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Crown Prince Yoshi - 14. Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Amana Palace, Lexin City

The Amana Empire was more than any one individual. This was her house’s first rule in building a great nation. Not even, she, Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Almira Taimeng, holding the supreme power to rule over this great empire, stood before Amana. She was at best a tool, one used for the survival and the good of the Empire.

Prince Tailen had never understood this part about power. Or, perhaps he did understand, as he dared try to use her as a chess piece in his quest. Daring to blackmail her with her son.

Almira gripped Yoshi’s lock of hair, the only proof she had that he was alive. After checking the impostor’s body, she was going to need to look into Yoshi’s brown eyes to believe he breathed. Her greatest weakness had always been her love for Yoshi. So terribly deep, and profound, she felt capable of moving boundaries, waging war, and demolishing entire nations for him. Tailen was insane to think she would sit by as he tried to steal her son’s future.

A thundering battle horn filled the afternoon, and Almira’s grip on the lock of hair tightened. Naria’s warning to the rebel army. She was clearly ready to meet Namik. Almira’s heart squeezed as her plans started to lock into place.

She paced her private courtyard thinking of her father, the Emperor Vulan’s lessons on war.

War was a matter of vital importance to all in the empire, he often said. A matter regarding the life and death of the people. War could mean the survival or the complete ruin of sovereignty. War matters demanded serious commitment; critical thought process could not be neglected.

Critical thought, she mused, thinking her life seemed filled with critical thought. It certainly had taken all she had to get them where they were now.

She had prepared carefully, but still needed to work harder. She was now the key to this war. Namik’s main goal would be to drive a wedge between her and the people. Create distrust with the people: leaving them thinking there was no hope but Namik and Prince Tailen. What with a state funeral already completed and the crown prince buried.

Damn the sands, but the thought irked her. She needed to prove that Yoshi was alive, without a doubt. Leave no one wondering where the sovereign power of this great empire belonged.

Her strategy of pretending to be a pig in order to eat the tiger was ending. She was happy for it, because acting the disadvantaged Empress exhausted her. She longed for a good long shout, letting out a satisfying sigh, or simply lazing back in her favorite lounge chair in Yoshi’s courtyard watching him practice with his sword or bicker with Sando. She missed Yoshi’s laugh, his sulks, and he could sulk long, his thoughtful face—, what she’d do to see all those sides of him again.

Bringing the lock of hair she held to her lips, she pressed a kiss on the soft strands. Yoshi would no longer be her young son when he returned to this palace.

No, she sighed.

Yoshi would be a Commander, a Leader, a Crown Prince, ready to take on her crown when he returned.

She glanced down at the white robes she wore in supposed mourning. Perhaps there was something to mourn; still she looked forward to discovering the new face her son would wear.

“Your Majesty.”

Almira looked up to see Sayuri standing a few feet away.

“Are the invitations received?” Almira asked, a thrill racing through her at the stage she had set.

“Yes. We must get you ready for the banquet.”

Almira smiled and gave a happy nod.

“And the Apothecary?”

“He is well-prepared,” Sayuri answered.

“And the Lord Hong Ma?”

Sayuri bowed her head.

“Ready as ordered, Your Majesty.”

Almira took in a deep breath. She stared up at the sky and hoped the next few days would bring her the peace she sorely missed. Her palace was too long in the darkness, it was time to let in the light.

“We are ready too,” Almira murmured. “Glory to the Empire.”


The inner palace was built in the shape of an octagon. High walls separated the inner palace from the outer palace. Built to provide complete privacy for the Imperial Family. There was only one public entrance into the inner palace. A set of great red double doors that intimidated all invited into this opulent and secretive world.

Prince Saki was no exception. He was part of the royal family, but had no privileges to visit the Empress’s home. He had hoped for that right, but not like this. Not with his favorite cousin dead. It would have been nice to gloat a bit to Prince Yoshi's face.

Four officers from the Royal Investigative Bureau currently guarded the gates. A rare occurrence, as Royal Guards had the special job of guarding the inner palace.

Saki knew his father also noticed the difference as they stepped into the Inner Palace.

Saki couldn’t help the intake of breath. He had always thought the outer palace beautiful and majestic thanks to carefully manicured gardens, art on the walls, and carvings on great pillars by Amana's greatest artist.

Yet, the Inner Palace was another world altogether.

The red doors closed behind them with a loud rumble. Saki jumped in surprise, his gaze sweeping the vast white stone wide paths leading to the Inner Palace courtyard. The paths lined with more officers from the bureau. Their vibrant deep blue uniform matched the extravagant riots of flowers blooming in the imperial gardens behind them. There was no calculated order to these gardens. Instead, they grew in wild rebellion. A clean spring ran through them, with short bridges built through the gardens. Saki loved the wildness of it, how utterly otherworldly it made the inner palace. Unlike the outer palace, the gardens here were not forced into order, but allowed to grow at will. The pristine wide path to the inner palace was a huge contrast to the great disorder.

Saki and his father, Prince Tailen, walked up four steps to a short landing with paths leading to their right and left.

Tailen pointed to the right.

“The royal guard offices, and to the left are the Chancellor’s offices.”

“Chancellor Rokka’s offices are grander than those of the ministers,” Saki commented.

“The Chancellor controls all information that passes to the Empress. He has helped us much with his position,” Tailen said, as they moved to take the stairs down to the inner palace courtyard.

The wide paths veered into a great round circle, in the middle of the courtyard.

“On good days, you will find the royal guards practicing, or the palace court ladies dancing here,” Tailen said. “You might also like to sit on a sunny day and enjoy the breeze, watching the flowers in full bloom.”

“Or I can have entertainers amuse me,” Saki said with a grin, already imagining a great play unfolding on the beautiful courtyard.

Tailen smiled as they went up a second set of steps to the entrance of the Inner Palace. Saki paused to turn back and look at the path they had walked. No wonder Yoshi was always so overconfident when they met. Having grown up in such grandeur, such greatness, how could Yoshi see anything below?

Taking in a small breath, Saki smirked. Now this was going to be his.

Too bad cousin that you didn’t live to see this moment.

Two palace maids met them at the entrance into the Inner Palace and led the way to a large banquet hall to their right. Saki paused at the entrance, grinning at the grand tables set for the banquet. The palace maids were dressed in gold and white. Colors in the room down to a minimum. The Empress was clearly still in mourning. Decorations were simple, and the mood in the palace felt subdued. There were seven tables set in the banquet hall. Saki assumed the tables were always well prepared in case of guests.

“You must purge this ambiance,” Tailen suggested as they were ushered to the table at the front of the banquet hall, set closest to the Empress’s table. “The Empress will be gloomy as she mourns her son. With you moving in, we should work on getting rid of this mood. The palace should be festive.”

“She can leave the palace,” Saki mused, smiling at a pretty palace maid who placed a goblet of wine before him, then hurried away. “Retire to the country side to reminisce on the good old days taking care of my cousin.”

Tailen nodded in approval. “Yes, your thinking is right.”

Saki reached for his goblet and sipped his wine, his gaze shifting to the ministers who walked into the banquet; clearly, about to join what he had assumed was a private party.

“What is she up to?” Tailen wondered, his gaze on the six old men who took seats at the remaining six tables.

“Minister of Defense Sharifa, Minister of Rites Zanna, Chancellor Rokka,” Saki mused. “She has all our friends gathered. Father, we must bring the other three into our camp. I had no idea they were so close to the Empress.”

“Chief Scholar Lia Tang is a quiet head at the Royal Academy. He educated Prince Yoshi and the Empress values his opinion. He is a loyalist, and reveres the Empress's house. The second man is Jiang, the Empress’s Grand Steward. She allows him, a servant, such freedoms as to sit in such an important banquet,” Tailen scoffed.

“And the last man there?” Saki asked, nodding to the old man with pristine white hair, long down his back. “He looks too old, yet young. How strange.”

Tailen frowned.

“Never seen him before.”

“Quite a feat,” Saki mused. “You know everyone in Empress Aunt's palace.”

Tailen’s frown deepened at the mystery of the old man. He had watched Almira’s every move for decades. It could not be possible to have someone close to her he didn’t know. Judging by the man's age, Tailen assumed he must be a retainer. A servant like the grand steward. Almira had an incurable sentimental nature. He would make sure all these useless fools were kicked out of this grand palace.

Shrugging, he decided it didn’t matter. The people in the banquet made up half the Imperial Diet. The matters of succession were underway; no one would dare push them back now. Almira had no choice but to choose Saki as heir.

A smile graced his lips. Once Saki was named Crown Prince, Namik would have the power he needed to enter the palace. Then Namik's forces would find Yoshi and exterminate him for good. Tailen’s smile widened. Namik would enjoy that task immensely.

“Her Imperial Majesty, The Empress, arrives.”

Saki and Tailen stood and turned to watch Almira walk into the banquet hall. She looked beautiful in white robes, the crown on her head gleaming gold as she walked to her table. Her silk gown decorated with gold leaf patterns on the edges, the only jewelry on her fingers was a jade ring on her right hand. As she sat in her chair, Saki thought he caught sight of red in the lining of her gown, but she settled and he thought it was his imagination.

The palace followed the rules too rigorously to ignore the colors on an Empress’s clothing. White was for mourning, so everyone in the palace made sure to match the Empress's sorrow. Red was auspicious, celebratory, and lucky, mixed in with yellow, it meant joy for the Empress. Red at a time like this, what with the Empress mourning, was a show of imperial strength. Ignorance of these small changes could mean death.

Saki mused at the fact that he would soon have such significance on people’s lives.

“Welcome to a quiet evening,” Almira greeted with a short wave of her right hand, allowing them to sit.

The palace maids waiting on the sidelines moved to pour wine into empty goblets. Almira lifted the goblet on her table and everyone followed suit.

“We drink to the future and the prosperity of our great Empire.”

Saki lifted his goblet to her toast, and then sipped his wine.

“Be at ease,” Almira said, placing her goblet on the table as she stood up indicating that they all remain seated.

She moved down the highly polished steps to the main floor. Her silk gown whispered as it swept the floor. She made her way to Saki's table. He had never faced her; always seeing her from a distance in court, or in procession. Almira remained this great figure to revere in his mind. Now that she stood so close to him, he found his tongue could not formulate any words.

Saki held his breath.

“You’re a handsome one,” Almira said, looking at him, her brown eyes piercing.

She reached out with her right hand and gripped his chin, tilting his face up. Saki sat still, meeting her probing gaze. He feared she would see deep into his heart, and discover how much he wanted to be part of her inner court. Unlike with his father, his Empress Aunt truly fascinated him.

He read nothing in her eyes. No pleasure at seeing him, or meeting him. No joy, no anger, no sadness, just a blank slate. Frustrating.

“You look like your mother.” Almira noted, her tone conversational.

Saki found his voice then as Almira let go of his chin. She started to move away, so he asked.

“Did Her Majesty know her?”

Almira continued walking to the next table.

“Not really,” Almira answered. “She was a beautiful soul, quiet…and small.”

Saki winced at the Empress’s description. She wasn’t wrong. His mother’s quiet nature made her fragile. She had withered trying to endure life married to a man like Prince Tailen. A man obsessed with obtaining the power his Empress Aunt held.

“Chancellor Rokka, how is your family?” Almira asked, as she paused at his table.

“Her Majesty honors me by asking after my family,” Rokka said. “They are well.”

“Happy?” Almira continued.


“Safe?” Almira asked, as she moved on down toward the next table.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Rokka answered with a wide smile.

“How lucky they are to have you, Chancellor,” Almira said. “We have a boy living in the palace. He lost his parents in the initial scramble for safety the day Namik arrived at the city’s gates. All efforts to find his parents have turned frustrating. We fear others have much worse stories and therefore worry for the people.”

Saki made sure to note how Almira used the royal ‘we’ in her speech. The Imperial Family used it in formal occasions, speaking for the empire. He would have to learn how to add it into his speech. His father had not stopped to teach him these little intricacies of royal life. Too busy plotting to get here, get him inside the Inner Palace. He wanted to be considered as great a ruler as Almira was, so he would need to learn all she knew.

“Forgive me, Your Majesty,” Chancellor Rokka said, getting to his feet to bow in the Empress’s direction. “Your lowly servant was inconsiderate.”

Almira ignored him, instead stopping at Minister Sharifa’s table. She didn’t speak, only stood watching him. Her gaze enough to make the sturdy man lower his head and sit still, his fingers clenched around his goblet. Saki wondered how she managed to induce such a reaction from a man who commanded armies. Even his father could barely manage such a feat.

When she moved away from Sharifa’s table, the defense minister let out a breath, and brought his goblet to his lips, drinking deep.

Almira smiled at the Minister of Rites, Zanna. She managed to assert the right amount of joy, enough to fool Zanna of her sincerity. Saki, however, could see the smile did not reach Almira’s eyes. She was playing with the man.

“Our Prince Yoshinori has much to thank you for, Minister Zanna.” Almira’s voice sounded pleased, though it was hard to miss the underlying steel in her voice.

Her words prompted Zanna to his feet, his head bowed low as he faced the Empress.

“Your Majesty, this lowly servant dares not wish for thanks from His Highness. May he find happiness in the afterlife.”

“Your words are heartfelt, but we fear our Prince is alone on his journey,” Almira said. “Nary a soul standing by his side in this banquet. Forsaken and forced to face it all alone. The afterlife will not be easy for any of us, Minister Zanna.”

“I dare not try to understand Her Majesty’s grief,” Zanna said, his tone contrite. “I only pray for His Highness’s eternal peace.”

“Eternal peace,” Almira said, and then burst into a laugh that startled everyone in the room. She laughed long and hard, her right hand pressed to her stomach.

It was telling that no one joined in the laughter. Zanna lowered his head, while Chancellor Rokka remained standing.

Almira turned, her laughter ending as she met Prince Tailen’s gaze. Saki took in a deep breath at the cold expression on her face.

Had she really just laughed?

“We are ready to listen to your bid,” Almira said. “Prince Tailen of House Meng. You believe your blood is worthy of the Phoenix Throne?”

“Our blood is as pure as yours,” Prince Tailen said, his tone firm. “Our families are related, Your Majesty. We share the same great ancestor, Diato, founder of the Empire. With the Prince Yoshinori gone, Your Majesty must look to Prince Saki as a son and heir. We are family.”

“Family,” Almira said, her gaze shifting to Chancellor Rokka. She blinked as though realizing he still stood. “Chancellor Rokka, are you going somewhere?”

“Not at all, Your Majesty,” Chancellor Rokka said, moving to take his seat.

“In the time we have relied on Chancellor Rokka’s service, have you sent us a progress report on Prince Saki? How are his studies? Does he understand the intricacies of court life?”

“Your Majesty, the Prince studied in the Royal Academy,” Rokka answered, his tone full of conviction. “He is a good student. Forward thinking, and a leader, he has the qualities of a Crown Prince.”

“If he was to take on the position, he would move into the Inner Palace and learn under Chief Scholar Lia Tang. The Empire is too important to leave the education of the next Emperor to just anyone.”

“Your Majesty,” Rokka said, with a satisfied nod. “Does this mean you have accepted the bid?”

“We are considering circumstances,” Almira said, her tone low.

She moved into the center of the room, her gaze on the yellow dragon seal painted on the floor. Saki watched her, caught between excitement and anxiety. Almira wasn’t one to delay decision. She clearly had no other option. Yoshi was dead. Saki the only one of the blood to inherit.

Despite her grief, her decision was straightforward.

Why hesitate?

“Quite a moment in our life,” Almira said, her gaze still on the yellow dragon seal. “Our house Taimeng may linger on small personal issues, but once decisions are made, we jump right in, and get it done. In our many years as sovereign to this great Empire, this moment is the first time we find such profound sadness and joy in a decision.”

“Your Majesty,” Tailen said, his voice soothing. “I’m sure Prince Yoshinori will understand. Your house protects the Empire. He would want you to name Prince Saki heir, to cement the empire’s strength.”

Almira chuckled, and Saki felt a dark cloud fall over him at the sound.

“Prince Tailen,” Almira said, her voice turning cold again. “Your care moves us. We have not forgotten that you offered support from the very beginning. Your son will now be under our wing.”

“Your Majesty,” Prince Tailen responded, his voice filled with elation. He started to stand to give his thanks, but then Saki felt a wave of nausea sweep through him. He grabbed on to his father’s robes, his gaze on the goblet.

Nausea rose fiercely, and he found himself in a unique position of trying not to disgrace his father before the Empress with vomit.

“Oh…Prince Saki seems unwell,” Almira said, her tone teasing. “He must find the idea of becoming Crown Prince absolutely absurd. What do you think, Prince Tailen? Why does your son look upon us this way?”

Saki groaned when his father turned to him, eyes blazing with irritation and anger.

“Stand and apologize,” Tailen insisted, gripping Saki’s right arm and pulling him up to his feet.

Saki closed his eyes and almost bit his tongue trying to fight back nausea. But it was useless and he turned away fast. Giving in to the nausea, Saki gave up the contents of his stomach to the polished floor.

“Not good,” Almira commented, as Tailen gripped Saki's shoulder in horror. “Prince Saki is not at fault, the wine we serve must be remiss. Assist the Prince to the inner chamber, let him rest a bit.”

Two officers hurried forward and took Saki’s arms. Their grips surprising firm, they led him out of the banquet hall. Stomach pain increasing, Saki gasped when they entered the corridors outside the banquet hall and he saw the number of Royal Investigative Bureau officers waiting outside. A hand clamped over his mouth before he could speak. A strong scent filled his nostrils in the next moment and then darkness overwhelmed him.


Almira smiled as Prince Saki was led out. She watched palace maids work at cleaning up the vomit on Prince Saki’s chair and the floor.

“How unpleasant,” she said, her gaze on Tailen. “It’s not easy to see a child in pain, is it, dear cousin?”

Tailen sat in his chair, a frown playing across his forehead. Clearly, wondering what plot she was weaving. Almira clasped her arms behind her back and paced the space between the tables.

“Recent turmoil, unrest and state funerals have us thinking of the past. It is inevitable. So many lessons to learn from the past, it is sometimes overwhelming. Do you know who commissioned this palace?” Almira asked.

Minister of Defense Sharifa cleared his throat to answer. She had known he would. A Fier official would know the origins of the empire.

“Her Imperial Majesty’s great-grandfather, Diato. He commissioned the Amana Palace as it was his vision to unite the Quads into an Empire,” Sharifa answered. “He was a Fier Heir, a man denied of his birthright by a Proxy ruler in the Fier Quad.”

Almira nodded.

“Greed played a cruel hand on Diato,” Almira continued the story for Sharifa.

Amana was not always an Empire; each quad having lived in autonomous freedom for centuries. However, autonomy also meant that neighbors often turned into enemy states, constantly fighting for monopoly on commerce, military secrets and more real estate. The wars led to constant immigration, refugees running for safety, locals fighting to keep their cultures alive in the process mistreating refugees. The quads were in a constant state of dissent and strife. A young Diato dreamed of a nation united, where the people loved each other despite their different cultures or the strength of their military.

Not to be mistaken for a redeemer, Diato’s dream was also self-serving.

He was the son of a Furian Princess and the leader of Fier. The Fier Clan leader was young, and of ill health. He and the princess fell in love, but couldn’t marry as the Furian Princess could not give up her place in the Furian Forest.

Heartbroken, the young Fier leader fell ill and died, leaving the Fier Clan to a proxy leader thirsty for power. When the Furian Princess gave birth to a son a month later, she had no choice but to expel him out of the Furian forest as the Furian sisters kept no sons in their midst. She brought Diato to the proxy clan leader, hoping the man would look after her son, and see him grow into a great Fier leader.

Seeing an opportunity to make his claim legitimate, the proxy leader handed the infant Diato to a peasant Earith woman working in his great house, and sent her away. No doubt hoping Diato would die of starvation or worse, and Fier would remain his.

Fate was kinder.

The Earith woman loved Diato as her own child, and worked hard to nurture Diato. Since she had no land of her own, she constantly moved between the quads in search of odd jobs from great houses, weaving baskets in her spare time to supplement their income. Diato loved her dearly and often promised the world to her. She would often laugh at his promise, and tell him that she only wished that he lived a good life.

Then one day, Diato’s mother fell down the stairs where she worked in a rich Terra household; her back gave out as she carried a heavy laundry load, making her trip and fall. She broke her leg, and Diato worried so much she might die, because they didn’t have enough money for proper treatment, that he broke into heart wrenching sobs. His cries called the master of the house, who stopped short when he saw Diato kneeling over his mother, tears streaming out of red eyes. Realizing there was more to Diato than met the eye, the rich master took them into his household on a permanent basis.

He called his healers to take care of Diato’s mother, and then started a quiet search into Diato’s true origin. As only sons of a Furian would have red eyes in their moments of great sorrow, or highest fury. The rich master had Diato train as a warrior, and urged him to join the Terra Army when he was old enough. Diato, grateful for his master’s kindness, worked hard and climbed the ranks to the status of General at the age of twenty-three. He was fierce in battle, and the soldiers under him called him the Great Demon.

Diato paid it no mind, and in fact rather enjoyed the name, as it brought him wealth and power and the ability to offer his mother a house of her own, and servants to take care of her needs. He was happy. That is, until the rich old man who had delivered him into this great fortune brought him proof of his birthright.

“Diato discovered he was the ruler to the Fier Quad,” Almira said, moving to perch on her table. She stared down at the men in her banquet hall. “Anger at the proxy Fier leader was natural, and for a time Diato plotted revenge, in a bid to take back what was his right. He used the power he gained in Terra to plan war against Fier. Pushed for the defeat of Fier, a quad that was stronger than most quads. However, no matter how sound his plans were, none of it pleased his Earith mother.”

“She was a peasant woman,” Sharifa countered, disdain in his voice.

“She was,” Almira agreed. “She was also the woman who raised Diato. She raised a child of Amana. A child who had called all the Quads of Amana home. Her greatest hope was that Diato would lead a happy life. And, a happy life cannot be found in war, Minister Sharifa.”

“Wishful thinking for the time,” Tailen said then.

“Indeed,” Almira nodded. “Diato was ambitious, and a true leader. He looked beyond the time. Beyond his anger. He approached the wealthy master who saved his life and pitched the craziest idea of the time. He asked the master to help him build his mother a great house. One that would help him bring peace to the war-ridden quads. Diato asked the rich master to build a palace.”

Sharifa smiled then.

“Then proceeded to conquer the quads one by one until he united the Quads into the Empire Amana,” Sharifa said with pride.

“Yes.” Almira nodded. Though, Diato had not conquered the Quads, more like coaxed them into an agreement to form the Empire. “Diato’s great dream came to be. Do you know why we speak of him now?”

“Because of Namik of Fier?” the Minister of Rites Zanna asked. “He marches against your house.”

“He does,” Almira said. “We are filled with unimaginable anger at this betrayal. The urge to slaughter all those who have led us to this point is great. Our anger so deep, it has left us shaking for days. There is nothing more humbling than watching an empire mourn our son and know we were powerless to stop it. Diato has been a great source of comfort.”

“Your Majesty,” Chancellor Rokka said in surprise. “Do you mean to slaughter Namik and his clan as Diato did with the Proxy Fier leader?”

Almira’s smile was quick.

“Diato’s history might be bloody, it was necessary to paint him a great master of war. Empires are sustained on legend. Only those who seek the truth know Diato's real actions,” Scholar Lai Tang spoke for the first time.

Almira gave him an approving nod as Lai Tang stood to give her a respectful bow.

“Diato could not bring himself to slaughter the Proxy Fier Leader’s family for his misdeeds,” Lai Tang said. “Instead, once he had control of Fier, he imprisoned the proxy Fier leader. Then took a son from a Furian sister and gave him the clan name Sanori. This was how the Sanori Clan came into power.”

“All sons from the Furian Sisters find safe haven in Fier because of this action,” Almira said. “And the proxy Fier leader died alone in a dungeon in the depths of this palace for his crimes against Diato’s family. Diato found peace in his decisions, as must we.”

Sharifa stilled in his seat.

“The Empire comes first,” Almira said then. “No matter how angry we are, the Empire is greater and must exist for the sake of all who seek happiness within our borders.”

“Namik plots treason,” Scholar Lai Tang said then. “He didn’t do it alone.”

Almira took in a deep breath then and let it out slowly. She had needed the stroll down history. Diato’s heavy heart reminded her of her own. The Fier people were still part of the Empire, and she needed to find a way to forgive them for their faults. Forgive them for having a bad leader. Forgive them for falling into Tailen’s devious plots.

“Treason,” Almira breathed.

Still, this ugly business needed to be handled.

Almira touched the white gown she wore, her fingers skating over the two edges held together by gold pins down her chest. Sayuri’s handiwork. One easily undone by a simple touch on the little clips protruding above the fabric. She touched them now. They broke away with ease and she slipped out of the white gown with a shrug, leaving it draped on the table she leaned on.

Tailen stood first in surprise at the sight of the blood red gown she wore. His expression perfect. She had wanted him stunned with shock.

The red silk fabric rich, embroidered with dramatic yellow dragons. Gold armor covered her torso, a matching sword on a belt resting on her hip. She reached for the handle now, pulling it out in one deliberate move. She straightened to her full height, and Lord Hong Ma walked into the banquet hall with dozens of his officials.

“What is this?” Tailen demanded as she walked down the steps to his table. “Where is Saki?”

“Prince Saki is now under our care,” Almira said, her gaze on the gleaming sword she held.

She stopped when she reached Tailen, and thrust the sword out, resting it on that vital vein on his neck.

“Tailen, Tailen, you have such a greedy eye,” Almira sighed. “Petty, entitled, ambitious, stupid…the urge to cut you down grows the longer we name your faults. You dared try to touch the sun.”

“Yoshi is dead,” Tailen said.

Almira smiled then.

“Death. Do you think we fear that word? You forced us to touch an impostor’s body. Death is no longer the worst fear.”

“You will never meet him again,” Tailen said, with a smirk. “Namik will make sure of it.”

“Treason suits you,” Almira hissed. “It also allows us to finally get rid of you with just cause. Let’s see which one of us will come out on top of this game you set in motion.”


Dwind/Terra Border

“Namik’s army surrounds Lexin City, the city gates are locked but we cannot be sure how long it will last,” General Aruku reported to Yoshi and his council, in the very early hours of morning.

Lady Pipa’s mission had ended in a day. Not because she and her team had ridden across Dwind to Earith on their fastest horses, but because of The Furian Princess's foresight. She had sent General Aruku, with a company of five thousand to keep watch at the Earith/Dwind borders. Lady Pipa had returned in the middle of the night with General Aruku just as fast.

“The Princess was making ready to face Namik,” General Aruku continued. “Our spies within the city walls warn that the Royal Guard has been purged by Lord Hong Ma. The Royal Investigative Bureau is now in charge of palace security. The city is rife with tension.”

“Understandable,” Telia said. “The bureau is not an easy organ of Her Majesty’s court. They are too secretive and dangerous.”

“The nobles are under the influence of the Ministers of Rites and Defense,” General Aruku said. “They believe the Empress is using excessive force when she should take matters more cautiously. They insist on dialogue with the rebel Namik.”

“Any news of Her Majesty?” Telia asked, her gaze on Yoshi, who remained pensive.

“None,” General Aruku said, her tone low and apologetic. “All attempts to gain entry into the palace have turned futile. Lord Hong Ma has the palace locked down too tight.”

“With the Princess Naria engaging Namik, we can attack from the rear,” Lady Tinya, Commandant of the Terra army, said. “The Princess will offer enough distraction, allowing us to advance into the Imperial Lands, and free the villages as we go.”

Yoshi gripped the key Tai gave him tight and stood.

“The Phoenix Army shall now advance toward Namik’s position,” Yoshi ordered. “We forbid pillaging, excessive force, and intimidation of the innocent. The people’s lives are precious. Protect them at all costs. Any reports of disobedience shall incur the highest level of punishment. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Your Royal Highness.”

Yoshi nodded at the decisive answer from all.

“Not one rebel shall survive to take news of our advance to Namik. We leave at the start of the next hour,” Yoshi ordered, and left the council meeting heading to his tent.

He found the Head of the Black Guard waiting inside.

“Any news?”


The answer sent a twinge of despair running through him. Midori’s progress was hard to track in the Fier quad. Yoshi was in constant worry. He couldn’t tell whether it was too early to worry, or too late. Anything could happen to Midori in Fier.

Gripping his sword tight, Yoshi nodded.

“We have captured three spies,” Head of the Black Guard reported. “Zia Sayu maintains all three followed her into Terra when she was to deliver the summons from Her Majesty to Lady Tinya.”

“What have you discovered?” Yoshi asked, sure that the Black Guard had interrogated the assassins.

“Namik hopes to occupy Lexin City before Lady Tinya arrives in the Capital. He believes as long as he has control of the Capital and the Empress, Terra will have no choice but to fold.”

Yoshi had guessed as much.

“Keep one,” Yoshi said. “Namik expects a report. He should get one. Make sure it is to our advantage.”

“Yes, Royal Highness.”

“As for the Dark Rider,” Yoshi turned away from the man he trusted with his life. “His news, when you have it, must reach me first and no other.”

“As you will it,” the answer came, followed by a soft whisper as the man left Yoshi’s tent.

Yoshi looked around the tent, his gaze falling on the chest he had retrieved from Midori’s tent. Walking to it, he opened the lid, and stared at the red cloak Midori left behind. Seeing it made Yoshi uneasy, he had hoped Midori would take it with him. A token to remind Midori that Yoshi cared, that Yoshi waited…

Straightening up, Yoshi took the cloak and slammed the chest closed. Shaking out the heavy fabric, he brought it around his shoulders and clasped it over his own.

Adjusting the heavy weight of it around him, he gripped his sword tight and left his tent.


Evening came amid sounds of battle; Yoshi swiped the tip of sword intent on cutting Senbon’s leg. Swinging off his saddle to the ground, he rammed his sword into the rebel soldier just as the Head of the Black Guard defended his back. Muscles burning, he breathed a sigh of relief when a Terran horn blew into the rising twilight.

Victory against the rebels in the Village of Ryun. The people would sleep free tonight, five villages freed, thirteen more to go, Yoshi counted off, already climbing on Senbon. His black guard mirrored him, followed by the cavalry; they rode out of the village, leaving infantry to clean up after the fallen soldiers.


“Prince Yoshi’s army’s advance is remarkable. He has freed over fifteen villages in the Imperial Lands. He could face Namik in a day.”

Naro studied the map on his lap, a slice of carrot stuck on the corner of his mouth.

“Why won’t you tell him we are amassing troops in Fier?” Naro asked, sneaking Midori a glance. “I’m sure he would be happy to know you are safe.”

“His focus is getting to the Capital,” Midori answered. “I dare not break it. He has the Lady Tinya and the Furian with him.”

“Whatever you say, My Lord,” Naro said, biting into his carrot. He folded the map and stood. “We have a few hours to ride, and then we will intercept the supplies to Namik’s army. Once we hit this one, we won’t be able to hide our presence any longer.”

“I’m tired of hiding anyway,” Midori answered, wincing a bit when Lenoth tied a knot on the bandage on his left arm.

“Be gentle,” Naro chastised Lenoth.

“I’m not a soft avocado,” Midori said with a short glare.

He thanked Lenoth with a nod, and reached for the leather skin at his feet. Uncapping it, he took a healthy gulp of the bitter wine inside, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

Hushed laughs reached his ears, and Midori turned to see the men he had found in the Fier Valley, loyal to him, huddled together in the dark night. Nary a light in sight as they chewed on soft bread, cheese and vegetables. No one dared light a fire for warmth, or a hot meal, not wanting to draw unwanted attention, but their spirits were high. Their faith in their home restored.

Midori took another sip of the bitter wine, and capped it. One hundred men were not enough to face his father’s rebel army, but they were enough to wreck havoc. In the past two days, following Yoshi’s progress, he had decided to cause as much damage as he could to the rebel army’s ordinance route. Morale would fall if Namik couldn’t afford his army. So, every route they found, they pillaged, and took from the rebel forces, giving back to villagers where they could.

Midori had thought about returning to Yoshi, but then decided not to when the Phoenix Army started its advance into the Imperial Lands. This was better, he thought. He would work to support Yoshi’s army into a victory. Implode the rebel army from within, while Yoshi attacked from the outside. It gave honor to the men with him, the men who trusted him with Fier now.

Midori sighed, and closed his eyes, picturing Yoshi with his prince mask. He ached for him, yearned to hold his Prince, just once—

“My Lord?”

Midori opened his eyes and glanced up to find one of Lilind’s children standing a few feet away.


“Your message is delivered.”

“You handed it to the Chamberlain?”

“Yes, My Lord, as instructed.” The man dressed head to toe in black held out a short rolled message. “This is the answer he wrote.”

Midori took the short note and thanked him. He tried not to think about how the man seemed to merge into the dark and disappear. The two men Yoshi had sent him were invaluable, but they still made him uneasy.

“Can they wear another color?” Lenoth asked, settling beside him. “Always in black, don’t they get tired of it?”

“Why are you always in red?” Naro asked with a laugh. “Don’t you get tired of it?”

“Don’t be an ass,” Lenoth scowled, reaching for a slice of cheese.

Midori ignored their bickering and brought the cloak around his shoulders over his head. Taking a thin reed from his boot, he swept it against a rock and it lit into flames. The light well hidden under his cloak, he unrolled the message from Sando.

‘The Phoenix rides day and night, barely stops for necessities, his goal the Capital. The Furian Princess has engaged Namik. We are hoping to join forces with her when we reach the capital. I cannot tell his thoughts anymore, only that he has turned into the ruler his mother dreamed.

As you requested, he doesn’t know you write me. This is difficult to keep from him because the Council pushes him daily for a decision on your disappearance. I understand your reasons to make a stand for your Quad. But My Prince misses and worries for you. It is difficult to watch. I only heed to your wishes, because he willed me to.

We are three villages away from meeting Namik’s main army. I have passed on your plans to interrupt the Rebel army’s ordinance to the Furian, Telia. I hope you can reach us in time. I look forward to seeing you again, My Lord General. Please be of good health, as The Phoenix will worry if you are not.

It is important to know, there are those working to make sure you don’t enter the Palace. Good tidings, Sando.’

Midori set the note aflame and dropped it to the ground, watching it turn to ashes. Grinding his boot into the dark ash, he turned off the reed, and pushed his cloak away.

“What news?” Lenoth asked.

“Three villages left then they meet my father’s army,” Midori said. “The Prince is moving like a demon possessed. His pace gives us until tomorrow afternoon to interrupt my father’s supplies.”

“We’ll be cutting it close,” Naro noted.

“Not if we are on the move in three hours,” Midori said, thinking of Yoshi who was not stopping to rest.

Lenoth gripped his left shoulder in assurance, and moved away to pass the message to the rest of their men.


“There is news that Your Royal Highness is attempting to track Midori, the Rebel Leader’s son, in Fier,” Lady Tinya said, during a council meeting to liberate the last village on the map.

Yoshi spared her a short glance, then returned his gaze to the plan Benal was formulating to reclaim the last village before they met Namik’s Army. The council was divided: Lady Tinya, General Benal, Tai Migi, Zia Sayu, and five Generals in the Terra army opposed anything to do with Midori. Telia, Lady Pipa and the four Generals from Dwind supported Midori. Nine against six.

Nine powerful, six loyal to him, Yoshi sighed. It was taking all he had to keep them from an all out fight for Midori.

“Your Royal Highness, why do you protect Lord Midori?” Lady Tinya persisted.

“We are at war,” Yoshi said, his tone mild. “Midori’s whereabouts are important to us.”

“He is the enemy,” Lady Tinya insisted. “His people have oppressed villages, committed crimes, you have seen it yourself. Their crimes are unforgivable. Unless you are tracking him to make sure, he meets justice. We should arrest him and use him as a hostage against his father.”

Yoshi gave her his full attention then.

“What is the Lady Tinya saying? What justice is that?”

“Your Royal Highness,” Lady Tinya leaned forward in her chair, her blue armor limiting the motion. “You cannot appear to have a weakness. You cannot have any form of favoritism. The battle we are waging here doesn’t allow for easy pardon. The Sanori Clan has betrayed the Empire.”

“Lady Tinya is right,” General Benal chimed in. “General Midori has not returned to your side since his assignment to infiltrate Fier. He has not contributed to the fight to free the people. How can we trust him?”

“Trust seems so fragile,” Yoshi said, deciding to ignore this topic until he had no choice but to deal with it. “The Village Qi is small, and its people are mostly farmers, they are on our side. Minimal effort is best here; a battle will only frighten them. General Benal, isn’t it better to use stealth? Slip in, take control of all three rebel village officials, and subdue the enemy forces.”

“We will need a day to get our assets in place,” General Benal said. “With the help of the Black Guard, we can manage.”

“Our army is well hidden in this forest, all generals will control movement to minimize discovery,” Yoshi said. “Let the soldiers rest as we prepare to meet Namik’s actual army. Telia, you are skilled at infiltration; work with Tai Migi and General Benal. Recapture this village by tomorrow midnight.”

“Yes, Your Royal Highness,” Tai Migi and Telia answered.

“We still have the matter of General Midori,” Lady Tinya persisted. “This council has a right to discuss his clear absence, Your Royal Highness. A man who has not reported after an official task—

“Perhaps he was captured,” Lady Pipa said. “Maybe he is finding his way to the Phoenix Army. We can’t forget that he is in enemy territory. Why must we judge him before we know his circumstances?”

“He is the son of a traitor,” Lady Tinya replied, giving Pipa a withering glance. “Your Royal Highness, I demand that you give this council the mandate to investigate Lord General Midori Sanori.”

“On what grounds?” Telia asked. “He is a loyal General who saw the Prince through many troubles to get here.”

“He is also the son of one who dares want the throne,” Lady Tinya replied, meeting Telia’s fiery gaze, not at all intimidated. “The Phoenix is our future Emperor. We cannot allow any trace of stink on his character. If the General is loyal, then there should be no issue with an investigation.”

Yoshi narrowed his gaze on Tai Migi. This sounded like Inner Palace agenda. Politics designed to discredit Midori now that he was away from the inner circle. Evidence would be found to discredit Midori, whether he wanted it or not. The goal here was for Midori not to make it into the palace.

“We have much to do.”

Yoshi stood, ignoring Lady Tinya’s surprised glance at the dismissal of her idea. He could not have this discussion with her. He needed Princess Naria’s input in this council, because Naria was impartial to Quad Politics. She had also spent time with Midori and spent time with him. All he had to do was hold off until they joined their armies the day after tomorrow.

“We are not at court. We shall talk more on General Midori when we meet the Princess Naria on open ground against Namik. No one shall discuss this matter with the officers; I will not have the army’s morale dampened. All Generals focus on taking back the Village Qi.”

Yoshi left the council tent with his head held high and his shoulders straight. Outside, he stopped to greet officers and footmen offering encouraging words. He made a point to visit the healer’s tents where the injured rested. Pausing at each bed to talk with soldiers, and give them what comfort he could. The severely injured would be left in the Village Qi, he stopped by the officer in charge to make sure arrangements were in place for their care.

The sun was long disappeared by the time he made it back to his own tent. Inside, he let out a soft sigh when the Black Guard left him alone.

Taking in a deep breath, Yoshi moved to the nearest table and clung to the edge when the trembling started. Sando found him in the middle of it; there was no way to hide. He was glad when Sando simply hurried to his side and wrapped an arm around him as though to hold him together.

Yoshi pressed his forehead into Sando’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

“Sando. I don’t think I can hold off Lady Tinya longer. She wants to push Midori to the dogs. I fear Tai Migi and Zia Sayu will get their way. They work for the Empress even here and the Empress does not think Midori is fit to enter the palace. What am I to do? Why won’t he come back to me? Why won’t he give me a reason to help defend him? If he was here, I would have one.”

Sando held on to him tight.

“My Prince, Lord General must have his reasons. The Terra Army is strict in their ways. Lady Tinya lives for the Empress and the Empire.”

“They seek to discredit my love,” Yoshi sighed. “Midori’s silence after my orders to infiltrate Fier is not helping. Why does Midori think he must carry this burden alone? Why won’t he remember I have power to help? I told him to remember, and he won’t.”

Sando kept his silence.

“Tell me he is fine,” Yoshi begged. “Tell me he has a reason for not reaching out, or coming back to me. Please, Sando. Tell me he has reached out to you. Give me something.”

“There is nothing, My Prince,” Sando said. “But believe Lord General is well, otherwise you would have heard news.”

Yoshi took a step back from Sando, studying him for a moment, seeking hope…a small spark…but Sando was as skilled as he at keeping a blank face.

Sando smiled then.

“Are you hungry, My Prince? We managed to catch rabbits in the forest. You must eat,” Sando said, already reaching for the clasp on Yoshi’s red cloak. “Why don’t I help you get settled for the night? You need sleep and rest, My Prince. Tomorrow will be better. I promise.”

Yoshi sighed and allowed Sando to fuss. His thoughts remained on Midori and the mystery of his silence.

How long would he keep away, Yoshi wondered. How much longer would Midori keep up this distance? It was eating Yoshi alive, and he feared that soon he would have no choice but to give in to Lady Tinya. The ruler in him saw Lady Tinya’s logic. It was hard not to, especially after all the misery they had encountered as they freed the villages.

Namik Sanori was a sadist. A clan was blood, which meant, Midori was facing a charge, unless he managed a great deed in favor of the Empire. Yoshi had thought Midori could achieve this mighty deed by his side, fighting for the people.

Midori had other ideas, clearly.

How frustrating it was to love such a strong man, Yoshi thought with a heavy sigh.


2012 lilansui
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Chapter Comments

What an amazing chapter.  Hearing the Empress speak at the banquet was really great.  She has kept her cards close to her chest and is ready to pounce (in fact she has already began).

Hopefully Yoshi can keep strong against the efforts to discredit and arrest Midori.  Midori is critical to the plan.  I don't know as I agree with Midori's tactics to not let Yoshi know how he was doing, as it would greatly firm up his resolve against those who want to stop Midori.

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Empress's game plan was jus thrilling!! I love Almira now😍😍 U know Sui, you have taken this story to whole another level when you came up with the powers of a furian and the sand queen!! Now with the revelation of the  plotting prowess of Almira, you have increased the story's compulsion level by another notch!! As an avid fan of your stories, i should mention that this is an unseen side of you and am loving it completely!!😍😍😍

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I really loved this chapter. The scene where Almira revealed herself to be a wolf in sheep's clothing gave me such a rush. Now Tailen knows, all this time he thought he had everything under control, and was one step away from having his son claim the throne, was him being played like a fiddle. It was so satisfying to see him get knocked down off his high horse. I have to say, I do feel a bit sorry for his son, because he seem to be a good guy stuck with a power hungry dad. Also, this chapter revealed to me exactly where Yoshi got his intelligence, brain for strategy and ability to emit a powerful force from. 


When it comes to Midori, I hope it's revealed soon to Yoshi why Midori is staying away. Those council members and others who want to turn Yoshi from Midori might start planting doubts in his head that could cause problems for their relationship. I hope they're reunited soon.


Anyway, I can't wait for the next chapter, but at the same time I feel a bit sad knowing that each chapter means one step closer to the end.



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On 11/19/2017 at 7:13 PM, Terry P said:

What an amazing chapter.  Hearing the Empress speak at the banquet was really great.  She has kept her cards close to her chest and is ready to pounce (in fact she has already began).

Hopefully Yoshi can keep strong against the efforts to discredit and arrest Midori.  Midori is critical to the plan.  I don't know as I agree with Midori's tactics to not let Yoshi know how he was doing, as it would greatly firm up his resolve against those who want to stop Midori.

The Empress is so complex to write, quite a strong woman.  Her secrets are deep...hehehe. Yoshi is like a cocoon about to hatch...hopefully my dear Phoenix transforms into a graceful Dragon...oh boy, so much pressure..:P


22 hours ago, spread_love said:

Empress's game plan was jus thrilling!! I love Almira now😍😍 U know Sui, you have taken this story to whole another level when you came up with the powers of a furian and the sand queen!! Now with the revelation of the  plotting prowess of Almira, you have increased the story's compulsion level by another notch!! As an avid fan of your stories, i should mention that this is an unseen side of you and am loving it completely!!😍😍😍

Sui's unseen side is currently obsessed with war stories from ancient china...hahaha...Thank you @spread_love  I love Almira too, she's so diabolical, I'd take her to meet all my enemies. 


53 minutes ago, bookjunky18 said:

I really loved this chapter. The scene where Almira revealed herself to be a wolf in sheep's clothing gave me such a rush. Now Tailen knows, all this time he thought he had everything under control, and was one step away from having his son claim the throne, was him being played like a fiddle. It was so satisfying to see him get knocked down off his high horse. I have to say, I do feel a bit sorry for his son, because he seem to be a good guy stuck with a power hungry dad. Also, this chapter revealed to me exactly where Yoshi got his intelligence, brain for strategy and ability to emit a powerful force from. 


When it comes to Midori, I hope it's revealed soon to Yoshi why Midori is staying away. Those council members and others who want to turn Yoshi from Midori might start planting doubts in his head that could cause problems for their relationship. I hope they're reunited soon.


Anyway, I can't wait for the next chapter, but at the same time I feel a bit sad knowing that each chapter means one step closer to the end.



Almira gets this chapter, because all of it up to now has been her plan, her vision, her great job to protect what belongs to the Empire.  At the same time, make it clear how hard a fight Yoshi is going to need to put up to keep Midori at his side.  Talk about tough 'mother in-law' for Midori...he's going to need more than 'I love Yoshi' to convice this dragon queen.  I'm excited to unfold that part of the story, I feel like I've been waiting for it so much....


Midori needs to find his place, which is by Yoshi, but on his own terms.  So, some soul-searching and authentic palace intrigues on the way.  I hope you love it....don't worry, the ride to the end will see you smile a bit...maybe cry...but definitely more smiles.  Hehehe. Thanks @bookjunky18

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Okay, young lady, I'm caught up. Your writing has earned you a stalker who will pester you for updates on a more regular basis as has been the case. You have been warned...


Can you tell I've enjoyed it so far? :P

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the palace’s description looks like the « forbidden city » and the life inside as well :) except that we don’t see any eunuch 

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