The Emperor's Offer


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Scene Title The Emperor's Offer
Synopsis It would be foolish to refuse, but when it's made in such a way… It's hard to say no.
Date November 27, 2010

A Village in the Steppes

Nestled among the tiered steppes of the tiny kingdom of Zai Shanshang, a village of unusual design is painted with highlights of the moon. A collective home of sorts, its curve tiled roof is dull in color, a ruddy brown under cover of darkness. The soft click of footsteps can be heard by those who are observant enough. The night watchmen don't leave any spot unguarded, with the restlessness of the areas to the west and south their fragile foothold is precarious at best.

A small spark of light in the distance signals the approach of a small caravan. It had been expected earlier in the day, before the gates were closed and barred for the day but it never arrived. The near half dozen wagons, pulled by weary black oxen, amble along slowly. From his spot on the roof, the first watchman makes a small bird call to one of the ones on the ground. Arrow notched and ready, he waits.

The journey had been harrowing, an attack by bandits in the earlier halted their progress and nearly ended the merchant's family along with his small business. In the back of one of the wagons, their savior lays under a tarp. A flame headed young woman, so different from any of the others in the region and a prize for any man. Ordinarily, Chen would never dream of treating someone who saved his life and the lives of his wife and sons in such a manner but she's been hurt and her sale (while it might profit him greatly) is really for her own good. A woman should never travel alone, let alone carry a sword.

Approaching the gates, a lantern's signal and a call goes up to one of the guards. Chen has something that the Emperor might find interesting. Perhaps even wish to purchase.

It takes some time. Chen is told to wait at the gates. The cool night breeze blows softly, the sound of the nearby river lapping gently as it flows fluidly down the hills. Then there is silence for a long moment. Too long. The type of silence that allows you to hear your own heartbeat, to listen to the fluids sloshing around in your mouth. The silence that makes you wish for—

The harsh stomping of military boots floods out as soldiers rush towards the gates. The gates finally creak open, penetrating the silence with the harsh grinding of the gates. Halberds spread across the entryway of the tiny village. Six swordsman march out of the gate to circle the caravan. The soldiers are emotionless, staring stoically at Chen and his companions.

Silence ensues as the soldiers stare down, but then finally… Fluid steps, languid steps, descend the stairway and through the gate. Making his way through the ring of soldiers, the ruler eyes Chen darkly.


Already on hands and knees with their foreheads to the ground, Chen and his family greet the Emperor in the manner he has come to expect. Though his kingdom is small, it is at a pivotal intersection between many other lands and it has been difficult to maintain independence. The current ruler's father, a former warlord, laid claim decades ago and only through sheer brutality and force they manage to keep it. War has been the flavor for so many years the people can't remember what peace is anymore.

Without raising his head to even look at the boots of the ruler, Chen lifts a trembling finger to point toward the rearmost wagon. One of the soldiers closest to it narrows his eyes and pulls back the canvas to reveal the redheaded woman. Gravely injured but amazingly not unconscious, it would have been a blessing to her if she had been.

Her hair is hued like fire, something never seen before in these parts, and her eyes the forbidden color of blue, so bright that they almost glow. The slashes of the recent battle cover her body in various parts. Her pale skin, the same tone as the color of the moon, practically glows under its light. As if muted, she doesn't say a word, simply stares at the guard. Her cornflower colored eyes wide with fear.

A light smile plays on the ruler's lips, watching Chen darkly. The Emperor, steps cleanly to the man's side making his way to the back of the wagon. The young ruler brings up one finely gloved hand, trailing the perimeter of the wagon gently. Sliding off the end, he looks down at his glove as it slides off the end. "«Dirty.»"

Frowning at his glove, the young Emperor turns to where the soldier glares. Looking down at the red haired woman, one brow arches high. "You.." He starts, before closing his eyes tight. After a long moment he opens his eyes again, this time they are narrowed sharply. "«What have you brought me.»" It's said flatly, and delivered more as an order than a question. Glancing over at one of the soldiers, the ruler flicks a hand easily. Motioning for the soldier to bring the man to him swiftly.

"«What is this.»"

The quivering merchant is lifted to his feet and dragged toward the Emperor. When he is let loose the man bows quickly, repeatedly, his bare hand curling around the frame of the wagon before he turns to the woman laying inside of it.

“«A warrior, Emperor, one the likes I have never seen.»”

A claim easily believed, even with his travels, it is rather unlikely that the merchant has crossed a woman that looks as this one does. Even curled in pain as she is, it's obvious to the eyes that she is easily as tall as a man. Her long limbs dwarf the merchants when he takes her arm and lifts it. Hiding beneath is a bloodied fur roll bound tight at one end by a strip of leather and loose on the other, creating a makeshift pack.

“«I believe she is royalty, she was riding a panther when she fought the bandits.»”

Panthers are one of the mounts used by the Haves and the Havenots, the people of one of the warring countries to the West. How she wandered so far…

"«That is… odd. Not a very good warrior, it seems. Warriors do not need to be rolled in cloth like a.. like a child.»"

Taking a step forward the Emperor eyes the merchant. "«And you came to me. Knowing my reputation. Knowing the image I have to keep… But you still came. Coming yourself. That is either very brave or very foolish…»" He glances to one of the soldiers behind him. "«Name?»"

"«Chen, My Lord.»" One of the soldiers speaks up quickly.

"«Chen.» Eyeing the man for a long moment, he glances to the soldier behind him. "«Take the warrior inside.»" A fluid hand gesture swings back to the village. "«Be careful with her. Fetch a physician.»" Waving his hand dismissively to the guards, he returns his gaze to Chen.

The fur pack is held tightly to the woman's chest by her other arm as she stares up at the two. Still mute, her breath gurgling with blood at every intake. How she survived, like how she arrived in the Emperor's kingdom, can't be fathomed.

Chen's bowed apologies cease slowly, though his eyes remain on the ground just in front of the Emperor's feet. "«Apologies again, Master of the Skies, I thought you might wish her to add to your collection. She faced a dozen bandits alone… Her sword sung as though it had the voice of a nightingale.»" He glances at the woman as the soldiers take her, reaching for the pack but missing it by inches. “«She did not die. Should she survive her injuries, I thought she might make a fine purchase.»”

Of course, the woman doesn't come for free, this is where the merchant is leading.

The soldiers are ushered away by the ruler's swiftly shooing hand. Two soldiers remain at the gate, though now the young Emperor is left mostly alone with Chen. His guards ushering the woman up into the village, and then further in. The Emperor himself looks down at Chen, features mostly unreadable. "«Of course, Chen. A fine purchase.»" He murmurs diplomatically. Steepling his fingers, he bows his head.

"«How far away did you find this creature? And what price did you purchase it for? Or did you yourself defeat the bandits to rescue her? I apologize Chen. I just wanted to know as much as I could of this thing. But of course you want payment…»" Glancing over his shoulder, the ruler flicks his hand up. "«Get it.»" And with that one of the guards hurries off.

"«No lord, I… might we call it a finder's fee? She would have slipped through your grasp if..»" If he hadn't been under attack. If she hadn't stopped to save him. If he had decided to keep her for himself. But none of those things happened. "«Forgive me, sire, I am but a simple man… Only wishing to provide for my family. We have so little.»"

Turning a hopeful eye up to the Emperor, they travel no further than the man's chest, still not daring to look him in the eye. To do so would suggest equality. No one is equal to the Emperor. "«She carries with her many things of great value, things that …»" He stops himself before saying the next bit that could have assured dead. He could have kept them himself.

“«I don’t believe you, Chen.»” The young ruler’s eyes flick back to the gate where the woman has disappeared from sight. “«I believe you are a shrewd man. Harvesting where you do not sow, an opportunist. I believe you have been gifted with a silver tongue, I believe you have been able to talk your way out of danger many times before.»” He looks down on the man before making a sharp tsk sound.

“«So… This woman saved you from bandits. You managed to get her in your wagon. And now you have the tenacity to ask me to reward your greed?»” The guard he had dismissed returns quietly. Carrying a jewelled dagger. “«So I will pay you, Chen. I will forgive you your insolence, and give you your life as payment. As long as you finish your sentence. What were you going to say?»” The dagger slides out of its sheath quietly.

“«I… Sire please have mercy… She is carrying a fortune in gemstones, the sword itself must be worth a king’s ransom.»” The stammering merchant cannot help the glint of greed in his eyes when he talks about the treasure the young woman carries. It is quickly replaced with an expression of remorse as he hangs his shoulders self consciously and dares a swift glance at his Emperor’s face.

Closing his eyes, he swallows audibly and clasps his hands in front of him, preparing for the worst. Taking a trembling breath inward, he manages, “«I have served you faithfully, my family has served yours since the beginning of time. Can you hold ill will against a simple peasant for wishing to raise his lot in life? It was but a thought to keep the gems… Without a physician’s care she would have died….»”

"«You are greedy filth, Chen.»" The dagger is balanced in front of his eyes. Staring at the blade, for a long moment. "«You want payment…»" He says levelly. His eyes finally lift from the blade and set on the chest of the man. They slowly climb upwards, settling on the eyes of the merchant. His brows knit slowly as he stares at the smaller man.

Here is your payment Chen"» It is delivered violently, the venom in the sentence clear. The dagger is thrust into the man's chest. Yet it is sheathed. "«Take your payment and go before I have your limbs pulled off.»" Turning, his cloak flaps dramatically as he makes his way back for the gate. The two guards immediately welcome the man in and close the gate swiftly.

As the Emperor strides inside of the gates, he can hear a commotion rising from his chambers. Bursting through the doors, the young woman sprints out with a wild look in her eyes. Her hair, caked with blood is wild and matted in various places. If she was an impressive warrior for Chen, her presentation is nothing of the like for the royalty in front of her. Skidding to a stop, she grasps at the fur pack on her back and stares at him, open mouthed.

The guards surround the young woman, halberds pointed and ready to take her down at their lord's command. From the roof, several arrows are notched and aimed at the young woman as well. Forbidden blue eyes drink in every detail, from the ground to the roof, every foe is considered and judged.

Eyeing the men surrounding them, the Emperor returns his gaze to the woman before her. "I have no intention of hurting… You. Let's go back inside. Where we can speak." A hand gestures to the men surrounding them. "If you take another step, these men will feel obligated to kill you. You are already hurt. Let me take care of you." He insists, taking a single step forward.

"We can speak of your current situation in my quarters. Come now, this is no time for violence." He waves his hand dismissively. "Shall we?"

The trembling tip of the jeweled sword lowers a few inches before it drops all the way down. It doesn't quite hit the cobbled stone of the courtyard, held a few inches over it as she nods her consent to the Emperor's request. Pivoting back to the doors she just ran out of, she spies the physician lurking near the doorway and eyes him suspiciously. He disappears behind the frame, the pit-pat of his feet as he scurries from view the only sound echoing out into the night.

"Alright," the word is spoken in a breathless manner. The combination of exhaustion and the scars of her recent battle lay the tone of her mindset. "Where am I?" The strange look of the people only make her believe that she's too far from home to ever have a hope of getting back.

"You are in my kingdom." The ruler murmurs simply, waving a dismissive hand to all the guards surrounding them. "Zai Shangshang." Once she is admitted into the personal quarters, the door is closed firmly behind them. "Carrying a weapon in my presence without any guards present.. This is unprecedented." The Emperor informs quietly. Once the doors are soundly closed, he turns and walks in swiftly.

Walking deeply into the room, he turns sharply to face the woman. His polite demeanor all but disappearing. His brows knitting intensely, he peers at her with a rage smouldering in his eyes. "How did you find me here?" Taking a step forward he flings a finger at her accusingly. "No one is supposed to find me here! How did you find me here?! Answer me!"

Stumbling backward as the Emperor changes from Jekyll to Hyde, the sword is raised again and she sets herself into a defensive stance. "I don't know what you're talking about!! I'm not even supposed to be here!" The crack of her voice as the confusion sets in only amplifies the look of fear in her eyes, terror that hasn't dissipated since the tarp over her body was first lifted.

Like the song emitted from the tines of a tuning fork, the Emperor's sword rings out as it is unsheathed. Both warriors stare at each other, his dark eyes versus her blue ones. The ring echoes through the vast room, the sound accompanied by the near silent drip of a drop of the woman's blood to the tile on the floor. For what seems like an eternity, they hold their poses….

The swish cutting through the air is the unmistakable signal that the battle has started, resulting in a tendril of the woman's fine hair drifting down to the floor. This time, he didn't behead her.

The red hair drifts down slowly…

The blades clash violently, the sound of metal ringing through the chamber. The weapons tangling in a flurry of swift strikes and parries. Counters and ripostes. The Emperor dances back rapidly as the warrior woman presses forward. Her blade swings high, his blade catching hers inches before it strikes his neck. Throwing his head back, the blade narrowly misses his brow.

In a single leap, the Emperor gains himself some room. Flying back, the man lands on the other side of the spacious chamber. Placing himself near a few dressers and drawers. One hand diving at a few jewelled knives set on display. In one hand they are brought up and…

The door to the quarter opens, a few guards starting to step in. However, they quickly retreat when several knives fly at them. The door is shut rapidly, followed by a few daggers penetrating the oak.

Looking down at his now empty hand a grunt is let out, as he leaps once again. Flying across the room, sword drawn back he aims to strike at the Warrior with renewed vigor.

The Emperor’s grunt is answered by a cry of fury as the young Warrior pushes off the wall from the opposite side of the room. Two running steps and her feet seem to climb into the air, carrying her flying toward him, only to have their blades clash in song as they pass by. Like a genre of music all its own, the song of the swords carries a distinct rhythm and melody. The ring of the blades, the crash of furniture as it’s run through with each pass, the cymbal like clash when they meet…

The heavy breathing of the participants as they glare at each other before soaring toward each other again.

Instruments of battle have a voice unto themselves. The young woman’s fine sword whines a high pitch while the Emperor’s blade hums at a lower pitch, together they harmonize. A sharp hiss from the Warrior as she ricochets off the wall adds to the symphony.

In a flurry of arm movement, the two engage in rapid exchange of parries and counter strikes. Their duel starting to seem more like a stationary choreographed dance. Fluid, economic movements evolving off the next strike. Swerving and twisting, bending back, and leaning forward, the chorus of their blades starts to intensify. The music of their blades takes on a new persona entirely. Starting to seem angry, then furious, and then abruptly; it ends.

With a powerful kick delivered to his midsection, the emperor's back bursts through the doors of the wardrobe. Slamming against the wall, he slumps forward onto his knees. Chin dropping down to his chest, a wheezy breath is drawn in slowly. But despite this injury, the battle does not end.

Despite being on his knees, the woman's attacks continue. From his lowered position the young emperor fights intensely to fend off the strikes. Eventually his countering and parrying becomes intense, starting to ward off the woman. Finally creating a few steps in between them, the man springs up and spins to his feet.

The hair is caught by a sudden gust of air with the woman's rapid movement. It continues to drift slowly.

"You're not supposed to be here."

With that the warrior's footing fails and she lands flat on her back with a gust of breath. His words, more dangerous than the point of his sword as it bares down on the bridge of her nose, seem distant and emotionless. An observation rather than accusation as she swings her blade upward to protect her face. The parry gives her enough room to swing her legs. Whirling them around and up, her back twists on the floor until she has enough momentum to leap to a stand in front of him.

"I'm lost. I don't know which direction to go."

Her sword crashes through a slatted room divider, narrowly missing his head and cleaving the fine work of art into two ruined pieces. Her growl of frustration precedes the scream as she places one foot against the wall and shoves off of it. Her body takes the shape of a flame tipped arrow as she twirls horizontally through the air, the arm carrying the sword raises as though in slow motion and comes down against his blade.

She lands, half of a sword in hand while the other end of her broken blade whirls like a pinwheel between them until it embeds itself deep in the post of the emperor's bed. Surprised, her wide eyes flit between the jewelled hilt that she carries and the sharp end wiggling inside of the bedpost.

"You came the wrong way."

As he avoids her attack, he fixes his gaze upon the now broken blade affixed into his overly large bed. An easy leap brings the man to the foot of the bed. Holding his blade low, he takes a few steps forward on the cushy surface. Feet flexing on the bouncy bed, the Emperor glares darkly at the woman… on his bed.

His free hand flies up abruptly. The back of his hand striking her cheek harshly. Making her stumble to the side, the Emperor steps forward in a clean step. Turning on one side, the sword is brought up. As she lunges forward, the Emperor's weapon wards off the woman's advances towards the wall of blades. His stance is not so offensive anymore, keeping on the defensive and slapping away her strikes and attempts to claim a new blade.

The back of his hand strikes a powerful blow her across the face, sending her reeling backward. Her body arches as it falls, the graceful swan dive through the rattan wall coming to an abrupt halt as she lands on the cold tile and bounces once before settling. The guards stand there with baited breath, none daring to step forward to finish the warrior for fear of upsetting the Emperor.

"It was an accident…"

Her words are a forced out as a whisper due to ragged gasps drawn into her exhausted body. She struggles to stand again, scrambling to her feet and wheeling her arms for balance. With a single bound, she leaps back through the hole. She carries nothing to fight with in her hands and as a result, the stance she adopts forces her hands to become her new weapons.

The fight now becomes a tangle of limbs, the emperor's blade used to parry off some of the attacks. His free hand swinging around wildly yet accurately to put the strikes back. Dancing back, he spins to swing out an elbow to swipe an attack away. Another attack is swiped away, the man drops his hand. Giving her a critical look, the Emperor shakes his head with disapproval. Bringing the blade up…

The Emperor drops, one foot snaking out as his body twists. Going to hook her heel with his foot, the man springs up fluidly after the sweeping kick goes out. Bringing his leg back up, the ruler looks down at his fallen prey. Taking a single foot forward. "Stay down, if you don't want to die."

The visible pulse of the warrior's throat causes her skin to touch the blade with every thrum of her heart. Her bright blue eyes are wild with fear as she's held in a prone position by the simple threat. She swallows, an audible gulp that sound almost like the beat of a timpani drum at the end of the song and dance. She lays silent against the tile floor, almost too afraid to take another breath inward.

Somewhere along the line, she lost her fearless edge. Perhaps it was the same moment she realized her mortality in this place. One might believe that she is losing herself, just as predicted.

"What are you going to do?" The timid words eke out almost of their own accord, a strange sort of bravery in its own right. Chancing a glimpse into the Emperor's dark eyes, she purses her lips to keep herself quiet. Her hands clenches around a piece of the fabric of her dress as she locks eyes with him. Were there guards here, she would have lost her head simply for the offense.

From the depths of his finery, yet another dagger is produced. Looking down on her with a certain disdain, the grumpy look is tossed off with a light smile. A condescending look is all she receives at first. Stepping to one side of her, the blade retains its place on her neck. Holding it tightly, he slowly steps over her. The question is unanswered for a long moment. Casting a sheath off the dagger with one hand, the blade is brandished over the woman's vision.

Bending slowly, one knee is placed on her shoulder, and then the other knee follows. The sword is gently cast away, his now free hand slapping against the forehead of the woman. The dagger now resting against her neck. "I'm going to take you home, Delia."

The dagger sings as it is brought up in a flash.


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