-------------------Chapter Eleven, As Told By Xiao Ping and Wen Hung-Lo---------------------

Aju

We rode hard. We’d been joined by Keo, Lo’s younger brother. We followed along a dry riverbed. It was pretty much just a pitiful creek when we left the dam, and it had run dry completely after twenty miles or so.

Throughout the first day of our journey, there was no stranger, and the weather was dry and clear. Night fell and the temperature dropped forty degrees. We could see the stars emerging early in the sky above us. We decided to press on through the night. We had to catch up with Hubidai.

While we rode, Chaka regaled us with tales of Temujin.

“Temujin was the Great Khan that conquered half the world," she said.


"Which half? You don’t mean this cold and dry desert wasteland do you?" Allegro asked.


"No, my friend,” Chaka laughed, “and it is not all a cold, dry desert."


“Oh,” he said.


"Genghis Khan has been victorious in a hundred battles and led his armies into Europe. City after city surrendered to the might of the Golden Horde, including Vienna. I was the one that negotiated the ransom that was paid to avoid the bloody sack of the city. Temujin became an epic hero, the first man in history to kill a thousand men by his own hand and to father a thousand sons with his own seed. Even the gods could no longer deny his incredible prowess.”


I wondered to which prowess she was referring. After that, we rode on in silence.


Even though the dry riverbed gave testament to the arid nature of the area, from time to time there were dark stagnant pools. Allegro had taken a special interest in one of them.


"Uh, guys, I think there's a dragon lurking beneath the water of this pool," Allegro said.


"A dragon? In a stagnant pool?" Dipaka asked.


"I see a pair of eyes that are oh, about five feet apart, just like that wyvern that ate me," Allegro said.


"Everyone, pay it no mind, let's just keep riding," I said. No dragon emerged from the pool, and we kept on going.


On the second day, we had made it about forty miles from the dam when we came upon the scene of a great battle. Off to one side were two unburied Mongols. Dipaka said that the two Mongols had died of being frozen to death by a breath weapon.


"How can you tell it was a breath weapon and not just the low temperatures at night?" Lo asked.


"These Mongols show the most damage on one side of their bodies. If they had frozen merely from exposure, the freezing would have been even." Dipaka said.


I realized that the looking glass had shown me this place the night before. Keo found a trail of blood that went off into the distance. We followed the trail for a ways, as someone may be in need of our help, and at one point Dipaka examined some of the blood. He confirmed that it was actually dragon’s blood. It seemed that fate was trying to tell us we were going to encounter this dragon. I didn’t want to be accused of purposely going to meet a dragon. It was said that those foolish enough to do so were deserving of what they got.


The Mongol horsemen had left a trail of their own for us to follow, so we angled back until we found it again and got right back on Hubidai’s path.


On the third day our ride continued, with only one night of sleep between. We stopped routinely to rest and allow the trackers to hunt for clues. Dipaka made us drink lots of extra water to avoid dehydration.


Ochir looked up from a long perusal of the sands. What he read there was invisible to me.


“There were twelve Mongols through here on horseback, and they’ve been joined by ten dire sized Wolves." Ochir pointed to a dried pile of shit. “That’s an Uzbek dropping. I can tell because they are known to eat their own fingers on dares. These Wargs have goblinoid riders.”


Eventually, we came upon a wide depression surrounded by a circular ring of low hills. There was a notch entrance in the east side of the ring. Through the gap, we could see the dome of a stone tomb beyond. It had a wide set of stairs that went up to a set of double doors. The tomb was carved with Mongol symbols and cuneiform writing. Almost every inch of it was covered.


Ochir and Allegro went through the gap alone ahead of everyone else. Ochir got down off his horse and said, "Allegro, do you know that this is the Holiest Place in the World?"


“Uh, ok,” Allegro said. He respectfully waited for Ochir to perform his ritual.


Ochir reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a skin of fermented mare's milk, then he knelt and offered the milk in a small bowl as an offering to Temujin.


"Forgive us for what we are about to do, O Mighty Temujin," Ochir said solemnly. He bowed his head and was silent for a long time. Eventually he stood.


Allegro went up and searched the double doors but he didn’t find any traps. "These doors have been recently forced open."


“Hey, hey, hey! Get outta the way!” Lo ran up the stairs and burst through the doors, and they were thrown from their hinges. Sunlight flooded into the ancient chamber. Dust rose inside and engulfed Lo. He came out coughing.


Inside there was a domed ceiling supported by twelve columns arranged in a square. In the center was a raised oval dais on top of which sat a great sarcophagus. There was a hale Mongol man with a beard carved on top.


“The tracks are all jumbled up in here,” Allegro said. “It looks like there was a slaughter,” he said.


“This is a false tomb,” I said, “We need to get back on the trail.”


“Well, there could be clues,” Allegro said.


“You have ten seconds to look for clues,” I said.


They took their time studying the room anyway.

 

"It looks like the Wolf riders were killed, but their bodies aren’t here anymore. It’s as if…”


“As if what?”


“It’s as if they were all dragged into the sarcophagus. Look at the blood.”

 

“It’s not quite big enough to hold ten Warg riders,” I said.


“There is concentrated pure Evil in that coffin!” Wen said, backing up. He looked at me and his eyes were wide.


“Let’s get out of here,” I said.


As we went back out into the sunlight and through the ring of hills, we heard hoof beats.


Aju was coming around the hills riding his horse and bearing down on us with his lance. He had five more Mongols on horse with him.


“Hold it right there Aju!” I cried.


Ochir spoke up at once. Aju and his men stopped only five yards away from us.


“Aju, we are on a mission that is tangentially related to the Holy Roman Empire.”


“I have orders from Hubidai to kill all trailers! Men, fire!”


Bows sang and several arrows sank into Keo. His face turned white and he dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Dipaka went over to help him.


Aju moved up and put the tip of his lance to Ochir’s throat. Ochir stood there defiantly in front of him and refused to be cowed.


“Any last words, traitor!” Aju demanded.


“According to Kublai Khan and Chabui, you are the traitor, for you follow Hubidai on a fool’s errand. I get this directly from Chabui herself.”


“You lie! I was there when the Khan gave Hubidai this Holy quest! Join us again and fight for our side, or die now!” He shook his cheeks and evinced a terrible rage, and made a scary, insane sounding noise.


Allegro spurred Wingnut and threw a rock at Aju’s men and it clocked both a horse and a Mongol before it hit the ground.


“Your Momma’s eyes are so Chinese you could blind her with dental floss!” Chaka quipped and started snaring her drums. For the first time I noticed how darkly tanned Chaka was. She must be very old compared to me.


Xia moved up and put an endurance spell on Wen.


Ochir still stood up to Aju. “You are not even enough of a man to use the brain that Buddha gave you! Why would I lie about this? I would personally love to see Temujin risen; but the Khan calls the shots. He sent Hubidai on this mission to get him out of Beijing and save face for botching the Southern campaign. Even now Kublai is fighting against the Song for all the glory and you are here with this fool!”


“Aaaaaaaaghhh!” Aju cried and tried to jab Ochir with his lance. Ochir nimbly sidestepped the poke.


“See Aju, your stupidity has even clouded your ability to fight; you can’t even call yourself a Mongol.”


Suddenly, Lo rushed forward, leapt directly over Ochir, flying tackled Aju as he sat atop his horse, and slammed him to the ground. I could hear Aju’s breath escape as the Goliath landed on top of him.


Lo got up and said, “I suggest you stay down!”


“Man, knocked off your horse? Now there’s a sure sign you never really were a Mongol!” Ochir laughed.


I threw a fireball at two of Aju’s mounted soldiers, burned one alive, and sent the other galloping off into the desert. Despite my own recent experiences with fireballs, it felt good to cook some Mongol scum.


Aju made the mistake of standing up. He couldn’t even breathe, so I don’t know how he did it. Lo drew Suishen from its scabbard as though an Iajitsu master and sliced Aju’s ear off in one fluid motion. It fell to the sand, but left no blood; for Suishen’s flame had cauterized the wound as surely as the blade had sliced through the cartilage.


Aju screamed and clapped his hand to the side of his head. “Aaaggghhh! I can’t hear! You son-of-a-bitch!”


The remaining three of his mounted archers all turned their horses and galloped away. It seemed that the normally unshakeable morale of the Mongol troop had wavered considering the forced march through the desert and the embarrassing down dressing of their superior officer.


“Remember that we didn’t attack you, Ochir!” they yelled as they left, just in case.


“I suggest you stop the fighting and let me attend to your wounds,” Dipaka said.


Aju sighed and surrendered.


Ochir went over, picked up Aju’s ear, and then handed it to me.


“You can use this to scry on Aju in the future,” he said.


“He’s going to be our prisoner, Ochir,” I said.  “I don’t think I’ll need to scry on him.”


“You want to take him prisoner? Oh no, we should not take him prisoner,” Dipaka said.


I looked at Aju. “Tell us what is going on, Aju; Ochir is not lying about Hubidai.”


“I didn’t attack you Aju,” Ochir said, “Lo’s a blithering idiot that gets paid to do what he does. The fact of the matter is that the Khan only assigned this mission to Hubidai so he could save face.”


“So, you’re telling me that this is what the Khan really wants?”


“Yes, it is true,” Dipaka said.


“Lama, what are you doing going around with a Mongol Captain in these times? Very well, I will tell you what I do know. This tomb is site one. Two days ago, we opened site two. We lost a few “TaTars” to “traps” in that dungeon,” he chuckled and then grimaced. “Ow,” he said.


“What about the white dragon?” Ochir asked.


“White dragon? I’d say it was silver. It had a big goliath female rider. Hubadai easily defeated her and her dragon. The dragon flew away and Hubidai threw the bitch over the back of his horse and rode off with her.”


“Isn’t that what all men do?” I asked. Xia sniggered.


“Livikus put a curse on her too,” he added, “and now they are in the valley of Durkhan Khadun, at site three. They have a Tatar wizard that is using a magic rod of metal detection to constrain the search to tombs that contain things of value only.”


I remembered that wand. I had sold it to a fat merchant with stubby fingers long ago. As if in answer to my thoughts, Aju said, “They bought the rod from a merchant they met on the road. I’m not going to fight Hubidai by the way; he would kill all of us in a few heartbeats and not even break a sweat.”


“I know,“ Ochir said, “but we don’t even need to fight Hubidai. We just need to get the scroll. Which one of them carries it?”


“Livikus does. He brought along a candle of invocation to make himself powerful enough to read it.”


“How far away is the valley?” I asked.


“About ten hours away,” Aju said.


“Are you willing to help us?” Ochir asked.


“Not directly, but I will do this: return my horse to me, and I will ride down those men that ran from here. You will not want them warning Hubidai.”


Both Wen and I wanted to take his weapons and tie him up. Ochir and Dipaka wanted to set him free.


We talked for a minute about it and then let Aju go.


“Remember who it was that spoke up on your behalf and got you released,” Ochir said.


“It was certainly I that recommended his release,” Dipaka said.


“Yes, but I pushed for it more than you did this time, which is rare,” Ochir laughed.


I couldn’t help but think it strange that Ochir would so easily want Aju to go free. Aju had tried to stab him in the throat with his lance. Could Mongol nationalism be so strong that even an attacking traitorous Mongol was above punishment?


Dipaka would have agreed to release Aju for altruistic reasons alone, so his reason for agreement didn’t necessarily underline Ochir’s reason. No, Ochir had a plan.


Aju rode away and gave us all a dark look. I knew that letting him go was going to turn out to have been a mistake.

 


The Tomb of Temujin

We kept on Hubidai’s track and it led us to the edge of a raised ring of crags. Concealed inside the ring was a deep conic depression. The tomb entrance could not be seen from a distance in any direction, even from above, and one would have to know exactly where it was to find it. It was the perfect place for a secret tomb. 

 
“Well,” Ochir reported, “the tracks go in, but they don’t come out. More good news is that their numbers have dwindled from twenty to ten.”


A path cut through a rocky cleft and led down. It spiraled downward around a huge natural column that supported a natural roof. We saw a dark cave mouth nestled at the bottom. There had been a boulder ten feet across planted in it front of it, but it had been rolled aside by some tremendous force.


“If only we could push that boulder back in front of the hole we could end this problem right now,” I said.


“If someone or something could roll that boulder aside, they’d have no problem doing it again,” Dipaka said.


“Yeah, you’re right, it’d never work. So much for the easy way,” I said.


Ochir expertly rode Baderhu down the steep track and right into the cave entrance. It was roughly ten feet wide, but only eight feet high. The low height of the ceiling was consistent with what we knew of Mongol tomb construction. He came out after a minute or two and reported the entry chamber deserted.


Allegro drank a potion of disguise, swept his real face away, and left in its place the visage of a weather beaten Mongol. He made himself a foot taller too. Ochir tied his hands loosely with a rope and began to lead him as if he were a prisoner.


They went back into the cave and the rest of us followed a few yards behind. It was so cramped and narrow it was very difficult with the horses. At the end of a short passage, it was clear that there had been another sealing stone blocking the way, and it too had been rolled aside. Whoever had built the tomb had cleverly created pockets for the massive stones to rest in when they were rolled back. We could see yet another hole on the opposite side of the entry room.


Four Uzbeks dashed into the chamber from the opening. The goblins slavered and grunted at us.


“How’s the progress?” Ochir asked.


“Progress shmogress asshole!” they cried. “We’ve been expecting you! We just drank our potions! We’re gonna kick your ass!” and with that, they broke out their javelins.


Ochir dropped Allegro’s rope and whipped out his bow. He fired off two arrows at the goblins, and one found its mark. They made whooping noises and we heard the howling of Wargs. The goblins threw their javelins at Ochir. One pierced Ochir’s armor and shoulder. Ochir gritted his teeth, pulled the javelin out, and grabbed for another arrow.


I cast my haste spell.


Ochir was occupying the corridor with Baderhu, so there was no way of getting through to attack.


“Hey Ochir! Get out of the way up there when you get a chance, will ya!” Wen yelled.


Baderhu tried to press forward, but two of the goblins forcibly held the gap. They both jabbed Baderhu in the chest with their javelins and stepped back. The other two Uzbeks ducked under, squeezed between the first row’s legs, stood up, and replaced them instantly. They jabbed Baderhu twice more. They were elite shock troops and were obviously experts in close quarter combat. Ochir’s mighty warhorse was being mercilessly slaughtered. He was bleeding all over the floor.


A pack of four Wargs scrabbled from the tunnel and entered the fray.


Chaka began singing in a strange fashion. She quickly spoke lines that rhymed, yet she sang no melody. The syllables she chose to emphasize made them sound musical, and her choice of words was often rather clever. Guchugar and Guchuluk accompanied her with testosterone fueled grunts and frenetic jigs, and for whatever reason they kept touching themselves inappropriately. I guess it was their way.


I embraced Wen and cast a stoneskin on him. The magic made him immune to most weapons. His very skin would turn blades and mace strikes. My husband was like a stone.


Baderhu whinnied and killed an Uzbek, thenmoved forward making way for the others to get through. The Uzbeks made the warhorse pay a heavy price for the advance; they stabbed him several more times. Baderhu slipped on the bloody floor and fell to one knee, but leapt back up again and fought on.


Lo came thundering through the slot and waded into the fight. He raged and grew so big this time I was afraid for him. He had muscles expanding and rippling from everywhere. He had become a savage hulk. He swung Suishen in a flaming whirlwind around himself, and he hacked three of the Wargs apart in seconds. “Aaaggghhh!” he roared.


Allegro squeezed in beside Ochir, jabbed an Uzbek troop in the belly, and pulled out bloody entrails. “Ha ha!” Istanoval sang. The goblin looked down at Allegro and licked its lips.


The two frontline Uzbeks tried to jab-and-retreat again, but this time they were pounded by Baderhu as they withdrew. The second row of goblins took their places. Even the mighty Mongolian warhorse could take no more punishment. Ochir backed up as much as he was able to, but the corridor was jammed, so he didn’t get far. He held fast in the saddle and fired an arrow that got an Uzbek in the eye.


Wen jumped off Chi Hai, dashed through the gap, and hacked an arm off an Uzbek. The goblin screamed as blood pumped from the end of his stump.


“Lo, these guys are gonna take some serious punishment!” Wen shouted. “Stay back Goblins! You will not attack my friend Allegro!” Wen put himself between the monsters and the Halfling.


Dipaka went over and healed Baderhu. Baderhu threw a hoof in the meantime and killed a second Uzbek.


“Very good, Captain! You held the front line all by yourself!” Chaka said to Ochir. Baderhu rolled his eyes.


When there were only two Goblins and one Warg left, they ran away. They retreated through the opening they come from and disappeared down the stairs.


Ochir dismounted and fed Baderhu a potion of healing. “Stay strong,” he said.


We went down the stairs to the bottom, and the passage hooked around a corner. Dipaka’s halo lit the way, and I put a light on my spear.


We emerged into a wider chamber that had been sealed with another forty-ton boulder. Someone had meant for no one to ever disturb this tomb.


On the floor were the remains of a huge iron construct. It must have been nearly thirty feet tall when it stood, but someone had chopped it up with a very sharp sword. It looked like a god had hacked down the statue and left the parts all over the place. The cuts shone with a mirrored finish. The construct looked like it may have been a gigantic version of Genghis Khan himself. Strewn around the iron chunks were the rotting remains of dead Uzbeks. It appeared that the Wargs had been eating their carcasses.


There was no sign of the Uzbeks that had run this way, but the only other set of doors in the room stood open. An eerie blue glow poured through them. This new section of the tomb had been constructed of thousands of hand-laid stones that had been cut into perfect squares. They had smooth beveled edges; and they were inlaid with intricate interlocking designs. There was no dust here.


The room beyond was a great square. Stationed inside was a phalanx of terra cotta warriors. Each wore a golden torque around its neck, and stood at attention in the center of a tile. They were bathed in a low bluish light. There were glow globes ensconced around the outside perimeter of the room. They left the center of the room dark.


We still did not see the Uzbeks or the Warg. Ochir went into the square room on his horse and went around the group of inanimate figures, hugging the wall.


Ochir called out in Mongolian, “I know where you are and I see you! Know that it was I, the Great Ochir, that let you live this day!”


“There’s a set of bronze doors over here guys,” Ochir told us, this time in Chinese.


Allegro went in next and we followed. We all watched in the low light as he took out some oil and lubricated the hinges on the elaborate bronze doors. He pushed on them and they swung open.


The Golden Horde Cavalry was stationed inside. There were rows of life-sized terra cotta horses complete with armored riders. They wore the same Golden torques as the infantry.


The ceiling in this room was a bit higher than in the previous one, it was nearly ten feet from floor to ceiling.


Standing there taking a leak in the corner of the chamber was Xeldar the Greek. His stream dried up and he fastened his pants. He turned around and smiled at us.


“It’s customary to shake that off before putting it away,” I said.


“I’ll shake it in your face bitch,” he said.


“I don’t think so,” Wen said.


“I do,” Xeldar said, and charged. Ochir and Baderhu intervened, and Xeldar deftly punched a hole in Ochir’s lung with his shortsword. He then sprang into the statues and was gone.


Ochir’s lung made a gurgling sucking noise when he tried to breath. Blood was coming from his mouth. If he didn’t get help from Dipaka immediately, he was going to drown as one lung and then the other filled with blood.


“I can still see your ass hanging out Xeldar! You can’t hide from me you piece of shit traitor!” Ochir sputtered loudly. Despite his injury, he still managed to fire a shot into the statues.


“Ouch! Damn you Zhuru!”


A return arrow from the shadows sunk into Wen’s shield.


“Hey!” Wen said.


“You won’t be able to breathe soon!” Xeldar taunted.


“You say that again and I’ll turn you into a pair of shoes, I swear to Temujin,” Ochir rasped, “only traitors will die this day!”


“Lord Ochir Khan is here with his foolish friends to interfere Hubidai!” Xeldar yelled.


“You are a sitting duck in there, Xeldar!” I said, “I could fry you right now! Tell us what’s going on inside the tomb!”


“Die, die, everybody die!” he cried.

 

Dipaka rushed over and managed to stuff a wad of bandage into Ochir’s lung and the Gnome took a deep breath. Profound relief showed on his face. 


“Hey Xeldar, I can breathe now! It looks like I’ll live to fight another day,” Ochir said. He moved out of Dipaka’s aura and fired off another shot.


“Ouch! I hate your bee-sting arrows!” Xeldar griped.


Allegro the Mongol went zipping in and out of the shadows that gathered among the statues. As I watched, I noticed a new and completely different shadow detach itself from the gloom and try to backstab Lo. The shadow missed Lo's flesh and got Lo’s canteen instead. Clear water poured out in a stream. 


Lo tried to chop the assassin in half, but the trained killer moved faster than Lo. Lo attacked and missed again, but his follow up swing removed the assassin's arm at the elbow.


“Lo CHOP!” he bellowed.


Lo stomped the severed arm under his boot. 


“Lo SMASH!” he roared.


Wingnut moved to a flanking position. At first, the hound nipped at the assassin, but then he settled on chewing on the severed arm. Allegro deftly stabbed the sneak in the side and he wailed in agony.


Chi Hai instinctively clopped closer to the assassin and I finished him off with my magic missiles. Pop, pop, pop, pop! He collapsed and smoke rose from his corpse.


Xeldar leapt out again and stabbed Wen, but my husband wore my stoneskin magic and it turned the blade aside. “Ha!” Wen cried.


Xeldar jumped over to the door and yelled, “Hubidai! Come quick!” but there was no answer.


Dipaka went over to Ochir and healed him again.


Ochir moved out of Dipaka’s aura and shot Xeldar again, then he readied yet another arrow.


“Wait!” Xeldar shouted, “I yield!” He was breathing heavily and looked scared.


I noticed that he hadn’t dropped his shortsword.


“Lo, please kill Xeldar the Greek,” I said.


Lo went over to Xeldar. The Greek’s eyes opened wide. He raised his shortsword to block Suishen, but Lo smashed through this pitiful defense and felled the Greek. Blood pooled on the floor. Dipaka ran over and kept him from dying, but he was still out cold. Ochir hogtied him, shoved an old Mongol trail sock in his mouth, and tied the end of the rope around his saddle horn.


The assassin had evidently been very well paid; he had been carrying a bundle of Jin notes three inches thick. I tucked it away for later. We still needed to stop Hubidai.

 

“Dipaka, can you heal—“, my question was cut short by a low rumbling that permeated the tomb. It felt like an earthquake.


I looked at Dipaka and saw blood begin pouring from his nose. It spattered all over his white linens. Dipaka’s eyes were pressed shut, and he looked as if he were fighting against some inner force. His face went ashen, and his halo dimmed. His fingers turned white as his grip on his walking stick tightened.


Wen felt an unholy power trying to seize Dipaka’s soul. “No!” he cried, and he ran over and grabbed Dipaka. “No! You can’t take the Father!” Wen pleaded.


Suddenly Dipaka’s eyes snapped open and he said, “O! I am Life! I am the All Father! The Alpha and the Omega! I am the Beginning and the End... I will live one day in infamy… I will be at the end of all things…”


“No! Come back to us Father!” Wen cried and shook the Healer. Suddenly, Dipaka snapped out of it.


“Let go k-kind sir! You are shaking me too hard,” Dipaka said. Wen stopped shaking him and sighed in relief. “Thank Bahamut!”


Something monumental had just occurred; I could feel it in my bones. Livikus had read the scroll.


If that were so, Genghis Khan was alive.


“Come to me my children,” a deep disembodied voice said. It was coming from everywhere, even from inside our own minds.

 

“Come closer…” the deep voice coaxed.


We went carefully into the next chamber. At first, we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was filled with treasure beyond belief. There were literally millions of gold pieces covering the floor. There were urns, pots, ewers, decanters, bowls, flasks, phials, basins, dishes, vessels, plates, platters, and chests. There were luxurious tapestries, rugs, chairs, mirrors, tables, drawers, candelabras, stands, screens, and dressing gowns. Gems and jewelry glittered and sparkled from everywhere. In the center of the room, there was a life sized clockwork terra cotta statue of a stout Mongolian warhorse bedecked all over in golden rings and laminated with gold and platinum foils.


Ochir’s horse kicked over an urn and priceless gems spilled out of it. There were stairs that rose from the sea of coins that culminated in a set of highly ornate golden double doors. The doors were open, and through them, we could see a simple yurt pitched inside of a plain stone chamber. It was a traditional hide structure supported by poles and ropes. The front flap on the yurt was not quite facing the double doors, so we could not see what was going on inside. There was a bright light inside, and we could discern the shadows of men on the sides of it.


At the top of the stairs on a landing were the four Mongol soldiers that we had chased away from the false tomb, the ones Aju had gone to stop. It looked like he’d failed. They were swinging the limp body of the big female dragonrider back and forth between them by her arms and legs. “One! --Two! -- Three!” they counted, and they released her at the apex of the third swing. She landed face first on the stairs with a sickening thud.


The men laughed and ran into the yurt and yelled, “Here they come!”


“Oh no!” Dipaka cried, and rushed over to see if the giant was still alive.


Chaka’s Gnomes began to drink potions of invisibility. I laughed at them. “Do you really think Temujin isn’t going to be able to see you?” They looked at me and said nothing. They simply vanished.


Lo pulled Suishen from its scabbard and flames sprang forth.


A Turkish fellow, a tall and lean fop with a Wizard’s staff appeared at the top of the stairs. He looked down his nose at us and said, “Your Khan will be with you shortly.” He snapped his fingers and a shimmering wall of force sprang into being over the open doorway. The Wizard pointedly turned his back to us and strutted away. The clack of his high heels striking the stones rang out and served as a taunt.


I was glad for some delay; we were about to be hopelessly outmatched in a fight with Temujin and Hubidai. I had no idea how we could hope to prevail.


“Our Khan is the Great Kublai Khan, of our time!” Ochir proclaimed. “Genghis is the Khan of the past and so should remain!”


Dipaka administered to the Goliath Liberator and began the process of healing her. At first, she looked horrible, but Dipaka drove her recovery. He prayed hard and feverishly with his eyes firmly closed, moving his lips as the holy words flowed, even rocking a bit forward and back. Living color began to flood back into the Goliath’s cheeks, and she began to breathe steadily. Her eyes snapped open and she grabbed Dipaka. “That Mongol Lich cannot have my life force! He’ll have to take one of his own,” she rasped. “He’ll have to take Hubidai!”


“Relax, while I tend to your wounds,” Dipaka said.


As she gripped Dipaka’s arm in her huge hand, a look of confusion came over her face. “What? You have a halo, but you are… you are…”


“I am a Healer, and nothing more,” Dipaka said. “Now lay back.”


“Heal me no further. I am fine now, save your precious Holy prayers for later,” she told him.


“I am blessed with an abundant healing ability, my Lady, and I will see you to full health before that wall of force comes down,” he said.


“And here’s a healing potion!” Allegro said, handing it to the Goliath. She looked at Allegro in his weathered Mongol disguise strangely but drank the potion anyway.


“That’s it Dipaka! You have it! The dragonrider can help us fight Temujin!” I cried.


“That’s not what I had in mind,” Dipaka said.


“I will fight nonetheless,” the Goliath said, standing up. “I thank you for your assistance Lama. I am Malthus Bearkiller, the Liberator. I will unite the Goliath people and throw off the yoke of the Mongols. It is my destiny.”


Lo looked at her with admiration. “We will aid you in your quest to destroy the Khan, my Lady. We will stand together.”


Ochir’s face soured.


The rest of us (except for Dipaka) couldn’t help but notice the riches heaped all around us. There was no doubt in my mind that it all was real. The legendary wealth of Genghis Khan had been the measuring stick of treasure hordes for many years. If this really was Genghis Khan’s tomb, we were rich.


We started picking up gems and jewelry and stuffing them into our pockets. There was no sense in picking up any of the coins; they simply got in the way of what we could carry in gems. At least if we had to flee with our lives, we could perhaps live out our days in exile in style.


Ochir watched us take the treasure with genuine concern. “I wouldn’t take any of that if I were you, it’s very bad form to desecrate and rob a Mongol’s tomb. It is said such looters are rightfully cursed.”


Chaka and her Gnomes were not taking any of the treasure either. Guchugar and Guchuluk were watching us closely, as though they expected a curse to take effect right away.


“He was the greatest King who ever lived. He should forever rest in peace,” Ochir said, “We'll have to kill this abomination.”


It sounded to me like Ochir was trying to convince himself.


Through the opening, we saw the yurt suddenly vanish in a whirlwind of white magic. There was a rush of wind, and we could see the outline of a man that was forming out of streaks of white plasma. They swirled together and coalesced. The four Mongol guards of Aju’s command screamed and were consumed and converted into white light, and their essences were taken by the Khan.


He was becoming more and more of this world.


“I am Genghis Khan, and I have come to reclaim my Empire!”


His booming voice echoed through the tomb complex. He had no hair yet, his face was round, his eyes were like black coals, and his mouth was a severe, pressed line. He did look like he could be the man on our Jin notes.


Livikus helped Genghis into a gleaming suit of armor and fastened Hubidai’s legendary belt of giant strength around the Khan’s waist. Hubidai appeared as though he were in a state of semi-trance, he moved, but his face conveyed no expression. He knelt and presented Temujin a scimitar, hilt first.


The clockwork steed in the treasure room suddenly clicked, whirred, and came to life. It clopped down from its podium and crunched into the coins. It stood ready to fight us as well.


“I will give you all this one chance to bow down to me and accept my rule!” Temujin thundered.


“Never!” Malthus screamed in defiance. “Never will I bow down to a Mongol! We are a free people! Now and forever!” 


She hefted her blade in both hands and waited in challenge for whatever might come.


“If you are truly Temujin, who is the Model Mother?” Ochir asked the forming Lord.


“I know all things, fool! Do you think it not so? The name in your mind is Baderhu Narantuyaa! Question your Khan no further!” His eyes pierced Ochir. His hatred and anger blossomed. His body was getting larger and larger.


“Kneel before Temujin!” commanded the Khan, and the tomb shook and dust drifted down from the ceiling.


Ochir and the Gnomes dropped to their knees.


Temujin smiled wickedly at the Gnomes as they knelt. Next he regarded the rest of us.


Lo walked up to the wall of force and stood side by side with the Liberator.


“I will not bow to you either,” he said. “You are nothing in this time, Khan! Come forth and I will show you how weak you are!” Lo held Suishen flickering before him as he adopted a high guard posture.


“We can’t fight the true Father of our Country!” Ochir cried.


Temujin’s eyes glittered before he at last gave the command: “Wizard, lower your wall!”


The instant the shimmering veil winked out; I threw my fireball. The pea sailed toward the center of the tomb, and I saw the Wizard smugly trying to counter my spell. He botched the attempt, and the room was bathed in fire. All of the men inside screamed in agony as their flesh cracked and peeled. Smoke and the smell of sulpher filled the tomb.


Temujin was unscathed by the flames, for he was still mostly part of some other world.


The Wizard put out his robes with a clap of his hands. “I am a highly trained Magician from Istanbul, and if you want to play the fireball game, I’m happy to oblige.” He threw a fireball back at me and we were caught in it. A split second of intense flame burned my hair away again, and my skin blistered and cracked as my tunic smoldered. I couldn’t breathe, I pressed my eyes closed and tried to bear the incredible pain.


Relief came instantly as one of Dipaka’s prayers enveloped me. Oh, thank you.


“Hey, Wizard, you got me in your fireball you clumsy bastard! I’m on your side!” Ochir grumbled loudly.


“The sooner you all stop fighting the Great Khan, the sooner I will spare you from my wrath,” the Wizard said.


I heard Lo say, “Afraid to come down the hall are you Timid-Jin? And here I thought you were the Ruler of the Known World! It looks like you’re only the ruler of this pitiful little crypt!”


Temujin loomed ever larger and more sinister in the tunnel, and he tried to intimidate us by the sheer force of his will. None of us was very impressed, except for Ochir. He was struck by some sort of palpable form of hero worship. He was literally shaking with excitement.


I knew in my heart that Chabui didn’t want Genghis Khan to return to the world. Ochir did.


“If you won’t come to us, we’ll have to come to you!” Lo warned.


“Let’s go,” Lo said, and he and Mareth charged down the tunnel at Temujin. They both rammed their blades through him, and he shimmered and wavered a bit, but stood strong. They attacked him again, and damaged him even more severely, but he was nearly unphased. He laughed in their faces.


Wen moved up behind the Goliaths and waited for an opening.


Allegro hurled a sonic stone into the tomb and it deafened Hubidai and the Wizard when it burst.


Suddenly, without any preamble or warning, Ochir shot Malthus the Liberator in the back. At first, I thought it was just an accident, but a second arrow sprouted from her in short order. Then a third. To her credit, her resolve was such that she seemed not to notice.


I didn’t know if Ochir had been charmed by Temujin or had just gone crazy, but he was apparently trying to sabotage our best hope of defeating Temujin and his entourage.


“Chaka, don’t attack Temujin and tell your two boys the same thing,” Ochir calmly ordered.


What? I had no time to stop and consider Ochir’s actions.

 

I threw a second fireball into the tomb, so I was one up on their snooty Wizard in his fireball game. This time even Temujin was burned, for he was nearly flesh and blood. I ran out of the Wizard’s line of sight, and Dipaka healed me again with a strong prayer.

 

At that moment the activated terra cotta Golden Horde poured into view at the end of the hallway behind us. They marched through the coins and gems as though they were dust and leaves. We were giong to be killed now rather quickly.

 

Dipaka got a gleam in his eye, and he rushed down the hall before the constructs could come through. As soon as they saw him, they all stopped right in their tracks. They assumed poses of respect. "I thought so," Dipaka said. "They must think I'm Temujin! I think I am Temujin!"

 

Temujin’s personal marauding construct horse was already on our side of the wall, and it had already managed to trample and injure Allegro.

 

Xia was hanging back in a corner with Keo, and they appeared to be safe, at least for the moment.


I heard their Wizard start chanting a haste spell, but he fouled up his lines and lost it. It was hard to correctly incant a spell when stricken deaf by a sonic stone.


Temujin’s chest swelled as he drew in a deep breath, and he slowly raised his scimitar. He flew into a rage and hacked the Goliath Liberator horribly three times. Her blood ran all over the floor.


Hubadai chopped Lo with his katana and blood sprayed everywhere. Lo stalwartly remained focused on Temujin; he was not distracted from his mission by either Ochir or Hubidai. Thankfully, Lo was ever the House Champion. Lo dealt the Khan a pair of mighty blows, and blood rose through the rents in the Khan’s armor.


Malthus chopped Temujin one more time and took a measured step back. She waved Wen in to take her place. Wen stepped up in an instant; he shouldered his way in before she could take her second step back.


“By Bahamut’s Bidding!” Wen cried, and pierced Temujin with his katana.


My husband was doing battle with the great Genghis Kahn, and despite Ochir, we were winning.


I’d never wanted him more.

 


Victory and Strife

It was at about that time that everything started going to hell. I was destined to learn that sometimes your own party members could be more trouble than any monsters.


Allegro moved over next to Malthus and kept pounding the clockwork steed with his deadly throwing stones. There were several dents in it now, and some of the foil leaf was peeling off and hanging loosely from the beast. Wingnut was trying to get in amongst the machines’ spindly legs and foul them up. So far, the horse was not so easily knocked over.


“There are potions of healing in my pack m’lady, take ‘em!” Allegro said to Malthus.


It turned out potions weren’t going to help. Ochir shot Malthus again, and again, and again. She didn’t go down but it was clear she was close to collapse. I felt sick.


Lo was beside himself with rage. “Gnome! Don’t fucking do it again! This time I’m done with you! I’m telling you, I’m done! Don’t fucking do it again Gnome!  Do NOT fucking do it again!”


Suddenly, Lo turned his ire toward me.


“Xiao Ping, you better take care of this, because I’m telling you I’ve had enough of this shit!”


Oh, no. Ochir had done it this time.


Lo was just plain ready to kill him. I looked at Wen and he shrugged. I knew Ochir deserved it by now according to Wen’s book.


Chaka Khan fired up a military marching step on her drum kit.


Ochir was incredulous. “Chaka, what are you doing?”


“I’m going to beat my drums for the party I came here with, to aid on the mission we were sent to do! Chabui is my Matron Mother and she ordered us to stop this, Ochir!”


She turned to Temujin. “Your time is long past! You gotta get back to the Ghetto in the ground! Ochir! My love! Take him out!” Chaka cried.


“He’ll be taken out! This group can handle this! We have to kill a sworn enemy of our Empire!” Ochir yelled.


“Everyone focus on Temujin!” I screamed. I already knew that the order would be ignored. I threw my magic missiles at the Khan and was surprised when they left burns. His dark, penetrating eyes snapped to me in an instant, and I had to look away in fear.


“If we win this combat,” Lo said, “I’m telling you, there’s going to be a problem! I’m going to kill that fucking Gnome! I’m fucking telling you, I’m going to kill that fucking Gnome!”


Livikus Al-TaTar summoned a fiendish dire wolf and it tried to take a bite out of my ass. If it hadn’t been for the protection ring I’d just gotten I might have been lunch. Wen ran the Warg through with his katana and a heartbeat later, it disappeared.


The Wizard haughtily threw magic missiles at Malthus and she went down.


Temujin hacked Lo very deeply twice. Blood was running down Lo’s waist and legs but he was still going strong. Hubidai tried to attack Lo too, but since Temujin had drained most of his soul from him, he was far less effective. He had missed several openings.


“I’m quite unimpressed,” Lo said. He raised Suishen and held it aloft for a moment. Then he took a deep breath and began an onslaught against the Khan that I’ll remember forever. There were showers of sparks as Suishen rang against Temujin’s scimitar. Blow after blow was dealt, parried, and traded again.


Wen drew off Hubidai.


Suddenly there it was; the Khan slipped in a smear of blood—and Lo seized the moment. He chopped through the Khan’s shoulder and almost all the way down to his navel with one mighty chop. Temujin’s scimitar clanged to the floor, and his frame stiffened. Lo raised Suishen again, and like a woodsman, he chopped again and finished the cut through the Khan’s pelvis, groin, armor and all. The Khan fell into halves. 


“Aaaaaaagh!” Lo raged.


Temujin immediately began to dissolve from a human form into a cloud of brilliant beads of white light. His body became grains of pure energy, and they rose into the air and faded away. His armor was left behind on the floor.


The clockwork horse clicked twice and stopped moving, and so did every unit in the Golden Horde.


Temujin, or some part of the old true Genghis Kahn, had been destroyed.


He would now remain in his rightful place in the memories of the Mongolian people. They just would never know it.


“Would you mind shooting Livikus?” I asked Ochir. I didn’t know what I expected his answer to be.


Ochir ignored me and executed Malthus with an arrow to the head.


Then, as though nothing untoward had happened, he raised his bow and shot the Turkish Wizard in the shoulder, and then sent a second arrow past his ear.


Wen and Allegro kept after Hubadai, but even though the lesser Khan was severely drained, he was still adroit enough to defend himself. Hubidai stared back wildly at Allegro and Wen. “You bastards! You’ve ruined everything!”


I hit him in the forehead with a couple magic missiles and he staggered backward.


“Now that Temujin is gone, you can have your full strength restored Hubidai! Have the mage teleport us back to the Temple! Let’s GO!” Livikus Al-TaTar cried.


Hubadai nodded.


The Wizard sneered at me and snapped his fingers. They all vanished.

 

We all looked at Dipaka for news on Malthus’ condition.


“She’s dead,” Dipaka declared. He was stooping over her body. I saw a tear in his eye.


“Now we have a problem!” Lo bellowed, “We have a god-damned murderer in our group!” He began breathing heavier and heavier, and his face turned purple as his anger mushroomed.


“There must be no fighting the party!” I cried. “If you have a problem with Ochir and want to bring him up on charges—“, I was cut short as Lo stomped towards Ochir with Suishen high over his head.


Dipaka dashed over and parked himself in Lo’s path. As soon as he hit Dipaka’s peace aura he slowed and stopped. All of the anger drained from his face, he lowered Suishen, and he put it back into its scabbard.


Allegro was close by to Lo when the Goliath stopped. Allegro backed away from Lo very carefully, unwilling to make any rapid movements. “Whoa there Lo! Take it easy! I’m a friend!” he said.


“I’m tired of the very word Mongol,” Lo said. “But you are right Dipaka. I will not kill the Gnome. But I will not travel with him any further. If that is a problem, I will hand over Suishen right now and walk away.”


Oh, lord. That was going to be a problem.


“Lo, this was an enemy of my Khan, and you are all guests in my country. You don’t decide who gets justice around here. Think about where you are,” Ochir said.


“Do not speak to me,“ Lo said, stuck out his lip, and folded his arms across his chest. He walked away calmly enough, but he was trying to get outside of Dipaka’s aura of peace.


When he was far enough away he whirled and his face grew red again.


“This is not out of the way,” he growled, “it is NOT over.”


Dipaka grew alarmed.


Lo crossed his massive arms over his chest. “I’ll solve this problem, fire at me! I hereby declare myself an enemy to your shitty evil Mongol Empire! Fire at me Gnome! See what happens!”


“Lo, you haven’t actually done anything to be considered an enemy of our Empire.” Ochir observed. “I personally don’t have a problem with you, you really are rock stupid and do strange things and all that, but I don’t actually have a problem with you or what you do.”


“You are a coward! A murderer and a coward!” Lo bellowed.


We were trying to resolve fundamental party differences while standing a stone’s throw away from the largest known treasure horde in the world. We were also in the deepest room of a dungeon we needed to get the hell out of. The place could have been rigged to collapse for all we knew.


“Who sent us on this mission? Chabui, right?” Ochir asked Lo.


“We need to calm down and deal with this fairy tale later you guys, we’re inside a dungeon and those guys could regroup and come back. I need to put off dealing with Ochir to a later time,” I said to Lo.


“Don’t insult me my Lady,” Lo said.


“What? I’m not insulting you!” I cried, “we need to stuff our pockets with treasure and get the hell out of here now! I want to sort this out somewhere else!”


“Where do you want to sort it out at?” Lo asked. “How are we going to sort it out?”


“Well, you’ll have to state the problem you have with Ochir, and the rest of us will take a vote, and then we’ll decide on a punishment.  As to where, I don’t know that yet.”


“The problem is that Ochir is murderer, and everyone knows it! You already know damn well how the vote will go!”


I looked around at everyone’s faces. No one was happy with Ochir, except for Ochir. Even Chaka made secret apologetic faces for him while he wasn’t looking.


“So now there is the penalty! What shall it be?” Lo asked.


“The only penalty for attacking and killing an active friendly unit is death,” Wen said.


Oh, crap.


“Oh no!” Dipaka piped up. “Remember, guys, there will no be executions!”


“Or any fighting at all!” I said. “If we can’t manage to adventure together without fighting each other then we’ll have to call it quits!”  I started to feel like crying, but I didn’t.


It felt like Ochir’s actions were being twisted into being my fault by Lo. I guess it was my problem as party leader. I just didn’t really want it. It was really only one of my problems at that moment, and Lo didn’t seem to understand that. He wanted the problem resolved right then.


“Lets’ go!” I said.


“Wait a minute!” Dipaka said to me. “You can’t just hide your head in the sand here! There could still be a fight here! This isn’t going to just go away!”


“We are all on Chabui’s mission! It’s up to Chabui to decide whether Ochir was acting in a way consistent with her wishes,” I offered.


“Right!” Ochir said.


I wished Ochir wouldn’t make it look like we were such comrades. He’d fucked up big time. There was no way I could cover for him anymore.


“Very well, I shall concede some ground here, Dipaka,” Lo said. “I promise not to attack and kill Ochir for now. Ochir is however guilty, and he must atone for his sin. I think a suitable punishment would be for him to have to pay for having the Liberator raised. And I will not travel with him ever again.”


“Yes, we should get her raised, and then she can explain her traitorous self to Chabui,” Ochir said.


Even though it seemed for a second as if we might have been getting somewhere, things suddenly got much worse.


“Very well,” I said, “that sounds good to me, my final say is that we must all travel together until we get back to Beijing to report our successful mission. I will ask for the wisdom of Chabui then before I make a final decision on this,” I said.


“Don’t stab me in the back,” Lo said.


“What?” I asked.


“You know what I’m talking about! You’re letting this murderer walk free and clear amongst the party. You’re insulting my honor and stabbing me in the back! I can’t condone this murderer’s actions or his flimsy excuses! Consider respecting your Paladin husband! You know he can’t travel with that evil bastard! Your own husband! But that’s all right; you go right ahead and fuck me over. You’re supposed to be the party leader; I demand you deal with this now! Wait for the wisdom of Chabui, my ass!”


Lo was just plain forcing my hand. I felt pressure suddenly rise in my head. I was suddenly good and mad. I went off.


“I said I was saving the decision for later! That was my order! How dare you defy me! All right Lo! Hand over Suishen right the fuck now! Hand it over to Wen right now if you don’t want to abide by what I decided!” I cried.


“Whoa! Calm down!” Dipaka came over in a hurry.


“You dare to say that I’m fucking you?” I was not about to stop now. “Are you fucking insane Lo? Ochir’s the one doing this! I didn’t shoot your Goliath warrior! How dare you put your fight on me! This is between you two! You settle it yourselves!”


“Its murder and it’s NOT just between us two,” Lo cried. “Murder, murder, MURDER! Don’t insult my honor any further by doing nothing about this!”


“I’m the official representative of the Amatatsu! What I say goes! How dare you defy my decision and keep putting it in my face! I wish there was a solution that would make you happy right now, but there isn’t!  I’m not kicking Ochir out of the party; he’s coming back with us to Beijing! That’s final! We’re bringing Xeldar back too!”


I was literally standing underneath Lo now and it must have been a hilarious sight to see me ranting and raving red-faced and wagging my finger up at a giant three times my size.


Lo finally seemed to realize the turmoil he was putting me through and his eyes softened a bit.


“Very well,” he said, “but I’m officially not traveling in the same party as this criminal. He and his Gnomes must be a separate travel group, and I will carry Malthus myself. Her body is to receive only the greatest respect.” He looked at Ochir.


Dipaka prepared Malthus’ body for the long transport back to Beijing where we’d try to have her raised. He carefully wrapped her in linen bandages from head to toe, and said long and rambling prayers over her.


It was the best truce I could manage, and it was marginal at best. I could only hope that the problems stemming from Ochir’s act of evil and my apparent willingness to let it go would blow over. The truth be told, I knew that I might need Ochir someday, but after this stunt, I really didn’t want him around anymore. If it weren’t for Dipaka holding back the Golden Horde and a string of very lucky breaks, we could have all been killed. The outcome of that fight was far from certain, and doing what Ochir did was risky for everyone in that tomb.


I had nearly maneuvered Ochir out of the party once before. Prior to leaving Hangzhou on board the Sapporo Wind, Pang Mei had made me contact Ochir through the looking glass and invite him to return from his stint with the Mongol army.


I had never intended to do so. I was planning on sailing to Beijing without him, leaving him happy on the battlefront with his sexy Chaka. He would never have given us a second thought. I didn’t say anything to Pang Mei then about my feelings regarding Ochir. Looking back now, I saw that I should have. I was now reaping the rotten fruits of my foolish decision.


Lo was right. There was no way Ochir was actually coming to Japan with us. He had never been loyal to the House and never would be. He had said so openly. He made no bones about it. His loyalty to his “Empire” was not in question. I didn’t want to reveal my decision to Ochir, not yet. It would give him time to counter my plan of leaving him behind in China.


As though reading my thoughts, Lo said, “It’s not over yet Ping, not by a long shot.”


“Come on Lo,” I said. “Give me a break.”


Lo snorted, “If it had been your relative that he had murdered in cold blood back there, there’s no way you would put up with it.”


He was right about that, but it hadn’t been my relative.


We gathered ourselves together after Dipaka healed us all and we traveled back to the dam. Lo carried Malthus over his shoulder the entire way. He refused to allow her to be tied over Mayor’s back. “It would be unseemly,” he said. I could tell Xia was a bit confused with how Lo was behaving, but she seemed content to let him have his way.


When we finally made it back to the dam, word of our victory spread like wildfire. The Black Crags picked up their tools and abandoned the dam’s construction site so fast my head span. Lo’s people weren’t long in taking their example to heart.


“Father, lead our people up into the mountains and live out your days in peace, away from these puny Mongols,” Lo said to Akala. “I think you should destroy the dam as well, Father,” Lo said.


“No, son, there will be no living in peace if we do. We’ll go and let them keep their dam, but they’ll have to get someone else to finish it for them,” he chuckled at the notion. “Good luck to them,” he laughed. “You’ve done well son, I’m proud of you. Now go and help your Princess, we’ll be fine here. From what you’ve told me she relies on you for her life. Don’t give her little sister such a hard time, and keep them both safe. I know you can do it.”


I wished that Lo would have just let it go and trusted in me. I could see why he would have doubts; I wasn’t telling him everything. I explained it all to Wen as we lay naked together that night in our tent and he seemed to accept it. It was one of the reasons I loved him. He remained wisely silent about the situation and changed the subject to things far more pleasurable. I was glad he did, I made sure he didn’t regret it. I hoped we weren’t going to have to fight any mythical beasts for the time being. We made love for hours. After Ochir’s stunt and Lo’s reaction overshadowing our victory over Genghis Khan, I needed it. I didn’t care if the others heard us.


We did it again every night on the way back to Beijing. For six weeks, we enjoyed each other. I didn’t get pregnant, I don’t know why. I began to wonder.

 


Beijing

One day, we finally arrived back at the gates of Beijing. We were greeted by a special Minister flanked by two large and very stinky bodyguards.

“Lady Xiao Ping, the Empress has asked me to conduct you and your friends to the rear entrance,” he said.


Great.


We followed the guards and entered the Forbidden City once again. The place was lousy with guards; so many so that the odds were that the only infractions possible were those being committed by the guards themselves.


We were informed that rooms had been made ready for us, and we were to rest up for a day before seeing the Empress.


Wen and I got our own room; he took me as soon as we got the door closed. We didn’t wear any clothes for the rest of that night or the entire next day, and we ate all manner of exotic fruits.


The next morning we dressed up in our best finery. Xia and I helped each other with our make-up and Lo moped in the corner. Wen polished his armor.


“Don’t worry Lo, I’m sure we’ll be able to get Malthus raised,” I said to him.


“She shouldn’t need to be raised, that fucking damn Gnome,” Lo said.


“He hates that Gnome,” Xia said. “He talks about killing Ochir in his sleep.”


Lo wasn’t letting it go. I didn’t blame him.


When the time came, we all gathered at the appointed place. Lo was carrying Malthus over his shoulder.


“Lo, really? You’re really going to carry her in there now?” Ochir said.


“Shut up Gnome,” Lo said. “Don’t talk to me.”


Our guide from the previous day appeared with his bodyguards. “Come with me,” he said.


We entered the Palace. We were led to a huge chamber that was spanned on one side by a huge balcony that overlooked a lush botanical garden.


Seven nightingales flitted about the chamber, tittering and alighting on elaborate perches placed liberally around the room. Chabui was feeding one when she noticed that we had arrived.


“You have returned child,” she said.


She moved closer to us. “Come and sit, my children, and tell us your tale.”


We all took seats on low sofas, but Lo remained standing with Malthus over his shoulder. He was silent and waited patiently.


“Forgive us, Radiance, but we were nearly moments too late on our mission in the desert. However, we did make absolutely certain that there will be no appearance of the unspoken one for you or the Khan to worry about,” I said.


Chabui smiled her warm and comforting smile.


“There were some loose ends that were unavoidable.” I added. “You have our apologies for those.”


“There’s no need to apologize child,” she came over and took me by the hand. “Come now, tell me everything.”


She sat down on the sofa and I told her everything that happened. She listened intently to my entire story. I didn’t leave anything out. When I was finished, she rose and addressed everyone.


“I will tell you that you have averted a war, and that you have saved thousands of lives. If Temujin had been returned to life with the Golden Horde at his command, some of the Mongol people would have accepted him as their leader outright. Others however, would never have accepted him. We owe you our gratitude.”


“So we prevented a civil war, huh?” Ochir said. “That’s pretty good, huh?”


“That’s great!” Dipaka said.


“But here we have Temujin standing right here among us.” Chabui said.


“Temujin? Here? What are you talking about?” Wen asked.


“Dipaka, you were born the same day that Temujin died. You are Temujin, in a manner of speaking. You are his reincarnation on this Earth.”


“I thought so, that explains why I was attacked by Temujin at first. I resisted him with Wen’s help, so he was much weaker than he should have been, since he couldn’t reclaim his life force from me. That’s why I ran over to face the Golden Horde, I wanted to see if they’d think I was Temujin, and it worked.”


“Yes.” Chabui said. “This is why he was forced to drain Hubidai. Thankfully it was not enough.”


“Just out of curiosity, do you have any wisdom for me?” Dipaka asked.


“Save as many lives as you can Dipaka. You can never make up for those that died during Genghis Khan’s bloody conquests, but you can prevent countless deaths in the future. This is already your mission. You have always known it. You are doing what you should be doing already; you are doing what your own wisdom tells you to do.” She smiled at him.


She looked next at Malthus. Lo was standing there with her still draped over his shoulder.


“I will restore her to life,” she said. “You may lay her down now Goliath.”


Four men came with a giant stretcher and carried her away. Chabui kept looking at Lo.


“Your Majesty?” Lo bowed, “Is there something else?”


“Malthus will don the robes of a Buddhist Monk, after she has gone through indoctrination. I will send her back to lead the Goliaths into the high Himalayas, but she will first flood the tomb so that it will never be found. She will guard the knowledge of the tomb’s location for the rest of her days, and then take it with her to the grave. There will be established a Goliath reservation high among the cliffs where your people will live ever after. Set your mind at ease about that. You and your people have earned it.”


Chabui paused as though weighing what else she would tell Lo.


“I must also tell you as well, Goliath, that if it were not for you bringing Malthus here, your tribe would have been exterminated. The Khan would certainly have seen to it. No one was to ever know where that tomb was.”


Lo shuddered. “Thank you, your Majesty, you are most generous and kind,” he said.


Now she looked at the rest of us.


“You may stay here for as long as you wish, or you have our blessing to leave for Japan and claim your throne,” she said.


“What about Hubidai?” I asked.


“Yes, that is important, what of Hubidai?” Ochir piped up. “He escaped, with his Turkish Wizard and his Al-Tatar, Livikus. There was point when I looked in his face and it looked like he regretted what was going on. I think he was concerned about what he had done. So where is he now, do you know?”


“Intelligence indicates he has fled to the Middle-East to seek comfort and solace with his allies, and rebuild his power base. He cannot face Kublai Khan after having failed again.”


“Can he raise an army and pose a threat? He could be a potential source of a civil war, could he not?”


“No. He does not have nearly enough support. He may be able to form a strike force for the purpose of settling old scores, but he is not popular enough to raise an army. He shouldn’t be anyway, unless he finds some kind of miraculous artifact somewhere. He will return though. I promise you that. He’s not gone forever.”


“Yes, I fear that he will try to seek revenge upon us,” Ochir said.


“He definitely will, that is why you should leave China for—“, Chabui began.


“Or upon you Chabui, for he knows that you sent us on that mission,” Ochir said.


“He does? How would he know this?”


“I told him we were on your mission because he asked me. He is a true Khan; I had to tell him the truth.”


“Then perhaps it would be wise for you to leave the mainland, and proceed onward to Japan,” Chabui said.


“I ask of you one favor, just one favor, and that is that if I go to Japan, I do so as the first Ambassador of China from the Mongolian Empire to Japan, because I already have great diplomatic relations with the future Princess.”


“Hmmm, I was thinking that would be a job for Chaka, since she’s been trained to do exactly that,” Chabui said.


“Well then make her the Ambassador and me the enforcer.”


“That would be fine, but etiquette would require that your relationship become a bit more official first. You’ll have to get married.”


“That would mean she’d have to sleep with him,” Allegro joked.


“Oh that’s already happened, many, many, times…” Ochir said and chuckled.


Chaka started clicking her boot on the stone floor.


“Ochir, you must take her as a wife, but by law she’s not the only wife you can have,” Chabui said.


“That’s for her family to decide. I’m fine with it if it’s what they want,” Ochir said.


Chaka nodded.


“Then you’ll need to stay the winter in Beijing, and we’ll have a fancy wedding with all of the Mongol dignitaries from faraway lands.”


“No, we’ll have a quick wedding right here in Beijing,” Ochir said.


“After you are married, I will confer on you the title of Pathfinder, and you will be the scout I’ve assigned to check out and record the important affairs of the Japanese, such as military strength, inventories, and so forth.”


“But Chaka’s the actual Ambassador, right?” Ochir asked.


“Yes,” Chabui said.


“I want an office at the Consulate, with a small amount of money, something modest, and adjacent residential quarters,” Ochir said.


“Very well, you will be paid. In fact you all will be paid,” Chabui said.


She clapped her hands and men walked in with a five thousand Jin notes placed in the center of a pillow they carried before each of them. They presented one to each of us.


What charity would you like yours donated too?” Chabui asked Dipaka.


“I just want to do the most good possible, and to do whatever we can do to heal and help others.” Dipaka said.


“I have an idea; I will use your money to find out what happened to that woman who claimed to be your mother.”


Ochir burst out laughing.


“No, please don’t waste the money in that way. Please help the needy children, build another hospital, something else positive, but not that.”


“How would someone who was evil become good again? By doing good works, right?” I asked Wen. 


“Yes, such a person in theory can atone, but first they must understand that what they have done is wrong,” Wen said.


“How can Ochir atone?” I asked Wen, “What are the actual procedures of atonement?”


“Well, as I said, the first thing is that he has to admit to what he did, and come on, it’s Ochir. Then he must ask for forgiveness, do a series of specified good works, and then and only then he can be commuted from a sentence of death to a sentence of life in prison.”


Wen!


Wen hadn’t taken any treasure from Temujin’s tomb (against my wishes, of course, we weren’t exactly made of money) because he had been so upset by Ochir’s crime. In the end, the party split up items and he did get a new magic lance, and a magic cloak.


“Wait a minute, there was a belt of giant strength on Genghis,” Lo said, suddenly remembering. “What happened to it?”


“Too late Lo, I already gave it to Ochir,” Chaka said.


“I don’t want it, I don’t need strength. You never gave it to me anyway,” Ochir said.


“Well, give it to Lo then if you’re such an idiot!” Chaka cried.


Ochir did give it to Lo.


Ochir held up the belt for Lo to take. Lo took the girdle, but ignored Ochir.


When Lo donned the girdle, it added to the great strength he already possessed, and it undoubtedly made him the strongest man in China.


I bought two tiny jars of Madame Wu’s Poon Yang Ointment from an herbal stand in Beijing. The little pads inside were soaked in an unguent that could cure disease, poison, and close small wounds. I figured they might come in handy someday.


Ochir sold Xeldar’s sword and threw a huge wedding reception for himself and Chaka. They had been married without fanfare by a justice somewhere a while before the reception.


We all danced and partied all night long. We were dancing in the streets.

 

Lo and Wen stayed home. 

 


La Regina Isabella

“It’s about time for us to set sail across the winter sea,” I said to Pang Mei a few weeks later.


“Business is good, Sandru is coming with us. The Polos have made fabulous inroads with the Kublai Khan, so they are staying in China and going on a tour of the Empire. We have secured a most seaworthy ship. Sandru hired a modern European boat, the Regina Isabella,” Pang Mai explained.


Only Allegro of all of the Polos was to be sent by Maffeo with us to establish a Venetian trade route with Japan. Allegro sent a love letter back to An-Mei back in Blue Silk village. He asked me to check his spelling for him; I was a trained scribe, after all. I couldn’t help but read that he intended to send for her from Japan in six months time. That was a bold sort of letter to send, I thought. I guess we’d see. I was happy for them. She was one of the only unattached Halfling women in Blue Silk Village, so I guessed she might just wait for him.


Ochir sent a letter to his father in India. I have no idea what he may have written in his letter to him.

We set sail for Japan aboard the Regina Isabella in Last Month 10, 3967, in the middle of winter.

After we had been sailing for a few days, and it was clear that Lo was still very angry with Ochir, so Dipaka called a party meeting.


“I want to address the elephant in the room, or on the deck, as it were,” Dipaka said. “I’m not talking about bringing anyone up on charges or anything stupid like that.”


“Ochir, you can’t be shooting party affiliates dead like that,” I said to Ochir, anticipating where this was going.


“No, it’s not just Ochir,” Dipaka said. “It’s all of you.”


“Oh, uh, true,” I said.


“We already had a conversation about finishing off foes. Xiao Ping issued a decree,” Ochir said.


“Yes,” I said, “but Malthus wasn’t someone who attacked us, she was never against us, and the decree was clearly for those that had actively engaged us.”


“Well I think we’re in a gray area here,” Ochir said.


“I don’t think it’s so gray,” I said.


“That’s why I’m bringing it up again,” Dipaka said. “We need to solve these issues.”


“Gray areas are gray for a reason; it means they have to be handled on a case by case basis. You can’t make a blanket statement regarding them,” Ochir told Dipaka.


“I can make a blanket statement about my own beliefs if I want to,” Dipaka said.


“Oh, sure, you can do that, that’s different,” Ochir said.


“I can say it always saddens me deeply when any of you kills someone that’s helpless already,” he said.


“Wait a minute, let me get this straight,” Lo began, “someone was fighting for us, trying to help us out, and yet some other person invents a flimsy excuse to kill her and--”


“Oh god, not again,” Ochir said.


“--and we’re standing here worrying about how we’re shooting someone that was lying helpless on the ground?  She wouldn’t have been lying on the ground in the first place if Ochir hadn’t shot her in the back six times!” Lo cried. “This is ridiculous!”


Somehow, we were right back where we started.


“Just say you won’t do it again!” Chaka said to Ochir.


“No, I will not say that I won’t do it again! Because I would do it again, and for the same reasons,” Ochir said testily.


”Off with his head!” Wen cried.


“I wasn’t trying to start a civil war,” Dipaka said, “I was just trying to work out a problem here.”


“Ok, Wen, I have some simple questions for you,” Ochir began.


“I will not play your Gnomish game, I saw what you did. I saw it with my own two eyes.”


“I’m not playing any game here. Your view is colored by your erroneous preconceived notions. Answer me this question: who did I kill that day?”


“An innocent girl!  And some others who were not so innocent. So what? No one said you weren’t effective in the battles. What you did wrong was kill that girl, plain and simple,” Wen said.


“Who were those that I killed that were not so innocent?” Ochir asked.


“Uzbeks and Wargs,” Wen answered.


“I shot the Wizard too if you’ll recall, and Xeldar the Greek,” Ochir said.


“If you had incapacitated the Wizard, they may not have teleported out of there,” I said.


“I understand your take on it,” Ochir said to me. “I did try to kill the Wizard,” he said.


“I know, but you could have started shooting at him earlier,” I said.


“Semantics,” Ochir said.


“Say-man-tics? What are say-man-tics?” Lo asked.


“I’m sorry I’m using words that are too big for you Lo,” Ochir said.


“Basically we need to determine what the procedure will be from here on out,” I said. “If you’re supposed to be part of an official Mongolian delegation to my country, I want to know that you are not going to attack individuals that don’t pose a threat to us or are helping us.”


“I’m a soldier, and thus I will kill my enemies,” Ochir said flatly.


“He just makes up whatever he needs to as he goes along to cover his murderous ways. This is all just balderdash,” Lo said.


“Why is it balderdash?” Ochir asked.


“Why? Because you’re an evil little fuck, that’s why! Is there any other way to put it?”


“You know what Lo; you’re the one who killed my Lord Temujin! You chopped him in half! And you want to give me shit for killing my enemy?” Ochir sounded genuinely hurt.

 
“He was an undead abomination that was revived from decades past! He was not your Temujin!” Lo bellowed.


“Since we’re at sea now, there should be no encounters with enemies of your Empire, Ochir, and thus no reason for you to attack anyone unless we point them out to you,” I said.


“For one thing, we aren’t in Mongolia anymore; so I will of course be operating by foreign rules. What is the current leadership structure in Japan?” Ochir asked.


“Pang Mei says that an evil Cabal of Oni’s and Half-Oni’s are secretly or openly the Shoguns and Lords ruling Japan. Because of this, some good human Samurai Lords oppose them. We need to locate these groups and join with them, and possibly unite them under a common banner,” I said.


“So, we are going to remove the current leadership in Japan?” Ochir asked. “Xiao Ping, are we going to kill the enemies when we get there?”


“Of course,” I said, “we’re going to kill the House’s enemies, but on a case by case basis. We’re going to be uniform in our engagements, and not apparently wildly attack someone unexpectedly. It’s important that things be predictable and consistent on the battlefield.”


“That’s just bull. So who are we attacking?” Ochir asked. He never grew tired of pushing.


“Whoever Pang Mei or I state to be an enemy,” I said.


“What if you can’t say,” Ochir asked. “What if you’re not there?”


“Then I won’t really have to worry about it now will I?” I joked, trying to lighten the mood.


“Seriously,” Ochir said.


“Just use common sense,” I said.


“Use common sense?” What are the posted rules of engagement in that case?”


“Do what Dipaka says,” I said.


We all laughed. The ironic thing was that I was partially serious about it.


“That means your sister will never become the Empress,” Ochir predicted.


“While it would be great if you would not attack anyone, and I am certain that I will not stop you from attacking your enemies, all I ask is that you ALL stop killing those that are already on the ground bleeding to death,” Dipaka said.


“Yes, show mercy on the foe,” Allegro agreed.


“So we should just heal them and give them their weapons back I suppose?” Ochir asked.


“I’m not saying that we should give them their weapon back,” Dipaka said. “I simply don’t want them to be injured further. Please don’t kill helpless creatures, even if they are evil. That’s all I’m asking.”


“Even if their stated goal is to kill you?” Ochir asked.


“Yes, I don’t want anyone killing anyone. I’m just giving you my viewpoint; you can apply whatever logic to it you wish. Killing people that are already bleeding to death is an evil act. That is my belief,” Dipaka said.


“All right, that’s it! All Gnomes and Holy Men are out of the party!” I said, facetiously.


Everyone laughed.


“Wait, I have an idea; Ochir, you’re only to shoot at targets that Lo designates,” I offered.


“I don’t understand. Who is it you don’t want me to shoot?” Ochir asked.


“People that are going piss off Lo for one!” I said.


“How about anyone that is actively helping the party?” Allegro offered up a more serious guideline.


“Actively helping the party,” Ochir repeated.


“Yeah, there’s a good idea,” I quickly seconded Allegro’s somewhat successful first step in our long climb up Ochir’s mountain of denial.


After another ten minutes of argument and discussion, we broke up to go to our cabins for the night.


The Seal sent me a dream that night, or maybe it was only a dream of my own.


In the dream, we had failed to defeat Temujin. We fled the tomb and thundered back to the dam furiously dogged by the Golden Horde. A column of dust rose into the air that could be seen from the dam for miles. When we got back to the dam, the silver dragon swooped down to intervene, but then refused to help us because we had killed her rider. The Dragon breathed on us several times out of grief as Temujin and his horde attacked the Goliaths and our group.


While we were fighting, Chaka produced the rusty trebuchet bomb she had fished from the river in Hangzhou from her bag of holding, and she used it to destroy the wooden dam.


Water covered and drowned us all along with Temujin and the entire Golden Horde. She murdered us.


I could see Ochir and Chaka laughing at the edge of the new lake. We were all dead.


I woke up fearful of drowning and hugged Wen. I felt safe with him. Our hammock rocked slightly as the ship rolled from side to side. He woke up when I hugged him. “What is it?”


“Nothing, I just need you,” I said.


“I love you,” he said.


“I love you too,” I said. He hugged me and kissed me until we both went back to sleep.


The next day Ochir asked if I could scry on Aju. I took out his ear; I had it now on a necklace around my neck under my tunic. It had shriveled up quite a bit since we got it. Dipaka had added some preservatives to it.


We laid the mirror down on the deck and I went into my trance.


At first, I saw a towering iron fortress. Then I saw inside.


I saw Aju kneeling naked before Livikus Al-Tatar in an elaborate throne room before a dark iron throne. Row after row of goblinoids stood at attention in full polished armor behind Aju.


Livikus Al-TaTar thundered, “Aju, your Honor with the Mongol Empire is lost!”


Livikus oscillated his head strangely as though he fancied himself speaking before an amphitheater full of Senators.


“TaTars however, have no need of Honor!” He looked down at Aju. He raised his arms. He smiled maniacally.


“Rise now! From this day forward, you will be called Aju Al-TaTar!” he decreed.


Aju Al-TaTar slowly stood and several naked slaves helped him into a new suit of armor. His shiny black full-face helmet covered his countenance and his hideous missing ear. He was sleek and fearsome looking. The slaves draped a long black cape around his shoulders. They girded him with a jet-black katana and scabbard. When they were done attending to him, they padded away across the floor.


“Stop!” Aju said in a commanding voice. It sounded deep and resonant coming from inside his new helmet.


The slaves stopped. They turned and waited, quivering.


He whisked his new katana from its scabbard and chopped one of the slave’s heads off. Blood sprayed up and the slave’s body went slack instantly. It made a sickening noise as it hit the floor. The slave’s head thumped, rolled, and stopped near Aju’s boot. The slave’s mouth was trying to form words as the head lay sideways on the floor, just like a fish. Aju crushed the head’s jaw with his heel. There was a terrible crunching noise. Blood ran in rivulets along the cracks between the floor stones.


“Now go!” Aju commanded.


The other slaves ran out of the room as fast as they could. Two goblins appeared and drug out the corpse. It left a long bloody trail across the floor. They left the head lying there.


I was sick. I was just sick. I threw up and Ochir had to jump out of the way.


“Hey! Watch it!” he cried. “Clean up on the main deck!”


I kept watching. I couldn’t look away.


“Good Aju!” Livikus said. “Good!” He was trembling with pride.


Xeldar was there at Livikus’ right hand. His visor was up. He was suited in all new jet-black armor and weapons too. We had learned that while in Beijing he had been found guilty of attempted assault on an Agent of the Empire. He had been fined two thousand Jin and ultimately released. He had wasted no time fleeing the city.


The foppish Turk Mustache was seated to Livikus’ left hand side. He was looking into a mirror and watching the Regina Isabella at sea.


Damn.


“I wish you well on your journey, Wu Jen,” I heard his voice say to me. “Although, I do fear for you. A Divine Wind protects Japan from all ship traffic, and your journey will likely end in tragedy!” he let out peal of maniacal laughter.


“But, as I say, I do wish you well, so that someday you may return to our Empire and I can take care of you… personally.”


I told Lo to moon him.


The next day I was standing alone looking out over the sea at the horizon and Ochir came up to stand beside me.


“Well?” he asked.


“All right, Ochir, you have to promise me no more evil shit, and I don’t want Lo mad at me anymore either,” I said.


“I’m not doing evil shit,” Ochir said.


“Yes, you are,” I said. “Like the Chin kid back in Guangzhou, and now this Goliath.”


“To me good and evil are two sides of the same coin; I’m a good soldier, that’s the bottom line. I attack and kill my enemies, those who are a threat to me or the people I care about,” Ochir said.


“Don’t ever deign to argue with him,” Lo said. “He’ll never change his mind about anything.” Lo had walked up behind us as we were talking.


“The same can be said about you,” Ochir shot back.


“I’m not above stepping aside and letting some horrible monster get through and eat him,” Wen said, only half joking. It looked like an impromptu party meeting was forming.


“I’m not actually in your group, Wen. My party is here on a legitimate mission for the Mongol Empire, so back off,” Ochir said.


Wen and Lo went away, but they laughed as they went. After a few more minutes of awkward silence, Ochir took the hint and left me alone too.

 

Xia came up later and we huddled under a blanket and stared at the frigid ocean together until the sun set. We didn’t see any other ships.


Wen and I slept in our hammock that night. Wen was not in the mood again, so we went to sleep. The ship creaked rhythmically, and the Amatatsu Seal sent me more dreams.


The Seal revealed to me a stretch of coast on the Japanese Island of Honshu. We were directed to land there, and then to find the Forest of Spirits. In the Forest, we were to discover the House of Withered Blossoms. Therein would lay our next challenge.


There were to be five challenges we would face and need to overcome before claiming the throne. The challenges roiled in my head all night, but when I woke up the next morning, I could remember nothing at all about them.


The very day the Captain had laid in a course for the coastal landing area I had described to him, the sea grew very choppy and an ominous wind arose. A black storm rolled in. Rains lashed the Isabella, and lighting hammered the sea all around us. Our massive sailing ship was tossed about like a cork. We were nothing but battered, wet, and freezing. The ship listed so far to port one time we had to brace ourselves with our feet against a wall.


Huge icy waves sloshed over the deck of the ship, and they washed a few sailors away.


After a few hours, there was a heart-stopping noise as one of the masts snapped and toppled, dragging it’s sail, rigging, and several riggers screaming into the sea.


Here it finally was, as promised; the Divine Wind that the Fortune Teller and the Wizard had warned us about. We had failed to heed their warnings, and now it was too late.

 

 


The following are all of the letters that have been penned by party members since we returned from the Temujin desert escapade or set sail for Japan:

 


A letter from Ochir to Xiao Ping:


Xiao Ping,


As we make our way across the sea to your ancestral homeland, I thought this would be an appropriate time to address a few key issues that loom over us.


I must first say that it has been a pleasure travelling with you. Since we first met in Silk’s End, I’ve always viewed you as competent, quite resourceful under fire, and fair in your dealings. You generally make important decisions based upon logic and reason, not upon emotion. This is the hallmark of a great leader. Although your sister claims the Chrysanthemum Throne, it is you who are truly worthy.


The first issue I must raise is one that we discussed before we even made our way into Beijing. If you recall, I suggested that it would be in your best long-term interests (and that of Japan’s) to formally create an alliance with Kublai Khan and his Empire. In order for your sister to ascend the Throne and unify your nation, peace with -- and perhaps even assistance from -- the Mongol Empire will be essential. As the newly-appointed Mongolian Counsellor-General to Japan, along with my wife Ambassador Chakka, we will make every effort to assist your family unify Japan and assume control. In return for our assistance, it is understood that Nippon, once under your family’s leadership, will enter into appropriate agreements and treaties which formalize Japan’s relationship with the Mongol Empire. 


It goes without saying that any treaty which preserves your family’s position of leadership is infinitely better than the inevitable (and catastrophic) alternative. I’ve always been very open, honest, and direct with you, Xiao Ping and this time is no different.


The second issue is that of jurisdiction and duty. You should know that when we were in Mongol-held territory, we were under Mongol jurisdiction. I, as soldier in the Mongolian army, am sworn to protect the Empire above all other considerations. Because of this, I am duty-bound to immediately, efficiently, and permanently destroy any and all threats to the Empire, regardless of how small or large they may actually be. I make no apologies for any actions I have taken, and will continue to operate under this doctrine. 


Because our party came together under the banner of Sandru’s caravan, we are complex group with mixed priorities, goals, races, nationalities, and values. I have done my very best to accommodate for our diversity, and have behaved more judiciously than is actually required of me. You should know, simply traveling with your husband has been extremely difficult (and risky) for me, simply because he is a soldier in the Song army, and is in reality my enemy. However, your husband is but one insignificant soldier, one minor cog, in a larger machine. So he, by himself, is no threat to my beloved Empire. Had he assumed a position of political leadership in the Song command, had he become a potential threat to the Mongol Empire, then I would not be able to continue exercising the restraint I’ve already shown towards him. I am very relieved that you have removed your husband from the corrupt grip of the Song. You’ve truly saved his life.


Again, I will do my best to see that your family is successful in its quest. All I ask in return is for you to continue being the competent, logical, intelligent, realistic, and dispassionate leader you’ve shown yourself to be.


Yours faithfully,
Counsellor-General Munkh-Ochir Batbayar
Son of Munkh-Ochir Baatarbayan

 

 

A letter from Lo to Xiao Ping,


I Lo, have also something to say about the situation, I must know the people whom I fight with are my brothers and sisters first and that no matter what I can at least count on those people to protect me when I can’t. Ochir has so much admitted he is for the Khan first, he is not my brother or yours dear Ping nor is he for anybody else in the party. He will continue to act in whatever manner he sees fit. If you also think this matter is just between Ochir and myself you are quite mistaken because I know your husband is also quite upset with the things Ochir does. He says he killed Malthus because she was a threat and he says he will deal with all perceived threats as he sees fit and yet when I tell him the honest truth that I think Mongolians are hateful little mongrels who spew destruction wherever they go and that I will never ever again align myself with them again and plan on resisting them wherever they exist, He wont attack me says I am no threat, I think it is because he knows I will break his snotty Gnome nose and skull! That being said you have deep rift in this party and as party leader just ignore it will not work I am sorry leading is such a burden, I truly am, but it is a tough thing to lead. We are a decent bunch most of us and I really cant see how you and I or Dipaka or Wen can trust Ochir especially when he admits that his loyalty is with the Khan and will do what he wants and the fact that he is evil plain and simple don't believe me then ask your husband your own damn husband. And please please don’t insult me anymore with this it is between me and Ochir crap if it was one of your own people you would be just as mad as me so please don't act like my anger wasn’t justified and I was throwing tantrums like a child HE KILLED ONE OF MY PEOPLE IN COLD BLOOD  I DIDN'T FORGET OR LET IT GO HE IS A BASTARD!  

 

Lo

 

 

A letter from Xiao Ping to Lo, in response to Lo's letter above:

 

My dearest Lo,


It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these words. On all things with you I agree. Your anger Lo is very, very justified, and is NOT at all childish.


I am on your side Lo. This is a terrible situation. Not only has Ochir decided to attack those that were helping us, he was shown to be in error when Chabui raised the Goliath. So, the Goliath may or may not have been an enemy to the Mongols. I think that Ochir’s decision to fire at the Goliath was really about NOT firing at Genghis, Hubidai, Livikus, and their wizard. They escaped when the wizard teleported them away. We may or may not have been able to finish them, that we will never know.  Things are chaotic in combat and I can’t blame Ochir for their escape entirely. Maybe we should not have expected Ochir to shoot at his friends and leaders.


I would like to ask Ochir to leave the party, however now he has managed to be appointed the Ambassador from Mongolia to Japan. He represents the Mongol empire. His goal is to ensure Japan agrees to acknowledge the sovereign nature of the Khan. If Ochir or Chaka is killed or ill-treated now, it could damage relations between the countries.


We both understand that the Mongols will finish conquering the Song and then look to Japan. Ultimately, Ochir and Chabui offer an alternative to war. There may be a need to swallow some pride here. It is an alternative that could save tens of thousands of people’s lives down the road. This is what I have to realize as an option for my people.


So, while we could have done something before, the situation is far more difficult now. I can’t just consign a people that I don’t know and don’t rule anyway to being invaded by the Mongols.


Lo, it is the furthest thing that I want to insult you in any way. You have been nothing but the most upstanding House Champion, and have made Xia very happy. You have earned Wen’s respect when he hated you before. You have been un-shunned by your people. You are part of my family, not just the Amatatsu family, made by the past and the seal, but my family, made only by us.
I do understand that I have made you feel dishonored, and I apologize. I do not mean to continue to dishonor you by suggesting you two settle this yourselves, I only mean that history has shown that warriors are often the only ones that can sort things completely among themselves.


I did not create this situation, as I was not the one shooting the Goliath, and in the end you must realize that Ochir’s actions put both of us at odds, and this was his plan.


We cannot allow Ochir to create these situations, as we allow him to do untold damage to our House.


I should not have stopped you when you went to attack Ochir. I only did so because we were in a dungeon and Dipaka’s teachings are wearing off on me. Of course, truly Dipaka stopped you.
I had hoped to delegate the task of trying to talk to Ochir and try to get him to understand our position to Dipaka, as they go way back. Dipaka did indicate that he had a problem with everyone attacking people, not just Ochir. Dipaka does not equate the attack on the Goliath as an unforgivable sin, only in so far as we all are sinners.


So, I delegate it to you.


You Lo, are now Ochir’s judge. Although Ochir’s injury or death may result in the loss of countless lives, if you want to fight Ochir in the future or immediately either with psychic or physical means, I will not say a word and will explain to Chabui what happened the day after, and suffer the consequences, even unto the deaths of thousands of Japanese.


Just remember that you agreed this Goliath matter settled before the lawful good Chabui, when she raised your friend. I believe that for Chabui to be understanding of an assault on Ochir he must do something else to deserve it. She is not aware of his earlier attack on the young man we rescued from Xul-Jarak.

 
There have been many decisions I have made as leader, this is only one where there was no solution that would please everyone.


If all that you have said is only many words for saying you want me to remove Ochir from the group now, and this is the only thing that will satisfy your honor, then I do respect that, and you should respond by saying so. We can give the Gnomes our folding boat. If it is enough for you to be Ochir’s judge with the House blessing, then so be it. If you are to be unsatisfied with these or any other solution and have a better one, I’m certainly open to it.


Yours forever,
Ping

 

 

A letter to Ochir's father from Ochir:


Honorable Father,

 

I hope this correspondence finds you well. It’s been nearly two years since we’ve exchanged words. Many events have transpired since our last meeting. I do know that you are extremely busy, so I will keep my words brief. Buddha willing, there will be time for us to talk at length in the near future.


Firstly, I must tell you that I have taken a wife. Her name is Chakka, a Mongolian gnome from a family who is also loyal to the Borjigin clan. Her father holds a post in Vienna as a banker, and her mother is retired after patriotically serving the Empire in a capacity that is, as far as I can tell, a state secret. Chakka served as an officer in the military during the siege of Hangzhou. That is where I met her. We fought shoulder-to-shoulder against the despicable Song remnants holding out there. She is a capable warrior and a glory to behold in battle. She was just recently appointed as the new Mongolian Ambassador to Nippon by Chabui herself!


Second-- I too have been promoted to a diplomatic post by Chabui. I am now officially the Empire’s first Cousellor-General to Nippon. In addition, Chabui also bestowed upon me an unofficial title as well-- “Pathfinder”. 


Third-- Chakka and I will be travelling to Nippon in order to assist the hereditary claimants of the Chrysanthemum Throne (the Kaijitsu clan) in their effort to unify the islands and establish order under their banner. Chakka and I will then build an Embassy and begin to negotiate the terms of our Empire’s relationship with Japan. 


Fourth-- The most vital part of this correspondence, namely, the likelihood of my assassination. It is highly probable that I will be killed at some point during this mission. There are two individuals who will most likely be responsible for my death. One is a Chinese holy warrior of Bahamut named “Wen Heng Lou”. He is the husband of my friend Xiao Ping (Aiko Kaijitsu). Wen is a very good warrior, but he is hopelessly consumed by his fanatical religious indoctrination. He sees the world only in black and white, and doesn’t understand the intricacies of politics or national security.

 
The other likely assassin is an overgrown lump of unrefined Goliath pigshit simply named “Lo”. Somehow he has been bestowed with the honor of being the “Kaijitsu House Champion”. His motivation for killing me is simple-- I destroyed his people’s so-called “Liberator”. She was a powerful Goliath who posed a threat to the Empire, a leader who could potentially organize all the Goliath tribes and cause an uprising. Naturally, I upheld my sworn duty and destroyed this threat quickly and efficiently. Chabui herself raised this Goliath “Liberator” from the dead, and then set aside a reservation for her people in some remote corner of the Empire. As a result, the Goliaths will exercise some self-governance, but will still be within the control of the Empire. So, the territorial integrity of the Empire has not been damaged, and the Goliaths won’t have to be exterminated because of a failed uprising. Unfortunately, Lo the so-called “Kaijitsu House Champion,” is utterly incapable of logic or reason, operates only upon a simplistic notion of “good vs evil”, and will no doubt try to take my life if given the opportunity.


Should my demise come from the hands of Wen or the Goliath Lo, I ask you, father, to avenge my death. I ask that you bring the weight of the Empire down upon their heads in a manner so ferocious that it would make even the Great Temujin wince. 


Hopefully the need for such action will not arise, and we will meet again soon.


Your ever loyal son,
Counsellor-General Munkh-Ochir Batbayar
Son of Munkh-Ochir Baatarbayan

 

 


Wen

Prince Wen Tian Xiang, a journal of a Servant of the Heavens

By Bahamut’s Bidding

 

Orchid Blossoms 10, 3967 (year of the Fire Snake)
We depart the Forbidden City, Beijing.  Our party is lead by Princess Aiko Kajitsu, my wife. Our healer and conscience is Dipaka. Our Champion is Lo-Kag, a mighty warrior. Our martial monk master, Akira is silent but deadly. Our fearless scout is Allegro Polo.


Our animal mistress, Cairn is guileless and pure. Our tracker and archer is Havarak. Our sorceress Xia, is my wife’s apprentice.

 

With us are four Mongol gnomes. Ochir is their leader. Chaka is his mate and their speaker. She has two servants, Guchugur and Guchuluk.

 

We have several mounts and animal companions of note. Chi Hai, Mayor, and Baderhu are horses. Wingnut and Gun-Gun are dogs. 

 

Our mission is to follow the Hubidai Khan and stop him from bringing back to life the Genghis Khan. We do this to stop this deranged lunatic from recreating his reign of blood.

 

We do this is to gain an alliance with his descendants so they would not spread their despotic hands over Japan.

 

But mainly we go on this quest because if we do not we will continue to be held prisoner within the Forbidden City. The city was built to keep people in as well.

 

I must say I have reservations about this mission. We will try to help a people who generally are remorseless and who are at war with my country. They negotiate with rice in one hand and a whip in the other. The best they can do for Song’s China is to be merciful to the people when the Mongols finally defeat them.

 

I agree to these terms, for from what I’ve seen, military victory over the Mongols is highly unlikely. 

 

And also, the little monkey Ochir is right. My mother is Japanese. My wife is Japanese. I am a bastard. I’m a “Prince” because an “Emperor” made me promise to bring back a Japanese army to help save his “Empire”. I am Japanese.

 

Orchid 17
We ride west by north west. We enter traditional Mongol high steppes. There are no cities; most of their people have left to better lands they have conquered. 

 

I let Aiko know that I have joined the Fists of Bahamut. This allows me to face the demonic Onis more readily in the future. It also frees us from the strange calmness that comes over when we are by Dipaka. It also stops any mind controlling magic within a few steps of me.

 

Orchid 25
We encounter a Dire Saber-Tooth Tiger. This beast is two tons easy. Anyone of us except maybe Lo would’ve been an easy snack or just a bite if you were one of our wee folk. Cairn saves us with her beast magic and a few nuts and berries.

 

Osmanthus 2
We leave the steppes and enter the Gobi Desert. Dipaka can create water. It smells like curry and Chi Hai has the runs. She says nothing but I asked Cairn to have a look. Cairn says it’s not the water.

 

Osmanthus 19
We saw and engaged two sand Ogres and an Oni. They are hard barbarians and put up a hell of a fight. Once again, Suishen protects Lo and beats them back. However, they lure us too far away from Aiko and Xia. Most Onis can fly invisibly, charm a weak mind, and blast good people with a cone of cold. One of these monsters uses its cold blast on our women. If it weren’t for Dipaka’s healing and Cairn’s wolf, we might have lost Xia or Chaka. Aki leaves us saying his presence threatens the mission. I don’t get an explanation. He must be out of chalk.

 

Chrysanthemum 3
We entered the Khentii Mountains.  We see climbing goats, flying eagles, and other distracting animals. Havarak and Cairn decides to hike off into the mountains. Havarak says that sometimes he has to let out his wild side. He says he’s a true nature’s child. They were born to be wild. It takes all types.

 

Chrysanthemum 6
We come to a large camp by a mountain lake. It is a Goliath camp. This is Lo’s tribe, the Kathaal, (Stoners). We meet Lo’s pappy, Chief Akala Summit Finder. He has three sub-chiefs with him and a wizard. The Chief is an old fella. He is eight feet tall and weighs about 400lbs. His skin is like grey granite with streaks of darker stone and imbedded harder stones like chitinous moles. Added to this complexion are the cracks of age and the scars of experience. This barbarian has raged countless times. He wields a Dwarven-made great axe. He is a mountain man in every sense and he is not happy especially with Lo.

 

He ordered Lo out of the camp, in fact out of the mountains. Lo, without much of an argument, walks away. Lo is just about the bravest and most stubborn creature I’ve ever known. Nevertheless, he left.

 

The Goliaths were not in the mood to talk and we had to find out how far ahead Hubidai was. Ochir offers them his wine, but they are offended by it. Dipaka tries to make peace but then a female Goliath claiming to be Lo’s mama pops out of a tent, grabs Dipaka, and drains him. The fight is on now. The Dragon protects me from Dipaka’s calming aura and I fight two of the sub-chiefs. Lo comes back and fights his father.

 

The mama and the wizard trade spells with the girls.

 

It was a hell of a fight. Lo got knocked out by his pops but I managed to kill the female who turned out not to be his mom but some half lion witch that had dominated his pappy with her magic and thus controlled his whole tribe. Allegro pelts the Goliath wizard with rocks until he says uncle. I guess they’re not all tough. With the witch defeated, the Stoners stop fighting us.

 

Apparently this witch was part of a coven of monstrous hags that call themselves Baba Yaga and they work with the Mongols to keep country folk like the Goliaths in line.

 

Chrysanthemum 7
We found out that Hubidai had come this way a week ago. We also find out that there is another Goliath clan in the area. They are called the Black Crags. Normally they are rivals of the Stoners but the half lion witches got their claws in them as well and both tribes are working to build a stone dam across the Onon River. They do this by the Mongol bidding to divert their water to the Mongol Steppes. The Goliaths are nomadic hunters, they don’t build. However, Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut has waltzed down the mountain and kidnapped the Goliath children to ensure that they continue to work for the Mongols.

 

To recap, the situation is that we’re chasing Hubidai to stop him from bringing back Genghis back from dead. He plans to use a Scroll of True Resurrection that the Polos have brought to the Mongols. We escorted the Polos to the Mongols. We fought the Mongols along the way.  Now we’re chasing them to stop them from doing what we made possible.

 

The Mongols meanwhile uses a coven of half lion but all bitchy witches to use their compulsion magic to enslave the Goliaths. Their head witch, Baba Yaga have kidnapped the children to keep the mountain men working on a dam to steal their own water for the Mongols.

 

Lo tells me that one of the kidnapped is his little brother. 

 

We head up the mountain carried by Lo’s people to rescue their kids. Ochir objects, but no one cares.

 

Chrysanthemum 8
The Goliaths carry us with harnesses like suckling babes up the mountainside until we reach a peasant hut up the side of a tall peak called Witch Mountain. It is cold as Witch’s teat up here. I don’t know which is worse, being carried by a Goliath or not being carried by my horse.  The hut farts out three abominable snowmen, the locals call them Yetis and the fight is on. The hut kicks us with huge chicken legs. The yetis claw us with its frosty nails. Just about everything, friend or foe smells bad. The hut lands on Aiko, only her slippers stick out. Who’s the witch now?  I’m not overly worried because Dipaka is there. As usual, he saves her life. We bust the hut down. We kill the snowmen. Their leader was actually possessed by the spirit of Baba Yaga. We make her so transparent no one will ever see her again. We rescue forty Goliath children including Lo’s brother, Keothi Steadyhand. All the Goliaths have a snazzy surname. I think I must give Lo one of these names.

 

Chrysanthemum 11
We’ve been hard on Hubidai’s trail. Between my Princess’ mirror and Ochir’s oversized nose, we are on the Mongols trail. It leads along the creek that was the Onon River. The dam has nearly choked off its mountain waters. We find some white dragon tracks that subtracted some of Hubidai’s entourage. We left the beast alone and decided to stay on course.

 

Chrysanthemum 15
We enter the valley of Durkhan Khadun. It is a vast crevice full of rocky caves and formations.  The tomb of the old Khan is right at the entrance of the valley.  It is a large dome shape with Mongol runes all over it.  It sure is obvious, too obvious. 
 
Aju is there with half a dozen of his riders waiting to ambush us.


The Hubidai has assigned him to stop us. He is really upset with Ochir. They have a serious disagreement about who their leader is. Aju calls Ochir a traitor. The Zhuru is smug as a bug in a rug. This makes the big Mongol froth at the mouth and he tries to chi kabob the little Mongol. That’s when Lo smash Aju right off his horse right in to the ground. I fight the other riders. They charge down Lo’s little brother. Aiko fries a couple of them with a fireball. Aki, Havarak and Cairn are not here. We’re under strength but we fight off Aju’s squad. Lo told him to stay down but Aju didn’t listen.  Suishen removes his ear but the flaming blade does cauterize the wound. Now Ochir and Aju make nice. He tells us where in this valley the real tomb hides. We let him go with his horse. We’ll see him again.

 

Chrysanthemum 16
Before I can continue to scribble in this journal, I take the ten breaths of Bahamut. The events of this day will forever be seared into my soul.  What I do in response will define who I am as a Servant of the Heavens.  May the Dragon use me well.

 

We find a cave well hidden in a ravine.  We can tell there are horse and Warg riders from their tracks.  They fight us from entrance. Uzbeks goblins and their Warg mounts fight us tooth and claw for every step. It would have been faster if Ochir didn’t insist on bringing Baderhu into the cave. Lo or I do not have room to fight with the Mongol horse out front.  The foes tear in on the warhorse. I appeal to Ochir to retreat unless he wants his mount killed.  This convinces the gnome to retreat.  His horse is one thing a Mongol cares about.  We chase the Uzbeks deeper into the cave.

 

There is another chamber where a mighty mechanical man is already been destroyed. I wonder if he was evil. If he were, then it would be too bad I never got to smite him.


We come to a large room filled with terra cotta statutes.  Perhaps they were once living but the Khan had them all Gorgonzolaed to guard his tomb.  We see Xeldar the Greek.  He thinks he is one

of the 300.  The other 299 is not with him. We put enough holes in him until he surrenders in a pool of his own blood. Nobody gets a clean death with Dipaka around. Another Uzbek goblin attacks us. This one calls himself Mortap the StoneDeath Assassin.  Xeldar tells me this later. He tries to backstab Lo. He realizes his mistake when his legs fly away from his torso, but his wound is nicely cauterized.

 

We must be close as we enter another chamber filled with Medusalized Mongol riders.


Then Dipaka grasp his chest and in great anguish says, “You can not have my soul!  All you can have is my body.”  Another voice much deeper and angrier bellows forth from the old healer,” NO ONE WANTS YOUR BODY! I AM THE OWNER OF THIS SPIRIT! GIVE IT BACK TO ME! IT IS MINE!”

 

I rally to Dipaka and bring Bahamut’s circle of protection over him. He fights off the possession attempt and returns to his glowing self.  He may have lost a little pee.

 

We press on to yet another chamber this one filled with silver and gold, gemstones and jewelry. I ignore it all. There is also a magnificent life size golden warhorse. That got my attention.

 

There is stairs leading up to a small room with a traditional Mongol yurt. Four Mongols throw a female Goliath down the stairs into the treasure room as if she is sack of moldy rice. She looks dead. Dipaka says she is only mostly dead and starts massaging her rocky breast.

 

The Mongols come down and attacks us. Lo, Allegro, Keo, Aiko, Allegro, Xia and myself fight back. Dipaka is healing the woman. We see up the stairs in the Yurt is Genghis Khan, the Hubidai, Livikus Al Tartar and Makhmut the Turk. Makhmut raises a magical wall of force that separates them.  I see Genghis sucking Hubidai’s life force and gaining strength as Livikus put armor on his new/old Khan. Makhmut twirls his overly long oily mustache of compensation for something and taunts us. 

 

The woman now healed names herself Malthus Beariller now Mankiller the Liberator and swears to fight the Mongol with her last breath.  Lo welcomes her to his side.

 

The Turk wizard lowers his wall of force. The Khan orders us to kneel. Ochir starts speaking in their language. They agree to some ancient Mongolian secret about their clean linens and all of gnomes kneel.

 

Fireballs start flying back and forth. The Khans and the Goliaths start thumping each other. The Golden Steed animates and attacks us. Livikus summons a hellhound that attacks us. The terra cotta riders come to life and approach us from the rear. Ochir shows his true color and fires on the Liberator. 

 

This is when we got lucky or blessed. Allegro got a thunderstone into the upper area and it deafened the wizard and caused him to stumble on his second fireball that would have put an end to the girls. Dipaka moved to the rear and since he and Genghis share the same soul, the riders did not attack us. Chi Hai, Keo, Allegro was actually beating the Golden Steed.

 

Malthus was getting tired and she retreats a step and I take her place. I was clashing blades with Genghis Khan. He had skills but I can tell not all of his force of will was there. Ochir shoots the woman that has been fighting for us until she drops.

 

Lo rages and slays the half-resurrected Genghis Khan while I keep the much drained Hubidai at bay. With their great Khan down, the Mustached wizard uses his magic and whisks Hubidai, Livikus, and himself away to slink and plot another day. It is over we have won. Ochir kills Maleth with his finishing move. He pops her eyeballs with a double arrow combo.

 

Lo wants Ochir to pay for what he has done to Malthus.  I look at the gnome and indeed his soul is foul.  He begins to obfuscate and mealy mouth straight away.  There is no defense for his murderous treachery.  I would have held him down for Lo but Dipaka calming aura keeps the spirit of vengeance at bay.  In this case, I judge vengeance and justice to be the same.  I’m not affected by the healer’s power. Bahamut has given me free will. I remember his teaching. He accepts no excuses for foul deeds.

 

A glance stays my hand. A look from my love and I grit my teeth and sheath my blade.


Lo is still raging. He argues with the seedy gnome while Dipaka makes sure there is no violence.  The others start pocketing treasure. 

 

Impotent against Ochir’s wall of lies, Lo turn his wrath on my Aiko. He blames the Princess for looking the other way. He accuses her of appeasement and failure to lead. He says it is him or the gnome. She must choose.

 

Xiao Ping used to weep. Princess Aiko does not until now. I thought when we were married she would be happy forever as I am. That is not true. She flies into a demonic rage. She turns the blame back on Lo and Ochir. It is not on her it is on them. She turns away to hide her tears. 

 

I cannot offer her comfort for I do not agree. The Dragon says to not let one bad egg spoil the clutch. The Gnome must pay for his base and vile evil. 

 

A tremor shakes the ground. We decide to leave the final resting place of Temujin, the Great Khan.

 

Chrysanthemum 25
We return to the dam. We tell them we are successful in our quest. 

 

Goodmonth 20
We travel across the Gobi desert. There is a gnawing in my soul. I gently am indisposed to my wife. I do not want her to lose her magic spells while we’re on the trail.

 

Wintermonth 15
We return to the Beijing and are shown to our gilded cages in the Forbidden City.

 

Wntermonth 16
The Empress Chabui blesses us with her kind words. She calls upon the blessing of the Buddha and raises Malthus from the dead. We are free to leave the Mongol Empire.

 

Last Month 12
Xeldar has made bail.  He is free on probation.

 

Sandru says we have a ship, the Regina Isabella. She is a galleon from Venicio and has sailed to all five continents. We will leave for Japan on the New Year. I receive an invitation to a Gnomish Mongol wedding. A man should have the opportunity to father a son before he dies.

 

 

 

 
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