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Thursday, May 23, 2013
Cheri - Chapter 13
Dear reader, it's been a LONG time since I posted a chapter to Cheri. Over a year in fact. The good news is that I finally got the inspiration to finish it. The bad news is that y'all have probably forgotten what happened last. SO if you just want to refresh your memory on what happened last GO TO CHAPTER 12 or if you want to start over at the beginning and reread the entire story GO TO CHAPTER 1. Thank you, and please let me know what you think. Also, I feel like the end is missing something, so if you have ANY questions that you feel I didn't resolve, let me know. (However, the end is actually chapter 14, so you won't know if I've resolved those questions just yet, lol!)
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter :-D
sense danger,” Gan murmured.
rest of Chèri's bodyguards tensed up in preparation. During the last
three weeks, Gan had proven himself to be trustworthy and
possessing an excellent sense of danger. For the majority of their
trip, only the occasional group of bandits had dared to bother them,
but ever since they'd crossed into Topaz territory two days, they'd
been increasingly stalked and attacked.
covered her mouth with her hand and took purposeful breaths until her
stomach calmed down. Why
am I suddenly feeling nauseous?
It made no sense because she hadn't felt so much as a tinge of
queasiness each time there'd been trouble before.
enough, a moment later, a good dozen men surrounded them. “Remember,
leave no survivors!”
was a tough battle, but her guards were chosen specifically for their
skill, and they were eventually victorious. Even the official she
brought with her had fought the best he could. He and all the others
gained several small wounds. The only person not hurt was Chèri
because Ando ensured that anytime an attacker got close to hurting
her, he took the hit instead.
Ando! You're bleeding!” Chèri exclaimed and refused to go any
further until all their wounds were taken care of.
went around checking their attackers for signs of life and quickly
executed anyone that still breathed. He also performed a quick search
of the bodies, secretly stashing anything of value. He only found one
thing of any significance to his Lady. He held out the letter he'd
found in the pocket of the leader.
paused in her task of dressing wounds to take a look at the letter.
Imperial Majesty, Shurin Ruby – who goes by Chèri – is currently
on her way to the Topaz Regional Palace. Do whatever it takes to make
sure that she never arrives.
a sigh, Chèri stuffed the letter in the pocket in the sleeve of her
plain and sturdy houmongi, muttering: “It's unsigned...”
made quick work of all the wounds, helped out by the men caring for
any injuries that they could themselves. Thankfully, no one was hurt
fatally. Even so, it would do none of them any good to be active
until the initial bleeding had stopped.
a look around at all the dead bodies, Chèri bit her lip in thought,
and then sighed. “I think we should make camp for the evening.”
that it would be so much harder to continually cook and carry enough
food to feed them all as they went, Chèri had compromised by
stopping in a town each night for food and a place to stay. As a
result, this would be the first time that they camped outside –
even though they had the necessary equipment with them.
nodded and pointed in the direction of a spot relatively nearby that
the two of them had used for camping before. It was a little
hidey-hole type clearing in the thick forest. Any native to the area
would know it was there, which made them a bit vulnerable, but it
gave them a bit of protection from the elements and made a pretty
secure campsite. Well, at least as secure as they were going to get
out in the open like this.
was still early in the spring, so here in the Topaz region, the
nights were chilly. Chèri frowned as she realized that her wounded
entourage could easily get sick if they slept out in the cold air.
She looked around and nodded as she came to a decision.
double up. Share your bedding and keep each other warm so that no one
gets sick,” she commanded.
Imperial Majesty,” they grumbled. The two guards originally from
Topaz region paired up, and the two guards from the Imperial Palace
also paired up, which left Gan and the young official. Gan laughed
and gave a gallant bow.
Lady, I would far prefer to share your bedding,” he said with a
laughed. “I'm sure you would, but Ando is the only person I trust
not to molest me while I sleep!”
scoffed as if offended. “My Lady! I assure you that I would be a
rolled her eyes. “Right up until your hands wandered into
laughed and gave her a roguish shrug that plainly stated: can
you blame me?
kissed her hand lightly, murmuring: “But I would make it worth your
Chèri snorted a laugh. “I'm sure you would, but nevertheless, I
sighed in obvious disappointment. “If you insist.” He let go of
her hand and gave her a respectful bow. “My Lady.”
her head in amusement, Chèri looked at Ando, who looked torn between
thrashing Gan and being deeply honored that Chèri trusted him so
completely. He was just about finished arranging their bedding and
decided to glare at Gan in warning to hide how his heart beat faster
when she looked at him. He did an excellent job of appearing
unconcerned with anything other than her safety, so the rest of the
group had no idea that he was madly and unshakably in love with her.
he mentally sighed. But
I simply cannot stop loving her!
if he had an opportunity to fall in love with another woman, but no.
It was rare the he even had time to visit a pleasure house. Only when
she was in the safety of the Imperial Palace did he ever have that
kind of free time.
laying down to keep Chèri warm, Ando did not go to sleep. He kept
his senses on high alert so that he would be ready in the event of
another attack. When he judged that about half the night had passed,
he tossed a rock onto Gan, who woke up ready to defend himself from
an attack. His sleeping partner snorted softly in response to his
dream, reminding Gan that he was not an attacker trying to kill him
as he slept.
looked over at Ando, barely able to see him in the dark. Ando waved
slowly so that he didn't startle or wake Chèri. Gan nodded in
understanding, knowing that it was his turn to stay awake and keep
watch until morning. He decided to extricate himself from his
sleeping partner and walk around a bit so that he wasn't likely to
drift off. The young official clung to Gan tightly for a moment,
making him sigh.
he's asleep like this, he's almost cute enough that I almost
don't mind him cuddling up to me. However, unlike Bo, I very much
firmly yet gently pushed his way free, and then made sure that his
partner was tucked in and hopefully warm. Gan paced the perimeter for
a few hours – until the sun was threatening to light up the
horizon. He frequently smirked at the way that Chèri and Ando
snuggled up and held each other as they slept. If he didn't know for
certain that they didn't have time or the opportunity to do anything,
he'd swear that they were lovers.
groaned and tried to roll out of her bedroll, but Ando had her
trapped in a tight embrace. She lay utterly still for a moment, and
then groaned again. Gan was tempted to rush to her to see if anything
was wrong, but he was currently behind a tree occupied in a necessary
struggled as quietly as possible to get free. “Ando,” she hissed
in a whisper. “Get off me!”
took a moment to fully wake up, and then shifted to comply. “What's
wrong?” He whispered in return.
–” Chèri wanted to explain, but she couldn't. She scrambled to
get behind the nearest bush, and then heaved and retched for several
moments. Ando stood guard over her, holding her hair out of the way.
It was still mostly in a bun, but was messy and wild now from her
tossing and turning as she slept.
she was done, she sat on her feet and rested for a moment. Ando
brushed her hair out of her face and felt her forehead. There was no
sign of a fever.
sickness?” He asked in a very low voice.
likely,” Chèri muttered in agreement.
openly married this time, there's no reason to hide it,” Ando
stated in a whisper.
so, I don't want anyone fussing over me. If they knew that I was
carrying another heir... And besides, no one should find out before
think the Emperor would rather have you completely safe among people
who knew and vowed to protect you at all costs, than risk your safety
by keeping it a secret until you could tell him,” Ando reasoned.
don't want you all hovering over me like mother hens!” Chèri
don't like this,” Ando muttered. “You should return to the
Imperial Palace until after the ba –”
Please don't do this to me,” Chèri begged in a whisper. “You
know how important this is to me!”
sighed in defeat. “Yes, my Lady...”
hated it that he deferred to her even though he so obviously didn't
want to. She was
grateful that he didn't argue with her further, but she wished that
he agreed with her – even if reluctantly – rather than simply
maintain a professional distance between them. Aren't
we friends yet?
sighed and murmured: “I'm going back to sleep for a while. Can you
please get me some of the leftover flat bread?”
my Lady,” Ando stated softly, and then helped her to her feet.
groaned again as softly as she could. “I swear that it's worse than
chuckled. “Are you actually admitting
that you feel sick this time?
laughed softly. “Maybe just a bit.”
grinned wryly. “I never thought I'd see the day!”
don't you dare tell anyone!”
tried to take a step, but her stomach lurched again and she groaned
once more. Ando wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled one of her
arms around his neck. Chèri pressed her other hand to her mouth as
another strong wave of nausea consumed her, prompting Ando to simply
sweep her off her feet and carry her back to their bedroll.
tucked her in and then quickly got her some flat bread to nibble on.
A subtle look around their campsite assured him that everyone was
snoring, still deeply asleep. All except for Gan, whom Ando assumed
was around here somewhere making sure that they were safe.
sat next to Chèri, brushing a strand of hair out her face. A moment
later, he tucked the silk flower back into her bun, and secured it so
that it hopefully wouldn't fall out as she slept. Chèri smiled up at
him, grabbing one of his hands in hers. She took another tiny bite of
Ando asked in a murmur, referring to how the bread should soothe her
nodded, smiling at him again. “Thank you.”
for you, my Lady,” Ando assured her.
respectfully waited until he was fairly sure that Chèri had fallen
back to sleep before returning to their campsite. He purposely
rustled some leaves and snapped twigs as he walked so that Ando would
know he was coming. When he entered the clearing, he nodded at Ando
in a silent signal that all was well.
two of them each leaned up against a different tree as they waited
for the sun to fully come up and their companions to wake up. They
tried their best not to glare at and dwell on each other as they kept
an eye out for trouble. Ando resented Gan since he had a dangerous
air about him, and Gan was jealous that Ando was so deeply trusted by
Chèri. A good half an hour passed when the silence was suddenly
me, please!” A woman begged as she stumbled into their small
clearing. She fell onto her hand and knees and crawled over to Ando.
“I beg you; if you have any mercy in your heart, save me!”
studied her in concern. She was bruised and battered. Her hair was
dirty and mussed, and her clothing was severely torn and hung off of
her in tatters.
the matter?” Ando asked her as everyone else in camp sat up to see
what was going on.
men...” the woman began emotionally. “Bandits! They took me from
my home and...”
gasped in horror. “How terrible!” She held out her arms to the
woman in an invitation to come closer.
The woman gasped as she realized that there was a woman among them.
She broke down and cried, crawling over to Chèri. She threw her arms
around Chèri and sobbed on her shoulder. “They did such things to
Chèri ordered, her own voice quivering with emotion.
Ando replied obediently. He promptly sent everyone out in teams of
two, each in a different direction to look for the bandits. The woman
watched him send everyone else away, and then forced herself to stop
sobbing for a moment.
I think they're that way...” She pointed in a direction that was
several feet to the side of where she'd burst upon them. “I was
running blindly, trying my best to find a place to hide before any of
them could find me. Even so, I think they're that way about...” she
shrugged helplessly. “A half an hour's run? Maybe less...”
sighed reluctantly. “I'll go help the others look. Will you be
alright here by yourself, my Lady?”
nodded firmly. “Yes, we'll be fine. I daresay that this poor woman
might appreciate some privacy and the absence of men for a while
promise not to go too far,” Ando informed her. “I'll be close
enough to hear you scream if you should need me at any time.”
be fine,” Chèri repeated reassuringly.
a reluctant nod, Ando left them.
stroked the woman's hair as she continued to sob for a few more
minutes. Humming softly at first, Chèri soon decided to sing a
soothing song. The woman grew quiet as she listened.
sorry,” she said as she sniffed and wiped tears from her eyes,
trying to compose herself.
have nothing to be sorry for!” Chèri exclaimed fervently.
sorry that you are so wonderful. I didn't expect you to be kind to
me...” the woman murmured as she pulled a long knife from her
tattered clothing. She immediately tried to plunge it into Chèri's
chest, but Chèri just barely managed to catch her wrist and stop
woman was strong and managed to break free from Chèri's grasp. Using
her other hand, she grabbed Chèri's hair to yank on it and hold
Chèri still. She pressed the knife to Chèri's neck.
are you doing this?” Chèri asked in a whisper, a tear traveling
down her cheek as she resigned herself to the fact that she was about
I am an assassin and I was paid to do a job,” the woman explained
kindly, as if trying to soften the blow. “And because my life is
forfeit if I do not.” This was the code of the Assassin Guild she'd
I... Can I buy out your contract to kill me?” Chèri wondered.
assassin bit her lip in indecision. “No, but...”
what?” Chèri wondered, genuinely curious despite the direness of
offer to take out a contract against the one who wants you dead,”
the assassin suggested. “If my Guildmaster approves your request,
then neither one of us forfeits our life, but you'd have to offer
something much more valuable than what we are getting to kill you.”
have nothing,” Chèri stated, releasing all hope that she could
talk her way out of this. She exhaled and made peace with her
imminent death. “Will you at least promise to go to my husband and
tell him that my last words are that I love him and I always will?”
assassin faltered. “You are the First Queen... How can you have
shrugged. “I suppose it is true that I could promise fabulous
wealth, and Reiki would pay it, but I would never do such a thing. I
would far prefer that every cent that can be, be spent on helping the
assassin's dagger wavered. She growled in frustration, slamming her
other palm onto the ground. “How can you say that?! You have the
power to change people's lives for the better! Your death serves no
purpose and plays into the hands of someone who wishes to destroy the
why did you take the contract?” Chèri wondered.
have no choice either! My Guildmaster accepted it, reluctantly yes,
but now he is honor-bound to see it fulfilled...”
of them noticed that they had slowly been surrounded by assassins who
held all of Chèri's companions – even Ando – captive. They all
watched the scene unfold in silence – of course this was because
the captives were gagged and unable to make a sound and the assassins
prided themselves of never making an unintended sound.
sighed, smiling at the assassin. She stroked the woman's cheek. “I'm
sorry... I have nothing to offer in exchange for my life. I also have
no wish for you to forfeit your life. Do not grieve for me...”
Chèri pulled her houmongi down just enough to uncover her heart
without exposing her breast.
promise to make this as painless as I can,” the assassin murmured,
slowly drawing a line along the side of Chèri's neck.
one of her cohorts commanded. “I think the Guildmaster is going to
want handle this one personally.”
he told me to finish the job no matter what!” The sole female
assassin protested, thinking that they doubted her ability to follow
let us all beat you so that you would look like an abused woman, and
you have sliced open one side of her neck. I think it is obvious that
you are capable of doing the job. However, as you said, the
Guildmaster took this job reluctantly. I really think that he will
want to at least have a chance to talk to the First Queen before we
sir,” she muttered with a sigh. The assassin who stopped her tossed
her a clean bandage and a small jar of ointment – they all tended
to keep such supplies on hand since the chance of them getting
wounded during the course of their duty was high. She caught it
without the slightest trouble and then slathered up and wrapped
Chèri's neck as tightly as she could without choking her.
you for trying to make my death an easy one,” Chèri stated
female assassin held Chèri's face in her hands for a moment after
she finished bandaging her up. “I will kill you if I have to, but I
glad that I don't have to right here and now.” She – careful not
to disturb the bandage – kissed Chèri as tenderly and lovingly as
smiled at her. “When the time comes, I hope you have the honor...
In fact, I will insist on it.”
these men to some trees; kill anyone who puts up a fight,” the
assassin in charge ordered.
should kill the horses so that they can't follow us,” a random
don't,” Chèri begged. “They haven't done anything to you, and I
promise that I'll go quietly if you spare them.”
assassin in charge snorted from laughter. “You might just be the
strangest woman I have ever met! Spare the horses...”
also,” Chèri murmured. “Will you allow me to bring that box. It
contains my most prized possession.”
group of assassins – having finished securing the captives –
spent a few moments examining the box for any hidden secrets or
weapons. They all looked at each other in confusion.
most prized possession is a musical instrument?” The youngest
looking assassin asked in bewilderment.
Chèri confirmed. “May I see it for a moment?”
leader considered this in silence for a good half minute, and then
nodded to grant her request. The female handed it to Chèri with a
faint and slightly confused smile. Chèri took a deep breath and then
began to play a haunting yet traditional song.
I go to my death, I have no fear. I am at peace and soon shall see
those who have gone before me. Into those arms, those loving arms, I
know I shall soon embrace them. I mourn for those who I shall leave
behind, but I won't cry for one day the comforting arms shall be
bowed to her captors and then held out her fiddle. The woman who
nearly killed her took it from her with a loving stroke to Chèri's
young assassin carefully stored her fiddle in its box. “I shall
guard this with my life,” he vowed.
my Lady,” the leader beckoned. “Let's be off.” He gathered her
into his arms and motioned for the group of assassins to vanish. They
did so by dropping smoke bombs to blind Chèri's men, and then
leaping into the trees and running along silently.
felt her heart leap to her throat and gasped as silently as possible.
She rightly assumed that if she did anything to help Ando and their
companions find or follow her, they'd be killed. Even so, it was hard
not to scream in terror!
group stuck to the trees, even after the trees started going up a
mountain. The heights got ever more dizzying to Chèri, making her
cling to her captor in fear that he would drop her if she didn't.
Eventually, they stopped and took a moment to blindfold Chèri so
that they could take her the rest of the way to their hideout without
her knowing where it was.
very moment she was on her feet, Chèri wobbled and fell to the
ground. She slapped a hand over her mouth as her stomach heaved. The
man who had carried her all this way chuckled and handed her a large
did very well, my Lady. I expected you to vomit long before now.”
didn't want to, but she soon filled the bowl. However, it had been
hours since she'd eaten the little bit of flat bread, so there wasn't
much to come up. Not that that
stopped her stomach from trying.
left her waiting – under the keen watch of a pair of guards – for
about an hour. A woman brought her some tea and a couple of slices of
buttered bread and cheese to eat, but she was hesitant to touch them.
Until the woman laughed and assured her that they were fine.
are in the lair of the Topaz Region Assassin's Guild! If we wanted
you dead, it would be done with your full knowledge, probably as you
begged for your life! We would not poison your food like a rat in the
this really did put Chèri's mind at ease. Besides, she had already
made peace with her likely impending death, and figured that refusing
to eat would only cause her to suffer needlessly. She took small
bites and small sips, her guards assumed in an attempt to see if it
really was poisoned before digging in, but really because she
couldn't put anything in her stomach without it threatening to come
back up at the moment.
short while later – after she had eaten about half of what they had
given her – she was taken to a well decorated room... for a cave.
An older man on a chair gestured for her to come closer. She walked
forward serenely, even smiling at him before giving him a short bow.
hear you are interested in making a deal with me,” he stated, his
face utterly blank so as to not give her any indication of how he
would gladly make a deal with you, Guildmaster, if I had anything
worth giving,” Chèri replied with another respectful bow.
us start by making a deal to delay your death for a few days while I
think of an appropriate solution. If we cannot come to an agreement
by then, I'll revert to the original plan.” He looked up at the
ceiling of the cave for a moment in thought.
me your houmongi and the flower that decorates your hair,” the
cannot allow you to see me naked,” Chèri stated calmly. “If you
think that I will betray my husband in order to save my life, you may
as well kill me now.”
Guildmaster laughed. “I see what you mean!” He directed this at
his son – who had been in charge of the mission to kill her. “Rest
assured, my dear, that I only meant your outer houmongi. I do not
intend for you to walk around naked, but you may have a point... Rin!
Get her something else to wear!”
Guildmaster,” the female assassin responded obediently, and then
rushed off to find a clean houmongi that would fit Chèri. She
returned in mere minutes to find that Chèri had bravely stripped
down to her plain white inner houmongi.
Chèri aside, Rin gave her privacy as Chèri changed out of her inner
houmongi and into the new one that Rin provided. Chèri pulled the
flower from her hair – which made her bun fall apart completely –
and set it on the pile Rin now held. Her long hair cascaded down her
back in glorious waves.
beckoned for Chèri to follow her as they returned to the
Guildmaster. She held out the bundle of clothes, offering it to the
man who had once taken her in when she was nothing more than a
starving orphan. He smiled at her fondly as he took the pile.
these and have them torn and spattered with blood. Make it look like
she suffered a horrific death, and then wrap them up and deliver them
to her bodyguard,” the Guildmaster ordered.
youngest assassin – that Chèri could see – took the clothing
with a nod and a quick bow, and then rushed away to do as commanded.
make sure you preserve her scent!”
what?” Chèri asked nervously. She had been prepared for death, but
since that was apparently not going to happen just yet, she was
apprehensive about what they planned to do with her.
she is still your responsibility until I decide what to do with her.
Take her away and leave me in peace while I think,” the Guildmaster
ordered almost harshly. He was in a precarious situation, and he
Guildmaster,” Rin stated, and then led Chèri away.
do you think he will do with me?” Chèri wondered, trying to quell
her rising dread.
making it look like he's killed you, and so his contract is
fulfilled... for now. He cannot just let you go. Ever. He will need
to eventually kill you, or work out a way for you to live without
giving away the fact that he did not do as he was paid to do.”
stopped just inside a room, pulled Chèri inside, and then shut the
door and locked it. “In short, you will be our prisoner for the
rest of your life, however long that may be...”
sighed in understanding and then looked around the room she was in.
It obviously belonged to someone, and wasn't a cell like she
expected. She looked back at Rin questioningly.
be far safer in here. We assassins do live by a code, however, there
are more men than women and sometimes... Anyway, in my room, I can
protect you. You are
my responsibility after all,” Rin explained. She brushed Chèri's
hair out of her face.
see,” Chèri murmured, more than a little relieved that she would
not be at the mercy of men who killed others for a living. She rather
doubted that they would take no for an answer.
groaned as she drifted awake rather more abruptly than she wanted to.
Her stomach was rebelling yet again. This was at least the 9th
morning in a row, and she prayed that that it would be over soon. She
didn't even have a horse ride or any sort of work to keep her mind
off of it, so she had basically stayed in bed in misery for the last
unlocked the door and entered the room just as Chèri grabbed and
empty bowl and heaved into it. She watched her in sympathy and closed
the door so that no one walking by could hear what was going on. Rin
mostly wanted to make sure people didn't realize that the Lady was in
her room – it was a safety precaution for just in case. A locked
door wouldn't really stop an assassin after all.
not sure if assassins are simply trained to suffer in silence or if
you have the worst case of morning sickness I've ever seen!” Rin
gasped and then vomited again before responding. “How did you
looked at her with a look that plainly asked do
you think I'm stupid?
sighed with the realization that she couldn't hide it any longer.
“You may keep your suspicions, but I will deny it to my dying
snorted. “How? Eventually, you'll be as big as a house and the
baby's kicks will announce the truth plain as day.”
grumbled unappreciatively. “Even then, I will deny it. I will hide
it like I did before.”
Rin wondered, confused.
cannot simply go around announcing that I carry the Emperor's second
child. You think I'm
hunted to death! Just imagine what would happen if it got out that
there was a child of Imperial Blood outside the safety of the
Imperial Palace. I only have one man after me – so far as I can
tell. There are probably 6 clans that would love to eliminate any
nodded in understanding, then purred in sympathy. “I see. That
be vastly easier than waiting until they are all old enough to start
murdering each other... Do you think the Emperor will take another
bride any time soon? If his heir were to fall ill or have a fatal
accident, or even be killed outright, there would be no heirs left.
More than anyone, he needs
sighed forlornly. “I don't know... I half pray that he will because
I dearly long to see the Empire continue on and improve... for
everyone! However... I think that he is far more likely to wait until
he has no choice in the matter.”
huffed a short laugh. “Well, in any case, if you feel up to it,
drink some of this and then come with me. The Guildmaster wants to
talk to you now before most people wake up.”
took a deep breath and then forced herself to sip a bit of the tea.
It was perfect for soothing her roiling stomach, and she was soon
able to finish the last of it. She sighed in relief and followed Rin.
Chèri greeted pleasantly, bowing.
Guildmaster chuckled richly. “It tickles my pride every time the
First Queen bows to me. However, I have come up with a proposition
that I think will work.”
invited her to sit in a chair next to him so that he could whisper if
he thought it was necessary. At the moment, he was certain that no
one other than Rin was near enough to hear them.
have decided upon a payment and
a condition. Both are necessary. One is to pay for me sparing your
life, and the other is to pay for the assassination that must be
done,” the Guildmaster explained.
exhaled a small sob. “Must there be an assassination? I don't want
Guildmaster smiled at her sadly. “Yes. The man who wants you dead
is far too powerful. Despite the evidence –” He handed her a
scroll. “This man is powerful enough to require a trial, and he
will have people twisted in knots for years before any real
conviction can be reached and a sentence carried out. The only way to
ensure that he does not win – with the support of his corrupt
followers – is to kill him and then explain why.”
a tear in her eye, Chèri nodded in acceptance. “Who?”
of the three Great Advisors,” the Guildmaster informed her. “The
one the Emperor reportedly trusts the most. The one who has guided
him since he was a small child... Meng...”
gasped in astonishment. “Meng! But why?”
knows for certain?” The Guildmaster rhetorized. “I can only guess
that he hopes to destabilize the Empire and then have the power to
take over or at least control whoever does. I know for a fact that
his son is behind quite a bit of mischief around the Empire the last
do you know?” Chèri wondered, simply dying of curiosity.
smiled at her like a shameless flirt. “I have friends in the right
places! Let's just say that I was able to call in a favor a while
back, and now I have irrefutable proof... Proof that Meng could still
cast doubt on, but we've covered that.”
sighed over the fact that a man must die in order for the Empire to
remain strong, but she nodded to reaffirm that she understood. “So...
what's the condition? And the price?”
condition is that you must kill Meng yourself,” the Guildmaster
clutched the battered and torn houmongi in hands that shook. He knew
that tears flowed down his face in rivers, but he didn't care. He
didn't want to accept it, but they had searched for her for days
without finding so much as a trace. He had forced himself to believe
that she had a plan for escaping her fate, but the proof he now held
He shouted out in his soul-shattering grief.
rest of his companions stared at him in shock and sympathy. They had
been searching ever since the moment they had freed themselves from
their bondage to the trees. All of them had held out hope that the
fact that she was taken meant that the assassins didn't plan to kill
her after all. To have this bundle tossed at them from a distance was
crushing, to say the least.
immediately ran in the direction the bundle had come from, but was
unable to find anyone to hold accountable. He returned slowly,
wondering what to do now. His companions – except for Ando –
looked at each other as they all wondered what to do now. They had
failed their mission to escort the First Queen to her Regional
continued to stare at the blood-stained houmongi until he just
couldn't bear to look at it any longer. He dropped it back on top of
the packaging that it came in and walked away from the rest of them
so that he could finish sobbing in relative privacy. The others let
him go uncertainly; half afraid that he was about to commit suicide.
life might just be forfeit for failing to protect the First Queen
anyway. They didn't envy him the task of informing the Emperor.
picked up the houmongi and examined it for clues. He muttered to
himself out loud. “This was definitely on her as she was whipped
and beaten... and then ultimately stabbed in the heart...”
was even the original stain from when her neck had been sliced open
in front of them, so they couldn't try to convince themselves that it
was a different yet exact copy of her real houmongi. Gan inhaled it,
and then nodded sadly.
hers alright...” Gan set it aside and then picked up the silk
flower. It was crumpled, but still looked beautiful. He briefly
wondered if Madam Kiki would be comforted to know that it had adorned
her during her last moments...
all knew that Ando was in charge now, and settled in to wait for him
to either calm down or off himself. If this was any kind of situation
for levity, they would have placed bets on which was more likely. As
it was, they had no idea what to do if they were left on their own.
hours later, Ando looked like he was possessed by a demon when he
returned. His eyes were utterly red and his hair was in wild
disarray. Even his wafuku looked filled with a demonic aura.
what's going to happen,” Ando stated, his voice steady and
determined. They all shivered as they made the sign against evil. Not
one was willing to disagree with him! “You are all going to finish
traveling to the Regional Palace.”
pointed at the young official – who had loved Chèri ever since
she'd taught him in the temple, and was also a bit red-eyed from
grief. “You will aide Assistant Regional Director Rei as he
continues to implement Lady Chèri's plans. You're smart – from
what my Lady has said – so you should be able to help Rei cope no
matter what happens. See to it that the Emperor need never send
another Official to Topaz ever again! If nothing else, Chèri's
legacy will live on!”
young official nodded vigorously. Chèri had spent time with him
discussing her plans and her vision for the future, so he was
confident that he could continue on in her footsteps.
pointed to the rest of them in turn. “You, you, you, and you; guard
him and make absolutely certain he reaches the Regional Palace. You!
I don't know what you were even doing traveling with us,” Ando
informed Gan menacingly. “But you had a purpose. There was
something my Lady wanted you to do, so go; do Chèri's bidding.”
looked around at them all. “As for me, I'm going to bring this to
the Emperor, and...”
didn't need to say the rest. They all knew that he was going to tell
the Emperor how they had failed to protect the First Queen. Then he
was probably going to face execution.
carefully wrapped the houmongi – both
layers! Couldn't the bastards at least allow her some dignity in
– and the silk flower up in the thick brown paper it came in. It was
covered in bloody finger and hand prints, and Ando had to force the
image of Chèri suffering out of his mind so that he could function
without breaking down again.
should have stayed by her side! I shouldn't have left her! I should
have known that woman was a trap! I should have fought to stop them
from taking her!
kept up the litany of should haves the whole way back to the Imperial
Palace. He would not admit to himself that they had sent at least 10
assassins – not counting the woman – and that they had utterly
incapacitated him before he had even known they were there. He would
not admit that had they not fallen for the trap, they probably would
be dead as the assassins tried to get to Chèri.
took him about two weeks of hard travel to return to the Emperor,
with very few breaks to rest. He couldn't eat more than a couple of
bites each day, and had to force himself to drink from time to time.
He tried to sleep, but he couldn't without nightmares of what they
had done to his beloved. He felt haunted by her. It felt like her
eyes watched him constantly, accusing him of betraying her. Accusing
him of not protecting her; of not rescuing her before she died.
nearly killed both the horses on his return trip, but he got them to
the Imperial stables before they were beyond saving. It was well
known that he was the First Queen's personal bodyguard, so he was
allowed to pass through to the Inner Palace without question. The
gate guards watched him go by with wide eyes. They way he looked,
they knew the news had
to be bad.
only asked one question: “Where is the Emperor?” Without the
slightest hesitation, he was pointed in the direction of the
were normally guards outside the office whenever the Emperor was
inside – which was excessive considering that Ran and Ko were
always in his office with him – but it was standard procedure. The
door guards saw Ando coming, recognized him, paled in foreboding, and
hastily pounded on the door.
opened the door, concerned at the tone of the knocks. He looked from
the shocked faces of the door guards to Ando and swore. He felt all
blood drain from his face and hastily stepped back to let Ando in.
was looking up at Ran curiously as Ando entered the room. His heart
literally stopped, and he clutched it in dread. Even Ko – standing
next to the Emperor – inhaled a gasp at the sight of the bodyguard.
They all rather got the impression that he had just walked through
hell and back and was worse for the wear.
took a deep breath and held it until he was certain that he could
force himself to speak without crying. He held out the bundle for a
moment before setting it on Reiki's desk.
Chèri is dead.” Now that he had delivered his message, his last
several weeks caught up to him and he swayed woozily.
“Assassinated...” He managed to add before he lost consciousness
and fell to the floor.