Author's Notes: A kagemusha is a body double used to impersonate a member of the royal family in case of danger. There's a Kurosawa Akira movie with the same title (which I'll admit is how I found out about the concept).
The first letter came in the middle of a humid Grand Chokmah summer. Emperor Peony had ordered all the windows and doors of the palace opened to best catch the sea breezes; the afternoon found him lying still on the floor, sweltering with his beloved rappigs. Even Jade was seeking relief from the heat and doing his paperwork in the same airy room with Peony.
Peony had been keeping a volley of meaningless banter back and forth with Jade so when the colonel went gravely silent, he propped himself up on an elbow and asked, "What is it, Jade?"
"A very disturbing letter," Jade replied, beginning to crumple it before thinking better of it and passing it to Peony.
"An assassination attempt?" Peony sat up fully. "What's so disturbing about that? We get weird mail all the time. Remember the guy who wrote me a love letter and tried to jump off the waterfall in the throne room after I turned him down?"
"I don't think it's possible for me to forget, but that's beside the point." Jade frowned. "The letter specifically mentions bringing about the fall of Malkuth. You aren't the slightest bit concerned?"
"Naw," Peony said, flopping back down. "There are thousands of nutjobs out there who're out to get me for one reason or another. I'll pump up security and leave it at that."
"Very well, Your Majesty," Jade said as he dropped the letter into the wastepaper basket.
The second letter came two months later. Against Peony's wishes, Jade read it aloud before the Council of Elders.
"It's really not that big a deal," Peony said. "Probably just someone from Kimlasca who got offended that I asked Natalia on a date."
"Your Highness, Colonel Jade did the right thing in coming to us," Sesemann asserted. "This is not something we can take lightly."
"In the light of the replica crisis and the rejection of the Score," Jade continued, "people are restless. Daath is unstable, and there may be some supporters of the Score who see you as the person responsible for its demise."
Peony thought for a moment.
"It makes sense…"
"All right," General Nordheim said, "we'll start by implementing further security measures: close off the palace to outsiders, assign more royal guards, begin more extensive questioning at the borders."
"We don't have to go into fortress mode, do we?" Peony asks, alarmed.
"Your Highness, if another threat follows, we have no choice."
Another letter came in less than a week. When delivering the news to Peony, Jade was the epitome of calm; a raw sore gnawed into the inside of his cheek was the only evidence of his worry and concern.
Grand Chokmah immediately went on lockdown, drawing in the bridges and erecting the barricades, closing itself off into a perfect floating fortress.
Peony was adamant about staying in the city; the Elders instantly rejected that plan, and Jade was given the difficult task of convincing the emperor to evacuate.
"Seriously, Jade?" Peony said, looking up from one of his rappigs. "You really think I need to leave Grand Chokmah?"
"Your Highness, this has gone far beyond a joke. Whoever is writing these notes means to do you harm; we cannot take the risk."
"Won't it be obvious if I leave though?" Peony frowned. "And I don't want the people any more concerned than they already are."
"I have an idea," Jade proposed, "but you may not like it."
Less than a week later, the Emperor left Grand Chokmah in the dead of night with an escort of his best and most trusted guards. Before he left, he pulled Jade aside for a few final words.
"This is creepy."
"I assure you, Your Majesty, that this is most necessary for the deception to work."
"I know, but it's like I'm looking in a mirror. A mirror with red eyes."
Jade indeed made a fair duplicate for his friend, dressed in his usual regalia and sporting a blond wig; nothing, however, could be done about his fonically enhanced eyes.
"I'm sorry the effect is displeasing to you."
"I'll get over it." Without warning, Peony pulled Jade into a tight embrace. "If the situation gets dangerous, promise me you'll get out, OK?"
"I can only promise to do what I can to protect my emperor and my country."
"Jade!" Peony shook him by the shoulders. "If you're in danger, use fonic artes. I don't care if it blows your cover…don't hold back. Stay alive." He let go and looked his friend straight in the eye. "That's an order."
Jade bowed. "Understood."
For three days, Jade "ruled" Grand Chokmah. The deception was flawless; only Sesemann, Nordheim, and two of the guards knew of it, and the rest of the council, though observing the Emperor to be less talkative than usual, was completely unaware of the difference. By the fourth day, Jade was almost convinced that the worst that was going to happen was him being unable to get the smell of rappig out of his hair.
He was wrong.
It was an inside job. Someone had infiltrated the palace and allowed in four others, who had killed five guards and taken their clothing. By the time the guards had been discovered, Jade was already in the throne room, which was immediately sealed off with extra guards posted to protect the throne. A true soldier at heart, Jade had moved to extract his spear, but when the guards shoved him to the safest part of the room and politely ordered him to get down to the ground, he realized he couldn't blow his cover.
The assassins begin breaking down the door to the throne room. Jade curses under his breath; if they've come this far, then Nordheim must be dead.
"Your Highness, stay to the back!" one guard shouts just as the door falls and the five false guards burst into the room.
With horror, Jade watches as the guard just before him is engulfed in flame; the assassins have a fonist in their party. He's helpless to do anything without revealing his identity; the Emperor's offensive strengths lie in martial arts, an area where Jade sorely lacks skills.
But when another guard succumbs to a well-aimed thunder bolt, Jade remembers Peony's orders and draws his spear.
He charges forward, running through the nearest assassin before withdrawing his spear and throwing it with deadly accuracy at the fonist, who dies mid-cast. The guards have successfully defeated two of the other assailants, which leaves one more.
Jade spots him immediately, and running to the dead fonist to withdraw his spear, turns and realizes he doesn't have enough time. He has no choice but to cast.
"I, who stand in the full light of the heavens," he begins, drawing the third fonon toward him, feeling the power swirl inside him as fonons combine with his own to create the necessary arte, the strongest he knows, "command thee, who opens the gates of hell.
"Come forth, divine lightning!" he says before whispering, "For Peony…this ends now!"
His eyes fly open as he cries, "INDIGNATION!"
He realizes his mistake too late. Without his glasses, his fonically-enhanced eyes pull in too many fonons, and he loses control of the arte.
Lightning shoots out in all directions, striking the assassin as well as two of the Malkuth guards. Jade desperately tries to reel in the arte, eyes shut tight, but lightning strikes in several other places, barely missing his own arm.
When the arte ends, he opens his eyes to find himself surrounded by men with swords. The battle is lost.
"Surrender, Emperor Peony, to us, and your life will be spared," says their leader.
Jade breathes a single sigh of relief that Peony is safe in Keterburg instead of kneeling here and raises his eyes. He knows he has no chance of survival, but at least he can take as many people as he can with him.
Bodies littered the throne room; the lead assassin, helm removed, surveyed the scene. He'd lost a good amount of men, but the ultimate prize, the Emperor of Malkuth, lay dead at his feet; his master would be so pleased.
"Reiner." The lead assassin jumped as he heard the voice of his master behind him.
"Master Dist!" he said, flustered. "I didn't expect you to come to the scene; it's not safe for you to wander about in plain sight here."
"I couldn't resist," Dist crowed, a smug smile spreading over his pale face. "At last my nemesis has been defeated…I had to see this with my own eyes."
"Of course, master," Reiner said, leading Dist to the body, lying face down in the middle of the room, swords stuck in like pincushions.
Dist smirked and let out a high pitched cackle of sheer delight before roughly kicking the body over onto its back, dislodging the wig that Jade had been wearing. He froze; light brown hair was spilling out of the wig, and the glazed eyes that stared unseeing up at him were bright scarlet.
"Master Dist?" Reiner called, worried; his master had gone completely rigid except for a small tremor around the shoulders.
"Reiner," Dist began slowly, "did the Emperor cast any fonic artes in combat?"
"I'm not sure, sir; there was evidence of Sylphic fonic attacks…quite powerful ones too. But I wasn't here yet to see who cast them."
"I see." Dist paused and stared at the body. "Reiner, I need you to leave."
"I'm sorry?" Reiner asked, startled. "Leave you here? Alone in Grand Chokmah? Where you're at your most vulnerable?"
"Leave!" Dist snapped; Reiner immediately scrambled out of the throne room, leaving his master alone with the body of his oldest and dearest friend.
Dist fell to his knees, pulling the wig off Jade's head and staring at his face. With trembling hands, he smoothed the hair out of Jade's face and wiped some blood off his forehead. He couldn't look away from the red eyes, eyes that had plagued him since childhood, eyes that now seemed to be accusing him of all his sins.
Without warning, Dist began sobbing, heavy sobs that shook his entire chest. Shuddering with sorrow, Dist bent over Jade's face, tears spotting and mixing with the blood. What he whispered to him, no one ever knew, because as soon as he straightened up, he took one of the swords from Jade's body and ran it through his own heart.
Emperor Peony returned to a solemn Grand Chokmah. He oversaw the cleansing of the throne room, sentenced the criminals responsible for the assassination attempt (Reiner would never see the light of day again), and then prepared for the many funerals he had to attend.
After burying thirty-seven of his guards and low ranking soldiers and then the ornate funeral for General Nordheim, Peony stood beside Nephry, openly weeping, as he buried his best friend.
As a sign of respect for a decorated colonel in the Malkuth army and the personal friend of the Emperor, Jade's coffin was draped with the Malkuth banner and burnt on the highest pyre. Thousands turned out for his funeral; towards the front, near the Emperor and Jade's sister, Anise cried on Natalia's shoulder, while Guy wrapped a comforting arm around Tear, who was doing her best to remain stoic and strong.
After Jade's stately funeral, Peony, Nephry, and Jade's other close companions remained behind for a secret, smaller funeral.
"I lost two friends in this battle," Peony said softly. Nephry squeezed his hand; few people understood Peony's stubborn loyalty to this old friend, the one who had threatened his life and was responsible for killing his best friend.
When the memorial stones were erected over the pyres, Jade's was as grand as could be for a non-emperor; many people flocked to see it and admire the great colonel who had sacrificed his life for their beloved emperor's sake. Few noticed the tiny stone beside it, plain except for a name and the single phrase, "Beloved Friend," but those who saw it also noted the red rose bush growing between the two graves.