Disclaimer: I do not own Mulan, this story is nonprofit written for the enjoyment of the audience and myself. No money, so please no sue.
Betaed by Zim'smostloyalservant & Jazzqueen
WARNING!: Chapter contents are believed by the author to warrant an upgrade in rating to M. It is not overly graphic in the author's opinion but the subject matter warrants both the upgrade and this head's up. Do not wish to spoil so either click back or proceed and hopefully enjoy the story.
The fire stank of dung and gave little smoke – a good trick, Mulan had to admit as she hoped the wind would shift so she wouldn't have to smell it. The Huns were camped in the hills, the snows of the heights mercifully behind them. They had gathered around their fire, having set up camp; she sat just outside their circle, her feet now tied and the leash of her rope bindings held by the bald twin as his brother tried to relax.
Mushu's head popped out of a pile of leaves surveying the situation. He spied Cri- Kee where he was supposed to be, on Mulan's shoulder, giving her some comfort. The Huns had noted his presence but didn't seem to take issue with the insect.
The dragon ducked back into the leaves as he felt a piercing gaze come his way. That hawk was out there somewhere, and it was keeping an eye on him. He hadn't been able to take care of it; there was something supernatural about the bird. Some kind of Hun magic?
Grumbling, Mushu crawled out of the leaf pile into the bushes; for now, he would have to bide his time.
As for the Huns, they conversed in their own tongue, ignoring her for the moment.
"I agree, horses should wait, they think us dead – better they keep believing it until we're too far for it to matter," Lasuluun spoke up. Shirchin crossed his arms but stayed silent. It was shameful for Hun warriors to march like this, but he could not argue the wisdom of stealth. As it was, they had only the one willful horse, and their leader rightfully had claimed it.
Of course there would be no need for stealth, or retreat… his thoughts darkened as his eyes peered around Batu. Lasuluun glanced over, following the gaze, and scowled.
"We should kill her now; our comrades were denied a proper death. Give them peace by defiling and spilling the witch's blood," Lasuluun spoke to the silent shadow of their leader, as Shan-Yu tore off a bite of horse jerky. The wolf eyes seemed to glow and casually regarded the grim faced Hun.
Gaitan frowned and sat up, giving a look, but his brother's hand on his shoulder stopped him from speaking.
"Witch?" Ulaan spoke up instead. The archer was fashioning a new arrow with his belt knife but looked up from his work at the word.
"How else could our conquest be foiled?" Lasuluun countered.
"With a cannon, and a great deal of snow," Ulaan answered plainly. He looked to be smirking in the firelight. Lasuluun came to his feet, only to pause as Shan-Yu gave a dry chuckle.
"Witch or not, it doesn't change anything. We're taking her back – I have questions for Old Moon," Shan-Yu told them. Gaitan grinned from his spot on the ground while the others exchanged glances at the news.
"I thought you didn't trust the shaman anymore?" Batu spoke up. Shan-Yu scowled, recalling the words spoken in the smoke filled Ger months ago.
'There is no man who can stop you from taking the old man's empire for your own,' he had said.
No man… he glared at where the Han girl was trying to sleep. He had questions, and he would not act until he knew the answers.
"When I have answers from Old Moon, perhaps you can rape and kill as you wish. Or kill and rape as some say. But until then…" Shan-Yu insulted and warned, leaving the threat hanging in the air. Lasuluun rose and sought out his sleeping spot. Gaitan relaxed, letting his twin also do so. Shirchin smiled at the display of power, while Ulaan simply started a new arrow.
Dawn would come soon, and they still had a ways to go.
X X X
Fa Zhu stopped when he realized he had said the same prayer three times to this guardian. Rubbing his sore eyes, he shifted in his kneeling position. His joints were stiff and protested the mistreatment he was subjecting them too. He could see the sky outside the stone; the twilight was fading now, still no word.
With a pop of joints, he came to his feet and sought the incense in the dying light. No, fading, not dying, he told himself with a ferocity he had scarce called on since the walls of the capital. He frowned when he found only single stick of incense; it conveyed the time elapsed more than the sky – the pile he had brought was nearly depleted, but would he dare leave the shrine?
A last prayer… but to who? He had recited the lists of his ancestry and burned incense to each guardian so many times. He suspected his own mother had made some sacrifice to the Great Stone Dragon, the missing chicken, like last time. And it was nothing he had not done before, and proven insufficient. Glancing amidst the stone carvings, his eyes fell on a blank spot.
The Perch of the Fallen Guardian, he had taken to calling it. He recalled all the perches breing occupied when his father had walked him through the shrine as a small child. But no one seemed to remember what manner of beast had been there or when it had been removed.
Zhu wondered what became of a spirit that fell – did it still hear prayers? Perhaps an impoverished spirit could aid him where the prosperous couldn't? He lit the stick and placed it in the dragon burner; the tip flared brighter for a second and it seemed as if the iron turned red. He blinked and it was gone, all was as it should be. A trick of the fading light, or a sign?
He knelt in prayer to a spirit whose name he did not know, and before half finished footsteps drove him from their serenity.
He turned and rose as his mother appeared in the doorway. The twilight was almost gone but it caught tears glistening on her panting face. The sight made him cold before fire welled up. With a roar more savage than his war cry he backhanded the dragon burner, knocking it from its chain, sending it clattering into the darkness.
"No, Zhu, they're alright, they're both," his mother panted and he could see her smile. Tears, but of joy. He flew from the shrine, the words she shouted after him lost.
The stiffness and was forgotten now, as it had been on the battlefields against the Huns in years past. The next clear thing he recalled was the door opening as the wizened midwife, broad and wrinkled, emerged. She looked him up and down in that way women with some authority do to men. He had not resented such things since war made him a man, and now he barely noticed.
She held the door for him in answer to his unasked question. He hesitated a moment, his stomach knotting. He had last felt this way before entering the presence of he Emperor, he realized. As he had then, he put one foot in front of the other and heard the door close behind him.
The light was low, only a single lamp burning. Fa Li was as beautiful as ever, reclining in the bed. No, there seemed an almost glow about her, hair down, robe loose, and babe in her arms.
'The murals are wrong, a mother's beauty is not in designed elegance,' Fa Zhu thought as months of tension left him, crossing the short distance. She looked up from their child, and smiled. It was a sad smile, but the new father did not recognize it in the moment of bliss. He searched for something to say as he sat down on the bed edge.
"Our prayers are answered," he spoke. It seemed sufficient as he gently took the baby from her arms. Eyes opened to regard him with curiosity before closing again; so simple, yet he felt more pride than he had kneeling before the Emperor to receive honor.
"My son," he whispered with pride. His wife sniffed and for the first time he noticed his own joy was not mirrored in her.
"Your daughter… I'm sorry," she said, turning her face away.
"Daughter?" he asked dumbly as his exhaustion and hunger began to take their toll. Oh, he supposed he hadn't asked, much less received an answer. Even so it was no call for tears.
"Why are you sorry? She is beautiful," Fa Zhu asked, reaching out to cup her chin. Her eyes were full of sorrow when he turned her face back.
"There will be no more, the midwife says she is the last. I wasn't strong enough to bring your sons into the world alive, only her," she sobbed. Now it made sense, the guilt no words had ever been able to banish, the stillborn boys. What could he say now, as his daughter moved against his chest?
"She is enough," the hero declared, planting a kiss on his wife's forehead.
The dream shattered and he awoke to another night. He was in bed; he turned his head and saw his wife, facing away. With fingers forced steady, he reached out to the nightstand, fingers closing on the familiar shape. The comb, what she left in place of his armor and sword, along with her hair on the floorboards.
The words beneath the tree when he put it in her hair, yet again seeking to bring comfort to his lonely child. But those were not the parting words, as much as he wished they could have been.
"I know my place! It's time you learned yours!" he could hear his own angry words. When had the gratitude for a child faded so? What could he have said, what could he have done to stop his brave and foolish girl? Could he live if those were the last words between them?
The night was full of regret and offered no answers to his questions.
X X X
Lasuluun was tugging her along today. The sour faced Hun was easily the worst to date. He would jerk the rope, making her stumble, and not with a regularity she could anticipate. She would be a mess of cuts and bruises if not for Shang's training.
"Oh boy, this ain't going to be good," Mushu whispered from his hiding place under the loose tunic. As irritating as hiding the lizard there was, it was better to have him close just in case. Her eyes had been on the ground – her hands bound made it important to watch her footing – but now she saw it, they were going to ford a river.
"Can you swim?" the Hun she believed to be named Lasuluun asked. She steeled her expression, meeting his gaze and nodding.
"Good," he smiled in a way she liked not in the least.
Shan-Yu crossed first on Khan; she winced at her poor horse being broken to obedience by that savage. His defiance seemed to only amuse the monster who had ravaged China only to now escape back to the vermin nests beyond the Wall.
The river was shallow enough the Huns didn't need to put up their swords and the current such as it was didn't seem to phase them on the slippery footing. And the riverbed was slick under her feet. The first jerk sent her falling forward. Her arms caught her awkwardly, saving some of her face from the water.
She could hear some of the Huns laughing as she pulled herself up, slipping and almost falling again.
'Thank you Shang,' she thought, knowing it would be far worse if not for the captain's river training. She was seeing even the stranger exercises had uses.
It was two steps before he pulled her down again. This time he pulled again when she caught herself, leaving her soaked.
"The Shan-Yu wants you healthy; I suppose that means you'll need to slip out of those wet clothes by the fire," Lasuluun chuckled.
"Keep it together baby girl, don't give him an excuse," Mushu whispered. Mulan glared murder at the Hun's back as they crossed, not paying enough attention to catch herself as a final tug sent her sprawling on the stony bank.
"Lasuluun, if I wanted my plunder washed, I would do it myself," Shan-Yu spoke up. She looked up to see them all enjoying the show, even the stoic archer cracking a smile at his master's wit.
"Plunder? You never beat me to claim me. You took me by surprise," Mulan growled. She ignored Cri-Kee tugging her still dry hair; caution was not on her list at the moment.
"If you are foolish enough to be taken by surprise, that's your fault, not mine," the barbarian warlord shrugged.
"You looked pretty surprised in the Pass," Mulan spat. Even the wind seemed stunned to silence at that. He swung down from Khan, glaring at her before smiling, or perhaps just bearing his teeth.
"A duel then – you will yield, and my status as your master will be without doubt. Untie her," Shan-Yu commanded.
Mulan might have been less happy if she had noted how happy her tormentor was to carry out the order. He untied her, looping the rope over his shoulder for later, stepping back to block the way over the river.
A sheathed sword plopped to the pebbled ground before her; she was surprised to see he had given her her father's sword. Shan-Yu inspected the edge of Batu's sword, and looked up to see his prisoner cautiously drawing her own sword.
"Use what your hand knows best, don't claim I wasn't fair," the words were polite enough, but somehow managed to be mocking. Mulan scowled and ripped the hem of her sleeve, and used the cloth to tie her hair back.
"You will pay for the innocent lives you destroyed," she told the warlord. Someone snickered; she glanced around, seeing the Huns covering the area in a loose ring, weapons drawn.
'Even if I kill him…' she realized, before swatting aside the thoughts. There could only be the task at hand.
"Brave words, let's see how far they go," Shan-Yu smiled.
'It's a predator baring its teeth,' she thought. Then he was on her. No one shouted "begin", or made any signal, the fight just started. There was no time to think it was unfair, there was only time to block.
He was fast, unbelievably so for such a large man. Light on his feet, the agility that had aided her at the camp was just enough to keep up with him. Worse was his strength; Chien Po's blows harmed even when blocked, and the gentle giant held back regardless of Shang's scolding.
He wasn't holding back, her sword vibrating as her hand struggled to hold on while her forearm went numb.
'I've never used a sword to kill. This monster's killed hundreds,' she realized. The pebbles slid under her feet the next blow forced her back a step to keep from falling, the same as dying. She had to think, her unarmed skills were her strength; she could even beat Shang at times with those, she needed-
Time she didn't have.
The next blow was from an unexpected angle, numbed fingers lost their grip, and steel clattered to the ground. Reflexively she reached for it, leaving herself open as a battering ram struck her stomach.
Her wound flared and she lost sight of everything in the pain.
Pain brought her back as she was jerked up. Mulan cried out in pain and anger as Shan-Yu grabbed her hair and dragged her the last paces to the shallows. He let her go to kick her onto her stomach, three of his warriors already raising war cries to the spectacle. She had no time to gather herself before he leaned down and gripped her hair again, sword still held ready.
"Yield?" he asked with a disinterested air.
"Never," she spat into his reflection in the river. The hand forced her head down beneath the water. She struggled, but it was like trying to shake off a mountain. She grabbed a handful of pebbles and threw them back over her head; he answered by slamming her face down into the riverbed.
Pulled up into the air, she coughed, gasping. She spat at a terrible and familiar taste – her nose was bleeding.
"Yield?" he asked with that same indifference.
"No," she rasped.
He didn't slam her head again. There was no need; she was dizzy and desperate – this handful she was sure just plopped back into the water when thrown.
He would kill her, she would die here, she realized. Never to return. She saw Mushu swimming and shook her head; he would just die if he did anything. She couldn't let anyone else… her thoughts faded before snapping elsewhere.
Father. She had never been able to repay him, for his patience, or for her brothers that never lived. She couldn't cut his bloodline on top of every other failure! Her enemy pulled her had back up; all she could do was cough and gasp for breath, head spinning.
"Yield?" he asked with no more interest than before.
"Yes," she coughed.
"Yes, what?" he pressed. She couldn't see him but knew he was smiling.
"I yield, to you," she struggled not to sob it as she had her pride taken on top of everything else. Shan-Yu released her to kneel in the river, stepping back onto the shore himself.
"You're mine, my plunder, my property. Many women would consider that an honor; you're a first and I doubt you would call it that. But those Han knees bend easily enough for perfumed highborns and their strutting pets; they will do so easily enough for real men. And if not, I can always dispose of what belongs to me," he told her. The Huns cheered the victory, though the volumes varied somewhat – the matter was decided the old and true way in their eyes.
Mulan lurched onto the bank, shivering from the latest soaking and watched as the Hun collected her father's sword. He glanced and saw her intent gaze fixed on the steel and smiled.
"This? It's not yours anymore; good steel belongs to those good enough to keep it," he told her as if explaining a simple fact to a fool.
"You have no right, you filthy Xiongnu(1)," she growled. That was the sword her father became a hero with, spilling Hun blood, how dare he-
That steel was at her cheek, the tip barely touching the skin as her eyes fixed on it.
"Never use that word. Next time you use it you will be beaten. Fail that lesson and Lasuluun and anyone else willing can mount you. Understood?" he was cold for the first time. They really were wolves' eyes; she found herself wondering how he took them from the beast.
He seemed to take silence for acquiescence; her father's steel withdrew and he followed, stomping off somewhere with Khan in tow. His men followed Gaitan, helping her to her feet as they continued north.
She stared at his broad back, wishing her eyes could pierce it. He would pay, somehow, someday.
X X X
They had laughed at her request, save for the archer who only seemed to laugh when it was called for by whatever mad etiquette the Huns followed.
She didn't care, she needed a bath – they smelled bad enough without her own stench tormenting her. It wasn't just her own grime either. The day of the duel, Ulaan had brought down a deer, which her caretaker, Gaitan she now knew, had suggested the pelt for her as she dried. She had to strip down to her wrappings lest the cold sicken while the clothes dried by the fire. They got eyefuls regardless of her efforts. Ulaan seemed disinterested, like in most things, and Batu seemed to disapprove as if it were her fault! Shan-Yu was also lacking interest; the humiliation seemed to interest him more than her exposed skin.
It was said Huns laid with their horses; perhaps that was the case with these three?
The hide gave warmth and modesty, but it was barely treated, juicy. Using leaves the next day she tried to scrub herself, but it was hardly enough.
Now enough was enough.
"Take your bath woman. Try and run and we will catch you, you won't like it when we do," he had said. As if she could run when he made her leave most her clothes behind, humiliating her and making braving the wilderness that much more difficult. And she had no doubt they could catch her – they were savages who called the wild lands home after all.
"Baby girl, I hope you got an idea," Mushu asked, ears firmly clamped over his eyes. She signed as she scrubbed herself, kneeling in the shallows of a stream. The water still made her too uneasy to venture out.
"We have to free Khan; if we're on a horse and they're not we have a real chance," Mulan told him as she wrung out her hair.
"Yeah, but ol' Bessie's under the yoke same as you. No way they're letting their only horse go free, these are Huns," Mushu complained. Mulan scowled and almost told off the dragon for his lack of anything useful, but stopped. It had to hurt him enough as it was, and how much worse it would be if she were truly alone here?
A footstep sent him into the underbrush and she bolted up, covering herself as best she could with her arms.
"I'm not clean yet!" she protested. If they were in such a hurry… Those thoughts trailed off as Lasuluun stepped from the trees and looked her over coldly. His gaze felt like bugs crawling on her.
"I doubt you were ever clean," he stated. She turned to run, only then realizing she should have stood to fight. She turned, but one arm was still covering her chest, no kind of stance at all. He grabbed her by the neck and kicked her feet out from under her with expert ease. She struck him in the neck but he moved with it, only grunting in answer. Spying her bandaged stomach, he hit her there; she gasped and he backhanded her.
The water was shallow enough it didn't even reach her face as she fell back into it. She pushed herself up to her elbows as he began to loosen his belt. The sight and remembering her own nakedness froze her, critically as he knelt down and grabbed her wrists.
"I don't know what tricks you have, it won't matter. The river took you; he won't be able to prove otherwise. But first you pay for the warriors who died without glory," he growled into her face. She was shocked – this couldn't be happening.
"GAAH!" he cried out, arching up. He let her right hand go to pull something from his rear. He only registered it as a snake, tossing the reptile as far as he could after wringing it one handed.
Mulan struck him where it hurt with her free hand.
She could have done better but it was impulse rather than skill, and enough to get him to fall off of her as she came to her feet and started to run.
The Hun was up quick, cursing with murder in his eyes as he lunged for his sword and scooped the blade up. An arrow whizzing past his ear stopped him, and a voice stopped her.
"Enough!" Ulaan commanded. The archer stood on an outcropping overlooking the victim and victimizer with tired disgust. Suren swooped down to perch at his feet, giving a cry. The reason for his arrival was clear; the warlord had taken precautions.
"You would defend the witch? !" Lasuluun demanded, seething.
"No, I defend the order. She stays alive, and only he has the right to despoil her until he says otherwise. Walk away now and I will not speak of this. Try it again and you won't get a warning; I never miss," Ulaan told the would-be rapist.
For a moment it seemed the swordsman would try his luck, but in the end he tugged his belt taut and stalked off, steel still drawn. Mulan looked up to her unlikely savior before remembering to cover herself.
"Thank you," she said, reluctantly but sincerely.
"Don't, what I said to him is true. Revenge is senseless to me, but I can see why he wants it. And you're stupidity gave him too good of a chance to pass up. If my Shan-Yu wants you to die I will slit your throat as simply as if you were a goat to be slaughtered, but he wants you alive and reasonably well for now.
"Get your clothes and come back, better to be unclean because you're dirty. Don't do something so stupid again," he told her, before turning and disappearing back into the shadow of the trees.
Alone, the tension passed and her heart slowed. The realization seeped in and drove her to her knees. She was still crying when Mushu swam up to her, awkwardly curling around one leg, trying to offer some kind of comfort.
X X X
Ulaan watched the woman sleep under the deer hide; despite the low burn of the fire, she was clear enough to his eyes. And perhaps his master's eyes as well. There were stories about the wolf eyes – some were nonsense, but others could have something to them.
The ruler of the Huns sat across from him on the other side of the fire. Lasuluun was off on watch, the rest of them were awake to speak.
The archer glanced back to the woman; he held no anger towards her, such things were too bothersome. What happened was unexpected to say the least, but this was war, or had been. Still, he would have killed her just to simplify things.
But that was not his role; his place was to obey. And to advise.
"Soon we will be at the Wall," he spoke up. The wolf eyes looked up from the fire to him.
"Yes," he answered. There was anger there; again, he understood without sharing. They had crossed it before as conquerors sweeping away all before them. They had two grapples still, and would cross by the same manner. Only rather than letting the Han spread the word of doom to their coming this time they had to sneak across.
The anger was lost on him, but pride was something he had, and it did twinge at this. But that was not the matter to be discussed.
"The Council will be called to summit. The Chieftains and Shamans will demand to know how the warriors they gave you perished for so little plunder," Ulaan stated.
"Our horde gave the most," Batu grumbled. Gaitan nodded, sober at the thought of so many lost faces, and swords.
"The old men and cowards chose not to cross, they have no right to question true warriors," Shirchin spoke up.
"That didn't stop the Night of Daggers," Ulaan countered. The circle was silenced as Shan-Yu stared at the archer and drew his sword.
"I am not my father, they know this," Shan-Yu reminded them. Cast in shadow, with the light in his eyes and on the steel, he seemed some vengeful spirit come among them.
"Your half-brother is not like his father either. But he will try something – what man wouldn't?" Ulaan pressed.
"Unegan… if he did anything half so well as he talked he would have tried something years ago. When the tribes assemble for summit he will talk and talk. But he is his father's son; between him and me they will never chose him.
"The old men will dicker and try to force a bride on me again. Perhaps I should give them that; it will distract them from any meaningful demand.
"And if Unegan tries something, I will kill him. Same for the chieftains if they forget their place," Shan-Yu told his men. Ulaan frowned while the twins nodded their ascent grimly. Shirchin smiled and looked to his ruler with naked admiration.
He almost wished the fools would push too far.
X X X
Mulan marched along, the deer hide hanging from her shoulders, Gaitan holding the leash about her wrists. Mushu was hidden behind her, tucked in her clothes and warmed by the fur; his injuries were thankfully light. His injury in her defense had also thankfully unwound the knot of resentment that had been building toward him.
She looked up when she heard Shan-Yu dismount her poor horse. The stallion remained defiant and was paying the price. The Hun leader may have been reluctant to damage a horse, but he would not tolerate disobedience.
"It's a good sign, a loyal horse," Gaitan had said to her one night, giving her a piece of the jerky the Huns ate when they lacked fresh meat. They seemed like kind words, but she would not believe that of a Hun; she need only look to the grim faced man to remember. And the doll… in her dreams she often held it still.
Looking around she saw why they had stopped, and despite the circumstances her mouth widened in awe.
They stood in a hollow that had been cleared halfway some years ago as stumps littered the area. But through the trees she could see it clearly. The Great Wall, one of the Glories of the Empire. Dividing civilization, the Middle Kingdom, from savagery. It was so close now.
It was close.
A rock fell into her stomach as the Huns not attending to her gathered to speak among themselves. If she crossed that wall she would be in their territory. Would the army even let her back in if she came from the wrong side of the Great Wall?
The Army! There must be troops there. Shang had said once that there had been no more crossings of the Wall. How would he have known if there hadn't been soldiers still walking the Wall!
This was her chance, thwart their escape and regain her freedom. She would have to be quick and above all clever.
"We're almost home," Shan-Yu announced, walking over to her. She saw the other Huns still talking while the leader waved Gaitan off.
"Not really, home's the other direction," Mulan spoke up. He would take meekness as more suspicious.
"Not for you, not anymore," he told her. It wasn't taunting, it was spoken as a simple fact. That gave her pause. She saw the fist coming and wondered why before seeing stars.
She smelled wood burning. Not dung, and for a moment thought it was a military fire and Yoa would smack the back of her head to wake her up.
But she opened her eyes to see a familiar troop gathered around the less foul smelling fire, and shifted to find a deer hide warming her. But no ropes?
She sat up and inspected her chafed wrists.
"No more need," Gaitan told her. He sat down next to Mulan and gave her a piece of the venison jerky; she had thought that was all gone.
"What do you mean?" she asked, too out of it to be hostile.
He pointed away and she saw that they were in hill country and make out the Great Wall in the distance. It was also night, and checking the sky her stomach lurched as she looked frantically for some answer other than the one she saw.
They were north of the Wall. Shan-Yu gave her no chance; they knocked her out and carried her over like the plunder she was to them.
As panic started to set in she realized something was missing from the camp.
"Where is Khan?" she asked numbly. Gaitan put a hand on her shoulder and did not resist when he lightly slapped it away still looking a mile away.
"We couldn't take a horse over on grapples; he was turned loose and nearly called the garrison down on us with his noise. Be thankful it's bad luck to kill a healthy stallion, or Ulaan would have felled him," Gaitan told her.
She wasn't grateful; they had stolen her after all. And she had lost the oldest friend she had. That night she finally showed them her tears even as she hated herself for doing it.
X X X
A man sat in a tent by the light of a single brazier. He was a young man, in his prime, his long handsome face untouched by the worries of age. His long hair was pulled back into a tail; thick side burns framed his face, lightly tracing part of his jaw line. A cloak of fox pelts hung from his shoulders, his fine tunic adorned with beads of gold, and a well used steel chain wrapped about his waist. Eight bejeweled rings adorned his hands, the ones of the left made more prominent by the silver chalice inscribed with the images of foreign gods it held.
His eyes casually swept the chamber of canvas, adding up the wealth obscured by the dancing shadows. Seemingly content all was as it should be he tilted the cup. A girl wearing once fine clothes gone to fray scampered forward with a clay bottle and poured for him. As he straightened the cup, she stepped back ready to attend to anything else.
He took little note of the child, gently swirling the alcohol and breathing in its aroma. A fine drink, he thought, the sort of thing that had to be taken from others. Just like the cup that held it.
"Why must the best things in life be taken?" the chieftain asked aloud. The girl's already wide eyes grew nervous; while certain she was not meant to answer there would be consequences if she were wrong. Her first impression seemed accurate; he sipped his drink without regard for her.
"Child," he did not bother trying to remember her name.
"I am done with you, tell your mother to await me in my bed," he commanded.
"Yes father," she nodded, before backing out of the dancing lights. The Hun chieftain took a deeper drink, holding it in his mouth and savoring the flavor. A lone wind swept over the brazier, lowering the flames. Swallowing, he glanced about, looking bored.
His eyes landed on a blob of deeper darkness beneath a tapestry from the west, which rose up to stand tall as a man. Assuming a vague shape not unlike a man's shadow it opened its eyes, shining spheres of sickly green.
"Unegan," the ghoul greeted him.
"You have news?" Unegan leaned back on his backless seat.
"He has crossed the Wall; I can see him clearly once more," the ghoul answered.
"Well, he made good time, considering. We will move south in anticipation of the summit call. What else? I hope you didn't disturb me for just that," Unegan sighed.
"Impudence, you forget yourself," the ghoul hissed, gliding forward a pace. Unegan sneered and took a sip of his drink.
"You're not infallible, as you would have me think. You said my thieving brother would never return, that he would die in fire. Now he returns alive and you expect me to kowtow to your wisdom?" Unegan raised an eyebrow.
"You are… nothing without me," the ghoul rasped.
"Those are my words to say. My blood binds you, and my will can see you gone. Never forget that; hate me all you want, but never forget the facts," Unegan chuckled, undaunted by the evil spirit.
"Hhhh, he brings a sun with him," the ghoul admitted.
"What? A sun?" Unegan frowned, wondering if he was being mocked.
"The visions, they show me symbols as much as what is. Deeper sights, higher levels, signs beyond mere mortals," the ghoul explained, relishing the last words.
"The Sun, what does it mean like this?" Unegan inquired, wary and curious.
"A new era; he brings the catalyst of a new era back with him. And he has no idea, he is as blind as you," the ghoul elaborated.
"A new era, yes the rising sun of my era.
"What is it? Some sacred relic from a gutted Han temple, plunder from a great noble's vaults, or was some power unearthed? What?" Unegan demanded, growing excited.
"A woman, he brings a woman," the ghoul declared. Unegan got to his feet, scowling at the shadowy creature.
"A woman? How does a woman win me back what he stole?" Unegan demanded.
"I… cannot look at her to know," the ghoul admitted. Unegan blinked before laughing; still grinning, he drained more of his drink.
"Of course, men can't stare into the sun, the likes of you might perish at its merest touch. I'll find it what is needed; you go back to skulking in the shadows.
"Actually, I'm glad Bataar has returned, he shouldn't have glory in falling to the Han. Yes, I will see him perish on my terms and reclaim what's mine over his cooling corpse," Unegan smiled, looking at his reflection in the last of his liquor.
"Do not underestimate… the Young Wolf," the ghoul growled. Unegan glanced up at it as if it was a roach.
"The Young Wolf's not so young as he used to be, and no longer undefeated. Enough, leave," Unegan waved a ringed hand at the apparition. Its eyes narrowed into slits, glaring at the Hun chieftain before closing entirely and the dark form receded from sight.
Truly alone, the fire kicked up again, catching the glint of the silver in a way Unegan found most beautiful. He considered the last of his drink, feeling a certain amount of ceremony was in order at the night's revelations.
"Take what glory you can from your failure Bataar, it will be the last glory you have. The sun rises for Unegan," the chieftain proclaimed. He drained the cup and capped the brazier, sending the chamber into darkness.
1). This is the Chinese name and thus most used name for the nation the movies Huns were based off of. It translates basically as 'filthy vermin', insulting to say the least. Since the term Hun is used commonly in the movie the actual term will be used as a racial slur for this story.
AN: See its not dead. Though I may have whipped up the mob rather than appeasing it.
I confess I didn't intend the river scene to be so graphic, for one I panned on her being assailed with her clothes still on. But frankly I would expect Mulan to win the fight under those circumstances and this is Mulan hitting nadir as part of the spiral stretching back to her secret being revealed. So in a way I broke her down here out of respect for the lengths needed to achieve that.
Hope that makes sense, and you stick around for the rebound.
Its disconcerting because this is easily one of the darkest parts of the story and it comes to the front. Believe me when I say this story won't be all angst and darkness, but if this outs you off I think no less of you for leaving.
Long days pleasant nights to you all.