able to present a literal mountain of treasure to the court," Jade continued, trying to keep the evil overlord juice flowing, complimenting the lackey while maybe sticking it to him between the lines. Though she was curious about a pirate lord – could this faction of humans and a possible demigod leader be the hero she was dreading moments ago?

"I can only hope you will continue to meet such success in the use of the new weapons, and your new vessels," Jade added the last part as an afterthought. She was silent after that, and apparently the elegantly dressed Khan took that as a dismissal since he made a small hand motion to Kuro.

Jade sighed internally as Kuro slithered back to the table with an air of superiority and victory. If she didn't know better, she would have expected the demonic calamari to break out into a victory dance. The very thought of something likethat trying to dance to any sort of rhythm sent mental shivers up her spine and threatened the sanctity of her breakfast. She watched as the collection of Shadowkhan returned from their shadows at the edges of the room, and one by one hauled away the treasures before and to the sides and out of sight.

Suddenly, and quite loudly as well, the gong was rang and she almost jumped right out of her seat and a good six feet in the air and would have as well if not for the fact that her legs were beneath her. Looking over to her side, she saw Hiruzen setting down the ringer for the gong and stand for once, having been seated and silent for the entirety of the meeting. Looking back forward, she now noticed that the three Generals were bowing deeply. Suddenly, Hiruzen spoke.

"That concludes this meeting. On behalf of the Queen, I think you, our loyal Generals, for your reports and efforts to the prosperity of Her Majesty's Empire. You are dismissed."

With that, Jade watched as each of the Generals filed out of the room, using the large door towards the rear or unnoticed side doors. Suddenly, Jade found herself enveloped in a discomforting silence. In another moment, the various shutters and blinds were drawn once again and she was left in darkness, with only the fluttering glow of candlelight. Believing it safe to do so, she descended from the throne. At the bottom, Hiruzen waited.

"Are you ready to return to the tower, My Queen?"

She looked at him for a moment, red eyes to his orangish-yellow ones before she nodded and responded evenly.

"Yes, please. I would like to return and see to a few things."

Hiruzen bowed, and gestured towards the door behind the throne.

"As you wish, your Highness."


The door closing behind her was like the closing to both a crypt and to salvation. She was back in "her" room once more, and free from observation. All that tension, all that restraint and careful control that she was so unused to enforcing on herself, she simply let go of it and slumped briefly against the surprisingly soft wood. Jade pressed her hand to her chest, trying to quell the frenzied beating inside but not able to quell the smile that crept onto her face at the familiar feeling. The sudden rush of adrenaline and pumping blood was something that comforted her.

She had done it, she had no idea how really, but she had done it. She had held herself together through the meeting and distant horrors it brought to her. She had even managed to keep her composure throughout, and had only allowed it to break once she was safely back in the tower.

She hauled herself off the door, and almost drunkenly wove her way to the bed where she flopped as best she could onto the expansive bed, not truly caring for the expensive kimono she was wearing or the slight touch of sweat on her brow as she breathed in deeply. It had been trying, somehow more so than some of the dangers she had faced with Jackie but she had succeeded.

That is, if only for today.

But Jade shook the thought from her mind, instead settling for basking in her achievement for the moment. The entire meeting had thrown so much at her; she was struggling to truly grasp it all. This place, this time, it seemed so much more... darker? Or was it bloodier? The way that one General had so casually spoke of killing people, of conquering…

She sighed, the rush fading as Jade could feel her heart start to slow and a weight settled on her. How? How had this happened, and why? This was not her life; this was not the way things were. She seemed to be trapped, trapped in a world where she could not hope for a hero or be a hero herself, since the only hero she could expect to come was most likely going to be coming for her head.

Jade reached up, and took the little silver headdress off and into her hands and simply looked at it.

It was simplicity in itself yet beautiful and intricate, polished to a shine and adorned with various small gems and made to sit behind her head. It was the crown that you would expect of a princess.

She had to strongly resist the urge to simply hurl it off her balcony.

She was here, stuck at the head of an empire built on blood, bones, and ashes. She had an army, generals, and servants that would do anything she told them. She had the wealth and power of an entire budding empire behind that, and her own realm out of one of the very home islands of Japan.

And the one thing she wanted... the one thing she wanted more than anything right now, the one thing that would make her happy...

And she couldn't ask for it!

This time, she did throw the headdress, but retained enough sense to throw it at one of the oversized pillows at the head of the bed where it sunk into the down with a slight poof. Jade did not know what would happen if she revealed who she really was, but she could imagine it would not be good. She had usurped their ruler, one they were loyal to a fault for.

She could only shiver slightly at the images that passed through her mind at the thought. But after that, she scowled as she sat up. Hand to her chin, she started to think.

"I need to figure something out, and soon. I need info; I need to know everything I can about this. What does Uncle do when he needs to figure out stuff? He goes off and reads a bunch of books. But where am I..."

Jade froze, and smiled. She remembered, she remembered that time when she had both exited and then later entered the tower, and seen the marked doors on her way up the elevator. She was willing to bet Uncle's blowfish and salamander that the one marked "Knowledge" was some sort of library or at least something related to it.

She stood up, quickly sliding on the slippers she had kicked off and made for the door only to freeze as she reached for the handle.

Was she actually allowed out of this room? Would they let her? Or was she expected to be some sort of reclusive ruler that appeared only in ceremony or functions? She simply stared at the handle, as her mind warred over which action to take.

Should she advance?

Or should she retreat?

Her features hardened at the thought. She was a Chan, and a Chan only retreats to advance!

She stopped herself from throwing open the door, and restrained herself to opening it calmly. Looking around, and seeing no ninjas or samurai showing up out of nowhere, she carefully pulled out the wrinkles in the kimono to avoid questions and did her best impression of a royal walk as she headed for the stairs.

Each step down was a test in its own, as each step she waited for something to spring out of the shadows and whisk her away back to the room at the top of the tower. In a sense it was tenser than before, since if this proved right then she could not help but feel that things would become hopeless for her.

Thankfully, her fears were unfounded as she made it down the stairs and flights untouched and she came to the marked door she had seen before. But while untouched, Jade could not help but feel that she was not unwatched...


Hiruzen nodded, dismissing the guard who had come to report to him as always of the Queen's movements. He looked up to the Queen's plateau and the tower upon it. It was the perfect time now, to approach the young ruler with his questions of earlier.

He had watched her grow for some years now, since the passing of the Queen mother and knew that the child was the most relaxed when she spent time among the books. He could not help but think that the Queen would have been much better suited to rule before the time of her Grandmother.

Either way, he needed to approach now. It was well known to him that after spending time in the library that the Queen would often retreat to her private quarters and would not be disturbed except for matters of great importance. But as he made to step into the shadows, he remembered something, a report from this morning that reminded him that he had another stop.

After all, it would not do for the clumsy slave to get away with burning the tongue of the Queen. Innocent as it was, it would not go unpunished.

And to be truthful, Hiruzen could use it as an outlet. He would not want to approach Her Highness tense, and it was almost that time once again.

But underneath his mask, he allowed a small smile. One must enjoy their work as well, and the Queen did like her tea and a small meal while she read. It would be a perfect chance to deal with everything at once, and Hiruzen did like efficiency. She would be much more receptive to answering his questions this way.

With that, he vanished into the darkness.


Jade gingerly traced the yellowed yet cared for scrolls as she read, finding that she had indeed gained a perfect understanding of the Japanese language both written and spoken. It was perhaps the only reason that she had not yet paid any real attention to the library itself beyond racing down to the second floor and grabbing the first and most recently used scroll she could find.

If she had paid attention to the room itself, she would have seen that unlike the subdued yet still prestigious rooms she had been in so far, this one lacked that air and settled for one of comfort and informality. Books, scrolls, and various other methods of record keeping lined the walls and sat on podiums scattered throughout with comfortable mats and cushions placed around low-slung tables.

She might have also noticed a particularly large volume, tucked away to one end of the room and set in its own little alcove lit by amber lanterns.

If she had been able too, she might have found exactly what she might have needed to find. But, it was not to be. For the moment, she was satisfied with had she had.

And yet, there was so much missing, Jade thought as she set the older scroll down, and instead took up a newer looking one and thought to herself.

"There is so much here, but is it what I need? I have to get out of here, I have to get back to Jackie and Uncle and my life!"

Thankfully, she was in luck. The newer scroll had more recent information, and she read on in earnest. All that mattered now was that she was learning what she needed, and she was learning it as quickly as she could.

But then her head almost twisted off her shoulders as knocking sounded above her on the second floor above, and she heard the door start to open...


"Will there be anything else, elder?" the innkeeper asked, making his way up to the old man seated at the lonely bench further down. Never had he seen such a deeply lined face as the one that peeked out from the broad straw hat that covered his head and obscured much.

"No," he answered in voice dry and harsh as a midsummer wind.

"Well in that case the due is..." the innkeeper began. Much closer to his sole customer he flinched back as a gnarled hand swung up to almost hit him in the nose. His look of worry gave way to a vacant look as his eyes slipped out of focus.

"I already paid, left a nice tip," the old man stated. He lowered his hand and the innkeeper's eyes came back into focus, his face lighting up.

"You are most generous, good fortune on your journey," the innkeeper bowed before withdrawing.

"Shameless sorcery," a new voice growled. The innkeeper turned and was shocked at the sight of three Shinto monks brushing aside the entrance hanging. They were younger than the ones who came down from the shrine normally and what's more they were anything but serene. No, they were angry and looked keen to vent that anger in a way befitting holy men.

"Return what you stole and we will let you keep your thieving hand," the apparent leader announced as his companions moved to flank the shriveled elder, who did not stir from his seat.

"I have stolen nothing, boy," the accused answered. Turning and tilting his head ever so slightly a single one of his near luminescent eyes was revealed under his hat rim to the lead monk. Unperturbed, the monk sneered and held out a fist moving into a stance.

"Do you think we are an order of fools? You were granted shelter at our shrine more than a fortnight ago and repaid our kindness by stealing a most ancient scroll in our keeping! Wizard!" he accused, his fellow monks falling into threatening stances. The poor innkeeper backed away from the confrontation, his tray held to his chest.

"I do not deny taking the scroll, I deny stealing it," the wizard explained. This set the monks back with the two subordinates looking to their leader baffled by the statement.

"You see stealing implies ownership. Knowledge rightfully belongs to those willing to seek it out and those with the will to apply it. Your order let it gather dust on a shelf because you found its teachings too dark for comfort. That along with lacking the power to keep me from taking it shows you were not worthy of owning such a treasure."

"So rather than stealing the scroll, I would say I liberated it from undeserving weaklings," the wizard elaborated with a bored tone, lowering his head again as if dismissing the lead monk.

"You call us weak? We are no peasants to be easily swayed by your magic. Let us see how your frail form hails against the disciplines of our order," the lead monk laughed. As one the monks sprang; a bamboo rod shot out of the wizard's sleeve and a flash of green light flared across the room.

The wizard made his way slowly but with the grace of one not burdened by undue years, around the monks frozen in mid strike, impressed at their balance to not fall when he struck. He turned to regard the innkeeper cowering in the corner behind his tray.

"They will regain their mobility in about a week. Tell them I was merciful on a whim. Should these children continue to provoke their betters they will receive a proper lesson from Himitsu," Himitsu told the terrified man before vanishing through the entrance into the world.


The scratch and clack of the geta* on the dirt and stone with accompaniment by the soft pish of cloth in the breeze was a comforting, if somewhat lonely, sound on the roads leading in to Tobi from the surrounding farmland. A small smile could be seen as a figure slowly walked down the road, garbed in a sturdy Hakama* with little in the way of outstanding color.

Instead, the garment was rather dark in a sense, whites and blacks forming a strange contrast to the small red stitching of a clan symbol that made its home over the heart of the traveler while a hand found a familiar home on the hilt of an unadorned katana at their waist. A simple kasa* sheltered them from the hot sun, and in turn sheltered their faces from sight.

Said kasa turned up slightly, as the sounds of shouts and scuffling along with pleading words reached the figure's ears, and looking up could see a small cloud of dust being raised up ahead. The kasa turned back down, and a frown would be barely scene along with a slight huff and a curse.

The figure hurried their pace, and quickly came to the source of the sounds to find a rather unfortunate scene. An old woman, most likely a farmer by her outfit, had been surrounded and thrown to the ground by a ragged band of young men.

"Forgive! I meant no disrespect samurai!" the old woman coughed out as she kowtowed on the packed dirt of the road. An eyebrow cocked at the word samurai, and the eye beneath did pick out the topknots on the ragged men. Also that one of them was holding a pack in his hands, presumably the woman's.

"You filthy peasants, you think we're blind, that we don't see your arrogance? You dare to smirk at your betters!" the apparent leader said as he kicked her clear onto her side.

Ronin, survivors of some lost battle, their master lost to them. Either they had fled with haste or had been unbound for some time judging by their appearance, left to seek service with a new lord. They looked to live as beggars or bandits until the day they hope some noble will take them in. Hard times making the people hard, and brittle if the near mad glint in this one's eye was any indication. The frown deepened as the lead ronin drew his sword smiling, relishing that he controlled someone's fate if not his own.

"Boy, what are you looking at?" the most unkempt of the ronin demanded of the stranger.

"He carries steel, but no daisho. Another up jumped peasant," the thief among them sneered.

"Dogs, in order to survive they have given up any pretense of bushido. A wretched fate, now no one would have them as more than arrow catchers," the traveler thought. Though there was very little pity; these men had chosen their fate and become part of the disease consuming the land.

"Well answer the question, peasant. There are laws about respecting class you know," the leader turned away from the old farmer, his maddened attention falling on the traveler. His eyes narrowed in growing fury at the plain but fine attire, and above all the clan symbol that declared this one belonged somewhere.

"Men, I think this one needs a lesson too," the leader spat. Some of the ronin were stony, while others displayed maddened glee as they surrounded the traveler. The kasa hid the face of their new victim, the frown slight as the ronin drew their katana.

At some unspoken signal the ragged men charged.

A mistake, they would later learn they were lucky to have the chance to realize.

One moment, victory – if it could be called that – and another beating was assured, but the next their victim was gone, leaving nothing but the Kasa in midair as they all fell to their knees and gasping for breath while their chests flared in pain. The leader looked back, eyes squinted as he bore through the crushing agony in his chest to see the villager lightly rest on the balls of their feet and silently sheath the blade he had not even heard being drawn.

He looked down, expecting to pull his hand away and feel the wetness of blood and see the red painting his hands. Instead, the light under armor he was wearing was all but shattered and the pain starting to fade slightly. But then he heard it.

A slight thud and a sudden lightness. A hand wandered to the back of his head, and found his topknot missing. An almost frantic search revealed it on the ground next to him. Similar sounds reached his ears from around him and he looked to his partners in crime. First one knot of hair fell, then another and another. The ronin looked to the ground in shock, another daring to touch the top of head and confirm his topknot had been severed.

The traveler turned back to face them as the kasa finally hit the ground and skirted to the edge of the road in the wind. The face was now revealed, and the fair features they had glanced now clearly belonged to no boy. Soft, yet strangely sharp and lethally beautiful angles, red lips held in a thin unforgiving line. Shoulder length hair of a raven's wing swayed gently in a breeze, where sharp metal pins did not hold it up.

"The answer to your question, I was looking at mongrels and parasites, that were once men," she told them flatly as she rested her hand once more on the hilt of her sword. Something broke in them; they fled in disarray and despair, some not even returning steel to sheath.

Picking up the old woman's pack she placed it next to the wide-eyed farmer before continuing on the road to Tobi.

Translations and Meanings

Nagai Kage Kyassuru: Castle of the Long Reaching Shadow (Rough Translation)

Suigun: Aquatic Samurai Forces, or the Equivalent of Warriors trained to fight at sea.

Tengu: A race of Japanese Kami that live in the mountains of Japan. Regarded as Patron spirits of Martial arts, Nature, and so forth.

Geta: A type of footwear, normally a sturdy sandal raised off the ground by two stilt like pegs made of wood

Hakama: A sturdy type of of clothing, normally worn by males and coming in many styles, from formal wear to more practical uses. Traditionally worn by nobility or Samurai.

Kasa: A conical hat woven from varying materials based on used.

AN: Far too long for a update, but life called for a Haitus and I had to leave everything till I was actually able to pay serious time to it. Now, I am back and working on updating. I am sorry for making all my readers wait so long, and yes, I will be updating other stories soon as well. I hope to get to a far more often update pattarn. Thanks to Eduard, for helping me in times of creative need and more, and Zim for Betaing. I hope you enjoyed this.