An Manhong sighed for what seemed to be the nth time today.
He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, because he was just tired of it all.
True, there was once a time in his life when he was actually excited in general. He remembered fondly those halcyon days when every single second was filled with excitement and adventure.
Those were the days China and his career were ever-expanding.
He had started out as a regular worker in The United Front. That, in Chinese politics, meant that he had no power whatsoever to speak of.
Then came that month: Many would (and did) call it "The End of the Age of Oil" and they would be right, but Manhong was not into grand titles. Although, he did concede that having the economy suddenly shut down, followed by the oil disappearing with the same suddenness does warrant such a title. So, he just called it The Disaster.
Regardless, it was a time of opportunity for The United Front. Ever since its inception, the party never had any power whatsoever. Created solely as a nominal party, The United Front was managed by the ruling party; the Communist Party of China. Its members were subservient to the C.P.C., and the party basically did nothing. There was, in short, no way for The United Front to ever become the ruling party.
That was before The Disaster. In the upheaval that followed those world changing events, the C.P.C. and China like most of the world succumbed to anarchy. Their oil reserves had been drained long ago thanks to the extremely high demand within the country, because of which they had been forced to depend on foreign oil exclusively before that dried up. The infighting and political backstabbing that soon followed within the C.P.C as China practically fell apart only lead to increasing public disapproval and discontent.
Eventually, things came to a head. In a bloodless coup, The United Front overthrew the C.P.C. to become the ruling party.
The powers that be had decided to take over the C.P.C, and continue operating in its name, filling all important posts with their people. That, they felt, would prevent any ripples.
Of course, many did wonder if that constituted as a coup in the first place.
As the new ruling party, it was felt that it would be a good idea to start an ambitious project. And what could be more ambitious than gaining more land?
And so, while their neighbours were reeling under the upheavals, China started to do some land-grabbing. And India was the lucky country they chose first.
Those were glorious days. Days filled with victory after victory as more and more land came under Chinese rule, days where Manhong had metamorphosed from an insignificant cog in a powerless organisation to one of the architects of the expansion. It was he who had come up with the ingenious plan of using the solid rocket propellant they had in their long range missiles and other armaments to fuel their war machine after their reserves had dried up.
Then the Pakistanis started to harass them, making a bid for land already conquered. Suddenly, what was a conventional bid to conquer turned into a three way war.
But Manhong did not let that slow him down, no sir. He had found his true calling here, a natural proclivity towards planning and strategizing as he effectively managed both fronts, keeping the enemies at bay. It was a talent that enthralled many of his fellows. So much so that noise was beginning to be made about him replacing the Minister of Defence, a barmy old fool of a General that was a remnant of the old regime.
But then the resistance offered by the Indians, who had been so long on the back foot, started increasing. Suddenly, somewhere and somehow, they had found a way to fight back, stand their ground and not only stop Chinese advances, but push back and even win. They had even allied themselves with those traitorous Tibetans to form a united front against China.
Thanks to that, the noise finally coalesced into a definite order: Manhong was to replace the old fool and take over the war. The fact that the general had been against the idea of expansion in the first place only served to hasten the change.
It was a good decision. Months after Manhong was appointed, they found out something the old man could never have envisaged.
Manhong couldn't begin to describe the disgust he felt when he found out that those freaks of nature were using the fighting as a distraction to sneak into the country.
At first they did not know what they were dealing with. It was because of the fact that he had his office here that he saw what he first thought was a decoration come to life. After some digging, he had come across an entire section's worth of top secret files that related to the truth behind the deposal of the last Emperor of China.
Personally, he felt that the tales did not do enough justice. Those freaks were truly vile. Not only were they an aberration to the natural order of things, but they also were quite cowardly. Imagine, sneaking in and attacking innocent people!
What was more, he had found out recently that they had another emperor that they had rallied behind. Imperialists … he always hated imperialists. He wondered which one of those fat worthless pigs had mustered enough of those freaks to try and march here.
Thankfully, the device sitting in his office was able to detect magical activity quickly enough. The consequences would have been disastrous, otherwise.
It was thanks to this device that they managed to keep a track of the magical army marching around the countryside. No matter how well they tried to hide, the Chinese military always found them. And the might of their military was formidable. Sure, they had a few incidences full of ridiculous stories of zombies and whatnot, but those could easily be dealt with. They were strong. They were fearless. They will prevail.
And prevail they did. All those wizards had managed to do so far was circle around the countryside, not even coming close to the capital, getting more and more surrounded as they did so.
The only frustrating bit about this was that those wizards did not bother engaging the military for long. They were more than content to hide like scared rabbits behind their wards.
'I keep telling you, this is a trap!'
Manhong sighed. The old fool was still around. Having been dismissed hadn't stopped him from making a nuisance of himself. The old General still thought of himself as some great strategist to rival Sun Tzu.
'No, it is not,' he replied impatiently, his Mandarin as impeccable as the general's. He gestured at the map. 'As you can see, they are still holed up there. All they do is come out for a while, try to cause trouble and then run like the wind the minute they see us. And it isn't as if we can miss them. We are always nearby should they try anything.'
And that was the object of his frustrations. Fighting those freaks was taking far too long. It was long enough that his superiors were beginning to breathe down on his neck. Why, the Chairman had personally reprimanded him the other day. He had even saddled Manhong with the old fool because of what he termed as his "incompetence".
Although, a small part of Manhong could understand where the frustrations were coming from; while they were holding the invaders at bay, the problem was that a great many number of men were being lost on the battlefield. And the rumours kept increasing…
The initial rumours had been easy to quash, but the stories since had become more and more unsettling. The reports of machine guns with spider legs racing around and firing whatever they came across kept increasing as more and more people saw the things. These rumours had then become an official story when a company of soldiers came across five of the … robots (for the want of a better word). The survivors had babbled to anyone they met about the demon robots before being picked up, making any attempts to discredit the stories impossible.
And that was nothing compared to the fact that many villages and towns were suddenly going dark. It was as if they had dropped off the face of the earth. And they didn't have the manpower to scout those areas out properly either thanks to the prevalent threat of the invading army.
They had no idea if that was a cause of the wizards or if another invader had decided to take advantage of their distraction. It wouldn't be too farfetched to believe that the Indians or the Pakistanis, or the Taiwanese or even the damn Tibetans or Thai had decided to capitalise on the sudden silence from China.
'They are giving up too quickly,' the old general replied, suspicion evident in his voice.
Manhong privately conceded that the general had a point. The freaks were giving up far too quickly, considering the fact that they had quite a few advantages. However, he had long come to the conclusion that the wizards simply were putting up a smokescreen. 'And your point is?' he said in a bored tone. 'They have been doing this for quite some time now. Not that I blame them. They are ineffective against our numbers and technology! Why, our guns could punch a hundred holes in them before they could even raise their primitive wands and utter a curse.'
'No …,' the old man said. He stared at the stone screen displaying magical activity in front of them with narrowed eyes.
'They keep popping up all over the countryside,' the man finally pronounced.
'So?' Manhong replied sulkily. 'That's nothing different. Our only problem is keeping up with them, which isn't really a problem since we have enough troops.'
The antediluvian general did not reply for a long time. Suddenly, his eyes widened.
'It's a diversion!'
As if on cue, a loud crash was heard outside the building shortly followed by screams and the loud report of gunfire.
Shocked, both men surged to their feet as a team of submachine gun toting guards burst into the room.
'Sir, we have a situation.' One of the men, the captain, said. 'It's the demons.'
Manhong scowled at the term. The soldiers were far too afraid of such filth.
'What is the problem,' the general said, naturally taking charge, something he was long accustomed to.
'We are under assault, sir.'
'W-what?' Manhong said, flummoxed. There was no way that the freaks had managed to sneak into Beijing. They were supposed to be up north somewhere in the countryside. A glance at the sensors proved that fact. How had they managed to get here?
A few minutes earlier
Beijing had shrunk remarkably in the past few years. The blackened husks of many buildings stood as a mute testament to the riots and public hysteria that followed the fall of the economy and the loss of oil. Tall skyscrapers, once edifices of concrete and steel suddenly had greenery sprouting from windowless floors as people used them to grow vegetable gardens. The roads, once so immaculate, were now potholed, with weeds sprouting up all over the place.
But that wasn't to say that the city was dead. No, people still bustled around doing whatever it was that they did. Only now, the polished businessmen and women were replaced by people in hardy utilitarian outdoor clothing while the sound of the engines of gasoline powered cars and other vehicles were replaced by the soft ticking of bicycle chains.
Farming was the new norm here. People grew food to feed their families, and traded vegetables and fruit with others for a bit of variety.
Once in a while, a truck or van would be heard plying the roads, running on biofuel, their engines sounding loud and harsh.
The locals knew, from bitter experience, not to disturb these convoys. Heavily guarded by the army, they supplied fuel and food to the government and the military that lived within the centre of the city. Aside from a privileged few, access was denied to the average civilian.
In this hustle and bustle, a man sat on a bench, looking quite out of place as he took in the world around him.
Nevertheless, his presence went unchallenged. Few had the time, patience or curiosity to wonder what such an able bodied person was doing lazing around. While such a sight was not uncommon back then, during the Age of Oil, nowadays it was rare.
Over the next few hours, many random men and women stopped by to talk to this man. They would then wander off in random directions. Eventually the man got up and sloped off towards the centre of the city.
There was a clear dead-zone between the city centre and the rest of Beijing that eventually lead to a heavily guarded wall. It was towards this wall that the man walked.
As he approached his destination, he started changing. In one step, he was a diminutive local, in the next, he was a tall Caucasian, his eyes jewel bright and hair black as the various low level disguising charms fell. In a third step, he disappeared from normal sight.
Invisible, he walked past the guards, using a convoy as a cover for his entrance. Heading towards a suitably secluded location, he waited.
In a few scant moments, nine of his fellows appeared in a flash of white fire.
'Thank you, my friend,' Harry said to his phoenix.
With a trill, Mihir disappeared in a flash of fire. Not wasting any time, the Emperor addressed his Elites. 'Right, form up.'
At once he was surrounded by his nine Elites. Closing his eyes, Harry centred himself.
Soon, a field of true invisibility fell over the ten figures thanks to the Emperor's powers as Master of Death.
Not wasting time, they started walking quickly, heading inwards to their target.
'So this is the fabled Forbidden City.' One of the men couldn't help but comment as he gazed upon the entrance that they were quickly approaching.
Harry grunted. From the reconnaissance they had done beforehand by tapping into the minds of many of the Muggle soldiers, they knew that the ancient palace complex had been taken over by the government and now housed their leadership. It was a sound decision. The instrument that tracked the use of magic was housed there, and from what they knew, wasn't portable.
At this moment, the rest of the army was providing a nice distraction, covering their use of any magic, which they nevertheless kept to a minimum.
And this was the plan. While the army had the Muggles distracted, Harry and his Elites would travel to Beijing where they would subdue the government. They would get there using as little magic as possible to ensure the maximum amount of camouflage.
And so it took them two weeks to reach the place via bicycles as their armour and features were cloaked in disguising charms. Their enhanced bodies allowed them to pedal faster and for longer than the average human.
Once they reached the place, they spent a further five days properly reconnoitring the city, casually plucking thoughts from soldiers and civilians alike as they got a good idea about the territory. The magic involved in wandless Legilimency was low enough to go undetected by the sensitive magical sensors. Having the Muggles distracted by large displays of magic from the main army helped matters too.
And here they were; in the heart of Beijing, just outside the Forbidden City, where the leadership was housed.
Invisible to the Muggles around them, Harry looked through the guarded Meridian Gate with a critical eye. He could see the beauty of the palace complex and the gardens underneath the utilitarian addendums put by the government. He hoped that it remained intact after their siege. It would make for a nice place to stay in. Unsurprisingly, the place had relatively few personnel as most of the Muggles were out fighting what they perceived as the larger threat. As planned, the army had upped the ante, increasing the number and intensity of the attacks. The effects of those actions were seen just yesterday in the form of a speedy exodus of Muggle soldiers.
The complex was now very vulnerable.
'Right,' he said softly, knowing that his voice would be heard by the others via their earpieces. 'We all know what we have to do?'
Getting thirteen affirmative replies, Harry smirked. At a thought, his armour started flowing over his face.
'Then let's do it.'
As soon as he said that, the field of invisibility dropped, revealing ten faceless figures clad from head to toe in gleaming black armour.
Not wasting time, the ten immediately broke into a sprint, running faster than any man thought possible.
It took a moment for the Muggles to process the sight of the intruders. That moment was crucial. By the time they thought to bring their guns to bear, the figures were already at the gates.
Three launched themselves into the air, sailing over the walls, spells blazing from their hands as they took out the guards. Landing within the complex, they started blasting apart anything and anyone that came in their way. Bullets pinged off their armour like rain drops on a metal roof.
Capitalising on the distraction offered by their comrades, the remaining seven Apparated directly to the Hall of Supreme Harmony, where they started running towards the Inner Court with superhuman speed. Directly Apparating into the Inner Court was not possible due to the wards surrounding the place. Portkeys were also out due to the same reason.
While they could break down those wards, it was eventually deemed a waste of time as physically punching through would actually take lesser effort and time. Besides, without an actual master to anchor the wards, there was no way that the offensive wards could be triggered. And that thankfully, meant that the myriad of large statues that dotted the complex couldn't be activated.
A blasting curse sent by Harry a few metres from the gate blew the doors away.
Entering, the seven split up. Three peeled off towards the larger three buildings with one mission; to capture the leadership housed within.
One of the Elites, Ursula, headed towards the building in the middle. This was the most heavily guarded one and thus worthy of her attention.
She was one of the three females in the Elites, and the most aggressive of the entire bunch. Like the other elites, she had gone through the rituals that enhanced strength and speed. Like the others, she too had the very latest wands implanted into her back and fused to her very spine down to the last molecule, making the crystals a part of her skeleton. And so, like the others, it made her superhumanly fast with enhanced reflexes and strength.
But that's where the differences between her and the rest ended. While the others were pretty good, Ursula, on the other hand, was just better. For unlike them, she was gifted with a form of precognition.
So using this gift, she danced through her opponents, somehow knowing exactly what they were going to do and when.
Reaching the door, she knew instinctively that there were a ring of guards just behind the doors.
Thinking quickly she made the wooden structures rock hard and then, with a pushing motion, blew them violently inwards, taking out two of the six guards.
Close on the heels of the door, Ursula grabbed the guns of two of the Muggles and crossed them just as they pulled the triggers with fatal consequences.
Pulling the dead body of the Muggle on the left, she used him as a shield as she rushed towards the remaining two.
With a heave, she sent the corpse flying with speed at one Muggle as she punched the other in the face, breaking his nose. Not giving her opponent time to recover, she sent a blasting curse right into his midriff at point blank range, coating the walls behind with his guts.
Turning to the remaining guard who was just recovering from having his dead comrade thrown at him, she grabbed his throat, cutting his air supply off. Her enhanced strength made it easy to lift him high above the ground.
Her helmet receded to show coal black eyes as she sneered at the man. Without comment, she dove into his mind, ripping out the location of the important people in the building.
Losing interest in her victim, she released her hold on the Muggle, dropping the gibbering man to the floor.
Looking at the insensate form of her enemy, she waved her hand, slitting his throat. It was an act of mercy, really, as his mind was broken beyond repair.
Once the Mithril had completely covered her face, she was off to her destination.
'How many of them are there?' the Chinese general snapped out to one of the guards in Mandarin, drawing out a sidearm.
The man hesitated. 'Sir, ten … sir...' He said nervously.
The old man gazed at his subordinate with incredulity. 'Are you sure, soldier? That sounds far too low.'
'I am, sir,' the younger man replied in quick Cantonese. 'I saw it myself. There were ten.'
'They are demons!' one of the soldiers blurted out, eyes wide in panic. 'Our bullets can't stop them. Nothing can stop them! They are coming for our souls!'
'Calm down, boy!' the old man snapped harshly. 'They are only human. I do not deny that they have … gifts, but that doesn't mean that they don't bleed as well as the rest.' He turned to the first soldier. 'Do we have any of our heavy weapons?'
'No sir,' the man replied. 'All heavy weaponry has been deployed to the frontlines along with most of our men … to combat the demons.' He said slowly.
'I wonder who ordered that,' the general said in disgust, giving his supposed "superior" a glare of loathing.
Turning back to his men, the man started issuing orders in an effort to organise the best amount of defence in the room.
Halfway through, An Manhong seemed to come back to his senses. 'I do believe I am the superior officer here,' he said slowly as he got up. 'I give the orders here.'
The general's eye gave a minuscular twitch. Not bothering to grace Manhong with a verbal response, he just nodded to a soldier standing behind his supposed superior.
Nodding, the younger man quickly bought his free hand down on a pressure point in Manhong's neck in a surgical strike. The man was rendered unconscious before he knew it.
'Thank the heavens,' muttered the general. 'I don't think I would have been able to take more of his prattle before I wasted a bullet on his fool head.'
The soldiers all smiled nervously in response.
Their moment of levity was abruptly brought to an end when they heard the sounds of battle get closer to the door.
The men all got into position, the old general cocking his pistol, ready to start firing.
They all listened tensely as the sounds of gunfire were replaced by screams of terror punctuated by the squelching sounds of bodies being ripped apart.
Soon enough, there was silence, except for the clicking of boots as a person, no doubt the invader, casually made their way towards the door.
The soldiers looked at each other warily when those sounds stopped. Hesitantly, they all looked towards the general.
The general considered the situation. By his calculations, the assailant was probably just outside the door. It was possible that the person thought that the palace was clear, or that there was only one ineffectual person (his eyes flashed to the unconscious form of his "superior") in here, which was why they had stopped. He smirked. Well, they were in for a surprise.
Ordering all his present men to open fire at the door was counterproductive as it not only was overdone, but showed his hand early. Thus, the old man nodded to one guard who bobbed his head in reply and hefted his submachine gun.
Stepping in front of the door, the man started firing at the door indiscriminately.
Watching the door turn into Swiss-cheese, the general mused that even if the invader survived this, they won't know that they were walking into a room full of heavily armed soldiers till it was too late.
Soon enough, the magazine was empty. Slowly, the soldier looked at his superior.
The general gave one curt nod in response.
The soldier took a deep breath, steeling himself. Slowly, he crept towards the miraculously still standing door.
Reloading his gun, he took position next to the knob. With one hand, he twisted the handle and pulled the door open, making sure to keep his body covered by the wall.
The door swung open slowly before most of it collapsed into splinters and kindling, the only part that remained was immediately attached to the hinges.
Everybody tensed; fingers on triggers and guns pointed.
However, the hallway was bereft of people alive or dead.
Just as they were beginning to process the situation, a hole blew through the roof of the office. Through the dust, a lone armoured figure dropped down.
Quick as a whip, the figure threw out their hands sending the three men at the door flying out of the room at speed. Not pausing, the figure back-flipped with inhuman speed, heading for one of the soldiers. With acrobatic skill, the assailant somersaulted over the soldier and landed behind him.
The soldier didn't have a chance to turn around before he was on the floor, dead with a hole in his midriff.
Before the solider had collapsed, the attacker disappeared, reappearing behind the remaining soldiers and finishing them off before they could even react. Within minutes, ten soldiers were dead and not a shot had been fired.
The general cursed. Thanks to the confines of the room, their numbers had swiftly turned into a disadvantage. Not only could they not shoot their weapons for fear of friendly fire, but this … person … was too fast for them to even get a decent bead on them. Suddenly, he could believe that there were only ten of them attacking their base. If one was this hard to track, let alone shoot, then taking on ten would be even harder.
'Show yourself!' he commanded, his voice not betraying a hint of fear. Switching to English, he repeated himself. 'Show yourself and face me like a man!'
Suddenly, he heard a sound behind him. It was a soft sound, like the swishing of a cloak. Whirling around, he saw their attacker standing there casually.
The general shuddered. The only indication he could get from studying the figure in front of him was that it was a woman who had done them in. Idly, he wondered how she could see through that helmet of hers. There were no holes for the eyes, the nose or the mouth.
'I am not a man, Muggle,' the woman said in a mocking voice. 'But here I am!'
Pointing his pistol, the general shot the woman in the chest. But to his astonishment, the woman didn't even flinch as the bullet pinged off her armour and blew a hole into the wall on his right. With exaggerated slowness, she started walking towards him.
Panicking, the general emptied the gun's entire magazine, the sound of gunfire deafening in the room. However, his efforts were for naught as the woman did not even break stride as she approached him.
Throwing his useless gun aside, the general unsheathed a knife, readying himself for a close-quarters fight.
This gave the woman pause … for all of a second. With a negligent wave of her hand, the general found the knife wrenched out of his hand. Before he could even process this, the woman flicked her fingers again.
Suddenly, his arms and legs snapped together in a very stiff parody of Attention. Rocking back and forth, he tried to maintain his balance despite having lost control of his muscles.
The woman then came forward and with a dainty armoured finger, pushed him back, sending him crashing to the floor.
The general tried to move his body. However, the only thing he could do was blink his eyes. He watched, helpless, as his opponent crouched over him. Suddenly, before his disbelieving eyes, the metal that made up her helmet started to flow down, revealing her face.
Her straight black hair, cut to shoulder length, framed her angular features that hinted at Chinese origins. She would have been beautiful if it weren't for her pitiless cold black eyes.
'Now, who's in charge here?' she asked imperiously as she looked down at him. 'Is it you? Blink once for "yes" or twice for "no".'
The general took a moment before blinking twice.
'Pity,' the woman replied. 'I really did think it was you. That, by the way, is why you are still alive.' She gazed around herself.
'I doubt any of this sorry lot was in any position of command. They look too much like grunts.' She impaled him with her flat stare again. 'So who is in charge here? Speak,' she waved her hand.
Suddenly, the general found that he could work his mouth again.
'Why should I tell you,' he rasped in English.
The woman only smiled coldly. 'It is in your best interests. If you don't tell me, I will pluck it out of your mind … painfully. That will leave you an insane gibbering wreck. At the end of the day, I will have my information. Your sanity is entirely up to you.'
The old man was silent for a moment. Finally he jerked his head to the desk.
An Manhong took that time to regain consciousness.
'What –' he said groggily in Mandarin as he crawled out. 'What happened?'
He froze at the tableau in front of him. All the guards were dead and the general was down, stiff as a board, probably dead as well. But all that paled in comparison to the woman towering over him.
Meanwhile, Harry and the remaining three Elites made their way towards the north eastern part of the complex.
According to intelligence, this was where the ward stone could be accessed from. While the stone itself was buried deep at the centre of the entire complex, the only method of access was through a passageway from a smaller complex located within the Inner Court.
The main reason that their journey went unimpeded was because attention was focussed on the six witches and wizards causing chaos.
They finally met resistance when they reached the small complex that once housed the Muggle Empress and the harem.
With a negligent flick of his hand, Harry snatched the guns from the Muggles. Not even pausing, he turned the things around and magically pulled the triggers, ending the fight before it even began.
'I am getting tired of these … people.' Harry said in irritation. Stepping over the still-warm corpses, he headed inwards, the guns orbiting the four of them, as pistols floated up from their holsters to join the melange.
While the complex was smaller than the rest of the Forbidden City, it was still large. Containing no less than six different palaces, it could house quite a few people.
Thankfully, their detection spells were more than up to the job of expediting what would have otherwise been a long process of searching.
Following the white trail, the four mages came to a halt at a wall inside one of the palaces.
Harry turned to two of his companions. 'You know what to do.'
Nodding, the two soldiers got to work. In short order, the entrance of the passageway to the wall was blocked off by transfigured stone. Objects primed with explosive hexes dotted the length of the corridor, ready to detonate the minute anyone went past them. To complete the ensemble, a few machine guns with refilling charms were enlarged and stuck to the ceiling, ready to lay down fire.
'This is quite easy,' the Elite working on the wards surrounding the passageway said. 'With a few flourishes, he had the magic collapsing. With a rumble, the wall slid to the side.
'I'm not surprised,' Harry replied. 'It has been decades since the wards had someone anchoring them. The former emperor of these lands might have been a Muggle from a long line of Muggles, but at least there was some magic present in the bloodline enough to power these wards. I am quite surprised that they are up, forget their current strength. Lead the way, Joel.'
'It's a good thing that these wards are weakened.' Joel said after a few moments of silence as they traversed down the tunnel. 'I wouldn't have wanted to bring these things down when they were at full power.'
They did not encounter any more wards in their journey. No doubt the original architects felt that putting anything more here would be redundant. After all, if the enemy had managed to break through the powerful outer wards to reach this place, then things were lost anyway.
A few feet from the chamber holding the ward stone, the two men stopped simultaneously.
'Oho, a dead-man's switch,' Harry said in quiet appreciation. The metal around his head receded, revealing his thoughtful face. 'Sneaky bastards probably wanted to take down whoever managed to break in. The absence of any form of defence so far would have probably put the enemy in enough complacency that they would have happily stepped into their deaths.'
The duo examined the ward for a moment. Joel shrugged eventually. 'I do believe that a Confundus Charm would work fine here. This ward is quite out of date, after all.'
'I believe you are right.' Harry replied. 'Pity, I was expecting a challenge…'
The chamber holding the ward stone was bare save for a large piece of glistening rock rising from the middle.
From where he was standing, Harry narrowed his eyes. Sure enough, he saw a single crystal jutting out from the rock. This crystal contained the blood of the first ever monarch of the land, aeons ago.
Harry almost felt sorry for what he was about to do.
Joel watched with baited breath as his Liege lord raised both his hands. Suddenly, the hairs on the back of his neck started standing up as an oppressive feeling started filling the room.
He sucked in a deep lungful of air when the feeling only increased. Soon enough, he could feel Goosebumps in his head as the hair on his scalp started rising. At that time, he was quite thankful that he was wearing his armour with the helmet covering his face otherwise, he was sure that he would have looked quite ridiculous with all his hair standing on end.
The soldier soon found himself in awe of the Emperor. While he had sparred with the man quite a few times (upon the Emperor's insistence) both one-on-one and with his colleagues against their Lord, none of them could have anticipated the true level of the monarch's power. The magic that was coming out of the great wizard was enough to drive him to his knees.
Suddenly, a nimbus of magic flared around the ward stone, no doubt a final act of defiance. Ancient Chinese runes started lighting up the inside of the room as the stone called upon as much power as it could. It was now a battle of wills.
But The Emperor would not be denied. With a shout, the monarch sent another burst of magic right at the stone. This was enough as suddenly, the room went dark as the shield surrounding the stone vanished.
Panting, Harry looked at the stone triumphantly. His backlit green eyes glowed eerily in the gloom.
Quietly, he held out an armoured hand towards Joel, his demand clear.
Mutely, and still on his knees, the soldier reached inside his belt, withdrawing a large crystal similar to the one protruding in the ward stone. Holding it in both hands, he raised it above his head while keeping his gaze firmly fixed to the ground as if offering a god an offering. Somehow, the gesture felt appropriate.
The crystal rose from his hands unaided, supported by magic.
Catching it, Harry casually pricked his finger, smearing it in blood. Once done, he floated the crystal towards the ancient one embedded in the stone. With nary a gesture, the old gemstone was yanked out and replaced immediately by the new one.
As soon as the crystal sank into the stone, the ward stone and the surrounding room started filling up with emerald green light. Anglo-Saxon Runes replaced their Chinese counterparts as they rapidly spread outwards.
Harry sighed. The feeling of the wards settling into his skin was always heady. Instantly, he knew how much magic the wards needed to get to full power. Concentrating, he sent a few pulses of magic to supply the demand. He stood unaware that the room around him was now bright thanks to the magic. His perception had shifted to encompass the entire palace complex of the Forbidden City. Mentally smiling, he started identifying the enemies to the new wards.
Then he sent his commands.
Instantly, all the statues that dotted the enormous complex came to life. As one, the lions, cranes, unicorns and dragons jumped off their plinths and joined the fray, decimating the already flagging Muggle resistance. The elites cheered as it happened, knowing that the battle was truly won.
Within moments, the battle was over. Those Muggles that weren't killed were all herded together in front of the largest palace of the complex, guarded by the Elites and the statues, waiting for the Emperor to appear.
Manhong took stock of his surroundings. He had been in a daze while they had marched him and the general out to the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Now, he had a feeling that he still hadn't recovered from his bout of unconsciousness. After all, statues that once were stationary don't suddenly start prowling and trotting around you as if they were alive.
What was more intimidating was the armoured woman who was standing over him, the old general and the Chairman.
Suddenly, there was an upsurge of noise coming from the back. Their captors and the statues all sank into a deep curtsey or bow.
Manhong immediately noticed the figure they were all looking at.
The man was armoured like the rest of them. However, it was more than apparent that he was different. Perhaps it was the fact that his armour, unlike the rest, was lined with gold. Or perhaps it was the black cape he wore that fluttered in the wind. But it definitely was the fact that he was standing with his arms folded, suspended in air, as if gravity was something that he could ignore with impunity as he lazily floated towards them that distinguished him as the leader of the group.
'Your Imperial Majesty,' the woman said when the man lightly touched down in front of them.
Manhong understood enough to realise that this was the Emperor, or at least the leader of these people.
The metal covering the man's head started to flow away, revealing messy black hair and haughty features. As if to drive home his status, a golden crown appeared on his head. That confirmed it all right, this man was the Emperor. Manhong had envisioned a fat old man, not this lithe deadly person that practically thrummed with power.
The Emperor looked at his captives imperiously through eyes that were an impossible green. 'Who is their leader,' he said to the woman standing next to him.
Manhong didn't really understand what the man said, but he did get what he wanted when the woman strode forward and grabbed the Chairman. 'He is your imperial majesty.' She said as she shoved the man to the Emperor's feet.
Glowing green eyes looked down at the captured leader of the Chinese people pitilessly. 'Do you speak English?' he said slowly and clearly, uncaring of the filthy looks he was getting from the man at his feet.
'No?' he sniffed. Looking up at the assembled captives, he raised his voice. 'Does anyone speak English here? I need a translator.'
He waited for a response. Not getting one, he shrugged. 'Very well, then. It looks like I will have to pick one of you at random and rip the knowledge of whatever language you speak out of your minds. Unfortunately, the lucky person selected will be left quite insane after this. But since you lot don't understand me anyway, it doesn't matter now, does it?'
He extended his hand out.
'No, wait!' the general called out. 'I speak some English.'
'I thought so,' the Emperor said with a smirk. 'And who may I have the pleasure of speaking to?'
'Ah, a good decision, general. You may have just saved one of your men from getting his mind turned into jelly.' He nodded to one of his men who roughly grabbed the old man and forcefully placed him beside the Chairman.
'Now,' The Emperor said lazily. 'Tell your leader, whatever his name is; that he and by extension, his nation, are now defeated. He has the option of ending further bloodshed if he gives his unconditional surrender.'
An Manhong didn't have a hope of understanding what was just said. However, as he heard the general translate those words into Mandarin, he felt his ire grow. The nerve of this, this … freak!
Fortunately, his sentiments were shared by the Chairman as the man gazed at the intruder with hate. 'No!' he spat emphatically.
Harry didn't have to understand the word barked at him, the tone and the expression said more than enough. The monotone translation given to him by the General confirmed his suspicion.
He held up a hand to forestall Ursula before she could reply. Judging by the expression on her face, it wouldn't have ended pleasantly for the Chinese Muggle.
Manhong watched as the Emperor stopped the woman from acting. A feeling of unease grew within him when he saw the slow smile blooming across the man's face. That smile, which showed just a hint of the teeth behind the lips, did not reach those green eyes which flashed quite cruelly.
'I see you need some time to think about our proposal then, Muggle.' Harry said in a pleasant tone. He paused to let General Lung finish his translation, not bothering to elucidate what the last word meant to the old Muggle. 'So, since I am a graceful and magnanimous man, I shall give you all the time you need. I shall wait right here.' Saying so, he turned around and strode towards the throne that sat behind him.
Manhong watched disbelievingly as the man easily sat down on the Dragon Throne.
Ever since the last Emperor had been deposed, nobody had been able to sit on that piece of furniture. The throne resisted all efforts to move it. People who made the mistake of touching it got badly burned, and those that tried to sit on it were painfully repelled.
Eventually, the decision was made to leave the throne where it was. Perhaps the elements would be able to do what man was incapable of doing. Though, that seemed to be another impossible dream as nobody had even seen a speck of dust on the throne.
And now, here was this man, in control of the palace complex, the statues around it, the throne and most importantly, the device that they used to monitor their enemies.
Speaking of which, Manhong watched with everyone else as the woman raised her hand towards the palace where the device was housed. Instantly, the device came crashing out towards them.
They had tried to move it too, but it, like the throne, was quite reticent. Yet, here it was, hanging in the air, as the woman directed it to sit next to the Emperor.
Harry looked at the device. 'Ah, the famed magical detector of China used to monitor all magical activity with great precision. You lot used this quite effectively in the past to oppress my people, didn't you? Ursula's grandmother was one of them.' He lazily indicated to the formidable woman standing next to him.
'She was one of the many that managed to escape your treachery. And she was one of the designers of this artefact. She knew enough to tell Ursula, and through her me, the few weaknesses of your machine.'
The Emperor smiled. 'This device somehow develops a blind spot to minor magical activity whenever there is a sufficiently high amount of magic being performed. Like, say, the movement of a magical army … that gives a smaller party the leeway to run amok in the countryside.'
Harry's smile widened as he saw the look of mute horror on General Lung's face as he turned to translate to the Chairman. That smile took on a smug quality at the look of dawning comprehension and dread on the Chairman's face as he realised how well he had been duped.
'We have been using this weakness to take down quite a few villages, towns and even a small city or two while you lot concentrate on our forces.
'But enough about that, you have a decision to make, and I have to call my son.' Saying so, Harry flicked his wrist.
Manhong watched as a mirror of all things appeared in the Emperor's hands. According to the general, the man was calling his son. Clearly, the Emperor wasn't right in the head.
'James,' the Emperor said clearly into the mirror.
The Muggles all gave a start when they heard the answering voice of his son come from the mirror. 'Yes, dad?'
'We have secured the base of the Muggle resistance.' Harry said lightly. 'However, we are having some difficulties. Their leader is quite … reluctant to surrender. Nothing I say can convince him, so I was hoping you could.'
Harry saw the amused face of his son before the view shifted. A triumphant look came across his face.
General Lung watched as the Emperor tossed the mirror from his hands. Instead of falling like normal, the mirror started to grow. Turning around, it landed on a suddenly ornate base with claw-like feet.
Instead of their expected reflections, the General was surprised to see a battlefield. He instantly recognised his own forces. They seemed to be locked in an intense battle against the enemy. On the surface it looked like his men were winning as their opponents started retreating, many falling to bullets. But the old man was not fooled. A sense of disquiet began to grow within him as he realised that the viewpoint was from behind his own men.
And then suddenly, he heard a metallic clicking sound that drowned out the faint sounds of battle. He, along with the rest of the officials gave out a shout of surprise at what they saw fill the surface of the mirror.
A large number of machine guns with spider-like legs that had so far been thought to be rumour were heading towards the Chinese army from behind. And their men were not aware of the oncoming ambush.
On a prearranged signal, the wizards battling them suddenly vanished into thin air. Before their men could even process what was happening, the machine guns started opening fire.
The general watched, horrified as a pitched battle suddenly turned into a massacre. The guns started surrounding the embattled army as they kept spitting out bullets at a prodigious rate much faster than any human could do. They never seemed to run out either. In a matter of seconds, their vehicles and artillery were overrun by the demonic looking things as they killed with abandon.
The army tried to put up a fight, but it was plain to see that they would soon be overwhelmed within minutes.
With a casual wave of the Emperor's hand, the mirror disappeared, leaving the fate of their men unknown but clearly imaginable. 'I believe that is the end of a good chunk of your resistance.' He said conversationally, looking at the Chairman.
'But anyway, enough about that,' unnoticed to the Muggles, Harry sent a subtle signal to one of his men. 'I am pretty sure I am distracting you from the important decision you have to make! So, I think I will watch what is going on over there.'
Saying so, Harry rested his chin on his fist and focused his gaze at a point far off into the city proper.
Meanwhile the man he had given the signal to had finished giving a prearranged two-word phrase over the communications bud in his ear.
This phrase was heard by the remaining four Elites that were standing on the outskirts of Beijing at the four compass points.
At once, their bodies began changing. Their spines started elongating as their armour started melding into skin and changing into scales of various colours. Wings erupted from their backs as their arms and legs started thickening, ending in wicked sharp claws.
No sooner had Harry finished his speech, than a roar reverberated throughout the city. General Lung along with the rest of the captives turned their heads to look at the source of the disturbance.
The creature that rose from the south featured commonly enough in Chinese mythology that he recognised it immediately.
With a roar, the legendary Chinese Dragon rose up above the city. Its massive wings propelled its sinuous serpent like body up in the air. Lunging, it wrapped its body around a tower like a python around a tree trunk and with a deep breath, released a fireball into the street. With a flex of its powerful muscles, the tower it was wrapped around broke into three big pieces, the top half flung into another building by the creature's forelimbs as the beast flew off.
But that wasn't the end of it. Three other dragons soon appeared from the remaining cardinal points. The general did not know which dragon was more dangerous. One was large and rotund. Flying slowly, it sent out devastating jets of fire as it swiped at buildings with its forelegs. The second one they could see for a few moments had long glittering golden horns before it dived down to wreak havoc at the street level.
But it was the last dragon that was the most frightening. Jet black, it looked very lizard like with a wicked spiked tail that tore out long gouges as it lashed against many buildings. Its flame clearly reached the farthest. Alighting on top of a skyscraper a few kilometres away from the Forbidden City, it ripped open the top three floors with its forelimbs as easily as a person opening a packet of crisps as it stuck its head in and expelled a torrent of fire that reached down roughly fifty floors.
Harry watched the destruction with a bland expression. After years upon years of hard work, the technology that allowed wizards to assume the form of any animal was finally here. There had been quite a few snags along the way at the last minute leading to quite a bit of frustration. But the results were quite satisfactory.
There still were problems, though. For one, not everyone could be given this power. It simply just did not work on certain people. This was the main reason that only four of his Elites had the power.
Perhaps it was the fact that he was already an Animagus, but the technology did not work on him, either. It was something for which the Emperor couldn't help but feel a tiny twinge of disappointment.
Giving himself a mental shake, Harry focussed back on the matter at hand. He didn't really need that power. Although … flying as a dragon looked pretty cool!
'Well, have we reached a decision yet?' Harry called out, getting the attention of the Muggles. 'Not that I am in any hurry, I just have some places to be…'
The Muggle leader did not bother to wait for his general to translate as he prostrated himself on the floor and started babbling frantically.
'Chairman Zhao accepts your conditions,' the general translated, his voice heavy with defeat. 'Just, please …' he waved his hand to the city. 'I beg of you, stop!'
Harry took a moment to look at his captives triumphantly before he raised a hand in the air and shot off a spell that exploded thunderously in a green nimbus of light.
The dragons were quick to notice this. At once, they abandoned their wanton destruction of the city and started flying towards their liege lord, though they did nothing to put out the fires they had already caused. The Hungarian Horntail was the first to arrive as with a few extra flaps of its wings, it settled its large bulk in the compound.
That was intense! a distinctly masculine voice said in their heads as the dragon started shifting shape to human. He was halfway through when the Chinese Fireball and Romanian Longhorn landed at the same time and began their process of changing back to human.
Harry's lips twitched. Developing mind-speech was one of the main obstacles, but eventually the boffins had managed to allow people to communicate mentally as it was more than obvious that animals did not have the same vocal capabilities of a human. Mind-speech was a recently developed variant of Legilimency that they hoped would soon be able to eventually replace traditional communicators. It allowed a person to broadcast select thoughts in the form of words without being able to look into anyone's mind. Unfortunately, it currently had a limited range and was far too public.
Once the large ponderous Ukrainian Ironbelly had landed and changed, the four Elites made their way up to where the Emperor was seated. Lining up, they stood in formation flanking the emperor with Ursula standing behind and to the side as they waited for the rest of the army.
They did not have long to wait, as the entire army Apparated in the courtyard with members of the Chinese military in tow as captives.
Sitting on the Dragon Throne, Harry watched as his men swiftly got into formation, forcing the prisoners onto their knees.
Not even giving so much as a twitch, he conjured two smaller but no less ornate thrones on either side as his sons approached him.
Once General Hodgkin took his position behind him and to the left, Harry turned his attention to the two large mirrors.
With a spoken word, the mirrors darkened to show the faces of the Imperial Council on the left and Parliament on the right.
Crown glinting on his head, and still in his armour, Harry knew that he looked the epitome of a warrior-emperor fresh from battle (which was true, seeing as his armour still bore the signs of battle) as he uttered words that would change history.
'China has fallen. Victory is ours!'
'So what is bugging you?'
From his seat in the living room of the Potter ancestral home, Edmund snorted. 'You know me too well, dad.' Becoming sombre, he continued, staring into his glass of whisky. 'I was just wondering about your plans regarding the Muggles.'
It had been three weeks since China had fallen. Those weeks had been spent managing the change of government as well as stamping out any and all resistance. And the work was far from over. Nevertheless, the Emperor had decided to get back to Avalon with his sons. He had decided that it was high time that the family get together for a few weeks at least.
'I don't quite follow.' Harry said lazily.
'Well, I know of our policy right now. We take those who surrender and annihilate those that fight. I have seen those Muggles and I know that they are working for the Empire. I am just wondering what we are going to do with them once we have finished with expansion. Our state of war has been repealed now, what with Australia and Africa fully under our grasp…' he trailed off uncomfortably.
'In other words, when we have no use for them?' Harry replied after a few moments of silence. 'Well the answer is quite simple. We get rid of them.'
'You mean we are going to … kill them?' Edmund couldn't help but feel a bit disturbed at saying that. He dreaded his father's response.
But Harry just laughed, 'Oh heavens no! We will be sending them away.'
That caught him off guard. 'Er, where to?' he said finally.
'The Americas,' Harry replied easily. 'While I realise that I have authorised what would amount to genocide, I am not going to stoop so low as to kill those who have surrendered. We may not have shown mercy to those who fought, but those who chose to capitulate were not be killed off hand. Technically they are slaves in that they are not going to be paid for work, but they will be treated fairly. They will have their days off, and will benefit from our medical care, while being encouraged to be self-sustaining as far as food is concerned.
'And so, I think it would be bad form to just kill them all off after they have been quite cooperative. That would be a cruel and senseless act. I do not do senseless acts, and while I recognise that I am ruthless, but I am not a cruel man.'
'So I assume that we aren't going to be expanding there.'
Harry stared into the fire for a long time, mulling over his response. 'For now,' he said finally. 'We have four of the six inhabitable continents. The Muggles can keep the Americas.'
Harry wondered how he got to this stage. He remembered clearly the agenda that had been proposed so long back, the full eradication of Muggles. It was radically different to what he was doing now.
He had seen enough of war, death and destruction. With the Empire now spanning two thirds of the world, it was more than apparent that they had won. It was time to be gracious in victory now.
'Of course, that is as long as they keep to themselves. Any act of war is going to be met swift and brutal retaliation.'
Naturally, it went without saying that they weren't about to allow the Muggles any leeway should they decide on vengeance.
As his phoenix trilled softly, Harry reflected that perhaps it was the companionship of the bird that had mellowed him. Of course, age was a deciding factor too. The years had done a lot to cool his blood, even if he was immortal.
'I plan on speaking of this with the Imperial Council in our next meeting.' Harry said thoughtfully. 'That's a meeting that I want you and your brothers to attend.'
Edmund became instantly alert at this. 'You want James and me to come to the meeting?' he asked carefully.
'And Richard too,'
Edmund felt his eyebrows creep up. While he and James had sat in on many of the Council's meetings, this would be the first time their little brother got to attend.
'May I ask why?'
'You may,' Harry said with a little smile. 'In any case, you will find out as soon as James and Richard come.' He looked towards the door. 'Where on earth are they?'
As if in response to Harry's question, the door opened to allow James and Richard in.
Now nineteen years of age, Richard had matured from a heartbreakingly cute little boy into an uncommonly beautiful man. Between the sunny expression on his face, and the boy's veela heritage, the room somehow seemed to light up the minute he strode in.
'You called, father?' he said in a melodious voice.
Harry suppressed a smile. He had been quite involved in his and Lily's life. Or as involved as his duties as Emperor could allow him. And so, he knew of the kid's antics in Hogwarts once he had hit puberty.
One could firmly put down the time Richard had started his third year at Hogwarts by the letters sent home by his teachers. They had stopped complaining about how much he used to harass girls (more specifically, one particular girl by the name of Susan Mac Duarcain) and instead started reporting about various incidences that almost always involved a random female hounding the boy.
At least there had been no scandals as such. Once he had grown out of his preteen phase, Richard had become almost bashful around girls, disinterested in all but one.
Harry had a feeling that he would soon be talking to Lord Mac Duarcain about a marriage contract.
'Richie!' he said fondly, ruffling the boy's hair. 'How did your stay in the veela nation go?'
'It went quite well,' Richard replied, ducking his head. 'I had a great time with Urgroßvater.'
'Ah and how is Herr Mueller?'
'He's great. However, if I am not mistaken, he is looking towards retirement. Also, I think he wished for me to take his place.'
'Oh?' Harry raised his eyebrows. 'And how do you figure that out?'
'Well, he has made me sit in on many of his meetings and asked my input on quite a few issues surrounding the veela.'
'That is impressive,' Harry said, looking at his youngest son with pride. 'Now, sit. I have something to tell the three of you.'
Beaming, Richard hurried towards the sofa and sat next to his favourite half-brother, James. Hearing that pride in his father's voice meant a lot to him. While he was no stranger to his father's approval, something that he got in abundance as he always strived for that, he longed to hear that special tone of pride that was used whenever James or Edmund did something extraordinary. And judging by the stories that he heard of their exploits in the war, they had done quite a few extraordinary things.
A part of Richard was unhappy that the war was over for that reason. He really wanted to prove himself too.
'Now, I am sure you three are all wondering why I have called you here,' Harry said breaking into the individual thoughts of his sons.
He took a moment to look at them. It still felt as if it was yesterday when he was just a noble under the old Muggle-dominated regime bringing up his two sons.
Now … now, both James and Edmund were mature adults. Both of them had found a person to settle down with. Edmund's wedding to Adriana Maria de Albuquerque was only a few months away. James, on the other hand would be having his marriage the next year. His relationship with Rose had fizzled out after a few years. While Harry wasn't surprised by that as such is the case with young love, he couldn't help but feel a slight amount of disappointment. Those two were quite good with each other, despite Rose Wesley's unfortunate parentage. Regardless, James' fiancé, a Miss Eva von Richtoven, met his approval as well.
And little Richie wasn't so little anymore.
Wrenching his mind to the present situation, Harry continued speaking. 'As the three of you know, the war is all but officially over. The Empire will soon become stable and wizard rule will be established over Asia, Europe, Australia and Africa. Once those damned Muggles accept and sign the treaty that is being drawn up, it will be officially over and the Empire shall enter an era of peace. That, I hope, will last a long time.
'So it is with this in mind that I had a long discussion with my wives. At the end of this discussion I have reached a decision that shall impact the three of you and the rest of the Empire.'
Harry took a deep breath. 'Once the peace treaty is signed, I shall officially retire.'
There was a long moment's silence.
James was the first to break the silence. 'Retire?!' he exclaimed. 'But … so soon? I mean, you are just fifty! That is quite young!'
'Hey, I will have you know that I am forty nine!' Harry replied with levity. 'My fiftieth birthday is still a few months away.'
In a more serious tone, he continued speaking. 'Yes, I agree that fifty is too young, it is not even one third of an average wizard's lifespan. However … I have been at this for far too long now. I literally built this Empire from scratch. It has been more than thirty years now, sixty if you count in the time I spent during Instant Gratification. I think I have earned the right to a quiet life now.'
Harry straightened in his seat. 'Now this is what is going to happen. Edmund, you have shown quite a lot of promise the past few years. I know you want Australia and New Zealand so …'
'Actually,' Edmund interjected, 'I think I will leave that to my sister. Ever since she met that Australian bloke she wanted the place.'
'That's true,' Harry replied without missing a beat. 'And that was what I was going to mention too, actually. At any rate, you get Africa. I know you will be able to manage that place well. James,' he looked at his second son. 'You have always wanted Asia, so you have it. Of course, it will require a lot of considerable skill to manage, but I am sure that you will be up to the task.'
Harry then looked at his youngest son. 'Richard. You are still quite young. In fact, you are technically a teenager.' Harry's lips twitched at the indignant look on the boy's face. 'But that's not going to stop me from giving you Europe. Now, I haven't given this territory to you because I consider it a soft option or whatever, so don't even think that. If you have guessed Herr Mueller's intentions correctly, then there is a high chance that you will be the next leader of the veela nation, which is not a light responsibility in addition to the considerable responsibility of being King of the European territories. However, due to your age and relative inexperience, I shall be assisting you till I feel that you are capable of standing on your own two feet. In other words, prepare yourself, because we are going to be working closely for quite some time.'
Noting Richard's fleeting expression of delight at this news, but not commenting on it, Harry continued speaking. 'As for me, I will keep the title of Emperor, and Daphne, my wife, shall be Empress with all the privileges attached. Avalon will be under my direct rule while I keep a very close eye on Australia. Lily, bless her heart, is also just as young, and I don't really trust the guy she has fallen for. And I don't care if he agreed to sign that betrothal contract without arguing about it.'
All three sons snorted. 'I agree with you, dad,' Edmund said. 'In fact, if I could have managed to get away with it, I would be doing that too.'
'Same here,' James and Richard said almost in synchrony.
Harry smirked. His only daughter really was spoilt. And between her three overprotective brothers and him, her fiancé would have to watch his back. 'Ginny and Gabrielle have consented to taking up the title of High Queen,' he continued. 'That leaves your future wives free to take the title of Queen without any issue.'
Harry took another deep breath. 'That is basically the gist of it. We shall discuss this more in detail with the Imperial Council the very next day. Now, it's getting late. So I am off to bed. I suggest you lot retire for the night too, we have a big day tomorrow.'
Splashing water onto his face, Harry looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His was a youthful visage, one that belonged to someone who had just completed the second decade of his life, definitely not the face of a fifty year old wizard.
Not that the average fifty year old wizard looked any older. Wizards tended to age much slower after seventeen compared to their Muggle counterparts after all. At fifty, a wizard could pass off as a twenty three year old Muggle.
The differences were minute, barely noticeable to the casual observer. But to someone like Harry, who knew what to look for, they were all too evident. To him, his skin was firmer, smoother and less lined than that of Neville, Draco, or even Ginny and Gabrielle.
Maybe it was him, but he looked like a kid fresh out of Hogwarts.
On a whim, he took off his shirt. There was proof that he wasn't a kid fresh out of Hogwarts. His muscles were now quite well defined, with a few scars here and there, testimony to the decades he had spent on this earth.
Once he got into the bed where one of his wives were sleeping (tonight it was Ginny's turn) he let himself fully relax.
He had spent decades to his vision, decades ensuring the freedom of his people. In the course of that journey, he had done quite a few things. He had made decisions that he was not comfortable with. Chief amongst those was his ruling on what to do with the Muggles. Quite a few people had died thanks to that…
As he rolled onto his side, he quashed the guilt. True many had died, and that was a tragedy. And they were too many to count, another tragedy. However, he had offered them all a choice: Life or death. Those that chose life were treated fairly. Those that made the second choice … well, they made their bed. Each Muggle settlement had been given ample time to decide before the army moved in. He wasn't going to spare them anything more than a feeling of sorrow for the choices they made.
Now that the Empire was established, he could finally stop. True, Muggles weren't fully eradicated like he had originally planned, but he could live with this compromise.
While he would still be Emperor, he wasn't going to be doing much regarding the management of the state. He would step in only when the people had dire need of him. Retirement did not equal to abdication.
Otherwise, he would enjoy his life. No matter how long it ended up being. It was time to pass on the torch. The only reason he had stayed so long was because he knew that there was no one else. But now ...
Now, he could finally relax.
Let the younger generation run things.
As he let sleep overtake him, Harry hoped that the Muggles saw sense and took the third and final chance they had for peace. If not … well, they would burn. And he would be at the frontlines, as always, to make sure of it.
And that's that. The final chapter.
Now only the epilogue to go, and this story will be completed!
In case you are wondering, yes, Ron and Hermione are going to feature there ...