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Ancient Jian General Etiquette Guide:
[Traditions of Piety]
The straightened left palm and right fist salute is the first and foremost etiquette exercised by most culture in Jianki, with some derivatives in Sei and Orin cultures, such as a straight bow or right hand over heart respectively. This is a general concept of paying respect to one's peers and authority to honor the traditions of the Fundamental of Roots. Whether greeting casually or formally, one must always perform a salute.
[Traditions of Sequence]
When addressing those in authority or colleagues, it is wise to adhere to their forebearing titles and respect their distinguished claims or seniority. As such, honorifics and titles often precede one's name when addressed. The following are general concepts of addressing court members, but are not limited to: My Lord / My Lady - When addressing one's master or figures that bear a greater title.
Master (Family Name) - A versatile title for seniors, equals or juniors. It is considered rude to call someone by their first name alone, unless they are addressed by a family member.
Courtesy / Styled Name - Styled names are primarily called upon or referred to, instead of first names. This is often used alternatively among those within the same profession or court.
长江后浪推前浪 “The energy of the old generation inspires the new.”
SCENE 1: FROM THE ROOTS, TO HEAVEN.
Midnight / Daegis, 149 AC
styled Jinlong Orchid Manor, Weilang
styled Saimon Orchid Manor, Weilang
The heart of southern Chenbei and the crossroad of fateful encounters, Weilang remained dormant beneath the watchful gaze of the frigid heavens. The midnight silhouettes came in pairs, soliciting the void with their lanterns. Donning humble fabrics that complemented their armaments, these vigilant troopers safeguarded the dreams of their neighbors. Lanterns began to fade while the howling winds carried the denizens of Weilang through the land of dreams, but the wintry lullaby could not persuade the dim lit glow of the robust bastion of Orchid Manor. The heart of Weilang, the manor towered over the central district with its robust walls boasting the magnificence of the Dao family since their arrival from the north. As the structure spiraled upwards, a distinctive radiance emanated from the reticent Yan Garden of the manor. Beyond the veils of swaying trees and snow-laden shrubs, an enclosed structure resided on the edge of the elevated garden, where it retained a permanent sight of the entirety of the southern district. The frigid snow lingered, trickling occasionally from the fortified structure that overlooked the city.
The gentle breeze of Yanura's imminent warmth was in the form of a tranquil vessel that housed the patient efforts of a soft-spoken tortoise, whose gradual hands made sure to follow suit with the midnight ceremony that they were holding. Glowing optics beneath dark locks of flowing hair, matched only by their eloquent hands across the tea set that laid before them. Several candles situated themselves all around the room, unveiling the inhabitants' midnight gathering. Across from them was a white-haired individual, whose scarlet eyes were burning as brightly as they did that fateful day. The same man that exercised patience and prudence when they honored their pact by the Crimson River. A sorrowful man, whose waning hands were stirred into action by the one that sat across from him now. Out of the fires of their return to Weilang, a steely heart was forged. While the city sleeps soundly this night, the prodigal son must now face his heart’s febrile nature.
Despite the adequate and perhaps overbearing layers of apparel to keep them warm, as well as the warm cups of tea between the man and his master, the teamaster could not ignore the uninvited breeze that infiltrated their dwelling. Opaline trails of the swelling moon breached the gap in the ceiling, surrounding his master with its glowing veil. The Blue Tortoise was in the presence of the man that he owed his life to. A destiny that was only revealed to him upon his near departure from this realm - but his days have yet to be tallied. From nothing but drenched attires and distant words between weary strangers within a cramped sampan to a tidy lodge upon a frozen garden. Here they were, as master and servant, with facile complications of their intertwined path. The hole in the ceiling was reminiscent of the hole in the sampan’s covers that reminded the governor and their strategist of their humble journey. Despite the renovations that were offered by his lord’s subjects, the hole in the ceiling has yet to be addressed. So long as it remains unaddressed, the Blue Tortoise knew that their undeterred fealty had found a home, for the hole was a symbolic reminder that some noble works may yet be done.
The amber-eyed strategist finally unfurled his hands, lifting the vessel of tea with his long, elegant fingers. “Milord.” He offered, raising the bowl forward to level with his sight with great courtesy. The midnight tea meant more than an odd leisure, for this was the only time they finally found themselves in each other’s presence to look for their futures.
Fittingly, the Lord of Weilang was caught in the midst of prolonged journeys across thoughts and ephemeral landscapes; to take one step invites the presence of mountains, an undertaking can only be hard if it is endured. His penetrating gaze accompanying his mind across the upper-northern horizon, he continued his deep reflection. Having overcome a great task, he was already in the midst of another one, something which his companion no doubt knew fully. Whilst some things must be said, others are simply known. In their private leisure, the successor of Weilang had crossed his feet and tossed aside decorum, but all unto his own, his stature produced innate esteem. With his hand placed squarely upon the teacup, steam transferring its heat to the now Lord Dao, he invited his confidant and dear friend to speak through simple glance. The world was complex, and those who desired to retain power and create great things needed times, such as these, to contemplate. With their dominion nascent, greater challenges were an inevitability. On this matter, they no doubt thought much alike: what was to come, on the natural path for the two of them, was no secret.
Responding to the underlying tensions broiled by cosmic alignments held aloft by the circumstances of the continent, Shu Jin rose, and with him Dao’s gaze lowered to meet his movements. Snatching a candle from its post, he gradually glided past the bamboo curtain. A gentle hand undid the strings to unveil a vast parchment that encompassed the land. Dao took his first taste of the Nanbiao-tea, its taste warm yet frigid, lacking complexities, though elaborate in simplicity. The Blue Tortoise’s hand brushed over the imprinted illustrations softly, as the candle in their hand adjusted to their amber gaze. The candle hovered over the northern province of Bakliang, where the capital of Taiyang is shown, and Dao followed the light’s guidance. “In the far north, the Sanguine Tyrant rides on their flaming chariot, driven by their tamed wrath. While they may have shaken the heavens with their audacity, their path is one marked by perpetual ferocity and disharmony. Surrounded by enemies, their untenable position is bleak and their situation is endangered by the swaying hearts of the frontier marquises. But in the face of adversaries, their flames will burn ever brighter.” His coordinated sights and hand veered closer as Shu Jin panned the light towards the center-right side of the map.
“To the east of the Crimson River resides the remnants of Prince Majun’s loyalists. Many warlords and powerful nobles have rallied under the Tiger of Beiyan’s cause, raising war banners under the guise of aiding Majun’s cause. But the peas may overwhelm their stalks with time, should the ambitions of men remain unchecked. This is a speculative moment in Jianki’s history. The prince’s words were easily twisted by his hosts to the east. Qi Mon will surely use the prince’s name to fulfill his personal ambitions, making Seo Ji an enemy of Jianki. The coming years will make Jianki the proving ground for Seo Ji and Qi Mon. The fledgling and the cub must inevitably engage in battle, for the will of heaven will not tolerate coexistence between these ambitious behemoths. While their anticipatory clashes are distant, we must prepare ourselves to react accordingly.” Shu Jin gave his insights, with a dry smile almost forming on his countenance. It seemed as if the Blue Tortoise had expected such a crisis from long before. But even if he did, the will of the heavens will not reveal all the details until one has fulfilled their role. Looking back at his master briefly, the strategist got on his knees and shone the light over the familiar sight of Dao’s home.
“To the south, the combined ambitions of the River States will surely take them beyond the confines of the Fujin waterways. In time, our destiny will inevitably take us further south, so long as the Yuru continues to shine in the sky at night. Beware what arrives at our wharfs, for the Zhaos’ method of conquest is far from the swords and arms - their keen eyes and ears. But we are not alone, for opportune allies will present themselves in time.” Shu Jin's hands navigated the Fujin River, traversing the parchment with grace as his optics reminisced the conflicts of the distant future. He turned back towards his lord to address the fruits of their combined labors. The toils that have shaped Dao's resolve, guided by Shu Jin's profound hands, were now an attraction that beguiled their negligent neighbors' eyes. Where heroic feats were often sung, the young governor's path was one worthy of such recognition in the eyes of scheming politicians and cautious warlords alike. A new chapter to be written by the rightful ruler of Weilang, among the many tales of his future subjects. All that ends, must begin, so said the old principles of nature.
“Your uncle’s fleeting governance, while a bitter brew to digest, has served to remind the people of Weilang of the hardships ahead. While the blossom has yet to unveil its petals, it is wise to prepare the tea before it blooms. Your subjects now look to you for guidance. We must address the matter of the Wei rebels to the northwest and the Ganqing outlaws to the west, for we shall benefit greatly from our commitment.”
“Hanjun, home of the Qian family, has yet to see better days long before the young corporal Wei Jiang rebelled. For the last two years, the Qians resided in Cailang as a guest of the Xiang’s court in Miaolang and have made no effort to reclaim their home from the rebels. They say Wei Jiang is a warrior at heart, whose arms are only brought to bear against the Qians’ incompetent rule. A capable fighter, matched only by their composure, while Hanjun is a fertile and abundant land, uncultivated by shallow minds and feeble hands. A punitive expedition must be organized, lest the toils of your work be all for naught.” Reeling back to the task at hand, Shu Jin understood his lord's intentions with heart, as much as he was inclined to advise his Dao in any capacity. With the ever-changing state of Jianki's fractured heart, the ferryman that Shu first encountered upon the coursing Crimson River now had the eyes of the world upon him.
“While I may assist you in the matter of our armory stockpile and grains among the many things that can and will be attended to, the heart of Weilang’s might ultimately resides in your resolve.“ Shu Jin finally concludes the immediate situation of Weilang’s fate. Sashaying back to his seat, the Blue Tortoise cast aside the candle, relinquishing his grasp to be folded along with his posture.
“The Empire is undergoing a fever. A fever that invites opportunists and manipulators in these turbulent times. Few are eager to combat this sickness, save the few patriots and persons of honor. Weilang might be the cradle of your upbringing, milord, but the Lord-in-Metal cannot remain in the cradle forever. There is much to be done for many years to come. Blood will be spilled, and we will suffer along with the rest. Will your heart be as tranquil as your brush?” Shu’s eyes met Dao’s with a firm gaze. The aromatic Nanbiao blend rose into the air between them, perforating intentions and thoughts of thoughtful gentlemen, whose fates were just as much entwined. He and Dao both knew that conquest was the only way to drown the fires that engulfed the realm, for the light will attract the moths.
“Fret not, my will is greater than the challenges which lie at the precipice,” Dao replied with assurance before continuing in mild suave. “Opportunists are what we all are: it is necessary should one seek to correct what was wrong.” A dry smirk masked the contemplative nature of Lord Dao, whose thoughts had been stirred by the circumstances of the continent and the all-but-uttered disintegration of the Celestial Mandate. Dao retrieved his hand, and brushed his fingers across his chin before lowering it against the table: “The north is in turmoil, tigers vying over hunting-grounds and the incompetents masquerade as righteous masters; the realm is truly vast whilst the Emperor’s away,” Dao uttered in ridicule, his distaste for the continent’s circumstances noticeable through the hardiest of barriers. It would be of no doubt that the continent’s destiny would depend solely on conflicts revolving around Bakliang. But whilst decisive events were to unfold far beyond the walls of the Orchid Manor, it would allow the opportune time for Weilang to cultivate its own position of power. The most important step was to be the next one, and it was a clear choice.
“You, as much as I, know that our first task must be the taking of Hanjun; through Hanjun our reach is doubled, and our position tripled. We must conquer the crimson river, and unseat Wei Jiang. We must weather the animosity of such an undertaking, and build a center of power around lower Chenbei,” Dao said with certainty. Shu Jin could no doubt understand why: by leaving Hanjun for others’ ambitions, the position of Weilang would be threatened by the proximity of the river. As such, being able to control both sides, would not only increase economic leverage over the years, but improve the realm’s security against the ambitions of would-be conquerors. Dao’s eyes remained striking, and his words were at no end yet, “are we to fail in sowing our fields, we may never harvest useful bounty. There are many hands which pull at events even here, far beyond the confluence of events. If we anger Xiang in-so-doing, then so be it, but we can never fail at holding Hanjun; in the future it will become the gateway to the Riverlands.”
The strategist's hand caressed his chin softly, measuring the words of his lord that proffered - all according to his expectations. Truly, his master had learnt much from their recent exploits. A smile formed upon his countenance, nodding ever gracefully to the necessity of their undertaking as Dao conceived in his words.
Dao throttled his thumb against the table, and a discernible thump emanated from within the wood under the strength of his steely hand. In direct opposition, his words were commanding, but spoken softly; he and Shu Jin’s relationship was too great to demand of Dao any semblance of theatry. Dao, having proven his point to himself, loosened his stature, and returned to a relaxed sitting posture. Shu Jin was able to recognize the agitated worry of a lord without experience in his moment of openness. There was no other, immortal or not, who the Lord-in-Metal would reveal his weaknesses and doubts to. For that is what Dao was: worried. He had not inherited a realm at peace, in a world without conflict. He had taken, through the sword, what belonged to him by right. And none would care, no duke nor mariquise. There were no allies inherited through familial bonds and oaths of loyalty between territorial lordships.
As Shu Jin followed Dao’s gaze, they both looked upon the land under the Lu Dominion: the site of Dao Yanjin’s, the deceased father of Dao Chaolong’s, oathbound brother. But with the lordship of Dao’s Uncle, all ties were as good as buried, just as Lu Dang. To refashion old alliances would be necessary to consolidate the realms, and soothe the forests and the mountains from chaos. But would such actions be possible?
Dao willed possibility into existence, the impossible becoming plausible as he grasped his fist. “I care not if Seo Ji and Qi Mon were to knock upon the gates of this mansion and force their ambitions upon me, I will conquer the unconquerable, and through you, master the impossible. I will catch lightning, if it would allow me the chance to right the wrong, and depose the manipulant.” Risen from doubt, the future was clearer and actions to be taken more obvious. But he was greater than being fooled solely by his own will. The advice of his confidants, all of them, could very well reveal the egg of a phoenix or the roots of a millennium-ginseng.
The Blue Tortoise smiled softly, taking in a sense of pride that his master’s prudence had long surpassed his expectations. The unspoken understanding between them seems to gradually intertwine as if Shu was an extension of his lord’s will. Sparing their defined roles, Shu perceived Dao as a friend, as much as the latter’s father did Lu Dang. It is the worries in Dao’s eyes that reminded the Blue Tortoise that his path was just. For the silent concerns in his lord’s eyes were genuine factors that defined his humanity. Shu Jin’s right hand curled up into a fist, while his left encompassed it with elegance. The man then lowered his head slightly to complete the gesture. “I have served and will be of service to realize your aspirations, milord.” He saluted softly. Come morning, there were many tasks that demanded their attention before the year was truly over. The strategist knew it in his heart then that his master was destined for greater endeavors than a mere governor.
Shu leaned back with both his hands upon the bamboo mat, supporting his slight recline.
"Now, onto greater matters that demands your utmost attention. Uncle Mori's midnight stall should be open by now. What say you to a bowl of noodles and dumplings? My treat." The strategist offered his master.
Master and servant, friend and comrade, the Lord-in-Metal and the Blue Tortoise's tea session proved far more profound than a mere conversation. Under the moonlit night, their contract was renewed, as the young governor adhered to his undaunted resolve, while their brilliant advisor complemented their thoughts. On the final days of the turbulent year's revelations, their cohesive minds would pave the way for a new beginning that was to come - so spoke the fine blend of the tranquil tea.
styled Jinlong Central Square, Weilang
styled Saimon Central Square, Weilang
While the snow has yet to be cleared from the cobbled steps of Weilang, Yanura's gentle breeze swept much of the city's denizens off their feet in anticipation of the grand gathering in the Central Square. Citizens flocked to the streets, while parents could hardly restrain the excitement of their small children. The main road was lined with colorful decorations that strung across from rooftops to rooftops. Collection of veteran troopers holding aloft the proud banners of their allegiance, donning humble armors and freshly-patched uniforms, presented themselves along the cobbled path, while their garrison counterparts appropriated their manpower and resources to policing duties. The flowery road into the city was cleared for several august individuals that were invited by their governor. Members of distant clans, prominent aristocrats and those that sought to offer their service to Weilang's master began to pour into the city. Many came upon horseback, while others on foot, with their entourage and towed tributes trying to catch up.
Hearty drums and great horns beckoned the newcomers of Weilang to approach the Central Square, where their host awaited. A rare sight to behold for a local celebration that extended its reach to all that was willing to hear - but nevertheless an expected feat orchestrated by Governor Dao himself. The finer details were spurred on and embellished by his trusty advisor and friend. A man known for his tranquil personality and gifted mind, whose shrouded roots discerned him from many of his capacities. Shu Jin, styled Saimon, donned a particular attire that was wider than his form for the peculiar event that was about to transpire. An ornate incense holder resided before the Blue Tortoise, accompanied by three shots of rice wine and two bowls of brown and white rice respectively. As their guests positioned themselves appropriately across the square, the blaring drums and horns finally came to a halt. A truce of silence remained for a brief moment, giving the governor ample time to scrutinize the faces that have heeded his call.
The Blue Tortoise raised three incense sticks, sweeping his gentle fingers across the tip with purpose, igniting them swiftly as he did. The fumes began to perforate across the air, as the man leveled it above his forehead to honor the heavens. His amber optics concealed itself beneath his fair eyelids, with subtle prayers to proffer unto the eternal sky. The reticent wind came upon the assembly square, turning the ceremony master's robes as translucent blue tiles began to form all around them. It danced around Shu Jin, forming a revolving chamber of pure qi that glowed brilliantly. The trinity of incense began to crack, as it underwent a period of metamorphosis that culminated in a bright release of cultivated energy. The surge of qi shot into the sky, bringing about a glamorous display of splendor as the energy breached the gray clouds where its destination was no longer within sight. The glowing incense sticks were then stemmed into the pot before them, as the Blue Tortoise poured the rice wine over the sacred ground that he had made, purifying and sealing his offer to the heavens. An attendant sashayed over to Shu Jin with a pot of brown grain in their hands. The latter grabbed a handful of grain and tossed it onto the ground before him. The incense continued to burn with its amber flames replaced with crimson embers, while Shu Jin wrapped up the ceremonial procedure with a satisfied sigh. He then exercised three bows and kneels before the makeshift altar. The first was made to honor the heavenly beings for their gift of life - made for the heavens. The second was made to pay heed to their ancestors, fulfilling the integrity of filial piety - made for earth. The last kneel was done to finalize the harmony between heaven and earth. The strategist took three steps backwards, before fully turning around to salute his lord. Having done so, Shu Jin blended into the background, cueing the governor to make his anticipated entrance and subsequent address. The very reason that such a ceremony was arranged, aside from merely a gathering of the governor's subjects, was a scheme to rally many to his lord's cause. While they might have won Weilang and vanquished Dao Ren's cruel regime, Chaolong's reign was still in its infancy. Before the governor could look beyond his borders, the matters of his home must be addressed. Even now, Shu Jin looked beyond the crowd, plucking notable individuals from those that had gathered for the occasion with his keen eyes. While the Blue Tortoise has situated his eyes and ears in and around Weilang for the past few months, new faces and expertises may yet be found among their expected visitors. While Shu Jin may arrange the stepping stones for Weilang, it is ultimately Dao Chaolong's steps that will shake the heavens. With the eyes of their attending guests and vigilant attendants upon the governor, the sapphire spring brought forth a stirring zephyr.
The culm of years spent in effortful toil had finally reached their peak in the finalizing moments of his resistance against the oppressive and tyrannical Dao Ren, with much blood spilt and much effort expended. The celebration was as much an introduction of the fledgling dragon as it was the honouring of myriad warriors aligned to his cause, from all walks of life and all stations underneath the heavens and across the earth. And in moments such as these, it would appear that the skies had truly blessed such an unfortunate man as Dao Chaolong had been, much like the youth of his own father Dao Yanjin, the Virtuous Commander. None could have expected that, as the winds coiled around his snow-likened mane and blew them in picturesqueness, the son of greatness confined to a dilapidated mansion would rise to the station as he now had. Least of all the one since deposed from the unrightful throne he had taken for the dominion of a once humble Weilang made great by the heritage Dao Ren had ignored.
Dao Chaolong would allow the crowd their moments owed in anticipation, honouring the past as much as the present in a way fitting solely to himself, as opposed to the ceremoniousness of his most close Strategist. Standing taller than most, he did not appear the bedrock which he had become in the overcoming of his opposition, but rooted within his coil was a ferocity of which soon would be unleashed for all to witness as he raised his right hand aloft and spoke his fill: “O’ Heavens, witness us, proud believers in that which is just, and that which is right; hear me as I speak for all mankind in disdain for the unrightful,” a thunderous proclamation, but one earned. The sleek figure of a man who had known no war and no battle until his adulting years now stood victorious in righteous rebellion; an accomplishment worthy of his father, and one who perhaps even Dao Shenji would look upon with satisfaction. The warriors gathered there, across the seemingly endless road before him, and the citizens who mingled inbetwixt their orchestrated formations knew, if not from personal experience, then from the town-scape whispers which roamed the days of the man who he appeared to be: truly the son of Yanjin. “We had fought the vicious, and the corrupt, and I had stood along the rows of warriors thinking not of my own life but of the people; all of you who now gather before me today, just as my father had as he built these great mansions and ferried man, woman, and child across the river Crimson and along the Fujin.” The Governor then lowered his hand, and with it he panned along the horizons, over the people of Weilang, as he recounted the good which had come from the Dao ancestry. “I am truly no different than any amongst you, for I knew poverty, and the threat of danger just as any citizen would; for the Dao are no different than the commoners, for that is whence we herald. Shenji a farmer, my father Yanjin a ferryman, and Wuji a blacksmith; and as such I stand here not upon raised platform but upon the humble road as nothing but another administrator.” His calloused hands, and the strength held within, spoke of such on their own, displayed proudly for all to judge. Even with his sleek body, he was hard of mind, and strong of grip. “We herald from different paths, you and me. But we seek one and the same purpose, and our Tao therefore are aligned. Just as we, united, unrooted the seeds of corruption in our fight against Dao Ren, I swear here and now, today, before the heavens…!”
The man would roar, and the earth would shake, and the wind would ripple: blowing his cloth in every-which direction, and the white would fly as raindrops to the sky, as lanterns would gleam so bright, and the flakes of snow would carry their light; “That I will fight for your claim to peace and righteous life!”
The newly appointed Governor of Weilang then moved to the side, and carried his hand towards the altars formerly behind his back, and turned towards these embodiments of the divine and the material concepts of heaven and earth, bringing the gaze of his audience with him through the hand which would soon typify the blind justice which he would be the vessel for. He bowed thrice, once before the heavens, and their divine will and their graceful gift of the earth. The earth of which he would bow to thereafter, for it’s gift of land and the civilization which it had cultivated and the wisdom of his ancestors which he had inherited. And the third, he would turn, and bow before the people, those whom he would guide, and be guided by, to produce a world in unity and in harmony with the wills of that which was best suited for them. The last, perhaps in supreme strangeness, was the most elaborate: for he would retrieve from one of his warrior-retainers most close by, three incense sticks, bowing in the same motion as he affixed them, as they burned with their last flickers, within a humble clay pot which had gone unnoticed until then before him.
Having concluded the ceremonial procedures and offerings, the subsequent tributes of the attending clans were warmly received by Shu Jin on behalf of his lord. The guests were then taken to the Orchid Manor for respite until the evening, where they were called to the Hall of Principles for a banquet. Legend-makers and valiant attendants were thrown into a world where status of wealth and influences were equalized by their universal facilities. As intended by his master’s intention, Shu Jin made sure to attend to the needs of those that answered Dao’s letters. Whether by allure of their personal agendas or that of their aligned interests to right the wrongs of the realm, these individuals were given a chance to reside in the young governor’s home, where wisdom may yet be proffered. Behind the courtesies of a welcoming feast to honor the Sky Ceremony, it provided Dao and Shu Jin an opportunity to study the intents of their guests. While intelligence from dispatches have been extensively studied, it is difficult to discern facts from fiction by second-hand accounts alone. Documents can be falsified, spies may be bribed and treacherous ambitions are often concealed. The surest way to understand their subject, honed by centuries of political meandering that reinforced profound authorities until this day, was to engage with them directly. Armed with the cunning, albeit unorthodox Blue Tortoise, Dao was about to be fully exposed to his father's meticulous works and enduring connections. Honesty in stern criticisms, and honeyed subtlety among laughters - these murky waters can only be cleared by those with an iron will. Shu had little worries, for his profound faith in Dao surpassed that of the mightiest of trees.
Lifting his third bowl of wine, the strategist toasted his peers, finally seeing the last of the representatives back to their lodgings provided by the Manor. Among them was a peculiar gentleman whose steps were halted as they beckoned Shu's attention. The Blue Tortoise studied their visage as the purple sky gave way to the flickering lanterns by the servants and auxiliary faculty.
"Master Shu. I understand you must be busy attending to the rest of us. But may I have a moment of your time?" The gentleman greeted Shu with a courteous palm salute. The prior shook his head slightly with a reluctant smile, before reforming his salute once more. "My apologies. I am Murong Yan. My father, Sir Murong Han, is currently recovering from a fever. I came here in his stead, as honor dictates." The man claimed, with his young countenance refined as he stepped into the lantern's light.
"The honor is mine, Master Murong." Shu replied with a salute of his own to match Murong's. The name tickled their memory, for the Murong clan was known for their farm estates and in the case of Murong Yan's reticent greeting - subtlety. Despite having every chance to direct their concerns to Dao at the feast, Murong's delay meant something more than what their peers needed to hear. Acknowledging Murong's request for an audience in privy, the Blue Tortoise's eyes finally flickered. "What news do you bring that saw fit to bestow upon my ears this evening, Master Murong?" Shu Jin inquired, guiding the man past the wall where they were left to their own devices for a conversation undisturbed.
"I'm sure you were expecting the Head of the Songryeon League of Trade to show, were you not?" Murong Yan inquired, bringing up the matter of the well-known Songryeon League that was composed of Tae-Han traders that operated in southern Jianki along the Crimson and Fujin rivers. Those that dwelled in Chenbei, the epicenter of their influences have heard of their exploits. For they were an integral factor that possessed various intricate networks of mercantile activities, as well as the funds to make or break a state. It was an eventuality that the League would seek out the recently appointed governor of Weilang to further their interests. While Shu Jin had taken his time to study their interests in regards to his lord's future, Murong Yan's genuine concerns for the governor was among the first of the many that attended the Sky Ceremony that day. A smile was then formed on the strategist's face, as he folded his hands behind his back.
"They were expected, but their absence this evening bodes well for the governor's cause." Shu Jin replied, placating the young man's mind with his subtle gaze. A gesture that was universally interpreted by both parties that Shu Jin had counted on what had transpired.
"I see, so you have already expected such a move. As expected of your name, Master Shu. As you already know, they are a powerful association. A force most lethal if Governor Dao does not adhere to their terms. I'm curious, while my family will continue to provide for the governor's granaries, how will you procure the funding for the expedition without the League's backing?" Murong Yan stated, raising his brows intently as he gauged the strategist's eyes ever closely.
"It is unwise to forecast a plan governed by the heavens, Master Murong. Fret not, our governor will appropriate your concerns when it is wise to do so. Although our conversation makes me wonder if you truly were concerned over the matters of the League's absence? Perhaps you have other wisdom to share?" Shu Jin retorted, answering Murong Yan's inquiry with a question of his own.
"What perceptive eyes you possess, Master Shu. Very well, I shall be blunt. Beware the Hua clan, for they were in the pockets of our governor's predecessor and then the League's. They owe their loyalty to wealth and power, with little care for the people. I fear they will try to cause trouble for the governor to line their pockets and further their own interests as they did with Dao Ren's tyranny. My concerns reside in the men who have yet to return from their service, while our fields are dry and our tools remain inefficient. The Murongs have heard the governor's rally and answered it, but we need your help to provide our service." Murong explained, as he kneeled before the Blue Tortoise. "Now that Governor Dao has taken up his rightful claim and raised his father's banner once more, I humbly request that you continue to aid Weilang in our times of need, Master Shu Jin. This is my family's mission, entrusted to me by my father's will. I will not leave this ground until you honor our family's cry, sir!" Murong Yan's head sank lower than his open palm and fist, with his robes spilling over the ground and his knees stemmed against the stony tiles beneath with an imposing solicitation. Having seen Murong Yan's dedicated eyes, as well as his resolute stance written in his filial piety, Shu Jin sighed slightly at the gentleman's dramatic course of actions.
"Your dedication to Weilang and your family is one most valiant and commendable. Fret not, Master Murong, for our lord will not forsake his people in these tumultuous times. My lord will see to it that the fields will be bountiful this year and that your subjects may return to their families in time for New Year's eve. Rise, sir, please! If you persist on such dramatic gestures, I will lose my years! Come, Master Murong, rise." Shu replied with haste in his voice, pulling Murong from his stance. The latter eventually complied, upon Shu Jin's assuring words.
"The Murong clan owes you a great debt for the liberation of Weilang alone. If there is anything we can do, you need only command and we shall follow, Master Shu." Murong Yan added, rising to his feet.
"Not at all, sir, for we will have many chances to speak in due time. All will play their roles to achieve an everlasting peace, Master Murong. I shall summon your services tomorrow, as the matter of your clan's works will be addressed personally by our new staff - of which should be arriving shortly for their final reviewing process." Shu Jin noted, turning over to the wall that separated them from the main Hall of Principles.
"I understand and will not keep you, Master Shu. Thank you for granting me an audience once again. I shall return to my lodgings and await your summons, sir. May the heavens guide you this night." Murong Yan bid his farewell, saluting Shu Jin with an elated smile before taking off. The strategist then sent a servant off to guide the young Murong back to his quarters within the Manor. Shu Jin lingered for a mere minute, pacing himself along the cobbled path in reticent thoughts, as he gradually returned to the Hall of Principles just as the last batch of his lord's guests had shown themselves.
This last band was the one that Shu Jin was looking forward to measuring in person as he did their profiles during the brief intervals of the feast that was broken up into different parts of the evening. After all, the Manor was a humble estate meant to house a fraction of the Dao household and not in the capacity of a large gathering. Alas, with their recently expanded budget in the procuration of fine wine and cuisines, such a distraction was enough for the strategist and his lord to accustom themselves to their new associates - many of whom were plucked from various backgrounds for their services. Both old and new members were conjured from the dossiers that Shu Jin had been reviewing throughout their afternoon. After all, the formation of their new board of staff was a crucial step in making sure that Dao Chaolong familiarize himself with the use of men and their minds, among the many things that Shu Jin will expose him to in the future - all to realize the governor's righteous endeavors.
When the multitude of carefully-plucked personnel arrived, the Hall of Principles was then shut. Unlike the tipsy politeness that was brokered forth for the governor's distant guests, the air that surrounded the last multitude was marked with distinct discipline and soberness. The governor resided in his space that overlooked the two rows of seats positioned perpendicular to the entrance, as they mirrored each other accordingly. Upon their leveled desks were equally appropriated cuisines and drinks that were prepared just before the retainers' arrival. The servants that usually attended each guest were dismissed, leaving both the old and new retainers to be scrutinized personally by the governor himself. Their visages will be etched into this very hall for many years to come, for they would become the vanguard of Dao's authority.
As Dao Chaolong's trusted advisor and strategist, Shu Jin believed that his lord needed more than just the latter's wits to bring peace to the realm. To make use of skills that he did not possess, Shu Jin was poised on making sure that all the ingredients were brought to the table before the entrée could be made. By equipping the governor with knights and scholars, it served two purposes that any wise leader would have considered. Firstly, a reformed cabinet would ensure that Dao's authority be adhered to, for no leader can lead without a reliable company of enforcers. Among those whose talents were best cultivated by competent leadership, there were others that can be of use to Dao's cause no matter what their beliefs were. To make up for the numbers that they lacked, Shu Jin had sought after those with either heart or skills. These heroes and soon-to-be legends will be Dao's primary instruments in the years to come. The second purpose resided in the simple fact that Weilang had suffered under Dao Ren's cruel regime which saw a brief period of corruption and nepotism. By incorporating both the commoner and the nobilities within Dao's court, the governor would be able to hone their administrative abilities, while being exposed to a variety of ideas that may contain everlasting wisdoms. From an average citizen’s point of view, the indiscriminate system of meritocracy will also confide the people's trust and support in their lord - undoing the scars that Dao Ren had caused. As he now looked to the main event of the Sky Ceremony's purpose, Shu Jin got up from his seat, adjacent to his lord's side.
Shu Jin flattened his hands, with his left covering his right to form a casual salute to those before him. A bright smile was quickly formed to placate the tension imposed upon them by the gathering in privy. "Welcome, warriors and savants. Please take your seats." Shu Jin's left hand unfurled, prompting everyone to follow suit. "We've all been gathered tonight to honor Governor Dao Yanjin, our lord's father, and to celebrate Governor Dao's pact with the heavens. To right the wrongs of the heavens and to bring peace back to the land. Your honor is evident in your presence, and I look forward to seeing the land flourish with your talents. To those who are new to the Manor, we bid you welcome." Having made clear the true purpose of their private soiree, the strategist then returned to his seat, directing their audience's eyes and ears towards Dao.
“You must pardon me for my impudence in presenting myself less than prudently, for our bond is already made, and our futures set,” Dao stated, as he remained seated, and presented himself in his true light: thinking little of the intrigues of courts and the feigned pleasantries of manipulators. His mind was in the comforting embrace of the company before him; vouched for by the scrutinizing intellect of Shu Jin, presenting Governor Dao with little reason to entertain false pretenses. Still, his figure retained the artistic presentations of lordship even in relaxed circumstances, the lingering shine of lanterns touching him lightly, as his silhouette was cloaked by the nobility he now grasped. “Even so, I welcome all amongst you with utmost honour; words mean more to me, you see, than it does to others.” The atmosphere was much unlike any which this hall had seen before during the passing of this momentous day, for it was a moment which would shape all others: the time where the city of Weilang would initiate their eventual claim over all that could be held within dominion. “Those most acquainted amongst you may have already recognized that this gathering is much unlike those predating it during this day of merry-making, and this is true,” he responded, answering the unspoken question internalized by the courtesies of all those before him, yet manifested in the air which flowed with eerie calm amongst them. “Some amidst you I have never seen, but heard much about. And others I have seen much of, but heard little from. And there are those of you who I have seen and I have heard. All of you, I welcome; Weilang welcomes, as we step towards the future during the passing of this eve, and the developments of this most cardinal feast.”
Dao’s hand edged across his own table, as he extended his gaze along the visages of all that was before him, his mind ablaze in contemplation and introspective inquiry. His momentary pause allowed his guests their chance to reflect on Dao’s most personal, and most unbarred of instances; a time to acquaint themselves with their lord in the moment of his address. But it was no doubt known to all minds gathered within the hall that what was to come was what would matter most. “As you all know, the lands of Jianki are embroiled in chaos, and the beacon held by the Imperial Capital for centuries untold has now faltered, and all order, therefore, is waning,” he spat with venomous grit and radiant displeasure, Dao Ren’s rulership yet recent in his throat. “The dragons and the tigers of the heartlands vie for power and position, and those on the outskirts of these conflicts maneuver, plot, and scheme, whilst the Imperial family, divided, quarrel over the throne of all Jianki as if it was spoils to be taken.” The Governor attempted to internalize his own fury, and could manage, but for no more than seconds before he brought his fist down upon his table, and shook the entirety of the Orchid Manor from its soothing calmness and vibrant ambiance. However, his words remained cooled by the winter’s tranquil melodies touching upon the manor’s exterior: “it is therefore with little pleasure that I must take part in equal villainy and hedge my bid for power. To erase the land of chaos, and impose structure where none can be found any longer.”
“And that is impossible, for me, without the support of you, all of you, united,” he expressed with supreme authenticity, bringing before himself both his hands, and locking them together, in a symbolic presentation of harmony and of unification. “From all walks of life, we desire but one thing, and we will utilize my dominion to accomplish it: the foundations of a vast house for all to be protected, and to be at peace from the dangers of the wilderness beyond.” Dao knew, for a long time, that his dream had merely begun, and in this present, he knew even more so now, that what he wished for lay further still. But, his life, up until now, had been nothing but preparation, and Shu Jin had been his recent companion in the development and manifestation of his dream into concrete policy and introducible edicts. Yet, there was one thing which carried even greater importance, and that was their next step; Weilang’s next step; the step which would initiate a new age upon all Jianki. Having allowed an appropriate pause in his words for his audience to reflect, Jinlong resumed his word. “Weilang is threatened, and not simply from its own vicarious position caused by the brutal battles of our righteous revolution, but from beyond as well. Hanjun to our north, across the Crimson River: a city once proud and prosperous; a harbour from whence Taiyang could explore the world, and the immortals grace the south in the mythic age. Now ravaged by revolt and the lordship of brigandry, whilst marauders meander the riverbank to our west, where they pick and plunder at their leisure thanks to the vacuum left by the incapable which dominated this land until now.” The Governor eased himself in his seat, his fury reduced and his calculable nature beginning to shine through even his own volatile, yet designing temperament.
His words carried a nature unbecoming of his youth, as if spoken from decades of experience. Both of which were true, as his childhood was spent with little other than the studying of gubernatorial mechanisms and the processes of ruling. There was nothing he knew more than what he was in the position to accomplish, revealing his rightful position and least of all his ambitions to succeed in what he had promised. “During an era such as this, embroiled in conflict and spurred on by the ambitions of the unrighteous, it is imperative that all lands receive guidance from those enlightened in providing it; to navigate the rough waves of a turbulent sea,” he spoke, whilst once again overlooking the hall and overseeing the vastness of the intellect found within, “which is why we must restore order across the river, secure Hanjin and fortify the routes to its south, and solidify our hold to the southern lands. Only then can we ever dream.”
Dao Chaolong rose, and swept his embroidered cloth to his side with the flowing of his hand in mimicry of the river-currents which his father had mastered, and he therefore had inherited, declaring once he had, that “our first, and my own demand, is an expedition through military force, and the rightful introduction of Hanjun beneath a banner which would not see it extorted and broken for little else than greed and corrupt governance.”
“But the armies beneath my banner, and under your command,” Dao expanded, gazing upon those most martial amongst them, “are untrained, and skilled only in morality. Armed with little but the plow, hammer, and axe; equipped solely for the sowing of the farmland, the cleaving for carpentry, and the forging of simple tools. Yet, we won our war, but must not expect to win all equipped as we are. Still, it speaks for your competence, and my faith in our people.” Pride coalesced in worry as he uttered these words to the assembly, more issues surfacing as he continued: “and still yet, there is presently no system from which we can bolster our ranks, the citizenry knowing nothing but the forceful conscription of seemingly random men and women, at the whimsical behest of unprincipled recruiters,” returning to his seat as he furthered. “We must institutionalize a reform of the very grounds of our military, to make it attractive for the people to materialize their anger at this wicked era and fight for their rights to the earth beneath their feet, through incentive and structure: the establishing of an institution of war maintained by a willing industry capable in the arming of its protectors, with the ultimate anticipation of its eventual dissolution at the invitation of a more peaceful time,” his will, just as his foresight, gleaming through the hall like the sun through moody clouds, thinking beyond what was immediate.
“To accomplish this, the lands of Weilang, and those surrounding it, must endure change. But this change, whilst hard, will foster growth immeasurable. However, the fields and the farms are in decline, and the lands from whence we cultivate our own territory are in demonstrable need of oversight. Much of our inherited wealth, the resources provided by the earth, are yet to be even found, lying unexplored beneath our very feet,” Dao explained with a heavy heart, the dereliction projected by the rule of Dao Ren having ignored the plains and the forests for far too long, dismissing entirely the river’s importance. Much of his father’s legacy, uprooted by the accumulation of wealth so pervasive through his uncle’s reign, meaning nothing but hardship for all who occupied the lands. “But because of our circumstance, and the support of our cause, it will make the populace, at least for now, more susceptible to the changing of systems, and the implementation of proper procedure. And whilst the past was tough, Dao Ren left us with one gift in the very least: a treasury brimmed with the gold required to enact this change.”
Dao Chaolong touched his goblet, of bronze and golden embossing, with his strong grip. As he raised it, so too did he raise the hopes of all in his attendance. “It is within our power, now and only now, to see the world to its proper course. Let us feast, then, and raise a toast: to better times, of brighter heavens, and a finer earth!”
When distinguished clans clamored within the splendorous Orchid Manor, the Hued Brothers took one another in arms with strings of zie clinking joyfully with their every step. Third, Fourth, and Sixth Brother shouted for flasks of wine in great valor. The first to fell to the drink would forfeit their string of zie for the night's entertainment and pleasure. Second and Fifth Brother watched from the side in great amusement, as they had attained for themselves a source of free drink from the three brothers' bet. Seventh Brother, also benefiting from the betting pool, instead paid his attention to a nail protruding from the head of the table, deep in thought as lyrical beauty flashed and went from his sober mind.
Afar from the joyful night of the Hued Gang, at a humble courtyard where the brothers lived, a young man sat upon the wooden veranda, facing an empty training ground only illuminated by the rare slivers of moonlight. Cang Aili Si, styled Chienying, raised a flute to his lips and played a lonely harmony into the night. The aptly named Night Grass of Herdei was a song of tranquility, reflecting the subsiding yang and the swaying ying as the moon above stilled, unchanged by the whims of humans below. Yet, as the last melody vanished into the distant clamors of the night, Cang Aili Si, First Brother of the Hued Gang, could only sigh in trepidation. His heart, racing like an urgent war messenger, refused to pace.
Dao Chaolong was far too prepossessing.
Ah, she could still see him, a poised magnolia upon a grand pedestal! Such a blessing it was to possess eyes! Grand was his performance, the luxurious clothes draped over his broad shoulders like gold gilding the petals of a perfect lily. And when he roared! Praise the Earth and Heaven, when flakes of snow trembled through the deep, guttural majesty of his throat, when righteous fierceness clawed through the sombre poise of his visage, her heart, were it not for her masterful perseverance and willpower, would have leap into sing and dance, showering praises to the Earth and Heaven for creating such beauty on this mortal realm! Praise the Heaven for creating such beauty on this mortal realm! Praise the Late Lord Dao Yanjin and the Lord's mother for creating such a beautiful son! Praise the Lord for having an advisor just as pleasing to the eyes, perfect as jade sculpted into art! AAAAH, she can't, she can't hold it in anymore!
Cang Aili Si blew a single high note into the flute, piercing the night with a scream shrill and long that brought angry shouts and banging to the entrance. However, upon witnessing the cold, heartless face opening the door, and the murderous aura bleeding through, all manners of complaint failed to squeak. With a snort, Chienying slammed the door close, and retreated to his room. That last screeching tone vented the last of her trepidation. With some time left before the meeting, she sat cross-legged in her spacious room and meditated. Soon, she would meet the Lord at a banquet. Him, most certainly his violet strategist beauty, and many retainers of varying potential levels and types of allure and appeal. She must come prepared.
Nothing could have prepared Chienying for this.
Six. From their entrance to their current seating arrange in the Hall of Principles, Chienying could count at least six beauties tugging at her poor maiden heart and innocent eyes by their mere presence. As the Violet Beauty Shu Jin greeted in introduction, Chienying casually swept a cool glance around the room, with qi subtly blinking in her eyes too fast for casual observers to notice.
Under his ever-tranquil and calm visage, Chienying let out an internal scream. Heaven! Had she entered the vault of Heaven by mistake?!
Though his eyes rested in cool respect upon the Lord, Chienying had long went dancing instead to his own tune of heavenly daze.
Full Moon Master, the scholarly beauty of the year past! Gentle Master Song, oh how she had wept that their meeting was transient, a winely summer dream she eventually must left behind, but the ever whimsical fate had united them so beautifully under the same banner, and what a glorious one it was! The banner of a Lord, lordly as the devilish whisper of the Crimson River and righteous as a youth taking his first step into the Jianghu! Were their eyes to meet, Chienying would grace Master Shen a subtle nod, that of a friend who met after prolonged parting.
Ah, there sat a Phoenix Beauty whose fierceness radiated from a mere gaze. Ah, sat a Sculpted Monk, the forbidden masterpiece of Heaven. There, a handsome Young Master tall as he was pride. And- no, he could not be mistaken; one whose beauty eclipsed that of women, yet her heart, her eyes could not be deceived! He was a beauty among men, a Celestial! And there...!
Chienying took a sharp breath, his pupils dilating. He quickly recovered, clutching onto the fabric of his purple garb, before regaining the mask of cold, contemplative composure. The Lord reached a crescendo of emotion, slamming the table and pouring his passionate loyalty for the people to his loyal retinue. Chienying, however, was distracted. Briefly, his eyes darted away from Lord Dao, though no more. He still couldn't believe his eyes, a sight more surprising than the dangerous political landscape Lord Dao painted earlier.
A scene of years past, at the vast expanse of Oriban Plain, at the foot of Yan'sa Mountain. The young man whose single-minded discipline captivated her curiosity yet allow it no room to enter. Young Master Asahi. She recalled vividly the beads of sweat practically eternal on his muscles, the roses painted on his chest, yet not his face, as it returned as a blur to her mind. Could it be him? Someone like Master Shen, who she had thought to never meet again, yet reappearing in her life at this very banquet? Had she, Chienying contemplated, entered the rank of those destined by Heaven? The thought of it, though incredulous and she recognised the fantasy-like quality of it, still had her shudder from enlivened giddiness.
As Dao Chaolong raised his goblet, so did Chienying raised his glass. Her heart inside had long abandoned relaxed enjoyment and leapt freely in her contained will, singing of the rain, the harvest, and the golden wheat to follow.
"To better times, of brighter heavens, and a finer earth!"
Tinges of excitement slipped into his toast as Chienying drained his wine and allowed a hint of a smile, a fraction of his true happiness peeking through his shroud of closely guarded heart. He repeated the toast once more in his heart, firming his loyalty toward Lord Dao.
Be it the storm of politic or the claws of the devil, no one shall rob her of her wonderful time, beautiful Heaven, and ravishing Earth.
It tastes sweet, the drink he carefully sipped from in the banquet. That shouldn't be the case, naturally. He knew well that it should taste somewhat bitter and intoxicating, like the sensation of drinking a poison that didn't dare to be deadly in such small amounts.
They celebrated with smiles and convincing performances, hopeful for their future and the one they'll share with one another. Perhaps for that reason, their drink too tasted sweet. Of course, someone like Lord Dao probably tasted this sweetness time and time before: the feeling of hope, yet still containing that bitter feeling to it. He weaved his words with grandiosity and clarity, raising spirits and goblets alike to the air, like a close friend to all of them. Yet Zhou Wín Sen wondered -- how much of was truly genuine? Truthfully, he had no reason to doubt Lord Dao's convictions. He was wise, and above all, strong in spirit. For that reason alone a group such as this own naturally approached him. Why he approached him.
"I thank you humbly for the opportunity yet again, Lord Dao," yes, that much was honest. Even though he saw an opportunity in such uneasy times, Dao Chaolong was still kind enough to be accepting of the Zhou Clan's aid in retaking Weilang. "It was said again, but I shall say it once more: us, and I, of the Zhou, shall aid you in your ambitions thoroughly, naturally. May our destiny taste as fine as the food here."
Rehearsed words, to a degree. What he said was no lie, but one might mistake his calm words for detachment despite his actions before saying otherwise. Dao Chaolong was, of course, wise -- wiser than he'll ever be, perhaps. But wisdom and ambition alone would not take one far, were it not for allies. He very clearly mastered the art of leadership and charismatic nature, one thing that Méngyáhi could respect. Were his Lord any lesser, his call to arms might have fallen to deaf ears, and Weilang would have still been under the thumb of tyranny.
Another sip, another drink. Méngyáhi takes a look around those who joined in the cause.
Chu Xinyi is with them, appearance and demeanor changed from their last encounter, an ironic surprise perhaps not as big as seeing Yang Jiuwan with them, his mind quietly wondering if the monk would indulge himself in drinks and other such things that would betray the Noble Truths his predecessors preached with kindness and peace so much. Others lurk, minds and actions unreadable, and Méngyáhi allows his mind to rest, focusing only on his existence, and that of the sweet drink in his hands.
Within the anchored vessel known rightly as the Vengeance, far deep into the grand captain's quarters, was Enlai sat in great thought. An invitation to an 'Orchid Manor' had been placed upon his desk, it bore the symbol of Dao's family. The failings of nobility, always having to present their coat as somehow respectable, he mused in his head. He had no doubts in his mind how utterly fascinated he was in this man, for his brief meeting with Master Shu told him enough. Though an uncertainty arose in his mind as he recalled it. Enlai knew that this 'Blue Tortoise' had been displaying falsehoods to him. It mattered little to Enlai for he knew already that he could not judge a man he had yet not met.
He rose with conviction, acquiring an inner resolve to meet this Dao and join his court. This would be the future for the Sword Saint, to make a name for himself in the Southlands of Jianki and provide his armada with new opportunities of plunder and glory.
Enlai arrived at Orchid Manor before the scheduled time, he envisioned it would take a sun's passing just to gather all of whom he imagined were joining him into Dao's court. The manor itself was splendid, if he were to ever conquer lands in this south, he would similarly build his palace in such a form. The magnificence that was this outside of the manor juxtaposed his attire. Enlai had conflicted with either presenting himself as entirely formal or donning a more comfortable attire. In the end, he had chosen a mixed attire. He sported his battle attire, his chest proudly presented, while a silk robe cloaked his back and arms. The robe was a fresh pluck from the market early in the sun's rising; on the back of it, a depiction of a great tsunami breaking within a seemingly endless ocean with galleys fighting against the ever-pushing wave, and in the background of this tapestry was a grand mountain covered in white snow.
As he entered the manor, the glimmer of trinkets and baubles burned his eyes. The grandeur that was these inner rooms brought about thoughts of the past. Lands pillaged, villages burnt asunder, residents left to rot. He sought splendor and riches during that time; all he could see within this manor was zie ripe for the taking. Those hexagonal coins only brought joy to his heart, nothing else, he gathers as he checks his deposit of coin amassed by banditry.
These thoughts invaded his mind as he followed a servant towards the meeting point, eyeing each ornament, estimating a price given by a fence. His brain grew to be worn as he cast these devilish acts out of his mind. Enlai remembered the teachings of his great ancestor Asahi Li Bou, written in a scroll preserved by his people in the settlement by Mount Yan'sa.
"Ill is to abandon honor and integrity in exchange for injustice and greed."
- Li Bou Saga p.10, line 3
He approached the main hall, or what was called the "Hall of Principles". A slight breeze pushed him as the doors were opened for him, his sights now entertained by the less ostentatious show of wealth. The table near the center was lined with plates untouched and bowls with ever so clear stains of wine and alcoholic pleasures. It was the perfect setup for him, to enjoy pleasantries with men and women. Surely, he thought to himself, this meeting would bring renown not only to the Asahi family but the whole of Weilang.
The preliminary delights of alcohol and food enriched him, though a leering eye caught him as he took a gulp full of his bowl. Enlai discerned the look of a young man, sleek and lean, hair like the weaving of fine black silk. He bore a resemblance to an old acquaintance, though the name and finer details escape him. He pondered in his mind slowly as he ushered a servant to top his ever-growing need for relaxation. His inner machinations drew blank as he drained another bowl.
From the proclamation to a better future, Enlai, with glee, pounded the table, cheering to the glorious eventuality that would be Weilang. This meeting had not disappointed him in the slightest.
"To greener pastures, hardier walls, and ever-voyaging ships!" One more bowl, one more imbibed.
SCENE 3: DEFY HEAVEN, WRESTLE WITH FATE.
Evening / Yanura, 150 AC
Yang Jiuwan, styled Shangyi Hall of Principles, Orchid Manor
Around: Everyone else at the Hall (open)
Yang Jiuwan had come truly far from home with his brothers. Here, in this hall of ornamented wood and fine silks, Yang Jiuwan felt more unsettled than he would be on a thousand battlefields. The Temple grounds where he lived had always been humble affairs, the dining hall a simple, practical structure. The only adornments in his life had been the sacred figures of the Buddhas and Boddhisattvas as they preached the path to Enlightenment. And now, here he sat, in this hall of a noble man, feasting on delicacies he had never even heard of before, much less tasted or smelled. How far he had come, indeed.
And this would be his future, he mused, as he sips on tea. Even if he was not a monk, he kept to the lay precepts of his Order, to abstain from intoxication, and so he had refused the many, many kinds of wine available. He looks out over those heroes and would-be officials gathered about him, who would guide this land to its future. He could not look into their heart. In their smiles and polite words is a veil that he cannot pierce to see who they truly were. Was he surrounded by villains and tyrants who would be as cruel as a thousand Fengyuans? Or was he in the company of the virtuous, the just, who would restore Jianki's harmony?
A man cannot determine the will of Heaven above. One can only do what they can, and let the world make of it what it will. He raises his cup of fragrant tea, and for a moment he cannot help but wonder how many starving children this could have fed if it was sold. Then he sets the thought aside, and presents the world with the Champion it needs as he toasts to the future.
"To the days ahead, the restored peace of the Nation, and the good of the people."
It truely is a wonderful thing, the words spoken, promises made, and, if all, all, ALL else fails... There was always gold. Always, always, that shimmering, gleaming and scintillating treasure that brings men to their knees, women to bed, men also to bed if thats your flavor and alot of damned wine. Which, in a sense, are more things that cause trouble, truely it is simple to say that money brings problems. People always want it, and want more of it, from the lowliest man to the ones up top, gold funds all things. It is required even in enlightened worlds, for nothing is beget from nothing.
You cannot eat dirt.
But in the truest form of irony, what everyone eats comes FROM dirt.
And what is eaten goes to make dirt, which is the kindest term to call it.
So, within that simple cycle, could it be said that dirt is worth more than gold? For the lack of problems and mostly simple solution?
Yu didn't know nor care, he mostly was repeating the lines he said long ago that finally convinced his damnedable fools to follow him to become farmers, and occasional mercenaries or an underhanded nature.
So they became men of dirt AND gold.
And the one at their head, a man who most definitly wasn't sneaking a piece of duck to an awaiting mouth in his slightly buldgey coat, was Yu.
The Sowing Star.
Stylized, Fèi Hú, Barking Fox.
His attention was less upon the speech or others posturing their way to relevance. No, his was upon the food. He knew better than to poke his head out right now, many here were not so much Laymen as he. Many were dangerous, even more connected to dangerous people. When admist a den of vipers, one should know that snakes only bite when threatened, so, he will bide his time... By making certain his mouth was too full to speak.
Servant approaches? Wine, with a gesture. Another asks if he is done with the food he denies, cleaning each bone to the last. The fox was in the hen house and he had to eat his fill before the master chases him out with a brand. Nevermind the fact he was eatting freely given food... And still seemingly feeding his coat under guise of breathing on hot food.
The lords words however, did resonate nicely, but... Something felt... Almost a smidge... Rehearsed? Guided? Second one. Perhaps by someone or something. He believes the feelings are real, or at least real enough. But time will always tell if this man will stand up to his word. Or simply missplace them and hope they are forgotten about when true dividends come to be shared.
"Morality of men lasts till the coin disappears..." The youthful man straightens his mask, his short white locks were clean the best he could, lacking proper soaps and oils he managed, after a great deal of scrubbing, cleaning, and rinsing; to get to a point of true cleanliness of what could attaint as a layman... Which is to say...
He didn't smell.
But his white locks mirrored the lord's so perhaps this was a bid of good luck. His eyes though were... Menacing... A gaze of fire... Heres hoping that fire didn't burn them all alive... If he kept that gaze on their enemies and didn't start exploding as he heard nobles are wont to do... Yea... This will be fine...
Was that fucking Chienying?! That little shit made his way here too? This job was doomed from the very start if a bastard as they were a part of this. No, no, this was a chance to be going straight. He cannot let this end in turmoil, old wounds stay shut! The young man's demeanor shifted in this moment, from suprised, disturbed, then pointed ignorance of that general part of the room. In truth, his act had alot akin to how a cat acts when called over. Though lacking a good deal of the charm even if many would want to at least tossel those white locks. Ah, more people were speaking, did his Lord Highest whatever give leave for folks to speak?
He'll be expected to give well wishes!!
Maybe some sort of wise proverb is warrented? He did that when one of his dumbasses start one and he couldn't think of something, should he make one up? He wasn't a damn poet so he couldn't be flowery...
Just roll with the punch and don't make a fool of yourself.
With the intensity of the tardy and late, he grasped his cup, causing a small degree of wine to spill atop his food and rose it up to the toast. "To wise rule an-" oh, oh no. The words caught in his throat, just as a bone did from his hurried swallowing. He didn't think he'd need to speak so suddenly he was hoping he'd stay quiet and not speak at all! His eyes narrowed, fist clenched as he quickly pounded on his chest with a strength that produced a deep reverb of a human made drum... He paused, crunched the bone between his teeth, swallowed it again for it's direct defiance.
Opportunity. A chance to find someone truly worth following.
This was what the heavens had sprung onto Song Shen's lap for this new chapter of his life. The man stood in the courtyard of the residence that had been made available to his personage upon arriving, pondering about his desires, his ambitions, his family and a myriad of topics as his hands swung both his prized saber, and its complementary weaponized sheath, eyes fierce yet holding a semblance of joy behind the thoughtfulness.
As the youngest Song let his ideas flow smoothly just as his saber sliced through the air, the wild smile that had naturally taken over his face grew ever more... he knew, this aspiring perfectionist knew that this was the chance for new experiences, new and vast challenges, and maybe even finally find a place to serve stably... for he had been wandering and wondering all too long, and he knew so.
As his saber slicing motion imbued with a light amount of qi intercepted a falling droplet of sweat mid-air, Shen closed his eyes for a moment, wild smile settling back into a more composed expression as his prized weapon was sheathed in one smooth motion. Soon enough, the man was back in his room and had readied one of his more presentable outfits dedicated to formal duties, one that had been with him since one of his many visits to the Song ancestral home...
Glasses placed back on top of his nose, the saber strapped to his waist and an invitation and documentation in hand, the quartermaster made his way to the Orchid manor for the fateful festivities fairing in this fair occasion, an underlying enthusiasm tempered by inquisitiveness that were all hidden behind a small, composed and polite smile.
Entering the Hall of principles early while following the expected cultural etiquette, Shen took a seat in one of the many places available to the closer retainers and individuals to the court, and patiently waited with pondering and some slight bookkeeping notes he had kept in his person for moments like this. One acknowledging nod and pleasant surprise towards a certain Mister Cang later, the official address by their liege and contractor would begin..
And ultimately, as the flow of the more official ceremonies proceeded, little by little, Song Shen felt his expectations of their new leader being answered naturally by his speech and demeanor.
The quartermaster had dealt with a lot of people attempting to lie, deceive and fake good intentions towards him due to his travels and his job, and as such, he felt decently comfortable in being able to deign if someone's speech carried fake intentions or claims of emotion within...
And Dao Chaolong seemed to be speaking mostly from the heart, and carry and ambition far better than the self-serving power and money accruing goals that Shen had renounced previous contracts for... the smile on the youngest Song grew larger as the wave of cheers and toasts begun to grow louder and more spirited.
The quartermaster listened to most of whom seemed to come from peculiar individuals, seemingly thinking about what his own contribution would be while waiting for a window of opportunity. Once it came, his composed voice and demeanor remained, yet they contained a distinct hint of enthusiasm, his blood boiling too much at this moment to completely contain it.
"To carving our own paths for the ambitions we pursue, and pushing towards them together!" A subdued yet loud cheer escape the man before taking a generous gulp from his cup of wine... enjoying the quality of the food and drink which only now came to mind, surpassed even that which he got to taste back home... maybe the quartermaster could get used to this kind of thing.
Regardless, Song Shen would shoot a polite smile in Cang Aili Si's direction, a subtle invitation to converse once again and catch up once the chance was given, when the exalted emotions of the speech and toast had subsided.
To be entirely and completely contrite and honest, Kyungri Dalnim was more excited about the prospect of wine and food over the meaning and purpose of the meeting between all the gathered and assembled parties. Politics and court proceedings bored the hell out of her, and she would've rather spent her time training and honing her craft within the wilderness that surrounded Yanura. Even helping the local silk and textile merchants would have been preferable.
So with an exasperated sigh and an invisible cloud of depression, Dalnim went to the Hall of Principles within the Orchid Manor. Her dangpa used as a mere walking stick and cane, the ancient weapon was reduced to a mere walking implement. How her ancestors would frown upon the way she currently carried herself, but she did not mind, nor care. How little she actually wanted to attend…
… free food and drink, amirite?
Tumen Lei, a strong Orin warrior who did not have many fears, felt her stomach churn and bubble in anxiety. She had come to live in many places, and faced even more hardships, but when it came to towns, or really any place that wasn’t in the wilds, Lei would always feel nervous. She felt like a sore spot sticking out among all the common folk, and now she would have to be in the presence of others who decided to join dao in his endeavors. Those individuals would probably write her off as a country bumpkin when they realize that she speaks like a barbarian (though, technically she IS a barbarian).
“No Lei! You’re not here for that! Who cares what they think, all you need to do is help Dao and Protect Dalnim!....wait where is she!” Lei said in her head. Lei entered the beautiful manor, and searched for her wife. She was told that the meeting would be in the manor, but never actually bothered to remember which room she was supposed to head to, it was something that she left to Dalnim. Lei searched furiously for her wife, and luckily, she would find her right outside the Hall of principles. Though She knew Dalnim wasn’t one for public displays of affection, Lei couldn’t help but pull her lover into a hug.
“Dalnim, you forgot about me!” Lei said with a pout. “And also…I feel sick, all this rich stuff is getting to me, I’m really, really nervous…I think this is a panic attack?” Lei spilled out in an anxious mess.
An unstoppable force; yes, that is what Lei could be described as. A warrior through and through, Lei was unstoppable. So when Dalnim was pulled into a rather desperate and bone crushing hug by her, Dalnim could only sputter and make strangled noises. “D-darling, p-please!” Dalnim breathed out a bit harshly, struggling from the embrace, her spear clattering to the ground as it slipped from her grasp. "I understand you love me, but we're in public..." Stopping for a moment, Dalnim gently placed both hands on Lei's face and brought it so she was staring into her lover's eyes.
"Lei..." she started off slowly, gently lifting a hand to brush a stray strand of hair from where it dangled. She had noticed the panic, the anxiety in her eyes. "It's alright... just take deep breaths. I'm here." she instructed, using her thumb to softly caress her cheek. "We've been over this... this is a formality, nothing more. We don't need to prove ourselves to anyone. We'll do so, out there in the field of battle. We have nothing to fear, okay?" Giving a small, but brilliant smile, Dalnim continued on. "I didn't become so enamored with you for your court manners, or discipline. They'll see that too. You're strong... in body, in mind, in heart."
Letting out a long, calming breath, Dal once more looked to her lover. "Are you ready to kick ass and take names?"
Lei listened to Dalnim, and closed her eyes. In the comfort of her wife’s hands, she felt safe, like she was back in Wen with her family. Dalnim always knew what to say in order to calm her down, no matter the situation. Sometimes it felt like she was in her head, and would read her mind and tell her exactly what she needed to hear. The Yin to her Yang.
“What would I do without you, I’m glad that you're in my life.” Lei said, planting a kiss on Dalnim lips. “Just remember Dalnim, when it comes around to proving ourselves on the battlefield, stay close, mkay?” Lei reminded her.
Lei set her wife down, and smiled at her, “Alright, I’m okay now! Take names, kick ass!” Lei said confidently. “Now onwards! Lead the way!” Lei said. She followed her wife until they grouped up with the rest of Dao’s compatriots. While she still felt out of place, having her wife by her side certainly helped her feel much calmer. Though she still kept quiet, even after Dao had concluded speaking, she instead enjoyed the food. At first, Lei tried to be respectful, but one taste of the delicious spread in front of her and her Orin ways took the better of her. She began scarfing down food like it was her last day to live.
“Jeez…” Dalnim whispered, a blush on her face as she was set down by Lei. “I can take care of myself, y’know…” Ignoring the looks the couple might get from the guards and servants of the manor, Dalnim picked up her spear where it was on the ground, led her wife into the Hall, and to their seats. A couple of drinks later, a slightly flushed Dalnim raised her saucer of wine into the air.
Following the example of those around her, Dalnim opened her mouth to add to the toast. “To the glory on the battlefield, may we all transcend to the Heavens and beyond!” Laughter soon followed, one looking forward to the unknown moments that awaited them in the future. Yes… how she longed for that future moment!
The smoky trail that wafted from the trifold matches earlier that day managed to snare Xinyi's attention, more so than the mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces that had flitted in and out of view, a result of obsessive notation had been given to the ceremony just hours before. So careful in fact, he had noted the third was the first to catch flame as Qi found purchase, yet the last to extinguish, its partners proved far less durable in the face of cold winds. Perhaps the incense stick was kept aflame so long by the very spirit of the ceremony, or maybe its intent was to reveal something of its fire-setter, the gesture of community truer to the man than the others, what a blessing such a truth would be...
Had the familiar bellow of a horn not startled the man from daze, perhaps more time would've been spent pondering over the day's passings. Instead, Xinyi's gaze returned to the brilliant walls that beckoned him in with warmth and drink, indiscriminately from those countless numbers that stood around him, whose desires and circumstances had somehow all managed to culminate in the same way, service under the Lord in Metal.
Such a thing would still seem strange to Xinyi, had it been his first week within Lord Dao's presence. But the very halls he was now making his way through were the same one's the man had heard briefings and strategy being discussed as if the man had the wisdom of his ancestors under his command, all voiced through a tortoise gifted speech...almost reminiscent of an old folk tale.
The object of his saunter was reached quicker than expected, though the sight of the table before him left no room for sadness at the interruption. Splayed out before the fanged priest were delicacies that had disappeared from his palate in recent months ready to be partnered with accentuating wines. One watching closely could swear they saw soft purple pupils dilate at the sight, though such a worry forced Xinyi to regain his composure.
The presence of others unfamiliar would prevent such a lull in focus from occurring again, and a small inhale is taken, out of pace with the rest, as Xinyi properly enters the hall.
-The Beginning of Dao's Speech-
Xinyi would quietly stir at the governor's introduction, eyes prompted to sweep across the room for newcomers. Instead, his eyes settled on three familiar presences, the foreseeably garbed Shangyi first and foremost, who's own eyes had just missed Xinyi's as their gaze also looked out over their new companions. Méngyáhi's presence followed, the reminiscence of pre-war duchies arising as an aftertaste before the first taste of wine could serve to wash it away. Ambition promptly followed the thoughts, which led to his final focus on the white-haired man, the only of the attendant workmen that had been clocked earlier who sat within the esteemed halls. Xinyi would decide later whether tonight was the night to either make impressions or avoid doing so...depending on how the alcohol talked.
The scent of applelike chamomile would fill the space as he lingered, one of many to linger among the facilities in coming months so long as his presence was needed. A visible smirk accompanied his first sip, accompanied by the quietest nod at the lord's acknowledgment of his own place in the conflict "of dragons and tigers..." as was so commonly put. To then claim they were all here for the same thing forced the growing smile to drop however, for even if it sounded gracious in speech, Xinyi doubted even the man standing to his side would lay down his life for the sake of the man's claim here, let alone for that supposed safety which could be found tenfold anywhere else. Self-professed projection forced Xinyi to look at all those who sat together with him in this room, take in one more breath, and conclude all must be here for passions yet unspoken...even those who indicated otherwise.
Passion was then brought to the forefront of their lord's words, joined by a gesture that had not gone unnoticed, it's message so clear an irregular exhale escaped Xinyi this time, releasing surprise mixed with relief to flavor the slowly cooling fowl before him. The simple truth of the scenario, the delivery free of deceptive language in exchange for passionate perspective, and the time given to ponder set the reality of the situation into the man's mind. What was to come was a battle of selfishness against the selfish, to claim land from the brigands for the sake of the governor, so we may yet have another feast together, and those who wander outside these halls may continue to do so another day...so I may attend another festival and find meaning in the next set of incense that burn out. Selfishness.
One final sigh escaped, breathier as if to release the accumulated tension in the corners of his wine-tinged mouth. The release of the last vapors met with the clink of the drink's vessel to the table's edge, a simple spill-less gesture were it not for the sudden slam of the table, followed by the conclusion of a choked-out message causing the slightest bit of amusement to slip through the quietly delivered toast.
"To the future of a brilliant nation, so its people may prosper forevermore!"
The red-faced menace is no stranger to odd dealings. However, the current state of affairs is undoubtedly the strangest. Is the summoner's nature different? Wrong, Master Tang's services are often sought by Lords, Ladies, and Scholars alike. Could it be the methodology to which he was summoned? Of course not! Nothing could be as uniquely different and disturbingly frightening as sending a flaming avian to scorch a message into a man's secretive abode, where he conducts his dealings. No, the summons were generic. Then it must be the reason for his involvement! And it is, for he had never received a task such as this. Yet the honey-laid promises were enticing and out of authentic curiosity enhanced by a braggadocio spirit, he accepted the invitation to Lord Dao's court.
As the provider of the arts, Master Tang—both beneath and outside of the mask—is accustomed to the mannerisms necessary for these types of gatherings. But in his heart, a jovial flame burned brightly while rightly acting. The Lord should count his prayers that he had never been the ill victim of The Vermillion Viper's occupation. Though so far, the serpent had not been impressed. He had seen the bowels of manors that overshadowed this one. The trinkets, the decorative works, the servants, the guards. All seemed familiar. Luckily, Zhu is not inexperienced enough to understate a client's eccentricity. Those that strived for banality, are often the most anomalous.
As the masked man manoeuvred the manor, shown his way via maid's aid. During the tour, Master Zhu found a peculiar man exercising his combative talents in the courtyard. Zhu stood and watched from afar, his arms clutched themselves in genuine intrigue. His mind searched through various picture-esque depictions of numerous personages. "Ah, yes. Master Song, the vaunted perfectionist." Quietly uttering his deduction, not wishing to alert those around him. A fiendish grin contorted itself upon Zhu's face as he continued to observe the Mercurial Saberman's swordsmanship. Tang Zhu had never interacted with the quartermaster in question but had heard of his reputation.
Once the yard had been abandoned, Zhu took it upon himself to enter. There, he emulated the previous practitioner's style of fighting. Though without the imbued qi or practised grace. It had been in a mocking manner. Even utilising his unspecialised sheath like him. Once finished with his little mimicry, the Viper could not help but release a sinister cackle with sword in hand. "Hahaheheheheee" He had found the style fitting for one such as Master Song, it fitted with Zhu's expectations as well. A final flourish to cap off this display then a forceful sheathing as Tang Zhu reattached the sheath to his side.
Done with his distraction, Tang Zhu returned to follow into the Hall of Principles. Before that, he had relinquished his conical hat to a servant. It would be rude to precede over a meeting with your head-covering.
Thus proceeded with the speech. Always the speech. It is something that Master Tang took notice of when dealing with these noble nabobs. Unlike the predecessors, this Lord Dao certainly possessed aspirations that far outpaced his competition. With goals that exemplified notions of high-minded morality. A naked finger hovered and traced a circle over the rim of his wine bowl while the other hand gripped tightly the talisman that bore his name. Itself synchronised with the intonation of the Lord's voice. This would plunge the Viper into a commitment one that he would no doubt come to regret. Let us then say that, for now, Lord Dao has his undivided attention and allegiance. As much as the Viper savoured the oration, it had come to a close and everyone began to wish each other well.
"May our blades be swift, our wits sharp, and hearts hard." A toast was raised in honour of all present, and one was drunk when Zhu momentarily departed the mask from his features and lowered his hood to reveal tied hair. He doubts any would actually recognise the adopted son of Lord Tang. During this brief disregard for appearances, Zhu's eyes travelled across his colleagues. Méngyáhi and Xianliang had caught his eye, they seemed formidable and the latter seemed interested in the same goal: Fortunes. Another grin began to form and Zhu reapplied his mask, though without raising his hood which covered his sharp hair.
One of them nearly choked on a bone. For Zhu, it had been very humorous. He reminded himself of a poem that he once heard:
Canst thou paint without colors? Then 'tis right:
For so we too without a fleet can fight.
it was such an impressive assembly gathered here today, people of various walks of life, each one gathered here in this elaborate Hall of gilded wood and fabrics, such place commanded a noble presence. An ironically befitting place for them all to gather seeing as those that had taken the place where what many would consider mere peasants armed with rudimentary tools, but the fact that it had been managed at all proved that their was certainly something to this rebellion even they lacked equipment. To be left with overflowing coffers no less was the "icing on the cake" so to speak.
Befitting of such an occasion was the speech given one that exposed change for the whole of Weilang. An ambitious feat to be sure, but one that Xiyi thought to be achievable in the long term of course. Many others making their support well known vocalising it to a toast. Raising his own bowl Xiyi would nod slightly. “May the heavens be in our favour, if not let us defy the odds” the serpent scholar made his own contribution to the words of encouragement and loyalty.
SCENE 3: DEFY HEAVEN, WRESTLE WITH FATE.
Evening / Yanura, 150 AC
styled Lianjie Hall of Principles, Orchid Manor
Everyone else in the hall
Xuexia arrived at the Hall of Principles as a stranger in unfamiliar clothes. The silky touch against her skin made the girl stiffen. Accessories, trinkets and jewels – she was not made for them. Their fineness abhors her. But cousin Wu had complimented her look, insisting such garments would most befit the grand host. The cousin’s persuasion had worked spectacularly. They knew Xuexia would even gladly go clothless if it were to honor the lord.
But rich appearance or not, Xuexia appeared out of place the moment she was seated. Among grown men and women, trained and versed in the courtly ways, the poor girl could have been mistaken easily for a child. The loose cloth had hidden her trained body perfectly, so she had become a pampered young lady in look. Or were one to go by the length of her hair, a pretty boy. A quiet, frightened child indeed. Who had invited her here, among the ranks of veterans? A mistake, or more probable, a holder for some powerful lord who, by whatever misfortune, had not the chance to come in person. For all that possible assumption, only one feature went against and broke the narrative: those eyes that could penetrate. She stared hard, judging every person in the hall. A brazen gaze, undaunted. That of an insolent child who does not mind incurring the wrath of adults. Only obtuse eyes would mistake that gaze for some last-minute substitute.
She occasionally exchanged words with acquaintances who she knew had and would ever serve her lord. But she charged herself chiefly with the task of evaluating the newcomers. So far, few had met her expectations. She struggled to consider those faces as would-be faithful subjects of her lord. This displeasure grew into indignation. A frown. She cast her look to and fro. That sharp gaze on that green face of hers. And here and there, she saw eyes that lusted not for a cause, nor violent victory, nor for the word to spring forth and cut down an enemy of their lord. No. Only earthly greeds for material wealth, for a good time, for insatiable selfishnesses. Faces stuffed full of fowls and fishes. Drunken minds drowned in wine and conceitedness. Her mind was clouded, darkened, and all the sourness therein was written plainly on the surface. There were exceptions. The monk-like, for one. But the distaste was strong and dominated her impression. It was almost unreasonable to expect her judgment to be done in fairness. Her lips pressed thin.
Then Dao Chaolong began to speak. For now, she was compelled to swallow her attitude. She looked now to the orator. There were subtle changes in the air as he spoke. But then his own voice grew an edge. Xuexia sensed this. And her emotions sprang from its idle place to pour in sync with his. His displeasure became her disgust. His fury, her wrath. Even during the subsequent calmness that reined in his emotions, her spirit boiled on. When the lord raised his goblet, she failed to share in his joy and hope.
Then came along the toasts. Then with them high promises.
Her turn. Xuexia stayed quiet. She had not drunk, her food she had not touched. Her head bowed low. “My Lord. Your servant had not an empty word to offer. Only these: with but one word of yours, the men shall be ready by tomorrow’s noon. They are weary, yes. Undisciplined, true. But they are spirited. Our momentum is tremendous. In the face of lowly brigands they are terrors!”
Then briefly, she swept her gaze down the rows of guests, wondering if but one of them wasn’t a coward.
“No need for drawn-out overpreparation. Your servant requires only your command. Bid me march upon Hanjun. In ten days it shall be yours!”
She was still again, allowing the round of toasts to proceed. Whatever her lord's decree would be, she knew she would obey without further protest.
Senshi Hall of Principles, Orchid Manor
This wine was awful. It was, perhaps, the worst thing he had ever drunk. To sweet by far, and the fruity taste lingered to long on his tongue. Lucky for him, after the first courtesy saucer, he didn't have to drink anymore. In fact, it probably would have been actively frowned upon. See, he was not like the other retainers who have declared their loyalty to Dao Chaolong. Yes he would do as the man asked him, but that was not where his truest loyalties laid. That was with the small Orin lady, one of only three by his count. Cia Xiuying had been his sole master, or perhaps mistress in this case, since his last master died in the coup. And the burden of split loyalties had been briefly lifted. But all good things must come to an end, and she had aligned herself with Dao and placed the burden of split loyalty once more upon him. Well, he had a reputation for not obeying orders, perhaps he will have to show them first hand how he had gotten it.
Senshi looked over the room with a trained soldier's eye, his nagamaki sheathed across his back with a peace knot securely keeping the blade in place, though why no one thought he couldn't just as easily use it as a blunt weapon he did not know nor did he want to begin to guess. Most, if not all, of those gathered here knew how to use a weapon of some sort. Names leapt to the forefront of his mind as he recognized descriptions. There sat Beitong the Viper. And there, Chienying of the Seven Hued Gang. Just across the way there was even the fabled Xianliang. Truthfully if he were forced to fight any of these fabled warriors, he was not sure if he would survive. But if he were forced to fight them, his survival would not be his first priority. His first priority, would be to make sure Lady Cia Xiuying could escape. That would be his and his men's sole purpose.
But, luckily for everyone present, it did not seem that anyone would be turning traitor any time soon. And so he contented himself with merely looking big and scary. Something he was proud to say he was quite good at, having only one eye seemed to somehow amplify any glare and scowl one gives. He was not sure how exactly it worked, but he would not argue it.
SCENE 3: DEFY HEAVEN, WRESTLE WITH FATE.
Evening / Yanura, 150 AC
Night River Pavilion, the streets, Colorful Sky Courtyard; Weilang
"Damn you, Yanmei! Don't think I don't notice you slinking away and putting your bill in mine! You didn't bet with us!" "Ah, calm your heart, Sixth Brother! Fifth Brother was going to pay it back tomorrow-" "Impossible.""When the sun rises from the west.""When the Eternal Sky Isles Fall.""When the emperors of the Taeshan Mausoleum raise from the dead." """DON'T CURSE US LIKE THAT, YOU LUNATIC!"""
Three fists smacked down on Third Brother's head, who only grinned sheepishly. The Hued Brothers hurriedly dragged the ill-mouthed guy away from the pavilion, receiving stares as they went. Fifth Brother begrudgingly paid Sixth Brother back, while Seventh Brother patiently explained how some comparisons were considered inauspicious and should be avoided.
The night was still young, but the brothers quitted the drinking early. Second Brother retired, as did Third Brother and Fourth Brother who drank too much. Sixth Brother and Seventh Brother sauntered off to talk and visit the famed Midnight Noodle Stall, while Fifth Brother disappeared to gods know where doing what only he and Heaven knew.
In his room, above Third Brother's snore, Second Brother wrote with only a small candle illuminating the room. Fourth and Fifth Brother may track their gang's income and inventory, but he documented the gang's activity alone. He was there since the gang's creation, before the death of the Golden Swordsman, the former Third Brother. He wrote about Fifth Brother's secret soap trade in the city, Sixth Brother winning the drinking contest, and naturally, he wrote about First Brother's visit to the Orchid Manor.
It was a divisive move. The Hued Brothers always prioritized freedom and had avoided politics from their inception, but by inevitably protecting Lord Dao when he was attacked, they put themselves in political threat. No matter why they intervened, they still interfered. Their faces and names would, from then on, associated with the Lord, unless they traveled far.
Some took the risk. The former First and Second Brother, as well as the late Seventh and Seventh-Once Brother refused the offer, instead opting for a hasty escape from the region. To this day, their fate was a mystery.
Second Brother blew the candle, and entered his bed. He closed his eyes, immediately enjoying the softness the bed provided. They didn't have many opportunity to enjoy a good bed. It was hard to believe that this courtyard, this room, was theirs now.
Being employed by a lord, he admitted, had its perks.
Softly, gently, Second Brother drifted asleep.
SCENE 3: DEFY HEAVEN, WRESTLE WITH FATE.
Evening / Yanura, 150 AC
Cang Aili Si
styled Chienying Hall of Principles, Orchid Manor
As the first to echo his toast, Chienying had the luxury to kick back and observed the many others, giving theirs. Between refined bites of meal, Chienying kept his eyes on the toasting, or greeting guests with a certain level of importance.
Importance, of course, being attractiveness.
Zhou? Phoenix Beauty Master Zhou... no, he had no idea who he was. Yes, yes, the food was exquisite. Beauty, you have a refined tongue.
Was that really...? Ah, the Tattooed Man really reminded him of that boy from the Asahi Clan, but that was far at the Oriban Plains. It is better this way. His visit to the Asahi Clan all those years ago, after all, was before she hid her gender.
Ah, Sculpted Monk was truly a monk, even in his speech. What a waste of a mortal beauty. Those finely defined muscles, a face gentle as the first trickle of water near the end of winter...! Ah, what a waste of a handsome face.
Ah, this one-
Chienying's hands trembled. The fish fillet between his chopstick fell. While little changed of his cool demeanor outside, his inner world, as always, did not hold its tongue.
How a vermin like Yu Changmao slipped into this gathering is beyond comprehension. Ah, the merciful Lord Dao must have offered the swan meat to this toad. Pity for the quartermaster who soon needs to arrange supplies for his funeral. What a waste of resources and tears. Ha, what manner. It's no good, Changmao, if you must spill your wine, do it with the confidence and fierceness of a warrior, not the drunken clumsiness of a drunk. What an embarrassment.
Yu Changmao choked. Elegantly, Chienying hid his smirk with a sip of the wine, though his eyes flashed with distaste in plain sight.
Ah, as expected of a bandit. Even a mere toast leave him choked on chicken bone. How inauspicious. Tsk, tsk, it is at time like this one should know one's limit. Without poetry to say, it is best to just repeated what the Lord said and echoed his sentiment. Ah, Heaven is truly fickle sometimes. A good face like that left to someone like him...
The scene, oh, the embarrassment of the banquet thankfully ended, and the next person to toast had Chienying sitting all but straighter. Song Shen.
Full Moon Master! Such beautiful words, simple yet profound in meaning! Ah, Lord Dao, Violet Beauty, blessed you two are by the Heaven to have great Master Song on your side! Trust his loyalty, great lord! A man with a smile hidden like dandelion upon a field of grass, whose voice brims with such joy cannot be anything but kind, cultured, intelligent- OHMYHEAVEN HE SMILES AT ME.
Chienying smiled in return, raising his cup of wine as if to toast from his side.
Ahh Master Song! It's truly Master Song without a doubt! He remembers me! Our good times together! Ah, Master Song, I treasure every moment we were together. Your smile when you greeted us who were drenched in blood with eyes shining like the southern star, how your hair brushed against your cheek when you poured over a report, that distinctive manner when you adjusted your glasses and how well you took that nickname Full Moon Master...!
With a sigh, Chienying lost himself in pink-tinted nostalgia of Gentle Speckled Immortal Master Song Shen. He lost interest in the several following toast. A woman accompanied by her wife, the Celestial, the Masked Man who revealed his sharp, well-defined jaw and immaculate lips, thin as the blade of a sword...
Okay, perhaps he didn't lose interest. It was a Masked Man! One never knew what to expect from a masked man. Could it be a face weathered and riddled with scars, or could it be, as he had just seen, another beauty?!
Chienying took a sharp breath.
No, her sharp eyes, honed by years of archery training and years of men appreciating could not be mistaken! That smile... was youthful! The chance of the masked stranger to be someone young, powerful, with a secret to hide is not insignificant! Ah, Lord Dao was really a figure orbited by the chosen of Heaven!
Unfortunate as it was, his careful scrutiny over the Masked Youth caused Chienying to miss the Demon's introduction.
As the fever of toast and emotion resided (and so did Chienying's curiosity over the masked youth), he took the plunge to smile once again at Song Shen and rekindled an old connection. His teeth did not show, no, nor was it wider than the one he had for the toast, but the fondness in his eyes and was an expression of fondness toward the quartermaster.
"Master Song. I never expected to see you after Yanzhu."
Such smile, naturally, was rare for Chienying who was distant and preferred silence.
Whence all, if not most, of the toasts had been concluded, Enlai found himself with a newfound relaxation. The wooden seat he found himself at gave him no peaceful exaltation but the sensation of his body; the cool breeze brushing past his chest, and the softness of his attire found him in a state of utter arousal. Not of the kind where a man sees a woman, but one where simply existing was pure bliss.
He peered upon the perch that was his seat at the various men and women sitting beside him. Each carried a different facade, one man was masked, a woman was donned in regal, and at points, Enlai could sense the guile of the court emanating off certain folk. The Seijin was incapable of saying he exhibited a presence similar to that, but he was most capable of saying that it was not out of the desire to be king, but out of the desire of ensuring his heritage and family safe. Then again, the wine may be making him soft.
As Enlai took one more take of gazing upon the court, he stopped his turn as his eyes rested upon the silky-haired man. There were thoughts racing through the pale man's mind, that much Enlai was not in doubt of, but what could they truly be? Enlai matched the movements of his target's eyes, attempting to place why the young man would be so enamored by the visages of other men. No shame if that is what he truly desired though a court is hardly a place for romance.
He sat up in his seat, ditching his leisurely position and arising from his seat. The wine had yet to fully hamper his ability to move, his body had been doing its hardest to expunge the toxin it had detected. It was, however, to no avail. Enlai paced the outer head of the table, moving behind and past those within his newfound court. He gazed down at each, without malice but instead with curiosity. He hardly knew those not near his family's home, neither those who were not of his own culture. The tales of Seijins were grand enough to be heard by all who were one but it was not untold for others such as Hanjins and Karelians to know of them as well. Enlai made sure of the latter culture for them to remember him for as long as they still existed, that much was irrevocably certain.
Enlai approached the wall, steadying his movement and proceeding towards a man whom he knew bits and pieces of. The Ogre King and Stalwart Warlord: Senshi. A warrior of great size and girth; the one who fought the champion of Daimyo but lost due to the trickery and speed by which his opponent cut him down. It was a shame truly, to see the Ogre King in such a place instead of in the great light of battle. If it was up to Enlai, Senshi would bear the flag of the Asahi's and help them within their journey. However, in the end, it was little up to him to decide such a warrior's fate.
He leaned against the wall that Senshi stood himself against, groaning as he found the perfect stance to assume. He looked up at the warlord, his inquisitive eyes and mind letting him gaze a slight deeper into the inner thoughts of the fellow beside him. He chuckled a bit before he turned his attention back to the social court before him. "What, heaven's tell, brings you to such a lackluster place?" He emphasized his words, wanting to spark something within the ogre, anything to spark the tiny flame that resided in his grievous battle-like tendencies.
"I have an answer to that, I do think. You know it as well, no?" Enlai responded to himself, allowing Senshi no quarter. "You are bound to the machinations of a petty noble; restrained by codes of honor and chivalry." He grinned as he spoke, recalling the horrendous codes that some Seijin warriors carried themselves by. "What if you could be released from them? Taken from these civilized lands and be returned to what your heart truly desires?"
Enlai stood himself up, fixing his posture, knowing this would require a more present position. "And, by my word, what if I could help you?" He looked back up at the Ogre King, awaiting what words this warrior could muster for Enlai believed there were no words that could refute his proposition. Enlai thought to himself that without a doubt, the Ogre would be pleased with what the voyager had planned for him.
SCENE 3.1: RECLAIM GLORY, FIGHT DISHONOR.
Evening / Yanura, 150 AC
Qian Luo Li
Fengbo Vengeance, Weilang
Great Heathen Armada
The crew of the Vengeance
"You would dare?" Luo Li, with ferocity, yelled to the disobedient albeit loyal soldier. "Do you not understand what Master Asahi told us to do?"
The soldier shifted in his stance, his lack of armor not withholding the appreciative muscles creating outlines within his tight shirt; contrasting the lean and skinny quartermaster before him. "I will always heed the word of the Master but with an anxious heart, I worry for his safety." The warrior, further known by his comrades as Ni Guang, used his hands as talking pieces to elevate his words.
"What is there to fret over? To worry about?" Luo Li rose from his seat, though short, his presence commanded a form of respect that even Ni Guang gave him with zero hesitation. "He brought us to glory and back with our skins still attached. In addition, you know for certain that he made it a point of his pride to remark on how he suffered neither casualties nor any harm to himself."
"I understand quartermaster but for all we know, he is placed in a hall with men and women, not of his ilk nor his heavenly purpose! What if he is to be outnumbered or incapable of escaping due to his-"
Luo Li slammed the table with his hands, the desk he was sitting at cracked at its sides and top. "I will not hear anymore of this insubordination!" His voice boomed out; those still upon the deck heard the domineering voice of their quartermaster and could only fear what would come out of it.
The young Hanjin, a newer addition to the sailing and pillaging crew of the Vengeance, had grown too accustomed to the duties of a quartermaster. In spite of his absence during the raids upon Suwa Island, he joined them as they sacked the northern coastal cities of Karelia and fought back the ever-growing hordes of guardsmen within those lands. Luo Li had become quartermaster out of the skills he knew and the obedience he gathered from the men, notwithstanding the fact that he was a much better sailor than Xianliang was at the time. He knew how to pilot a vessel of such size as well as having known the commands and teachings required to bring the ship to a full mast instead of yelling out commands that none could quite understand much less decipher.
He knew the crew all too well, their bones were filled with utmost loyalty to Xianliang, and their muscles brimmed with the strength necessary to carry out his orders. The ocean sailing life, especially one that had the vital need of plundering villages. was one of hardship and meritocracy. The crew, at any point, could mutiny and usurp the captain's place. It was not unheard of in vessels sailed by those who had no care for their crew and at the ocean for far too long periods, for the crew who believed themselves to be treated with unfairness to simply throw the captain overboard. This was a fate Luo Li wanted Xianliang to avoid at all costs for he could not be a quartermaster if he did not support his captain with dignity and pride.
The warriors upon the Vengeance were growing restless, they had rational worries for their captain and missed the sea-faring life, preferring it over the more domesticated existence proposed by Xianliang. Luo Li could tell not only by Ni Guang's attitude but by how progress had slowed considerably when they docked at Weilang. There were two solutions to this problem, both being able to be used in tandem with each other. The first is a speech to improve the morale of the crew, the second is to double-down and claim a small victory to get the soldiers' blood pumping again. Luo Li was not in doubt that the former would be most essential to keep the Vengeance afloat long enough for Xianliang to acquire his duties within Dao's court and bring the men at ease. The quartermaster understood little of the nobleman but Luo Li was certain he was no fool and that Xianliang would be placed with responsibilities of the militaristic side of the dominion. If this premonition of his were to not come to light, the Vengeance would surely sink and the men to depart if not perform a mutiny.
Luo Li could only perform one out of the two solutions he proposed within his mind. He knew what he had to do.
Only moments after Ni Guang left, Luo Li approached the deck and hailed the crew by use of a bell. The warriors of the Vengeance arose from their slumber and duties and came to the deck, looking up at the quartermaster who stood upon quarterdeck. Luo Li could see that he was incapable of harnessing the exact nature and command of Xianliang but all the same, he could use him as a symbol of pride.
"For those who wonder why I have summoned you, look none further to Ni Guang, a warrior under the fearless flag of the Asahi clan." The crew all turned to stare at Ni Guang, their fears of punishment had grown to a breaking point. Ni Guang himself trembled in his stance, hairs rising out of fright. "He came to me with the worry of our captain, Master Asahi, and the pursuits by which brought us to Weilang. I will not discipline him for this, for there is no punishment befitting a sailor who worries not for himself but for his captain." Luo Li took a deep breath in, formulating the words that would bring the crew back into a shape in keeping with their moniker. "I am most certain that all of you bear similar worries and I only have one question to ask in that case. Were you all plighted when he brought you to Suwa Island? When the riches piled and the ship ladened with zie to the point of sinkage? When he brought you back to Oriban only to say that there was more work to be done? When he sailed us to the Karelian lands and brought fear and terror to their hearts? When the spikes that formed the periphery of our post there were so filled with heads, it could only convey the words 'wanton destruction'?"
Luo Li paced the quarterdeck, overlooking the Crimson River to one side and Weilang to the other. "Were these worries present when we returned to our ship, once again ladened with plunder untold in any saga or tale? When we, scarred and bruised, sailed back into the Ryste Ocean and were made all the better from our adventures? We follow the fearless flag of the Asahi clan and the riches associated with it; we follow the heir to the patriarch and his quest for fame and glory, and we follow the greatness that it will bring us. Master Asahi breeds warriors such as us like a bar breeds drunkards, loud, proud, and spoiling for a good fight! So what is there to fret and worry over? If he, with confidence unbound and pride showed boldly, could sail us across a dangerous sea and back alive, wants to pursue a courtly life and for once settle down. We do not know his intentions fully, only that he is to bring us what we follow him for! And so, like the drunkards and warriors we are, loud and proud we speak our warcry!"
"No fear! No pity! No remorse!" The men yelled out, their voices echoing in the night.
styled Saimon Hall of Principles, Orchid Manor
The Blue Tortoise eyed the individuals before him. From their responses to that of their reticent contemplations left unspoken. Shu Jin would take note of their individuality, for they will serve his purposes and ultimately Dao's in time. As his lord's advisor, Shu Jin did not hesitate when he reviewed their dossiers. The amber-eyed man looked beyond the values of loyalty alone, for the heavens knew that Dao was already granted his. While confident in his trades to proffer for the realm, reservations were called upon within his mind to caution against the hubris that pertained to his past dealings in the west. While the mind of humans were fickle, talents remained an absolute instrument in the strategist's grand plan. While he has his own reservations towards certain individuals, Shu Jin was not one to disregard their vital abilities. If it was anything he had learnt from his lord personally, it would have been their eerie element of profound patience.
While many were quick to adhere to the governor's toast with one of their own, there were some that withheld uncertainty in their gazes. Among them was that of an estranged warrior, whose familiarity with those present prior to the liberation of Weilang made them a constant candle since their admittance. A flame that proved its worth in the dark, but most lethal to those that failed to comprehend their intensity. Even now, their magnificent roar and stern glance betrayed them of their eye-catching apparatus, of which had falsely portrayed them as a fine rose. But even a rose has its prickly thorns to consider, and such a trait could only be attributed to none other than the magnificent Zhu Xuexia.
While their prowess is heard during the revolution as they now decided to raise their zealous voice, Shu Jin understood that Lianjie had only the best of intentions for their Lord, albeit at the cost of wisdom and subtlety. The latter was as distant to them as the Sanguine Tyrant's presence to the north.
"How profound, Master Zhu. Shall I augment our troops with pitchforks and spoons? Perhaps some carrot sacks for rain cloaks and giant rabbits for mounts." The strategist replied with a monotonous voice over his sharp expression. If one had not refrained themselves from wine, they would certainly miss the man's blatant attempt at sarcasm.
The strategist chuckled aloud, with his eyes turned away from the woman briefly before returning with its hazel shine stowed away.
"While it is amusing to see you chase the wind from here to Hanjun, who then will be responsible for those that are left to fend for themselves against the many that wishes to claim Weilang?" The strategist added, with his brows raised and his hands present upon folded laps.
"It is swift to engage, but difficult to achieve the intended results. Unlike Qi Mon or Seo Ji's accomplishments that earned them their monikers, Wei Jiang's background eludes us. Need I remind you of Dao Ren's failure to consider your forces' presence that ultimately paved the way for our unopposed march on Weilang's southern district not so long ago?" Shu Jin explained, reeling Zhu back to determine the similar factors of their victory against Chaolong's uncle, albeit from a different perspective.
"Knowing is half the battle. While I am more than happy to support your endeavor in due time, our governor sees more than a simple battle with the Wei rebels. A bow drawn without breath is as good as rotten wood for a roof." The man concluded, giving credits of a grander scheme of total victory to Dao Chaolong with his eyes paying its respectful attention to the governor, while he plucked away at his slice of pear. A sly attempt at establishing his lord's authority with a subtle remark. Shu Jin chewed in silence, with a light smile donned upon his face. While he knew Zhu to have considered most avenues of approach, their impetuous instincts often took precedence over patience. Alas, the strategist did not reprimand them directly as most would in order to prove their intelligence. Instead, he had chosen to subtly broker some thoughts on the matter. Perhaps, someone will have the gall to voice their own solution to the situation of Hanjun's pacification.
"Absolutely tasteless. Alas, I am quite fond of it." Shu Jin remarked, shaking his head in amusement as he raised his gobblet to Zhu. What he possibly meant with the pear was open to interpretation to those around him. The strategist's words could have been a smuggled statement that was more than a voice of spontaneous subject. Or perhaps it was simply his earnest review of its taste.
I can feel those eyes upon me... Thinking I am some foolish imbicile... Let them think so, for below them is where their necks are easy prey. That cowardly Chienying, does he still toss his problems to others under his command so readily? And keep those so stupid enough to follow his everyword? He bet he kept it at seven as well, rodent, he knew for certain they had cut them down to six.
Deserved well, but they did not deserve the life of his Liao Shon, ugly as he may had been he was a brother truer than any. Really, Liao was a honest follow despite his profession, honest enough to call himself "The Ugly One," true, he was... Abit misshapened...
As if when being sculpted from clay the artist banged his head against a table...
But it was easy to remember, and if you have a weakness, turning it into a strength is admirable... He didn't have to do the paint though, sure it made him look like a monster but its abit on the nose.
Was he always that fat though? He can't fully remember when he became that big...?
He wasn't over eating his share... Did he pad his clothes? No he WAS fat...
He was also their cook... or atleast the best one...
...It was saddening, to think of this, he should focus on other things... There were alot of men here, some women, but a great deal of men. Perhaps women were just smart enough to stay away from this foolishness, or perhaps it wasn't one of those things that drew in women..? What was better than risking your life for a lord? Who will pay you in far less than your true worth? Alot of handsome men here though... Good way of making yourself feel small, is to compare yourself to others around you.
So he shall not, he is already no doubt missjudged and disregarded, he shall keep this and suprise them at a later date.
... in the mean time eat and wait for something to happen, he supposes.
Once you’ve noticed her presence, it was difficult to ignore her. Among all the individuals present in the Hall of Principles, Xiang Jinhua was perhaps the greatest oddity that was there. Out of courtesy, most kept sneaking glances at her discreetly. However, there were those daring enough that they had openly stared at her. The obvious baby fat in her cheeks and overall childish appearance clearly reveal that the person in question hasn’t even come of age yet. Her presence hadn’t been an issue during the time of the banquet meant for honoring the Sky Ceremony although the fact she’s still present in the private meeting that was both sensitive and serious in nature, was clearly strange. With the minor exceptions of special occasions, those of her age should have gone to bed by this time. In midst of all the speculations and questions regarding her presence here, she, however, remained unaffected.
Her posture was immaculate, not the least bit inferior to the clans of noble peerage. She gently holds the teacup close allowing the aroma to waft to her nose as she was taught by her etiquette tutor. Jinhua was given tea as the non-alcoholic alternative, in account of her age. There were others who were given similarly due to special circumstances or background. She takes a sip of the tea to soothe her dry throat.
This is exhausting, she sighed internally staring at her reflection on the tea water. Jinhua had been following the festivities all day long. It would have been fine if she had been allowed to play during the day but when she’s not present for the ceremonial procedures and social interactions, she would be spending a long time getting ready by her maids led by her nursemaid that came with her on this trip. They claim that it had to do with her dignity that they had to go all in ensuring her appearance was perfect for the entire day. Her nursemaid in particular, couldn’t control her worry and continuously kept reminding her not to show any of her bad habits each time she gets.
Whenever Jinhua was bored, she couldn’t help observing the monetary value of items found in the room. In fact, since she had entered Orchid Manor, she couldn’t help but notice the way it was decorated and the objects inside it. It was elegant with the history and prestige of the Dao clan. Along the way, she had spotted a few fakes that had replaced the original. Jinhua had guessed that it likely had something to do with the Dao predecessor that wasn’t held in high regard by her elders. This time they seem to hold certain expectations, otherwise they would have never permitted her to come no matter how much she begged.
As Dao Chaolong made his toast, through most of it Jinhua wasn’t really paying any attention. Grown-ups could talk for so long if you let them. She only became more alert as he neared the end of his speech. The Jade Princess waited until it was her turn for the toast, raising her cup.
“May the blessings be plenty.”
When she was done with her toast, The Jade Princess returned to what appeared to be a serene state. She sat well-behaved in her seat, watching the rest socialize around her.
Oh wow, she wasn’t familiar with most of the faces there with only a minor exception for a selected few. However, it didn’t take much for her to see that the Lord-in-Metal and the Blue Tortoise had gathered quite the remarkable group of individuals in the room. Jinhua takes a bite of the pastry that was served at her table. “Yummy.” the ends of her mouth curled upwards naturally from the delight of her taste buds.
Truth, a concept many claim to be able to grapple with, Some call it the answer to everything possible in the world, while others, merely see it as a obstacle they must overcome. Right now, the truth is an obstacle for the Young Han, as he carries two glasses filled with liquids in each hand. Raising them both for the toast that the Young Master Dao conducted. After the toast, he went off to a corner with less people around, to properly examine the contents of the glasses he wielded.
"...say that the rice that made this wine was infact harvested from a personal farm from the Agricultural Headsman himself, then it'll be objectively the best wine ever fermented, however the fact still remains that..." A man wearing a white robe, the only dress robe he had, wafts the contents of the first glass. a slightly opaque white liquid fills the glass. "As suspected, no wooden barrel was used to ferment this. A smidge disappointing, but is to be expected." As he took the next glass to his nose, a brown, yet transparent liquid. "This one however, is an enigma. A strong forest smell, yet, mellow. I can't put my finger on it.. wait is that..." Taking another sniff of the brown wine.
"Vanilla?!" He exclaimed, causing a few of the attendees to turn towards him. Quickly composing himself he slinked away and hide himself in his assigned seat. Waiting for the others to return to their business. "I... I am simply shocked a spice that rare was made into a wine." The Young Detective comments more quietly. "Well, I now know which is objectively the better wine..." As he looks around for a bit, wondering is any attention is given to him, as he poured down the first liquid down his mouth. A familiar, almost trained sensation washed over him, the homely taste of the warm rice wine leaving him satisfied.
"Bwah! Nothing better to keep you warm than a well constructed cup of sake! Good times... good times..." Nodding to himself in agreement. "Detective God has solved another case yet again... Who knew vanilla could be used this way, it's it's fantastic.." He managed to mumble out, as he felt the buzz getting to his head. "Still, I wonder what it tastes like." As he took the other drink, and gulped it down. The rich, deep forest flavor overwhelming his senses, and the slight sweet taste mellowing out the rich flavor. "Phew... that certainly was an enjoyable experience... I better stop before I lose all cognative functions." The Young Detective chuckles. "If I get paid in fancy drinks, I'd be set for life."
Taking a look around, at the people surrounding the Hall of Principles. He saw many of unique characters and talent. "Will someone like me be even remotely useful, the best I could do for a governing body is... collect taxes I suppose. Still, I hope I get something," Shaking his head slightly as he mutters. "Who knew war is bad for business, especially for someone only good at finding truths."
In such environments where men's woes and selfish hopes for the future were bred to ideas, it would be of no surprise that many here spoke beforehand in good terms or in ways that left much to be desired. It wasn't to say the atmosphere of the room herein wasn't auspicious: loud toasts, the sharing of hopes, all weaved together wonderfully by Lord Dao. But, Méngyáhi had the impression such a strong resonance to the Lord's words wouldn't be possible were those not here sharing pasts in some way or the other.
War, ultimately, is the means of an end. But it is through those means that brothers and sisters, sworn by metal, may ally and form lifelong alliances. His mother had always told him a proverb about such things, 'the tiger who aids the lion and gains nothing may find a rival, but at the same time they may find likeness all the same.' He has the feeling that despite Lord Dao being somewhere akin to a den of lions, they all welcome him all the same due to alliances with just one or two of them, molded through promises and shared objectives, even if their end goals may be different.
... however, at the same time... he found himself wondering: just who are some of these people? Naturally, Lord Dao didn't seek them out personally, one by one -- he is influential and charismatic, but the promise of war and conquest against the tyranny of the enemies shared or not, is enough to bring many to their side. If anything, it's more likely that Shu Jin knows more of them than Lord Dao himself.
But alas, that wasn't the point he was trying to make -- he has noticed Chienying stealing glances his way, he has noticed the very much apparent child amongst their ranks, and he has noticed the more than eccentric nature of a... 'detective' among them. (whatever that may mean) Méngyáhi naturally wondered the meaning of their presence here as naturally as he breathed -- after all, despite one not being able to be picky in war, the people here were meant to be trusted advisors and close allies of Lord Dao. Owners of their own retinues, the Lord in Metal's hands when he has none -- in a way, extensions of his objectives while aiding them in their own.
What he was more curious (worried, truly) about was naturally, the child. He was an older brother, after all -- his sister, Zhou Yi, the creator of the earrings he currently adorned with pride, therefore he could not imagine what her parents or siblings felt about her being here if she truly is meant to be an equal of them. To be wary about a child's safety not your own is common sense, but anything more and it would be as if he would be stepping into territory Shu Jin and Lord Dao would be wiser about.
After all, it was them who decided bringing a child as an advisor to be a good idea... right?
The separate soiree of would-be heroes and legends, exclusively tailored by the Blue Tortoise with great purpose, served the mastermind's intentions greatly. Whether by reticence of wise personage or via the profound intrigues of the vagrants' hearts, the special evening spent in their august company brokered forth a new beginning for the young governor. While estranged by their unfamiliar names and assorted aspirations, Shu Jin knew that his lord would soon come to master their arts in the years to come. Where farmers must tend to their tools for a fruitful harvest, so too must the governor tend to his, should he wish to realize his ideals. There was a time when the strategist himself was stirred by the magnificent brilliance that surrounded Dao like a fulgent shroud of their unwritten destinies. Truly, the energies of his forerunners have been bestowed upon him in the forms of their brave colleagues. The strategist gulped down his drink, neither out of social courtesy nor to prove himself a decent drinker, but to acknowledge the conclusion of their valuable gathering. As his creamy lips soaked in the fiery-cool intoxicant, his amber optics fluttered swiftly, relinquishing the fine porcelain from his visage with grace.
By the silver crescent's precipice, the guests were shown to their rooms at the Companion Wing, a recently renovated area to facilitate their designated residency. Located within the eastern side of the Assembly of Harmony, a section of rammed walls threaded along in parallel to the tile-laden steps. While much of the boarding house's functions were restored, its courtyard was still in a state of disrepair. Despite this, the governor's servants were swift to attend to the new retainers' needs for the night. Chosen by Shu Jin for their assortment of skills and abilities, these men and women would be the first to augment the once reticent Hall of Principles when dawn breaks. No longer will they roam the realm without a purpose or their talents neglected.
"Dry winds of Chen! The Dragon's breath is upon us! Mind your firewoods and torches!" A firewatch sentry's voice echoed faintly in the distance, as they strolled down the lonely avenues past the great Orchid Manor. With it, the revelations of a new day would soon be revealed as the glistening dews of Yanura broke the callous stirring of the whispering trees. The midnight denizens of Weilang would take their watch, while the newly admitted members of the Orchid Manor awaited the call of the dawn.
Morning came in the form of a hoarse voice resounding across the manor. "All ministers and officers are hereby summoned to the Hall of Principles! The Governor beckons your attendance!" The man in robes proclaimed, his voice ringing across the hallway of the Companion Wing, pulling the inhabitants from the comforts of their rooms. The servants, donning their matching uniforms like a line of fine silks, lined up upon the corridor, each awaiting their respective court members to assist and prepare for. When the multitude of warriors and officials were dressed and groomed, the servants would accompany them outside, until the compound walls finally relinquished their responsibilities to the head steward, whose well-paced steps led the column out of the Assembly of Harmony and into the Assembly of Divinity.
The steward sashayed quickly to the side of the entrance, awaiting the multitude to enter the Hall of Principles, where the Governor and his Taejin advisor were already waiting, locked in a timely finalized dialogue amidst it’s center. The two promptly locked eyes with the arriving individuals, permitting them to cast their salutes. The amber eyed strategist stood beside his lord, heeding his role as an equal among those that managed to earn a place within the Orchid Manor, even if his responsibilities were greater in some aspects. A brief moment of silence befell them, before Shu Jin finally took a step back to announce his lord's intentions by prudence. The Governor's knights and intellectuals, of new and old, would be bestowed their formal admittance. The Blue Tortoise's eyes skipped between those that presented themselves, as he did with their dossiers the previous night, before casting himself to the side. At the same time, Dao would finally set his gaze upon the first candidate for the occasion, his perplexing smile carrying his stature well.
Certainly not the only person amongst them who carried such an impressive reputation, though none enough to be compared with the truly impressive. Even so, the one who would first receive the gaze of Dao was one who had earned his place, and seen himself worthy of it. And Dao’s smile, though infamously hard to grasp, appeared satisfied. A war had been won, yet ever-more remained. It is for that reason he had taken it upon himself to give out rank and honours upon those who would wage for him personally. And equally so, it is therefore quite obvious in his deceptive shrewdness, that those who have already done so are favourite amongst those present. “Even so,” the Governor began, beginning to answer the unasked, “there are those amongst you whose martial prowess even the stars could recognize in time.” Whilst subdued, flattery remained most unbecoming of the fledgling Warlord, but one which his armies could certainly testify to. For it’s recipient was amongst them, earning the Governor’s favour through deed and action, lending aid where few was found in turbulent times.
“Unto you, Win Sen of the Zhou, I shall place the duty most befit you.” With his hands tied behind his back, and his words spoken in powerful tonation, the Governor had resumed his station. His smile coiled, yet remained subtle, like a needle’s edge. “Vanguard Captain,” Jinlong resumed, allowing adequate time for his words to linger, “to strike first, fastest, and for longest.” A rapid statement, imbued with tremendous intention and vast expectation. Were one to expose themselves as worthy, then they expose themselves to greater responsibility, and so the pendulum would continue until at last one fails; the measure of their character is the vastness of their absence, or so Dan Weiyou had written. “Your legend has already entered writing, and Weilang views you fondly for your prowess during the toppling of Dao Ren, aiding it’s liberation. Therefore,” the Governor paused, and his political acumen shone in it’s emergence. Not a man to leave circumstance untapped, Jinlong allotted the first task upon his premiere captain: “with your recent fame as shepherd, I task you, Méngyáhi, with recruitment of as many able-bodied citizens as means allow in preparation for our venture west.”
“My next commander will aid in the accompaniment of this task,” Jinlong furthered, turning to Dongliang’s Demon-Conquering Arhat with twisted grin and emboldened gaze. “Yang Jiuwan of Dongliang shall be my Captain of the Royal Guard, in recognition of the Temple and his prowess. I see it fit for him to aid in this task of recruitment, for his vision for the people surpasses even my own,” the Governor concluded. His words complex, cloaked in shades hard to grasp or reason through. Doubtlessly there was more to comprehend than what was said, for his mind was rich in thought and void of stillness, and perhaps thus in character he continued unto the next captain, haste brewing in the continued process.
“Asahi Enlai, as I cannot yet utilize your mastery at sea, you are to be the Banner Captain of the Center,” he stated swiftly, most of them remained unproven, and thus subject to scrutiny. A corsair, then, was not chief among Dao’s most desired, and certainly hard to trust. Whilst he trusted Shu Jin’s discretions, he did not yet hold them to the same unquestioned faith. “Tatsu Kama, though your circumstances are known, you are to become my Captain of the Left.” A brief pause, and a brief motion of Dao’s hand would precede their task; “the two of you are to visit Weilang’s Garrison Headquarters and train our recruits for the conflict to come.”
“Song Shen, the Captain of the Convoys, is to oversee our stores. Though I doubt Dao Ren’s master of stockpile was as keen a planner as I have heard of you,” Dao said with serpentine sharpness, logistics the backbone of any conflict, and the winner of all wars, thus it will be the greatest of all challenges in any future. Was in all that is past, and is in all that is present. As there is little foundation to be had, another opportunity for Song Shen to present himself through deed and accomplishment. A difficult task.
“It is nonetheless imperative to fashion a system of stockpiling, and in accomplishing this, our Siege Captain, Long Xiyi, will aid you. Be that resource transfer, or mere book-keeping, this task is to be as swift as possible, for we cannot make a strategy without knowledge of what we can and will bring.” Though it may seem, to the vainglorious, as the task given to a servant. In truth, it is an immense honour. As a master of siege, Long Xiyi is no doubt aware of the importance of the task given to him, though perhaps not in the immediate moment. Even so, Governor Dao’s thoughts are far reaching, and cast themselves over all manner of possible futures.
“Tumen Lei,” the Governor initiated, his smile as vibrant as it had ever been, though his eyes penetrated far and observed deep. “Your circumstances are known, and though it behooves me to accommodate them, it can simply not be done,” he concluded with a wave of his hand. Her wife was quite simply needed for different matters. “For now, at least, you shall be my Captain of the Right, and through horse, you are to venture alongside Zhu Xuexia to the riverbed. There you are to, through medium of swiftness and the gaze of the eye, observe what lies beyond the Crimson, and if there are any movements worthy of note. Never are you to engage in conflict lest it cannot be avoided, but remember that our lands are turbulent, and that our understanding of what happens within as without is as of now incomplete.”
Dao Chaolong then turned to Zhu Xuexia, her vigor and spirit as ferocious as the volcanous mouth of daunting fire mountains. He observed within her what he had in Zhou Win Sen, and in her he had also received unquestioned loyalty, and from her a family most faithful to his ancestry. And in truth, he was appreciative, and comforted by her display during the day prior; he was touched. Her words had reached his mind, and had accounted for their piece. And to continue, “Lianjie, your family is as great a warriors as can be bred, though the tragedy aches, your accomplishments are to be rewarded, and thus I shall.”
“For you, I have seen it fit to construct a whole new force. Though few in number, they herald from the same selection as my own retinue, and will finely augment you,” Governor Dao continued, his hands soothed, and removed from his back, as he swayed his garbs in ceremoniousness. “Zhu Xuexia, you are to be the Deputy Commander of the Wyvern’s Gate,” he spoke with bombasticism, though mellowed in immediacy as he furthered. “Colour me arrogant, if you so wish,” Dao humoured. “You are to be my flame, but your skills are in no need of trial before my eyes, and thus your first task is to accompany the Captain of the Right in manner of support.”
Dao finally concluded, and even himself had become burdened by the endlessness of the words he had spoken. Perhaps this was why Dongliang commit to their customs, though it was certainly no lifestyle of his own. Even so, whilst he ought not, he nonetheless hoped there would be few instances which would demand this manner of bestowal in futures to come. Though, it would no doubt be more ideal were he to adopt a different manner of approach were they to. His smile widened as he thought to himself, he had forgotten he was still a child in many aspects. Growth will come, and he will grow. But as all thoughts, it floated, and Dao swayed Shu Jin forward with reserved gesture.
Thus, when the Martial members were given their jobs and titles of which to execute them with the appropriate authority, each captain was then given an immaculate grey cloak, complemented by a ceremonial sword. The latter would distinguish them as an officer within Dao's army. The two items served to signify altogether their newly-appointed positions as Dao's martial officers within his court and on the field.
Shu Jin turned towards those that have yet to be given a title. Stepping forward slightly at the behest of his Lord's unspoken cue, as if they shared the same complex mind, he cleared his throat and unfurled his right hand, with his eyes fixed upon the first individual of his attention.
"Master Han. The truths shall be yours to make known by the stars. The Governor appoints you as Commissioner of Justice and Peace. There is a case that I wish for you to personally oversee and resolve to ensure the path at night is enlightened and that our citizens may sleep soundly, knowing that they are guarded by the law. More details shall await you at the Bureau of Security at the edge of the Eastern Gate." Shu Jin stepped forward, granting the man a spade-shaped badge made of jade. Upon the item was a carved initial of the Dao clan with ornate details etched into it - signifying her ad-hoc authority under the Governor's command.
"Madam Kyungri. You are to take up this badge and begin your duty as Inspector Commander of Weilang. You will assist Master Han with his case." The woman would also be given an identical badge to that of the Magistrate's.
"Master Cang..." Shu Jin eyed the man curiously with a brief pause as if considering another thought born of uncertainty, before reeling back to continue conferring with their new post. "...And Master Tang, you two will serve as Inspectors to complement the Bureau's office with appropriate... expertises. Your badges will give you access to the Bureau of Security's facilities." Another badge found its way into the hands of the two.
With the Censorate members given their first detail of a pending case in the Eastern District, Shu Jin then directed his attention towards the last group of personnel for their jobs.
"Master Yu. Appointed Keeper of the Granary. Work closely with the granary masters and farmers to ensure Weilang's bountiful harvest this year. Master Cai. Appointed Director of Developments, where you will correct any marginal errors of our production records and adjust our revenue appropriately. Master Chu as Envoy of the Realm. Put your tranquil words to good use, for we will have needs of eyes and ears within Weilang soon enough. You three are responsible for farmer tool distributions, public facilities restorations, all the while making sure Weilang is able to support our expedition ahead. That will be your first and foremost detail this month. Your joint efforts will dictate Weilang's prosperity and survival in the coming years." The Blue Tortoise nodded with a salute to follow, having assigned the Intendants their new job.
"Miss So. The Governor grants you the title of Manor Chef. You will make sure our colleagues are fed and provided for. You have a special assignment this morning in the southern district. There is a soup kitchen for refugees there that requires your spiced hands."
"Miss Xiang. While your illustrious self may dissuade many from imposing upon you a proper detail, I believe you may learn a thing or two from Miss So. You will follow the Manor Chef to the southern district and lend a hand where needed. Your presence will earn us much wisdom and support there. Perhaps you, too, could also learn a thing or two from it as well." Shu Jin finally paid heed to the young Jade Princess. While he has yet to assign her a conventional title, the Blue Tortoise recognized her potential for a future role that has yet to be announced. One that would inevitably be the pivotal fulcrum that could save Weilang from an invisible threat. One that Master Murong had warned them about the night before.
The three Civic Masters, one culinarian, and a tag-along lady were then appropriated with their respective hairpins with ornate carvings of Dao's sigils etched into its finer details. This was complemented by a matching set of tassels to be strung by their belt. With the Martial, Censorate and Civic Development retainers given their missions to perform, and the accessories to exercise their authority, the court session was now coming to an end and the Governor saw it fit to speak his piece before dismissal.
“Though I am yet inexperienced with the rule which I must carry, and the role which I deign to play, we are all exceptions to the paradigms which permeate these times. It is up to us to build for ourselves the place where we wish to reside, and so, indeed, I will make my final thanks now to you all for your acceptance of my summons and the roles which you play,” he spoke heartfelt, though his smile seemed to turn all which was spoken into things more complex than they ought to be. Even so, as he stood there before them, unbarred and open, he remained proud and tall. Then, he placed upon each of them one last gaze, and finally concluded: “though most of us have not been acquainted for long, this will change, and when it does, I foresee a better place in which we can share our thoughts.”
Just as the Governor dismissed his retainers, an attendant sashayed their way towards his strategist, having navigated past the crowd of officers, law enforcers and statesmen, but not before paying their respects to the Governor. "Master Murong is awaiting your summons outside, My Lord." The attendant reported softly, before saluting the two again. The Blue Tortoise turned towards his lord swiftly to relay the occasion.
"Their wisdom may yet earn us an opportunity southward." Shu Jin explained to his master, in regards to an individual worthy of note, a grin unlike any other then manifested upon the lips of the news’ recipient, coiling like the tail of a ravenous dragon. "While your subjects tend to their duties, this detail shall be yours and mine this day." Shu Jin said, taking a brief glance of Dao's expression, but ultimately made no attempt to inquire of its nature. There was something about such a peculiar feature that piqued the strategist's intrigues, but the man knew better than to question his master's demeanor in detail. After all, he was the very one that was instrumental in setting Dao on this path. Yet, unlike Zhu Xuexia's absolute fidelity to the governor's cause, Shu Jin could not help but capture such an expression within the back of his mind to decipher in good time. It certainly was not the first time he had seen Dao done so. Breaking away from his own speculative contemplations, the man folded his hands beneath his joint sleeves. "Thought I should ask before we proceed. How good are you with instruments of musical nature?" Shu Jin inquired with a slight grin carved upon his face.
“Horrible,” Dao retorted, his mind racing. His amber-eyed aide would let loose a light chuckle, as the two faded beyond the shielded corridor, where a young soul awaited their arrival.
Not explicit, but Remembrance
and Mqueserasera Around:
Anyone who crosses path between Companion Wing and the storehouses,
The atmosphere of the scene had been quite pleasant, but the toasts were bound to end at some point or another... And the feast proper would begin in all its noisy delight. Shen personally didn't mind some rowdyness and loudness, for he was all too used to such matters due to his job dealing with soldiers. Instead, he was smiling quite pleasantly after the past acquaintance from a faithful meeting in yanzhu had made their way towards his banquet position, starting a polite conversation...
Oh how the youth had grown since then! Even if it hadn't been too long, journeys and struggles had a way of helping youth mature... that much Shen knew from experience as he smiled towards Aili Si.
"A most fortuitous meeting has graced both of us today, young Cang!" Cheering with the wine cup still in hand towards the other, giving them time to clank cups together.
"But to see a familiar and hardworking face in such a situation is a good omen... we are still dwelling in the banquet, so, let's make time to learn what has been of each other's lives since our last meeting over drinks" Polite, controlled, but an obvious tint of enthusiasm and happiness permeated the voice of the older man
The offer being accepted, the two individuals would enjoy their drinks and catch up on the events since they last met (while still listening to his surroundings). As the night continued, the banquet would eventually come to an end, and everyone would go to their assigned quarters. Shen prioritized recovering his prized saber before going to his lodgings.
Dwelling during the night and early morning over the Banquet events, Shen's resolve to work at his best grew, yet didn't let his hope for finally finding the right liege blind him, and would keep evaluating matters.
The chaos and warfare of their surroundings would be the judge of worthiness... both his, his liege, and that of the Dao court. And a more unhinged smile was present on his lips at such thoughts.
When the summon towards the hall came, the quartermaster quickly enough readied up in an outfit befitting of such a meeting, glasses placed on his face properly polished, prized saber left behind in the safety of his lodgings.
Following proper etiquette once within the hall of principles once again, Shen waited in silence along other retainers for the meeting to begin, already suspecting its purpose.
Soon enough, titles and roles galore would be issued towards the retainers of the court, one after the other, many if not all of them with physical items to symbolize the authority granted to these men and women... himself included.
Captain of the Convoys, granted by the lord Dao Chaolong himself... the youngest Song schion would be lying to himself if he wasn't at least a bit moved, his ever so composed expression breaking for a moment to give way to a delighted and sincere smile before coming under control again. It was the sensible and logical choice, but to have responsibility granted quite so soon felt rewarding all the same, his reputation aiding the process greatly.
The rest of the title grantings would go smoothly, and the saberman would remain quiet and observant for most of the rest of the duration up until a specific point. Upon being granted his cloak and ceremonial sword a bow and thankful words carrying the right amount of respect were issued.
"I will make sure everything is accounted for under my supervision... let us subjects accomplish our jobs to our utmost" Expectations and confidence permeated his statement while accepting the new duty.
The meeting eventually drew to a close, and everyone but the lord and advisor would exit the hall, Song Shen opting to return to his room to pick up his weapon and an assortment of personal tools for his administrative job, before setting out towards the storehouses, eager to scout matters despite how little time had passed.