The text below is based on Guild Wars lore but is purely fan-fiction. Click here for Chapter 9 and 10. To better understand some of the newer additions or changes, check out the Updated Content post for easy access and more information.
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Chapter 11 – Winds of War
Raijin was pacing up and down in the palace’s war room. This circular chamber was called the conference room back in Kaineng Tah’s time and at its center sat a large, round table with the map of the explored world painted on its top. But after Yian Zho was inaugurated, a change in both purpose and name was in order: the former conference room started serving as a meeting spot for the Canthan leadership to discuss tactics and strategies in case of war, but most importantly, to plan out the grand expansion of the Dragon Empire – the one Princess Niya and Raiya inadvertently started with their endeavor to the north and the one that had become the obsession of the Lord Emperor since.
Raijin was troubled on multiple fronts. First, Ambassador Baigon’s daily letter had not arrived yet. He didn’t know what could have happened as Baigon was a precise man, and he wouldn’t be late with such an important piece of information as the state of the treaty.
But the source of his other concern was about something else. Just that morning, Kei Jii, Raijin’s most trusted scout and servant, reported about the events that had transpired on that day in the forest. When the General asked him to try and learn something about what might have happened there, Kei Jii talked with the stableboy who’d had to remain with the small group, tasked with looking after the prince’s and the soldiers’ horses.
What the stableboy had seen further proved that Zho was involved somehow in the mysterious events surrounding Kaineng Tah’s death… The then prince walked out into the wilderness all alone, in the depth of that night. Not even his guards knew where he was going. Then, the following day, when the group was about to leave for Raisu, the boy was sent out to fill the satchels with fresh water. And there, near a small stream he claimed to have found the carcass of a jet-black stallion… Kaineng Tah’s stallion.
The boy knew whose horse it was and was smart enough not to get into trouble by mentioning it to Yian Zho. He was right: the returning group with the prince at their lead stated that the horse was so terrified of something that it broke loose during the night and disappeared in the forest.
However, the most interesting thing the stableboy mentioned was that there was neither blood nor wounds on the carcass. Raijin suspected that it was magic that killed the animal, and the thought of that made him shudder.
Worry shrank his stomach and cold droplets of sweat slid down on his temple as his upset mind flashed from one disturbing problem to another disturbing problem; as if it was unable to decide which one was the graver of the two.
He stopped as he heard footsteps coming from the door’s direction. A man indeed passed in front of the room but continued on with his business after taking a short glance at the armor-clad general.
I can’t believe this! Raijin started walking around the table, examining the painted versions of Cantha and the Jade Sea. If Baigon has gone missing the Emperor will surely take actions, and this time I won’t be able to talk him down from doing something stupid.
Now numerous footsteps sounded from the corridor: the heavy clatter that metal boots made on the stone floor struck anxiety into Raijin’s heart: the Emperor and his guard escort headed for the war room.
So soon? He took a deep breath and prepared for the worst.
A moment later Emperor Yian Zho appeared with the usual smugness on his face, surrounded by four Dragonguard. Two guardsmen stayed outside, taking position at either side of the entrance, while the other two came in, saluted him and took their place at the inner sides of the door. The emperor strode toward the center and rested his elbows on the edge of the table, admiring the small figures on the map while Raijin finished his bow.
It’s just a game to him. He’s damn good at it, but he doesn’t see the people behind those symbols… the men and women who are willing to give their lives for their emperor and his grand vision.
“Report, General. What news did Baigon send today?”
“None yet, my Emperor.” Raijin could see a flash of frustration darkening Zho’s expression. “I believe something has happened to the messenger falcon. A storm maybe…”
“And what if those dear Luxons kidnapped or murdered him and the diplomats?”
“I highly doubt that. I know Captain Kanaxai and he is an honest man. A bit temperamental, but honest nonetheless. The same can be said about the Luxons.”
“Perhaps… however, at the end of the day they are still the primitive nomads they have always been.” Zho grabbed the royal scepter that was lying on an ornate shelf built into the side of the table. It was said that actions carried out, commands and orders issued with that scepter could not be overruled – not even by the Emperor, unless he revoked it using the scepter again. Raijin knew it to be a simple legend, but a dangerous one in the wrong hands… and the scepter was clearly held by such hands right now. “And thus we have to take precautions…”
“My Emperor, it has only been a day and the ambassador claimed that the talks were advancing well. Marshaling our forces could frighten the Luxons and make them jump out of forming this truce.”
“Or it was just one of Kanaxai’s tricks and he forced Baigon to mislead us. No, I’m not willing to take tha—…”
“Excuse me, my emperor, but a boy says he’s bringing an urgent message for both of you. Shall I let him in?” One of the guards asked and Raijin couldn’t help but smile at the interruption: Zho seemed to have been knocked out of his calm arrogance.
“Don’t interrupt me again… do you understand?”
“Y-yes, my Emperor. I’m sorry, my Emperor.”
“Good… now let him in.”
A young servant walked in and knelt down before the dignitaries. He was holding a small parchment.
“You may rise. What have you brought for me?”
“Thank you, my Emperor. The messenger falcon just arrived, bringing a letter from Ambassador Baigon.”
Emperor Yian Zho took the paper from the boy.
“You can go now.” He waved at the entrance and the boy quickly left after bowing. Zho began reading the message and his visage grew darker with each moment.
“Nonsense! Outrageous nonsense!”
“May I read it, my Emperor?”
“Here, take it. I hope it will convince you that they are playing tricks on us.”
The Emperor handed the parchment to Raijin. He looked at the small note that was written with ornamented characters.
Talks temporarily ended. Captain Kanaxai got word of a Corruptor brainwashing naga and rampaging in the hills. He left the camp with his best warriors to destroy the threat for good. Promised to return and continue. Patience is required. Everything is fine.
“Another Corruptor? Hopefully it will be the last.” Raijin tried to change the subject of the discussion, although he was sure it wouldn’t help.
“Bah… you really believe this pathetic excuse?”
“Why wouldn’t I? These Corruptors did untold damage to Cantha even before the Empire was born. And they—”
“Yes, yes, killed your wife and destroyed her empire.” Zho’s attitude infuriated him beyond words, and if he hadn’t known how to control his growing anger, he would’ve killed him right on the spot. The Emperor went on as if nothing had happened. “But we have no reason to believe there are more. According to your and father’s report most were killed in the celestial fire while the survivors were hunted down by Kanaxai’s father. ALL were accounted for. This is just a ruse to suppress our suspicion.”
“As I said before, Kanaxai is an honest and true man. He would never deceive anyone. If there’s a Corruptor hiding there somewhere, it must be eliminated immediately. The Captain is doing the right thing.”
“Even if what he says is true, it won’t hurt if we move our forces closer to Luxon borders.”
“But my Emperor! It might instigate them!”
“Then make it look like as if it’s nothing else but a legion sent to protect them in case this Corruptor attacks their undefended camp. An act of goodwill, if you will.” Zho frowned. “By the gods, do I have to tell you everything?”
Raijin hated to admit but the emperor was right this time. The army’s presence in the area could becalm the Emperor’s paranoid mind and still serve as a convincing way to better the relationship between Cantha and the Luxons – even if it’s all just deception. Let’s hope they will think the same. There’s even something that can be done to make it more believable, however.
“It will be done, my Emperor, although I have advice that might be worth considering.” He picked up a commandeering stick from the table, looked for the wooden banner depicting the mark of a legion stationed near the northern edge of the Jade Sea and pointed the tip of the rod at it. “The Seventh Legion is close enough to be in the hills in a few days’ time, but it may serve your needs more if not the whole legion was sent, but several battalions only.” With that Raijin grabbed a smaller banner-figure with no legion markings, swiftly put it near the Seventh Legion’s and pushed it to the vicinity of a wooden coin with a kraken on it. “The remainder of the legion can uphold the law and guard our southern borders while the… ahem… ambassadorial units can move in to defend the Krakens and ensure there is nothing amiss.”
Emperor Yian’s gaze pierced the three figurines as he was thoroughly weighing the options. In the end, he clicked with his tongue.
“Perfect… in the meantime, send word to Admiral Fai Zahn as well.”
Shock appeared on Raijin’s face, replacing the calm that was starting to show a moment ago. What does this pongmang have in mind now?
“And what should I tell him?”
“To mobilize the Third and Fourth Fleets and have them amass near the channel.” Zho bent over the table. When he found the appropriate ship-figures, fire kindled in his eyes: with a concentrated gale of hot air he blew the little boats to the large bay of the channel connecting the Jade Sea to the ocean. Emperor Yian Zho looked up with an arrogant grin. “Just a little precaution.”
Raijin raised an eyebrow before he spoke. He now knew how to deal with the Emperor’s paranoia.
“And what should be the official story?”
“Figure something out. Increased naitahlen activity, military exercise… whatever you like the most.”
“As you wish, my Emperor.” He bowed and stormed out of the war room with clenched fists.
The fool! He can’t even realize that his own damned plans for Canthan expansion will be either postponed or ruined if he begins waging war! Raijin’s troubled thoughts raced across his mind as he furiously wound through the halls and chambers of the palace on his way to his quarters. Relax, Raijin. You can still fix this mess. Kanaxai will get rid of the Corruptor, return to his people and forge that truce with Baigon, while that division of the Seventh Legion appears as the noble protectors of the defenseless Luxons. He knew that if one thing went awry, the fragile hope for a bloodless solution will be shattered in an instant. I have to get to writing those command letters now.
He arrived at his room, quickly moved in and closed the door. Inside he walked up to the desk and put Baigon’s message on top of a scroll pile. He almost entirely forgot Kei Jii’s report in the debate with the Emperor, but now he had to put that aside until he was finished with the letters.
The extreme stress weighed heavy on his shoulders, adding its own weight to the physical pressure of the armor. Raijin collected his thoughts and began unfastening it. Piece after piece, he felt the burden – both physical and mental – decreasing. The severity of the crises he had to face was still staggering, but at least he became a tiny bit more relaxed. In order to have a chance at conquering these difficulties, I’ll need to be focused. Raijin sat down and made some work space. After finding a blank paper and opening a fresh vial of ink, he got to writing the crucial documents. A miswritten ideogram, a misworded sentence and everything could fall apart.
The weary general lost his sense of time in the heavy concentration. He was already done with the letter for the Seventh Legion’s commander, and now was close to finishing the sailing order for the Admiral.
Knock… knock… knock… knock.
He was knocked out of his focus which almost resulted in a stray line on one of the ideograms. Now what?
After cautiously putting the cap on the vial, he stood up angrily and crossed the room. His hand was reaching for the handle when the unexpected guest yelled outside.
“Hello? Is there anybody in there?”
Raijin nearly jumped in surprise. The voice was eerily familiar. Could it be…
He quickly turned the key and pushed the handle down, letting the door slowly swing open with a low creak.
In the corridor a young man stood, wearing the generic uniform of the Imperial soldiers. The man was just as tall as him and looked exactly like the general in his younger days.
“Teiran!” Raijin laughed as he hugged his grandson. The two of them hadn’t seen each other for more than half a year now. “What are you doing here? I thought you were still stationed near Dinfang.”
“Well, our commanders decided that a smaller contingent can handle Fort Fu and upkeep peace with the tengu just as well, so the rest of us were called back to attend other duties.”
“And who were you assigned to?”
“Believe it or not, I’m serving under General Raijin Seritena now.” Teiran’s grin ran from ear to ear.
“Yes, sir!” Teiran saluted his superior, now nearly bursting from the laughter he was holding back.
“At ease, soldier! Come, I’ll show you around. I wanted to break away from the work anyway.”
Raijin and Teiran were walking in the training grounds just next to the palace. Disciplined soldiers were sparring in duos and quartets, while others were following an elder instructor’s fighting moves, carrying them out perfectly and in unison a moment later. The sun was still high on the sky, but greyish white clouds rolled over and blocked it out occasionally.
A few minutes later they walked on, approaching the coastal woods surrounding the ever-growing palace and the construction sites. None of them wanted to break the embarrassing silence: they hadn’t spoken since the death of Raijin’s son, Teiran’s father, who had died only a week after Kaineng Tah.
The painful memories were enough to rob him of the joy that seeing Teiran had caused, but Raijin collected his strength and looked at his grandson. His hoarse voice betrayed that he was stifling the sorrow that tormented his soul.
“How are you holding up?”
“Better than during the funeral.”
“Everyone would’ve reacted similarly. Even I could barely hold myself back from lashing out at those Sensali.” He looked up at the cloudy sky with equally clouded eyes, painfully smirking. “And then they just wanted to pay their respect.”
“Good thing the Angchu tengu was there, too. If they hadn’t held me back, father’s sacrifice would’ve been for nothing.”
“Indeed. Because of him peace survived. The Sensali knew that too.”
“But I will never forgive them.” Teiran raised his voice as fury was born of the memory of loss. “They are aggressive, savage beasts. Father had to die because of a simple misunderstanding.”
“Misunderstandings can be fatal when you don’t know the culture you are dealing with. It is a lesson the Emperor might learn the hard way.” Raijin pursed his lips and bowed his head in hidden shame. What’s wrong with you, old fool? Why do you have to bring up other problems when talking to your grandson about his father’s death?
But Teiran seemed to be happy that they could change topic at last.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s complicated. If everything goes well, it’s nothing you should worry about. If not… then you will know it yourself.” Raijin remembered he still hadn’t finished the second document. “Now, let’s return to the palace. I bet you’re tired and I’ve still got some work to do.”
As they turned around, a blue bird appeared on the horizon, coming from the south and flying towards them. Upon closer look it looked just like a dove.
“A blue dove?” Teiran asked in disbelief, but Raijin knew exactly what it was – although he didn’t say a thing.
The exquisite phenomenon arrived before them several moments later; an ethereal dove of blue light, flapping its wings as it dynamically changed shape and became the transparent form of beautiful young woman in ornate robes: Dwayna’s Sacred Guard. Her image began speaking immediately.
“General, I’ll try to be as quick as possible. I didn’t want to risk sending a letter by normal means since those messages could easily be checked before they are handed out. After parting I entered a trance to recall the tiniest details of the coronation: it paid off, as on second watch I saw Yian Zho panicking – his expression was replaced with shock when the scrutinizing orb entered his mind. It might be nothing, or he was clearly afraid of being scanned for treacherous deeds… Right now I’m heading south to meet my Patriarch and ask his counsel. I’m sure the goddess has informed him too, and hopefully he’s already learned something that can help us in uncovering the truth. I hope your own investigation is going well. I have to go now! Farewell!”
When her image finished speaking, the ethereal light dissipated in the air, leaving nothing behind.
Raijin held his hand on his mouth, not knowing what to say or do. How can someone be so irresponsible?
“Well, life is sure never boring around you.” Teiran said with a grin on his face. “What’s going on? And before you answer, remember: by listening to the Sacred Guard’s message, I’ve just joined you in the fray.”
Raijin had to agree that there was no point in keeping him out now. He exhaled deeply and told the whole story from the very beginning, going into the smallest details and also informing him about Kei Jii’s report.
When he finished, Teiran’s eyes went wide from what he had just heard.
“This is a serious accusation. Are you two sure about this?”
“Absolutely. Dwayna herself told her these things and with the stableboy’s telling of that one day it’s all too likely that the Emperor is guilty.”
Raijin saw Teiran fell into a silent contemplation, going over all that was just said. In those seconds he wondered how his grandson would decide in the end.
Not even half a minute passed when he looked into his grandfather’s eyes, determination glinting in his gaze.
“I want to help… especially now that I serve under you.” Raijin was surprised at Teiran’s words for two reasons: he didn’t expect that the boy would jump into their little conspiracy immediately and, more importantly, his voice didn’t contain any form of excitement at all. His whole being radiated sincerity and seriousness. Men of his age would probably volunteer for the thrill only, and yet he was doing it out of a sense of duty and responsibility – for his family and his nation. Raijin couldn’t have been more proud than he was right now. He quickly collected his own thoughts to hide how moved he was.
“Well, I have to stay here and do all the paperwork that is required to keep the Empire from being plunged into war, which means I can easily find out more about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Kaineng Tah’s last will in my off-duty hours. As for you, if you really want to help, you could keep an eye out on the priestess.”
“She shouldn’t know about it, though.”
“I’ll protect her without her even knowing I’m there.”
“Oh, I am sure she can handle herself alright…” Raijin had to chuckle as he imagined the expression on the woman’s face when Teiran tried to defend her. “It’s that she’s just a little too mysterious… too many unknowns.”
Teiran frowned in a slight confusion.
“Don’t you trust her then?”
“Of course I do! But I’d like to know what she’s up to. Her blind devotion to Dwayna might make her do something stupid that we may all regret.”
“As you command, General.” Teiran said in a serious tone and saluted his superior.
“You might want to leave today if you want to catch up with her.”
After an affirmative nod, Teiran stepped forward to hug his grandfather. Metal plates clang as their armor bumped together.
“Be careful, little dragon.” With teary eyes, Raijin whispered to the last living member of his family.