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Topic Subject:The Silk Road - A Story of Ancient Rome
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Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 02-11-01 00:19 ET (US)         
THE SILK ROAD
A Story of Ancient Rome in the time of Caesar Marcus Aurelius

TYPE (Genre): Epic Fantasy/Adventure. TONE: Drama/Comedy (nothing silly)
STYLE: Highly Descriptive. Rich Characterizations.
VOICE: 3rd Person Narrative w/Dialogue.
CONSTRUCTION: Multi-paragraph encouraged. No limit on post size.

PERSONAL CHARACTERS (AND ORIGINATING AUTHORS) :
CIVIS ROMANUS: 30ish Chief Military Advisor to Caesar. Master swordsman. Brown hair, blue eyes, medium heighth and build. Spouse of Apolita. Father of Apollonia and Civis the Younger. (Civis Romanus)
GAIUS ACCIPITER: Immortal Angel with sensitivity to humans. Tall with green eyes that flash hues of blue, gold or red when using personal powers. (Jayhawk)
MAGANHARD: Visigoth warrior, 6 ft., with sandy colored hair. Ice-blue eyes. Shaggy beard. Unkept appearance. Appeared in Damascus. (Benson)
MARCUS HORATIUS: 21 year old legionnaire. Cohort leader. Clara's merchant father demands excessive dowry. Joined travellers in Syracusae. (Caesar Alan)
RADKO: Stablemaster on Civis' villa. (Nutmegger)
ROULV DANIA: Runaway Christian slave of nordic descent. Appeared in Tyre. (Proconsul Creaticus Dania)
SEPTIMUS ODYSSEUS: Moderate heighth, grey haired young man of mixed Ch'in heritage. Apprentice magician who carries similar yellow medallion as Sin Ying. Joined expedition in Tyre. (Cyber Paladin)
SIN YING: Orphaned oriental girl in Rome with vague memories of homeland but no other recollection. (Jaguar)
TITUS TARQUINTIUS: 21 year old Tribune. Brown hair, brown eyes, olive complexion. Assigned by Caesar to accompany Civis on his mission. (Micah Aragorn)

NON PERSONAL CHARACTERS (AND ORIGINATING AUTHORS) :
APOLITA: Spouse of Civis Romanus. Celtic girl educated as a Roman on the Isle of Celtia. Thick auburn-colored hair and hazel eyes. A few years younger than Civis. (Civis Romanus)
APOLLONIA: 10 year old daughter of Civis Romanus and Apolita. Favors mother in appearance. (Civis Romanus)
CIVIS THE YOUNGER: "Civi" is the 7 yr. old son of Civis Romanus and Apolita. Favors father in appearance. (Civis Romanus)
CRASSUS: Former Roman legionaire and Cohort Leader in Damascus. Fled into Parthia following failure of conspiracy to assassinate Civis.
OSROES: Seleucid Parthian rebel leader.
VOLOGEZES IV: King of Parthia in the time of Marcus Aurelius.


Please do not use this thread for plot discussions or other communication among authors. Please conduct these activities in this DISCUSSION THREAD.

OPEN TO ALL MEMBERS.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 09-22-2001 @ 02:46 PM).]

AuthorReplies:
Cyber Paladin
Pleb
posted 07-24-01 03:05 ET (US)     226 / 295       
The sun's setting. The red light shined on the birds who rushed back to their beloved nests.

"Thanks to the gods you're alright Sin Ying!" Civi, with Septi on his side, reliefed to see his little friend came back.
"I'm alright." The Ch'in girl replied with a smile on her face.
"What did the Tyr... well, HIS MAJESTY~~~ do to you?" Civi emphasised the words to make the guards feel better, but they didn't.
"Oh, HIS MAJESTY was really nice to me." Sin Ying began while they went into her house.
But Civi's heart sank deeper and deeper as Sin Ying told him how friendly the Emperor was.
"It'll be good if I can spend more time with him, but he got something to do." The Ch'in girl finished, but was still too excited. It's been a long time since she had two quiet and concentrating audience.
Civi held silence, contrary to what she expected. His eyes looked down, and his face was emotionless, no, with a slight tinge of sorrow.

"What is it Civi? Are you alright?" Sin Ying unconsciously held her right hand against the boy's forehand, like numberless times before.
"No, I'm alright. Thanks." The boy answered in an unusual stern voice. "I'm tired. Goodbye." And that was all he said before he hurried out.

"What happened? Is he ill or something?" A dozen of question marks rised above Sin Ying's head.
"Well... emotion outburst I'll say." Septi sipped some green tea. He found he got into those green nectar.
"I was going to tell him that HIS MAJEST said Civi can play with us next time." Still unaware of what really happened.
"Ahem," Septi cleared his throat, "you want to be with Civi aren't you?"
"What... er.. yeah..." Sin Ying was really struck off guard by that direct question.
"Then act like you really want to." Said the young man with a mug of tea. "It's getting late, so bye for now."
Sin Ying watched the now-too-serious friend walked away, still wondering what he meant. But a strange feeling rised up in her heart, feeling that her few friends are leaving her, one by one.



Civis' courtyard
"It's not possible commander. I'd say no." Objected Titus.
"That seems the only way to get her out of his grab. She didn't want to." Civis frowned.
"You sure she don't?"
"I've talked to her last night."
"Well, erm..."
"Tribune, that seems to be the only way to go."
"But that'll seriously hurt our hard-built relationship with the Ch'in." Explained Titus.
"Will the Emperor risk his country's fortune on a girl? I don't think so." Countered the Roman commander. "The girl helped rescuing and curing my son, I can't leave her alone."
"Yes, but Tian Shan is a part of Ch'in." the Tribune was still arguing, "sooner or later they'll be found."
"That's one of my major concern."
"So that is not possible Commander." Titus made his voice as sincere as possible.
"But if I say no to Septi, let's say the kids don't protest, we still got to throw the darn thing back to Caesar. If in the way back somebody gets bite..." Civis was making his analysis.
"We can leave it here." Suggested Titus.
"No!" A stern answer.
"Why not? We can tell Caesar that we lost it, and he won't know. And it's in the land of Ch'in, nothing to do with us."
"First, you're cheaing Caesar. Second, you're too selfish." Civis looked directly into Titus' eyes.
"Ok then, maybe we can ask Septi to take that away."
"Away? To where?"
"Who knows, he can swish everywhere."
"I don't trust that guy too much in fact." Civis murmured, "That's my another concern. How can I trust my son on such... er... reckless guy for TEN YEARS!"

They discussed and argued nearly overnight. Finally, the two Roman fell into their sleep on the stone table in front of them, but whether sending the kids or not, bringing the jade figure back or not, accepting the royal marriage or not, they still haven't came to a final decision.

[This message has been edited by Cyber Paladin (edited 07-24-2001 @ 01:24 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 07-24-01 04:37 ET (US)     227 / 295       
Sin Ying sat in the corner of her room with her knees pulled up and her chin resting on them. A small teardrop slowly ran down her left cheek and on to the small hands that helped to keep her knees up. Her thoughts clouded with indecision that a child of her age should not have to endure. But she was no ordinary child as the defeat of the dragon had so noticeably made her aware. And now to find out she was from royal lineage. This was more than she could bare.

She was losing young Civi's friendship because Chen Li, the boy Emporer, had demanded her appearance before him. And Chen Li....the time spent with him was, to say the least, most enjoyable.

Septi had filled her mind with going with him to study and further develop the power in her. This of course could also include Civi. But would her guardian, Civis Romanus, allow both she and his son to disappear from his life for 10 years.

Who could she ask for advice among the group she had traveled so far. Civis Romanus....no, although at times responsive, his demeanor was more of a parental figure to her. Septi....he always made her think too much by answering a question with a question. Titus...Oh no, he looked kindly on her but she knew he tolerated children less.

"Who can I turn towards to advise me and guide me",she said out loud before burying her face in her drawn knees and unable to stop the tears that now flowed freely down her face on to her silk gown. Then as quickly as they started the tears stopped and Sin Ying raised her head and using her arms to push herself to standing headed to the door of her room and said one word,"Accipiter!"

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 07-24-2001 @ 04:39 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 07-24-01 16:13 ET (US)     228 / 295       
Gaius Accipiter elevated the ornate china teapot and poured its green tinged content into the small handle-less cups sitting on the ebony table. It's the color of my wings, Accipiter mused in silence. "A little hot green tea will soothe you, Sin Ying," he said to the sobbing girl sitting at the table with him.

"Th... th... thank you, Uncle Gaius" *sob* *sniffle* *sniffle* The Ch'in girl took a careful sip so as not to burn her mouth. The beginnings of a salvaged smile appeared on her face. "It... it is *sniffle* good," she said between the first and second sip.

"My poor young girl. We do have ourselves a dilemna, don't we," said Gaius adding an empathetic tone to his soft, soothing voice. "The boy Emperor on one side and the boy Roman on the other."

"And my Guardian, too," added Sin Ying.

"Oh yes, your Guardian. What do you think of him, your Guardian?"

"Uncle Civis? Why... he was... I mean, he is very good to me. Though sometimes..." Sin Ying's voice trailed off into silence.

"Yes? Sometimes?" persisted Accipiter.

"Well... Sometimes, when he is being a soldier... He frightens me. I want to please him, but I don't know how all of the time, especially when he must be a soldier."

"What do you think he most wants for you?" said Accipiter.

"He tries to make me happy... So... I guess he wants me to be happy."

"Were you ever happy in Roma, Sin Ying?"

The girl tilted her head and looked at Accipiter as she thought back to her days in Roma before and after becoming Civis' ward. Then she sighed. "No, not really. I felt so out of place there. No matter how anyone tried, Civis, Apolita, Civi or his sister, I still felt like a stranger to them. Was I being bad to feel that way?"

"No. On the contrary, you were being perfectly normal. How do you feel being here?"

"Not like a stranger... but more... more like... Please don't laugh at me for saying this." Accipiter indicated he would not. "Uncle Gaius, I feel like Civis and the others... and Civi too... are the strangers here and I am not."

Accipiter nodded. "Again, a quite normal feeling, Sin Ying." Gaius poured a little more tea into her cup. "When I say 'brother' who do you think of right away?"

"Civi."

"Uh huh. And when I say 'father', who do you think of first?"

"You. Oh!" Sin Ying said, bringing her hand to her mouth startled at what she had just said. Accipiter asked one more question.

"And when I say 'friend' who do you think of first."

The young girl's eyes opened wide. "Why, Uncle Gaius, it was Chen Li whose name I thought of first." Her cheeks turned pink with the flush of surprise and a hint of embarrassment. Accipiter said nothing in order to allow the girl some time to collect herself; but his mind continued in motion. Poor Civi, he thought, it will be hardest on him. The spotted cube is indeed cast and the girl's direction is plain to be seen. All that remains now is to find a way for the girl to see clearly the path she has already chosen.

Then an idea occurred to him. Septi is well meaning but perhaps not fully prepared for his role. There is another who might balance the formula properly in the girl's favor. He made a mental note to consult with him that evening. A silent message went forth immediately to be received quickly by the person to whom it was directed. He would be happy to meet with Accipter as requested was the reply. Accipter answered with a silent 'thank you' to Zen.

____________________________________________________________

ACCIPITER'S CHAMBER LATER THAT DAY

"Now Zen, the girl will be here very soon. Are you sure you agree this is the right thing to do?" Gaius waited for the smallish man's answer.

Zen had arrived a short time before in his usual manner: quietly, softly, appearing almost out of thin air. His appearance reminded Accipiter of the old villager who guided them to Warlord Tang's fortress. It should have, because the "old villager" actually was Zen in one of his disguises. For whereas Accipiter was precluded from interfering in the actions of mortals, Zen was under no such decree. He simply chose not to interfere on most occasions, leaving the business of mortals to others like Accipiter.

Zen studied his friend's face very closely. "Ummmm.... Yes, I think so. No... I'm sure it is the right thing to do." As if on cue, Sin Ying's voice was heard outside of Accipiter's chamber.

"Entrance requested, Uncle Gaius."

"Enter, please, Sin Ying." The girl appeared. Not quite expecting a visitor in Accipiter's chamber, she nonetheless immediately bowed respectfully. Zen bowed in return. Already she is at ease with the customs of her people, he noted.

"Sin Ying, this is a... a... (should not use his real name, Accipiter realized) this is Shao Chi, a friend. He has come at my request to help you." Zen looked at Accipiter. Hmmm... Shao Chi is it. Nice recovery...

"I am most pleased to meet you, Shao Chi," said Sin Ying bowing once. "As am I to meet you," replied Zen. Without another word, Zen waved his hand in the air and a scroll, a pallete of paint and a paintbrush appeared from nowhere. Sin Ying stared at the objects in awe and then she looked at Zen with a tentative, new understanding. "You are a magician, aren't you?"

"Yes, Sin Ying, I am in a way what you would call a magician. I have learned many of the things you will learn under Septi's teaching; and I have learned other things as well."

"What other things if I am permitted to ask," she said.

"A way to see in one's heart what the mind and other things cloud or mask. It is the great secret possessed by all painters. Today you will use the brush, color palette and scroll to paint what is in your heart."

Sin Ying looked at Accipiter for reassurance. The tall man smiled and his eyes briefly flashed gold. Sin Ying felt confident that this was a good thing to do, and so she followed Zen's instructions to the letter. And after she received her last instruction, Zen guided her to the ebony table, the objects floating behind them in mid air. He waved his hand and the palette and brush glided to the surface of the table and rested there as if waiting. The scroll arrived last and unrolled of its own accord before her.

Sin Ying had listened well. She grasped the brush in the manner described by Zen. She then closed her eyes and kept them closed throughout. She said the words that he told her to say, "May what is good and right show me the way that is true." Then she permitted her hand to travel where it wanted... from paint to scroll, paint to scroll, paint to scroll. Accipiter and Zen maintained their silence so as not to startle or influence the girl.

After some time had passed, she sighed and eyes still closed placed her brush down on the palette. The scroll rolled itself up immediately hiding her work from view. "It isn't working, Uncle Gaius. I cannot paint. You are most kind, Shao Chi, but I am not a good student. It must look terrible."

"Oh? And aren't you just a little curious as to what it looks like," said Zen.

"Ummm, a little I guess. Is it alright to look? Is it as terrible as I think it is?"

Zen smiled. "See for yourself, Sin Ying, what your heart says." Sin Ying unrolled the scroll and there before her was a beatiful painting of a young Ch'in girl. She was dressed in an elegant silk robe, an object on her head, and her two hands outstretched. In her right hand she held a glowing object, a sphere of some kind, rays of a magical quality emanating from its surface. On her head she wore an intricately formed, bejeweled crown. In her left hand was the hand of another person who stood very near to her.

She looked intently at the face of the girl. It was her own face, beaming from within as if she were radiantly happy. And next to her stood a boy. She looked closely at his face. Yes... it was familiar. Who is it? Civi? No... not Civi. A sharp intake of breath signaled full recognition. It was Chen Li, the boy Emperor, who stood next to her.

"A portrait from the heart, Sin Ying. You have your answer," said Zen. Then the paints and the brush disappeared, but the scroll remained. "To remind you, Sin Ying, should you ever lose your way."

Sin Ying turned around to say something to Shao Chi, but he was gone. Only Accipiter was left in the room. He smiled. "Civis would like to talk with you. Will you come with me to see him?"

"Yes, Uncle Gaius. I will. And Uncle Gaius...?"

"Yes, Sin Ying?"

"Thank you."

"You are most welcome. Now come along. We musn't keep Civis waiting."

And so Accipiter led Sin Ying to Civis Romanus' chamber for the meeting he knew was so very necessary. Meanwhile, Accipiter considered what he would say to Septi while Sin Ying talked with her Guardian.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 07-24-2001 @ 10:24 PM).]

Cyber Paladin
Pleb
posted 07-25-01 03:17 ET (US)     229 / 295       
Seeing Sin Ying entered Civis' chamber, Gaius walked towards Septi's.
"My young apprentice, are you here?" Called Gaius at the door.
"Oh Gaius, please come in." Simple warm answer from the young man.
"What is the matter Gaius?" Said Septi as he poured some more tea, black one this time.
"Well, the girl has made up her mind." Gaius sipped the slightly bitter beverage.
"Very good. How about the boy then?" Septi didn't ask what Sin Ying decided, for what she has decided, she has decided.
"Not yet, but I reckon to be very soon."
"Em..." Septi admired the aroma of the black tea, so rich and tasty. "I can see it's not the only reason for you to come here my friend." A small victorious smile appeared on the young mage's face as he played with the tea cup in his hand.
"You're advancing quick Septi." Gaius was impressed by the youngster's quick learning. "I think I should remind you that..." And he took a breath, testing the young man.
Septi's eyes squinted, concentrated as hard as he could. Trying to probe into the immortal's mind, but no avail.
"I give up. There's way much for me to learn."
Gaius replied with a pleased smile.
"OK, you might be a bit disappointed by the result. And you should tell them the true story after it's all over."
"The true story?" Frowned Septi.
"What 'ten years' means."
"Of course I will."
"Very good then."
Septi took a deep breath, then sighed.
"Maybe it's the destiny for me. I can't change the fate afterall." Said Septi as he sipped more tea.
"Don't be so sure of it." Gaius said, with a tinge of mystery.
Septi's eyes squinted once again.
"Don't even try it." Interrupted the tall man. Then the two man bursted into slight laughter, knowing the barrier between mortal and immortal. Their laughter was soon interrupted by the splattering sound. It's beginning to rain.
"*Sigh*, at least I tried my best to convice, without interfering. It's their decision." The black tea wasn't as appealing to Septi as the green one.
"Well, don't worry. Good job you did if I must comment."
Septi forced a smile on his face as response to the commend, even though he knows the tall man sees through the trick.

"Entrance request." Septi know without thinking, it's Civis.
"Please come in Civis."
"Ahha, Gaius you're here too. Good." Civis was taking the two kids with him. A Ch'in girl with a reliefed smile on her face, and a Roman boy with moisture in his eyes.
"I'm sorry you have to come to me, Civis. Please have a seat." Greeted Septi in the Ch'in way, which he learned in the past few days.
"Ahem," Civis cleared his throat. "It goes like this, the kids has made up their mind."
"Yes?" Septi prompted him to go on. And Civis looked at Sin Ying, prompting her to begin.
"Master Septi." Sin Ying began, but Septi interrupted, in his most kind voice. "I'm not your master."
"Well," The Ch'in girl continued, "I will follow you to Tian Shan. And after ten years, I'll come back and..." She stuttered, everybody were waiting for her decision, though someone already knew, "and marry the Ch'in Emperor."
"Final decision?" Asked the young mage as he raised his cup.
"Yes." Sin Ying's voice was so firm that it delivered shock and pain in Civi's heart.
"Good. What about you then Civi?"
"I...." Civi's voice shook with sorrow, "I..."
"Go on son, it's your decision. No regrets." The father put his hand on his son's head, as to relief his sorrow.
"I don't want to go to Tian Shan. Ten years is too much for me." The boy finally gathered enough strength to muster the right words.
"Is it your OWN decision?" Septi took a glance at Civis.
"Yes." Answered the boy.
"I have to admit that I don't want him to go either." Civis said.
"Final decision?" Septi didn't let go of his final hope.
"Yes."
Septi close his eyes for a second, reopened them. He took a deep breath. The air was cold as the wind blew past the room, flickering the candles within.
"I accept and respect your decision. I wish your family happy forever and ever." Said the disappointed mage.
"Thank you Septi." Civis thought it is perhaps the right moment to go, but Septi stretched out his hand as to tell him wait. A bitter smile formed on his face, then Septi began.
"I think it's the right moment to tell you the true story. It takes only half a day to seal the dragon."
"What!?" Civis' anger began to take form as he realised he has been fooled. All the worry these days, all the bitter argument these days, turn out to be a big joke.
"Calm down. I had to lie. The spell to seal the dragon feeds on will power, in another words, motivation. I need will power so strong that someone can sacrifies his own son in order to beat the evil, and the power so strong to sacrifies their childhood." Said Septi as his sight sweeped across the three audience. Gaius smiled, the apprentice finally turned into a mage, he thought.
"You mean..." Civis asked in amazement.
"Yes, this is what I have planned: I and the kids go to Tian Shan, where the Vault of Banish is. Wait until the will power grows to what I need as you travel back. Banish the dragon, and teleport the kids back as you reach Roma. Ten years for half a day is not important, I just need the determination." Explained Septi.
"I see... sorry Septi." Sighed Civis.
"No no, please don't say sorry. It's not your fault."
"But the dragon can't be sealed."
"I'll find out another way, don't worry Civis. There will be a way. But for now, do you still want to go Sin Ying? There's nothing for us to do in Tian Shan."
"Well, who knows, maybe you should take a look at the Vault and see if you can do anything about it." It was Gaius who spoke, in a casual way.
"OK, we'll see Septi." Sin Ying insisted they should go. "At least we have a chance that way. If we don't go, we aren't going anywhere."
"Yes, you're right." Answered Septi.
"Finally, it settled." He thought, "Tried my best Dad." He shrugged, then everybody wondered what that gesture means.

[This message has been edited by Cyber Paladin (edited 07-25-2001 @ 03:20 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 07-25-01 16:13 ET (US)     230 / 295       
"Septi..." Civis was looking down at the ground, then elevated his head to make eye contact with the maturing mage. "Septi, I feel very badly that in some way I might have frustrated your plan. What I said was true. I did not influence Civi to choose to return to Roma; and I did not attempt to convince Sin Ying to stay with the Ch'in.'

'I'll admit that I am pleased that Civi has chosen to return and I am sad to see Sin Ying leave us, but happy for her as well. But it is also true that I have never left a task unfinished. This mission for which I am responsible has completed all of its tasks save for two. The first is Caesar's: to finalize the agreement with the Parthians. We have just received word that the Emperor of the Ch'in has approved our trade offer, thanks to Sin Ying. The Parthians have still not agreed to Caesar's offer. The time for waiting is over.'

'The second is personal: to return the power that enslaved Civi to its source and trap it there forever or destroy it. This task weighs heavily on my mind. Therefore, the entire mission will leave the palace of the Emperor and we will accompany you and Sin Ying to the Vault of Banishment and remain there until the task is done."

Septimus studied the Commander's face. Civis had made up his mind about what he must do and this is what his expression reflected. Then Septi looked at Sin Ying. The look in her eyes was a silent plea to accept Civis' decision without question. The mage next looked at Civi. The boy was looking at his father, surprised but pleased. A few moistened areas remained around his eyes, but the warrior in him was gaining strength with each passing day. And finally, Septi looked at Accipiter. The tall man's green eyes gave nothing away; nor did they hint of disapproval in any way. What was he thinking at that moment? Septi could not fathom what it might have been.

"The entire mission, Civis?" he repeated.

"The entire mission," Civis stated firmly.

Septi knew what to say next. "Thank you, Civis. May we leave as soon as possible?"

"Of course, Septi." And so the preparations were ordered.

Septi lay on his sleeping mat in his chamber that night in silent communication. "Father... sometime things work out differently than we expect don't they. I sought will power and determination. I thought it would come from the girl and the young boy. Instead, I learn that these things do come from the girl and the boy. But as a spring has a source of cooling water that surfaces and flows in many directions, these two children who shall go their different ways have such a source. The source is the one they see as their father..." Septi stopped in the midst of this thought. "Is that the source for me as well?"

He didn't exactly hear an answer, but felt the answer come to him as his body thrust sleep upon his mind. "You see clearly... my son...." the voice seemed to say. "Go soon, for the weapon against the long is now completely forged."

Benson
Pleb
posted 07-25-01 21:00 ET (US)     231 / 295       
Maganhard woke up and sat up in bed. He could not believe the dream he just had. It could not be true. His brother was dead Maganhard had seen him in his dreams. Not as a ghost but alive yet he as not dressed in either his Roman uniform nor traditional Visigothic dress.

What was the meaning of this. Every time he tried to go back to sleep and close his eyes all he could see was the image of his brother in the strang warrier's clothing.


'Father what is the meaning of this' he thought.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 07-27-01 21:59 ET (US)     232 / 295       
Once more they were on the road. This time they were heading northwest to a distant mountain in which, Septimus said, existed the Vault of Banishment. They carried all of their possessions with them, neither Civis' charges nor the remaining 70 members of the Century leaving anything behind in the city of the Ch'in. They would return to finish their business, but what they carried would be best kept with them and not left behind.

The Emperor had been advised of Sin Ying's decision. Overjoyed, he assigned the best unit among his palace guard to accompany the girl as she travelled one last time with her friends and her guardian from Roma. The Chief Advisor, ordered by Chen Li to accompany them, remained at her side as they rode forth towards the mountain. The Commander of the Royal Guards rode beside Civis.

Not unexpectedly, the Royal Guard's Commander was in animated conversation about military theory with Civis Romanus. Unknown to the Roman Commander, the Emperor had placed in the hands of the Chief Advisor the signed agreement that regulated favored pricing between the merchants of Roma and the Ch'in government's merchant representatives. It was to be given to Civis upon condition that the girl was permitted to leave their company and upon successful "banishment" of the long.

Roulv Dania rode his mount a few paces behind Maganhard. The barbarian seemed unusually quiet that day and Dania could not contain his curiousity as to its cause. The slave put heel to horse and guided its step until the beast was next to Maganhard's.

"Ho, my friend! Why so quiet today?" said Dania in a voice colored with extra goodwill.

"Thinking," replied Maganhard, hardly bothering to look over at Dania.

"About what?"

"About tall tankards of beer... deeply filled with enough brew to dull my mind into thoughtlessness." Dania looked at Maganhard's face. Dark puffy crescents marked the underside of his eyelids revealing that at least one sleepless night had afflicted the man... and maybe more than one.

"Would my lending a sympathetic ear help?" volunteered Dania.

"I don't know. Maybe..." So Dania waited patiently for Maganhard to decide what he would do.

____________________________________________________________

Civi rode next to Sin Ying just as he had so many leagues before. The simple question he wanted to ask was "Why?"; but he couldn't muster up the courage to ask. As if reading his mind, Sin Ying answered without the question being spoken.

"Civi, these are my people. I have so much to learn about who I am and from where I came. You know these things about yourself. I do not know them about myself. I know I am very young, but you are younger still. You will understand when you are my age." The 10-year old Ch'in girl could think of nothing more to say to the 7-year old son of her guardian so she reached across and placed her hand on Civi's. "You are my first and only brother. No one else will take your place. I save it for you." Sin Ying squeezed his hand.

As if a spiritual mechanism were released in that instant, Civi felt the beginnings of a healing warmth stir within that sought out his frayed emotions and acted like a medicinal balm to slowly calm them. He felt increasingly better about Sin Ying and what she had decided to do the longer the journey continued. It would be many days and many leagues before the hurt would finally disappear, but disappear it would.

Accipiter smiled to himself. There was a natural ability within the girl that she had not yet learned to control. Instead it flowed like an uncapped spring with her every sincere word and loving touch. This made it easy for him to give it just the right assist to achieve just the right effect. His green eyes returned to their normal color, the very slight hint of gold sparkles receeding quickly and then disappearing into the depths of his eyes' typical emerald hue.

Benson
Pleb
posted 07-29-01 17:47 ET (US)     233 / 295       
Maganhard stood looking at his blanket on the ground wandering if he should try and go to sleep or not. He knew that if he lay down the visions would come and rob him of sleep anyway, so why not just stay awake so the visions did not come to haunt him. So he sat down wiht his back up against a tree and tried to figure out what to do and wishing he had a vary large tankard of ale to drink, No he thought just let him have the whole barrel to drink.

Ever so slowly sleep crept up on the watchful Maganhard several days with little of no sleep were catching up to him. Slowly his eyes began to shut and his head slowly sank to his chest.


Maganhard woke to find himself standing on a wind slept plain that was nowhere yet every where at the same time. He was alone but in the distance he saw a figure approaching. He knew he should know who it was but he could not quite remember who it was. Then all of the sudden Manahard fould his father standing next to him.

"Father, where are we and what are you doing here!" exclaimed a confused Maganhard staring at his long dead yet very alive looking father.

"Listen carefully son" the spector said holding a translusent hand staying Maganhard from speeking. "I have been granted only a little time to see you. You must listen to the visions they will guide you. I know it is hard but remeber what I told you....." the voice of his father slowly trailed off as the spector faided into notihgness.

As Maganhard watched in wander at what was happening one last lignering thought entered his head...."You must find someone you trust to....." with this his father was gone and Manganhard woke up.

He knew what he had to do, but was not sure when to do it.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 08-02-01 21:30 ET (US)     234 / 295       
Civis Romanus marveled at the panorama passing by as he rode his horse on the mission's trek to the Vault of Banishment. Everywhere there were Ch'in. On the road, working the fields, in the villages... everywhere. He thought whimsically, if all of the Ch'in in the world sought to find a home in the Roman Empire, there would be hovel on top of hovel to house them all and no land left to till. Then he dismissed the thought as being pure nonsense. There was too much land between their respective empires for either to be concerned over the other. He ceased following this wandering thought as quickly as it found its way into his head when the voice of his son interceded

"Father? Father? Did you hear my question?"

"Hmmm? Oh, a question. Uhhh... Ask it once more, Civi, so that I am sure to understand." Civi frowned, being slightly annoyed at being ignored, he thought, until now.

"Father... If I am not to be a sorceror, then what am I to be when I am old enough?"

"Whatever it is you want to be, Civi." His father turned his piercing blue eyes on his son and locked them onto the boy's similarly blue eyes. The boy's gaze did not waver at first, but eventually he looked down at the reins of his horse.

"But father, I don't know what I really want to be. I only know that I did not want to become a sorceror and spend so much time away from mother and you."

"You are very young and do not have the knowledge yet to make a choice. That is why you hesitate about choosing a life of learning and practicing magic. You should not have to make the choice right now... And so you did not. That is a choice in itself, and I think the proper one for a young boy to make."

"Father, I did learn something though."

"And what is that, Civi."

"I learned that it is harder to be a father than to be a son." Civis was startled by these words, not expecting anything so perceptive to come from a seven year old boy.

"What taught this to you, my son."

"Learning about what you had to do when I was not... well, not myself. And how you had to lead the Century not knowing what had happened to me. And how you had to help Sin Ying and me decide knowing that the Emperor might be unhappy with Romans no matter what we decided... and other things."

"You are learning very well. I am proud of you." The boy's cheeks pinkened slightly. His father did not say this to him very often. He cherished those few moments when it was said. The boy and his father rode side by side for many leagues without further conversation. None was necessary. The boy was content.

____________________________________________________________

In front of them loomed the great mountain that held the Vault of Banishment. The closer they came to its foothills, the more the statue of the dragon seemed to vibrate and pulse in the holding place known only to Septimus. It was as if a force within sought escape with ever increasing vigor.

Septi was concerned. Would they be able to keep it entrapped in the depths of the void within the statue while they carried it the final leagues up the mountain and into the Vault? He hoped so, but wasn't convinced.

Titus spurred his horse to join Civis. He reached across and tapped the Commander on his arm to get his attention. Civis looked the tribune's way. Titus pointed to a high place on the mountain's slope. Something glistened there.

"That is the entrance to the Vault," called out Septi. "We should camp here, Civis, and ride to the entrance tomorrow," the apprentice mage suggested.

"Agreed, Septi. That is what we shall do," said Civis. The Ch'in raised no objection as they were of a like mind. Maganhard saw that the sun would be setting soon and feared that another dream would be his fate that night, just like every night since they left the Emperor's palace. He wearily dismounted from his horse and saying nothing to Dania, made ready his area of the campsite without prompting from anyone there.

Cyber Paladin
Pleb
posted 08-03-01 11:16 ET (US)     235 / 295       
The navy blue blanket of night covered the eventful Earth, and the elegant silver rays of the full moon was shining bright on the expedition as they were chilling out after dinner.

In his tent Septi was reading a sheepskin scroll, comprehensible to few people, and useful to even fewer. In fact, in that time there was only one person on Earth capable of using that.
"Pointless... pointless..." Septi repeated to himself. "It's pointless." Slowly he shaked his head, and put the scroll back to his pack.

"Excuse me?" It was Civi outside.
"Come in Civi, it's cold outside." Indeed it is, the winter has come early. October, and it's cold like the air was freezing. Septi crawled towards the opening and opened the entrence for Civi.
"Thank you Septi." Civi's voice shook from the temperature despite of his clothing.
"Have some tea, it warms you." Somehow Septi was able to stock a considerable amount of tea. "What's the matter Civi?"
"Well, make it this way... should I go with you tomorrow?" Asked Civi, directly.
"I'd say why not? Go in and have a look, see if we can do anything."
"But I know..." Protested Civi.
"Yes, they've got to stay behind."
"What if..."
Septi smiled. "Take it easy Civi, it doesn't hurt having a look right?"
"I know." The warmth of the tea returned power back to Civi.
"And if the dragon comes out, they can't help can they?" Septi's eyes squinted, he was a bit too eager to try out his newly acquired skills. "I can see it's not the only reason you come to me kid."
"No indeed." Civi wasn't suprised, it was not the first time Septi 'try out' his skills.
"Then what is it?"
"I... want to know..." Civi hesitated, "what my destiny is."
Before Septi could even laugh, Civi continued.
"You know, everybody has a destiny. Your destiny is to be a mage, Sin Ying is to be a queen. Then what is my destiny?"
Still a child, Septi thought.
"Your destiny?" Asked Septi, "It depends."
"Why?" Civi frowned, and feel like being tricked around.
"No no, I mean it. It depends. It depends on what you want."
"I don't know, I just know that I don't want to be a mage." Answered Civi.
"Understandable, not everyone is meant to be a mage. Well, just what do you want to be then?"
"I don't know..."
"Em..." Septi rubbed his eyes and lowered his tone. "Then how can I tell you your destiny? Don't tell me you expected me to tell you what to do huh?"
"Well..." Indeed. The words struck Civi hard. Like a stone thrown into a pond, there's ripples in his mind. "What do I want to do..."
"Is exactly your destiny." Septi pointed out and laughed. "Your destiny is in your hands. Haven't you heard of this?"
"Nope." Slowly and thoughtfully, Civi crawled back out from the tent, wondering what he wanted to be.
A mage? Definitly not.
A warrior like dad? I'm fed up with violence.
A politician? The power struggle is too much for me...
A normal citizen selling cakes? Man I'm from the Romanus family...

"Just what do I want to do?" Civi asked himself.
"I don't know..." He sighed, looked up in the sky. The stars were shining bright, yet none of them can tell what Civi should do.

[This message has been edited by Cyber Paladin (edited 08-03-2001 @ 11:22 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 08-03-01 20:58 ET (US)     236 / 295       
Civi agonized awhile longer, then he stepped inside of his tent. One of the few toys permitted to be carried on the expedition for Civi's amusement was a set of sticks and blocks. They were miniaturized so there could be many in the set and so as to take up as little space as possible.

Civi said nothing to Sin Ying, who was sitting on the cot at the far side of the tent. She had finished her nightly lesson and the Emperor's Chief Advisor had retired to his own tent for the night. Civi reached for the case of sticks and blocks, pulled off the tightly sealed lid and began to build a structure on the flattest ground surface he could find.

"What are you doing, Civi?" Sin Ying asked in her gentlest voice. She knew immediately when something was bothering the boy.

"Nothing," came Civi's terse reply.

"It doesn't look like nothing."

"Oh, alright. I'm building something."

"What are you building, Civi?"

"A villa."

"Show me how to build a villa, Civi... please?" asked Sin Ying.

Civi looked up finally. "Do you really want to see how I do that?"

"Yes, of course."

"Alright. You start with a wall and braces, then you build arches for strength... See how the keystone fits into the top of the arch and holds it together? And then you lay walking stone... Oh! And here is how you build a roof to keep the water out." Civi laughed. "Actually, a real villa has tiles, but I use these flat sticks as a make believe roof."

"You like to build don't you?"

"Yes, Sin Ying. It's my favorite thing to do."

"What else do you build?" asked the Ch'in girl. Civi thought a little before answering.

"I like to build villas and barns, fortresses and barricades, and sometimes I build machines to knock the fortresses and barricades down. Then there are roads and aqueducts... you know, the things that soldiers build when they have no enemy to fight. I have a whole road system built in miniature in a secret place in one of the yards of the villa. The bridges were the most fun to build."

Sin Ying smiled at Civi. "I would like to have seen it, Civi. I think it must be wonderful."

"Just child's stuff..." Civi's face turned pink with the complement.

"I'll bet the men who build the real things were children once themselves," said Sin Ying.

"Of course they were," agreed Civi.

"Just like you?" persisted the smiling Ch'in girl.

"Yes... just like me..." Civi's expression suddenly changed into something more quizzical. Hmmm. Just like me, he was thinking.

"And you could be just like them when you are older, couldn't you?" she said.

"I could, couldn't I," said Civi matter of factly.

"Then maybe it is for the best you do not want to be a mage, Civi. And all of these things that are happening to us now are for the best..." Sin Ying tilted her head in the way that girls sometimes do. "When you build your first real building, or road or fortress or whatever it is, will you think of me?"

Civi's cheeks became a little pinker once more. "Yes." Then Civi surprised himself by saying. "I will miss you then most of all." And he quickly lowered his eyes and picked up some sticks and blocks to build something new. Sin Ying smiled and said nothing more. She picked up some sticks and blocks herself and let the boy show her how to build something with them. The boy's mind was hard at work on the present and the future even as he and the girl were making believe.

They did this together until the need to sleep overwhelmed them. They put the sticks and blocks back into the travel box and each retired to their respective cots. The girl dreamed of colorful silk robes, lotus flowers and scented baths. The boy dreamed of villas, bridges and walled forts. But in each child's dream appeared a shadowy figure that neither contrasted nor blended with the images in their minds. It neither threatened nor beckoned. It simply was there. They could not put a name to the figure, the children being so young; but others who were much older and who had experienced its presence had done so in times before.

The name of the figure was Destiny.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 08-03-2001 @ 09:06 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 08-04-01 10:58 ET (US)     237 / 295       
The morning of the next day Septi led only a few members of the mission to the entrance to the Vault of Banishment. With him were Civi and Sin Ying, Civis Romanus, Gaius Accipiter, Titus, Maganhard and Roulv Dania. Septi made it clear to the Ch'in that their presence would only make matters more difficult. The Ch'in did not understand but accepted his direction. They had no other choice. The Emperor had specifically commanded that at the location of the Vault the Ch'in were to obey Septi without question.

Before them now rose the 20 foot high doors to the vault. The doors appeared to be cast of some kind of metal, but were highly polished and bore so many images of Ch'in and dragons that the metal was mostly obscurred by the paintings.

Civi looked up at the doors, fully extending over 14 feet above his head. He asked the question on everyone's mind.
"Septi, how do we get in?"

Cyber Paladin
Pleb
posted 08-04-01 14:59 ET (US)     238 / 295       
Septi didn't answer.
The words "I don't know" kills, Septi knew. Even he didn't know how to open the door, he've got to work it out.

"Septi?" Civi asked again.
"That's the first test for us..." Septi tried to stay calm, and tried to look cool.
Why should there be a test for the ones who come to banish the dragon... Septi wondered. And... we can't really banish it now can we...

Maybe all is not lost.... A voice came up in his mind.

"Hey... look at it." Everybody saw, yet nobody pointed out that the door is simply a door. There was no walls beside it. Titus could hold no longer. "Why... I mean.. we can just walk around..."

"Well, do you see any vault behind it then?" Countered Septi.
"Er.. well... no..."
"If I'm not wrong, I guess it's a portal." Extra careful with words doesn't hurt, thought Septi.

Hours passed, the group was still figuring out how to open the door. None dared touching it.
"Em. Let's try the simple way then." Maganhard was running out of patience. With a loud roar, the 6-feet-tall visigoth threw himself at the door, just to find himself bounced back with a bang.
"Sigh..." Rubbing his shoulder, the barbarian went back to the group.
"If you can't push it open... can we pull it?" Someone suggested.
"There's no handle..." Someone countered.

A couple more hours passed. It was noon then when Septi decided to do some mediation, while the rest of the group went for some afternoon nap.

"Ahem..." Septi cleared his throat, then everybody woke up to see what the mage has came up with.
"Nothing magical. Well," Septi began, "It's the doors in front, but it's just a wall behind. So, I deduce that the door has to be opened by pulling."
"Great discovery Septi...." Said Sin Ying in her most sarcastic voice.

The dark black gates, as seen before, was highly polished. Even the golden decorations were smoothly inscribed on it.
In the front, each flap of the door was inscribed with a dragon, kind of like what was on the Emperor's silk robe. In the back, the Romans just discovered, were numerous faint drawings with a lot of circles. Some guys look like victors with full circle above them and an small object in a hand, and skeletons with incomplete circles above them. Some of them with half a circle, some of them...
"Wait!" Screamed Sin Ying when she saw what was above the next skeleton drawing, "Isn't that a moon?"
Indeed it was, the next few skeletons had above them different size of moons. And the last of them, none.

"Aha! Pretty nasty trap!" Septi finally figured out, "I know! The doors opens when moonlight shines on it. And it's pretty straight forward: Unless we enter when the moon is full, we're dead. And of course, we've got the jade thing in our hands."
The Romans leashed a sigh of relief and amazement.
"One Ch'in told me that in their lunar calender, fullmoon is on fifteenth. And yesterday night was thirdteenth." Reported Titus.
"That means tomorrow night will be fifteenth..." Sin Ying said.
"Another great discovery." Septi mimicked while the girl flushed. "That means we've got another night to guess what's inside."

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 08-07-01 16:05 ET (US)     239 / 295       
Conversation spoken within the Roman Auxiliaries' camp:

"Do you know?"

"No, do you?"

A head turned to a neighbor. "Do you know what's inside?"

"Can't imagine. Do you think its bad, whatever it is?"

"Who knows."

"Well, Septi sure doesn't."

"Are you surprised?" Somebody snickered.

"With Septi? Noooo. Business as usual."

"He likes a mystery, doesn't he."

"He is a mystery." Snickering again.

"Awwww, come on. That's not fair. He helped us with the thing that took over Civis's son, didn't he.

"Yeah, but he had to be half dead to do any good."

"Ever known a mage that didn't seem half in one world and half in another?"

"Never met a mage before. Just jugglers and tricksters masquerading as sorcerors or magicians or mages."

"Well, we'll see if Septi is a trickster or not tomorrow night."

"I'm sure somebody will; but it won't be us."

"Yeah, I know. We'll be down here and they'll be up there."

"I think I'd rather have it that way." The other agreed.

"I don't like this magic stuff anyway. Give me a living opponent and I'll take care of him with my gladius. Never mind this magic dust, hocus pocus stuff. One swing and a thrust and it's over. So much the better."

And so the talk continued around the camp until the rising of the moon on the 15th day of the lunar month.

____________________________________________________________

Once more Septi stood before the polished ebony colored doors with the painted images of skeletons and moons in various phases and positions. The darkening sky was clear of clouds and as the cold white orb rose its light began to penetrate what the sun left behind. The light of the moon seemed to make the images brighter against the black background of the doors, giving the images the look of having depth, as if each was a raised sculpted image instead of a frescoe.

Now they seemed to move, as if trying to push themselves away from the door. Septi touched the image nearest to him. No, it was flat and still. The coldness of the metal penetrated into his hand. Why were they seeing what wasn't really happening?

In Septi's hand was the pouch that held the statue of the dragon. There was imperceptible movement within the pouch. The statue was stirring... But was it the image or the entrapped long that moved within. He kept the pouch tightly grasped in this hand so as not to lose it.

Moonlight continued to intensify reflections on the ebony metal doors. Then came the unexpected sound of metal scraping on metal. An image of a full moon at shoulder heighth on the door suddenly began to move outwards just as an oval section in the center of the full moon's image began to withdraw into the door.

For a moment, Septi was puzzled. Then he understood. A keylock. But what was the key? He felt tugging at his sleeve. It was Sin Ying.

"Master Septi... The dragon statue's base is shaped like the oval in the moon," she said and then she stepped back. Of course, thought Septi. How much more logical can it be. To get into the vault you need the statue. Leave the statue in the vault and when the vault locks at moonfall, the key is forever locked inside and the vault cannot be opened again. The result - banishment.

Septi opened the pouch and withdrew the statue. He fitted the base to the oval. A perfect match! But nothing happened. He turned the statue to the left... Nothing happened. He turned it to the right... Nothing happened. Next he turned it to the left and pushed... Still nothing happened. He took a breath to steady his nerves. Then Septi turned the statue to the right and pushed. He felt something give and withdrew the statue from the keylock, quickly putting it back into the pouch.

From somewhere deep within a rumbling noise grew behind the doors. Then a metallic clang reverberated through the doors. Both doors began to swing inside as the vault opened to let Septi and the others to enter. But even as the doors opened wide and stayed that way, Septi put his hand up to signal that they should not enter.

"Only certain of us can enter the vault. I will name those who can enter and then the selected must enter together with me, the rest remaining outside." Septi knew who the selected must be and so the choosing was brief... Those who entered with Septi were...

Benson
Pleb
posted 08-07-01 16:28 ET (US)     240 / 295       
Not Another night Maganhard inwardly groaned. His head dropped and he turned and walked from the cave. What would happen tonight he wandered. He was so tired he knew sleep would take him prisoner but what whould haunt him tonight.

Slowly he drug himself to his tent. He stoped outside of it and looked at it, Why should such a insignificate thing like this cause him, a warrior such fear. Visigoths knew no fear yet here he was afraid of a tent and what waited for him inside, sleep. after a few minutes he finally pulled crawled in the tent and collapsed onto his bedrole.

For an eternity he stared at the roof of the tent fight sleep but slowly, ever so slowly it crept and crawled its way over him and he fell a sleep.

...Maganhard found himself sitting under a tree on a hill overlooking a small town of people. They were going about his business some tending the crops, some the animals,amd the other jobs that needed to be done for the community to survive. He sat there enjoying the peace and quiet of the scene. All of the sudden maganhard was starled by the sound of horses coming up around him. Then suddently a swarm of stangly dressed horsemen flowed over the hill and aound him and the tree toward the town. Maganhard in horrow watched as the mounted warriors invaded the town killing all that in thier path. He wanted to help. He got up and started to charge to help but he stop and in horror relized that one of the riders was his younger brother. What could he do. He had to help the people yet he could not or risk facing his brother in battle....

Maganhard sat up in the tent. He was drenched in sweat and hid musles was shaking as if he had just been in a long battle. He sat there in disblief of the vision that had come to him. His brother a common thief. Never! With that he got up and left his tent only to realize that the new day was dawning. Was this the day he wandered...

Cyber Paladin
Pleb
posted 08-08-01 05:22 ET (US)     241 / 295       
Just as Maganhard was wondering, the shouting of Dania waked him.
"They're coming back, they're back!" The chanting woke everybody up.

In great hurry, the worried father dashed out from his tent to see if his son were okay.

From the great gate evolved four figures, one exceptionally tall. Two small. And one... half-dragged along by Gaius.

"We need some water." Requested Gaius, "and some food."
"Oh, what happened to Septi!?" Civis asked, and reliefed seeing the kids were alright.
"Nothing serious, just minor exhaustion" Replied the tall man while food and water was quickly served by Dania.

After a couple of hours, the young mage seemed to have recovered.
"So what happened Septi?"
"Was the dragon banished?"
"What was inside?"
A flock of questions flocked Septi while he organised the story to tell the curious fellows.



"Sin Ying, Civi... Gaius." Said Septi in a low tone with a rhyme, as if he was singing.
"Come... Sin Ying and Civi, hold on my hands." The mage was still chanting. He held out his hands for the kids to hold on. The girl on his right, while the boy on his left. Gaius was following them into the blue glowing portal.

Just before they touched the glowing blue, a breeze swept by and like steam, the quartet disappeared into unknown.
The Gate was glowing no more, and as if nothing had happened, the door were still open, but the rest of the group could see throught the open door frame.

The quartet found themsleved stood in a large endless grassland. The green vegetation was knee high and the sky was covered with thick black cloud. Strong wind blew in all directions as lightning struck here and there, yet no fire broke out, nor did they hear any thunder. Everything were silent like muted. Stood before them was a large altar built with every known precious gem, and was built on a stone elevation. On the altar was a small gold jug with a small opening. The gold lid laid nearby.
At last, Septi knew for sure what he must do, yet he also knew he didn't have enough power for this job.
He dropped the jade figure into the jug, put on the lid, and went back to where the others were standing. Just as wha Master Will told him to do in numerous dreams.
As if prepared, there were four blood red circles on the ground, and the quartet positioned like they did when they entered.
"Sit down, and concentrate on wishing to banish the dragon." Septi said, with the strange tone. "Whatever happens, do not, I repeat, do not leave the circle."
"When do we know we suceeded or not?" Asked Sin Ying.
"You see the bright dot on the lid?" Septi said.
"Yeah." On top of the lid, there was a glowing dot, flickering with power.
"When the light covers the whole jar. The jade statue is forever destroyed, and the dragon itself is forever trapped in this jar of light."

Everybody settled in their own circle, which was about three feets apart from each other.
Then Septi began his spell. With every runeword leaving his mouth, he felt his power, both physical and mental, leaving him as well.
"There's simply not enough determination..." Thought Septi as he glanced at the others, the kids seemed exhausted as he was, and Gaius was unchanged as expected.
He knew Gaius wasn't allowed to help, but he wondered why he was still one of the chosen.

A few moments passed.
"Septi... Septi... I can't hold for long..." Civi said, his level of exhaustion was revealed by his weak voice.
"Me too." Sin Ying said, and she was no better than Civi.
"Rest then, we've got a long way to go." Septi knew the kids couldn't stay for long.
The kids fell asleep in their circles in no time. It was only Gaius and Septi then.

"This is killing me Gaius... help me..." A message of Septi reached Gaius mind.
"Hold on, young man. The test didn't even began yet."

Illusions began to take form in front of them.
Luckily the kids are sleeping... thought Septi as he closed his eyes to shut himself off from the temptation.
"Septi, you can leave now..." The voice of his father.
"HELP!!!!" The kid in Tyre.
"Come on Septi, lets play a game." The kids.
"Septi, I can hold no longer..." The desperate voice of Civi, "I'm going home."
For safety, Septi glanced at the kids. To his great horror, Civi began to walk away from the circle.
"Civi No!!!" As soon as the words leaves his mouth. He felt as if he was punched in his chest.
Foolish me... Septi knew he fell in the trap. Quickly he resumed his concentration.

"Ignorant mortal..." The sound of the dragon, "Can't you see all the precious gems on the altar?" The sound was as tempting as the gems.
"If you want it, it's yours." The dragon said as slow as he could. "You can buy a whole empire with the wealth can't you see?"
The dragon repeated to tempt Septi with all sorts of wealth, with illusion of all kinds to lure him. Yet none succeeded.
"You're going to die, and you cannot banish me with your little power, mortal." The dragon tempted once again.
"I don't expect to live when I came in." Septi said to himself, fighting a bitter battle against the temptation.
He was no more than a man, and the lure were just as tempting to him as to the others.

The light of righteous merely covered about a quarter of the jar, but Septi's own power could only fight against the resisting power of the dragon. And the light was actually retracting slowly.
"If the plan worked, it takes five minutes...." Sighed Septi in his mind. "I'm gonna die for this... is that my destiny?" He wondered.
"Gaius... if I die for this, please take the kids back to Civis..." Septi sent another message, "I beg you."
But there was no response from the immortal.

The kids finally woke up after the nap, and quickly resumed concentration. But their power was weakening quick.
"This is radical... they shouldn't be so weak..." Wondered Septi.

[This message has been edited by Cyber Paladin (edited 08-08-2001 @ 05:35 AM).]

Cyber Paladin
Pleb
posted 08-08-01 22:56 ET (US)     242 / 295       
The time seemed to have stopped, so did the light on the jar.
Septi felt strange after the waves of temptation. He felt he was refreshed... and his power were coming back to him. Maybe there were other sources of determination... thought Septi.

He could only pray that he and the kids do not fall into the temptations... wait... temptations!?
Septi glanced at the kids, both are biting their lips bitterly. Obviously the dragon is now working on both kids.
"Civi, Sin Ying. Concentrate!" Shouted the mage, but the kids didn't seem to catch his words. Their concentration must have been broken by the turmoil... I see... thought Septi.
He squinted his eyes, and tried to probe into the kids' mind and see what's causing so much trouble, and hopefully he can help them fight the temptations.
"Don't even try young man." There was a message from Gaius, "The test is prepared for them."
Septi sighed... You're on your own now, don't let me down... He prayed.

Civi's hand was shaking with fear, and his mind was utterly confused.
"Ha ha," Sin Ying's laughter was like a silver bell, "Civi, come on~ See if you can catch me..."
"Civi! Look at what you have done!" His father was staring at him sternly, "Get out now!"
"It's real Civi. The Tree of Despair is real." Said Septi.
.......
Every illusion striked deep into Civi's mind, every single one strikes right on Civi's weakpoint. The dragon was not confusing him, it wanted to make him insane.
Images after images of sad memory, and waves after waves of sorrow.
"Banish me, ignorant mortal." The dragon finally revealed his true form before the boy. The boy was stronger than it had thought, yet it created quite a turmoil in his mind.
Time to move in for the kill, thought the dragon.
"Banish me, ignorant mortal." Said the dragon in his most tempting voice. "And you've got to say goodbye to your fair Sin Ying, forever!"
Civi bited hard on his lips. Tears began to roll on his cheek, yet Civi didn't wipe it, he just ignored it.
"Only if you let me go, you can stay with her forever. Can't you see?" The dragon went on. "All you have to do is stand up, walk to the portal. That's it!"
Like possessed, Civi slowly stood up.

"No Civi! No!!!" Both Septi and Sin Ying cried out, seeing in horror that the boy was already at the edge of his circle. But there was no sound, all were like muted.
One last step, and you're gone mortal... the dragon sees his victory. But Civi didn't make his last step, with his head down with sorrow, and tears dropping like rain, he shouted at the thin air.
"Why should I stay with her if she don't like to?"
"Why?? Tell me why!!!"
The sorrow of the boy turned into fury and hatred to the dragon. The fury of the boy feared even the evil dragon, who knew then it was fighting a losing battle. Sin Ying was protected by Kong No Lin, and couldn't be tempted... nor her concentration could be disturbed as her worries about Civi is now freed.

It took quite a while for the boy to calm down. When he did, he concentrated hard to banish the dragon as told by Septi. The light didn't grow fast, but the rate of growth was quite considerable. One third of the jar was covered...

Good... we now have enough determination. Septi wondered about however fate twist and turned, destiny is always unchanged.

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 08-09-01 04:25 ET (US)     243 / 295       
Micah Aragorn's entry

The dragon twisted and squirmed as if trying to free itself from the grasp of some unknown force. The light ever so slowly moved along the jar as Septi and the children continued to desperately try to banish the evil.

It had tried with Septi and again with the young boy to break free of the jars grasp as it would only take one of them to doubt themselves to strengthen its power and overtake the others. But he had not tried them all and he knew if this one turned the others would certainly doubt they would succeed and would stop their attempt.

The dragon stopped its squirming and turning it's head glared with it's red flamed eyes at the figure standing in the fourth circle,"Ah! The Angel. Don't worry they can't hear me. Your secret is safe with me."

Gaius looked at the beast and smiled. "Your words will not turn me, evil one. I do not answer to you for my actions."

"Actions! What actions?",replied the Dragon. " I know your actions are to not interfer with and change the course these humans take. So why are you presently here?"

Gaius raised his head and staring back at the beast," They make their own choices and decisions. I do not tell them what course to make."

The Dragon laughed sarcasticly and answered," Did you not ask questions to the girl child to persuade her to stay with the boy emperor? Therefore making her decision for her?"

"No! I simply repeated the questions that were in her own mind and let her own thoughts and feelings be her judge. She made the final choice."

"Have you not at times healed those that were close to death and changed the course of their miserable lives.", the Dragon continued its attempt to make Gaius feel he had broken the rules of his own kind.

"Those that I have helped heal were not close to death and would have survived anyway. I merely gave them comfort and peace of mind to speed their recovery."

The Dragon stopped for an instance as the pressure of the grasp it was in bound it even more. It's struggles to free itself were of no use. As it turned once more in Gaius' direction you could hear the Dragon's deep growl at its plight.

And in one last attempt asked Gaius,"Did you not bind me in the depths of the young boy's soul to prevent me from taking my rightful place when the boy was first bitten?"

Gaius once again smiled and answered," Yes I did bind you when the boy was first bitten."

The Dragon laughed as if victory was his replying," See,you admit it. You admit you interfered and changed this boy's life."

"I admit to only making the boy comfortable for the long journey that would take him here where you would re-enter this world and make your presence known. Young Civis' destiny has brought him here to deal with you. I could not have ever changed that."

With the last words that Gaius spoke to the Dragon the light on the jar was now two thirds of the way down it and the Dragon let out a growl that if it were not for the silence of the place the four would have shattered eardrums.

The Dragon looked once again on the small party and knowing it had only a single chance prepared to challenge the girl, Sin Ying.......

[This message has been edited by Jayhawk (edited 08-09-2001 @ 02:52 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 08-09-01 04:49 ET (US)     244 / 295       
Jayhawk's entry

"Little girl," the long whispered. His coils wrapping loosely around the girl.
"Remember the power you held when the Phoenx held you? Now's she's left you without power. I can give that power again, if you just step forward and embrace me. I can give you power beyond belief, power to bind the emperor to you, power to make your every whim come true."
It's ruby eyes were inches away from the girl's. The barbels next to his mouth caressed her face as he showed her images of herself on the Dragonthrone, the boy emperor kneeling at her feet in abject abasement.

Sin Ying laughed in his face.
"I have all the power I need, you silly snake. My father loves me."
"You have no father, " the long growled.
"Yes, I have. He's sitting right across me."
Her eyes rested on the serene features of Accipter, who smiled at her as though he heard her speak.
"That is not your father"
"He is my father in all that matters. I have his love, I have Chen Li's love"
"Yet you are but one of his wives, he will take others and discard you."
"And does that matter? As long as he loves me? Civi loves me too, and don't you go telling me wants me to stay or that I could make him stay. People must go where they want to, I will not keep him here.
Power, who needs power when you have love?"
She looked at the long, her eyes shining with inner light.
"I pity you, you, who does not know love"

The dragon uncoiled, seemed to have shrunk and slithered towards Septi. His shape changed into that of the old man that had taught the youth to find his to magic.
"Septi?"
"Master Will?"
"Rise Septi and stop this tomfoolery."
"Master?"
"Didn't they tell you this act will cost your life? You can not bind the long without sacrificing your life. You can not leave this cave, never use the power you found."
Septi looked at the specter before him and his eyes narrowed.
"You are not my master, foul serpent. Master Will would not hesitate to lay down his life in order to save the life of others.
Begone!"
"You will never leave this cave!" the dragon screamed defiantly, as he felt the golden glow slowly but inexorably pushing down.

Accipiter watched the young man and the two children. Beads of moisture dotted their faces. He had seen and heard all the ways the long tried to break the spell that was slowly taking hold of it.

Softly he'd been releasing a trickle of strength to his three companions, little enough, that he hoped it would not be noted. In a way, he realised it wouldn't matter. The dragon would be sealed, but would be released again. Evil was not to be taken out of this world as long as mortals were alive. Good and evil were like two faces of the same coin, inextricably bound. However, it was the struggle that formed man, the struggle that made man do it's most glorious deeds and it's most evil.

It would never stop, but in it's wake both beauty and despair were created and beauty would help keep desapir at bay.

Gaius blinked and shifted his vision the vessel that contained the jade figurine. The glow was spreading from it's top, forcing the blackness that held it's base down. He knew neither Septi nor the kids could see the blackness struggle to overcome the advancing front of light. It was fighting a loosing battle, as the three concentrated on their task.

His thoughts wandered and his mind's eye showed him Sin Ying, dressed like the Emperess she would become, her head held high, the glow of power radiating from her. He knew he'd be visiting her, maybe not as often as he'd like, but he wouldn't be able to refrain from visiting his 'daughter'. He turned the feeling over in his mind and smiled. If anybody would have watched, they'd seen his eyes turn fully golden.
It felt good, Accipiter decided, to have a daughter.

The glow on the vessel slid slowly down it's side, pushing away the darkness, sealing it inside. The long was growing desparate and was bombarding his assailants with illusions of death and horror. Sin Ying reeled backwards from an especially terrifying vision, then relaxed as two hands touched her shoulder.

The Phoenix, shaped as a slender woman, dressed in richly embroidered silks with hair almost down to her ankles had appeared behind her, pouring her quiet strength into the girl. She smiled at the angel and winked.

The glow descended steadily down the vessel, reaching it's base.

Then in the blink of an eye the long's manifestations disappeared and light flowed over the jeweled altar, wrapping it in a million everfescent shades. As it happened the Phoenix faded back into the darkness and Accipter bowed his head in thanks to her.

"We did it!" Septi exclaimed.
"We actually did it!"
He rushed to his feet then helped Civi and Sin Ying up.

Accipiter approached the three and drew them in an embrace, his ebony wings nearly visible as he folded them around his three friends. He adjusted his glamour once more, as he saw a curious look pass Sin Ying's eyes. She had seen the wings, just before they disappeared.

When Gaius stepped back he took with him the sharp edge of the vision the long had given them. After all their hard work, they didn't need the full impact of those memories to invade their dreams at night.

"Come," he said to Civi, who was bouncing with joy.
"Let's go outside, to stop your father from whetting his sword down to nothing."

[This message has been edited by Jayhawk (edited 08-10-2001 @ 03:22 AM).]

Cyber Paladin
Pleb
posted 08-09-01 05:56 ET (US)     245 / 295       
"Wait a minute... let's do some touch up... just for safety." Septi said. Then he walked in front of the altar, the precious gems were transfromed to dull stones in the process.
The group could finally afford the luxury to relax and look around. The formerly dark sky now turned to clear with countless stars making their last shine before dawn. The violent unforgiving storm now changed to gentle breeze.
The kids enjoyed the great sight and relaxed while Septi were doing his job.

The young mage stood motionless in front of the altar.
Do it Septi, he thought, you're not an apprentice now...
He took a deep breath, stretched out his hands and chanted the runes. His eyes closed with deep concentration and his tunic wave with flickering power growing within.
Slowly a blue haze appeared on both of his hands, his body grow with white pure energy.
Without a audible sound, the altar shattered into countless shards of stone. The sharp shards hanged in mid air, and the jar in the middle of them.
Then Septi clenched his fist, and the shards speeded up towards the jar as if they were given life. The bright light jar was warpped in layer after layer of solid stone, creating a round boulder about the size of an ox.

The sun has already rised, Septi's face reflects light with perspiration, and his eyes glows with determination.
"Not enough for you, evil dragon." With a flick of a finger, a yellow beam of energy came from the sky and striked a bottomless hole in the stone elevation that the group was standing on.
The round boulder was then sank into the hole, the stone around the hole grew to fill it.
Septi took a deep breath. Seeing that both the dragon and it's container was properly disposed of and his duty had finally finished, he allowed himself to collapse to the ground.

"No no... I'm alright. Just a bit... well... tired." That's what he said before he re-opened the blue portal. "Let's go."



"So the dragon is banished right?" Asked Titus.
"Yes." Septi said, "It couldn't come out unless something unexpected happens."
"You mean it can come out!?" Exclamated Sin Ying, feeling that their effort was somehow wasted.
"No no... you see the dragon's not killed or destroyed whatever, just banished. It can only come out if it is released, whether by some fools powerful enough to do that or by immortals who want to punish the land. Whatever, it's not for our generation to concern. The time of chaos is over, and the land should be granted freedom to prosper." The mage reassured the group that the dragon would not come again in centuries.

"Our duty here is done." Announced the Roman commander as they regrouped with the army. "We will then be heading back to home."
The Romans roared with overjoy in response. Every single soldiers missed their home, and in fact, they were quite fed up with the weird lifestyle in the land of Ch'in.

The army then turned towards Luoyang, the great capital of Ch'in. Both because it was in their way, and because they've got to deliver the good news to the Emperor.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 08-09-01 15:49 ET (US)     246 / 295       
"But Commander Romanus, you do not have to return to the Emperor's palace," said the Ch'in Commander. "We can escort Sin Ying back ourselves."

"Nonetheless, she is my ward and I must be absolutely convinced of her safety and that she has indeed been made welcome as well as comfortable. It is Roman law." Civis finished on an imperious note that even the Ch'in Commander was reluctant to challenge, though he tried.

"As you wish, Commander Romanus. The Emperor has placed with me a treaty for the trade of silk with the Roman Empire to be given to you upon completion of your mission at the Vault and upon your departure. This is the land of the Ch'in, not the Romans. There really is no need..." Civis cut him off.

"The need is Sin Ying's... your future Queen. I am pleased to accept the treaty from the Emperor for review. I will use the time of our travel back to the Emperor's Palace to study its content. Are we agreed?" The Ch'in Commander looked at the Chief Advisor, who had been observing the exchange from the Ch'in Commander's side. The Chief Advisor nodded.

"We are agreed, Commander Romanus."

"Excellent. Then let us begin the journey back..."

____________________________________________________________

Civis reached across from his mount to place his hand on Civi's shoulder. "Was it especially difficult for you, my son?"

"Yes, father. The dragon tried very hard to frighten me into leaving the circle. He even... He even used an image of you saying terrible things to me to frighten me. But I didn't believe it. You've told me I was wrong and punished me, but you've never hurt me or said such mean things to me. I knew it wasn't you. It couldn't have been."

"Civi..." began Civis.

"Father?"

"I've never been more proud of you than I am today."

"Thank you, father. May I tell you something?"

"Of course."

"I want to be an engineer." Civis had not expected this particular comment and for an instant nearly drew on the reins of his horse. Being near the head of the column this would have been a disruption to the formation and so years of discipline took control immediately and his grip on the reins relaxed just as soon as it had tightened.

"Military or civil?"

"Military first, civil later. You know it means I won't be a Commander like you. Is that permitted?"

"The choice has always been yours, Civi. Of course it's permitted. By the way, do you know that the Legions' Engineers have a Commander, and he is an Engineer too?"

"No, father. You never told me that before."

"You hadn't brought up the subject of 'engineers' until now. Just thought you should know..." Civis looked at his son's face. Yes, there is ongoing thought mirrored there. Leave it alone Civis, he said to himself. The thought will either grow or wither of its own accord. It shall be Civi's choice. But Civis couldn't help smiling, and so he looked away so that his son wouldn't see his knowing smile. Yes, fatherhood... Sometimes the most difficult task of all; and yet, sometimes too easy for words.

____________________________________________________________

Sin Ying was riding next to Accipiter. Gaius noticed her looking at him with an expression that said a question needed to be asked. He softly touched the little place in her mind that prevented it from being asked, and the girl's reluctance immediately disappeared.

"Uncle Gaius, is it possible to love two boys at the same time?"

Accipiter cleared his throat gently as he prepared his thoughts and his answer...

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 08-10-01 03:41 ET (US)     247 / 295       
"I can not see why not, Sin Ying.
Love is such a precious thing, it should be cherised once it's found. It's like a vine that should be carefully kept, lest it's flowers turn to thorns as jealousy replaces love.

However, most people find it hard to share their love with others. They will grow jealous, and might not be able to help it. Of course this does not mean they are less deserving of your love. They may need it more than they can imagine, maybe more than they want to admit.

It saddens me that something so wonderful, can also be so hard and cause so much pain."

Sin Ying looked at Accipeter
"But what should I do?"
"Follow your heart, little one. That's the only real advice I can give you. Follow your heart and never, ever stop loving. The world needs it."

She nodded and thought of the two boys she loved.
"I'll love you forever, both of you." she whispered softly.
Accipter reached out, took her hand and squeezed it.
"You'll do fine, Sin Ying, I know you will"
The girl gave him a brave smile and kept hold of his hand as they rode onwards.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 08-12-01 22:10 ET (US)     248 / 295       
The customary banquet concluded and the boy Emperor ascended his throne as the Chief Advisor approached Civis Romanus. "Is all in order, Commander Romanus? Will the treaty meet the Emperor of Roma's expectations?"

"It will, Chief Advisor. I have given my approval by signing the document with the signet bearing the name of Caesar Marcus Aurelius. But another matter concerns me."

"And that matter is?"

"The matter of Sin Ying. As her guardian I must be assured that she will be well cared for if I am to leave her in the protection of this Court. It is Roman Law."

The Chief Advisor nodded indicating his understanding. "You will see for yourself in only a brief moment." The Court official raised his hand and a brass gong was sounded. From the rear of the hall a great procession began. First came guards dressed in ceremonial uniforms and armor; then came servants, young women and girls; and then came older women dressed in beautiful silk gowns of every color and hue, but none in white.

Then came Sin Ying, dressed in a white silk gown, her hair and face perfectly made up in the Ch'in style. On the gown were embroidered flowers of blue, yellow and pink nested in the green leaves of their stems. She walked slowly, one step at a time.

A musical ensemble began to play loud, joyous music of Ch'in origin. To the Romans, the music made little sense as the melody seemed obscured by the oddly designed and strangely played instruments. The procession continued until Sin Ying stood before the boy Emperor, who maintained his characteristic regally disinterested expression and distant look.

Sin Ying was approached by the Chief Advisor. She bowed to him in the same courteous manner in which she had begun and concluded her bow to the seated Emperor. "Sin Ying... You have been determined to be of noble birth and you have been looked upon with great favor by the Emperor. He has decreed that you should be his queen and desires that you fulfill the agreement made between your parents and his.

"In his infinite caring and wisdom, the Emperor has acknowledged the difficult path by which you left and then returned to the Empire of the Ch'in. In consideration of this, the Emperor shall not hold you personally to the pledge made by your parents. Instead, he asks that you decide whether to undertake the Pledge or not on your own. He shall consider your decision, whatever it may be, as fulfillment of your parent's commitment to the Emperor. This is a great honor to be so treated by the Emperor of the Ch'in. Decide carefully, Sin Ying; but you must decide now."

Sin Ying hesitated only briefly, seeming to appear to be making a decision. But she had decided long before. "I shall accept and honor the Pledge."

The Chief Advisor bowed to Sin Ying to signify his receipt of her decision. "Sin Ying, you have pledged yourself and the honor of your ancestors to the Emperor. You shall be queen to the Emperor when you are both of age. Until then, you shall be housed and cared for in the Emperor's palace in a manner befitting a future queen." So saying, the Chief Advisor glanced momentarily at Civis Romanus to see if the point had registered with the Roman. It had.

Now the Chief Advisor brought from within his gown an object. It was a necklace of woven gold with a pendant formed of a blue star sapphire. He gently removed the talisman she had worn all of her life from Sin Ying's neck and placed it into her hand. He placed the gold necklace around her neck. The blue stone immediately responded to the bright lights of the hall and formed the delicate image that gave the stone its name. "By command of the Emperor, wear this necklace at all times, Sin Ying, to remind yourself and to show others that you have pledged yourself to him."

Sin Ying bowed to the Chief Advisor and then turned to bow to the Emperor. Her cheeks pinkened suddenly as something unexpected occurred. The Emperor...! Did he really do that!? Was she mistaken!? Even as her cheeks pinkened under the white makeup that had been applied by the servant women she became increasingly convinced it was so. Yes, it did happen!

The boy Emperor had suddenly shifted his eyes to look straight into hers... Then he closed one eye in something the Romans called a "wink". To Roman girls it meant pleasant things. It must be true, because she felt very warm and reassured inside. Yes... It must be true. The things she felt were indeed pleasant.

____________________________________________________________

Civi placed the last miniature block on the magnificent structure he had built on the floor of his tent in the camp of the Romans. Just as he did so, at the same time Sin Ying was standing before the Chief Advisor announcing her decision, a sudden melancholy fell upon the boy. It was as if he knew what had happened even as it occurred.

The melancholy deepened as he stared at the structure standing before him. Deep sadness replaced melancholy. Then the beginnings of despair crept into the places sadness did not fill. He began to cry. Softly at first, then with increasing abandon. Tears fell continuously. Sobs racked his body. It stopped when he had no more tears to shed and his exhausted body could no longer manage the sobs.

In a single, swift move, Civi raised his right hand and slammed it against the block structure he had built scattering its magnificence all about the tent. He made a vow at that moment, a secret vow that only he would ever know and that would guide him the rest of his life. He stared at the destruction he had wrought about him. Its expanse made a lasting impression on his soul.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 08-12-2001 @ 11:33 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 08-13-01 16:24 ET (US)     249 / 295       
The remaining members of the Auxiliary Legion formed itself behind its commander, Marcus Horatius. Marcus and his command stood at parade attention in the vast tiled courtyard that ranged in front of the steps to the Emperor's palace. Civis stood on the steps looking up towards the throne on which sat the boy Emperor. To the boy's side sat Sin Ying, on a somewhat lower and less ornate version of the Emperor's throne.

The Chief Advisor was speaking on behalf of the Emperor, thanking the Romans for their help and their assistance with the long. Then he wished them a good journey back. But there was one more thing. The Chief Advisor stepped back as Sin Ying rose from her diminuitive throne. The girl called out to the Romans... To one Roman in particular.

"Civis Romanus the Younger... Civi... Please come forward."

Civi left Accipiter's side and began to climb the steps of the palace. As he passed his father he looked at him expecting something to be said. His father merely stepped aside, smiling. Civi reached the place where Sin Ying stood. Remembering his training in Ch'in courtesy, he bowed first to the Emperor and then to Sin Ying. After he straightened up, Sin Ying closed the distance in a few firm steps.

"Civi, I want you to have this... if you'll accept it." She showed him the talisman on a cord that had been around her neck until she accepted the Pledge. She held it out to him. "When you see this I hope it will help you to remember me. I will always remember you."

Civi looked at Sin Ying and then at the object in her hand. He reached out and took it in his own hand. Then he placed a hand in his shirt and withdrew an object of his own. It was one of his miniature blocks. He offered it to Sin Ying who took it without hesitation.

"Something for you to remember me by, too," said Civi. He struggled mightily not to embarrass himself with tears. Then Sin Ying turned to the boy Emperor. "Permission requested to say goodbye in the Roman fasion."

The Emperor nodded to signify approval. Sin Ying placed a warm, loving kiss on Civi's cheek. She did the same in turn to Civis Romanus, Gaius Accipiter and lastly to Septimus. Then she returned to her place by the Emperor. This time it was not Civi who shed tears. It was Sin Ying.

Civis Romanus took his son by the hand knowing the time to leave had arrived. They bowed and turned to walk down the stairs. As he mounted his waiting horse he noted that the others had done so as well. He said a few words to Marcus who shouted the order to wheel and ride. The Romans executed the maneuver with customary precision despite their reduced ranks.

Civi turned in his saddle to have one last look at Sin Ying. He saw her sitting at the Emperor's side. She must have been watching him too; for as he turned he saw her raise her right arm and wave to him. He waved back...

The great wooden gates closed behind them and the Romans trooped northwest to the beginnings of the Silk Road in this part of the Ch'in Empire. Civi reached into his shirt and withdrew the talisman given to him by Sin Ying. He stared at it a little while and then put it back into his shirt. He wondered what Sin Ying would do with his building block.

Sin Ying watched as the great gates closed and the Romans disappeared from view. Her tears had spoiled somewhat the makeup the servants had applied to her face. Her left hand hurt a little; but only because she had been grasping Civi's building block so tightly. She stared at the gates eventhough they were now completely closed and barred.

The Emperor shifted in his seat and turned his head to look at Sin Ying. He saw the marks of strain on her left hand. He motioned to his Chief Advisor and spoke a few words to him. The Chief Advisor signaled to a servant who, on command, hurried into the palace and returned with an object in his hand which he gave to the Chief Advisor.

The Chief Advisor approached the Emperor and placed the object in the boy's hands. The Emperor spoke to Sin Ying. "The gift of the Roman boy should be properly housed to protect and preserve it." The Emperor offered the object to Sin Ying.

Startled by being so addressed, Sin Ying made quick motions to straighten herself up and assume the proper posture of a queen to be. She then saw the object offered by the boy. It was a small white porcelain chest with blue Ch'in imaging. The chest was quite small, but its interior was large enough to hold the miniature block without interfering with the chest's lid. She accepted the chest, removed the lid and placed the block inside. Then she placed the lid back onto the chest. "Thank you, my Emperor," she said, bowing to show gratitude.

"It is right to remember our closest friends in much the same way we remember our ancestors. Do not forget them, Sin Ying, no matter what comes your way." Then the boy Emperor signaled that he should be brought into the palace. Now alone with her servants about her, Sin Ying began to wonder about those things that were ahead.

The Romans rode on towards the northwest. As the sun began to set, this time in front of them, most thought of little else than the road home. Even Civi began to think happier thoughts. Some were about their villa near Roma, others were about his mother. And yes, a few were even about his sister, Apollonia.

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 08-14-01 03:33 ET (US)     250 / 295       
Several days later the company reached the hilly region around Dun Huang, several hours after noon. Here Septi would leave them, as he had promised his master to study with the Buddhist monks that lived in the caves. Septi convinced Civis and his son to follow him to the caves. Dania followed Civis, curious as to what this place was about. Accipiter needed no convincing.

The followed a path between the rocks and entered a secluded valley. Caves, both natural and artifical, opened up to the place. Large statues, decked in gold were placed inside the caves. Monks in orange robes wandered around, burning incense, whose thick smell was heavy on the breeze.

Septi took them up along a rickety staircase until they entered a large cave. The seated statue there was easily twice as tall as Accipter, it's face showed a benign smile, the eyes were closed, one hand was lifted, the fingers bent together. The other hand was lowered and touched the ground. The figures feet were tucked underneath the body. The young man bowed to the statue while Accipiter did the same with a slight nod of his head. Dania stared.

"Are they worshipping statues?" he whispered.
"No, Dania, they don't worship the statue, they revere the man who's image it is, even though he said he did not want to be revered and did not want his image to be held in this esteem."
"Who is he?" Civis asked.
"He is the Buddha," Septi answered, "the Enlightened One.
Come"
"A man with a dream" Accipiter added.

Deeper they went into the caves, that were lit by small oil lamps. They passed more statues, and richly painted walls, when suddenly they entered another room.

The statue here was older, much older. They could feel the age. Behind it the wall was covered in small niches, each with a small bronze statue, each statue seated in lotus. Each with a beatific smile.

Light poured into the room trough a hole in the cave wall, stricking the statues face. Vine, rich with flowers, tumbled through it. An old man, wizened, skin as cured leather sat crosslegged before the statue, softly chanting. Septi sat down next to him, followed by Accipter who sat down on the other side of the old man.
Civis remained standing, his hands on Civi's shoulders. Dania beside him.

Time seemed to stop as the smell of incense and flowers deepened, then suddenly it jumped. The sun was gone and the cave was lit softly by the glowing of the incense, oil lamps, and strangely, the face of the Buddha. The old priest had risen and was talking softly in the Ch'in tongue with Septi. Then as Accipiter rose he made a small bow to the tall man and spoke to him briefly in the same langauge. Accipiter smiled and returned the bow.
"Come, " he said to his friends, "Li Dao has invited us to join him for dinner."

Outside evening had fallen and the air was heady with the perfume of nightflowers. Glowworms and fireflies made patterns in the semi-darkness. Civis felt at peace. More so than during any time in the past months.
He felt suddenly sure that he'd be seeing Apolita soon.

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Caesar IV Heaven | HeavenGames