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Topic Subject:THE SILK ROAD III: FORBIDDEN CITY - A Story
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Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-18-02 15:50 ET (US)         
A CITY BUILDING HEAVEN STORY

THE SILK ROAD III:
FORBIDDEN CITY

WRITTEN BY: Civis Romanus, Duan Xuan, GillB (Gill Britannica),
Jayhawk, Micah Aragorn and Proconsul Creaticus Dania


LIST OF CHARACTERS:

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: 13 year old daughter of Civis Romanus and Apolita. Favors mother in appearance. (Civis Romanus)
CIVIS ROMANUS: Mid-30ish Chief Military Advisor to Caesar Marcus Aurelius. Master swordsman. Brown hair, blue eyes, medium heighth and build. Spouse of Apolita. Father of Apollonia and Civis the Younger. (Civis Romanus)
CIVIS THE YOUNGER: "Civi" is the 10 yr. old son of Civis Romanus and Apolita. Favors father in appearance. (Civis Romanus)
DA LONG: Captain in the Army of the Emperor of the Ch'in. (Jayhawk)
FU HACHU: Prime Minister to the Emperor of the Ch'in. (Jayhawk)
GAIUS ACCIPITER: Immortal Angel with sensitivity to humans. Tall with green eyes that flash hues of blue, gold or red when using personal powers. A "glamour" hides his ebony wings.(Jayhawk)
HAN XIN: Young, twenty something, mysterious Ch'in with unique martial arts skills. Dresses in white. Slender, yet muscular build. Jet black hair. (Duan Xuan)
OLIVIA: 17 or 18 year old woman who mysteriously appeared at Civis' villa. Black hair. Attractive. (GillB)
PEI LIAN: 18 year old Emperor of the Ch'in. Called the "Celestial One" by those who serve him. (Jayhawk)
RADKO: Stablemaster on Civis' villa. (Nutmegger)
RONG MING: 15-year-old Ch'in boy. Short with dark black hair. Sister is an unwilling concubine. Parents are dead.
ROULV DANIA: Former slave of nordic descent purchased by Civis Romanus in Tyre and subsequently rewarded with freedom and Roman citizenship. (Proconsul Creaticus Dania)
SIN YING: Oriental girl once a ward of Civis Romanus. Now 15 years old and No. 1 wife of the Boy Emperor of the Ch'in. Educated in Rome as an orphan. (Jaguar)
TITUS TARQUINTIUS: 24 year old Tribune. Brown hair, brown eyes, olive complexion. Friend of Civis Romanus. (Micah Aragorn)
WAN LI: General of the Ch'in Army of the Celestial One (EMPEROR). (Jayhawk)
XIA DENG: Wife No. 2 of the Emperor of the Ch'in. (Jayhawk)

Attention Readers and Writers: This thread is for story posts only. To communicate with the writers, please use the following link to the STORY DISCUSSION THREAD

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-04-2003 @ 03:34 PM).]

AuthorReplies:
Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 11-29-02 03:14 ET (US)     26 / 128       
Accipiter kneeled next to Dania to examine the wound. A quick look showed it was mostly a flesh wound and nothing vital had been touched. It did look foul, so with a quick movement of his hand he killed the germs in the wound. That one at least should heal nicely.

Something tugged at his attention, though, a nagging feeling, that had his eyes drawn to the wooden box.

"Roulv, " he asked.
"What's in that box?"

Proconsul Creaticus Dania
Angel
posted 11-29-02 09:03 ET (US)     27 / 128       
Now the danger was over Dania relaxed and heavy faintness started spreading in his body. He was just about to let the feeling overwhelm him when he heard Gaius's question and lifted his head for answering.

"The box ... what it contains?
A strange bronze vase I found among the crushed Ch'in pottery in the ruins of our home after everything had been burned down. I promised to fullfill Butaras last wish which was a restingplace in Ch'in. I had to cremate her for taking her with me. Her ashes is in the bronce vase."

Dania closed his eyes and let his head fall back on the ground while a single tear slowly made its way down his cheek.

[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 12-01-2002 @ 04:43 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-30-02 13:32 ET (US)     28 / 128       
The small building continued to burn brightly into the night. The water brigade formed to convey buckets of water to the site of the fire succeeded only in preventing the fire from spreading to structures and vegetation nearby. The structure burned to the ground with everything in it, except Roulv Dania and the wooden box and its contents.

The next morning Roulv Dania was compelled by Accipiter to tell his story one more time. "No doubt a comrade of those you hunted and who were hunting you," observed Accipiter. "The sword is Ch'in made."

"But these were not Ch'in who attacked me," countered Dania. "I know the appearance and manner of the Ch'in. These were not Mongol either. I have seen them as well. They were unlike any I have ever seen before, as was the one who assaulted me last night."

Accipiter nodded his head. "Will you permit me to see the bronze vase?" Dania bristled at the request, but Accipiter interrupted him. "Roulv, I will place it back in your care immediately afterwards. You have my word."

Reluctantly, Dania reached for the wooden box. For the first time Civis and Titus could observe the exterior in detail. They watched as Dania's hands glided over the surface of the box, pressing here and pressing there, as pieces of the intricate design recessed below the lines of carving while other pieces extended outwards in unison with each piece that recessed. Civis looked at Accipiter, the question formed in his expression but not asked.

"It's a Ch'in puzzle box, Civis," said Accipiter. "The carving hints at the solution but it takes a knowing eye to find the points of the solution and to carefully apply it to the box." A soft click signaled that the lock had opened. Roulv Dania opened the lid and withdrew the bronze vase, giving it to Accipiter. There were Ch'in symbols, characters and illustrations finely carved into the metal of the vase. Accipiter studied it for several minutes silently and then as promised returned the vase to Roulv Dania. Roulv quickly placed the vase in the box and closed the lid hurriedly. Civis heard a click and saw the recessed and extended pieces of wood slowly return to their original positions scattered around and about the carving. Dania gave an audible sigh as he placed the box once more at his feet.

"You have indeed used the vase for the purpose intended, but not exactly, Roulv," began Accipiter. It is not a vase, it is an urn... a burial urn."

"Then I have used it properly?" asked Dania.

"It's purpose has been served, but it is not a simple urn for burial. It is the creation of a master of the black arts."

Dania's face took on that look that said "Do not speak of such things!" Accipiter noticed. "Dania, there are still those who have not heard any of the Teachings. It is one of those who fabricated this urn."

Civis could see the waves of emotion on Dania's face and moved to return the subject to the object. "Accipiter, you said the urn's purpose is served. Is it because it contains the ashes of Butara?"

"It is not a passive object, Civis. Just as the green artifact that affected Civi was not passive." Civis right fist clenched as if gripping a sword. "Go on," said Civis tersely.

Accipiter paused and then shocked each and every one of them with his revelation. "The urn seeks its content."

In the marked silence that followed Accipiter continued. "When empty, the urn calls on its servants, slaves of the master who created it, to find a mortal to fill its bowels. The mortal closest to the urn when its servants arrive is the targeted victim. Only when it contains this victim's ashes does the urn cease its beckoning."

Titus asked the next question. "Then why was Dania attacked last night?"

"Its master seeks the return of the urn, I suspect."

"And if the urn should be emptied of Butara's ashes?" Roulv Dania's question was on the minds of the others as well.

Accipiter paused a moment, frowning. "The urn will seek another victim; or if captured by the servants of the one who created it, be presented empty to its true intended victim."

"And who do you think is the intended victim? Caesar?" asked Civis.

Accipiter answered. "No, not your Emperor. It would be a member of the Royal Family of the Ch'in, most likely the Emperor or his First Wife if the markings mean what I think."

"Sin Ying?" said Civis.

"Possibly," confirmed Accipiter. "So you see, Roulv Dania," said Accipter, turning to the stunned freedman. "Do not blame yourself for Butara's death. It was not of your doing, nor could you have prevented it. You have done well to not let the object fall into the hands of the servants of its creator. Very well indeed."

"So we destroy the urn and the threat is gone," said Civis with a hopeful expression, though unsureness was etched on its fringes.

"There is more, my friend," cautioned Accipiter. He saw Civis' expression disappear quickly followed by a weary sigh.

"There is always more, Gaius... Do not spare us. Go on, please."

"The urn can only be destroyed by its maker."

"In the land of the Ch'in?"

"Yes."

"How?"

Accipiter pursed his lips. "I don't know, but I know of one among the Ch'in who can read the symbols I cannot."

Civis saw the roll of the die even before the others. "And we must go there and do this because you are... in need of assistance." Only Civis among them knew Accipiter's nature and his constraints. Forever forbidden to Accipiter was the choice to directly intervene on behalf of mortals in matters that affected them, and Accipiter could not purge or neutralize naturally derived poisons once ingested or inserted into a mortal's body.

Civis studied Accipiter's face and his green eyes. There were hints of red among the blue and gold highlights. "And more yet?" the soldier said.

"Yes. Sin Ying's life is already at risk... and you three may be all that can stand in the way of the ones behind the plot."

"The journey is very long. How can we arrive in time to help?" asked Titus.

"Leave that to me," said Accipiter, glancing briefly at Roulv Dania. "It's your agreement to help that I seek."

Civis, Titus and Roulv Dania looked at everything in the room except each other. Finally, they all three, at almost the same time, looked at each other and saw on the faces of their nearby comrades the same decision forming even before the decision became words.

"For Butara," said Roulv Dania simply. "With Civis," said Titus, looking to his fellow Roman to see what he would say. Civis looked at Accipiter and then lowered his eyes. "I will have to tell Apolita."

"Tell her what, Civis?" said Accipiter.

"That the Silk Road demands my attention one more time. She will not be happy about this."

"I will do what I can," said Accipiter, a smile forming on his lips. And that, he concluded, might be more difficult than what lies in store for them at the eastern end of the Silk Road.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-30-2002 @ 01:39 PM).]

Proconsul Creaticus Dania
Angel
posted 11-30-02 18:11 ET (US)     29 / 128       
"May I say something" Dania caught the attention of the others.

"Yes please, what is it" Civis answered.

"Don't get me wrong, but I just realize all I own is my knife, this box, the cloth I'm wearing, Mistral and the saddle. Everything else burned with the building. I'm not backing out or anything but..."

"Don't worry, I'll take care of that" Civis replied "I'm sure we can find something you can use."

"I've been thinking at something" Titus said while looking thoughtfully at the box. "How did you find out how to open it?"

"I'm ... I can't really explain it." Dania tried finding the right words telling how he did it. "It's somehow like my fingers knows what to do. Like they have done this lots of times before. Like they .... like they know the box. Argh, don't know if it makes sense. It sound stupid but that is all I can say about it.

It is a bit the same with the bronce vase -sorry, urn. It feels like the box is the best place for storing the ... urn. After I took the urn out of the box the first time and got attacked or what ever happened I have a feeling something ... heavy ... dark and threatning ... no, gruesome ... I don't know how to tell, I fail the words. I just know I have more peace at mind with the urn hidden away in the box, like it's more safe that way."

Gaius looked thoughtfully at Dania a short moment.

"Well, it surely makes it more difficult to find the urn."

[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 12-01-2002 @ 04:43 AM).]

Gill Britannica
Inactive
posted 11-30-02 19:44 ET (US)     30 / 128       
Olivia sat by the side of the road, her elbows resting on her knees and her chin sunk into her upturned hands. Tears were washing away some of the grime from her face but the state of her clothes and sandals showed that she had been walking for several days. Her despair and exhaustion were obvious for anyone to see.

Civis and Accipter came out of the gateway onto the road, engrossed in conversation as to how Apolita might be placated, when they almost stumbled over the huddled figure. Her head jerked up, a terrified expression in her eyes.

"What are you doing here?" asked Civis in a kind voice. He saw a young woman with black hair tumbling round her face, filthy yet with a certain something about her.

"Wh ... who are you?" the girl asked fearfully looking up at the two men.

"More to the point, who are you?" Civis replied. "And why are you sitting outside my villa?"

"I - I'm sorry" was the only answer.

Accipter held out his hand. "Come. Let us give you some food and drink. You look as though you need it."

Olivia was about to respond in the negative but the tall man's eyes seemed strangely compelling and she found herself trying to reach out for his hand. Exhaustion and hunger overcame her however and she collapsed to the ground again, this time in a dead faint.

Accipter gathered her in his arms and started to walk back towards the villa. Civis looked at his friend quizically. "Is this a good idea? We have no idea who she is."

"Don't be alarmed Civis. She needs our help ... and I think we may need hers in the not too distant future."

Civis shook his head, slightly irritated at his friend's cryptic comments but walked beside him as they returned to the villa.

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 12-02-02 04:02 ET (US)     31 / 128       
While Olivia was being washed and fed by Apolita's servants, Accipiter was talking to that worthy herself. The expression on Civis' wife's face was guarded.
"You want to take Civis away with you again, don't you?"
"Yes, and for a very selfish reason."
Apolita frowned, Gaius seldom acted selfish.
"You remember the little girl, Sin Ying?"
Apolitia nodded.
"Her life is in danger, as is that of her husband. I can't help her by myself."
"What's so important about that little girl?"
"She's no more important that any of you, but she's found a way in my heart."
The tall man looked somewhat uncomfortable as he continued.
"Nobody ever called me father before..."

Apolita's expression softened. She was as protective of her children as any mother and the safety of a child was something that made more sense to her than any political or mystery reason ever could.
"You must be the most annoying man that ever lived. Why can't I ever get win an argument with you?"
Gaius wisely held his tongue.

"Oh, for goodness sake, go rescue your daughter."
Her voice dropped to a whisper.
"But please bring back Civis in one whole and healthy piece?"
"I intend to do my utmost to prevent anyone getting hurt, dear lady."

Later that evening
After Civis had said goodbye to his family, he, Dania, Titus, Radko and the woman Olivia arrived at the Caffarela Caverns.
Accipiter asked his friends to dismount and bring their packs to the mouth of one of the larger caverns. He then sent Radko back with the mounts.
"Where are we going?" Titus asked
"Are we going down to the realm of the dead?"
"Not really," Accipiter answered.
"I'm calling a friend, please do not be afraid. Dania, Ren is a friend, despite what you may think when you see him, he's not your Adversary."

Roulv blanched and Civis and Titus wondered what that exchange had been about, then both men went for their swords as a head as large as a small cart poked out of the cavern. The eyes were liquid gold, slitted like a cats, barbels moved as of their own volition while the mouth of the monster showed teeth longer than one of the minstrel hands. Smoke wafted from the nostrils of the beast.
"Stay your weapons." Accipiter spoke sternly as a long sinuous neck covered in deep red scales followed. The huge wings and body were next as the dragon completely extracted itself from the cave.

"What in Tartaros is that?" Titus growled.
"He's beautiful." A soft voice said behind him.
To his amazement the tribune saw the woman Olivia looking at the creature, her eyes shining with admiration.

Gill Britannica
Inactive
posted 12-02-02 05:03 ET (US)     32 / 128       
Titus shook his head in surprise. They were the first words Olivia had uttered since Accipter had appeared carrying her in his arms. After cleaning and food, she had emerged as a striking looking girl probably aged about 18 or 19. Her clothes, whilst ragged and dirty, had obviously been expensive when first made and now she had spoken, her voice seemed educated so his first guess that she was a runaway slave was evidently incorrect.

As soon as she realised what she had done, Olivia's hand flew to her mouth and she quickly turned away. The others had barely noticed her speech as they were transfixed by the creature who had emerged from the cave.

Roulv turned towards Accipter, his eyes troubled.

Proconsul Creaticus Dania
Angel
posted 12-02-02 14:16 ET (US)     33 / 128       
In Danias head thoughts were swirling around like they were chasing each other and his heart was beating so hard he could feel it up in his head. '-it's a dragon and it's too late to run -Gaius is standing there just like it is a pet or horse -you can not trust dragons -why would Gaius stay there then, he has never let you down, has even defended you'

Dania swallowed, and swallowed once more then he with a hesitating and barely audible voice asked Gaius
"It is a dragon, isn't it?"

"Yes my friend, it is a dragon"

The rest of the group looked at each other 'A dragon?'

"But, -but isn't it dangerous"
The conflicting feelings created by the huge dangerous looking creature and the sight of the trustworthy Gaius standing calmly by it's side was clearly to be seen on Danias face as shifting facial expressions, and his sometimes shaking with his head as trying to get hold of his thoughts and make them fit together.

"He can be dangerous, yes, but the same can be said about a mule"

"But, how can you trust it. Aren't they deceitful and treacherous!?"
Dania made a quick step backwards and nearly stumpled as a sound was heard from the dragon resulting in a small cloud of smoke coming out of its mouth.

"Take it easy my friend" Gaius adressed the dragon placing his hand on the side of its head "Roulv Dania is just trying to cope with the situation. Everything is in order" and then turned to Dania.

"Surely some of them were what you said, just like some humans are deceitful and treacherous. My friend Ren here is everything else than that, even though he can get angry just like yourself when unjust is done. I promise he will do you no harm as long as you do not try to harm him"

Dania swallowed again and closed his eyes. There were total silence a few minutes, then Dania opened his eyes again and it was clear he had made up his mind.

Looking directly into Gaius's eyes -wasn't there a hint of something, a change in color?- Dania asked while feeling the big eye of the dragon looking at him "Will he mind if I touch him? It's just ... it's so unreal. I have only heard of dragons, dragons depicting the most gruesome evilness and horror, worse then you can ever imagine"

"Why don't you go ask him. As I said, I promise he will do you no harm"

Feeling real stupid and still with disbelief painted all over his face Dania turned to the dragon.
"Eerrhhmmm, dragon... Ren I mean. Is it in order if I touch you? I mean you no harm, it is just...."

A slight rumbling was heard from Ren, then he slowly closed his eye and made a slight nod with his head like indicating his permission.

Dania hesitated but knew it was too late to retreat, he swallowed once again and then slowly raised his right arm and gently placed it on the neck of Ren like one does when trying to calm down a very nervous horse, ready to jump for safety if it goes crazy.

Nothing extraordinary happened and Dania slowly got more couragious and let his hand glide along the long neck.

"Wauuu, so hard and though feeling as soft as silk......"
Dania slowly continued like hypnotized letting his hand glide along the neck of Ren who started making an almost inaudible sound much like the purr of a cat.

[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 12-02-2002 @ 04:35 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-02-02 15:32 ET (US)     34 / 128       
"Does he feel this?" asked Dania, continuing to run his hand down the dragon's long scaled neck towards its stocky, well muscled shoulders.

"Yes, but not in the sense he feels the touch of your hands. He bears scales and these have no ability to feel anything, just as a Roman legionaire has a shield that itself feels no blows; but the Roman will know a blow has been struck. Instead, unlike humans, Ren senses the motive behind the touch. He feels your fear but senses no ill will directed his way. That is why he is content to let you touch him."

"A remarkable creature, Accipiter. Why have they always been portrayed so negatively?" Dania removed his hand from the scaly skin of the dragon.

"The need to graphically illustrate a human principle with something visually dramatic... and one other reason."

"And that other reason?" asked Dania.

"Ignorance," answered Accipiter.

"At least we are no longer among those who are ignorant," observed Titus.

"No," confirmed Accipiter. "You are not."

Civis remained silent during this entire exchange thinking on thoughts besides the unexpected revelation of the dragon. He suddenly understood the implication of the beast's presence.

"By Jupiter's beard, Gaius. You intend for Ren to carry us to the land of the Ch'in, don't you!" the soldier suddenly exclaimed. "That's why you sent the pack horses back with Radko! And here I thought it would be the usual dizzying means."

"Correct, Civis. You won't have to be concerned about being dizzy... That is, unless you are afraid of heights.

Civis put on a mock display of being insulted while the others smiled to themselves at Accipiter's gentle teasing of the humble, but not entirely so, military commander. "Then think of the girl, Accipiter," retorted Civis, an ulterior motive in mind like the next move of a game piece. "I am quite sure she would not be used to such things and must be puzzled about why she is even here."

Accipiter smiled, knowing full well what Civis was doing, their association having been that long. "The girl will be just fine, Civis. She..."

"...can speak for herself, Master Accipiter," interrupted Olivia. Gaius gave Civis one of those "Now you've asked for it" looks that he reserved to those occasions when Civis stepped onto the wrong side of Apolita. Civis looked at Olivia and saw an attractive young woman whose otherwise alabaster colored cheeks were now reddening considerably with irritation. He prepared himself for the blast that would follow. He consoled himself with the belief that there was no other way to learn more about their unexpected comrade than to force the revelation. That was Civis' way in these matters. He hoped the casualties would be light and he would not be among them.

Gill Britannica
Inactive
posted 12-02-02 17:42 ET (US)     35 / 128       
"You have no need to worry about me, General. You were kind and took me in when I needed a helping hand and I thank you for that. I will repay your kindness one day when I am able but for now, I am perfectly capable of looking after myself."

She looked round the disparate group of people. "I don't know who any of you are and I don't really want to trouble you further but ... you mentioned you were travelling away from Roma to the land of ..." She paused briefly to remember what had been said. "The land of the Ch'in was it?" There were a few grunts of assent. "In that case, would it be possible for me to travel with you?"

"But what about your family?" Civis asked. "You will have to let them know first."

"There is nothing I 'have to' do, Sir. If you are all willing to take me, I am ready to leave now."

"But ..." Civis tried again.

"If you will not take me then I will find my own way there." She turned and walked away from them, not wishing them to see the tears that would come into her eyes despite her outward bravado.

Accipter touched his friend lightly on the arm. "Don't worry, my friend. She needs to be safe and what better safety than amongst the four of us and under the protection of Ren. As I said before, I feel she will be able to repay us well before our journey's end."

"Do you know her then?" asked Civis, puzzled at Accipter's certainty.

"I don't know her personally, no, but ... no. I can say no more at present."

Civis shook his head at his friend's obstinacy but accepted it as he always did. "Are we agreed then? Will Olivia join us?" He looked round the group.

"Of course," answered Dania. "We must always help those in trouble and I feel that she has a troubled soul."

"By all means," replied Titus, delighted that he could have a chance to get to know her better.

Civis sighed. "We are agreed then. Perhaps you had better tell her Gaius as she seems more receptive to you than to me."

Accipter opened his mouth to reply but thought better of it and called to the girl.

[This message has been edited by GillB (edited 12-02-2002 @ 05:47 PM).]

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 12-03-02 03:05 ET (US)     36 / 128       
"Lady Olivia?"
The young woman stopped, her heart beating so loudly she thought the others might hear it. Slowly she turned towards the voice of the tall stranger, it seemed to draw her round.

"Lady Olivia, we'd be delighted with your company. Do join us on this flight to Ch'in? We may even be able to aid you in finding what you look for.
We may need to rescue my daughter first, though."

Olivia, blinked and wondered if she really had seen the man's eyes turn red for a second. Then she nodded and walked back to where the four men were standing. A rather diverse group she realised, the white haired man was probably not as old as his hair suggested and seemed burdened with grief, the commander seemed aloof, maybe annoyed with her, the younger roman seemed to be enjoying it all, while the tall men was ... different than anybody she'd known.

The dragon, for all it's poised power of destruction was simply beautiful, in the same languid way of the big cats she'd seen in the Colloseum.

After some shuffling, the party ended up seated on the dragon's back. The huge creature coiled then launched itself upwards and with a few strong beats of it's vast wings flew east.

Ren's voice sounded in Accipter's head, hidden from the others.
'A mule?!' Disdain, annoyance and amazement mingled in the thought.
Accipter's answering thought was all brightness and pearls of laugther.
'He was afraid of you, Ren, and he's obviously not afraid of mules'
The dragon hmphed and flew onwards.
"

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 12-03-02 03:48 ET (US)     37 / 128       
If Titus had learned anything in his short acquaintance with Gauis Acciptor it was that his presence meant some strange event had just happened or would be happening soon. He found this to be momentarily true once again. Little did the Tribune suspect he would be riding on the back of such a mythical beast. But what he had witnessed in the land of the Ch'in those years back now caused him to react without shock but with wonder at its very existance. The exception to this wonder which may result in shock was the fact that they were flying far above where Titus wished to be, his only adventure above solid ground being atop his trusted horse looking down.

He was holding on for all he was worth though there be very little to hold on to,with only one eye open and most times both closed for fear of looking down and finding his heart in his throat. But he did manage to realize that he made very little movement atop the back of Ren. He smiled when Civis turned to look at him to hide the knotted stomach and the vice like grip he had on what ever it was he was holding on to. The only comfort he found was the confident smile Civis was giving him back was not really hiding how he felt about this mode of travel. Maybe it was Civis' wide eyes and gritted teeth that told a different story. How would he ever be able to explain this to his parents and grandfather?

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 12-03-2002 @ 02:21 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-03-02 16:11 ET (US)     38 / 128       
For only the second time in his life, Civis Romanus was elevated above all things earthly, even above some of the highest flying birds he knew. The first time occurred with Accipter when they searched for the scarab ring of Imhotep and were suspended under a... a... what was that word? Oh yes, dirigible... And now, the second time, also because of Accipiter, on the back of a beast of legend.

Behind him rode Titus. In front of him was Roulv Dania, before Dania was the girl, Olivia, snd in front of Olivia, Accipiter. He saw the tall man lean forward on occasion as if speaking to Ren, but he neither saw nor heard anything spoken, most likely because the strong winds blowing by his ears made hearing anything impossible.

Civis felt badly about Olivia. He hadn't meant to hurt or anger her, yet he had. She had said nothing to him since she agreed to make the journey at Accipiter's request. Civis decided it would be best if he said nothing at all to her since whatever he said could possibly be interrpreted wrongly. He resolved to maintain a distance between them in the hope it would make her feel more secure. As always, with the women in his life, Civis would find out sound logic doesn't always yield the correct solution.

He turned once or twice to see how Titus fared. The young Tribune seemed secure, but his expression was not one of comfort. Civis empathized. Of course, Titus, he thought. We ride dragons daily don't we back in Roma. Why should we be uncomfortable with this mount. Civis smiled wryly and turned back to observe Accipiter.

The tall man unexpectedly lifted a hand and motioned for Civis and his comrades to look down. The Roman did so and saw that the landscape far below was beginning to change from shades of dull brown to increasingly green lands shining with light reflected off of water. It was a place where they grow the grain the Ch'in call rice. Civis realized their destination was near at hand, whatever the specific place might be; for below was the land of the Ch'in with its vast desert, plains, mountains and ricelands... and its multitude of villages, cities, people and mysteries.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-03-2002 @ 08:53 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-03-02 22:01 ET (US)     39 / 128       
In the vicinity of Xi'an

The old villager lifted the lid off of the pot and the steam escaped into the humid air. Using a wooden spoon shaped more like a miniature paddle he scooped out a portion of white rice and placed it in a bowl. From a broadly curved metal bowl sitting over a part of the fire, he captured chunks of chicken meat and vegetables and transferred these to the bowl, laying these additions across the top of the rice. It was to the young girl he gave the bowl, along with two sticks shaped from bamboo. Then he prepared a similar offering for the soldier who had brought the girl to his bamboo cottage.

"Hee, hee! Eat now! Hee, hee," the old man cackled. "Eat!"

The young girl dressed in noble finery, all tattered and torn, studied the old man. He seemed vaguely familiar. She tried desperately to remember, but could not. Something prevented it, something that hung like a veil between herself and a distant memory. Finally she gave up and yielded to the cackling old man's insistence that she eat. One thing she decided on her own she would do: she would not reveal her true identity.

Da Long spoke for her. "Our gratitude Old One for your hospitality. I shall be more than glad to pay for what you have shared."

The villager looked at Da Long with crisp, appraising eyes that implied an intelligence beyond that typically found in one of these villages, then the look faded away and the old man began to cackle once more. "Hee, hee. No, no payment. Hee, hee, hee. Eat. There is plenty. The Celestial One brings great blessings to this land." Did he or did he not deliberately look at her when he said that, wondered Sin Ying.

"We are most grateful, regardless," reiterated Da Long.

"You are welcome," said the villager without cackling. "Later you sleep here. Share with me news of the great city until then. That will be payment enough." The villager smiled and prepared a similar meal for himself. They ate quietly after that and as the sun descended, Da Long told the villager about the city and all that had happened, even about the disappearance of the Emperor's Number One Wife. Now and then the old villager interrupted Da Long with his laughing, but all in all, the evening passed pleasantly and both Da Long and Sin Ying found sleep came easily and quickly.

Nonetheless, something woke up Sin Ying late that night. Maybe it was a rogue noise or something else that seemed out of place; or maybe it was the pleasantness of peaceful silence that disturbed her. She arose carefully not wanting to disturb Da Long who slept at the opposite side of the small room. She stepped towards the entrance to the structure and there she stopped.

Before her, his back to Sin Ying, sat the old villager. His legs were crossed and his hand held a brush, the kind used for illustrating silk. Before him was a pallet of paints. He dipped the brush into the paints, first one color than another. What he did next so startled Sin Ying that she very nearly cried out giving her presence away.

The old man began to paint an image in the air. Stroke by stroke it began to take the shape of a fantastic creature, a dragon, all of him the color of red. On the dragon rode five figures, all of them the figures of men except one who might be a woman. Two of the men seemed armored. One carried a brown box. The woman was unfamiliar but seemed dressed in finery as was Sin Ying, the clothes tattered just like hers. The fifth figure seemed taller than the others, remarkably taller.

As the old man continued to paint, the figures seemed to move of their own accord, the dragon's body undulating up and down and side to side, its wings rising and lowering, its head scanning side to side as if looking for something. The tall figure too was looking side to side as if searching. It was then that the old villager layed down his brush and folded his arms across his chest, straightened his back and closed his eyes. It was then as well that the tall figure riding the red dragon suddenly turned his head as if staring with his green eyes directly at the man who drew him. This tableau continued for a goodly amount of time until the tall man with the green eyes riding the dragon nodded his head and then leaned forward to say something to the dragon.

It was then that the colors in the painting began to swirl and the lines of the images lose their definition. As if too wet for a surface, the images began to fall earthward, the colors now blending together, the lines twisting and warping and the now unrecognizable images disappearing into the soil. The old man's shoulders slumped forward and his head lolled on his chest as if sleep had suddenly overtaken him.

Sin Ying carefully turned around making no noise with her bare feet so the man would not awaken. She returned to her sleeping mat and head block. There she lay thinking upon what she saw until a new wave of sleep overtook her and carried her through the night and into the morning. To her the next day it would seem a dream. It was intended that way.

The old man feigned sleep until he heard the soft padding of the young girl's feet. Knowing she was gone he lifted his head and turned to see that she was indeed gone and returned to her sleeping mat. He lifted up his brush and touched it to his paints one more time. He then drew the image of the young girl sleeping, a pleasant expression on her face to signify comfort. The old man smiled. "Sleep well, Sin Ying, and dream. He will be at your side soon, with the others."

The image faded away as before and the old villager gathered up his brushes and paints and quietly entered the bamboo cottage. Needing no sleep, he reached into a cabinet and withdrew the rice paper scroll on which was written something in the language of the Ch'in. He studied the characters over and over again. If only he had the urn. "Patience," he told himself. "It will be here soon enough, and then he, Zen, would be able to interpret its markings and tell them the identity of the master of the urn and how to destroy them both; or so he hoped.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-03-2002 @ 10:09 PM).]

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 12-04-02 04:03 ET (US)     40 / 128       
Jayhawk's mind nudged that of the dragon and the vast creature tipped a wing and started it's descent. The grond got rapidly closer, it's green blur resolving in trees, bamboo and shrubs. A brownish patch turned out to be a small villege.

With the horned moon touching the nearby hills, Ren landed wit a smoothness that denied his bulk. His passengers descended and some of them were more than glad to be back on terra firma.

A brief but silent conversation between the tall man and the dragon followed. The latter nodded once and coiled to get airborn once more.
"Goodbye Ren" Olvia spoke softly.
To her surprise she heard the dragon's voice inside her head.
"Goodbye, Little One"
As she looked up she saw the dragon wink at her then launch itself into the air soon it was gone.

"Come, we have friends waiting" Accipter spoke.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-05-02 21:09 ET (US)     41 / 128       
Gaius Accipiter led them over a dry walkway between rice paddies, over a sharply elevated, ornately decorated bridge and into a village that seemed remarkably familiar to three of those with him. Villagers rising that morning curiously watched the foreigners trudge with their possessions through the middle of the settlement. The foreigners seemed to be heading towards a bamboo cottage that lay on its far outskirts. The villagers looked at each other and shook their heads. Why go to see the old crazy man? He was best left alone to his own business and odd ways.

Civis ignored the villagers because he began to vaguely recall who it was that lived in the bamboo cottage. The old man's voice, heard as they approached, confirmed his recollection.

"Hee, Hee, Hee! Welcome! Welcome!" The old Ch'in villager stepped through the cottage's entrance and quite animatedly waved his hands signalling them to approach as quickly as they could. "Welcome to my most humble home! Hee, hee! So good to see you again, Gaius; and you also Civis! Ah yes, Titus the Tribune and the quiet slave, Roulv Dania."

"He is a freeman and a citizen now," Civis corrected the old man gently.

"Hee, hee! A freeman! A citizen! How excellent!" But all the while the old man's eyes seemed to stay focussed on the wooden chest carried by Dania. It was as if the villager were scouring every square inch of surface looking at or looking for something. Suddenly, the old villager tore his eyes away and refocussed them on the young woman member of the quintet. "Hello young lady. Who might you be?" The old man's eyes took on an odd coloration. Not anything like Accipiter's occasional gold or blue highlights, just something odd and unexpected, an indescribable color that swirled rather than flecked or sparkled. It was a color like, well... like the accidental mixing of paints on a pallet.

Gaius introduced her. "She is Lady Olivia of Roma, Old One." Eyebrows raised among the three men who traveled with Gaius and Olivia. 'Lady'? Why does he call her 'Lady' Olivia? Is she a Patrician? Or is Gaius simply being indulgent? Civis and the others withheld their questions as the introduction was made.

"Hee, hee, hee," cackled the old man. "This humble villager is pleased you have visited." As quickly as it began, the swirling of colors in his eyes ended. Again the man motioned to the doorway of his cottage. "Hurry now, and enter into my humble dwelling. There is someone inside who is patiently waiting though she doesn't know for what. Hurry, please, hee, hee!"

Sin Ying awoke early that morning and after breakfast performed simple chores around and about the inside of the cottage. Suddenly, her host, the old villager leaped to his feet in a way that belied his age and motioned to her to return to her room. She complied.

Next she heard the old man outside greeting someone. The voices were oh so familiar, but dutifully she felt compelled to stay where she was told to be. At last she heard the old man on the stairs cackling and emphatically telling whoever it was to "hurry now and enter into my humble dwelling". Unable to contain herself anymore she stepped from the room into the room with the doorway to the outside. Instantaneously Sin Ying recognized four of the visitors. She ran to Roulv Dania and Titus with a broad smile on her face, placed her hands together, fingers close to her lips and bowed. "Greetings Master Titus and Master Dania. I am so happy to see you again."

Then Sin Ying stepped before Civis, who smiled but knew to observe the local custom, and waited for her greeting. "Master Civis, my caregiver. I am most happy you are here." She bowed as before, but this time grasped Civis hand and pressed it to her forehead for special emphasis.

All through these greetings, Sin Ying glanced periodically at Gaius Accipiter with obvious joy. At last she stood before him, bowed as before and reached, trembling, for his hand to press it to her forehead. Accipter surprised her by opening his arms, signalling an invitation to her to step closer. Sin Ying's smile broadened, tears filled her eyes. "Father!" she exclaimed and stepped into his arms hugging him fiercely to herself. "You have come at last!" she exclaimed.

Olivia's eyes involuntarily filled with tears, eventhough she had never met nor knew anything about this Ch'in girl. "Father" she had called him... "Father". And then the Ch'in girl had poured forth her joy and love in her embrace.

The veil over the place where the emptiness dwelled within Olivia was ripped open in that moment and try as she might, it would not close right away. She stepped behind the men to ensure she would not be seen in this state; but a pair of eyes with the hint of swirling artist's colors noticed all.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-09-02 15:19 ET (US)     42 / 128       
Da Long was ill at ease at the sudden arrival of the foreigners. He waited inside the old man's cottage filled with misgivings.

Despite the old man's obvious eccentricities, Da Long had felt compelled to make the old man's acquaintence a few year's ago and to maintain their friendship to this day. It was the old man whom Da Long promptly thought of, though he couldn't say why, when he rescued Sin Ying from her prison. It was to the old man's cottage that he brought the Emperor's Number One Wife for her safety because he could think of no other place than here.

Now she stood among a group of foreigners, obviously brought to this place by the tall man with the green eyes; and none of these were foreigners known to him, though they seemed to be known to Sin Ying. He continued to grasp and release his sword as he watched them conversing outside. Then he saw the old man wave to the visitors to enter the bamboo cottage and Da Long grasped his sword firmly, deliberately in preparation for the worst these foreigners might bring.

Two of them in particular concerned the Captain. The older man who seemed to carry an air of authority and a short sword, who seemed familiar to Da Long only from stories told by some in the Imperial Palace. The other was slightly taller than the older man, but younger, and who also carried a short sword like his older companion. They were warriors he concluded, but he could not be sure on whose side.

Gill Britannica
Inactive
posted 12-09-02 20:11 ET (US)     43 / 128       
Olivia slipped away from the rest of the party who were too busy greeting the little Ch'in girl to notice what she was doing. She sat on the ground behind the cottage trying to make sense of what she had seen.

The Ch'in girl obviously knew the others and called the tall one 'father'. But he couldn't be her father as he didn't have the strange slightly slanting eyes that she did. This line of thought led her onto her own father, the man she now hated more than anyone in the world. Then to her mother, her beautiful prophetess mother who, unbeknownst to her hot-tempered father, studied astrology and the meanings of dreams and had even been known to read entrails. Olivia had known of course, and had understood why her mother had had to keep it a secret. Her father was one of the few Romans not to believe in such things and would have considered it wrong for a highly-born woman married to an important man such as himself to practise these arts.

Her mind continued along the path she'd been avoiding all these weeks. That dreadful afternoon when her father had come home early and found her mother with her astrological charts spread around the room and a Senator sitting in front of her having his horoscope cast. Slowly the barriers she had put on the memories were falling. She remembered running upstairs; there was shouting, mainly her father's voice; a door had slammed which was surely the Senator leaving; there had been bangs and crashes and screaming which must have been her mother; then there had been one eerie unearthly scream; all of a sudden there had been complete silence, then the door had slammed again. She had crept downstairs and seen her mother lying on the floor in the middle of the room, torn and crumpled charts surrounding her. She had run to her mother and begged her to get up. She had shouted at her to get up, tears streaming down her face, unwilling to face the truth. She had still been sitting there when she had heard voices in the distance including that of her father and she knew, suddenly, that she had to go. She had to escape.

She had had strange feelings herself recently. Her mother had told her that she believed she possessed Powers. Not those of prophecy such as her own but other Powers that would become apparent to her when they were needed. She knew she couldn't stay. Her father had killed her beloved mother for her power of prophecy so if she had other powers, how long could she survive with him?

She jumped to her feet and ran out of the back of the house just as she was, not gathering anything to take with her, her mind a whirl of terror and a realisation of the necessity of escape .....

Olivia sighed. Repressing grief was never a good thing and grief mixed with fear had clouded her mind completely for the last couple of weeks and had landed her in this strange situation with people she didn't know in a land far, far from home. All of a sudden, the hopelessness of the situation, the memory of her beloved mother, her father a murderer and her utter loneliness overwhelmed her and she cried properly for the first time since her mother's death and her headlong flight.

[This message has been edited by GillB (edited 12-09-2002 @ 08:17 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 12-10-02 04:49 ET (US)     44 / 128       
Titus, although reveling in the joyous reunion, caught a glimpse of their female companion, Olivia, silently and slowly slipping out of the cottage. Her body language didn't seem to be of someone trying to get away but of someone that needed a small corner of the world to themselves for thought and recollection.

As the others continued the occasion, Titus walked to the cottage door and quietly followed her. He made no harried movement as to alert the girl but watched as she sat with a distant look on her face. Many times he had had that same facial expression on his journeys and knew what it was like to be among friends yet be among strangers at the same time.

Olivia was a stranger to Titus as was she among the others also. There was very little said or known about her origins or how she came to be there that day at Civis'villa. Or for that matter that Gaius Accipiter had convinced each of us that her presence here would benefit us.

Titus stared at and studied her as Olivia sat, not really being able to do that until now. She was pleasing to the eyes with delicate features that highlighted her gender. But what was it that was hidden inside her that he nor the others except Gaius saw or knew about. He continued to try and reveal her secret in his mind by her body language but knew he was failing miserably. Then he saw the tears flow and the sobbing and had to fight back the urge to comfort her. Instead he gave Olivia her peace and quietly walked back to the cottage entrance.

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 12-10-2002 @ 04:57 AM).]

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 12-10-02 05:47 ET (US)     45 / 128       
Da Long flexed is muscles, poised to attack if needs be as the Empress and her companions entered. She was holding the hand of an incredibly tall man, with dark hair and eyes the colour of the finest jade.

Before he could move the tall one had let go of the Lady's hand and bowed to him, the bow of a courtier facing one of lower rank, but only a little so. Then to his amazement the man addressed him in fluent Chinese.
"Captain. You have my thanks for rescueing my daughter"
"Your daughter?"
Accipter nodded towards Sin Jing, of the heart, young one, but the bond is no less deep."
He smiled and added.
"Or less fond."
"But..."

"Tea?" the old man interupted, then turned to Accipter.
"The young lady in your company might need convincing,. though."

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-10-02 16:33 ET (US)     46 / 128       
Accipiter looked in the direction nodded to by the old man. He sensed rather than saw that Olivia was nearby but not within the cottage. Then he saw Titus reenter the cottage from a side door and knew where he could find Olivia. He sipped some green tea and then placed the handleless cup down on its small saucer.

Accipiter rose and walked to the door recently used by Titus. He opened it and stepped outside, but did not descend the stairs from the platform upon which the cottage was built. He didn't need to, for he saw Olivia, sitting on the platform with her back to the wall of the cottage, looking forlornly towards the northwest and at the green fields surrounding the village. Tears were slowly rolling down her cheeks and onto the tattered ruins of her once lovely gown.

The tall man walked softly to her side, placed his back against the cottage wall and slid down to a position at her side, but never once looked at the young woman. "There are times," began Accipiter, "when I too feel so alone that even the company of friends like those with me today isn't enough to ease the pain."

Olivia looked up with reddened eyes. A tear missed her cheek and found her nose, falling off at the tip, causing her to sniffle once or twice until she rubbed her nose daintily. "Why would you feel alone?" she asked.

"For reasons I cannot share."

"Like me?" said Olivia.

"Different reasons. Same effect," confirmed Gaius. "The others have had their moments too. Civis was forceably separated from his family for a crime he did not commit. Titus confronted his family in an attempt to help Civis. Roulv Dania lost his wife, the only woman he had ever loved, under mysterious circumstances he still cannot fathom."

"And you, Gaius Accipiter?"

"They are what they are," said the tall man, turning his head to look at Olivia for the first time. She couldn't be sure, but she thought his eyes were not their customary shade of solid greeen, but somehow now included highlights that were blue, then gold, and then blue mixed with gold. Now and then a hint of red appeared on the very edge of the dark pupil in the center. "There is warm tea waiting for you... and the others wait for you as well."

Her spirits rose somewhat as Accipiter continued to look at her. "I am of some importance to them? Even to Commander Romanus?"

"Yes, Young One. Even to the Commander. More than any of you know. Do not judge Civis too harshly until you know him better."

"He has judged me harshly, has he not?"

"He has not judged you at all. He is fearful."

"Him? Fearful? He could intimidate the gods and their beasts, all except Ren, maybe."

Accipiter laughed in spite of himself. It brought a smile to Olivia's face as well. "Yes, Olivia, all except Ren. In truth, he is fearful he will not be able to protect you when the time comes."

"What time is that, Gaius?"

"We do not know. That is why we have come here. Both for the girl I call my daughter and for the unknown battle that must be waged. Will you not join us for tea and learn more about all of this?"

"Yes, Accipiter," she said in a soft voice, her tears gone and the streaks on her face now drying quickly. "Thank you," she whispered.

They both rose and entered the cottage. All eyes turned to them and watched as they found their places at the low table. Olivia selected a place as far from Civis as she could. The old villager poured tea for Olivia amidst pleasantries and he poured a little more into Accipiter's cup to warm it. Olivia sipped and looked around at the others. Their eyes were on her, watching her every motion and expression, all that is except Civis. His eyes were averted and staring elsewhere, seemingly deliberately so. When he turned back he looked down at his cup, picked it up and sipped. Olivia did not feel reassured, despite Accipiter's words.

At a glance from the old villager, Accipiter decided the time was right to speak of the matters at hand.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-11-02 16:14 ET (US)     47 / 128       
"We have come to aid you, my daughter, just as you hoped and asked," began Gaius Accipiter. "I have brought with me the ones I believe most able to resist the Power that persecutes you. None are of this land and so the effect of the Power should be much diminished in them, though not altogether disabled."

Accipiter glanced at Da Long and continued. "Captain Da Long, with me is Civis Romanus, a Roman Commander who is the foremost military advisor among the counselors of the Emperor of Roma. He is an accomplished swordsman and warrior. With him is Tribune Titus Tarquintius, also a formidable swordsman and able warrior, and highly trusted among those who are known to the Roman Emperor. Also with me is Roulv Dania, a Roman citizen and adventurer who bears a relic of extreme importance to the source of the Power and may be a means to its destruction. Near me is Olivia, a talented Roman woman who can assist in ways the others cannot." Here Accipiter paused as quick glances, even an involuntary glance from Civis, were cast in Olivia's direction.

Accipiter resumed speaking. "We come here Captain as friends to the Emperor of the Ch'in and not his enemies. We are pledged to the defense of the Emperor and his first consort, Sin Ying. Do you accept us and our purpose, Captain?"

Captain Da Long looked at the newly arrived foreigners and at Sin Ying. There was a look of pleading in them, and expectancy. The Captain looked at the old villager. The villager said nothing, nor did his expression change. It seemed only that his eyes began to swirl with myriad colors... Or it was the effect of the morning sun. Da Long wasn't sure. Regardless, he heard his voice say, "Yes, I accept you in the name of the Emperor and his Consort."

"Excellent," responded Gaius. "Let us now speak of the problem." Gaius turned to speak to the old villager. "Have you studied the objects brought by Roulv Dania, Old One?"

"Hee, hee... Yes and no, hee hee," cackled the old man. "I have seen the outside of the box, but he has not allowed it to leave his side so my examination is incomplete. May this unworthy be permitted to see and hold it and its content in his humble hands, Master Dania?"

Eyes turned to Roulv Dania to see how he would respond. There was hesitation written all over the former slave's scarred face.

Proconsul Creaticus Dania
Angel
posted 12-11-02 18:23 ET (US)     48 / 128       
Dania looked at the old man and then at the other people in the room ending with Accipiter who looked calmly at Dania and then directed his attention to his cup of tea unable as he was to interfere with the decision Dania was about to make.

Dania closed his eyes for a brief moment and then with his head slightly cocked and an expression of slight wonder on his face again looked in the direction of the old man. Then he bowed his head in a humble way and while placing the wooden box on the table adressed the old man.

"If my humble self may prepare the box?"

An expression of surprise and then badly hidden amusement showed on the old man's face.

"You may so, young Dania"

While Dania's fingers started their small dance pressing here and there triggering the mechanism opening the wooden box he in a few short sentences explained about the wooden box and its content. Then with a bow of his head placed the wooden box and the bronce urn in front of the old man. The box and the urn had barely left the hands of Dania before the old Ch'in was busy studying both objects.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-12-02 16:33 ET (US)     49 / 128       
The old villager sat hunched over the box examining its every nook and cranny. He withdrew the bronze urn and studied the images engraved on its metallic exterior. Respectfully, and much to Dania's relief, the old man made no attempt to open the urn. He put the object down carefully to continue his examination of the box. Dania released an involuntary sigh of relief.

Conversation continued quietly around the low table while the old Ch'in villager studied the artifacts. Accipiter and Olivia talked about Ren, Titus and Da Long talked about matters that seemed more military than not. Dania was absorbed by the old man's handling of the artifacts. Only Civis remained silent, his eyes focussed distantly, his thoughts elsewhere. Finally he rose and seemingly unnoticed walked out of the cottage and onto the platform on which it was built. He stopped there, staring at the village and the surrounding lands.

A short while later Civis sensed rather than saw that someone was standing nearby as silently as himself. He turned to see who it was. Sin Ying studied the piercing blue eyes of the man who freed her from the orphanage in Roma. They were sad, disturbed eyes that she beheld. "Does it upset you, Guardian Civis, that I call Gaius Accipiter father?"

"No Sin Ying, it does not upset me. Long ago on our journey here I realized you have a certain special affection for Gaius Accipiter. As you have no knowledge of your real father and only lived with me a short time, I always felt you should be the one to choose. You have chosen well, young lady."

"If I had chosen you, Guardian," said Sin Ying, "I would have chosen equally well."

Civis smiled. She is becoming a lovely young lady and a quite proper one at that. Though the features of her face and her coloration was different than his daughter's, Civis saw reflections of Apollonia there... And it made his separation from his children ever so slightly more difficult for the moment.

"Is Civi and Apollonia well?" asked Sin Ying. "Is she reading my mind?" wondered Civis. "They are well as is their mother," he said.

"That is good. I was very happy to be with you and Guardian Apolita."

"You were never a burden, Sin Ying; and you were very helpful to Civi, young as he was. He still talks about you from time to time."

"I think of him as well... Guardian Civis?"

"Yes, Sin Ying?"

"I am most happy that you are here. I want to say that to you as we may not be alone again."

"Thank you, Sin Ying." Civis held out his hand and Sin Ying put her hand in his. He turned and she stood closely by his side. They stood there silently, each looking at the land and not at each other. There was contentment in Sin Ying's eyes and conveyed in her warm touch, and a lessening in Civis of the disturbing thoughts that had troubled him moments before.

Meanwhile, inside the cottage, the old villager suddenly leaped to his feet in a manner defying his apparent age and stepped quickly over to his cabinet filled with rice paper scrolls. He withdrew one and quickly read its content. Concluding his reading he looked up at the expectant visitors, his eyes oddly displaying swirls of subtle colors. He stared briefly at Accipiter who nodded as if understanding an unspoken request.

"Titus," said Accipiter, "please be so good as to bring Civis and Sin Ying back into the cottage. I believe there is something to be said they must hear."

Titus promptly rose to his feet and walked outside. He was just in time to see Civis tense, release Sin Ying's hand and grasp his gladius firmly, preparing to unsheath the short bladed weapon against what it was that moved in the compact stand of bamboo at the edge of the rice paddy nearby.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-13-2002 @ 11:59 AM).]

Jayhawk
Eminence Grise
posted 12-13-02 03:39 ET (US)     50 / 128       
The bamboo shook violently, then was bend sideways as a creature the size of a small bear waddled out. It's fur was white with black legs and markings on it's face. It sat down plumply and stripped another strand of bamboo from it's leaves.

"What...?" Civis mumbled as he looked at the clownish animal.
Sin Ying giggled,
"It's a bamboo bear, Guardian, it's quite harmless unless provoked."
Civis shook his head in wonder then followed Titus inside.

Meanwhile in Xi'an
The trio of conspirators was sitting in a side room of the now empty throne toom. At least two of them were sitting Wan Li was pacing up and down the room.
"The fools, the stupid fools." he roared, his face red with rage.
"Allowing the girl to escape, blaming it on a dead man. Ayie, at least the will not humiliate me like this again. Their bodies are feeding the rats in the dungeons."
Xia Deng stretched languidly, well aware of how this showed the outlines of her body against the soft silk of her robes, then stood. She walked to where Wan Li was fuming and briefly touched his face.
"Don't worry, dear General. She's only one girl, she'll come to harm easily, no one will believe her to be the emperor's first wife, especially not as long as I have Pei Lian wrapped around my fingers."

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