-------------------Chapter Twenty-Five, As Told By Aiko Kaijitsu---------------------

The Beginning of the End

By Aiko Kaijitsu

Guchugar read a teleport scroll and bamphed General Ochir directly to the Mongol camp. They arrived inside a command tent, clearly decorated with a feminine touch. Ochir groaned inwardly. Chaka was there at her writing desk, hard at work writing missives. Ochir cleared his throat.

Chaka whirled. "Oh, my husband," she cried, smiling, clearly glad to see him.

Ochir only laughed. "I know where Ochir is, but I have no idea where your husband might be."

Chaka sniffed and her eyes grew wet at Ochir's cruel jibe. Guchugar frowned and moved to her side. He cleared his throat, a signal for to Ochir to apologise. "What are you looking for? A tip?" he asked Guchugar. He looked back to Chaka. "Here's what you get, woman." He threw a slice of raw meat at her feet. "You've become a spineless hypocrite like these Japanese! You're not a Mongol! You never were!"

Chaka burst fully into tears.

"How long have you been encamped here?" Ochir asked Guchugar, ignoring Chaka.

"We disembarked on the shores of Japan five days ago. We are camped now for the night south of Akita; we march now southward along the western coast of Honshu."

"Who is in charge?"

"The Olgoi-Khorkhoi General was slain when we landed. Prince Batsai-Khar is in charge."

"Take me to him."

Guchugar led Ochir out of Chaka's tent and walked along a row of twelve command tents. One tent stood out, for the guards were not Mongols, they were obviously a mix of Japanese and some other warriors that bore a lightning symbol that was foreign to Ochir. They went inside. There was a group of men surrounding a map, with armies represented by groups of tiny metal figurines.

"Ah! General Ochir!" Prince Batsai-Khar cried, "Welcome, great is the Khan! Allow me to introduce you to the High Priest of Raidan, Rako, Head Cleric of Japan!"

Ochir saw a short and stout man, obviously a warlike Priest, with tan hair. He stood with his feet stuck out to the sides, and his head was sunken down between his shoulders, so that it looked like it had been slammed into that position with a massive hammer. "I am very pleased to make your acquaintance. I have met your wife, and I must say that I am not impressed," the Priest said.

"Neither am I, so you can have her," Ochir said.

"I do not want her," Rako laughed. "When this is over, Batsai-Khar here will return to Mongolia and make a full report regarding her to his Khan."

"I'm not here regarding my ex-wife. I understand you are lacking a General," Ochir said.

"Indeed I am," the Prince said.

"Without meaning to appear presumptuous, I can take over this role."

"Well obviously that is something I will consider," the Prince said. "You are the most qualified military officer here. Let me ask you this, do you have a plan for the conquest of Japan?"

"Yes, I do. What I need first, however, is information from you. Unvarnished information."

"We will talk," the Prince said, and with a motion dismissed his other attendants until only he and the Priest remained with Ochir.

"I need to know Ameiko's status," Ochir said.

"As far as I know, she is still in the custody of the Jade Regent. I am, however, of the opinion that someone else should rule Japan."

"You know, I've always had someone else in mind, as well," Ochir said.

The Prince nodded. "Indeed," he said.

"I'm not entirely sure we're thinking of the same person," Ochir said.

"I believe we are, but we'll let this individual go unnamed for the moment."

"Ok, we'll go on faith. Someone perhaps not as pretty as your fiancé."

"Well, who could be prettier?"

"Quite so. But since a puppet—"

"Well, now, I do believe puppet is too strong a word."

"Very well, I see what you mean. Now what's the situation?"

Prince Batsai-Khar directed Ochir's attention to the map and figurines on the floor. "We command at this location three thousand cavalry, six thousand infantry, and two artillery units. There are fifty trebuchet weapons with explosive shells at our disposal. There are other armies in play here, loyal to my fiancé. One is stationed at Mt. Fuji, led by Hirabashi Jiro and his Sohei woman. Gangnum-Sum and your Ainu troops are stationed with them to bolster their efforts. There is a Jade Regent army sitting at the base of the mountain, waiting for them to march down and try to head south. There is another allied army, already following us, that has already defeated the Jade Regent's far flung northern army. They are led by Lo, the Champion General."

Ochir snorted. "I recommend we allow these other armies do as much as they can first against the Jade Regent. Why waste our own people, when others are willing to waste themselves?"

"You are my man then!" the Prince extended his hand and shook Ochir's.

"I am the Khan's man," Ochir said, "and by extension, your General."

Prince Batsai-Khar grinned. "Very well, General Ochir, you will lead this conquest of Japan."

"In that case, Hirabashi's army can deal with the Jade Regent's forces south of Mt. Fuji. We march this army on Kyoto," Ochir ordered.

"Indeed," Prince Batsai-Khar said. "We march south."

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After we had bamphed from the Forest of Spirits and back to our men, Champion General Lo led our army down the coast of Honshu. We came upon Akafuto, a city known to be in league with the Jade Regent, and saw the flag of Batsai-Khar flapping overhead. It appeared that the Mongols had already conquered it and moved on. We observed archers patrolling the walls. A Mongolian Commander rode out to greet our forward party.

Lo stomped and snorted as we waited for him to close the distance. "We will be fixing this banner situation."

"Lo, the city was taken for us by the Mongolian army. I don't want you to create a row with them now, we have to get to Kyoto and do battle alongside them. It won't do to piss them off."

"It is not about that," Lo said, "I know how we should proceed, and we will replace their banner with ours. It is extremely important that we let the people here know that the Kaijitsu family is in power, not the Mongols."

I had not thought of this, so I agreed. It was good that Lo was the General.

The Mongolian Commander rode up and reigned in his horse before us. "General Ochir has defeated the onis that defended this city. He has stationed a contingent here, and we have been instructed to hold this town in the name of Prince Batsai-Khar," the Commander said, getting down off his horse.

Lo looked down at him. "Since this a now a holding of the Kaijitsu family, you'll be taking that Mongol flag down."

The Commander observed Lo's massive arms. "Of course, sir, you may fly whatever flag you wish," he said.

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We continued marching south, and after two days our scouts reported that there was a Mongolian army encamped upon the plains ahead. We were to reach them in another day. The report seemed to indicate that they were waiting for us, and that they may be prepared to attack us, as they had placed their artillery so that it faced the north. I wasn't worried about it, I knew General Ochir would take the appropriate precautions. They were, after all, strangers in a strange land.

When we approached, it was clear that our army was three times larger than theirs, but I knew that the Olgoi-Khorkhoi warriors were far more dangerous and effective than ours.

General Lo ordered our column to a halt. He waved our bannerman over. "Send out the Samurai, and have them announce that General Kang has arrived, and is prepared to take the Amatatsu throne."

After fifteen minutes, the Samurai came back. "The General of Prince Batsai-Khar, Ochir, awaits an audience with General Lo."

"Very well," Lo said. Then we waited. Lo appeared to have no intention of going and talking to Ochir.

"What are you doing?" I asked him.

"This is posturing. A give and take. They fired the first salvo, by insisting that I come to them. It is to be expected, but I will go when I am good and ready. I know what I'm doing."

Seven hours later, we headed for the Mongol camp. General Aki remained behind with the army while we went. I put up my true sight, since I knew this would be the first time I would actually see Prince Batsai-Khar since he was reported killed and resurrected. We were met at the perimeter of their camp, and led to the command tent. As soon as we got inside, I saw Ochir. Prince Batsai-Khar was not present.

"Empress!" Ochir cried when he saw me.

"Oh, not so fast General Ochir, I still hold hope that we can rescue my sister. We are heading south to lay siege to Kyoto as you are doing. We should continue south together, and coordinate our attack. In the meantime, we plan to form a crack squad to go back into the Imperial Palace and rescue my sister and slay the Jade Regent."

"Did you come upon the city we took?" Ochir asked.

"Yes, it was taken before we arrived. It was well done."

"That cost me half of my artillery," Ochir said.

"Ouch," I said.  "Well, we have come with more." I explained to him all that had occurred to us since last we had seen him, at length, as we waited for the Prince.

"Do not worry, all the cannons you could muster would pale in comparison to the power of Raidan!" a squat and stinky Priest suddenly cried.

Here was the fool sent by my great-great grandmother and her devil Lord. I knew he wasn't there to fulfill Kublai Khan's grand plan. I wondered if Ochir had any idea what was coming. It seemed he did have some inkling, for Ochir frowned at him. "I'm not familiar with you, Priest. I've never been in a combat with you, I don't know what you're capable of. I'm assuming that you are here for a reason, and that reason is for the benefit of Prince Batsai-Khar, correct?"

"Yes."

"Ok. Then I'm assuming you know what we are about to undertake."

"Let me assure you General, that when the time comes, Prince Batsai-Khar, as resurrected by the power of Raidan, will prove most capable."

"Thank you," Prince Batsai-Khar said loftily, as he at last came into the room. It was quite convenient, I mused, that he didn't arrive until after my true sight spell's duration had expired. It was absolutely unnecessary that I look at him with my true sight anyway. Prince Batsai-Khar was not smiling.

I all but knew that I was looking at my brother Tsuto.

"It is time to assail the Imperial Palace and rescue my beloved," he said.

"Good," I immediately said. I saw no reason to give everything away by revealing that I knew what was going on. I noticed that Dipaka's features were filled with suspicion. I could tell he knew that this person was planning on taking Japan for himself. Dipaka glanced at me, and seemed to be aware that I knew something was amiss, but was intentionally ignoring it. I winked at him, and I inwardly prayed he didn't mention what he knew.

As I had hoped, in the end, it was decided we would all march south. We stayed put for a day first, for Ochir had ordered the men that he had stationed back in Akafuto to join us. They had commandeered horses and ridden south, so that in effect, they had transformed themselves from infantry into cavalry. After they appeared, we set out.

When we got to Kyoto, we positioned our artillery units and began shelling the walls. It turned out that the Mongolian trebuchets had a much greater range than our cannons, so they could stay out of reach of the Kyoto trebuchets that were firing back at us from the city walls. Our artillery was getting pounded, so Lo ordered them pulled back. The Mongolian trebuchets kept hammering the city.

As the shells fired, Ochir held a meeting with his Colonels. I was close enough to overhear. "I do not know this cleric of Raidan, my Mongol brothers," he said. "He has yet to speak the name of our glorious Khan. I want you to use your own good judgment with him if something is wrong. Do not hesitate to take him out if he acts against our interests."

"Very well, General. We also hereby request general looting privileges when Kyoto falls," a Colonel said.

"You gentleman are well aware of Mongol policy. Of course you will have your privileges."

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After the onis eventually came out of the city to fight us, we at last gathered our crack squad to assault the Imperial Palace. Aki and Dipaka came in with Chaka.

"I'm here to offer my services," Chaka said, glowering at the Priest of Raidan.

"Chaka, welcome! I am so glad to see you!" I cried. "I got your letter. Will you come with us to rescue Ameiko?"

"I will," Chaka said, glowering at Ochir now.

"You're not going to take out the trash I see," Ochir said to me, looking at Chaka.

"I'm sorry Ochir, I need everybody to rescue my sister," I said.

"We started this adventure together, and we'll finish this adventure together," Aki said.

"I agree," I said, "I love everyone."

"As do I," Dipaka said.

We cast all of our defensive spells and bamphed to the front porch of the Imperial palace once again. There were two Oni guards up in the old guardtower, and they both tried to fly away as soon as they saw us. Ochir shot one and wounded it grievously with his tri shot. Prince Batsai-Khar fired as well, hitting the other. Chaka threw a haste on us and Lo climbed up the tower and hacked down the two wounded guards.

I put my hand on the metal door again unlocked it and pushed it open. We invaded the now quite familiar chamber, but of course the cog golems were gone, as we had dispatched them on the last visit. We found the chamber to be empty. There were stairs in the corner, so we headed up. Aki guessed the throne room would be on an upper level.

When we reached the second floor, there was a squad of advanced ogre mages waiting for us. They threw freezing cones of cold on us at the outset, but after a long grueling battle, during which there was an archery duel between General Ochir and Prince Batsai-Khar, a moment when Lo slew four onis with a single attack routine, and a naginata that shattered when it struck Dipaka, we defeated them. Even Dipaka was wounded severely; he healed us all up over and over and kept us from dying as we battled and bled. "There was a reason you guys came to Hell to get me," he said.

We took the time to slay the onis for good using a fireball and the flames of Suishen, then we went up one of two sets of stairs that led to the third floor. We found ourselves in an ornate hallway, and we could tell the throne room must be close by. Onis came at us from either side. I dashed to my right and into an alcove while the fighters fanned out to protect Chaka and I.

Ochir fired his tri-shot right into one of the onis. When Prince Batsai-Khar fired his bow, his arrow bounced off a wall and sailed over Ochir's ear.

"Hey! Watch where you are pointing that thing!" Ochir cried.

"It's best to get those errant shots out of the way early," the Prince laughed.

"Yeah right," Ochir said.

Aki was fighting to protect me on the right, holding back a thicket of onis.

Suddenly, Sudoshi Sento leapt out of a side hallway in front of Aki, and he smashed the monk in the face and stunned him. He didn't jump back around the corner this time; his usual strategy. He laughed in Aki's face as he prepared to pummel him to death.

A large and loud voice boomed at us from every direction.

"I, Soto Takahiro, the Jade Regent, summon you all to meet your doom in the Chamber of the Jade Throne!"

 

FInale

By Aiko Kaijitsu

Chaka's inspiring tapestry of intricate drumbeats rang down the halls of the lavish Palace.

"I'm on my way to destroy you, foul oni!" Lo thundered, and began hacking his way through the field of lesser onis that stood in his way. Four were dead before they could even react.

Rako exclaimed loudly for all to hear, "Raidan is the Patron God of the House Kaijitsu!" Then his mighty prayer made us far stronger. I could feel it thrumming through the floor, up through my feet, and into my very being. I enjoyed the surge in strength, but I knew the member of the House he was actually referring to was my ancestor, Amatatsu Maemi, and not my sister Ameiko.

Ochir buried his tri-shot arrows deep in Sento's chest, and the orange Monk's eyes widened in surprise.

Wen moved up beside Lo and slew two more onis. A hail of arrows slammed him in return. I gasped as I counted five arrows sticking out of him. Dipaka threw his ball of healing at my husband at just that instant, and then he moved like lightning over to aid Aki. He dispelled Aki's stunned state with a touch, and Sudoshi's jaw dropped open. Aki shouted and slammed him in the face with his quivering palm attack, and the oni monk landed hard on the ornate floor, but he shook it off and got right back to his feet. Aki kicked him in the head as he did so, and he fell dead when his neck snapped.

Suddenly, the Jade Regent himself stepped around the corner and took the orange monk's place. Fully seven feet in height, he was dressed from head to toe in gleaming green armor, made of lacquered plates that encased his body. He bore a massive green blade with a long handle that glowed with a dull green light. He seemed to be moving in slow motion. He grinned an evil grin, and then he lifted his blade and brought it down on Aki, dragging it deeply into one shoulder. Blood spewed out from Aki's back, and the Regent quickly raised the blade and hacked him again, this time just as deeply on the opposite side, and he laughed as he readied the blade for a third swing. He brought the blade around sideways this time, and buried it deep under Aki's arm. Dipaka threw a ball of healing at Aki to staunch the explosive flow of blood.

At that same instant, the seer, Renshii Meida, stepped out of the doorway and stood behind the Jade Regent, with a colorful fan concealing her lower face, and her eyes fell upon the Priest of Raidan. Her kimono glowed very brightly, and Rako simply vanished. Her laughter rang down the hall and contrasted with Chaka's drumming.

"Anamurumon just came out on this side!" Lo cried, as he headed over to deal with all the onis down the other hallway.

Anamurumon shouted a withering command and threw a massive lightning bolt at Wen, instantly killing him. My heart clenched as the electricity crackled around him and shot out of his mouth and eye sockets as he collapsed.

Suddenly, the whole palace shook, and everyone, friend and foe alike, was forced to stop in order to see what was happening. We all saw a huge, luminous, dragon's head coalesce over Wen's body.

"Oni Devil! My Shining Servant you have slain!" Bahamut's voice boomed. "You have done this fell deed as you cower behind the cloak of the Rules of Golden Perfection! Your abominably evil nature shall be trumpeted for all time throughout the Heavens!"

The brilliant head of Bahamut faded, and Anamurumon only laughed. My eyes filled with tears, for Wen's body remained there smoking on the floor. Wen had been such a great servant to Bahamut, and the Great Dragon God himself had come to save him in the last, but the wanton laws of the cosmos had prevented his aid. I cursed Anamurumon. I cursed his oni existence.

"Damn, my bow!" Prince Batsai-Khar cried, for he had been stricken by the same deadly lightning bolt that had killed Wen, and his prized magical bow had been all but reduced to ash.

"Oh, it's no big loss, you cry baby, you're not really using that thing anyway," Ochir joked. The Prince glowered.

I used my telekinesis to lift and bring Wen's body out from behind Lo and through the air over to Dipaka. Dipaka used his Holy power of revivification to bring Wen back to life. I was relieved when my husband's eyes opened again. 

"Wow! Who needs Bahamut when we have Dipaka!" I cried, filled with joy.

"Hey watch it," Wen said. "That's blasphemy, woman! I mean, thanks Father," he said, looking at Dipaka.

Dipaka nodded sagely.

We heard a loud cough behind us, and we all whirled. Just as suddenly as he had vanished, the Priest of Raidan had re-appeared. He sneered at the seer woman and her flowery fan. "I had always planned to take you as a concubine, bitch!" the Priest spat, "but now that you have trapped me inside that kimono of yours, I see that you must be destroyed!"

Lo bellowed as he kept slaughtering the onis in order to reach Anamurumon.

I tried to trip the seer with my telekinesis and failed, but Ochir shot the woman right square in the chest.

She looked down at Ochir's three protruding arrow shafts and said, "You do know, gnome, that you're being led by an imposter, don't you?" 

Ochir jumped. "I do know that, because he has failed to revere the Great Khan in any way! But I don't care right now! If you choose to serve the Khan, and you swear to it right now, I'll let you live."

"I know your nature, gnome, and I know what will happen here," she seethed, and she ducked back around the corner.

"Yeah, sure you do!" he shouted after her. "Just keep bragging, bitch!"

Aki continued to do battle with the Jade Regent, toe-to-toe, and continued to take a beating. His fists turned out to be largely ineffective versus the armor plating of the Regent. He caught the ruler once hard in the jaw, but the Jade master only chopped him again. Aki jabbed at the spaces between the plates in the Regent's armor with his rigid fingers, slowly wearing him down. I don't know how he kept fighting. He carried the staunch spirit of the Mountain with him, that was for certain.

The seer, now out of sight and around the corner, screamed for her lover to retreat. "Takahiro! I am with child! Your child! Come back to me now! I want you alive! This is too risky!"

The Regent hesitated when he heard this, but then he cried, "I will retreat my love! But I'm going to kill this damned Monk first! He lives on and on!" He buried his huge green blade twice more in Aki's body. Dipaka threw yet another blue ball of healing at the bleeding monk, and it surely saved his life.

Prince Batsai-Khar grimaced and shot Anamurumon with an arrow of oni slaying, and it created a massive burst of fiery light when it struck, but the oni only chuckled. "Your petty mortal magics cannot slay me! Do you not know me? I am the Mighty Anamurumon! I am THE oni!"

Just then, a black crow-man appeared from out of nowhere, crouching behind Prince Batsai-Khar, and the Mongol Prince was impaled on the point of the assassin's sai in the twinkling of an eye. The crow-man made sure the Prince was dead by slitting his throat. The Prince slumped to the floor and bled all over the stonework.

Rako looked at Prince Batsai-Khar's dead body and was livid. "You! You worthless Tengu! How dare you even deign to raise a hand against my Prince!" He cast a fiery destruction on the assassin crow-man, and he was destroyed. He vanished with a burst of fire and smoke, and there were only a few black feathers floating down after he was gone. One down, three to go.

Eight onis ran out behind Anamurumon and fired at Lo. Lo got pegged by all eight arrows, and his blood was all over the floor, but still the Champion and Suishen raged on. Dipaka leapt in behind him and healed him up. Lo launched a massive string of attacks that killed ten onis, and so forced the archers beyond to drop their bows and engage him in melee. 

I helped Wen get to his feet and then he healed himself by Bahamut's grace.

Ochir fired his next tri-shot at the Jade Regent himself. The arrows pierced his great O-Yori, but the ruler only scoffed at the gnome.

Aki let out a Ki shout, and he moved like light itself and struck the Regent hard between the eyes, and there was a terrible crack. The massive man fell backward and crashed to the floor. Aki seized upon him and then pressed his forearm down with all his weight on his neck, and so, without ceremony, finally ended the Jade Regent's stranglehold on Japan. Two were down.

Anamurumon, of course, still stood. "It is no matter! I am the true power here! Let me show you what I am used to!" he shouted, as he whipped out his tri-part staff. He whirled it expertly about himself, and smacked Lo and even distant Ochir with it as he did so, sending them both reeling.

The seer woman, obviously distraught over her lover's death, came out again and cast a death spell on Aki, but he managed to steel his way through the effect with only minor organ damage.

Wen charged back into the fight to help Lo, and got hit by Anamurumon for his trouble. "By Bahamut's Bidding!" he shouted, and ran his sword through Anamurumon's leg before being thrown back.

Ochir looked around and sized up everyone's wounds. He looked at Rako and asked, "You do realize now that Batsai-Khar Khan is dead, I am the highest ranking Mongol in Japan?"

"So?"

"Who do you serve?" Ochir demanded, now pointing his bow at the Priest.

"I serve Raidan!"

"No, I don't mean what God do you worship, I mean what being on this Earth do you serve? You've got two seconds to answer me before I make my decision."

"Do as you will," Rako said.

Ochir turned and fired at the seer instead, and somehow his arrows went wide of the mark. Ochir shrugged.

"There's no need to kill me!" the seer cried. "Let me be!"

Aki moved on her, tripped her, and smothered her too. It was the way it had to be, I knew. Dipaka shook his head sadly. Three were down.

Anamurumon attacked Wen again, knocking him to the floor and then taking a cleave attack on Lo. Lo stepped to the side of the blow, so Anamurumon stooped and tried to strike Wen while he lay helpless on the ground. Karma caused him instead to smack himself in the forehead with the end of his heavy staff. He wound up dazed and wobbling.

Lo seized the moment, and the flames of Suishen grew so bright that they filled the corridor itself as he shoved the blade through Anamurumon's heart. The flames exploded from Anamurumon's mouth, eyes, and ears, and his body was consumed by the fires of the ancient katana. He screamed terribly as he died and vanished from this world.

It was, at last, all over.

Or so I thought.

Dipaka had prepared to heal everyone, and his hands were already glowing blue, but at that very instant, Lo turned and attacked Rako with Suishen, and somehow the Priest moved like lightning, and the sword sang past his shoulder.

Ochir nodded in agreement with Lo. "Get him!" he shouted.

Dipaka watched now, his healing still glowing on his hands, saying nothing.

"What treachery is this!" Rako cried.

"I'm going to send you back to Hell, evil one!" Lo cried.

"Fool Goliath!"

I used my telekinesis to trip Rako. He fell on his ass and cursed me through clenched teeth. "Bitch!"

"Just say that you serve the Khan and I'll save you!" Ochir offered, now leaning haughtily against a wall, smiling, just watching the Priest go down in flames.

Rako suddenly scowled and cast a slay living spell on Ochir. Ochir winced as he resisted the death attempt, and then vanished into a niche. Rako smiled and then healed himself and stood up. Lo hacked him as he got to his feet, and laid open his shoulder.
Aki was having none of it, and he tripped the Priest of Thunder again, and just that quick, he was back on his rear again.

"Aaaaaaaagh! Get back, monk!" he screamed.

Dipaka cried, "Priest of Raidan! Please surrender!"

"Yes! Of course! I want a trial by combat, or a trial by a jury of my peers!" Rako cried as he dropped his mace. He then grinned up at Lo.

"You gotta be kidding me!" Lo thundered, and chopped the priest anyway, as he went wide-eyed; and then finally chopped him again, cutting him in half. Dipaka shook his head sadly. At just that instant, we heard a thunderclap outside. I didn't care. The Priest had been trying to mooch my sister's throne.

"Ochir has left the area, and gone back out to his troops," Aki said.

"I know," Lo said, "I know where that gnome is at all times, so I know that he is gone. He will try to work his mischief, but it will be no matter."

"Yes," I said. "No matter."

We went into the Throne room. We saw a long, inlaid walkway that led up to a massive Jade Throne on a raised platform.
The Jade Archer appeared out from behind it. She came forward, slowly, looking at us, seeming to be assuring herself; making absolutely sure that we were her old friends. She was somewhat bedraggled, and her normally lush hair was now damp and plastered down. "I know where Ameiko is," she said. "There's a sovereign dragon there, guarding her," she said. "I can't get to her by myself. I can't kill the dragon alone." I saw the beginnings of tears in her eyes. She was truly distraught. "Please, help me. Help me to rescue Ameiko."

"Wait just a minute, young lady," Dipaka said. "You were possessed the last time I saw you."

"I assure you that I am quite alright now. And thank you Father, it was your service to the Lord of Hell that caused him to free me. He was good to his word; I am not mind-controlled in any way. Feel free to look upon me with your Holy Sight. I only want to rescue Ameiko. My love."

Dipaka concentrated for a moment.  "Hmmmm…"

"Is my sister in danger?" I asked her.

"No, not exactly," she said, and when she looked at me then, I saw hope spring up in her eyes. I had never seen that before.

"She can still be freed," she said, nodding. "We must go."

She led us to the Imperial Vault. Rows of royal stone sentinels stood above us in alcoves that lined the walls, keeping watch over the vast treasure heaped across the floor. A massive, golden-scaled dragon sprawled over the heap. When we entered, his head rose slowly, and he blinked his eyes as he regarded us. He did not appear to be planning to kill us.

I gasped when I saw my sister. She was inside something like a giant potion-bottle, with a golden top and base; and it was filled with what appeared to be amber. Ameiko was suspended inside a solid orange mass. Her face was contorted in rage, and her hands were balled into fists. Even her raiment had been frozen in mid-motion. I didn't know how she could still be alive. She was now no more than a giant trinket; a treasure to be guarded for all time.

"I am Teikono, the Sovereign Imperial Dragon that guards this Royal vault! I am honor-bound to serve the holder of the Jade Throne as it's Guardian. Who are you, and why have you come?"

"The dragon is not evil," Wen whispered to me. I saw that the other four Imperial Seals were there amongst the treasures on a ring of low pedestals. One pedestal was empty.

I stepped forward. "I am Aiko Kaijitsu, and this is Duke Wen Tiang-Xiang, my valiant husband; this is Lo Kang, the Champion General; this is Aki, Master of the Mountain; this is Dipaka Bhasa, the world's Holiest of Men; this is Chaka, friend and Master of Logistics; and this is the Jade Archer. The woman encased in amber there behind you is my sister, Ameiko Kaijitsu. She is to be the new rightful Empress of Japan, so we wish to take her from this vault and have her sit upon the Jade Throne, and be thus accepted by it."

"Only the Imperial Authority may remove items from this chamber!" the dragon boomed.

I saw where this was going. Ameiko could never order herself to be removed from the vault.

"What about the wielder of the Amatatsu blade?" Lo asked, brandishing Suishen. "Can I order her removed?"

"No, you may not. I see that you clearly support the Japanese, which is why I have not already eaten you."

"Yes, there is no need to eat us, however we obtained the blessings of the previous Emperor for my sister. Is there is nothing we can do?"

"Here is the old Authority!" Lo cried, and threw down the Jade Regent's remains before Teikono. "He is no more!"

The huge dragon sighed, but grew stern. "I must be honorable above all things! I must maintain the covenant set forth by even this perished Jade Regent! Even if I do not agree! You will not remove the woman, nor a single item from this vault!"

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General Ochir made it out of the Imperial Palace and succeeded in locating his head colonel. The siege of Kyoto was nearing the end of the first hour. Between both armies hammering the city, the fall of the oni controlled metropolis was well under way.

Ochir assumed control of the Mongolian troops. "Batsai-Khar Khan and his crony imposter cleric are dead! I am in charge now, and we are immediately leaving! We're going to a location just south of Mt. Fuji where the Ainu are stationed! That is a direct order!"

Mongol drums sounded the retreat. The Mongol commanders reacted with disbelief, but grudgingly left the city and marched away.

The Japanese troops were left to fight alone, and several units were lost as the fighting raged.

Lo went up and hung the bodies of the Jade Regent and the seer over the walls of the palace. "I burned Anamurumon! He is no more! You have lost! Leave now!" he bellowed. He was clearly now wearing the Jade Regent's green O-Yori for all to see.

The onis took one look at Lo and their leader's defiled bodies and fled the city in droves.

The battle was over. We had won.

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Back inside the palace, we considered our options. We could ask Dipaka to raise the Jade Regent to get Teikono to release Ameiko, or I could attempt to sit in the Jade Throne and become the Empress myself. I knew that there were three things required to do that. The heritage, the seal, and the blessing. I had only one of the three, so I felt it could be hazardous to my health to even try to sit in the Throne.

Right on cue, Wang Chung appeared. "Hello," he said. 

"Hi Chung!" I cried. "Do you happen to have the seal with you?"

He reached under his cloak and produced the Amatatsu Seal. "Of course. Here, take it." I took it. It grew warm as I looked at it.

"I hereby grant you the blessings of the Kami, bestowed upon you by the Mountain itself," Akira said, touching me, and I nearly lost it right then and there.

"Thank you," I said.

"You will only need the Kami's blessing for one day," he said.

There were several Imperial rituals performed by Dipaka, and I received an Imperial headdress Lo found and wiped off before I went to sit in the Throne. I sat down in the huge chair, and I expected to feel something happen to me through my ass, but there was nothing. I closed my eyes and concentrated. When I opened them, I saw that Lo, Wen, and Aki were bowing before me.

"Come on guys, stop bowing, I don't feel any different," I said.

"Let's go talk to the dragon," Aki said. "We shall see soon enough whether you are an Empress or not."

We went back to the vault. When Teikono saw me this time, he immediately coiled and leapt up from the horde in great haste to bow low before me. Millions of coins and gems slid everywhere. "Empress," he said. "I assume you will be requiring your sister." He picked up the massive bottle in his huge claws and placed it before me. "She should be quite alright, provided she survived the sealing process," Teikono said. "Your priest here appears to be up to the task of breaking the enchantment that holds her." He backed away and looked at Dipaka.

Dipaka's halo glowed as always and he went to his work. He placed his hands on the sides of the bottle and bent his head and closed his eyes in concentration. A light began to develop around Ameiko. The red-orange glow grew brighter and brighter.

Slowly, the rock hard substance inside began to soften. After a few more seconds, I saw Ameiko start to move, and then all at once she was treading and splashing in the orange liquid. She gripped the lip of the bottle and pulled herself up, and Aki and Lo helped her out. She coughed like crazy for a while, and the strange liquid poured out of her mouth. When she could breathe again, she collapsed in Dipaka's arms. She looked up at him, and then passed out cold. Dipaka set about healing her mind and body with his mighty magics.

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Many hours later, I told Ameiko about the death of Prince Batsai-Khar, and about all that had happened since she had been captured.

"Sister," she said to me. "I had a long time to think about my life while I was trapped inside that bottle."

She took both of my hands and held them between hers. "I give you my blessing to go right on being the Empress," she said to me. "I learned that I truly love Shelalu, and now that all this is over, we're going to go enjoy some well deserved rest and relaxation time. We will be gone for at least a year, I suspect, but when I return, I will never wish to be the Empress. It is all yours."

I was, of course, stunned. I could only nod.

Ameiko smiled at me. "You can do it, sis. I know you can."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I placed the Amatatsu Seal back upon it's pedestal, to be guarded forever by Teikono.

Akira bowed and took his honorable leave. "My work here is done," he said. "I return to the Mountain."

"You have done your duty and I will make sure that the people of Japan are treated well," I promised him.

"Make sure you do," Aki said, and we hugged each other. He smiled at me before he left. I will never forget him.

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General Ochir wound up marching north to Akita with his Olgoi-Khorkhoi and Ainu troops after brilliantly defeating the oni army south of Mt. Fuji. He decided that Akita would be the "line in the sand" that the Ainu should hold against possible attack on our part with the help of his fifteen thousand Mongol troops. He wanted to help the Ainu "establish" their place that I had promised them in northern Japan. Akita was a well fortified port town, so I was not surprised this was where Ochir had chosen to make a stand.

Dipaka came and asked me what I wished regarding the situation. I told him that I wanted to honor the Ainu as I had promised, and that I wanted peace above all, but they could not have the city. There were citizens living there before any of this had occurred. I told him that I wanted no violence.

"Of course," he smiled, and announced that he would go north to Akita alone, and see what he could do to iron things out. 

"You are now officially the Minister of Peace over Japan," I told him. Dipaka nodded and set out.

I motioned to Lo, and he followed two hours behind Dipaka with ten-thousand Samurai, just in case.

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It was a clear morning when Dipaka had at last walked all the way to Akita.

"Good day, Ochir!" Dipaka shouted, when he saw his old friend cleaning his bow up on the walls of the fortified city.

"Dipaka, glad to see you here!" Ochir shouted down to him, smiling. "Or is it General Dipaka now?"

"What do you mean? General Dipaka?"

"Look behind you, old friend!"

Dipaka turned and saw all ten thousand Japanese troops standing not two hundred yards behind. Lo stood at their head and smiled at Dipaka. "I was supposed to hang back, but I couldn't help it," Lo said. "I will sit right here with my troops, Minister. Please let me know the minute you determine that there will be no peaceful solution here. Then it will be my turn to negotiate."

After some fancy talk, Dipaka had easily convinced everyone not to fight, but Ochir ultimately refused to concede anything on behalf of the Ainu, and Lo could hardly just go ahead and invade the city.

Dipaka resolved to go talk to Gangnum-Sum himself. "He's his own man, sir, so find him for yourself," Ochir had said.

Finally Dipaka found the Ainu leader drinking in a tavern. "Do you and your people want to live in the city?" he asked him.

Gangnum-sum shook his head. "No, we have no use for the streets or the stone walls. But it is our Lord Ochir who makes the rules now. We are not sure we disagree with him. He looks out for us."

"I see," Dipaka said. He went out of the city and explained everything to Lo.

"We need Xiao Ping to tell us what she wants next," Lo said.

After they had contacted me via sending and I had bamphed to their location, I said, "It looks like it's time to for me to pay a personal visit to Kublai Khan."

"Indeed," Lo said.

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Kublai Khan's face was crimson with rage. "You have not fulfilled your part of the bargain! My nephew is not married to the Empress of Japan! My nephew is dead! This is an outrage!"

I stepped forward and bowed low. "I can understand your rage, Great Khan. It was the terribly dangerous nature of the battle that we fought against the Jade Regent that brought about your valiant nephew's death. It was the sheer bravery of your nephew that led to his noble demise. I have never seen anyone die fighting more nobly than he. I must apologize for the series of events that allowed this to happen. My sister, not actually being of the sort that could have been married to a man in the first place, has moved on--"

Kublai-Khan gasped. "What? You mean… she's..."

"We only recently learned that because of her situation, it was always impossible to fulfill the terms of our original marriage agreement. However, based on the spirit of my relationship with your noble passed wife Chabui, God rest her soul, and her vision for a unified Asia, I certainly wish to extend our country's friendship unto yours. Your forces played a pivotal role in our victory."

"Yes, yes, yes, woman! I am aware of the prowess of my own troops!" he cried. The Khan's patience was clearly at its end.

"Allow me to present you with this wondrous gift, my Khan," I said, and reverently took out and presented him with the Jade Regent's ultra powerful belt of high skill. "It belonged to the old Emperor of Japan. It can only be a fitting gift for my Khan." It was a massive belt, the most powerful magical item that I had ever known. It would turn a person into a super-hero, of sorts. It had a massive golden buckle and a platinum waistband, and it was a full six inches high.

The Khan's features softened.

"I hope the glory of both of our countries can shine together," I said.

The Khan stood and came over to me and took the belt. He removed an amulet, a belt, and a pair of gloves, and put the new belt on. He donned a different pair of gloves, and I saw him pin on Chabui's old amulet. He smiled at me. "It is a fitting gift. I don't believe that I have such a belt in my collection," he said.

"I am glad to present it to my Khan. We also at this time ask that the Olgoi-Khorkhoi, so ably led by General Ochir, load up and return to the mainland, for they have served valiantly and well. Thank you, great Khan."

"Yes, but you spoke before of your sister, and her loyalty to the Empire. I will now hear the same words from you."

"It is absolutely critical that both of our countries cooperate and shine together, and be friends," I said, and held my breath.

The great Khan thought for a while, and then cleared his throat. "Indeed, it shall be as such. Yes, Japan shall be a vassal to the Mongol Empire, and your son will be raised in Beijing, to marry one of my granddaughters when he comes of age."

I swallowed hard at this. I did want the best for my son. There were certainly worse places to live and learn. Up until now my son had lived in hidey-holes and bunkers. At least now there would be peace. The world Yoshi would grow up in would not be like ours. Wen and I would be able to visit my son at a moment's notice, anyway. I was a Wu Jen, after all. Eventually, Yoshi would be the Emperor of Japan. I put my hand on my belly and felt his sister kick. Midori will live with us. A real Princess.

"Ok," I said. "That will be just fine."

"We will be keeping an eye on how you treat the Ainu as well," the Khan winked at me.

"Will you order the honorable General Ochir to return home with his troops?"

"When your son arrives here for his stay in Beijing, I will."

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Several weeks later, Dipaka invited everyone in Akita to a party. No Mongol or Ainu came, but the rest of the city turned up, and a huge event formed in this impromptu fashion. The party went out of any kind of control, and raged on until the wee hours of the morning, so happy were the people of Japan. No one fought or argued, they just ate, drank, and enjoyed themselves like never before.

I ordered that the day be declared a national holiday, to commemorate the celebration called to order by Dipaka after the fall of the Jade Regent. It was to be ever after known as Ameiko Day.

I had felt that some sort of official mark of the end of our journey should be had, and I ordered an official ceremony to be held the next week, for all to attend.

When the sun rose on the appointed day, hundreds of shining Samurai stood in straight lines on either side of an ornate street. I was up on a wide dais, along with Ameiko and Shelalu. We were dressed in full regalia. The heroes came forward in a tight formation of pairs, with Wen and Lo together at the front; followed by Dipaka and Ochir; and then Chaka Khan and Wang Chung; and then Allegro Polo with his wife An-Mei; and bringing up the rear, even Cairn and Havarak, who had sailed all the way across the sea, just to visit.

I gave golden medals to them all, and placed them around the necks of my heroes, each and every one, except Dipaka. He was of course still beholden to his vow of poverty. The gold medallions each bore the stamp of the Amatatsu Seal, and an embossed likeness of everyone who had taken part in our great quest.

I thanked Lo especially for his great sacrifices, and declared that Suishen would now be his family's sword, from that day forward.

I thought about the old bridge, near Silk's End, back in Sichuan province, where I had met my heroes so long ago.

In the days that followed, a fleet from Korea arrived with General Ochir's orders from Kublai Khan to return home to Mongolia. Ochir took his leave, and I granted the remote fortress, Seinaru Heikiko, officially to the Ainu instead of Akita, and Gangnum-Sum and his people were greatly pleased.

I watched as the Mongols sailed over the horizon a few days later. After they were gone, I turned and hugged Wen.

"I love you," I said to him.

"I know," he said, and he smiled, in the way that he always did, and I slapped his chest.

We looked over and saw Lo looking out over the sea, after the Mongols too; back at China; the home of his lost wife, Xia. He stood with his arms crossed in front of him, and although I knew that my exciting story was over, Lo's was only beginning.

The End

 
 

 

 

 
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