Alrighty, Author's Notes first this time...
Sorry for the long wait folks, but I bring good news. I've finished writing the first part of my original story, and am taking a break from it. What will I be doing during this break? Coming back to my fanfics! *crowd cheers* So expect more chapters of this, as well as 'Unwanted Company' very soon.
And with that being said, onto the next overdue chapter of 'Dawning of the Prince,'
4 - Afar
Jade gave a wide yawn, blinking her vision clear as she peered nonchalantly from the window of her carriage. Verdant irises gazed under still sleep-heavy lids as the many red Momiji* trees Himura was named for rolled by. They were more numerous here than in Chuushinten, and grew to much more impressive heights; their dark trunks stretching upward and branches winding out like massive veins splitting the sky. They were lovely, the Bojutsu Mistress had to admit, but besides the natural scenery the small city-state had little else to offer. The base of the 2nd Calvary Regiment, the Daimyo's mansion (smaller than the castles and estates of those in larger regions), three or four schools, two inns, and a general medical facility were all of Himura's major establishments: Everything else consisted of a few various shops, scattered villages, mostly surrounded by farmland, and forests.
"Well I haven't been here in over eight years. There has to be something new worth looking into…" Jade speculated under her breath.
Either way she wouldn't be finding out tonight; good public relations had other plans. As soon as Himura's regional lord caught wind that the honorable Supreme General of the Imperial Army would be visiting, he invited her to have a formal dinner in his home on the very night she arrived. The memory of that scroll alone made her scowl almost as much now as when she had received it during her stop last night.
If there was one thing Jade abhorred about a life of privilege, it was attending stiff, formal events. She never felt comfortable around a bunch of pretentious, judgmental aristocrats that loved to sit around and discuss boring statistics or childish, haughty gossip. She supposed that it was because she had been stripped away from that lifestyle when she was very young, and spent her early childhood amongst 'commoners' who actually were interesting and good-hearted people… well, most of them were.
"He could've at least given me a day to get settled at least." Jade sighed, another yawn escaping. "I've been traveling all night. Oh well... the exams don't start until the day after tomorrow, so I'll have a little time to rest later…"
Soon, the carriage came to the large outer gate surrounding the entire military base. Outside of it was a large moat that could only be crossed once the drawbridge was lowered. The coach slowed to a stop as he pulled up to the guard towers manned by eight guardsmen, four at the top and four on the ground. The footman stepped from the back of the carriage and opened the door for Jade to step through. The moment the four armor-clad and bored-looking men noticed the bronze-skinned beauty wearing her formal General's cloak, they recognized her immediately; but she still presented them with the Royal Seal.
"Good morning, gentlemen." Jade greeted formally, inclining her head slightly. "I am General Jade, reporting to act as Interim Colonel as requested by the Queen."
"Of course General, welcome." said the closest soldier, all of them bowing deeply at the waist. "We hope that you will find our hospitality well accommodating."
Just then the guards in the towers rang the alarm, and the loud, ringing creak of the tall, heavy drawbridge slowly being lowered rang in everyone's ears. The long bridge of wood and steel slowly came downward until it landed with an impressive thud. Jade returned to her carriage, and the guardsmen moved aside as they entered.
The coach steered the carriage along the paved, straight pathways leading through the encampment's grounds. Jade watched as they passed groups of soldiers performing exercises and running through drills, absently wondering about which ones she would encounter during the examination. Finally they came to their destination, a towering, pagoda-styled building that stood alone at the center of the grounds; her temporary residence. Jade was immediately seen inside by the residential staff, and taken to her abode on the top-most floor. The bojutsu mistress was afforded quite impressive accommodations: Her suite contained five, well-sized rooms.
Her bedchamber was nearly as large as hers at the palace; furnished with a canopy bed, two sofas sitting on either side of a table, a desk with a plush chair, and an ottoman near the room's large window. Behind one shoji door was a lavish bathroom, and a spacious office lay behind another; both adjacent to the bed chamber. Separated from the sleeping space by a small sitting area were the two other rooms. One was a study of sorts complete with quite a few ceiling high bookshelves, a large desk also near a window, and quite a few comfortable chairs. And the last room was a sparing hall, polished and open, walls lined to the hilt with any desired equipment.
'Not bad. If I wasn't so tired I'd have some fun in here right now,' Jade thought as her eyes scanned the dojo-esque room, another yawn parting her lips. She quickly retreated to her bedchamber again, eagerly shedding her heavy robes and slipping into a much more comfortable yukata. With a very pleasant sigh, she then slid her tired body under the sheets for a few hours rest. Later that evening, one of the servants would awaken her, and she'd have to get up and prepare for that accursed party. She had a feeling she would need all the strength she could muster to bear it.
Meanwhile at the Royal Palace…
Kitana chewed warily upon her lower lip as she processed the information lying on a scroll before her. The news wasn't bad per say, at least not for Edenia… at the moment. But the war over Lei Chen, which had been progressing somewhat slowly, was on the verge of potentially devastating bloodshed.
"So... the Seidan Occupation is calling for reinforcements." Kitana stated, gazing warily at Sindel, who was seated beside her.
"It seems so Milady." Adviser Toshirai replied. "This was sent via Lady Kodoyama. Three days earlier, a portal to Seido was seen being opened by the occupation's mages, and at least half of their entire army came through. Thousands of soldiers…"
"That would certainly make things far more bleak for Dairou and his followers." the Queen stated.
"Seemingly so Madam. Until Ambassador Han-Shou handed in this report." Adviser Leng suddenly spoke, lying another document in the center of the table they huddled around. "This was sent from the OIA just this morning, at it claims that both the Shokan and Centaur have agreed to join Dairou's cause, and offer their assistance in the battle."
Both the Queen and Princess went stick-straight. "What?!" came the latters astonished cry.
"Impossible." Sindel uttered, just as astonished. "Shao Kahn could not even make them form a truce easily, and the Shokan violated our Peace Treaty when they sided with him before the Final War. How in the world could Dairou have gotten them to not only fight side-by-side, but also join his cause?" It was at that question that Kitana's mind clicked, and she let out a bitter chuckle.
"I understand. The size of Seido's forces has them feeling threatened." the Princess reasoned. "If Seido was to bring in most of their armies, they would have not only enough power to overtake Dairou's crusade, but could potentially move to expand their reach outside of Lei Chen.
"The Seidans have wanted to overtake Outworld since Kahn's reign began, but he had always held them firmly in check. Honestly, the only reason Kahn ever even allowed them to take the city was so he could get his hands on their resources… and potentially their realm if he could catch them off guard. Now that he's out of the way, and there is no official ruler in place, they may see this as their chance to finally seize the realm."
"I see…" said the younger of the two advisers, stroking his greying goatee. "It would be the prime opportunity they have been waiting for."
"And if they were to succeed, they could grow bold enough to try and take other realms as well…" Kitana murmured, lacing her fingers pensively.
"But the Shokan and Centaur are powerful. Surely they would provide Dairou with more than enough support." Adviser Toshirai said hopefully.
"And one cannot forget about the Tarkata. They too are powerful." Leng added.
"The Tarkata have yet to officially take a side, and even if they did it would matter little. They live ultimately to serve their own bloodlust, and they can have that regardless of who they serve. They will likely wait and then choose the side with the upper hand." Kitana speculated. "Now the Shokan and Centaur should lend Dairou's side enough man-power to face the Seidans, but I shudder to think of what may happen after. They are very likely to turn on Dairou and dispose of him the moment they felt secure that the Seidans were eradicated. And there's no telling what could happen after that. There are so many potential risks for the rest of us."
Sindel sighed, massaging the space between her brows. "This is becoming quite a tense situation. Just sitting back and watching making me weary."
"Indeed so Mother. But until we have reason to rise to arms ourselves, watching is all we can do." Kitana replied. Loosing her own sigh, she slumped back somewhat in her seat. "I just hope there'll be no need for us to rise."
That night, Kitana found herself again sitting up in bed. This news from Outworld was especially worrisome in her mind: There were so many terrible scenarios skittering around endlessly in her thoughts. Even with Hisae and the entire OIA focusing on these developments, watching every little occurrence and taking meticulous note, it gave her little comfort.
'What will stop any of them from attempting invasion of other worlds?' she thought morbidly. 'Even if he defeats the Seidans, Dairou cannot be completely trusted... not even after offering Tanya to us... Now with two powerful factions on his side, he may well decide Outworld isn't enough anymore...'
Heaving a sigh, the Princess sank further into the mound of pillows at her back. Sitting and waiting for something to happen may not be the wisest course of action now that she thought on it hard enough. Edenia's security was as flimsy as a sheet of rice paper at this point: It had been almost a mere seven months since the War ended, and it would take at least another few years to recover from all the harm it had done. Kitana would not stand for anything setting them back or endangering them any further.
She had to think of a course of action. Soon.
Jade gazed herself over in the mirror, happy with her appearance. She originally had planned to go to the dinner in her formal General's uniform, but decided on something a little more elegant and feminine. She may not have liked formal events, but that did not mean she didn't like dressing up on occasion.
So instead of the tunic, hakama* and chest-plate of black and gold, she wore a very lovely furisode* of deep green with flower prints of gold, blue and pink, tied with a gold obi. She pulled all of her hair up into a messy bun, held in place with two large chopsticks that formed a 'x' through her hair, simple gold studs in her ears and only a bit of liner and lipstick. Satisfied, she slipped her shortened staff and a handful of shuriken into her sash, hidden from view (one could never be too careful), before proceeding down to the foyer where her carriage was again waiting.
Just under an hour later she arrived in the Daimyo's spacious dining hall, and found it already crowded, but thankfully not as nearly as much so as an event held at the palace. There weren't many bigwigs in Himura, and most of the attendees outside of the Lord and his family were the individual village leaders, prominent teachers and doctors, and several members of the Army: Only around a hundred people or so, much fewer than the thousands that came to the Grand Palace from far and wide. Immediately upon entering the doorway, Jade again presented her seal to the adviser at the door.
"Ah, General Jade, welcome." prissily greeted the rather thin and short old man. "Come, come… Lord Oboro awaits." he added, making a grand sweeping gesture as he led her off to the far end of the room, and Jade stifled a giggle at his ostentation as she obligingly followed.
At the very back of the room, seated on his throne beside his wife, was Lord Fugaku Oboro. They were a good looking pair, both the equivalent of their forties and dressed stylishly but not too glamorously. In spite of their stature they were warm, humble people, full of good humor and conversation, much to Jade's pleasure. She sat down with them and their four children, all close to her own age, and had an unexpectedly enjoyable meal. The conversation was mostly Oboro asking about affairs at the palace as well as Jade's business in the territory; with all giving their insight on at hand, spiced with the odd remark or wry jibe.
But then came the time for them to mingle with the other guests. All at once Jade and the Damiyo's family were surrounded, corralled one moment by this group and that one, forced to smile and nodded as they bombarded them with their unwarranted opinions, anecdotes, and the inevitable gossip. Quite a bit of said gossip revolved around her closest friend and her recent marriage, and it was almost all negative and/or completely ignorant. It all rubbed Jade the wrong way, and it took all her strength to correct or outright ignore them with her dignity intact. But after two and a half hours she could take no more.
"Pardon me Lord Oboro, but I'm feeling a bit faint." she lied, and he read her with a knowing smirk. "I think I'll step outside into the garden for a bit to catch my breath."
"I understand. Take your time." he replied. With only a slight inclination of her head, Jade wasted no time in making her exit. She walked out of one of the open doorways to one of the water gardens surrounding the property. It was, thankfully, sparsely inhabited by guests, and the Bojustu Mistress was equally glad they only bowed their heads respectfully to her as she passed.
The garden was actually quite lovely. Several small pools connected with little waterfalls flowed through the center of the grounds. Two small, red momiji stood in diagonally opposite corners, large stones of varying shapes sat in a pleasing arrangement, and small pathways of sett wound through and connected into each other throughout the gated space. Jade surveyed it all as she walked, spotting a little gazebo out on the water tucked away in a quiet corner. It was vacant, and several lanterns hung nearby: It looked like the perfect place for her to sit for a while.
She walked up the few steps, sitting down on the topmost one and gazing down at the water. Beneath the lilies and lily pads dotting the water, she could see koi fish swimming about. Jade reclined back on her haunches and let her eyes slip shut, inwardly sighing in relief.
'This is more like it.' she thought to herself. 'No one bombarding me with questions I can't answer, no more jabbering about statistics and no more ill-founded, pretentious bullshit...'
Jade let her mind slip into a bit of a lull, still reclined back on her hands as she savored the cool air of the mid-summer night. She became so lost in her little world of rest that she didn't notice the man slowly making his way toward her.
"Hard making it through these stuffy formal events, isn't it?" came his low tenor voice.
Jade flinched and gasped, reflexively reaching into her obi for a kunai. The man raised his hands yieldingly.
"Easy, easy..." he placated gently, stepping closer into the lantern light. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you, Miss..."
Jade let herself relax a bit as she inspected the stranger. The first thing she noticed immediately was his uniform; that of an Imperial Army soldier. He was a very tall man, at least a good head above her, lean built with long arms, legs and facial features. His skin was darker like her own, perhaps half a shade fairer. His dark, shortish hair lay against his head in slightly curly locks, some curling just over her forehead. He had a slight youthfulness to his face, a sort of boyish charm that reminded her immediately of Liu Kang, and suggested this man was just entering adulthood. His dark, olive colored eyes were kind, but held a sort of intensity that Jade could not quite tear her focus from.
He was actually kind of cute. Very cute.
"It's alright. I guess I was daydreaming." Jade said, sitting more upright.
"Yeah, hard not to." the man scoffed.
"Come out here to escape the boredom too, I suppose?" Jade said, a knowing smirk on her dark red painted lips.
"Yes, had too. If I didn't get away soon I'd fall asleep face-first into my plate." he drawled, to which Jade chuckled slightly. "Don't think that'll be a good look for a soldier."
"Probably not." the staff-wielder replied, still laughing slightly.
"Fortunately, it appears I've stumbled upon something far more interesting right here." said the soldier, a somewhat sultry air sneaking his tone. Jade's breath hitched so softly that she didn't even register it. "Do you mind if I sit?"
"Um, n-no not at all." she permitted, unsure of where the sudden quiver in her voice came from. The man stepped up and sat down carefully beside her.
"So, where do you hail from Miss? Himura isn't a big town, and I don't think I've seen you here before?" the man inquired.
"Ah, so my identity hasn't gotten around to you yet. Actually pretty refreshing..." Jade mumbled the last part of that statement. "I'm here on business from the capital. I am Jade, General Jade."
The man's eyes widened, and he abruptly sprang up and bowed deeply. "Oh! Madam, forgive me. I knew you would be coming, but I had no idea it was you."
Jade laughed at his flustered reaction. "Calm down boy, I won't bite. And here at least, referring to me as 'Jade' will do just fine." she said.
"Um, yes... alright." the soldier muttered, cheeks flushing slightly and an impish grin spreading over his face. Clearing his throat, he sat back down. "So Ma- um, Jade, may I ask how long you'll be here in Himura?"
"From what I understand at least three or four months." Jade answered. "Until Colonel Chu is officially replaced, I will act in his stead."
"I see..." the boy said, suddenly looking a bit downcast. "Can't believe he just up and retired like that."
"I take it you knew him very well?" Jade asked.
"Oh yes, the man taught me everything I know. He was like a father to me. Caught me off guard when he left... Do you know why he did? Are you at liberty to say?"
Jade scoffed. "I'm probably not at liberty to say... but I can still make an educated guess. He handed in his resignation the day after my friend, Princess Kitana and her longetime suitor finally wed, so..."
"Oh right... the Champion Liu Kang? I've gathered that quite a few people are upset that he'll become the Prince Regent. Didn't know Colonel Chu was one of them." the young man said. He shrugged. "I personally don't understand what people have against him. I mean, he defeated the Emperor and cleared the way for our home to be reclaimed. And I hear he's actually very kind and honorable."
"He is indeed." Jade affirmed. "I believe it all comes down to fear. I believe being under Outworld's influence for so long has a few of our people mistrusting of any outsiders, friend or otherwise."
"Understandable I guess..." the man said wistfully.
"Indeed." Jade agreed.
Silence briefly fell between them.
"Well," Jade eventually sighed, standing slowly and dusting off her kimono. "I suppose I should go back inside. I really don't want to endure another minute of this party, but public relations demands it."
The man chuckled, standing as well. "Yes, I suppose so. Allow me to escort you inside."
"Why thank you." Jade said. The two walked side-by-side toward the open entrance. She stopped abruptly, "Oh, I don't think I caught your name."
"I never said? Forgive me." the soldier replied. Stepping before Jade, he straightened his arms at his sides and bowed like before, albeit more calmly.
"I am First Lieutenant Arlis Dymion. I'm pleased to meet your acquaintance, General."
*Momiji - Japanese Maple tree
*Hakama - loose-fitting pants worn commonly by samurai.
*Furisode - a type of kimono with very long sleeves.
There you have it. This one was kind of hard to write considering I've never really written this much Jade. I know it's sort of another blah chapter, but it keeps the plot moving. I'll be skipping ahead a bit in the next one. We'll return to Liu's training, more of Jade's business, and more of the Palace affairs. See ya soon!