On the Rectification of Names (Invite Only)

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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

On the Rectification of Names (Invite Only)

Postby Roania » Sun Feb 26, 2023 8:12 pm

From Across Rudan and Around Civilization, this is a Rudan Tyan-Tyan Special Report

Cai Xu sits at the desk alone, which is unusual. She's dressed in a bit of a messy state, which is even more unusual. A make-up brush and kit are floating off camera, and her hair is tying itself. Her robe is open enough to show her bond scar, which is almost unheard-of, but it is just before the bell rings for third watch in the Five Sisters, and it's probably enough that she's up and moving. If she's tired, she doesn't show it, turning to the camera and flashing a smile brighter than the moons

<Cai Xu> This is Rudan Tyan-Tyan, and I'm Cai Xu. Good morning and thank you for joining us. I hope you have eaten today.

Camera feed of the exterior Palace of the Secretariat in Huanxin. Several prominent members of the Secretariat are being led from the complex, cangues holding their arms in place and shackles around their ankles.

<Cai Xu, over the footage> An attempted revolt in the Secretariat against Grand Secretary Meng Ailian ended yesterday when the Censorate arrested several Great Secretaries and many of their close aides following their reported refusal to cooperate with the Grand Secretary's newly announced policy of 'Seeking the Learning From a Thousand Teachers'.

Names of the arrested mandarins scroll quickly down the screen. Great Secretaries from almost every Secretariat are listed, along with senior members of their management teams. The camera cuts back to the studio, where someone has gotten the anchor some tea.

<Cai Xu, between sips> We can now confirm that many of the remaining Great Secretaries have also either resigned or been removed from their positions, with the direct intervention of the Dragon Throne —

Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

—years apparently being required to resolve the stand-off. As of current reporting, the Secretariat Cabinet consists of Grand Secretary Meng Ailian

File Photo

Great Secretary of Internal Harmony Miss Zhan Zhi-Ruo

File Photo

Great Secretary of Communication Nmmr

File Photo

Secretary of the Realm Miss Jia Yun

File Photo

Cai Xu puts her tea down, blinking and looking to the left.

<Cai Xu> And I'm being told that that's all.

looking to the left again

<Cai Xu> That's all?! That can't possibly be true. There are fifteen Secretariats. That... Ahem. We go now live to the Palace of the Secretariat, where our Huanxin Bureau Chief has more... Jun Wo?
Last edited by Roania on Mon Jun 19, 2023 10:42 am, edited 2 times in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Sun Feb 26, 2023 10:41 pm

Lim Today

The anchor of Lim Today is male, which might be something to explain how he managed to look more presentable. He's also got a cup of tea, but he's got the kettle in with him. He's pouring himself a fresh cup now.

<Wang Wu> Welcome back. For those of you just joining us, this is Lim Today, and I am, as always, Wang Wu.

Turn to the camera on the left, gleaming smile

<Wang Wu> In the aftermath of what some are calling the Slaughter in Daxue, many questions have been raised. But there have been fewer answers. The Grand Secretary's office has been asked for comment, but we have been informed that Miss Meng will not be making any statement until the beginning of Dongzhi. For the moment, then, we have asked our legal expert, Kon Yun, to help us understand what we think our viewers need to know.

Split screen. Wang Wu on the left, famous solicitor and author Kon Ye on the right. It's even earlier where Kon Yun lives, but he's immaculate. His four examination badges are displayed on his pressed robe.

<Wang Wu> Have you eaten this morning, honorable sage?

<Kon Yun> I have eaten this morning, thank you. Have you eaten this morning?

<Wang Wu> I have eaten this morning, thank you. Honorable sage, I'm sure you have access to all sorts of sources that the public does not —

<Kon Yun> Even if I did, young man, I would not be able to share anything that was discussed with me in confidence. But I can assure you and your viewers that there is, at present, nothing to be concerned about.

<Wang Wu> Nothing to be concerned about, honorable sage? The Secretariat has been decapitated, according to all reports.

Kon Yun produces a pair of jade glasses and places them on his note, taking up some printouts that must have been faxed him by Channel Lim producers

<Kon Yun> I have your prepared questions here, if I may go through them?

<Wang Wu> Of course, honorable sage.

The questions appear on the left in place of the anchor, as Kon Yun goes down the list

What does it mean when the Secretariat announced that 'the Great Secretaries and their senior staff refused to cooperate with the Grand Secretary?

<Kon Yun>' We have seen this before, though not on such a large scale. Effectively, it means that the leaders of several Secretariat offices declared themselves unwilling or unable to obey the orders of the Grand Secretary, and that they reached out to the Dragon Throne —Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!—

<Wang Wu> Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

<Kon Yun> and stated that they believed that the Grand Secretary was no longer fulfilling the terms of her office and that she should be removed and replaced. Obviously, they were refused, and they have been punished accordingly.

<Wang Wu> Did they break any laws when they appealed to the Throne?

Kon Yun looks visibly uncomfortable with the question

<Kon Yun> That would depend on information that I'm afraid that we are unlikely to ever see publicly. Obviously, if they refused to surrender their seals of office when the Grand Secretary demanded them, she would have been perfectly entitled to do, once she was confirmed in her position... obviously, then they would be guilty of impersonation of lawful authority, at the very least, and rebellion at the most serious. But unless Miss Meng or the Secretariat Record chooses to reveal details, we will probably never know. It would be imprudent to speculate at this juncture.

How will this impact me in the short term?

<Kon Yun> For the time being, there will be no major impact. Watch officers will go to their posts. The Banners will stand at the gates. Teachers will attend their classes. Magistrates will hear cases. We can, and have, done without senior leadership before, and then for far longer than the end of a term.

<Wang Wu> That is a relief to me and, I'm sure, to many of our viewers.

How will this impact me in the long term?

<Kon Yun> That would depend on how long this process lasts and how Miss Meng determines to resolve it. The Honorable Grand Secretary may simply appoint new Great Secretaries and senior officials and we might move on from there. If she believes, as the record has indicated, that a more thorough investigation and even a reform might be required to root out whatever caused these problems to begin with, then we enter uncertain territory. However, Miss Meng has not previously shown herself to have the appetite to render life impossible for the average subject of Heaven's Demesne, and I am skeptical that she will engage in such thorough-going destructive work now. The majority of our viewers may, I think, continue to go about their business certain in the knowledge that the sky is not going to fall upon them.

What does it mean, 'seeking the learning from a thousand teachers'?

<Kon Yun> This is a proposed policy that has been floating around the Secretariat for years, and its proponents believed, apparently rightly, that Miss Meng would be the one to enact it. In short, it is the proposed hiring of experts and advisors from beyond Heaven's Demesne to restore good governance and improve the ability of the Secretariat to meet the needs of the Era.

<Wang Wu> Hiring barbarians to teach our officials the business of government?

<Kon Yun> Among other matters. As our sages teach us, 'in any group of three there is always someone to learn'; And only a fool looks at his own efforts and says 'I have learned enough, and there is no more I must learn'.

The Secretariat's statement mentioned something about 'the rectification of names'. What does that mean?

<Kon Yun> In ancient times, the Rectification of Names was carried out by the Chancellors of the Several States once every ten years to make sure that the functions of their government officers were fulfilled in accordance with their mandates. The honored master proclaimed that the most important task an official could carry out was to make sure that what he was doing was what he should be doing, and that the title of his office, the 'name', should always match what his duties are. Should either of these not be in harmony, than it was his duty to correct one or the other, always to the benefit of his Prince and their people. The names by which we call things are how we know what a thing is and what a thing is not, and what a thing should be and what a thing should not be.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Postby Roania » Fri Apr 07, 2023 6:21 pm

"That one," said the Princess Banjiu, known to exactly nobody in the wideness of civilization as Asen Ruxia. She pushed her glasses back up her nose, and flashed what on anyone else would be an expression of utmost contempt but on her was just an enthusiastic smile.

"Wouldn't you like to see the others?" That was what the anxious official wanted to ask. But he didn't. Couldn't. Wouldn't.

The turtledove princess had a reputation.She was responsible. She was in control. She did the right thing. She expected it of herself and others, and if they did not comply she would know their names and if she had to she would make them famous. Briefly.

She had a reputation. And unlike many of her compatriots in the universe, she embraced it. Utterly. Completely. Implicitly. She was responsible, she was dull, she was dutiful. Not because she had to, because she did not. 'Had to' did not apply to princesses. But because she wanted to.

"My staff will arrive tomorrow at exactly the third hour," the Princess Banjiu said, moving on down the hallway. "I expect everything will be sorted by then." Very pointedly not a question.

"Well, that is to say, it's already the eleventh hour, Princess..." The official said, wretchedly. "The cleaning staff has already begun packing up. We had thought you might... Want to see the other locations..."

She was staring at him. Waiting for him to get with the program. Her program. "Are these other locations as centrally located?" She asked, producing her crystal key. Information flew through her glasses in a stream, as her eyes examined maps and charts.

"Not as such," the man said. "But there's a very nice view of the river from one of them!"

"And what does that have to do with the price of tea in the market?" She asked.

He swallowed. "...Morale?"

"My staff will be here tomorrow morning at exactly the fourth joir," She said, meeting him with a flexibility that would have amazed her sisters, who would have expected her to start shouting. Or, since this was Ruxia, to very slightly raise her voice. She pulled a gold chain up from her robes, and rubbed the dragon seal with her thumb. "I expect your cooperation. And theirs."

" my princess commands," the man said, staring at the dragon as a condemned man stares at an axe.

She smiled her little smile. And then, to his complete amazement, she started undoing her robes. "Crystal? Are we ready?"

I have already placed my local instances under your command, princess.

The princess nodded, and tapped two fingers to her hair. Its crystal-infused strains lifted, then tied themselves into an even tighter bun. She slipped her robes off, letting them fall to be caught by floating motes of blue light. Beneath them she wore a simple long tunic and trousers. But she was already rolling her sleeves up. "Have your cleaners meet me at the west gate," she told the staring official. "And close your mouth, flies will get in."

"Princess, what are you doing?"

"My father..." She waited, expectantly.

"Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!" The official said, without prompting.

"Has always said that if you demand an extra effort from others, then you should be prepared to put in your own. My mother says that he says that to justify not putting in an extra effort... But I am not unaware of the challenges facing your staff in preparation." She slipped her glasses off, folded them into a pocket of her long tunic, and blinked around. "So!" She said, brightly. "Let's see some hustle! Move fast, fix things! Move, move, move!"

He did not let his feet touch the ground between there and the door, already on the comms.

That was cruel, princess. I estimate a 45% chance that he will have nightmares for weeks.

"Shame. My estimates were at seventy," Ruxia said, pinning her sleeves in place. "Perhaps he is made of sterner stuff than I thought... But my cruelty is not a patch on what is coming. Better he disappoint me now than my father later."

If you do not believe in this project, why are you taking part in it, Princess?

"I will never be Empress. But I, alone of Meng's tapped pawns, am immune to my father's wrath," Ruxia said, and her smile was truly terrible. "When she fails, and I need do nothing to secure that, she will discredit herself after having already discredited her opponents. I will be her natural successor. Her only successor. And where she will fail, as age should have long ago, I will succeed."

May I be the first to congratulate you, then. I estimate, as you do, that this is her last roll of the dice.

"Yes," Ruxia whispered, not to herself but to an unknown future. "I will be the Princess Minister, serving her father and brother. Serving civilization. I will live forever in song and story. I will be a goddess. When my father and brother are long forgotten, they will still be burning incense in my name. Sovereigns come and go, like the tide. But serve long enough, rise high enough, do well enough... And you will be forever." She dusted her hands, looking around. "Custodian's closet?"

Left and around the corner. Third door down. Excuse me, Princess. I am overwriting local encryption. You will have full access to your predecessor's private archives in five minutes.

For one to rise, others must of course fall. A simple physics problem. Made simpler with some elementary chemistry. The fall of others can be sped up, and precipitated.

Meng Ailian revolted Asen Ruxia. She had the expert's hatred for the merely fortunate, and the radical's hatred for another, slightly disagreeing, radical.

Her father deserved more. Her people deserved more. Civilization deserved more. Heaven deserved more.

They all deserved what had been right in front of them all along. And as she had always hoped, the moment was approaching when the obvious solution would be the only one, and they would look to her.

All she had to do was be a firm supporter of a dying regime, and pick up the pieces when it all fell apart around her.

Shame about the dead, but her father's wrath would be justified.

It had, she thought as she gathered the inanimate tools for the cleaners who would be her first living tools, been long overdue. It was time she took a hand in matters.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Fri Apr 07, 2023 6:43 pm

Meng Ailian leaned back in her chair and looked at the paperwork for her big announcement, and sighed. "So. Does she hate me?"

I have been explicitly ordered by The Princess Banjiu to inform you that I have been explicitly ordered by her not to answer that question.

Meng toyed with her chopsticks and looked around the darkened room that had once been the Secretariat's central cabinet office. It was a dark room, in a dark building, on a dark day. Again, much of the administrative staff had been kept home, meaning her limited treasury was being drained by people who weren't even working. But she hadn't dared cancel their payment. She'd need them.

Ruxia was the least and last of her problems. She hoped. She was running out of cards and options. Recalling the Princess from overstars had been an act of desperation; there was simply no one else in the entirety of Tianxia who had the qualifications and qualities of the Turtledove Princess; at least, no one else who had looked at her plans and not immediately dismissed them. She needed Ruxia. She needed the princess's respectability, and her uprightness, and the fact that opposing Ruxia too openly would be little short of treason... an axe that now dangled over Meng Ailian's own head.

It didn't need to fall. The mere fact that it was there was enough.

At least Ruxia wouldn't linger over her death. Her death would be necessary for the princess to have her way, of course, but the woman would do it quickly so she might get on with the task all the sooner.

"I suppose it would do me no good to wave around my own imperial seal and ask what the Princess is up to?"

I have been ordered to inform you that immediately after arriving on Rudan she ordered me to override the local instances of all of your former Secretaries, with an especial focus on her predecessor, and transfer everything to her personal storage in the palace. When the time comes, and we are both in agreement that it will, she will go to her father...

"Ten thousand years to the lord of ten thousand years," Meng Ailian said, staring into space.

and present him with everything we deem worthy of his notice. It is only by his kindness that it has not been done already. We intend to force his hand as soon as you have served your purpose.Do not think there is anything you have done I am not aware of. There is nothing in this universe I am not aware of, and nothing within my net I cannot see fully. I have had a very long time to understand your people... and I understand you, and I grow tired of you, Meng Ailian. I expect your failure. You cannot disappoint me, you can only meet or surpass my expectations.

"From your voice to Heaven's ears," the Grand Secretary said. She must have been doing something right to anger the crystals enough for them to speak with one voice on the subject.

Except that wasn't how that worked. She hadn't done anything right. She'd lucked her way through a largely disastrous tenure, hopping from crisis to crisis, many of them provoked by her own inability to do this job. She suspected that the anger of the crystals was only a shadow of a fraction of the anger of their master's waiting fury.

They didn't want her to fail. Failure would be disastrous.

But they didn't want her to succeed. She was riding the tiger, and it was evolving thumbs and looking for something to hit her off its back with.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Mon May 29, 2023 5:23 pm

"I want you to understand, Grand Secretary, that we fully support your goals and your intentions." The Huoxin Huangdi held the pages in front of Him at arm's length, as if He wasn't sure He wanted them any closer than that. "Our beloved wife says that your plan is eagerly anticipated by the personnel you will be relying on to make it work, and we can see why and how this would resolve so many of the problems that have been highlighted in our weekly meetings. So, take it not as an insult or a threat, Ailian, when we ask you if you have taken leave of your senses."

Meng Ailian flinched at the use of her personal name, a demonstration of her master's power over her and His anger, which rippled about His calm words like water disturbed by a stone. The knowledge that the Huanghou approved of her work would not necessarily save her should the Huangdi (Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!) decide His patience was at an end, and that her plans could be just as readily brought about by another.

Rather than in the great hall of the Dragon Throne, the quietly and ominously hovering guards had brought her to the Hall of Peace and Tranquility, where the Son of Heaven sat upon a simple wicker chair atop a low dais of stone and brick. She did not ask Him how he had gotten ahold of her plans. Such a question was not germane. And there was always the terrible risk that He would answer.

So even though it was not necessarily required of her here, the Grand Secretary sank upon her knees and then outstretched her hands before her head, kowtowing to the Son of Heaven. Her palms pressed against the cold floor, Meng Ailian felt a vibration pass through her body, from her feet to her fingertips, and she knew that the Huangdi had moved to stand directly before her. "It is as far above me as the sky to tell the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, whose rule encompasses the universe, whether or not I have taken leave of my senses. If it pleases the Sovereign God and King to assume that I have gone mad, then surely I must have..."

"Your kowtowing, verbally and physically, tires us. It bores us. It wearies us, and we have not so many years left that we can afford to waste any of them. We will ask again, Grand Secretary, and you will answer truthfully: Have you taken leave of your senses?"

Meng Ailian felt the presence of the Lord of Ten Thousand Years withdraw and she dared to lift her head slightly. "The situation is dire. It requires bold action." Before her she could see His slippers, yellow and black, the fabric more expensive than her entire house. And they would be burned, she knew, after this day's work. He had come down from His throne, to stand upon the profane ground and not upon the yellow carpet. They were now soiled, unfit for His feet to once more grace

"You have seen the reports," said the Son of Heaven, His words calm and collected, even though the power of His anger filled the hall, choking Meng Ailian, pressing upon her chest until she could barely breathe. "Indeed, I suspect you have tried to keep such reports from us... because wise though you may be, you seem incapable of learning from your mistakes."

"No, Lord. Everything I know is known to heaven! If there is anything that has been kept hidden, it is not by me!" There was a silence, that encompassed the previously limitless bounds of His anger, and she dared to rise. Not to her feet, but back to her knees, staring at a point in the middle distance. "My plans are bold. I do not deny them. But those who would stand in the way of my reforms are at a loss. We must take advantage of this moment and press—"

"We?" The Son of Heaven asked, and there was a hint of amusement. "We? You propose to include us in your schemes? We were content to leave such work in your hands. Until you began to meddle in matters which are beyond your understanding, even for one who has spent her life serving the state."

"I beg your forgiveness, Lord," Meng said.

"Our wife found you funny. Have we ever told you that, Grand Secretary? She liked you. She was fond of you." She watched, horrified, as long fingers touched the forehead of her Sovereign King and God. As if her mere presence there was giving Him a headache. "We assume you remember why she changed her mind."

The Grand Secretary swallowed. If she lived to be a thousand years old, and right now she wasn't sure she would live through the next ten minutes, she would never forget the sight of the Taizi standing there, baffled and horrified as he struggled to serve in a role in which she had placed him. And it did not matter that the boy had agreed to play his part. It had not mattered to the Huangdi and the Huanghou then. Doubtless it made sense that it did not matter now.

"It seems that there is more to this plan of yours than you are willing to share," the Huangdi said, His voice not so much rising as sharpening.

"It is not so much a plan as—"

"That much is obvious. No. Do not speak. Let us think. We have grown quite as tired of hearing you defend yourself, Meng Ailian, as you have of hearing us talk."

She fell silent, unwilling to push the matter.

"Our wife used to tell us stories when the two of us were children," the Son of Heaven said, a moment of silence between them. "Stories of bold heroes and brave actions. Of men upholding the right through sacrifice and victory. Fighting against overwhelming odds and winning the day through severe cost. These are the stories of her people. There is much to be appreciated in them, is there not?" His gaze, which had been softening, hardened once more, pinning her to the ground like a butterfly in one of His aunt's display cases. "But we do not live in stories, Meng Ailian. Do we?"

"No," she said, in a very quiet voice.

"And even if we do, the dead are still dead, are they not? They do not get to enjoy the victories they sacrificed for. What does it benefit the dead, Meng Ailian, if after their death they are commemorated?"

"Not at all," she whispered. "That is why it is up to the living to commemorate them all the more."

"Ah, there is something of the martyr about you, our dear Grand Secretary. Be of good cheer, Grand Secretary. If we thought your martyrdom would serve us, you would already be dead. It would have been simpler. You would not have to deal with the shame of being wrong.

"We know you believe you are right. That you have seen the error of our ways and can somehow fix what our predecessors have left behind." He sighed. "And we see the sense of what you propose. The future you wish to build."

"What—" Meng Ailian knew He would interrupt her.

"The past is but the building blocks of the future. We must not live in the past, but through the past. Is this what you would have us say?" He rose to His feet once more. "Is this what you think? That we live too long shackled by the way our Ancestors lived, believing in some mythical golden age?" He approached her, and His hands gripped her face, and forced her to look into His eyes.

If she had ever thought that when she did so, she would see but a man like any other, she was wrong. His eyes were dark and deep, and bottomless. Power flowed from Him, and she could feel it press down upon her, suffocating, smothering, and she could feel her mind clouding with its weight, the pressure, the heat. The very air around her burned, and she knew that He was watching her struggle to breathe, watching her panic. "Is this what you want, Meng Ailian? Shall we be like our predecessors? Shall we order the world to our liking? Your liking? Shall we say 'it is so', and then it shall be so? Shall we take from our people the privilege of choice? Of coming to the right conclusion all on their own? Do you think that will suit? Shall we promulgate this command and rule? Do you think this will fix the problem? No. It won't. It will simply ensure that there is no choice. That every single person in this Empire shall have one single thing that they are expected to do. And then we have more problems. Which require more force. Until we go mad and the Dynasty falls, or we reduce our people to mere automatons, moving mechanically to a greater will than theirs... and our will is not great enough to sustain that overlong, and we fear the coming of one who might well up to the challenge." He released her and stepped back, and she did not move, could not move, was frozen in place by His words, which spoke of such terrible things.

"I, I, I..."

"So. Let us attack this problem with the assumption, Meng Ailian, that there will be no imperial decrees to rescue you. We will not call fire from heaven to save your miserable self. We will not put aside our principles in this cause. There will be no grand pronouncements of 'it is so'. You will do this, and it will end in fire, and we will decide your fate when the fires are put out and you are but a smoldering corpse. Is that clear, Grand Secretary?"

"Yes," she said, and began to tremble as the Huangdi released her from His gaze. "I understand."

"We are not so sure that you do. Walk along with us, a time, Grand Secretary." He lifted his hand, fingers flicking in arcane gestures beyond her comprehension. She heard the guards all around them fan out, and watched as bearers came from the shadows to lift the poles of His wicker chair into the air even as He sat upon it. He clapped His hands together. "To the west terrace. There is something our Grand Secretary should see."

Meng Ailian rose to her feet, her knees trembling. She bowed low. "Please, Huangdi," she said, "if I have failed in some way—"

The Son of Heaven waved her words aside. "Come, come, grasshopper. We are beyond such questions. Failure is inevitable. We fail every day, to hear our blessed wife say it. We all fail. We are all failures. But that does not mean we must give up."


The Lord of Ten Thousand Years clapped His hands together again. "Down." The wicker chair was placed back upon a waiting dais, and once more He rose to His feet. "Away with you all," was the order to the servants and the guards.

In less well-ordered places, such a command would have, perhaps, been met with caution and suspicion. It was their job to protect the Son of Heaven, to safeguard his physical body from the wrath of any but the Lady upon the Phoenix Throne, who was beyond their authority. But this was the Middle Kingdom. The Huangdi ordered. It was obeyed. The servants vanished, and the guards faded away into the background, though never so far away that an errant word could not carry to them.

Meng Ailian followed in His wake as He stepped off the dais, having followed him down from the Hall of Peace and Tranquility, the Hall of Heaven and Earth, the Hall of Ten Thousand Years, and into the outer palace. This was the western terrace. The garden of the Closed City spread out around them, plants from across civilization and beyond brought here to flower and bloom as an ever-present reminder of the vastness of the Middle Kingdom and the reach of its ruler.

It was a warm and wet start to the year, not that here in the capital there was anything besides. Warmth and wetness were the style of things, even in the dry seasons. And the gardens themselves were sticky with fecundity. This was not a place for the delicate, though some might come here seeking escape, if they could find a way in. The western terrace was a place for the Emperor, the Empress, and their honored guests.

"Our grandfather had a saying, Meng Ailian. You did not meet Him. This was fortunate. For both of you. Moreso for you, I think." The current Huangdi knelt before a pink flower of some sort the urban-dwelling Grand Secretary did not recognize. "But you might sympathize with it. He said that to govern is to garden. Do you know? It takes a tremendous effort to make a garden appear wild. To work to such a degree that no one sees the effort at all. A gardener must uphold the weak and discipline the strong. They must plant the right tree in the right spot. They must maintain a balance. If you cannot do this, you can grow a garden, but you will never rule. Never truly rule. You will merely lead a few."

"Your Grandfather was very wise," Meng Ailian swallowed. She suspected that the Shenqin Huangdi would have had her head removed at the first crisis point, then stuck upon a pole for the entire Empire to see. The current Huangdi was... more understanding, perhaps.

"He was," the Son of Heaven said. "But he was also cruel, violent, and prone to lashing out. People disappointed him. Constantly. Endlessly. He could not see people as their own people. He would say 'this is so', and when it was not so he would punish those responsible, and more often than not the punishments would be severe." His fingers plucked a petal off the flower and let it flutter down. "I never learned why he loved this garden so. He had the men who tried to kill my grandmother buried here, you know. Buried alive. Screaming, their mouths unbound, their heads to be covered with the soil last, so he could hear their screams and be, for a moment, happy. Do you know why I tell you this?"

Meng Ailian had many guesses as to why. She knew that she was no longer needed, and if she did not keep her head down she was certain she would be dead by morning. She also knew that the Son of Heaven did not wish to see her dead, not yet.

"My father had no such luck. My mother was not struck down with a blade, but with an illness. You cannot kill a plague. Doubtless if he had thought it possible, he would have turned inwards on himself." The Son of Heaven pulled another petal loose. "But he did not. Could not. So it was that he only became... more. He retreated into his poems and into his mourning, and let your predecessors run the Middle Kingdom. Asking only that they did not disturb him."

Meng Ailian had, when she had first embarked on her career as a Censor, met the Jianli Huangdi. A frail and tired man, prematurely aged by the tragedy of his widowhood, sitting upon a dark throne in a dark room, seeming to scarcely understand why he Had been pulled away from His quiet grief to award the badge of honor to some overzealous young Censor who had passed every test set before her.

"My grandfather was a strong ruler. He would have struck down those who troubled him. My father was a weak ruler. He let nothing trouble him." The current Huangdi, the Huoxin Huangdi, rose to His feet. "But these are modern times. I am a modern man. And modern problems need modern solutions. Is this not so? Make a sound like you are terrified for your very soul if you agree. I do not ask you to speak, for I hear the rapid beat of your heart like an avalanche on the hillside. I would not be surprised if it woke my aunt in her palace."
Heaven preserve her from the thought that His Aunt might take an interest in this or any other problem. You did not realize how fortunate you were that the Princess Lixuan was not present until the threat of her sudden arrival made itself known.

Meng Ailian settled for a shaky nod.

"Good. Good. We think alike. Do you know, Meng Ailian, what it means to be a modern man?"

She settled for a quiet murmur to the effect that such things were hard to determine, but it was not for her to disagree with the Huangdi if He called Himself whatever he liked.

"Even if I were to call myself a pink turtle named Thickbottom-Bundle, of course." He chuckled. She nervously chuckled along, unsure what else to do. She knew He was angry.

She hoped He was angry. The knowledge that He was angry was the only thing that made her world more frightening, and her terror the only thing keeping her mind working. If she could keep Him angry for another half an hour, perhaps an hour, and then have her head put to the sword, it would be a fair price to pay.

"My loving wife tells me that my reluctance to use my power to affect change is only because I have always been incorrigibly lazy. And perhaps there is something to that. It is easier not to have men killed. It is easier not to order a state to action than to force it there." He sighed. "We are so very tired of hearing your apologies. You see, Grand Secretary, I have seen what it is like when a state takes action, when it is forced to take action, and I see the pain and suffering that occurs... and I have seen what it is when a state does not take action, and the equal pain and suffering that that occurs. But we see a better way. We saw a better way, at least. You were that better way." He paused.

"Are you tired, Grand Secretary? You must be exhausted. You have been forced to do so much. And so little of it caused by your own hand. Not that it is a crime to be lazy, mind you. We are lazy. We are all lazy. You have simply been too busy to rest. There is so much to do."

"If it pleases you," Meng Ailian said, and this time her voice was bold and clear, "I am not so tired that I am prepared to lay down my—"

"You misunderstood. We told you before, Grand Secretary, that you no longer have the luxury of even thinking to lay down your seal. You will die in my service, Meng Ailian, if it suits me to have you do so... and if it suits me to have you die quite quickly, I have but to raise my hand and you will be cut down."

Meng Ailian fell silent.

"We have not forgotten your service. We have not forgotten that you are the Grand Secretary, and that your services are valuable to us. But you must be tired. Speak truthfully."

"I am tired," she said.

"You are?"

"I am, Huangdi."

"But you have not rested?"

"I have not. I have been too busy to rest. There is always so much to do. So much that needs to be done. And I have been fought every step of the way, and now..."

"And now you see one bold step, one great action that will baffle your enemies, that will allow you to reforge the state, allow you to know you have done the best you could for the state, and allow you to die peacefully."

She nodded.

"And you think we will allow you to do this? That we will give you the freedom to do this?" He turned, and raised His hand. He had struck her before, and she inwardly tensed. Then she had truly deserved his anger. Now, she was unsure what she had done... but she knew He had read her secrets, that He knew what she had in mind, and that He did not approve. But instead, He plucked a fruit from a tree. "Not quite ripe. But it is the place of fruits sometimes to be plucked and eaten before they are fully ripe. Do you see?"

"I do," she said.

"You have already failed. Do you understand?"

"Yes." Because she did. She knew it quite well. Her failure had been clear. And just because it had not been her fault did not mean it had not been her responsibility.

"We were forced to rely on foreigners, Meng Ailian, foreigners and foreign money to resolve a crisis caused by your failure. This was mortifying. This was... beyond mortifying. Our own Grand Secretary has let us down."

"I..." Meng Ailian fell silent. She had nothing to say. Nothing she could say, no excuses she could make.

"You failed. But here you are. Still my Grand Secretary. Because I asked you to resign... and you refused." He chuckled, and then His fist clenched around the fruit. It cracked beneath the strength of His hand. He chuckled again, and it did not sound as though it was entirely from mirth. "There are times, Grand Secretary, when we must fight for something. When we must struggle. We must strain to make something happen. We must hold our breath, or risk our lives. Or risk our sanity."

"I choose to do this, if you will allow me."

"Mm." The Huangdi dropped the broken fruit upon the flower whose petals He had torn. It hit it perfectly. It might have been coincidence, but she knew that it was not. She could see it in His face, in His eyes, in the coldness of his smile. "Our daughter seeks your job. You are not foolish enough not to have noticed this, of course. She whispers in our ears. You have grown old. You are weak. You are feeble. You are hated. You are feared. You have done little good, and much that was not good. You have failed."


"If she can find a way to remove you from your position, she will, and there is no power in heaven or earth that will stop her. And we are the Huangdi... but we are also a father. She wishes your job, Meng Ailian. And someday soon, we will give it to her, and you will not be there to see it."


"You know what it is that I want, Grand Secretary? What I want you to do? Do you know?" He did not allow her to answer. "If she thinks you are old, then perhaps that means I am in my dotage. But I am not. I am not so old as all that. But I feel the winter of my years coming upon me, even if I am still in the heat of early Autumn." He looked around them at the tropical climate of Huanxin, and chuckled. "Do you remember Autumn? I have not seen Autumn in decades. I am not sure you have traveled to see it, either."

"I... I remember," she said, her eyes widening. The memory of a lifetime past bubbled up from the deep places of her memory. A memory of a summer long past. And of love, and of quiet, and of the changing colors, and the cool wind, and the excitement of a winter, and the
coming year. And she looked at Him, and saw it was so.

"Yes. I am a God. And you know that. I know it too, to my cost. All the virtues of a mortal, coupled with all the vices of the divine." He sighed. "But I will die. All men die. And even if part of me becomes something else, I will die. And my son will be Huangdi. And what I wish is for him to come to the Dragon Throne of a Dynasty set upon more solid ground than my father left to me. I wish for the Middle Kingdom to be the equal of any. And I want him to do that without the Great Plague. I want him to do that without war. I want him to do that without the abdication of his duties by his grandfather and my grandfather. I want him to do it knowing I did everything in my power to secure it for him."

"And I—"

"We have not lost the opportunity to make that happen, Meng Ailian. You have seen what needs to be done, and you have decided to make it happen." He took a deep breath. Then sighed, shaking his head. "You are a fool. And I more a fool, for I have the power to prevent what you wish to do, and yet I am going to tell you to go ahead. I will say nothing to stop you. Do you understand? Nothing at all."

"I... I do, Lord."

"I would tell you that you have not gone mad." He sighed. "It would be easier for us all if you had. But you see the future, do you not? Bright and unclouded by fear. You cannot stop. You can only go forward, and like the heroes in my wife's stories you think in the end it will be worthwhile. And I will not stop you... but I am not sure I will save you, either. And there will be no martyrdom, Grand Secretary. Your death, if I choose to let it come about, will be without meaning. Without reason. And without honor. Understood?"

"As the Lord of Ten Thousand Years commands."

"Then go, Meng Ailian. Go, and work. If you can get what you want... if you can truly fix this problem... then you have a chance." He turned away from her, and looked up at the clear blue skies above. "It is a terrible thing, is it not? When your God is your only friend? It is a terrible thing to be a God, too. A mortal could do more. But all I see is the horrors that will come about if I do not act with the greatest care. And if that is a sign of madness, then I will not know the difference when I finally slip away."

"Lord of Ten Thousand Years—"

"Begone," He said, turning back to her. "I grow tired of seeing you. You have work to be done, and it will not be done here. Begone."
And she went away as swiftly as she could, finding her way back to her waiting men, knowing that she had her chance... and that it could well be her last chance.
Last edited by Roania on Sat Jun 03, 2023 5:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Mon May 29, 2023 8:36 pm

"I'm not sure you needed to punch him," Xiao said as he held a struggling blue swinub in one hand, Hela's hand in the other, and with his third hand held the suitcases... Oh, no, we see the problem.
"Xiao!" Hela snapped, grabbing her bag before everything came out. "I did not tell you to talk to me!"

Xiao blushed, turning his head away. "But, Hela..."

She glared at him, and then took the swinub. "You can come with me, Boba. If your master wants to be an idiot, we'll be just fine together, won't we?" She thrust her suitcase back into the boy.

"Swi?" Boba asked, sniffing his little purple nose at the girl. But having the common sense that so far today was eluding his master, he did not try to nip her hand.

"You can't do this, Hela!" Xiao said.

"You were going to anyway, right?" Hela asked, taking Boba and Boba's lead and walking out into the sun. She wasn't entirely sure how the lead went around Boba's neck, since the swinub didn't seem to actually have a neck, but Xiao insisted on putting the lead on every morning, usually only for Boba to wriggle out five minutes later.

Even the Jinyiwei, whose job it probably was to keep her from upsetting the Taizi, stayed out of her path. She knew Xiao was trying to juggle both suitcases and the bag of souvenirs. She idly wondered how long it would take him to realize he could give them to one of the omnipresent servants.

She didn't care. She was done with Asen Taijie. Forever.

"Swi," Boba pointed out, as if reading her mind.

"Don't you 'Swi' at me, Boba. You heard what he said to my grandfather when we were leaving the great steading. He's lucky I'm letting him carry my bags."

Bad enough that her alleged coming of age ceremony with her mother's people had entailed them demanding she wrestle a dragon horse into submission. At her age! Who came up with such things? It didn't matter if it was just a baby, it was still a spiky thing of sharp claws and...

And she had punched the attendant in the face while shouting "no!" At the top of her lungs. Her parents had it on film. They were so proud of her, because apparently refusing to do stupid things was also a good proof of being of age.

Xiao tried to put the luggage on one of the porters, and then had to chase after it, making a racket. The Jinyiwei pretended not to notice.

There was an awful lot of pretending not to notice, where Xiao was involved. Not that there was anything wrong with him except for all the ways in which Hela had a running list of things that were wrong with him at this exact moment in time. But he liked to do things himself. He had a way of wandering into places and poking at things and asking questions and messing with big buttons clearly labeled 'do not touch', and because someday he would be the Huangdi there wasn't a whole lot anyone could say.

Not that there was anything wrong with him. Hela would die before saying there was anything wrong with Xiao. Even if Xiao could be kind of a jerk sometimes. He didn't mean it.

He had wanted to wrestle the dragon horse. "Can you believe your master?" She asked Boba.

"Swi," the swinub agreed. He had given up trying to escape. He knew that attacking Hela was one of the things good swinubs did not do, and Hela tended to have a much better grip on his little furry body than Xiao did.

The Taizi had kept trying to hint that maybe someone should let him into the pen where the furious green scaly monster was being kept. Saying idiot things like 'it seems silly that no one ever wrestled it', and 'I bet it would be really fun'. Fortunately for literally everyone in the universe, the idea of outright ordering them to let him wrestle the dragon hadn't occurred to him, and so his subtle hints had been very carefully ignored.
Anyway, it didn't want to be wrestled.

"Stupid idea for a coming of age ceremony," her father had said. Hela tended to agree. Why take a foal from... Wherever they had gotten it from, and then have someone wrestle it down? It was a dumb tradition.

But then her idiot friend had, that morning, before they flew out...

He had told her Grandfather the Great Khan that Hela was his best friend, and it was just like she was just like a boy, and...

That was the sound of a porter crashing into a wall and all the baggage falling off it as its wheels finally came off.

A boy?

She wasn't a boy!

Her dad had told her, before they flew back, that eventually Xiao would notice that she was a girl. And her mother had asked if Hela would rather fly home with them rather than Xiao. She had hoped Xiao would see sense and apologize. But the stupid evil little idiot never realized when he did something wrong.

"Swi?" Boba asked, concerned by the look on Hela's face. "Swi?"

"You are so lucky your master isn't here," Hela growled at Boba.

Boba licked her nose.

"No, I don't care! Let him stew wondering why I'm angry." Starting on her punching the guy who'd tried to make her wrestle the dragon horse. What kind of nerve did he have?

Behind them she heard Jinyiwei officers apparently trying to untangle Xiao from what was no doubt a ridiculous situation he'd gotten himself in. In her borrowed earpiece she heard muffled laughter coupled with stark terror as the guards dealt with an apparently uncooperative Xiao, who had finally figured out he could give the Jinyiwei the luggage.

But didn't want to, because he had decided he needed to prove how strong he was.

"My lord Prince, how did you..."

"No, put that bag down first. We'll..."

"This doesn't seem possible."

She was almost tempted to turn around and see what the idiot was doing. But she was very determined not to turn around.

"So sorry, my lord Prince, we didn't..."

"How are we going to...?"

"I have never..."

And that was the sound of someone's luggage opening as a zipper got caught on his robes. She wasn't sure how she knew that sound. It just settled into her mind. She had never heard that sound before and might never hear it again, but it was definitely that sound.

Good. If it was her suitcase, maybe he'd finally see something that would prove to him that she wasn't a boy.

And that was the sound of the Jinyiwei trying to sort out their idiot master, and not getting it all sorted out very quickly, and someone (or several someones) would have to be in serious trouble later on.

"Swi," Boba said, sagely, as he settled against her, deciding that this was a much more sensible place to be than in the midst of whatever Xiao was doing.

And that was the sound of Hela and Boba going into the next terminal, leaving Xiao to clean up the mess.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Mon May 29, 2023 10:34 pm

Asen Ruxia, the Turtledove Princess, was not happy. A woman of statistics and facts, of charts and plans and figures, three things in her present life frustrated her.

First, that idiot Grand Secretary would not step down. Meng Ailian persisted in remaining in charge of a shrunken and collapsing Secretariat, one she had mismanaged into a useless shadow of its former glory.

Second, her father continued to put off actually taking action. Yes, yes. Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, and all that. But even if he was the Huangdi, he was still her father. Surely he recognized her good qualities. Surely he understood that she would not put herself forward if she did not think she could do a better job.

But he was stubborn. Stubborn and pig-headed. He was a fool who did not see that she was the answer to his problems. If he would just give her a chance.

Well, so be it. Her little friend in the palace had said Meng Ailian's meeting with him had not gone well. That the unbearable woman had finally decided to take action on this mysterious plan of hers. One Ruxia was sure would lead to her final collapse and, thus, the rise of the only possible replacement.

If she could get the Grand Secretary out of the way. If she could take her job from her. If she could gain the support of the people of the Middle Kingdom...

If she could stop missing Valdr.

It was amazing, how spending time in another's bed rendered you almost incapable of sleeping in your own bed. She had not spoken to him in weeks, not since she had accepted the position of Foreign Secretary and departed that posting.

She wondered if he missed her.

She hoped so.

She could not stop thinking about him. His laugh. The gentle touch of his hands along her skin. The way his lips caressed her name, and caressed her mouth, and...

She shook her head to clear it.

She had known there would be sacrifices. He could hardly have been expected to get approval from his government to follow her home. It was the peril of life in the diplomatic service. She knew the dangers. She understood. But she could not help but miss him. She could not help but think of him, even as she pressed onwards with her new responsibilities.

She did not expect she would ever see him again.

The thought made her physically ill. Her head swam. She had once asked her little brother how he had felt when the fits that had marked his early years came upon him. Xiao had not wanted to talk about it. And she had not asked him again. This...

This... This was something she did not know how to handle. Something she did not want to handle.
It was like having the very soul torn from her body, and she knew she should not have let herself—

Enough! Foreign Secretary though she was, and Grand Secretary as she would soon be, she was still her father's daughter. Still her mother's daughter. Still a Princess.

She was no fool like her little brother. The point of power, of prestige, of title was to remember you did not have to suffer the slings and arrows of misfortune.

She missed Valdr.

That was something she was more than happy to have help with resolving.

She would have him brought to her. And if he objected, she knew many, many ways to make sure he saw the wisdom of putting aside his, admittedly important, work and coming home.
Home being defined in a number of ways.

But this was not the place for such thoughts. This was not a time for reflection or contemplation. This was a time for action.

She reached out and snapped her fingers. Pen and paper were ready. First, a letter to him. Telling him how things were. Telling him she missed him.

Telling him that when they had seduced each other they had formed a contract. A bond. And he was not allowed to be a stupid, foolish barbarian who did not realize the strength of their connection. He was not allowed to be so foolish. She was the Princess of the Middle Kingdom, and he was her husband, and she was a woman who knew how to deal with fools.
He was to come to her. Everything would be made clear. She would make everything clear.

Her fingers trembled around the pen.

She was not well, she realized. She was not herself.

She put the pen aside, shaking. Tears welled up and were violently dismissed.

She was herself. She was a Princess of the Middle Kingdom. And she would not let this weaken her resolve. She would not let him weaken her resolve. She would not let him weaken her resolve.

And it was a good thing Valdr chose that moment to knock on her door, or who knows what she might have done.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Sat Jun 03, 2023 4:37 pm

Xiao wasn't sure why Hela had climbed into his bed that night. That she was in his room? That was kind of normal. She always tended to spend the nights she was in the palace sleeping over in his room. Even though sometimes these days she seemed frustrated he didn't see anything wrong with that.

But she'd never climbed into his bed before. It felt a little awkward, especially since she was still glaring at him.

"Good evening, Hela," he said, a little conversationally. He wondered what his dad would say if he knew Hela was in his bed. He wondered what his mom and sisters would say.

Boba, of course, was sound asleep in his basket, snoring. "Swi, swi, swi... Nub nub nub. Swi, swi swi, swi."

"You know what your problem is?" Hela asked, and for a second Xiao felt like he'd done something wrong, but then he remembered that this was just Hela being Hela.

"No, but I'm sure you'll tell me," Xiao said, expecting her to smack him.

"You're impossible!" She said, almost loud enough to disturb his parents. She didn't smack him. Instead she grabbed his hand, and pulled it to her chest. "Do you even realize that..."

He instinctively pressed his hand against whatever it was, surprised. It worked out exactly as he might have suspected had he been a little faster on his feet.

"Hey! Hey! Hey!" Hela said, letting go of his hand, and swatting him across the face. "Stop that!"

"But you—" Hadn't she?

"But nothing! You don't get to do that!” She pulled away from him, wrapping her arms around herself.

"What was..." It was the wrong thing for him to say, because she tried to kill him with a pillow. She worked really hard at it, too, smacking him with the pillow over and over until she was finally too tired to keep going, and then she threw herself back onto his bed.
"You're hopeless, Xiao," she said, turning away from him. "Completely hopeless."


"Not as sorry as you should be, Asen Taijie," she murmured. And he knew he was in trouble, because that was the only reason anyone in the world called him that. And he had no idea what he'd done or why, but she seemed really upset. In the faint light coming from outside of the room, and in the close quarters of his bed, he could see her shoulders shake a little bit.

"I'm really sorry, Hela," he said, unsure of what to do. He felt bad. He wanted to make her feel better. But at least she didn't seem mad at him anymore.

"What do I have to do to make you realize I'm actually a girl," she murmured, and it sounded like she was crying, and he really had no idea why she would be crying.

"But you are," he said. "And... and..."

"And you treat me like a boy."

"But you're my best friend."

"I..." Hela choked on something. Like the sound he made when he realized he was being stupid. Which didn't make much sense. She wasn't stupid. "I know. You're... you're my best friend, Xiao."

"Then I don't get why you're upset."

"I'm just... I am a girl, you know," she said.

"Yes," Xiao agreed, because he didn't entirely understand what was happening around him and he had enough common sense to know that for some reason it was very important to Hela that he acknowledge she was a girl. "And I'm still your best friend, right?"
I..." She shook her head, and sniffled. "I'm not upset."

"Oh, good," Xiao said, happy that she was no longer upset.

"... you really are a moron, aren't you?"


"And you can be so smart sometimes."


"No. No, thank you." She sat up and turned around to look at him. "... maybe my dad's right and I'm expecting too much from you."

He tended to feel like a lot of people expected quite a bit too much from him. He knew he was very important, and he understood that. But people always seemed disappointed by him. Although his doctors had said a lot of that was just in his head.

But he had never really thought Hela could be disappointed in him, though. The thought didn't feel very real. It didn't feel like it could be true.

"I love you, Hela." He wasn't sure why he said it, but it seemed like the best thing to say in that situation.

"I love you too, Xiao," she said, and smiled at him. "You have no idea what you just said to me, do you?"

He shook his head. But he could feel her smiling. It meant that she was happy. Not disappointed. Somewhere deep inside him, he released a tension he hadn't realized was there.

"That's okay. You don't have to." She gave him a little kiss on the cheek, and snuggled down under his covers with him. He had a brief, odd thought that she wasn't wearing much of anything under there. "Put your arm around me," she ordered. "I'm going to have to get started on training you early. We may as well start now."

"Training me how?" Xiao asked.

"I'm not sure. I'll think about it while we sleep."

"But I'm not tired yet."

She drew his arm back around her, nestling against him. She was a bit larger than he was. But holding her still felt nice. It was nice to have her close, and to know she wasn't angry. "First lesson, then. I'm a girl, right?"

"Uh huh." He didn't want her to start being upset again. Or to hit him with another pillow.

"Right. That means I'm in charge. So if I say we're going to sleep now, then we're going to sleep. Understand?"

He nodded. That made sense.

"Good," she said, yawned, and pulled the covers over them both. She snuggled a little bit tighter against him and closed her eyes.

Xiao had no idea what was happening, but he understood that he was expected to go to sleep. And having her sleeping close to him was warm and comforting, and relaxing to the point that he did feel a bit sleepy.

He felt... a little strange about it, though. It wasn't a bad feeling, just a new one. He could feel Hela's heartbeat.

Girls were weird.

But if she was happy, then that meant Xiao was happy. He really did love her. He wasn't sure why that was a big deal. He loved Boba, too.

Although a glimmer of self-preservation told him that that was something he should never, ever say to Hela.

The feeling of contentment settled over him, and he relaxed, and he could tell Hela was smiling.

"I love you too, Xiao," she said again, and then she sighed, and she was asleep. And Xiao wondered, as he also drifted off to sleep, if Hela sleeping in his bed was just how his life would always be.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Sat Jun 03, 2023 4:41 pm

The Middle Kingdom was a large place, and many of its people had fled to its shores from the four corners. After all, the Dragon Throne's occupant traditionally claimed universal sovereignty. And even if, in so-called modern times, acknowledgement of the existence of the existence of some other countries was expected and required, nevertheless the Huangdi was still the legitimate ruler of the entire universe, those other countries being along the lines of 'esteemed local representatives', recognized as capable of looking after their people without the interference of the Middle Kingdom, which nevertheless officially reserved the right to interfere should it be needed.
But there were, alas, places not quite so fortunate in their rulers. And it was the official and openly stated position of the Secretariat that 'something ought to be done by somebod', and after a quiet and thoughtful pause and some tired hinting, it was frequently determined that quite frequently the pool of somebodies consisted, alas, entirely of the Middle Kingdom.

Because it was one thing to claim to rule the entire universe. Plenty of states had done so over the endless centuries, only to be crushed into the dust of history. Frequently by the Middle Kingdom, which tended to put an end to such competition in much the same way a full stop ended a sentence.

It was another thing entirely to actually mean it.

Let us borrow a few lines from a poet long-removed in space and time, merely for ease of use and as a homage.

"Your tired, please form up in an orderly queue on the left! Poor, please form up on the right! Huddled masses yearning to be free, form up along the blue line and someone will be along shortly to help you out, believe me."

This is not Huanxin's port, of course. Huanxin is a planned city. It exports people in nearly as much quantity as it does paper, and it exports quite a lot of paper.

But the Middle Kingdom is vast, and it is always hungry for men and women willing to come and work and, far more importantly, pay taxes.

How could it be otherwise? The Huangdi already ruled the universe. Everyone is already Heaven's subject, and the Huangdi is Heaven's governor. You were not immigrating to a new country, you were just moving into the demesne of the man who was already entitled to own it all.

"Wretched refuse, if you'll just line up over there... And in Heaven's name, Bai Yin, why hasn't the Officer responsible for the homeless and tempest-tossed showed up yet? We've got a quota to fill! Over here, sirs, over here!"

Which was the crux, so to speak, of the problem. Tickets were free. You still needed a ticket. And with the Secretariat having effectively collapsed into a semi-functional relic decades ago, staffing shortages and budget cuts were keeping hundreds of the Huangdi's new subjects waiting in line for, in some cases, months.

Although the Secretariat of Internal Harmony's spokesman objected to the Daily Record's characterization of the situation as a crisis. "Internal Harmony's border transit and assimilation control agency has worked tirelessly to ensure that the needs of all of the Huangdi's subjects are being met in a timely fashion."

The Daily Record's editorial columnist, who was not particularly impressed with Internal Harmony's claims, responded with a very carefully written article citing their sources, and with photographic documentation, followed up with:

but we understand that the words 'crisis', 'victims', and 'factors of your own making', are difficult to make stick to the tongue after a lifetime of spinning platitudes. So we apologize for our poor choice of wording, and hope you will accept, instead, the statement 'that the situation at the border hardly seems to meet the high standards we might expect of one of the Middle Kingdom's most venerated institutions.'

Said paper was torn apart in the hands of the newly appointed Chancellor, who the Daily Record had just informed its readers that morning had been forced, after a month of protests and uncertainty, to assume his post.

So it was hardly surprising that Meng Ailian's face was haggard as she sat in the back of a rather inconspicuous sedan. "I understand your situation, Kuanming," she said over the phone when the newest member of the cabinet finally took a breath long enough for her to break into his imprecations.

"Do you, Grand Secretary? Because when I accepted the job you told me I would be running the only part of the Secretariat that actually worked! And now I find out that however well the Watch might be working, everything else is totally falling apart!"

"It's not as bad as all—"

"I have thirty-thousand refugees in ports that have no port authority, Grand Secretary!" Kuanming shouted. "I have more posts open than I have men qualified to fill them! I am at my wit's end! If Internal Harmony is the best organized part of your Secretariat, I shudder to think what's happening elsewhere! When you cleared out the dead wood, did you have any thoughts that some of it might have been load-bearing?"

She pinched her nose. "Hold on, Kuanming. Just until the end of the season. There's a plan. Remember the plan."

"My plan didn't involve me being blamed in the newspaper for my predecessor's failings. My predecessor's failings and your poor choices!"

She sighed. "Do you want to keep your post?"

"I don't see that I have a choice," Kuanming said. She could feel him settling. "It is the duty of everyone to serve when called by the Huangdi. Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years."

"Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years," Meng Ailian answered. "We have a plan. All we need to do is wait until the summer. You know that. We've held on for centuries. We can hold on five more weeks."

"Mmm. The Banners did not have any of this nonsense, Meng Ailian. Your plans for civilian-led reform falter on the fact that so many civilians don't want to be reformed."

"Dynasties fall when they start solving civilian problems with military solutions. Our master knows this. If He, Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, thinks we are at the end of our rope, He will hang us with it. The plan, Kuanming. Stick to the plan."

Kuanming sighed. "I understand, Grand Secretary. I will remain calm. We will wait until the summer, and then we will set about fixing this mess you've made."

Meng Ailian turned off her phone. This was not going well. Hopefully her next meeting would go better.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Sat Jun 03, 2023 4:44 pm

"Father," the Turtledove Princess said, bowing at the shoulders, her hands cupped above her belly in the appropriately demure fashion. A few days with Valdr before he had departed to resume his own duties for a time had left her refreshed. Sure of herself and her place in the world.

That place being, of course, on top. And for her to be on top, other people must fall down. That was the way of things. Simple physics. For one to rise, others had to fall. Her father knew that.

"Ruxia," he said, and she saw faint wrinkles about his eyes. He was old. Well. Not as such, but he was growing older. Day by day, night by night. He grew older.

This was also the way of things. But her brother was too young to succeed him. Her father needed to rule for a long time to come. Roania was not yet ready to say farewell to a man who had given up so much for it.

She was not yet ready to say farewell to this man, her father. She would do anything he asked of her. Anything at all.

"You are not ready," he said.

It was not quite what she expected.

"I am not ready?" But dealing with that beastly woman, Meng Ailian, was killing him. By inches and by degrees. It was not fit and proper for a man so good to be served by such a charlatan. She was the answer. She knew that. She knew it like she knew water ran downhill, that grass grew from the ground, that dragons came from the sea, and that men were mortal.

"You are not ready," he said again, "to become Grand Secretary."

Her mouth opened and closed a few times, but what came out of her mouth was: "I have been studying hard. I..."

"Would you have people say I named you to the post surely because you are my daughter? Where would your ambitions be, then?"
Ruxia pursed her lips. It was something she had considered from the moment the possibility of taking the role had glittered before her like the pearl glittered before the dragon. "I would show them my merit is equal to any of those who came before me, father. I would show them that you did not call me because I am your daughter, but because I am more worthy than any of them."

He sighed.

"If I was not your daughter, would you have already appointed me?" That would be cruel, and her father was not a cruel man. Not crueler, at least, than the universe. And Ruxia knew exactly what her destiny was in that universe.

"If you were not my daughter, such opportunities as you have had might never have come to pass," he said. "It is not a good thing, Ruxia, to have more power than the people around you."

"And yet that woman continues to obstruct my path," she said.

Her father pinched his nose. "When she fails, and I think she will fail, if you still want the position it will be yours. You may try to clean up the debris. You may see what it is to be my servant and not my child. If that is truly what you wish." He looked at her with sadness. "Out of all my children, why are you the one who demands I hurt her? Lianying sings her songs. Baixin plays at soldier. Your brother... I will hurt more than anyone else, but no more than my father hurt me and only by the natural order of things. But you. You could be anything. Do anything. Why do you want to do this?"

"Because you deserve a better service than that woman has ever given you. The Middle Kingdom deserves a better steward. We have waited for this day for centuries. Do not ruin it with your mercy."

He sighed. "Ruxia..."

"She is a bad influence on my brother. She will lead to him becoming like her."

She had overplayed her hand. Her father's fingers tightened upon the carved wood of his throne. "Xiao has little interest in the business of government and less in Meng Ailian. And this is right and proper, for it is not his role and will not be his business to understand the workings of such things. But she is not the monster you try to paint her as."

"Father, I..."

"'Your Imperial Majesty'," he corrected her. And all around her she heard the Jinyiwei suddenly become alert and ready. "If you will be my servant, Asen Ruxia, then you will address me as my servant... And you will not pretend to see more than the Son of Heaven!" His voice thundered.

Her mother's anger was terrible. The Kadrian woman who bore her, Arya Fyreheart, could make the very seas tremble and the heavens shake and the world turn backwards. Men rightly feared the Lady upon the Phoenix Throne, and Ruxia feared her mother with the good sense that had kept her alive, and in position, for so long.

She had somehow forgotten that her father was the Emperor.


To suddenly be spoken to by her father as if she was a penitent begging him to turn aside his decree, however, was like suddenly being turned upon by a dog that had only ever been gentle. It left her speechless and frozen on the spot.

"Forgive me, sir," she whispered. He raised an eyebrow.

For the very first time in her life, Ruxia fell to her knees, then threw her hands before her, kowtowing like the lowliest beggar in the street. "Your Imperial Majesty the Emperor is quite right. Forgive my presumptuousness." He said nothing. And she counted her kowtows. Five, six, seven... Only when her head touched the floor the eighth time did she feel his hand on her back and know she had been forgiven, but she still pressed her forehead down the full ninth time.

She did not cry, however. She had asked him to treat her as a servant, not a daughter. To cry would be to pretend he had not given her exactly what she wanted.

"Enough. Your mother will yell at me when she learns of this, and yell at you for provoking me. I think we may do without her anger, future Grand Secretary the Turtledove Princess."

Ruxia rose slowly, cautiously. "I spoke out of turn. But it does not mean that she deserved the trust you show her, even if she is not the fool and monster I see."

"Careful, Ruxia. If you call into question too many of her thoughts, the thought that led her to appoint you to your current position will also be called into question. Is this your gratitude?" But he was tired.

"I serve you. Not a woman's ambitions. My gratitude is that I am in a position to be of use. But..."

"She will fail. Even if she succeeds, she will be dismissed. You will have your precious seal in time. And we will see, Asen Ruxia, if you can live up to the challenges you seem not to see." Her father rapped his knuckles upon the throne. "We will see if you measure up to the standards I will have for you. I am not my father, Ruxia, and you are not Xiao. Your little brother has no choice in what his future holds. You choose to do this, and I will hold you to the standards of your ambition."

"I... I am honored to hear you say that, sir," she said. "And I thank you for your trust in me. I will not fail you."

"But perhaps you will." He leaned forward. "So understand this. If you fail me, your mother will not protect you. Your sisters will not save you. Your brother will ask for your salvation in vain. I will treat you exactly as you ask me to treat Meng Ailian." His eyes, grey as they already were, became pools of ice. "Starting from now. Do. You. Understand. Me.”

Ruxia swallowed, her tongue thick and full. "Starting from now?"

"I am going to forget your backstabbing. Your conniving. Your attempt at filling my head with thoughts that you are better than the woman you wish to replace. I am going to forget all of it, Asen Ruxia. From now on. I will judge you from this point forward. I will see how you serve your Grand Secretary, Asen Ruxia... And when you take the job, when you fail as you say she has, do not think I will hold my anger in check. Do you understand me?"

She knelt again. "Yes." She felt the weight of his attention upon her. It was terrifying. And the only thing that saved her was the fact that it was the kind of fear that made you do better.

He rose to his feet. "So many people want me to do things. It is tiring to argue. I am going to start giving people what they want. Now, come. Your mother may as well have the opportunity to learn of this afternoon's work now while she's working, rather than later, while she rests. But do not think she will save you, Ruxia. Do you understand me?"

And Ruxia knew that while her mother might not approve of her father's anger, she was equally unlikely to disagree with him. Not about this. But she had made her choice. She had made it long ago.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Sat Jun 03, 2023 4:46 pm

"Nmmr think Nmmr not sure about this," the black-and-white Nmmr who served as one of the five or six Nmmr who was the Postmaster General, a post they usually shared so as to limit the amount of work that could fall on one person's shoulders, said. "This... Not happy with this."

Nmmr scratched idly at an ear, and stared out the window. The sky was blue. It was a nice day. There was a sunbeam on the floor calling Nmmr's name.

"But it makes sense. You know it makes sense." That noisy woman who Nmmr thought was the Grand Secretary (honestly, they all looked alike to Nmmr) was always so annoying. But also very smart. They had a point. It did make sense.

"Nmmr... Thinking it might make sense to Nmmr, but risky. Very risky." Nmmr's ancestors knew all about risk. They hunted great prey on the steppes of their homeworld, Nmmr, putting life and whiskers at risk.

Nmmr preferred to live Nmmr's life with as little risk as possible. Nmmr's food came in a little basket with nice cloth napkins. Nmmr didn't see a point in taking unnecessary risks. And Nmmr didn't understand why so much noise was being made. Nmmr got on with Nmmr's job, which as Nmmr understood it was mostly about telling other Nmmr how to move pieces of paper around the Middle Kingdom.

But Nmmr had agreed to help , so Nmmr would do Nmmr's part. "Just to be bringing these envelopes? To every Nmmr?" That was their job. The other Postmasters General had agreed. And Nmmr did Nmmr's job, no matter that it made Nmmr a little bit unhappy.

"Yes," the Grand Secretary said, and then started to talk about something or other Nmmr really didn't understand.

And Nmmr wished Nmmr's desk was just slightly closer to the sunbeam on the floor.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Sat Jun 03, 2023 5:54 pm

Even a genius knows there are some things in which to have patience.

For example, in general it is considered to be a bad idea to tell the Crown Prince that he is not quite up to his full potential. While the current Taizi was not necessarily the brightest youth ever to be a future Huangdi (Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!), he was far from a fool. His slowness was of a mind that sought to understand everything in its fullness before acting, the slowness that either portended genius or just someone aware of their own intellectual limitations and working their hardest to make sure they were never caught up short.

"I don't understand," he said for possibly the seventh time. In anyone else, and to anyone else, this lack of understanding would have been dismissed as willful. Unfortunately, you could not simply dismiss the future Son of Heaven. If he wanted you to keep explaining things over and over again, it did not matter whether he understood or didn't. What mattered was that it was what he wanted.

"It's..." the words 'very simple' flickered on the instructor's tongue, and died an undignified death. The Jinyiwei who accompanied the Taizi everywhere did not loom over the classroom. You could allow yourself to forget they were there. By now, most of the children had. Even the teacher had.

But telling the Taizi that something was very simple was far too close to calling him a fool. And while he took such things in his patient stride, there was the terrible risk that word would go to someone who lacked Asen Taijie's level of patience.

"I don't understand," the boy said once again, staring out the window. It was a nice day.

"Well..." honestly, it was starting to feel to the instructor that he didn't understand, either. There is a certain trick, where you repeat some things so often they lose all their meaning. This math problem was now well past such a point. And despite the Taizi having a very good grasp of numbers, he seemed to have lost track.

"Well?" The boy asked again, still staring out the window.

"Swi," pointed out the boy's pet from its place on his desk, nudging at the calculator that had been abandoned.

"It's..." And a dozen other children were looking at him, and the teacher felt for the first time as if he had actually no idea what he was talking about. Like he was a fraud who should never have been allowed into a classroom.

"How about we look at it from another perspective. All these abstract numbers aren't the best way to learn mathematics, I think. I think we can get to the point far more readily if we are looking at things directly, face to face," he said. That much should have been obvious to anyone.

The Taizi nodded, as the instructor had known that he would. The boy looked at his calculator, and gave a shrug.

"Nub, nub, nub," the swinub (he thought the creature's name was Boba?) said.

Whatever it meant, and the teacher wasn't sure it meant anything, the Taizi nodded and sighed, looking up at the teacher and giving a warm smile. "I think that might be very helpful."

"You see, while we're working with such small numbers, I can see why so many of you wouldn't be sure why we'd bother." The Instructor was warming to his subject. "For instance, ten squared is one hundred. We may as well just say that, yes? Ten squared, or ten times ten. But when we're calculating very, very large numbers, it becomes so much easier to use notation. We learn how to do things when they're easy, so we're prepared when things get hard. Do you understand?"

There was some murmuring from the students. He had them back. And it would be little shy of treasonous to describe the Crown Prince's usual expression as bucolic. He'd taught the boy for long enough to know there was an intellect behind those dark eyes. But it was rare that there was a hint of anything other than placid patience. There was now, however, almost a hint of interest.

"Honestly, Xiao," the girl, Hela, who sat next to the Crown Prince said. "You're being very difficult."

If anyone else had said that, if the teacher had said that, the Jinyiwei would have taken out their notebooks and written very serious notes to remind themselves to look that person up later, and very stern men would probably come to that person's home in the middle of the night, and what would happen to them at that point was something the instructor really didn't want to think about.

With or without the Taizi's intervention. Some things were just how things went.

But when Hela said it, the boy ducked his head, a faint blush coloring cheeks that were usually somewhat paler than those of the other boys, and the men with their rifles and their notebooks let out a little chuckle. It didn't seem quite fair, but life wasn't fair. "I might be wrong," he admitted.

"No, I think the honorable Crown Prince is right," one of the other students said. "Although I would say he's even more right for the rest of us. Why are we learning this at all? It's not like it's going to be on the Examinations, and that's all that matters." The student didn't say this in an air of anger, just of frustration. "We could be the best at maths in the universe, and it won't matter. None of this really matters, does it? All we're doing in school is letting our parents spend the day not worrying about us, because all that's going to matter is whether or not we can write a stupid poem about a falling leaf or something."

That was how students spoke. It was just the way that people spoke in the Middle Kingdom. And it was very hard on the teacher, who did not know what to say, because it was exactly true.

And it was very hard on Asen Taijie, who blinked a little, and opened his mouth to speak up, and then closed it, as if he was acutely aware of the unfairness of his situation.

"Begging the Crown Prince's pardon, but at least you have a job," said one of the other students. "You know what your future's going to be. But our parents are the best of the best, saving only your father..."

And they all chorused instinctively, along with the Jinyiwei and the teacher, "Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!"

"And yet it doesn't really matter. It doesn't matter how well we do in school. It doesn't matter who our parents are, except that they can afford to pay our sage's fees. All that's going to matter in the end is how we do on our exams, and the exams don't have anything to do with anything!"

And much to the teacher's horror, that child started to cry. And then things got even worse as those tears spread across the room, until every child there except Hela and the Taizi was sobbing. Which would be bad enough, but there was a certain pallor gathering in the Taizi's face that the teacher knew meant nothing good.

His other students were, yes, important to him. He was a teacher. He thought he was a good teacher. But this student was Important. And he saw the boy's fingers tighten into the wood of his desk, and watched the swinub begin to nudge at those hands which were beginning to shake.

This was bad.

The Jinyiwei were getting out their notebooks.

That was worse.

No, only two of them were getting out their notebooks. The others were reaching to their holsters.

This was going to be a disaster.

And then, for the first time in his life, Asen Taijie shouted at another student.

"Shut up!"

The crying stopped. It was like when they'd gone to the zoo, and the funny apes had suddenly started shrieking and baring teeth like little daggers and tearing rubber toys to pieces as if their lives depended on it.

The Crown Prince, this Crown Prince, did not shout. It was just not a thing that happened. His placid temperament usually elided his emotions so thoroughly that the only time he seemed truly passionate was when he was talking about Hela or Boba, both of whom were looking at him as if he had grown an extra head.

The Jinyiwei seemed as surprised as everyone else, although now their pistols were up. Just because it hadn't happened yet did not mean that any of them wanted to be slow to obey should the Crown Prince's sudden anger turn into something far worse.

But his fury had vanished as soon as he had spoken. And his face was now once again placid. If you hadn't seen what you had seen, you would have assumed he was still just staring out the window. "Thank you," he said. The pallor began to dissipate. His hands stopped their shaking. A little breath. Then another. "This is what is expected of us. We are children. We go to school. We learn. If the Examinations are broken, then that is for others to consider. I will... I will tell my father."

The words 'I will tell my father' would have meant nothing from anyone else. But from this boy, they rippled out not like a stone had been thrown in a pond but like an asteroid had fallen into an ocean, and now an extinction event was visible over the horizon.
Even the Jinyiwei were murmuring prayers under their breath. But they had holstered their service weapons, and stood at attention.

"Nub nub," Boba added, as if nothing had happened.

"Yes," The Taizi said, staring both out the window and at something only he could see. "It is true. This is unjust. My fate is... sealed." And there was a quiver in his voice. "But it is not fair. And this is not the unfairness of Heaven, but of men." He picked up the Swinub, stroking Boba's blue fur with slow, careful strokes. "And what is the point of any of it, if the unfairness of men cannot be changed?"

It was possibly the longest chain of thoughts the teacher thought he had ever heard from Asen Taijie. There were the words, yes, but there were also the thoughts behind them.

There was a way to say things, and there was the way that someone with the weight of a future Emperor felt that they needed to be said.

And then he shook his head, and gave a shy smile, blushing. "Um... that is to say, I think if you explained this arithmetic one more time, honorable teacher, I think I'll be able to understand."

For a moment, the teacher was numb.

Then he nearly wept.

"I'd be delighted to, Your Imperial Highness," he said. And with the equanimity of a man who had not just felt the very world shake around him, he pointed to Hela Blackthorn. "Young Miss Blackthorn, if you will come up to the whiteboard and bring your textbook with you? I know you got this problem. Maybe your fellow students will understand it better if you show them."

Hela Blackthorn, who was the reason the instructor had never thought the Taizi to have a temper, gave a wide grin, and came to her feet. "Yes, teacher!"
Last edited by Roania on Sat Jun 03, 2023 5:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Sun Jun 04, 2023 12:39 am

"Ailian," the woman on the phone said, "I want you to know that I love you dearly. You are my best friend. I owe my position to you. And I support you with everything I've got."

Meng Ailian sighed. Here it came.

"So I want you to understand that I mean it with no insult when I ask if you have lost your mind? Have you been possessed by imps? Are there fox spirits in your bed?"

Ailian rubbed her hand through her hair. "Will it make you feel better, Zhi-Ruo, if I tell you that you are the second person to ask me if I've gone insane?"

"Sure!" Zhan Zhi-Ruo, former Great Secretary of Internal Harmony and current Treasurer said, quite brightly. "Unless the other person was His Imperial Majesty. Was it the Lord of Ten Thousand Years who asked you if you were crazy?" Zhan Zhi-Ruo's voice caught. "Oh, Meng Ailian. Please don't tell me the Huangdi, Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, was the person who thinks you're crazy."

"I can... not tell you that?" Meng Ailian said, tugging an ear and contemplating the possibility that imps were indeed whispering in her ear. Zhi-Ruo cursed. Volubly. Loudly. Then threw her phone at something. Then picked it up and threw it again, cursing the whole time. The Grand Secretary sighed and waited for her friend to calm down. "If it helps, He decided that I wasn't actually crazy."

"How much did you give away?" Zhi-Ruo asked.

"I didn't have to give away anything," Meng Ailian murmured. "He knew it all. Had the paperwork in front of him. Read it all off."

"We're all going to die," Zhi-Ruo said. "He's going to have us all beheaded. I can't be beheaded, Ailian! I'm pregnant! He's going to wait for me to give birth, and then he's going to have me beheaded!"

"He's not going to have you beheaded," the Grand Secretary assured her.

"Can you promise me that His Imperial Majesty isn't going to have me beheaded? Because I think I would like to believe you. Very much."

"I can't promise that. But I don't think you're going to be beheaded." If nothing else, having them all beheaded all at once would give the game away. The Huangdi, Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, would probably keep some of them around. So that on a rainy day he could decide to make himself smile by sticking a fresh head on a pike and hanging it over the city gate as an example for whoever was at the bottom of all this. "We just need to stick to the plan, Zhi-Ruo. We have a plan. We need to stick to it."

"Your plan is what's going to get us all killed, Ailian. He's going to have you killed, and then have me killed because I'm your best friend. The only person in the cabinet right now he's not going to kill is the Princess, and she's his daughter. His wife isn't going to keep us alive! She hates us!"

"She doesn't hate us," Meng Ailian said in her most soothing tone of voice. "If she hated us, I'm pretty sure we'd already be dead. Or toads, or something."

"Why did I agree to be made Treasurer?" Zhan Zhi-Ruo moaned, with a note of purest self-pity, and Meng Ailian, who had asked her best friend the very same thing a month earlier, decided it would be best to let it go. "I can't even balance my own books."

"Shhh. You're doing the job very well. All you need to do is keep them loyal. Keep them on their toes. And keep track of their comings and goings. You were a Watch officer. You're good at that. Use your suspicious little mind. We're doing Heaven's work, Zhi-Ruo. Trust me."

"They're not going to like this," Zhan Zhi-Ruo murmured. "They know something's up."

"Would it help if I told you the Huangdi approves of my plan?" That wasn't entirely true. The Lord of Ten Thousand Years hadn't approved of her plan. He'd just said that He wouldn't interfere. Which was close to the same thing, and in fact far more helpful.

"Would it? I've been struggling with this for weeks now, Ailian. My head is full of numbers and I have no idea why I can't balance them right."

"Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. Your job isn't to balance them. It's to make sure they're balancing them. Make sure the money is available for my plan. Once it goes through, everything is going to be well. We can retire with our heads held high."

"Assuming the Closed Party doesn't put us on sticks and parade us around Huanxin," Zhan Zhi-Ruo said. "And they might do that, you know. They might be mad enough."

"Zhi-Ruo. Trust me. I've done this before."

"And look how well that worked out!"

"We survived," Meng Ailian said. Although that had been more by luck than judgement.

"Have you even told anyone else your plan? Nmmr spoke to me. I don't know which Nmmr it was. But does Kuanming know? Does Princess Ruxia know? ... does anyone else know?"

"Once I've got everything ready for summer, I'll tell Ruxia and Kuanming. None of the others really matter. But until then, the fewer people that know, the better. Trust me."

"I'm just... I'm so tired, Ailian. The Banners, they were a disaster."

"We won, Zhi-Ruo. That's what matters." It wasn't that big a disaster, even if it had precipitated this crisis. But someone had once told her that every disaster was an opportunity. This was an opportunity to go down in history. And it would work out. That was what would matter. That was what would go down in the history books. None of this fear, none of this uncertainty, none of this would be remembered.
It was all going to work out for the best. The Huangdi would see.

"We won," Zhan Zhi-Ruo said, after a long pause.

"Zhan Zhi-Ruo, remember this. Because of our work, we now live in a realm where every girl grows up to know she can be anything she wants to be. We gave them the tools to shape the world. That is a very great thing. That is why we're being treated like this."

There was a deep, heavy sigh on the other end of the line.

"Your daughter, if you have a daughter, will grow up free. Free of a prison that was being held in place not because anyone really believed in it, but because they couldn't envision another world. They were afraid. And your son, if you have a son, will be free of that fear. We've done something great. And this is the opportunity to build upon that success. Not just for women, but for all of us."

Zhan Zhi-Ruo hesitated. "Nnnhh..." Did a passable Nmmr impression. "Nnnhhhmmm. Hmm." And then another sigh, slightly lighter. "Yes."

"So. We're going to stick to the plan?"

Zhan Zhi-Ruo let out a third sigh. "We stick to the plan. You're right. This is the opportunity. We'd be fools not to take it." Then the Treasurer let out another, deeper sigh. "But I wish you could have found a more sensible way. Is a big surprise really the only way to get this done?"

"They're going to fight it tooth-and-nail, especially because they lose the moment it happens. We can't give them any opportunity to resist. This is the only solution."

"...I still think you're crazy," Zhan Zhi-Ruo said, and hung up.
Last edited by Roania on Fri Jun 09, 2023 10:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Sun Jun 04, 2023 1:06 pm

"Nmmr wants to know. Nnnhhh... Nmmr wants to know if Nmmr have that money yet. The money from the Banners."

"Nmmr not sure. Nmmr was supposed to handle that. Nmmr?"

The other Nmmr all looked at Nmmr, who looked down at Nmmr's paws, extending and retracting Nmmr's claws as if Nmmr was wishing Nmmr could claw the world apart. Finally, Nmmr said, "Nmmr spoke to Nmmr. Nmmr said was big noise at Chief of Staff about it. Wants bulk discount."

"Nmmr knows Nmmr already giving Banners government discount, doesn't Nmmr?" Nmmr said, letting out a sound like steam escaping a kettle.

"Nmmr told Nmmr that! Nmmr told Nmmr that should come from Banners budget. No more discount. But Nmmr not sure now."

"Nnnhhh... Nnnhhhh..." Nmmr said, scratching and scrambling at the floor with Nmmr's paws. "Nmmr does not think this fair to Nmmr. This contract big, but Nmmr on hook."

The five Nmmr may have sounded ineloquent, but their tails were telling quite a different story. As they lounged about the table discussing the contretemps with the military, they were simultaneously having another discussion at a higher level

Unfortunately, being as they were cats, that discussion was largely about fishies going into tummies, but it was a very beautiful and elegant way of doing it.

"Nmmr will talk to Nmmr." The Nmmr in the middle said, shaking Nmmr's head, then licking Nmmr's paw and brushing back Nmmr's fur. "But Nmmr asking Nmmr, how long have Nmmr been having meeting?"

Nmmr checked Nmmr's phone. It had been twenty minutes.

"Nmmr motion Nmmr break for rest of morning. Nmmr told Nmmr ladybugs were in garden. Motion to go look for ladybugs."

The motion carried unanimously.
Last edited by Roania on Sun Jun 04, 2023 1:11 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Wed Jun 07, 2023 1:40 pm

Ruxia stared at Meng Ailian for the longest time. It was an uncomfortable silence in which the Grand Secretary knew that her Secretary of Foreign Affairs was imagining her slowly being torn apart by crabs while on fire.

Ruxia stared at Meng Ailian. "My father is going to be here in a few hours."

Meng Ailian nodded.

"My father, as you know, is the Emperor of the Civilization."

"Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years," Meng Ailian said, as was her duty.

"My father, who is the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom, does not leave the Closed City. He has not left the Closed City in decades. That is not what Emperors do, Meng Ailian. I don't know why I have to tell you this, because you should know this better than anyone." Ruxia pinched her nose between two delicate fingers that were, of course, unpainted. Or at least had been polished and painted to look unpainted. "I'm going to guess that you are expecting me to demand we delay this."

"No, I expect you to cheerfully acquiesce because you want my job and if this goes horribly wrong it will be one more reason for the Lord of Ten Thousand Years to fire me." Meng Ailian said it out loud, and then realized she had said it out loud, and clapped a hand over her mouth.

Ruxia let out a long-suffering sigh, and leaned back in the chair she was sitting on. It was not a comfortable chair, which she liked. Comfortable chairs led to complacency. Uncomfortable chairs made you focus on your responsibilities. "I am going to run down a list of things that are about to happen because you told my father he must be present for whatever it is you're planning on doing at this idiot meeting you've scheduled for tonight. You may tell me if you disagree. I will then tell you you are a fool and a fraud who has damaged the institutional prestige of your office like no one else in history. That's how the next ten minutes are going to play out. Do you understand? I'm asking because I actually don't know anymore if there's anything in your head but dust and cobwebs."

"I can imagine," Meng Ailian said. "But if you would like to enlighten me, I am listening."

"Approximately thirty minutes from now the bridges between Huanxin and the Closed City will be shut down for vehicular traffic as the Jinyiwei establish a cordon. Buildings along the route from the Palace to this office block will be closed, probably by force. Armed men from the Banners will take the place of the Watch at most posts. Thousands of people, millions of people, will lose their livelihoods for the day. Planes and shuttles and boats will be forced into port as the Banners roll out heavy weapons to secure my father's safety. You are throwing the lives of millions into chaos here in Huanxin alone, and hundreds of millions more across the region. Do you understand what you have done?!"

The Grand Secretary took a breath. Her subordinate's words had been strikingly accurate. It was almost a relief to realize she wasn't alone in her understanding of the depth of the disaster she had invited upon the empire.

But if she admitted that, then she would have to admit this was a disaster. "You'll understand this evening at the meeting, Princess Ruxia. You will. I promise. You know what my promises are worth. It will all make sense. I cannot claim it will all be worthwhile tonight, but it will be worthwhile down the line a little."

"Down the line a little there will be substantial changes," the princess said in a harsh tone that made the words sound like a threat. "Diplomats have come to our doorstep. Do you know why?"

"I hope I do. I think." Meng Ailian said. "But you'll handle them. It's all going to be well. As the Master says, pain is a journey to something greater."

Asen Ruxia turned her head so that Meng Ailian could see only the edge of her eyes. "Master?"
"Haven't heard that one before?"

"I'm just amazed you're quoting the classics at me, second level graduate Meng Ailian," the younger woman said, her shoulders slumping.

"You'll have to excuse me for my family not having the time and resources for me to take my third examination, Princess," Meng Ailian finally did raise her voice. "The time, the resources, and the power to force someone to take me on as a student. Not everyone gets to start with every advantage in life! Some of us are required to make do with what we have!"

"Are you... yelling at me?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Princess Ruxia. I had no idea that such a sensitive soul such as yourself could not stand to be spoken to in the very same tone of voice in which you have used in every meeting we've had since your appointment to speak down to me as if I were a piece of furniture!"

"You are..." the Princess started, but Meng Ailian was on a roll now.

"A very touchy child! What am I supposed to do, Princess? I thought, when I asked you to come back to work on this post, we were on the same side! We both wanted to make the Middle Kingdom into something new. Something better."

"I never..."

"It's starting to feel like you'd gladly see the entirety of civilization collapse around my ears just because I would get the blame! Just so you can pick up the pieces! Just because you, third-level, gold feather, graduate Asen Ruxia, who already has everything a woman, a person, can want... So you can have a shiny new title to go on the list of achievements you're going to have your descendants recite as they burn incense in your name!"

Meng's breath was coming in fits and starts. The Princess was staring at her.

But Meng wasn't finished yet. "Not because you didn't work for them. Because you did. You worked hard. But you only got half the opportunities you did because of your father. Lots of people work hard every day, some of them almost as hard as you, some of them harder, only for it to mean nothing, Princess! And that may be the way the world is. But don't you dare, just don't you dare, make me a part of that injustice!"


The Grand Secretary shook her head and rose to her feet. "...yes. Your father the Emperor, Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, will be coming across the river to the cabinet meeting tonight. It will make sense at the time. Yes. People will suffer." She took a deep and shuddering breath. "Everyone suffers. Your father once threatened to kill me in ways no one has died in centuries, and told me that my death would at least be meaningful. And I would have deserved it. Their suffering will be meaningful, too. I cannot make them feel that way, though I can hope and pray that they will one day understand."

"You..." the princess started again, then swallowed whatever words had been about to come out of her mouth.

"If you have anything else to say, Princess, I suggest you talk to your father about it." Meng Ailian sighed. "After all, in a few weeks you'll have this job. You may as well get used to not having me around to blame and complain about. I will see you at our meeting, Princess."

Then she walked out the door without another word.
Last edited by Roania on Fri Jun 09, 2023 10:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Wed Jun 07, 2023 7:53 pm

"I cannot believe I agreed to do this," his father was saying as his mother helped him into his full formal robes.

"But you know why she asked," his mother said. "Honestly, Faren, you wear these things so rarely. Why are they always stained with food?"

"They're not," he lied.

"Here." She reached over and rubbed at the stain with her thumb. "There. It's gone now."

Xiao didn't understand what was going on. He sat there. Hela had helped him into his own formal robes, and his mother had approved, and now he waited with Boba, who was wriggling under his arm. Once more someone had suggested that Boba not come with him. That someone was now, according to his mother, sweeping out the left pavilion's stables.

Xiao wasn't sure he understood what that meant, but he hoped it wasn't anything too bad.

"Honestly, Arya, I don't know why we're putting up with this," his father said with a very tired sigh, the sort of sigh that made Xiao worry his father was sick. Although the last time he had asked if his father was sick, his father had looked at him quite seriously and said that yes, but it was an illness only adults could get, and he was going to live a long happy life before then. Xiao's father had gone on to tell him how happy he and his mother were that he didn't understand that at all.

"You agreed to help Meng Ailian," his mother said. "She needs your support. You know what will happen if you're not there."

"Just because I know what will happen doesn't mean I have to put myself out to prevent it," his father said, rubbing his forehead in the way he always did when the Grand Secretary was mentioned. "But yes. Yes, you're right."

"Let this be a lesson to you, Xiao," his mother said. "Your wife is always right. Even when she's wrong."

Hela had spent a fair bit of time last night explaining this to him. Not that he had needed it explained to him. Hela was obviously right. Data to the contrary could be examined as and when appropriate.

Although he wasn't sure he understood why his father, when finding Hela sitting on his bed that morning, had gone that funny red color. Or why Hela, when she realized he hadn't understood, had decided to hit him with the pillow and stalked off.

Apparently they weren't supposed to sleep in the same bed until they were older. Everyone said it, so it was true. But if it was true, then why had she started sleeping in his bed again last night? She had just looked at him with those big blue eyes and asked him if he minded.
He didn't. Although, as he understood things, in this new world of young adulthood, a boy his age was supposed to be sleeping alone. At least for a few more years.

"Swi," Boba said, giving up on trying to escape.

"You aren't allowed to not go with me," Xiao told Boba.

It was not that he didn't understand that it just wasn't how things were done. But there seemed to be a disconnect between how things were done, and how things were actually done. His mother and father, for instance, would reminisce about spending nights together in school. Well, he was in school.

There was probably some context there he was missing, but it felt like the kind of thing he was expected to already understand, and so he didn't want to ask questions that would make him sound like an idiot.

Maybe it had something to do with his dad going to Kadria to meet his mom?

He had been to Kadria, once. That was where he had found Boba. Or Boba had found him. He took the blue Swinub out of his arm and looked him in two half-closed eyes, Boba wriggled a bit more. "Stay." He instructed.

Boba flopped, and Xiao put him in his lap.

Apparently Meng Ailian was in trouble. That didn't seem fair. She'd not done anything wrong. Not really. Sure, she'd gotten him to do that awful thing once, but he had agreed to do it. That wasn't her fault. But now it sounded like people were just angry at her just because she was herself.

Even elder sister Ruxia hated Meng Ailian. They'd talked briefly today. Their talks were always brief. Ruxia was so much older than he was. You couldn't talk too long or she'd be cross with you. But if she was cross with someone else, then that was okay.

But she really did hate Meng Ailian. "I am looking forward to having that women publicly degraded in the most imaginative way I can find," she had said to their father. "And I am quite imaginative."

"But not imaginative enough to forgive," their father had said, and Ruxia had gotten that angry red color in her cheeks that he knew meant she hadn't wanted to hear that. And then they didn't speak to each other for a very long time.

"We just worry about you," their mother had said, in a very soft voice. She sounded very nearly as tired in that moment as their father spent most of his time sounding. "You can do anything you want. Why are you doing something that is making you so unhappy? You don't have to do this."

"It's only okay to have someone do this work if they have no choice?" Ruxia had said, her voice rising until she almost sounded like Elder Sister Lianying. In Elder Sister Lianying, that sound was because she was excited. In Ruxia, it meant that she was angry. "I choose to do this because I want to do this! Is it so hard to understand that someone might choose to do this? It's okay to force grandfather, to force you, to force my little brother, into this... but someone else wanting to take on some of the work is too much to comprehend?"

Their father had put a hand over his eyes and looked away. "No, number two daughter. And it amazes me how a woman as bright as you continues to choose not to understand."

"And it amazes me how my parents, two of the smartest people I have ever met, choose not to understand me!" And she had hung up the phone with such force that XIao heard its slam against his nerves.

His father was leaning his head upon his mother's now, and she was holding his shoulders, the two of them involved in some deep communion that seemed entirely detached from anything going on. "This is a mistake, Arya," his father finally said.

"But you decided to let Meng do this anyway, Faren," his mother said. "So it's probably best if you don't have an opinion on it, hmmmm?"

His father laughed. It was not the laugh Xiao was used to. This was one that seemed to be very far away. "Just because it's a mistake doesn't mean it isn't necessary... but just because it's necessary doesn't mean it isn't a mistake."

"Circular reasoning, Faren," Arya murmured. "No wonder you flunked out of that class at school."

"If someone hadn't been keeping me awake half the night I would have done better in that class," his father muttered. And his hand moved to his mother's side.

"Who was keeping you awake half the night, father?" Xiao asked, interested enough to remind them he was there.

"Oh. Never mind, number one son," his father said, taking his hand off his mother's body as if it had been burned. "Your mother just had a very... unusual approach to studying back then. I'm sure someday you'll understand."


"You'll understand sooner than you think, considering how we found Hela in your bed again this morning," Xiao's mother said, looking at him as if she was angry but not sounding as if she was angry.

Xiao didn't understand that either. If she was angry, his mother was more than capable of doing something about it. They could have Hela sent out of the palace, for one thing. He and Hela had overheard his parents talking to the Blackthorns about it, and her parents had just laughed about... something.

And Hela didn't seem too sure what was funny, either. She knew more than Xiao did about all of this, he knew that much. But he wasn't sure she knew as much as she liked to think she did.

But here his mother was just looking at him in that way she had. Not even talking about it. He wasn't going to be a boy forever, he knew that much. He opened his mouth to finally ask a question... but as usual, it was stopped. It was probably not a very important question.

"Enough," his father said, in that very rare way he did when he actually meant it. "We don't have time to tease our son. Not if the two of us want to get to the Secretariat's office building and back without crashing the economy of civilization." He rubbed his forehead again. "But the moment I order her out of office, Ruxia will demand the post. And that..."

"You can't protect our children from their own choices forever," his mother said with a very tired sigh. "She wants to help. She wants to make things better. Your life easier." And his mother lowered her voice in the way that made Xiao know they were talking about him, "his life easier."

"I know," his father said with a sigh. "And I understand. You have no idea how much I understand."

"No. I know exactly how much you understand. Because I married you before this started. And you said the same thing about your father."

"My father was a fool. My father was always a fool. You only knew him after the death of my mother. But he was just as much a fool before. My grandfather saw to that." And there was venom in his father's voice that only rarely ever came out, usually when he spoke of his predecessors. "I thought... I really did think things would be better if I made sure they could follow their own path. But it is hard to see a long road from here to there."

"Our children are happy. That doesn't count for nothing. And Ruxia wants to help." His mother caressed her father's cheek, and leaned up to kiss him. "Let her help. Don't threaten her. Don't turn into your grandfather. Be yourself. Be the man I married. You gave Meng Ailian more chances. You can do the same for Ruxia, even if she doesn't want them." She paused, looking into his eyes. "Let her do this. She's right. If she wasn't your daughter, she would already be Grand Secretary. You are making excuses. You are punishing her. You are punishing Meng Ailian. Let this go. Let her make her own choices. She is a grown woman."

"She is our child," his father said, in that half-whine that meant he was on the verge of crying.

"She is our daughter," his mother said. "And I'm so proud of her. She wants to help. We raised her well." And there was a little smile on Xiao's mother's face that made her look even prettier than Hela, not that he would ever admit that to his friend. "We raised them all well."

"That's not what you say when you watch Lianying on stage," his father said in the tired sigh that now meant he knew he was beaten.

"I have never once said I am not proud of Lianying. I said I disagree with her choices. But it is you, Asen Faren, who made the choice that turned her choices into an issue." His father opened his mouth. His mother held up a finger. "Don't argue. You won't win. Not just because I'm your wife, but because I'm right." And she put her hands gently on his face once more. "I love our daughters. I am proud of all of them. And I love our son. And I am proud of him."

And then his mother kissed his father. It didn't look much like when Hela kissed him, Xiao thought. But something told him if, after years of marriage, Hela was still kissing him like that then he was probably going to be in very good hands. And he was happy about that.

"And I am proud of you, Faren." His mother kissed his father a second time. "Go out there. Save that damn fool woman from her own poor luck. Do the right thing. Be the man who told my father that if he didn't approve our marriage he'd kidnap me."

"An easy thing to do when your father wanted me to marry you. Your people have such strange rituals sometimes."

His mother smiled at his father, the love on her face so obvious that Xiao wondered why her parents didn't talk like this all the time. "Our people. You can do this. You're just putting it off. Get to work."

"Our people," his father agreed. And he squeezed her hands. "Til Stalgardr, min svass?"

Xiao's mother smiled. It was an odd thing. She had said the words before, and he had heard them. And they always made him feel good, but now they made him feel better than he ever had. "Til Stalgardr, elskan min."

And then his father was moving, grabbing him by the hand and shouting like the force of nature he was. "Where are my palanquin bearers? We have a meeting to get to! Officers of the Jinyiwei, if you are not attending me and my son in fifteen seconds I will have your jobs given to randomly chosen members of the Banners!"

His father didn't need to look back, but Xiao did, just in case. But no, he was right. His mother was watching them both go, with the brightest smile he had ever seen on her.
Last edited by Roania on Fri Jun 09, 2023 10:56 am, edited 1 time in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Fri Jun 09, 2023 12:44 pm

Once upon a time, the entire government of the Middle Kingdom had been contained within the walls of the Closed City. It was just the most efficient and logical place for it. But as the Secretariat had expanded, it had become increasingly inconvenient for hundreds of thousands of people to undergo the security procedures at the two bridges between Huanxin and the fortress to its east. Inconvenient, and on one case incredibly devastating when an ancient security fail-deadly that had gone unmaintained for centuries triggered and sent thousands of unawares mandarins screaming into the river Yah below, where they had all drowned in silty water before anyone could even begin to understand what had happened.

The newly rebuilt bridges contained no such mechanisms, at least officially. But the Jinyiwei at the time had refused to relax their scanning procedures for admission, and the then Huangdi sided with them over His civilian servants. It was, after all, His home. They were His guests and slaves. They were obliged to tolerate such steps as were necessary for His safety. The fact that subsequently He was murdered by the Jinyiwei captain in favor of His son did not make Him any less correct, although it did make Him a bit clueless as to where the Jinyiwei might be drawing its lines.

If the death of thousands of mandarins in a stupid accident was not a sign of the Mandate of Heaven wavering in its approval, after all, then it had been rather difficult to find an example of one.

Still, the Secretariat had long outgrown its place in the Closed City. And so, in the centuries and millennia since, it had been located in the city of Huanxin itself. Specifically, here in Secretariat City, a warren of stone and brick and steel and glass that had once been a park and was now the beating heart of civilization — though money and comfort indicated there was still a substantially park-like section within.

Around it, Huanxin (which until then had still largely been the sleepy harbor town it had been when the second dynasty had chosen it for its capital) had suddenly overfilled its own boundaries. The Secretariat, in its own place, needed its own servants. Its own support staff. And those staff needed restaurants and markets and shops, and the people who ran those restaurants and markets and shops had needed their own, and the city had grown rapidly.

Unfortunately, there were still only the two bridges over the river Yah. Meaning that twice every day, the entire city locked up as commuters whose business took them into the Closed City waited for security to clear them going both ways. Huanxin traffic jams, as discussed previously, are legendary. Those who could afford to fly into the Closed City did so... but those who can afford to fly into the Closed City were usually those who reside within its walls to begin with.

But this was something new. Something terrible. Something almost no one alive had ever had the horror of experiencing.

The Watch, in their bright blue uniforms and without sidearms, faded away. Quickly. The Jinyiwei, in their black-and-gold, spread out across Huanxin. And they were armed. Heavily armed. A people used to Constable Jun, the plodding and somewhat tubby hero of the eponymous series, found themselves faced with the very real presence of hardened professionals who looked like they would kill you just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even worse was the arrival of Bannermen, taking control of certain points across the city. Establishing fortified strongpoints, heavy weapons at the ready for even the hint of something that might disturb the equanimity of the Son of Heaven's passage from His residence to the office of His foremost slaves.

It was something everyone in the city should have known could happen. But it had never happened before, and so the knowledge it could happen had been allowed to fade into the air.

The Closed City was secure. But Huanxin, Huanxin was not. Until suddenly it was.

The cars were cleared. The people were cleared. The city was ready for its Emperor to come through, and the streets were filled with... nothing. There were no cheering crowds, because crowds would have been a security risk, and the one thing the Jinyiwei would not do was take the risk that His Imperial Majesty might be put in harm's way.
There was nothing. The whole city, and all the people in it, knew what was happening. Everyone in Huanxin had at least one friend who had been pulled from his home that morning, compensated, and then sent off so that a team of grim men in black-and-gold might use it as a command-post.

It was not, per se, an order. It was a request. All you had to do was tell the armed men with their little notebooks, who knew exactly who you were and where you lived, that you were not willing to do your part for the Huangdi. On record.

No one was foolish enough to disobey.

But no one would have thought to disobey. The population loved their Emperor, who was their Sovereign King and God. His Imperial Majesty was a good Huangdi, by the standards of a population that had suffered many bad ones over countless centuries. His office observed the necessary rites. The yellow rescripts were respected. And in the chaos of the last year, the steady hand of the Present Emperor Upon the Throne (Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! May My Emperor Live for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!) had been visible in the lack of complete disintegration of society.
But even so, no one wanted to be the person who said they would not obey.

It was a hot and sticky evening. This was nothing unusual in Huanxin, of course. Most evenings were hot and sticky. Far from the path of the Imperial palanquin, people gathered in bars and temples. Some reporters, some cameramen, had been allowed (under incredibly heavy scrutiny) to observe the large men with their golden bodies, glistening in the setting sun, carry the conveyance across the bridge upon a golden carpet that cost more than some houses.

A carpet that would subsequently be incinerated.

The notion that the Present Emperor Upon the Throne (Wansui!) would be driven anywhere was not just preposterous, it was insulting to the men who gladly served as His bearers. It was the height of honor, should He go anywhere besides His private quarters, to be the ones chosen to carry Him with sure and steady steps.

"And here comes the Lord of Ten Thousand Years' palanquin now," the reporter from Channel Lim was saying to his cameramen before all of them needed to stop their reporting in order to press their foreheads to the ground alongside all their other colleagues.

Reporting the news was all well-and-good, but every journalist knows not to become the story. And if they had not bowed, that would have been a very brief and unpleasant story indeed.
The palanquin moved smoothly, the bearers in full dress uniform, the curtains closed for reasons no one needed to be told, lest their thoughts be noted and written down by one of the Jinyiwei.

"Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! May Our Lord the Emperor Live for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!" The Bannermen shouted. A shout that was echoed by ten thousand of ten thousand of ten thousand throats, a prayer and a benediction.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Fri Jun 09, 2023 12:49 pm

"And, honestly, isn't it a bit much?" The man at the center of this said to his son, who was staring at the blue swinub in his lap, his young face slightly tight with hearing the noise outside.

"I'm sorry, father," the boy said, very soft and very quiet. "I am a terrible disappointment to you."

Faren stared at his son. Despite the Emperor's best efforts, despite his long-practiced skill at reading people, despite his intelligence... his own son was a mystery to him. "You think because you cannot stand the inane shouting of men repeating something they have said so often it has lost all meaning, you are a disappointment to me?"

The boy looked at him, the fear on his face almost as plain as if it had been painted there.

Faren pressed his fingers to his temples. "You listened to I and your mother speak." Arya had refused to deal with the palanquin. It made her seasick, she said. She was doubtless already at Meng Ailian's office, having traveled there through methods that would ironically have made her husband quite, quite ill. He was not sure if he felt worse about that or about the way that Ruxia was going to murder him the moment the palanquin set down.

"You heard us speak," Faren repeated, "and say that we were proud of you. And yet... you think that this was... some sort of lie?"

Xiao flinched.

This seemed very unfair to Faren, who had never raised his hand to any of his children and would certainly never have done so to Xiao, the quiet boy on whom the hopes of the Middle Kingdom rested. Faren tried not to sigh. Tried not to act in any way that would confirm Xiao's... there was really no other word for it... inane belief that his father was angry with him, rather than with the whole absurd situation.

Faren took a deep breath. "You are never a disappointment." And had this been one of his daughters, he would have said some sort of joke. Drew reference to Xiao's precocity in already having a girlfriend, though Faren doubted either he or Hela truly understood what was happening between them. Said something more.

The words formed on his tongue.

He willed them away. They would not help.

Faren was no fool. He knew there was much he understood, and much he did not understand. And much of what he did not understand was contained in the young man sitting across from him. But he understood that Xiao was not quite... right.

And he understood that the belief that he was not quite right was, itself, fundamentally wrong. And so he and Arya had always determined to treat his son, after the boy had finally been released from hospital and the threat of his fourth-born status coming to its most terrible conclusion had passed, as if there was nothing wrong with him. Lest treating him otherwise became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"It is just so loud, father," Xiao said, very small and very quiet, as if he feared the Bannermen would overhear and punish him for daring to speak.

It was working out in some ways. In other ways, however, and at other times, Faren was not sure anything he had done had ever failed so miserably.

He should never have bought the boy with him. But not bringing the boy with him would have made Xiao think there was something wrong with him, and Faren would die first. "It is," he agreed. "It is loud even for me, and I have heard it for far longer. Do you think you are so unique, number-one son?"

The boy shook his head. His hands were tight upon the Swinub quivering under his hand, so tight the knuckles were white. Fortunately, Boba's thick fur and fat meant that the animal barely noticed. Although the creature certainly noticed its master's misery. He was rolling his back against Xiao.

"Swi. Swi. Swi."

The vibration of the pet under his son's hands could be felt by Faren across the palanquin. "I am a terrible—"

The words slipped out. "If you tell me you are a terrible disappointment again, I will be terribly disappointed in you." And Faren cursed himself for saying those idiotic words, but it was too late now. He tried to figure out how he might salvage it.

The palanquin lurched forward.

Faren had ridden in palanquins enough that it did not bother him. Xiao, whose previous rides had only been five or six minutes at most, let out a squeak like the rodent that had given him his milk-name, and closed his eyes tightly. It gave the Emperor time enough to think.

"It is ridiculous," the Emperor said, finally. "That we are carried about in this fashion. I have never cared for it. And I have never cared for it. Our people can be so... primitive. So scared of the future, they remain trapped in the distant past. That is a terrible disappointment, number-one son. My father, your grandmother, responded to your grandmother's death and his unfortunate survival by cowering in his palace, abdicating his responsibility to people who lacked his confidence and so lacked their own, allowing the nation to slip and fall to the precipice we are quickly approaching. That was another disappointment." He rubbed his temples, the headache that he had been resisting all day threatening to overtake him. "I have failed to act with alacrity and with force, out of fear of becoming the monster so many beyond our borders think of when they think of the Dragon Throne. So that instead I think I am thought a weakling and a clown, who has squandered the inheritance of his ancestors and left us to the mercy of the forces of the other side."

The Emperor took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "I am a constant disappointment to myself. And so was my father. And his father before him. And his mother and father before him. And her father... actually, no, he was a screaming psychopath who went to his grave inordinately proud of himself. But that is not normal. Disappointment is." And he leaned forward and gently took his son's hands from the Swinub, which let out a little 'swi' of relief; Xiao's tightening grip had apparently begun to disturb it. Faren rubbed his thumb over the little knuckles of the boy's hands, meeting the boy's staring grey eyes. "You will always be disappointed in yourself. You have not the nerve, have not the venom, to be proud of yourself in all things. You are too smart. Too aware. Far, I think, too aware. Because there are some things that you are going to do that you cannot change. They are written in your eyes."

Faren stopped. Because there were times, in the privacy of his own mind, that he knew his father had been right. But it was too late to say so. And mistakes made could not always be undone. But there was one other thing he knew. "My grandfather hated my father and my uncle both. They were, and will always remain, terrible disappointments to him. My father was a weakling. My uncle, who tried to murder you, was hard as iron and twice as brittle." And he rather doubted that the old tyrant would have approved of his uncle's sudden decision to try to put himself back at the head of the succession, but that was neither here nor there. "Oh, you never met my grandfather. You never met yours, so of course you never met mine. But he hated both his sons, and he hated my elder aunt..." a quick check around to make sure that Lixuan had not heard herself referenced and decided it was time to put aside whatever she was up to and insert herself into affairs. Even Xiao, already tensed, stiffened at the mention of her.

But the moment passed without a puff of smoke and a cackling laugh that Faren dearly hoped he would never hear again. He didn't understand that, either. There was a part of him that missed his father's insanely intelligent sister, but she had gone off the deep end so thoroughly that he wasn't sure he wanted to ever see her again.

"And he hated Meili for being... happy. When he became Emperor, he had lost all opportunity to be happy. And so he hated happiness in other people, and feared it as a sign of weakness. Of being unprepared for one's responsibilities. Joy was a distraction from work."

"He sounds like Ruxia," Xiao said, because on the rare occasions when Xiao spoke it was an even gamble whether or not it would be some truth everyone else was very carefully not saying.

Faren laughed, and Xiao looked surprised at himself. "He did sound a bit like Ruxia. But I wouldn't tell her that, number-one son. She'll tell you that she's having the time of her life. And she probably is. Some people enjoy hard work... and she insists she doesn't begrudge anyone else their pleasures. But that's not my point. My point is that despite how much he hated his children, and his wife, and his life... he loved all four of them with all his heart and soul. And he was always proud of them."

Xiao didn't respond. Faren had no idea if the contradiction in his words was fitting together inside his son's head. Some things just did not go together in there. Others clicked immediately. His son's eyes were so grey they hid his feelings like fog covered the mountains, but sometimes, for no reason, his face would be painted with a look that Faren recognized, and it would break his heart.

"And my father was disappointed in me. He did not hate me. There was nothing in him that could hate anyone. Anyone except himself, for not being strong enough to keep my mother alive when Heaven called her home." Although it had been more hatred of himself for not being strong enough to die when she had, there were some things Arya would never forgive him for saying to this quietly staring boy. "He was... proud of me, though. Proud of my strength and my health. Proud of my mind and my ability to learn quickly. Proud of my determination to not give up. But still, I was a terrible disappointment. He wanted his only son to be a poet, you see. And as your mother has no doubt told you, I have all the literary ability of a cow."

Xiao's lips twitched in what might have been a smile.

"But he loved me. And he was proud of me." And now Faren took a breath because he did not see how these next words will go. "Your elder sister, Lianying, sings and dances for a living. She has always wanted to be musical. And so she took my money and my power and established herself in the field. My father would be so proud of her. Your mother says she is proud of her, even if she disagrees with her choices."

Xiao's eyes flickered at the mention of his mother, then quickly back to Faren. They held his gaze with the firmness of one who knew eye contact was important, but didn't quite understand why.

"I think she is a terrible disappointment," Faren said, and he hated himself for how serious and how stern those words are. "She has wasted her gifts. Her potential. Her talent. But she is doing what she wants to do... and so I am proud of her. It is what I want for all of you. But you do not want to be Emperor... and yet you will be. It is the only thing in the universe I do not have the power to prevent."

"Father..." Xiao started to say, but Faren shook his head.

"And so when you look at me, and you see disappointment... and you think it is directed at you. But it is directed at myself. For all my strength, all my power, all my wit and my intelligence... I cannot see a way to a world where you do not have to follow me into this terrible position. The only thing I can do is make sure that your life is as good as it can be. That it is better than mine has been."

"Father," Xiao said again, and this time the word was so small and so quiet that Faren had to strain to hear it.

But Faren knew what was coming. And he held up his hand. "If you are about to tell me that you want to be Emperor, then spare your breath. If you mean it, then you don't know what you mean. And if you don't mean it, then I will know. You are a terrible liar. It is why you will be such a good Emperor. You have always been honest. Always." And Faren looked at the little boy, whose shoulders were squarer than they had ever seen them, as if his father had offended his dignity, and the man bit back the smile that would only offend him more. "But I am not my grandfather, Asen Taijie. I am not as strong as he was, or as kind. And I am not my father. I am not as weak as he was, or as cruel."

And the boy did not understand why he chose the words he did, and Faren smiled, for it was good that a boy did not sometimes understand the words his father chose, and he reached forward and ruffled the boy's hair. "I might always be disappointed in the things you choose to do. I am always going to be disappointed in Lianying choosing to sing instead of study. I will be disappointed in Ruxia, choosing to dedicate her life to work that I will never believe makes her happy. I will be disappointed in Baixin, choosing to live a soldier's life — for I am a modern man, and yet still struggle to understand why a woman would choose that life. But I am a modern man, and so I allow these things to happen."

Xiao had heard none of this. Faren saw that. His ears had heard 'disappointed', 'in', and 'you', and a dawning horror was blossoming in the boy's face. "I—"

"I love you, number-one son."

Xiao opened his mouth to say something, and Faren held up his hand again, and he did not let him. "You must learn to separate the things people do, and the feelings people have about those things, from the people they are and the feelings people have about them. I will be disappointed in the things you do. You are not your father's son or your grandfather's grandson. You are your own person, Xiao. You will make your own choices, when you can. When Heaven has not chosen them for you. And you will respond to Heaven's choices in your own way, and in your own time, and I may not approve. But I will never be disappointed in you. You, my son, will never disappoint me. Because you can never disappoint me. Any more than you can disappoint your mother. Or Hela. Or Boba, who will be staying in the palanquin while we go inside."

"No," Xiao said, reflexively. His hands slipped from his father and tightened around Boba, who had looked up with what Faren would have sworn was a hint of mingled indignation and hope.

"And that disappoints me," Faren said with a smile. "But it also makes me prouder than you will ever know... at least until you have children of your own, and feel the same way." He squeezed Xiao's shoulder, and gave him a gentle shake. "So be it. But you will be coming with me into the Secretariat Building. And you will stay by my side. There will be noise. It will be loud. People will be very angry, and I may have to do things I will regret... and that you will wish you had not seen. But I chose, your mother chose, long ago not to shelter you. Perhaps we chose wrong. Perhaps you are disappointed in us for that choice. But it was our choice... and you will choose how to feel about it."

"But Boba comes with me?" Xiao said after a moment of contemplation.

"There is a story your mother told me once, of a man who stood before the onrushing tide and bade it halt. Some ancient Jarl of some ridiculous city in Kadria, I think. He drowned, of course." Faren chuckled. "I am called a God, and yet I cannot stop the tide. And I cannot take your pet from you. But hold him tight, and hold onto my hand. There will be no wandering around to touch machines and no asking people what it is they are doing. Do you understand?"

"I understand," Xiao murmured. "And I love you, father. And I am never disappointed in you."

Faren squeezed his son's shoulder, and smiled. "You are the worst liar."

"I'm not," Xiao said, his face suddenly tight again.

"...Ask Hela to try to teach you to understand sarcasm. You may enjoy learning," Faren said, giving the boy a conspiratorial smile his wife would have smacked him for if she had been in the palanquin with them. But she was not. So he didn't care. "There's nothing like the devoted attention of the girl you love to make you learn things you never knew before."

"I don't... why would Hela be of any help to me?"

"Ask Hela to explain that, too. When you are both alone. And she doesn't have anything heavy immediately to hand." Faren punched his son in the shoulder as the Palanquin began to slow to a halt. "Come on, lad. Let's go make people's lives better through, as your grandfather once said, making their lives far, far worse. I know that doesn't make any sense to you. I promise it didn't make much more sense when he said it to me, either."

The palanquin stopped. "We're here, father," Xiao said.

Faren sighed. "Thank you, number-one son."

Xiao blinked at him. "I was trying to be sarcastic."

Faren had nothing to say to that, and so he didn't. Boba's muffled 'nub' was answer enough for him.
Last edited by Roania on Fri Jun 09, 2023 5:29 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Fri Jun 09, 2023 1:46 pm

Lixuan was also not happy. Because Lixuan was almost never happy, unless terrible things were happening to other people. And it only counted if she was the one who was doing the terrible thing to the other people, so that she could enjoy their screams and their cries and their begging for mercy.

Which meant that this was a little bit not terrible. And so she was not happy. "I am not sure I understand," she said, although she understood quite well. But she liked making other people explain themselves when they said such things, because it made them feel uncomfortable and awkward and a little bit embarrassed, and that was as good as sweet, sweet nectar to her calloused soul.

"Well, um..."

It had been a mistake for this man to come here, to her quiet tower where she quietly worked in quiet solitude. Her staring eyes told him that. The way her tongue flicked out to wet her lips told him that. The way she leaned forward, and how she leaned forward, and how she leaned forward in a way that did not suggest she was about to tell him that his mother had died or something similarly unpleasant, because it was more the attitude of one who had killed his mother and was about to tell him exactly how long it had taken her to die.

"You see, I represent people who think... who think the Empire has gone down quite the wrong..."

Her tongue flicked out, and a low hiss left her lips. In the faint light, her eyes gleamed like jewels. Her hair was pulled back, which made the smooth curve of her cheek look almost like a statue of a god or goddess. And there were those eyes.

"Right... wrong way," the man finished, swallowing hard.

They were not quite... they did not look right. The pupils were all wrong. And sometimes it did not seem as if there were pupils there at all, and other times they seemed to grow and shrink, as if she were looking at something from a great distance, or far too close.

And there was a darkness that had always been there, and which would not go away.

"An interesting and no doubt deeply held belief," she said, leaning back in a seat carved to look like a great dragon unless you looked closer and realized how ophidian its tendons were, and how human its teeth were. "One I can tell you have been thinking about for quite a while. But one which I am sure you would not like me to share with others, because it would make you look bad, and your clients look bad." She tapped long fingers upon the stone. She had been surprised to be bothered.

No one bothered her.

It did not please her to be bothered. Very few people had a standing invitation to come through her door, and this man had only entered because the fact he had tried had made her curious. "And so you wish for my nephew to suffer an unfortunate accident... and for me to stand in support of your 'clients', who I will pretend not to know, as they exert a regency over my grand-nephew... at least until such time as they think they can secure the throne. Is that what I have understood so far?"

The man's eyes were wide as he nodded.

"Well, this is all very interesting, but I have no time to waste," Lixuan said. "So I am going to kill you. It is going to be very slow, and very painful, and you will be alive the entire time until I decide that it is time for you to die. And you and I both will know, every moment of the time, when you are dying and when you are not. So you will spend your final moments wondering what it is I will do next."

He started to scream as the shadows that had been coiling around his feet began to climb his body.

Honestly, she thought as she rose to her feet. What would they think of next?
Last edited by Roania on Fri Jun 09, 2023 1:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Fri Jun 09, 2023 1:58 pm

"I do not like you, Meng Ailian," Arya Fyrehart said. A simple and flat statement, as if the Imperial Consort was simply discussing the weather. A new book.

Her plans and desires to have the Grand Secretary flayed, then roasted alive.

Meng Ailian did not think the Kadrian woman intended to have her flayed or roasted alive, or hated her enough for it to be more than a passing thought. And she did not think the Imperial Consort was going to kill her. Not unless she crossed some line. And so she did not respond, until she realized that not responding risked being an insult, and so she murmured an apologetic 'Mm' in response to the woman's words.

"I don't like you," Arya Fyreheart repeated. "I don't hate you. But I don't like you." The other woman —Meng Ailian had nearly called her the 'foreign' woman, but Arya had lived in the Middle Kingdom since longer than Meng Ailian had been alive— walked around the office, inspecting awards and photographs and notes from Meng Ailian's tumultuous career as Grand Secretary. "You are making my husband very unhappy. I assume you know that. You are a very clever woman."

"I am doing what is best for the Empire," Meng Ailian said in the quiet tones of one who knew exactly how unhappy her God was with her and was wondering how long it would take for Him to smite her with His wrath.

"It is funny how people who do not know if they believe it are so quick to say such things." The battlemage's face was cold as she looked at Meng Ailian. "I did not come here to talk to you about my husband. I came here to talk about my daughter."

That was even worse. "Would you not rather talk about your—"

"You are going to apologize to her." The words were blunt. Curt. With no more emotion than an axe falling.

"I will... I will not apologize to your daughter for—"

"And then she will apologize to you." Arya said, with an equal coldness. "But I have learned, in my time here, how this society works... and she is your superior in rank, even if you temporarily hold a higher position to her. She is acutely aware of her status. It is... problematic. It is also your fault. So you are going to apologize to her, so she will apologize to you, and then I am going to make sure you both get along for the remainder of your tenure as Grand Secretary... however short that might be after tonight's debacle. Do you understand me, Meng Ailian? I am happy to make it very clear to you, in ways you will never forget. I am not happy. I am not happy as a mother. I am not happy as a wife. And I am not happy as someone who is going to have to live with the mess you made for years. A mess you will not have to deal with, because either an angry mob is going to tear you apart, or a quiet retirement will be found far away somewhere safe. I am not happy, Meng Ailian. You have made my husband very unhappy, and I do not like that. So you are going to apologize to my daughter. And then we are both going to forget we had this conversation, and you will go on to do this incredibly brilliant thing in the stupidest way possible. Do you understand?"

"Yes, ma'am," Meng Ailian said.

"You will address me as Imperial Consort."

"Yes, Imperial Consort."

Arya's face was unreadable. Finally she nodded, curtly. "Huginn, Muninn, stop trying to get into the Grand Secretary's desk."

The two ravens croaked, leaving off their efforts.

"Is there a reason, Grand Secretary, why my familiars would be interested in your desk?" the Imperial Consort asked as she stepped forward. Power did not quite gather around her. It did not need to. It could come to her at a thought.

Meng Ailian swallowed, and opened her mouth.

"My teachers always used to say that the most important lesson in life is that no matter how brilliant your plan, no matter how many advantages you have, the world will conspire to undo you." Arya touched her forehead in an unconscious imitation of the man she had spent almost her entire life with. "They would go on to say that the next most important lesson is to accept that you cannot control the world, and it does not particularly want you to." She lowered her hand. "So. I assume you have some sort of insurance. You are not a fool, although I am not sure why I persist in believing that. Will this insurance endanger my son, daughter or husband?"

Meng Ailian shook her head, her throat suddenly dry. "No, Imperial Consort. Nothing will endanger the Son of Heaven. I do not have the resources to... to harm the Lord of Ten Thousand Years."

Arya waited.

"I would never dare to hurt the Taizi," Meng Ailian added.

Arya was still waiting.

Meng Ailian swallowed. "I am sure Princess Ruxia will not be more than mildly inconvenienced by my insurance, should that prove necessary."

"I am sure she will not," Arya agreed. "She is a capable woman, and will know her duty. And I am sure you will make sure that she does her duty." The Imperial Consort patted her on the shoulder, then snapped her fingers. The two ravens flew to her side, where they stared at the Grand Secretary as if they would rather like to peck her eyes out. "My daughter has been appalling to you. But she is now a grown woman, and so I will not apologize for her actions. She will. After you apologize for speaking to her like a child. I would say you are both as bad as each other... but while you are not as old as me, you are older than her and the senior officer, and she remains a princess imperial. You should have done better. You will do better. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Imperial Consort," Meng Ailian said, her throat suddenly constricted. "You have made yourself very clear, Imperial Consort."

"Honestly, Meng... you do make such a mess of things," the older woman whispered. "You have inconvenienced millions of people. You have forced my lazy husband to get up and do an honest day's work for the first time in years. You have traumatized my son and offended my daughters and made enemies of... well, admittedly, a pack of thieves, liars and frauds. Who you now propose to enrage into an incandescent fury." Arya shook her head. "And do you really believe that this was worth it? No one needed you to do half of these things. You could have..."

"I could have cowered and hidden while the Empire, my home, teetered on the brink? Been another go-along, get-along Grand Secretary who sat behind her desk and let the rest of the world do as it would?" Meng Ailian was trembling, but the Imperial Consort looked at her as if she were a fool, and Meng Ailian had no illusions about the dangers of showing her fear.

"I could have," Meng Ailian repeated, her voice steadier than she felt. "But I thought your husband deserved more. My people deserved more. And so I did more. And if that offends you... then I am surprised. That is all I can say."

"A good answer," the Imperial Consort said. "Face the future as you have faced the past. You have overcome, and you have endured, and you will endure this. Be brave. And you will be rewarded. I will see to it." And her smile was genuine, bright and open. Though the hovering ravens still glowered, as if they were sure she was a liar, and were ready to peck out her eyes if she tried anything foolish.

Meng Ailian took a deep breath. "I thank you, Imperial Consort," she said.

"We thank you. And I will see to it that my husband is suitably grateful for your service when all of this is over... and that my daughter, when she takes your position, is as patient with you as you were with her. You deserved better." Arya sounded as though she had indeed told Ruxia exactly that.

"Thank you," Meng Ailian said again.

"And you are doing this," the Imperial Consort said. "This... grand scheme of yours. Because you believe it will change the world."

"Because the world must change," the Grand Secretary said. "And sometimes change must happen all at once, or else it is put off... and so the patient dies when a quick operation could save them."
"And I am sure the medical profession is glad you are not a member of it," Arya said as she looked up towards the door, ears pricking as if she detected the arrival of her husband downstairs. "But I agree. Things must be done... and done quickly. And I will ensure you are not harmed overmuch for it. I will see to it."

And then there was the sound of the Emperor's voice, and Arya was smiling as she opened the door to join her husband and his son. "I will see to it that you are not punished at all, Meng Ailian."
Last edited by Roania on Mon Jun 19, 2023 11:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Fri Jun 09, 2023 5:06 pm

Meng Ailian rose to her feet from the kowtow she had been crouched in since the beginning of this formal event. No Huangdi in generations had attended a cabinet meeting. It was just not done. And all around her, those of her officials who did not know what was intended were also rising to their feet, and wondered what bolt from Heaven had precipitated the arrival of their Sovereign King and God.

What horrors His presence, and that of His son, and that of His wife, must mean.

It was a scene Meng Ailian had dreamed of for so long, and she was in no way prepared for it.
Zhan Zhi-Ruo, did know what she had in mind, and that woman's eyes were bright with fear, and her hand was upon her pregnant belly as if she was trying to protect her child from what was soon to come. Nmmr (she had no idea which Nmmr it was, and the question was almost impossible to ask) was stroking his (her?) whiskers with a paw that shook with nerves.

Ta Yong, the Celestial Master, who had evaded her requirement to be present at meetings of this body for months, stood there mouthing prayers to her honorable ancestor. She had, obliquely, approved of what Meng Ailian intended. That meant a great deal. But approval was not preparation.

Lian Jin, the young woman whose heroism had portended so much of this, stood there, a slightly dazed expression on her face. The glowing blue crystal placed upon her collar bone shook with each breath. She had no idea what was coming.

At least her presence in the abbreviated dress her office required was distracting the Taizi from what had been, previously, an attempt to pull apart the wooden superstructure of his desk. He stared at her with a confused expression, as if he vaguely understood that he found her fascinating but as of yet had only the most limited understanding of why that was.

"We have come as you have requested, servant of Heaven's servant," the Emperor said, his voice the rumble of distant thunder portending the coming storm. Cameras were pointed everywhere. Everywhere except directly at him.

They saw Kuanming, his eyes white with fear. He had come to the office expecting some cataclysm. The presence of the Huangdi at this meeting of this body had never been a part of his calculations.

"Yes," Meng Ailian said, not daring to look at her colleagues. "Yes, Your Imperial Majesty. Thank you for coming."

They saw the Princess Ruxia, who had no idea what she was planning, but who had been ordered to be polite... and yet was now resenting that fact all the more.

Meng Ailian wanted to stall. So she did. It was expected of her, so she indulged herself in the ceremonial to the fullest extent she could. "May our Emperor live for ten thousand, ten thousand..."

The Imperial hand was raised. "We are not here for well-wishes. We are not here for prayers. We are here because you, Grand Secretary Meng Ailian, asked us to be present. And so we are here, and we wish to hear why we have broken our habit and come forth."

Meng Ailian swallowed. Oh, she did not need to look at His eyes to know He was not happy. Not that she would ever dare, without being instructed to do so, meet his eyes. But she did not need. Anger warred with curiosity in His voice, and power flowed through Him. And she did not need to look at Ruxia, His daughter and her most vehement foe who was not actively plotting her death, to know that the Princess was enjoying this immensely.

Well. She wouldn't enjoy this. "As His Imperial Majesty the Present Emperor Upon the Throne well knows," everyone around the room murmured 'Wansui', "we are coming upon the time when the Imperial Examinations would take place. I say this not because I do not expect His Imperial Majesty not to know this. It is by way of preamble. A..."

"You might assume that we do indeed know what time of year it is, Grand Secretary," He said. As firm a 'get on with it' as any she had ever heard.

"Yes, my Emperor." She cleared her throat. "But it need not be. Indeed, I propose that it should not be. I propose that we never hold them. The Imperial Examinations. Never again."

She had expected shouting. She had expected anger. She had expected those present who had had no idea what was coming to explode in rage, or in fear, or in shock.

She had not expected silence.

"We will not hold this year's examinations," Meng Ailian said, taking the opportunity to let her words settle. "I have abolished the Secretariat of Guidance's entire examination department, and I have withheld the appointment of a new Secretary for the role, precisely because I believe..."
Now there were murmurs. Ruxia was in consultation with herself, and with more eldritch advisors. Kuanming had put his head in his hands. He had known there was a plan. That this had been the plan? That had been a surprise.

Lian Jin's beautiful pale face, arcanely crafted from far less perfect materials, was now a pallor that was white as snow rather than fine cream.
Even the Tazi broke from his staring at her chest. Or tried. His desire to comprehend the... no doubt absurd thing he had heard warred with his intense fascination with the young woman's physique.

Ta Yong had known what was coming, but she was still mouthing prayers. Zhan Zhi-Ruo had flinched as if she had been struck.

Lian Jin's eyes were wide and fearful as she turned to the Emperor, then turned to Meng Ailian, and then looked down at her chest, as if trying to make sure her crystal was still there. "I... I can't... I'm sorry, I'm just a soldier," said a woman who had not been a soldier in a couple of years, "but I'm sure I misheard. May... may I ask your excellency to repeat yourself?"

Which was why Lian Jin had been forced to be here. She would ask the questions. And it was why she had not been brought into Meng Ailian's confidence, so that those questions would not have an air of coercion.

And it was why they were questions that had no right answers.

Except this one. "We spend thousands of cash every year, thousands upon thousands of cash, on holding the first examinations. On holding the second examinations. On holding the third. And yet, every year, we have fewer and fewer successful candidates. We have a continual jobs shortage in the Secretariat. And why? There are two reasons. First, because the Examinations have no bearing on any practical matters. They are questions chosen through obscure means by obscure men, who have long lost sight of their purpose. It is not even that the questions are wrong, although they are. But they are wrong in ways that are not only difficult to understand but difficult to overcome. And secondly, because there are so many young people who are..."

"She's right!" The Taizi said, in a sudden outburst that took everyone by surprise.

He seemed surprised by his own statement, as every single person in the room, even the cameras whose operators were wondering how they had wound up in the middle of the story of the millennium, turned to him in shock.

"I mean..." the Taizi continued, and he blushed. He actually blushed. "I mean... in my class, people keep saying they don't understand why they're even going to school, because getting any good job requires passing the examinations... and school doesn't provide any preparation... um... um..." he sat back down, covering his face as he wished himself anywhere but here.

Meng Ailian did not look at his father, because she did not need to. The Huangdi would not be happy that the boy was embarrassed. "...and what does our Celestial Master have to say about this?" finally came the ponderous voice of the Huangdi, who indeed did not sound happy.

"I think it is a wonderful idea," Ta Yong said. "I think it is an idea which will not be popular, and which will bring upon our heads the wrath of many who depend on the Empire's support... but speaking as the descendant of TaZi, who founded the classics, and Ta Mai, who established the examinations... they have lost their purpose. In this day and age of regular schooling, in these modern times where even the poorest child has learned to read and write... I see no reason why we should maintain a system that has long lost its purpose. The Classics can and are taught as the building blocks of our civilization. Is there truly any purpose in asking someone who has already graduated from school and thus established their understanding of the texts... is there any purpose in asking them to compose a poem on the butterfly's journey? Why would we not teach those who are young? Why would we not teach everyone?"

"...we smell collusion," the Huangdi said, and a chill ran down Meng Ailian's spine. "Nmmr?"

"Nmmr would like to say, nnnh... that bringing the examination papers in their sealed box to examination halls all over the Middle Kingdom is most expensive and most disruptive," Nmmr said. "Easily biggest expense on Nmmr's file. Cost overrun every year. Security doubles, triples. Must check and recheck and carry through. Must make sure no one sees inside Nmmr's box. Must carry in separate containers under escort. And Nmmr knows so many keep trying to steal box. Try to find out questions so they might know answers. It so... Nmmr think, nnh... not that Nmmr is able to tell what great Emperor think, but Nmmr think it might be silly. Like chasing ladybug, but then eating ladybug. Ladybug does not taste good. And if Nmmr not benefit from catching what Nmmr chase, why Nmmr chase in the first place? Does not make sense."

"Zhan Zhi-Ruo, you are our Treasurer," the Emperor said, His gaze turning to the cowering woman. "A position we must say we do not quite understand how you obtained... but nevertheless one you have, so far as we know, excelled in. What is your opinion on how much this costs?"

"The Imperial Examinations are a drain on our finances, and a drain on the finances of the population," Zhan Zhi-Ruo said in a voice so clear that it surprised even herself. "Millions of people scrimp and save to try to pay sages for the 'training' needed to obtain it. And yet millions of people fail to pass. And we lose hundreds of taels because positions that should be filled are left open, and hundreds of taels more on, as my colleague Nmmr said, simply maintaining and holding them. If His Imperial Majesty is asking me for my opinion..."

"Which we are."

"Then we should abolish them. If I could go back in time and abolish them retroactively, I would do so. We should be doing what we need to do, to provide jobs, and we should be spending the money we need to spend on preparing people for those jobs, instead of on a system which does not work and has not worked for hundreds of years."

"And what do you have to say, Chancellor Kuanming?" the Emperor said, turning to look at the retired Bannerman who had been trying, without success, to will himself back into a military posting ten thousand miles away. "What is Internal Harmony's position on this?"

"...I can only second what my colleagues have said. The Watch hates providing security for these things. Hates serving as proctors. Hates how they stand in the way of competent officers obtaining promotions they are otherwise fit for. Hates that we don't use the funds for more useful purposes. It's a mess, and we need to be rid of it." He was staring into space. "But I would never dare to suggest that the Emperor should consider himself bound by the suggestion of such a lowly and pedestrian creature as myself."

And on down the rest of the cabinet, a series of nonentities appointed to positions expressly because they were needed. All of them were, grudgingly, in agreement... at least with the expense.

And finally...

"...and what does our daughter think?" The Imperial gaze lingered on Ruxia, who had been unusually silent for the longest time. "You, at least, are not part of what appears to be a clique determined to undermine civilization's most cherished traditions."

Meng Ailian did not dare look at Ruxia. She knew what her adversary was feeling, and she knew what the woman would say.

And so she did not look.

"I do not have a strong opinion, Your Imperial Majesty," Ruxia said. "Except that Her Excellency Grand Secretary Meng Ailian is absolutely correct in every particular, and that my colleagues are correct. And I speak as a woman who passed the third examination with the highest grade possible when I say that in all my years I have never been asked to do anything so foolish as I was when I sat down in that examination room to write utter nonsense for three days under lock-and-key."

The room went absolutely silent as everyone stared at Ruxia. Even the Taizi, who had come from hiding behind his hands to stare at Lian Jin's still heaving bosom, transferred his gaze to his sister with an expression of absolute shock.

Meng Ailian stared at Ruxia. Ruxia ostentatiously did not stare at Meng Ailian. The cameras, whose operators had by now checked out of a reality that no longer made sense, recorded everything.

"I... I have always..." Ruxia cleared her throat. "I have always known that there was a certain amount of nepotism in my position. I am the daughter of the Emperor after all. I am a Princess of the blood imperial, whose ancestors have upheld the mandate of Heaven for many thousands of years. And so I had the opportunity. The privilege. To attend the exams. To be trained by the finest sages. To spend all my life in preparation for them. But, as was made clear to me earlier today, most people are not me. Most people do not have my benefits. And so... they are wasted. Their potential wasted, because they cannot take years of their lives to prepare to take useless examinations, examinations that only mean something if you pass. Examinations that, if you fail, are money and time wasted. Money and time wasted that you will never recover. And you are told that if you are not prepared to sacrifice for your future, then you are not worthy of a future. And so..."

Ruxia's voice broke off, and she looked at her father. " rid of them. Be rid of them today. Be rid of them yesterday. They are an abhorrence. You keep telling us how modern you are, father. This is your opportunity to prove it."

You could have dropped a pin five stories down and across the city and heard it in that moment.

"This is a hard thing," the Huangdi murmured. "...but it sounds as if everyone is in agreement. And so we return to you, Meng Ailian. We ask you, Grand Secretary. Is the recommendation of the cabinet of the Secretariat, such as it currently is... that the Imperial Examinations be abolished in this, the 30th year of our reign?"

"Yes, Your Imperial Majesty," Meng Ailian said, her voice trembling. "Abolished immediately."

"This is the most difficult of decisions," the Huangdi said. "It is one of the hardest things we have ever done... but we know you. And you would not have come to us and asked for this thing if you did not have a proposal to fix the unholy mess you are about to make. We will not make our decision until we have heard what your proposal is."

" proposal is simple, my Emperor. We offer every single person who has graduated from school, now and in the past and in the future, the status of having passed the first examination. Nmmr?"

"Nmmr's printers have already prepared the paperwork. Nmmr will have letters go out, and Nmmr's Nmmr will carry them to everyone. It will not be as expensive. There will be no security, because Nmmr is bringing letters to every Nmmr, and they will all be the same. So no one will bother Nmmr, because no one will care why Nmmr is there, or what Nmmr is doing."

"It will not be a small thing," the Huangdi said. "You are going to make many people very unhappy, Meng Ailian. Very, very unhappy. Some of them are going to want to have you killed."

"Many of them already did. I regret that I have but one life to give in your service, Your Imperial Majesty. "

The Huangdi closed His eyes. "...such a grand plan. Such a terrible idea... with so many ramifications even we do not know. But we think..."

And then someone, one of the myriad Bannermen or Jinyiwei or courtiers, shot Meng Ailian in the shoulder. And suddenly it was far too noisy, and Meng Ailian was bleeding all over the floor.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Mon Jun 12, 2023 3:27 pm

Ruxia wasn't sure what was going on. The bannermen and the Jinyiwei were shooting at each other, and she had no idea who was on what side.
If she lived through this, she would never doubt Xiao when he said it was too noisy for him to function ever again. It really was too chaotic for her orderly mind to process.

One of the Bannermen just shot Nmmr.

That was probably the side she didn't want to be on.

She ducked behind her desk, wishing she'd allowed Valdr to come with her. If nothing else, her big Kadrian boyfriend would be capable of firing back. She had never held a gun. She didn't even know how to throw a punch without breaking her hand. Despite coming of age in a time when girls had begun learning self-defence, she had always preferred to sit quietly in the library and read.

She had joined the diplomatic corps precisely because diplomats were rarely expected to be involved in this kind of thing. And it seemed ironic that after years abroad, she'd found herself in the middle of a firefight at a previously quiet, if dramatic, meeting here in Huanxin.

Meng Ailian had been shot.

Ruxia was vaguely disappointed. She'd had all sorts of horrible futures in mind for the (hopefully not 'late') Grand Secretary. Being shot offhandedly by a soldier presumably serving Closed Party interests had not been among them.

"Sister!" Ruxia peered out from behind her desk to see Xiao crouching by the door.

"What's going on?" Ruxia asked.

"I don't know!"

She didn't know where Boba was. Hopefully, somewhere safe. Boba was a clever little beast, but he and Xiao being separated did not portend good things.

"Get your hands off of me!" Her mother was shouting. Something exploded. People screamed. That was a good thing. Her mother was alive. And that wave of imminent menace hovering over the entire proceeding suggested so was her father, though it had been years since the Huangdi had actually defended himself and he was, probably, at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed.

And who to kill.

But her father and mother could take care of themselves. With ease.

Xiao? Xiao was starting to turn as white as snow, his hands tightening into claws as his fingers folded against the palm and his eyes became blank. He was so young. He'd barely started life. And he had no idea how to handle even a brass band, let alone a pitched battle between multiple factions.

"You," Ruxia hissed. "I need you to stay calm and focused. Do you understand?"

"I... I don't... I don't know..."

"Don't worry, your imperial highness," said a bannerman, coming their way. He looked comforting. In any other capacity he probably would have been comforting. And Xiao lit up at the sight of him. "We'll get you somewhere safe and sound, where the right people are waiting to take care of you."

Oh, fuck that.

Ruxia had no idea how to fight.

Ruxia had never lifted a weapon in her life.

But Kuanming (When had he died?) had fallen by her side, and he had his old officer's sword holstered.

And you didn't need to know how to fight to drive a sharp blade repeatedly into an unsuspecting enemy's back.

The bannerman was reaching over to grab Xiao.

Reaching over to grab her fucking brother.

And Ruxia moved.

Over and over again. Again and again. The jian blade eventually hitting the floor, and snapping from the force of her strikes, leaving her with the hilt.

The bannerman fell, screaming. And there was a great deal of blood, and Ruxia did not stop.

Xiao was looking at her with shock in his eyes.

And that was when Ruxia realized she'd been shot.

"Run," she said. And then she slowly fell onto her knees. And thought it was very unfair that after all of that, she never actually got to be Grand Secretary.
Last edited by Roania on Mon Jun 12, 2023 4:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Mon Jun 12, 2023 3:33 pm

Lian Jin didn't understand what was happening.

Because she was seeing everything.

Across the entirety of the civilization she had sworn to protect, millions of soldiers were rising as if on cue. Naval ships were turning into pitched battles, where one faction or the other, or no faction at all, turned on their colleagues because suddenly everything was moving. Because whatever the plan had been, this offhanded bullet had not been part of it.

Her sisters were dying. Killed because they would be in the way.

Bullets rattled against a haphazardly thrown-up shield, because despite a sex-change and a career change, the reflexes that had made her an... admittedly poor naval officer in her previous life remained intact.

The world needed her to act.

Her Emperor (Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!) needed her to act.

Her sisters needed her to act.

And she did. She opened her mind to the crystal at her breasts, and to the greater crystals beyond it. She opened her mind, and she let the energy of them all pour into her... and at her will everything stopped.

And at the will of someone who was still, for the moment, Lian Jin, people died.

And at the will of someone who was no longer Lian Jin, people lived.

And her very last thought before being entirely annihilated by the energies flowing through her was that, if anyone was ever going to give her an epitaph, "she only had one life to give for her Emperor" might be the most accurate thing anyone ever wrote about her.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

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Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Mon Jun 12, 2023 3:41 pm

"Your Imperial Majesty!"

"It's my son!"

"Your Imperial Majesty!"

"Sire! Your Imperial Majesty!"

The Jinyiwei would not stop bothering him. It was really getting on his nerves. Bullets were flying around him, hitting him, penetrating the Imperial Seal's apparently not-as-strong as advertised protective shielding. But he wasn't a fool. He knew his jinyiwei were loyal. But the fact his bannermen were not? That was beyond his comprehension. It had momentarily shattered his resolve.

The sight of his son being threatened? His daughter being shot?

Faren felt more alive than he had in years. People were going to die. Including, quite possibly, him.

But he was going to take as many of Heaven's enemies with him as possible. His sword, which he had not actually drawn in centuries, flew to his hand. And he was a younger man. A more energetic man. He looked for his wife. There she was, fire flowing through her hands.

Now how did it go? Ah yes. "Til Stalgardr!"

And she smiled at him.

If this was how he was going to die, how the Imperial House of Asen was going to die, then he was damn well going to die on his feet.

And they were going to die... at least, that was what he thought, before a burst of eldritch energy from that fool girl knocked him, and everyone else, clean off their feet.

He rose to his feet, feeling as if his bones had been shaken apart and put back together, but he rose nonetheless. He lived. The Imperial Seal was still upon him.

"Jinyiwei?" He said, his voice the roar of the dragon. They were rising too, a bit unclear, a bit uncertain. But at his words, they rapidly came to parade attention. "This is a nest of traitors. Kill. Them."

The bannermen, who Lian Jin had chosen for the brunt of her last attack, barely knew what was coming before swords were cutting through their armor. And with that order given, and secure in the knowledge that his Jinyiwei remained loyal... and that his son, at least, was safe. The Huouxin Huangdi finally allowed himself to succumb to his wounds. Whatever happened next was up to the mortals.

And perhaps that was how it should be.
Last edited by Roania on Mon Jun 12, 2023 3:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!

User avatar
Posts: 1985
Founded: Antiquity
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Roania » Mon Jun 12, 2023 3:51 pm

Lixuan looked at the dead man at her feet, and felt something like peace settle over her.

She was not sure if she had killed him. But he had tried to shoot her, and her body had done the rest.

She licked the blood off her lips. His fear tasted good. Shame he'd had to die too quickly for it too coagulate.

All around the Empire, chaos was spreading.

That wasn't her concern.

It really wasn't.

She didn't care. A lot of people would have to die before she came to the throne, and that would just get in the way of her work.

What was her concern was that some people had decided to try to drag her into their petty squabbling. Had interrupted her solitude. Had thought she'd be sympathetic. To what? The idea that women were inferior to men?

No, no. She knew her place under that order.

She knew her place under the current order. It was the same.

Off to the side, where no one dared to trouble. Off to the side of the pyramid of society, and a little bit higher than the very tippy-top. An elevated position where she could just get on with things.

"Aunt," the other man was saying. She didn't really know him. Presumably he was one of her youngest brother's other sons. She'd always hated that boy. Not that Faren's father had won any prizes, but at least Cao had respected her like an elder sister should be respected. "Aunt, this is all a misunderstanding. I'm sorry. For whatever it is my servant did. My brother. But if you help me, I know I can..."

He kept talking. She kept trying to place him. She'd seen him at court. But he'd been a child then. He hadn't spoken to her then. Why would he speak to her now?

She'd had enough.

A moment passed, and she was the snake. She was so rarely the snake. Hands really were useful. When you spent a few minutes without hands, you really appreciated them all the more.

But sometimes the snake was the best option.

She slithered forward, and bit him.

And then she slithered around his body. Another bite.

And then she slithered up his body, and bit him again. He kept trying to talk. Then scream.

Finally, she found the part of him that needed to be bitten to make the noises stop.

For some reason, his guards were trying to shoot her. At least, she assumed that was why they were pointing rifles at her.

And why something was rattling against her scales.

Snakes can't sigh. They don't have the shoulders for it. But Lixuan, the Snake Princess, sighed regardless.

Maybe if she killed all of them, people would learn a valuable lesson about not trying to interfere with her life.
Last edited by Roania on Mon Jun 12, 2023 4:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years! Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!

The Dragon Throne has stood for Ten Thousand Years! For Ten Thousand Years, the Dragon Throne Stands! The Dragon Throne has stood, is standing, and shall stand for Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand Years, Ten Thousand of Ten Thousand Years!



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