The Huns invade quickly and ruthlessly, their imposing figures leaving mass chaos and destruction in their wake.
Mulan trembles as her Lord Husband recites the grim tales to her. Shan Yu-the leader, is said to have captured numerous towns in only a number of days. They say he steals all the fortunes, breaking into the high lords and lady's courts before murdering them.
However, it is not he who frightens Mulan the most, it is his men. Tall and cruel, they are now renowned for taking their fair share of women and girls; pulling them out of the clutches of their family member's arms, before they are taken violently into the street. Men too they say, have been demeaned and taken as dogs.
Then after they have pillaged through the towns, until they are nothing more than a wisp of cries and mourning, they burn them. Burn them until all that is left is ashes and smoke, and the faint echoing of memories of the few who have survived and lived to tell the tale.
The General and Shang have now forbidden any of the women from leaving the courts, save the most homely of girls- when they have naught but a choice but to go out and buy goods. The prices have now more than tripled, the merchants now too afraid to travel and trade.
Only the rich can afford to eat, the rest of the lowborn apparently starving, even taken to eating rodents in their desperation of hunger. Now most often do they have men banging on their doors, hoping to be able to sell off their daughters to the great family in exchange for some money.
The General is the one who goes about most of these exchanges. He will take no infants, or any pockmarked, dark skinned women. He goes about and purchases the youthful and pretty pale girls, more than happy at being able to buy such comely girls at naught but a few coins, much to his old concubine's displeasures.
Her Lord Husband has seemingly little interest in the affairs at hand, having made no offer at any slave. He does surprise Mulan though, when he asks if she has seen any girls she would see fit to serve her. Mulan childishly refuses any of the eye catching girls, not wanting any to tempt her husband into inviting them into his bed. Even though she has yet to see such a girl who is even lovelier than she.
Vainly, she waves them all off, until a woman in particular catches her eye. And that she is, a woman. The cusps of girlhood are long behind her, although it is clear that her beauty has withstood her during the years. Her hair is long and lovely, her eyes sharp and confidant, and Mulan feels a foreign sensation pool into her stomach.
"Her," she whispers softly into her husband's ear. A flicker of surprise flashes across his dark eyes briefly, but he indulges her none the less. He leaves her side as he accepts her offer, much to the General's astonishment.
"Are you sure about this one, boy? I fear she is older than she looks, and her cunt will most likely fail to hold you anymore," he states crudely, eyeing the woman in front of Shang with distaste. "Surely you'd rather have a fresh one?" He admonishes, gesturing vaguely to the numerous young girls he has recently acquired.
Shang waves his father's concerns off. "She is not for pleasure, father. She is to be a slave for my wife," he states coolly.
The woman in turn, who has not so much as blinked at the General's vulgar comments, turns her head slightly as she takes notice of Mulan's presence. Her eyes bore into Mulan's own, and despite herself, Mulan feels the blood pool into her cheeks.
Seemingly satisfied at this new revelation, the newly bought slave grins. "It will be an honor, master."
The beautiful young girl stares after her retreating form, her departure causing Mulan's stomach to cease churning.
She is peculiar, she thinks boldly, wondering as to why she had taken such a strong interest in this odd woman.
Her beauty-while great, is not enviable. Her body has softened out, and her skin no longer has a radiant glow to it, yet Mulan feels drawn to her all the same.
She wonders vaguely if she thinks about this woman in comparison to her husband. Yet the fire in her belly was not relatable to the one her lord was capable of igniting in her. A thought that makes Mulan heedy.
She had more than once caught some of the General's women doing things of a curious nature to each other, acts that cause Mulan to blush and sputter. No, that is not what I want from her.
Yet even after disclosing these notations, she finds herself unable to grasp onto any suitable answers.
Why then, was this slave so different?
The General is the first to be summoned by the emperor. He is no longer a dashing young hero, but he is wise and skilled all the same. He is to be leading one of the larger armies against the Huns, and has but a single day to prepare himself for the journey.
The women of the courts cry dramatically at his departure, smothering his face in kisses, before helping him adorn his armor. He waves off their concerns, promising to have defeated those, "Inbred bastards," in but a few weeks.
He makes it but a week before his entire force is ambushed. He survives, but barely. His face is now scarred down the sides, and his left eye has also been gauged out. Yet these seem to bother him but a little. The great General is no more, his last battle will now be known as failure, an incompetence of the family line.
Now every time Mulan encounters him, she is wafted into an array of opium. She still spies him taking a different woman into his bed every night, although it is now only the girls he takes to. The older mistresses seemingly forgotten, much to their panic. No longer is heavy jewelry embroidering their bodies, and it is but a short time before long they are merely slaves once more.
Mulan does little to hide her smirk.
Then, it is but another week before Shang is called out to battle. He will be a captain, and Mulan can't help but to smile at the proud look on his face due to the announcement. He too, has but a day to prepare himself.
His sword has been neatly sharpened, gleaming dangerously throughout the room. The raven haired girl has the urge to run her finger alongside the sharp blade, but manages to refrain from the temptation. She watches in awe as his new armor is brought out, and dismisses the nearby slaves in order to help suit him up herself.
He is surprised at her action, but pleased none the less.
"Will you miss me?" He asks quietly.
Mulan hands him his helmet, before turning to stare at him quizzically. "Does not every woman wish for her husband's safe return?"
His hands clutch the helmet tightly, fingers now smudging the once polished surface. "I know not the answer to that, nor do I care. It is but your response that matters to me the most."
He stares at her heatedly, his gaze desperately flicking over her motionless form. "Of course I will miss you, you are a good husband," she whispers, and it is the truth.
He smiles at her simple answer, some of the tension in his shoulders fleeing. "I will miss you as well, Fa Mulan, you too are a good wife to me."
The beautiful young girl smiles at him shyly, unsure of how to respond.
He sighs as the time for his departure grows nearer, absently gazing at his young wife before him. "It will be hard I think, to leave you," he states, before reaching over to grab Mulan's small hand.
Mulan, now somewhat used to his touches, clutches him back tightly.
They have but a few more minutes left, when an idea enters Mulan's head. Letting go of her weary husband's hand, she reaches out towards one of the intricate tables. Lifting the lid, she is pleased to find the item she is looking for. It is a simple scroll, with only gold paint decorating the sides, but she thinks her husband will appreciate it all the more.
Walking back over to where he is sitting, she hands him the object. "I think you will have enough room to carry this."
Confused, he unrolls the scroll, and it is but a second before a large smile is dancing across his handsome face.
It is the portrait of her. The one her parents had sent to the General. Shang had been enamored by her appearance, and softly confessed to having kept the painting of her in one of his tables. Mulan felt some warmth in her belly due to the memory.
He carefully rolls the scroll back up, before turning to cusp her face gently. "I will come back to you, my gem," he promises, before moving to press his lips firmly against her own.
The kiss is not chase, yet it is not born of heavy lust either. It is a kiss of promise, and Mulan thinks it to be the sweetest kiss that they have shared so far.
Finally, after they have no more time together, Shang makes his leave. He hugs his glassy eyed father loosely, before making his way into his mother's private chambers, undoubtedly saying a more personal good bye.
He casts a few more lingering looks her way afterwards, before he goes to mount his horse, and be on his way.
Mulan sniffs at his retreating figure, before stepping back inside towards the Koi pond, not even surprised what she hears the quiet slither of her friend coming up beside her.
"You alright?" He asks, his clever eyes taking in her hunched form.
Mulan tries to lie, but her throat feels choked, and nothing she does can manage to keep the tears from budding in her eyes.
"Hey now girl, don't cry," he tries desperately, using one of his scaled hands in order to pat her back affectionately. "I've seen that husband of yours, he's gonna' be fine."
The almond eyed girl laughs shakily, although her distress is still here. "But what if he is not? What will I do then?"
"Mulan," he tries again, the name sounding oddly soothing from his usually biting words. "Shang too, has a guardian, and while he may not be watching out for him so… literally, he'll be watching out for him all the same. The Gods don't punish those who have done nothing wrong."
She sniffs again, "I hope you are right, my great dragon," she teases lightly.
Mushu snorts, letting out a billow of smoke in his wake. "You got it, sweet cakes."
Mulan is reading a letter from her Lord husband when she hears the gates out front groaning.
Worried, she quickly conceals the letter before exciting out into the yards, where a number of other girls have gathered. "What is going on?" She demands angrily.
The girls before her are cowered, their usually lose tongues seemingly tied, and it takes the strength of her hardest glare in order to get one of them to speak. "Mistress! They are here!"
"Have you no thought, slave? Who is here?"
"The Huns!" She wails frightfully, "Some men have split from the main ones it seems, and now our demise is upon us!"
Fear now flowing freely through Mulan's blood at the declaration, she hurries past the weeping servant and back into the courts.
"Mushu!" She calls manically, "Come my great guardian, and protect me!"
Her voice echoes around her, and the scared girl is to believe that her cries fall on deaf ears. She can hear the gates screeching painfully now, and she knows it is but perhaps a few minutes until the last of their strength leaves them.
"Mulan!" A voice calls, and the girl in question nearly weeps in happiness at the sound. "You gotta hide if you wanna' live!-Follow me!"
The raven haired girl knows that a man would have run towards the gates and fought; fore never would he let his last moments be one of cowardice. But Mulan is no man, and she cares naught about running from something if it means she might be capable of saving herself.
She follows after the lithe little dragon, who seems to know the halls better than she, despite that fact she has been living here longer. He twists corner of corner, and it is all Mulan can do to merely keep sight of him.
Finally he stops before a large red door, simple in design, yet bold in its presence. "I have not seen this door before," she murmurs, her fear momentarily forgotten.
Mushu however-hasn't, and he beckons her closer still. "Inside!" He hisses, slit eyes searching wearily for any oncoming men.
Breaking out of her ill- timed curiosity, Mulan does as he bides her, and hurriedly moves to pry the great door open, marveling at the weight of it.
Breathlessly, she and Mushu slide inside, bolting the door behind them in their wake. Once her breath is somewhat steady again, she takes a moment to glance around at her surroundings, brows furrowing in confusion over the plain room.
The room is small, perhaps a quarter the size of her own chamber, and simple blankets litter the ground, although anything other than the bare necessities seems to be scarce. Carefully, the black haired beauty searches for any source of wealth or beauty, but comes up short.
"It is strange, for a room as simple as this to be a part of such a grand home. Fore what is its purpose?" She wonders, hesitantly picking up a grey blanket before discarding it once more.
"To house the slaves," Mushu murmured, "Not all of them warm the General's bed at night, you know."
Mulan nodded, although she hadn't known that. The General's actions were foreign to her, and she tried not to notice them if possible. She often wondered how such a dishonorable man could have a son as wonderful as Shang. Fore her seemingly gentle husband had yet to raise his hand to her, or even his voice for that matter. Yet it was not uncommon to see his whores with bruises along their arms, faces swollen and disfigured.
"I hope they simply take your jewels and leave," her red scaled companion mutters, ear now glued to the door. "They can't possibly have the time to lounge here. The emperor's forces are growing stronger each moment."
The frightened girl wonders how he could possibly know this, but decides not to question him none the less. She too leans her ear against the door, listening to the sound of muffled cries and grunting men.
She swallows harshly, her mouth now seemingly dry, and she can't help but to wonder what is happening alongside the other parts of the courts. Are the slaves being raped and beaten? Captured, perhaps. Are they stuffing their satchels with jewels? Gorging themselves on rich food? Fore what did such beastly men want from them?
I should think everything, if they find themselves able, she thinks woefully.
Her breath hitches as she hears the tell-tale sound of a man scuffling down the hallway, his steps loud and heavy. He's humming to himself, and while Mulan has always favored music, she now thinks the sound grating.
He jingles as he walks, and Mulan desperately wishes for Mushu to be right.
May they take every Jewel they want, so long as they leave us be.
His footsteps start to slow the nearer he approaches, and it is but a moment until the door starts to rattle. Hesitantly at first, before its tremors grow more forceful, the purpose now clear.
"Someone hiding in there?" An oily voice asks. "Just open the door, I just want to talk to ya', you don't have to be afraid," he mocks humorously.
The rattling intensifies.
Mulan glances sorrowfully at her guardian, eyes wide and watery. "What do we do?" She whispers, voice catching.
Mushu turns to glance around the room widely, scuttling to and fro in search of something. Finally he appears before her once more, a single chipped plate in hand. "This is all there is," he mutters bitterly, "But at least it's something. Just follow my lead, okay?"
He hands the plate over to her, and Mulan grasps it loosely between her numb hands. She eyes the object critically. What will a single plate do against a beast such as that behind the door?
She doesn't have time to ponder however, as the hinges that binds the door begins to squeak piercingly. Filled with dread, she moves to glance at her companion once more, only to find the spot empty to where he once stood.
Or was he even here at all? She thinks hysterically, watching as the door begins to open. Perhaps he is borne only out of fear, and now I must be alone once more to meet my end.
An arm appears from around the now small opening. Grubby fingers pawing at the open air.
Mourn me, my dear Husband, I pray my body will be recognizable when you return.
A body slides into view.
He is not terribly tall, but his back is as broad as a small wall, his strength obvious even under his large armor. He slides his helmet off, and Mulan shuffles backwards as beady eyes and yellow teeth leer at her dangerously.
"You tryna' hide from me little bird? Did I interrupt your cleaning or something?" He scoffs, eyeing her plate uninterestedly.
Mulan clutches it all the tighter, and keeps her mouth firmly shut.
He shuffles closer, boots scuffing the once spotless floor. "You mute, or just plain dumb?"
The dark haired beauty resolves to stay silent, not trusting herself not to openly weep if she does otherwise.
The beast of a man is now a few mere inches away from her face, sour breathing blowing warmly against her cheeks. "No matter, I like em' quiet," he murmurs, dirty brown fingers ghosting over the sash of her robe.
Now thoroughly panicked, Mulan abruptly shoves him roughly with all her strength, his body scooting away from her in surprise. She hears a sharp pop as his ankle twists, and she spots a fire beneath his eyes as he glances at her once more. Only now those black eyes hold more fury than lust.
"You stupid bitch," he spits, "You're gonna' pay for that!"
He shuffles awkwardly towards her, muttering curses under his breath all the while. And just as he is about to reach for her, Mulan spots a blur of red, and it is but a second until the Hun goes crashing to the floor, howling at the pain.
"What-" he starts, only to stop once he gets a clear view of Mushu standing before him, dark eyes now comically wide.
"Boo!" He shouts, his sharp tongue all but hissing the word. Only this time there is no humor in his expression- in contrast to how he surprised Mulan, his pointed face dark and murderous.
The Hun continues to stare, mouth gaping. "A talking lizard!"
Mulan's guardian's eyes flash dangerously. "Dragon," he corrects flatly.
"D-D-Dragon!" The now terrified man stutters, as he vainly tries to scoot his crumpled body out of reach.
Mushu Tsk's before blowing a stream of fire at Mulan's attacker's leg, effectively cutting off the man's escape- due to the skin turning an angry red. Mulan feels her stomach churn at the sight of the charred and blistering flesh.
The stench of burnt skin fills the air, and nothing can hold back Mulan's gagging.
"Now, now, now. What kind of hosts would we be if we let you leave so early, we wouldn't want to be rude, would we Mulan?" The infuriated dragon mocks, eyeing Mulan and her plate sideways.
The girl in question can only nod stiffly, slowly bringing her body closer.
The pained Hun starts to mutter incoherently, his eyes blurring from the pain. Mulan watches as Mushu glances from the plate she's holding, to the man's reddened face, and she suddenly understands.
Heart beating rapidly beneath her chest, Mulan slowly stalks before the man, taking in his pained expression and broken body.
You are not so bold now, she thinks spitefully, looking down at the man who had the intentions of hurting, or perhaps even killing her.
Fire fills her veins, and in hot blazing anger, she slams the plate down forcefully over his head.
It shatters upon impact.
Mulan watches as his face lolls down, eyes rolling to the back of his head. Fragments of the plate are embedded into his skin, causing little red droplets to fall to the floor.
The color is the same as the scales that coat Mushu's body.
Mulan backs away in horror.
"Did I kill him?" She whispers hoarsely. She had never so much as killed a bug, and now she finds herself the murderer of a man?
It cannot be.
Mushu simply looks away. "We are in a War Mulan, these things are inevitable. It was either him, or you. And as your guardian, I'd do anything to prevent it from being you," he promises, voice strong and sure.
He turn's his head towards her once more, slit eyes softening. "I have failed your family before Mulan, I will not allow myself to do it again."
Mulan simply swallows, unsure of what to speak.
"I did not mean to kill him," she answers brokenly.
It is not the truth.