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posted 11-18-02 15:50 ET (US)   


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


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).]

posted 12-13-02 16:22 ET (US)     51 / 128  
With a meaningful look in her eyes, Xia Deng placed her finger on the general's shoulder and began to lightly trace a line down his well muscled chest, continuing until it reached the gold braided cord wrapped around his silk ceremonial palace robe. It would have continued farther, but the General's hand grasped her wrist firmly and prevented any additional movement.

There was a look in his eye that said the things Xia Deng hoped she was triggering. "The Emperor is but a boy. I am a man, Xia Deng," said the General. "Do not toy with me or think your airs will cause me to join him around your finger." Wan Li squeezed her hand tightly enough to make Xia Deng wince slightly. She recovered her composure quickly and the sly look returned.

"I would not think of toying with the greatest general among the Ch'in, and one who might become the Celestial One someday... With my help."

General Li snorted derisively, but the Emperor's Number Two Wife scored her point nonetheless. The General began to think about the possibilities.

It was then that Fu Hachu entered the room with news for the others.


"Hee hee! So, Commander Civis, you have encountered one of our ferocious beasts among the wildlife surrounding our village... and you have survived. Hee, hee, hee!" The old villager was merciless in his mirth. Even dutiful, respectful Roulv Dania allowed a snicker or two to escape. Sin Ying held her hand to her mouth to hide her smile. Accipiter's left eyebrow elevated higher than the right and his lips thinned out as he tried to hold back any apparent display of humor at Civis' expense.

"We call him Honorable Pan-Da. We leave bamboo for him and he kindly never bothers us, or our cottages, when he visits. Hee, hee! I should think Honorable Pan-Da would be able to live quite comfortably off my cottage alone. Hee! Hee! I dare say you gave him as much a fright as he did you! Hee, hee, hee!"

Get on with it old man. My patience is at an end, thought Civis; but instead, at least outwardly, Civis maintained a tolerant acceptance of the humor directed his way. He remembered a time like this back when they searched for the scarab ring when he and Accipiter and MRed and... Why was she staring at him? No, not Sin Ying, the girl Olivia. No expression, neither laughing at him nor scowling at him. Why?

By Juno, he is turning so red! Yet he protests not at all, thought Olivia. How unlike what I would have expected. And also, have the others failed to notice that he was ready to defend Sin Ying and us from whatever it might have been, though it turned out to be a harmless creature? No, I do not understand this man, but I see things that should say much about him, if only I could read them better.

Civis frowned and looked down at his hands. Gradually the good humor faded away and attention returned to the old villager. Accipiter glanced briefly at Olivia and something inside of her seemed to echo his expression as these words: "Do you see yet, Little One?" Olivia had no time to answer as the old villager carefully placed the bronze urn and empty puzzle box in front of himself, opened a written-upon rice paper scroll as if to speak from it; and placed next to himself paints and a brush.

posted 12-16-02 16:31 ET (US)     52 / 128  
Fu Hachu paced back and forth in the room before he drew up short before Wan Li and Xia Deng, closed his eyes and began to pacify his over excited emotions. As his eyes closed, his head slowly bowed forward and he slowly sought to place his long nailed hands into the opposite oversized sleeves of his silk robe. As his head tilted forward his half-meter-long pigtail rose slightly along his backbone. Finally calmed, he elevated his head and addressed the two others in the room.

Calm in his voice, Fu Hachu said, "I am told by my informants that the hated foreigners were seen in a village south of here in the company of the jade-eyed minstrel. Their arrival is quite sudden and unexpected. Needless to say, this development is not a welcome one."

"Which foreigners are they?" asked Wan Li, his face creased into a frown.

"I am told one is the General from the West, the one who rescued the Celestial One from the warlord and brought the girl here. The other is his running dog, a Tribune he called himself. The third is the strange man who was a slave to the General. The fourth is a woman from the General's land. I know nothing about her except she is young, near the Celestial One's age."

"What is your plan, then, Fu Hachu? What are we to do? I can send soldiers..."

"No. Not soldiers. I do not want this to be learned by the Celestial One. He thinks we seek Sin Ying when we already know she is... removed." Fu Hachu noticed the General's eyes suddenly sought the floor and one foot was scraping at the tile. "What is wrong, Wan Li?"

The General swallowed hard. "The girl is missing."

"" said Fu Hachu tensely, jaws clenched."

"We don't know."

"The foreigners?" said Fu Hachu.

"No, before their arrival."

"Find her!"

The General nodded and lowered his eyes. "Yes, we are seeking her now. The Captain... We think the Captain had something to do with it. He is missing as well... Should have been killed. We found all of the soldiers' bodies except his."

"Then General Wan Li, because of the incompetence of your men, we will have to do what I hoped wouldn't be necessary. We shall have to remove the Celestial One to the Forbidden City."

"But Fu Hachu, he is there now," protested the General. "He resides in the Forbidden City."

"That is not the Forbidden City of which I speak... The only problem is how. Should we act overtly He might raise an alarm and the Palace Guard will descend upon us and destroy our plan." Soft, knowing, female laughter interrupted Fu Hachu as he thought out loud. "What is it woman? Why do you laugh?"

"I can deliver the boy to any place you choose and he will be quite willing to go... Or shall we say, unwilling to say no."

The General snorted. "Of course, woman. Snap your fingers and the Celestial One obeys your every command. Hah!"

Xia Deng frowned, but ignored the General. "As I said, tell me the place and the boy will be there."

Fu Hachu studied the woman for a moment. She knows whereof she speaks, he concluded. He told them both the plan and the place. It would be undertaken that night.


The old villager turned to look at Accipiter. "This will be the last time, I think, my friend. I will not withhold on this occasion."

Accipiter pursed his lips. "Are you sure it is the right time?"

"There will be consequences; but yes, I think it is right. Do you see it otherwise?"

Gaius Accipiter hesitated, then he sighed. "No, my friend; I see nothing differently. It must be."

"So it shall be," said the old villager.

The mouths of the visitors hung open. These were words not spoken in the old villager's typical high pitched voice nor with his everpresent cackle. In fact, his voice sounded very much as if Accipiter and he shared the same teacher of speech. The visitors' amazement took another leap a brief moment later when the old villager suddenly straightend his bent frame and in so doing achieved an improbable change in heighth. In one fluid motion his body lost its withered, aged look and assumed the look of a younger Ch'in. He was not as tall as Accipiter, but taller than all of the others, except Titus, who matched him in heighth.

It was then the transformed Ch'in's eyes began their unusual colorful swirling motion and, to the utter suprise of the group, the brush lying before the Ch'in elevated itself and began to seek the paints on the palette, all of this without being touched by anyone's hand, least of all the hand of the transformed old villager.

"My name is Zen," began the Ch'in villager.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-16-2002 @ 10:05 PM).]

posted 12-16-02 22:03 ET (US)     53 / 128  
The brush loaded its bristles with paints from all of the colors on the palette. Without assistance it began to paint a sketch of the the boy emperor. "Pei Lian!" exclaimed Sin Ying, marvelling at the sight of a brush making an image without the help of the artist's hand. The image persisted and the brush moved sideways to sketch a new picture.

Now the image of a complex, yet beautifully crafted building, red in color, began to form. "Again it was Sin Ying who recognized it. "The Forbidden City!" Zen nodded his head. The pictures of Pei Lian and the Forbidden City began to merge, but before completely merging, the brush elevated itself above these sketches and began to paint another image.

Manifesting itself was a fearsome dragon with scales of black and eyes and teeth redder than the structures of the Forbidden City. It began to snake and writhe, twist and turn until its eyes beheld the image of the boy, Pei Lian. Its mouth opened into a cruel grin, its teeth exposed all along their length. The monster rose into the air, opened wide its mouth and plunged onto the image of the boy. Pei Lian disappeared into the jaws of the beast as it came silently crashing down on him. The beast then turned skywards again and plunged into the image of the Forbidden City, its jaws closed tightly, the boy within. The beast disappeared within the city. The image of the Forbidden City faded away. The brush came to rest near the palette lying on the floor before Zen.

Zen's words drew their attention from the invisible canvass upon which the sketches were drawn. "I am of the same heritage as Accipiter." The foreigners, all except Civis, looked back and forth between Accipiter and Zen trying to understand how the Ch'in and Accipiter could have the same heritage, but look so different. Civis didn't bother. Other than Zen and Accipiter, only he knew the meaning of "same heritage". It had nothing to do with their outward appearance. It had everything to do with what their glamour hid.

"Once before you were called upon to prevent a great evil from unleashing itself on these people and then moving westward to your world. You are being called upon to do so again. The evil is within the Celestial One's palace and has already attempted to remove from the Celestial One's side the only ally he has against the dark arts, Sin Ying. Now, I fear, the Black Dragon, frustrated by Sin Ying's escape, is preparing to directly impose its will on the Celestial One himself."

Zen paused to ensure their closest attention and to turn to Roulv Dania. "It is the Black Dragon who created this urn and planned its use. How it made its way into your hands I do not know. Maybe a palace thief or a careless servant... No matter. I have confirmed what Accipiter said about the urn. It seeks its content. And I have uncovered its creator: the Black Dragon."

"He shall not get back his urn!" exclaimed Roulv Dania.

"Unfortunately, my tortured friend, that is exactly what you must do... Give back the urn to the Black Dragon... And trap the Dragon for all eternity within its depths."

"But how?" This came from Titus.

"Reduce the Dragon to ash and place the urn upon the ash. The relic will do the rest. But, the urn must be empty."

"NO!" bellowed Roulv Dania. "I cannot!"

"You must," said Zen. "There is no other way."

Tears began to form in Dania's eyes and rather than reveal their presence he leaped to his feet and ran into the room where Sin Ying and Da Long slept. He stayed there awhile trying to control himself and listening to the others in the room.

Zen continued. "He has beliefs that will help him, but it will take him time to accept his role. Be patient with Roulv Dania." They nodded in acceptance. Zen reminded them of the nature of the urn. "It must be kept full of its present ash at all times or it will begin to seek a replacement. Do not scatter its content before you confront the Black Dragon or it will seek its next victim among all of you. Only Accipiter is immune."

"Is there more we should know?" Again Titus asked the question.

"There is only this one thing. You will travel to the Forbidden City, but your adversary will not be within its walls. The Black Dragon resides in its depths. The Forbidden City we know as the palace of the Celestial One is but a shadow of the real Forbidden City. What you see is crafted through the black arts. What you do not see until you find the doorway is the true Forbidden City and the ruler there is not the Celestial One. It is the Black Dragon."

Roulv Dania finally returned to the room and took his place among his friends. Sympathetic eyes were turned towards him. He reached into his shirt and grasped something and said, "I shall do this thing. It is difficult, but it is right." Then Dania lowered his eyes. He felt a light touch and a squeeze on his shoulder, then the comforting hand was removed with no words spoken. Dania looked in the direction of the retreating hand. He saw Civis place his hand on his lap once more, smile and return his attention to Zen. Again, Olivia wondered.

"Now, my friends, you must rest and tomorrow begin your journey." It was as if the words themselves made each of them exhausted. There was no hunger nor thirst. All that they craved was sleep. Without further ado, they sought places to sleep and fell into restful repose.

Only Accipiter and Zen remained awake as neither, being of similar heritage, needed any sleep. They talked well into the night of matters and methods, and all of the information at their disposal was shared, and what was not known was speculated upon, including the kinds of dangers the foreigners faced. Shared also between them was the one thing Zen did not share with the visitors. He did not share his fear that they might never see their homes in the west again.

Over the hours of the evening, all of this was said between them, but not a word was voiced.

posted 12-17-02 16:17 ET (US)     54 / 128  

"I bring you tea, Celestial One," said Xia Deng. On her tray she carried a pot filled with a green tea brew and a handleless cup.

"But I didn't ask for tea," said Pei Lian.

"Are you not tense and worried?" asked Xia, her voice smooth and soothing. "Afterall, Wife No. 1 has been missing for days with no word of her whereabouts."

"It is nice of you to be concerned, Wife No. 2," commented Pei. Xia winced internally but controlled all outward manifestation of hurt.

"I should be concerned whatever it is that upsets you, Celestial One. Wife No. 1 would do no less."

"I suppose," said the young Emperor. He watched as she placed the tray on the low table next to his reclining matt. Xia Deng was wearing a beautifully embroidered silk gown, one of the best in her wardrobe. As she placed the tray down she did not stoop as was customary but bent over. The silk gown parted above her waist in a way that seemed to add emphasis to all of her charms, from her beautiful face to the gentle but substantial curves of her body.

It was then that Pei first became aware of a remarkable scent wafting through the room. It seemed to strengthen the closer Xia approached, until it became fully intoxicating with its hint of blossoms and clean air. "Do we need the guards, Celestial One?"

Pei impulsively sent the two guards in his room to stand on the other side of the closed door. "No, we do not." The veins on his neck were pulsing as Xia poured tea into his cup. She handed the cup to him allowing her hand to lightly brush his arm after he took hold of the cup. She smiled sweetly at the emperor as a way of apologizing for the "accidental" intrusion of her hand on his person. Pei's heart pounded. The tea he sipped measured its path and coursed its way slowly down his throat, warming his chest and stomach.

Xia shifted her position such that her knee brushed Pei's outer thigh. Again she smiled. Again Pei nervously sipped at the tea. Even more than before, the scent of her perfume enveloped Pei Lian and dulled his senses while at the same time pacifying and focussing his thoughts on one thing and one thing alone. Perspiration began to bead on the emperor's brow. Xia moved again... closer to the emperor. He did not protest, but emptied his cup in two quick swallows. The tea's warmth surged to all parts of his body. Remarkable, he thought foggily. Never has a particular blend of teas been so comforting.

Xia was next to him now, easily within reach. Forgetting all ceremony he placed his cup down on the tray on the low table and reached for Xia. She yielded without protest. He grasped her around the waist. Her arms hung at her side signalling no intent to protest. Pei crushed her to himself and placed a warm kiss on the base of her neck at the shoulder... and began to kiss her, moving his lips towards hers. Finally he found them. He kissed them and felt in return the most powerful kiss he ever experienced. One that seemed to draw the breath right out of his body and leave his head swimming in pleasured confusion. His body felt as if it were floating above the matt and she, Xia Deng, was floating with him, her limbs wrapped around him, her scent ever stronger in his nostrils. Warm, sweet, intoxicating, all encompasing, all consuming.

He awoke in a dark chamber. It was even darker beyond the matt on which he lay. Huge red eyes stared at him from out of this darkness and for only the second time in his life, the Celestial One felt fear.


The morning broke cool and humid. There had been rain the night before, and more rain that morning. Soon the land would be heated by the sun and humidity would chase the coolness away.

Breakfast was more sumptuous than they expected and they were fully victualled from the old man's seemingly meagre larder. Odd that the food they carried seemed not to have diminished at all the content of the old villager's stores. Nonetheless, they left the wizzened old villager cackling on the stairs to his cottage and waving to them. They clearly remembered the events of the previous night, except for two: They remembered nothing of the old man's transformation and his display of paintings, However, each and every one of them knew it was to the Emperor's Forbidden City they must travel and why.

After walking a short distance it was Civis who turned to look back in the direction of the old man's cottage. Whether meant as a boon or not, or a signal of mutual respect, Civis saw Zen in a way none of the others but Accipiter ever did. Standing on the steps of the cottage, his frame fully erect and youthful, stood a figure in a silk robe, an abbreviated aura emanating from its fringes. Spread wide and fully feathered was the youth's ivory wings. As Civis glanced back repeatedly and watched, the youth's wings slowly folded in upon themselves until they were compact and compressed against the youth's back. Then the figure began to shrink until the figure became the whizzened old man once more. Zen walked up the stairs and disappeared into his cottage.

Civis turned around to find he had lagged behind the others. He hurried to catch up. There, at the back of the fellowship, he came upon Accipiter. Gaius looked down from his over 6 foot 4 inch heighth and smiled at Civis. "You have been permitted something few are ever allowed. There is trust implied in such a revelation." Accipiter's eyes brightly flashed colors of blue and gold.

"I have been twice honored, Accipiter. By you before and now by Zen. I shall be no less trustworthy and much more humble in these matters as a result."

"But not too humble, my friend," said Accipiter with an even broader smile. "Lest you erase with excess humility those things that make you a very accomplished friend now and in the future." Civis didn't bother to ask the question on his mind for he suspected the answer would only confuse him further.

And so the journey to the Forbidden City began. Ahead out of view stood the great wall and red structures that masked the real fortress built with the black arts. On the road between the foreigners and their destination were arrayed those among the minions of the Black Dragon charged with the fellowships's total destruction.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-17-2002 @ 04:26 PM).]

posted 12-18-02 03:28 ET (US)     55 / 128  
Civis began to think of home. His adventure in the Orient had barely begun and he was in Ch'in for less than two days. As the group moved on to the Forbidden City, he thought of his villa, his children, and most of all, his beloved wife Apollita. His mind drifted off, imaginating Apollita and himself sitting on the couch, drinking home-brewed wine, talking, laughing.

"Civis?" a voice broke into the commander's daydreams. It was Titus.

"Yes, Titus?" Civis answered. "What is it?" He noted a streak of uneasiness on his Tribune's face. It seemed rather unusual, for the latter was speaking to him in a whisper. Looking around, he realised that they had already reached a small town.

"Yes, Civis. I noticed a few men following us about in this town. I believe that they are up to no good, especially since they tried to hide whenever I turned to look at them. What should we do? Capture one of them for questioning or consult Accipter? He seems to know more about this land than we do."

Civis decided to discuss the matter with Accipter. He rode over to Accipter. Soon, they were both riding side by side. Accipter listened to what Civis had to say, and fell into deep thought.

He turned around abruptly and caught sight of a Chinese man following the group. The man saw him and quickly pretended to stop at a fruit stall and choose a few apples. Accipter's eyes glowed with blue and red as his gaze penetrated the man's thoughts.

At once, he turned around again to face Civis. Civis knew that something was disturbing his friend. It was not often that Accipter looked so uncomfortable. Without having to be asked, Accipter told Civis in low tones, "The men following us are evil. They have been controlled by the dangers of the Forbidden City. We must get rid of it lest you mortals fall into the clutches of Evil."

Civis could not understand. What evil was Accipter talking about? Could he be wrong? No, that was impossible. Accipter had never been wrong before. He was like an Oracle.

When Titus asked him, all Civis said was that these men were up to no good. He didn't want his Tribune to get all too worried for now.


It was nearing the evening. The sun glowed orange-red as it set slowly towards the West and hid behind one of the greatest mountains in Ch'in, the Western Yue, Hua Mountain. The strange lands where the foreigners were in looked even more mysterious to them...

The group stopped at an inn in another town. Accipter told the stable lad of the inn to take care of the horses. He secretly gave the young man a tael of gold and told him to do the job well. After that, he left to look for Civis.

The rest of the group had already found their rooms. Civis left Titus to do the task of unpacking his things for him. He went downstairs to discuss about the mysterious men with Accipter. As he opened the wooden door, he almost banged into a very tall man. It was Accipter. The two men walked downstairs and found themselves a table.

The innkeeper personally came towards the two foreign-looking men. To his surprise, the taller one could speak Ch'in. Accipter ordered a jin of beef and some wine. The innkeeper meekly took the orders and went along to do his job.

Civis proceeded to ask his companion about the suspicious men seen at the streets. Accipter did not tell him anything about the men, but went on talking about an 'Evil' in the land of Ch'in.

"It is hidden in the Forbidden City, which we are going to 'visit'. The Evil will take hold of the Celestial One and wreak havoc. We must stop it at once. However, this will be a very tough enemy to destroy. It is even more powerful than the long which we encountered the last time. This Evil is of the same being as the long, but possesses much more evil and power than it."

"The same being as the long?? You mean, it is a... a dragon?" Civis' hands started shaking as he thought of the destruction the monster dealt in his last adventure in Ch'in. It had been successfully subdued and condemned by a magician in his group. However, the sheer thought of another monster, this time even more powerful, struck fear into the Roman commander who was never afraid of the largest armies on the battlefield.

Civis was contemplating another thing to say when the innkeeper came back with a plate of beef. It looked appetising, but Civis didn't really feel like eating. The innkeeper called out to a young boy in the inn, "Rong Ming! Serve the wine to these Masters!"

A boy hurriedly came out with the wine. In his haste, he tripped over another customer's foot, lost his balance and fell flat on his nose. The wine was spilled and the small cups were smashed to pieces.

It seemed like eternity for the boy. He stared in horror at the mess in front of him and looked up at his Master. The innkeeper was both red with embarrassment and fury. He grabbed the boy by the scruff of his neck and roared in his ear, "What do you think you are doing, you worthless creature?!!" He slapped the boy in his right cheek and threw him on the ground.

The man then turned around apologetically towards Civis and Accipter and said, "I am very sorry, Sirs. I will get another boy to serve you the wine immediately." As he turned around to call another inn lad, Civis grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around. To his own surprise, he heard his own voice, "Don't you dare do such a thing again, understand! I want you to help the boy up!" He caught sight of Accipter's eyes which seemed to be twinkling in silent laughter. Of course!

The innkeeper appeared extremely shocked at Civis. He had never once knew of any customer like him. Seething with anger inside, he had to obey the customer and help the boy to his feet. Without turning around, he shoved the boy to the side and stormed into the inn kitchen.

The boy, whose name was apparently Rong Ming, was left standing beside Civis and Accipter. He was about fifteen years old and for his age, looked quite short. Civis had several questions for this boy.

"Boy, where are your parents? Why are you here under this mean owner, serving wine to people? Don't you have a family? Why don't you go to school?"

"Sir, my name is Rong Ming and I am all alone in this town. My mother died giving birth to me. It was my father who brought me and my elder sister up. He opened a shop selling beancurd. We were simply too poor to send me to school. School is only for the sons of the rich. We poor people have no say in education."

"What happened to your father?" Civis inquired.

"One day, the local magistrate Gao Ling walked pass our beancurd shop and saw my sister. He wanted to buy my sister and make her work as a servant in his household. My father knew that he was up to no good, and refused the offer straight away. Gao Ling was incensed and sent his lackeys to beat up my father the next day. In the fight, my father, who was defending himself with a knife, accidentally killed one of the men.

"Gao Ling heard of this and immediately charged my father for murder. He also went on to harm him. Gao secretly placed a chest of pearls in our house at night. The next morning, he made a hoo-haa about his pearls being missing. He bribed my neighbour, Yang Mao, and both claimed that my father was behind the burglary. My father was thus charged with both murder and stealing and closed in prison for the rest of his life. As for my sister, she was seized by Gao Ling and made his concubine. I have never heard of her ever since."

The boy was now crying uncontrollably. Civis was saddened to see this. He immediately pulled the boy to his side and comforted him. Accipter gave the boy a tael of silver and told him to keep it.

Civis went into the kitchen and looked for the innkeeper. He wanted to take the boy away from that inn. The innkeeper, still furious with Civis for humiliating him, was only too glad to sell the boy. He called for a price of fifty taels of silver. Civis was unhappy at this high price. He tried bargaining for less, but was no match for the man, who kept raising his price. In the end, Civis had to settle for eighty taels instead of the original fifty.

The foreign group heard that they had another companion along the way and went to have a look. Rong Ming was very polite with everybody to whom he spoke to. Everyone was extremely pleased with him.

[This message has been edited by Duan Xuan (edited 12-18-2002 @ 06:11 AM).]

posted 12-19-02 21:35 ET (US)     56 / 128  
Civis Romanus returned to Accipiter's table in the public serving area of the inn with a sheepish look on his face. Accipiter looked at him blankly, expressionless, his green eyes gazing steadily at the face of his friend. The others had gone to their rooms. Only Olivia had lingered awhile, and mostly it seemed with Titus. Their conversation had been quiet, although Civis' name came up on more than one occasion and it was at those times that he caught Olivia glancing in his direction. Eventually the two retired to their respective rooms.

"I know, I know. You don't have to say it..." began Civis as he sat down in the only other chair at Accipiter's table. "It cost 80 taels to gain the boy's release."

"You drove a hard bargain it seems." The corners of Accipiter's mouth twitched as he reached into his pouch and withdrew the coins. Surprisingly to anyone other than Civis or Accipiter, the pouch retained its shape despite its content being relieved of nearly half its number of coins. It was always that way with Accipiter's money, even so on the last trip to the land of the Ch'in. This was one aspect of journeying with Accipiter that never worried the Roman... The money, that is.

"Now, Civis, what do you plan to do with the boy?" asked Accipiter.

"I don't know. I'll think of something," replied the Roman.

"I'll help you. It just so happens Rong Ming has knowledge that will be exceptionally valuable to us after we enter the Forbidden City. However, he must volunteer it to us. Let's just say that your bargaining for his release was more a necessity than you imagined at the time, almost fateful in a way."

"Fate was it Accipiter? Like I had no choice?"

Accipiter smiled. "Civis, with you there is always a choice; but the choices you make are predictable, that is all. One way or another, when that boy was mistreated by the owner in your full view, his joining our quest became an unavoidable eventuality. Fate merely gave you the opportunity to do that very predictable thing it expected of you."

"So is Fate our ally on this quest?"

"No... Just a companion..." Accipiter's face creased into a frown. "And there are other companions, though these will not be friends. The One who shall oppose us has sent his minions to intercept us and prevent our entry into the Forbidden City. You and Titus have already observed them. Ummm, there is something I haven't told you yet."

"And what is that, Gaius?

"They are indeed Ch'in who follow us and will intercept us; but they have been demonized by the Black Dragon. They are mortal and vulnerable to the sword, but they have powers that go beyond those possessed by normal mortals. Be prepared and prepare the others. I cannot interfere, only advise. My help will be limited tomorrow when they confront us. Be careful, Civis. They possess the elements of fire, wind and ice and will use them on us."

"Will the Black Dragon be among them?"

"I do not think so. The Black Dragon will only confront us directly as a last resort; and because the being is a changling, we cannot be sure at anytime if we are facing the Black Dragon or not."

"Is it Zen who shared this with you, for I do not recall his telling us this when we were in his cottage."

"Yes. These things and more... Suddenly Accipiter halted as if he were going to say something else but was interrupted. In fact he was, for the door to the inn opened and the head and upper torso of a Ch'in appeared. The Ch'in glanced in their direction and withdrew, closing the door as he left. Accipiter grunted. "It seems we have been checked upon and verified. We will be safe here, but you will need your rest tonight."

"Who could rest after hearing what you have told me," observed Civis wryly while staring across the room at the door where the Ch'in appeared. Accipiter nodded. Unnoticed by Civis, Accipiter's eyes flashed deep sea blue and immediately Civis felt a strong compelling urge to seek his room and go to sleep. The Roman yawned and begged forgiveness for the discourtesy of the yawn and for leaving Accipiter alone, but that he must retire for the night because despite what he just said he was ready for a good night's sleep.

"So it seems," noted Accipiter. "Rest well, Civis."

The Roman found the Ch'in sleeping pad in his room as quickly as he could and contributed his own snoring to that of Titus, who occupied the pad at the far side of the room. Together they serenaded the warm night with their sonorous duet.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-19-2002 @ 09:38 PM).]

posted 12-20-02 15:27 ET (US)     57 / 128  
The morning dawned brightly but Accipiter and the others were more wary than before. The boy, Rong Ming, joined them carrying his few belongings in a sack. Civis pointed to one of the pack horses and Rong placed his sack on the animal's back. Without a further word, Rong grasped the pack animals' reins assuming that the responsibility for guiding them was to be his. Civis nodded and smiled, signaling his appreciation of the boy's initiative.

They set out on their horses, acquired along the way the day before from a horsetrader who fortuitously happened along just as they were becoming more than uncommonly foot weary. It was Accipiter's bottomless pouch that paid for the animals. Civis negotiated the purchase, all the while wishing Radko was with them for these opportunities. Nonetheless, he did surprisingly well. Even Olivia was pleased with Civis' choice for herself.

Late morning arrived and Titus and Accipiter were in the lead. Dania and Civis rode parallel in the middle of the group, Olivia riding just ahead of Dania and behind Titus. Sin Ying and Da Long rode behind Civis and Dania. The boy followed Sin Ying with the pack animals.

On the road ahead, three Ch'in men blocked their passage. Their swords were drawn and held in their right hands. Their left arms hanged loosely at their sides. Dania felt the hairs on the back of his neck suddenly stiffen. He leaned over and whispered to Civis through clenched teeth, "Those men... If they are ones we expect to meet today, then I have met them before. They were among those I battled trying to save my wife and our home."

Civis was about to say something in reply when he heard a bestial roar come from the man at his side, and he saw Roulv Dania unsheath his sword and charge directly at the three men obstructing their passage. "No! Dania! Wait for us!" But Roulv Dania heard nothing said and saw only one thing through his hatefilled eyes: The three Ch'in who killed his beloved.

As Dania charged, one of the three men raised his left arm...

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-20-2002 @ 03:30 PM).]

posted 12-20-02 19:39 ET (US)     58 / 128  
...and 8 more men came forth from the trees at boths sides of the road a few meters in front of the three men, 4 from each group of trees. 1 man in each group were carrying a bow, the rest of them swords and shields.

While Dania kept pressing his horse to run faster and faster against the group of attackers, Rong Ming got the packanimals to a halt, turned around and withdraw to get himself and the horses out of harms way followed by Sin Jing and Accipiter. Titus reacted quickly and turned around, griped the reins of Olivias horse and kicked it in its behind making it gallop to the safety behind the group with a screaming Olivia on its back, then he made his horse dance making himself as bad a target as possible while he withdraw in the direction of Civis Romanus and Da Long who had unsheathed their swords and prepared their shields and started riding forwards for defence.

Just as Titus reached Civis and Da Long, Dania hit his horse with the side of his sword sending it directly agains the man with raised arm who had now started glowing red-yellow and then jumped off the horse flying against the men to his right. The horse crashed into the three men in the middle of the road blowing them over end while Dania with a big blow of his sword cut the head off one of the swordsmen and then hit the bowman body to body taking him with him out in the paddy field.

Civis, Titus and Da Long took advantage of the commotion Danias unexpected counterattack had created among the attackers and attacked in full gallop the enemies, Titus and Da Long to the left and Civis to the right. While passing by the enemies they made short process with one more swordsman and wounding the remainding bowman seriously, then they reined their horses and turned around attacking again. Before them on the road they saw the remainding enemies had grouped with the 4 swordsmen in front side by side and the three men they first saw, standing just behind them with one arm raised.

Down at the packhorses Rong Ming, Gaius and Olivia stood looking at the ongoing battle unable to do anything as they saw the three men lower their arms and point their open hands aginst the three men attacking them in full gallop. Then a sound like a strong wind was heard and the horses started running slower and slower, a fireball shot out against and hit Titus's horse killing it on the spot and sending him rolling on the ground, then a blue light reached out and it was like Da Long and his horse froze and just stood there like a statue.

Feeling terrible defenceless and frustraded by being unable to participate in the defence with the men who had cared for her Olivia felt something start pulsating inside her whole body. The eyes of Gaius who stood just behind her turned slightly golden-red and with a high scream as the barriere in her mind broke Olivia raised both her hands. Just behind the three sorcerers the earth began moving, a single stone flew up and hit one of them. Another stone followed and then they were pelted with stones disturbing them so they lost their concentration making both Civis's and Da Longs horse stumple as the magic lost the grip.

Surprised by the attack from behind the three sorcerers turned around giving the two shaken Romans time to unite and restart their counterattack leaving the unconscious Da Long behind. While the four Ch'in swordsmen and the two Romans fought each other the three sorcerers started running against Olivia swords drawn and preparing for a new magical attack. Just before they reached Olivia a strange figure covered in wet clay all over and eyes burning with hatred leaped infront of them and started attacking them cutting the left hand of the one using the freeze-spell. Dania -for he it was, was hit directly by a stream of fire and seemed to start glowing, but then he ducked down making the fire shoot over him and starting a fire in the scrub behind him, rolled on the ground, got on his feet again and beat the third sorcerer half unconscious with a blow to his head.

Accipiter and Rong Ming got the totally exhausted Olivia dragged further back while the battle moved forth and back with noone able to get the upperhand at first. One more enemy swordsman bite the dust but Titus and Civis who both had cuts and bruises were getting exhausted and could hardly defend themselves anymore. Fortunately Da Long who had come to himself again joined the battle and the Romans slowly started getting the upperhand. A short time later the sorcerer with the missing hand and the remainding two swordsmen who also were wounded had to retreat leaving the dead behind.

[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 12-20-2002 @ 07:53 PM).]

posted 12-21-02 13:02 ET (US)     59 / 128  
Civis watched the one-handed opponent and his two henchmen disappear up the road and into the thick of the bamboo forest. He looked around to ensure none of the others scattered about the road were moving. Then Civis turned to Titus to see how he fared.

The young Tribune seemed to be fine, though he looked like he had just fought a battle with the king of all bramble bushes. "Do I look the same as you?" asked Civis, feeling the sting of cuts, bruises and scratches on various parts of his own anatomy.

Titus snorted, "Yes, I'm sorry to say. Exept a few year's older than me." Civis smiled. Titus would be fine. Then he turned to Da Long. The Ch'in was leaning on his sword and shield, ashen gray under his characteristically Ch'in complexion. "Hmmm, being frozen doesn't exactly agree with you, I see."

"No, Commander. I live in a warm climate. Usually."

A muddy figure joined them. "Dania, that was a foolhardy act on your part," began Civis, "but probably the best tactical move we could make. Well done. Now let's find a stream for you because you need a bath."

Titus noticed Accipiter on one knee near Titus' fallen horse. The tall man was resting one hand on the place where the fireball struck the hapless creature. Suddenly the horse's side began to move in and out as the beast resumed breathing. Healthy hide began to replace the seared flesh at the point where the fireball struck. The horse regained its feet moments later. Da Long's horse was as weakened as was Da Long, but it too was recovering nicely.

Civis took a few steps towards where Accipiter now stood with Olivia at his side. The Ch'in boy nearby with the pack horses. Sin Ying there as well. The Roman spoke cautiously, hesitatingly. "Lady Olivia, there are times when I do not understand Accipiter's choices in these matters, but I always trust his judgement. I now understand his reasons. On this day you have saved this quest."

Civis straightened up, locked his knees and gave Olivia a short bow of his neck and head, military fashion. Olivia received his words without saying anything, though Accipiter noticed her softened expression, smile and slightly pinker cheeks. Ahhh Civis, he thought. You can select the right words afterall when properly impressed or motivated. There is hope for you, Roman Commander.

Accipiter moved about the camp near the brook that night spending time with each member of the quest. Scratches and cuts seemed to be healing quickly and all was returning to normal. It would stay that way for awhile, he knew; but not for very long. It was Olivia who sought him out for conversation, the girl troubled by the day's events.

"But Minstrel, I have never felt this way before, nor have I ever done such things as I did today. I... I don't understand what is happening..."

"What don't you understand, Young One?" said Accipiter. He waited as the young woman collected her thoughts and prepared her questions.

posted 12-22-02 09:11 ET (US)     60 / 128  
Olivia looked up into Accipter's green eyes. "I ... I'm not quite sure what I want to ask you ... but I'm sure you're the one amongst all of us who can answer me."

They sat down by the brook in the gathering gloom and there was a comfortable silence between them for a few minutes.

Olivia suddenly turned to Accipter and said "There was a fight. Some bad men. They were hurting my friends who rescued me. I remember ... I remember feeling despair that our long trek was going to end in failure and my friends were going to be killed when I had a weird feeling inside me. It felt like ... like something inside was trying to break out and I had to raise my arms and shout to help it ... and then I remember nothing ... nothing until, well, just now really. I don't understand ..." Her face crumpled as if she were about to cry again.

Gaius put his arm round the girl's slim shoulders and fixed his eyes on her. "Listen, Olivia. You must have had feelings like that before." Olivia looked at him doubtfully but he continued "When you found your mother on the floor, didn't you feel something of the sort towards your father?"

Olivia's mouth dropped open in astonishment. "How did you know about my mother ... and my father? I've told no-one."

"It doesn't matter how I know" Gaius replied with a smile. "Did you have those feelings?"

"Well, yes, I think I might have done" replied Olivia doubtfully. "But nothing happened."

"You are blessed with powers that most others don't have. They are new to you so you can't control them yet. Possibly if your father had been there that day the same thing might have happened. It's probably lucky that he wasn't for things weren't as you thought they were."

"But ..." Olivia interrupted.

"Shhh" said Gaius soothingly. "You will understand one day. But for now you have to concentrate on this quest. The reason your powers came to the fore was that your friends, your protectors, were threatened. You can use your powers to help others that you care about and I know we are going to need them again before our journey is done. I hope you might learn to control them and, maybe with help, you will."

Olivia sat deep in thought for a long time. "My father ...?"

"I told you not to worry about what happened back in Roma. Things weren't as they seemed to you. Do not think badly of him. You will understand when we return."

Olivia thought again. "You ... you have powers don't you? Strong powers. I can feel something."

Accipter looked at her steadily. "I have powers. More than you will ever know or understand. But I cannot use them to interfere in the lives of humans."

"So ... so that's why it was me who did it. Will it always be as frightening as that?"

Accipter shook his head. "No, it won't. It's all very new to you. It will get easier. And what about Civis? Can you accept him now? He's a good man ... a soldier through and through, but a kind man too and one you can trust with your life."

"I suppose so" Olivia said slowly. "He frightened me at first. He reminded me of my father in many ways. But he spoke kindly to me earlier."

Accipter realised that it would take time for Olivia to accept Civis and understand him fully so he merely smiled at her and suggested that she ought to get some sleep as she must be exhausted.

"I am" Olivia replied. She walked back towards her tent, looking back over her shoulder just once to say with a cheeky grin "I did save them all though, didn't I?"

Accipter laughed softly to himself at the change in the girl since they had first found her. She'd be OK and a very necessary member of their party before their journey was done.

posted 12-30-02 12:45 ET (US)     61 / 128  
During the night as they slept, cuts mended, scratches and scrapes healed over, bruises cleared and rest was complete. Only Gaius Accipiter never slept, as he went about his business of quietly seeing to the welfare of the fellowship. Only Civis knew why the morning broke to find all of them healed and fully rested. Neither Civis nor Accipiter spoke to the other, sharing in silence the hidden understanding that existed between them both; nor did Civis respond with anything other than a shrug to the questions being asked among the warriors.

It was Titus who approached Accipiter with a question about the horse. Accipiter's answer was terse, to the point. "The horse was merely unconscious. A well placed hand encouraged the horse that all was well and the beast responded. It is an ancient Scythian practice in these situations."

Titus frowned. "Oh." Scythian? Who are the Scythians? If Titus had known who the Scythians were he would have pursued Accipiter with more questions. Since he did not, he decided to drop the subject lest his ignorance of Scythian lore be thoroughly revealed to his personal embarassment.

Civis overheard the conversation and laughed inwardly. An honest effort, Titus, he thought; but doomed. Civis caught Accipiter's eye. The Roman wasn't sure but he thought he saw the tall, green-eyed man wink at him. In response, Civis made a sound as if clearing his throat and then carried on with his preparations to depart the campsite with the others.

Following breakfast and well before the sun, peeking through broken clouds, had reached its zenith, the companions covered several kilometers of road heading towards the Forbidden City. The time and distance passed without incident.

Olivia and Sin Ying had begun to spend increasing time with each other, a very natural result of the fact they were the only two women in the group and very close in age. The topics were many that they quietly spoke about to each other: their origins, parents, guardians and adventures.

Olivia could not quite believe that she had traveled thousands of kilometers and even now was speaking first hand with the woman closest to the Emperor of the Ch'in. It was with a mixture of curiousity, wonder and awe that Olivia spoke with Sin Ying about her consort, Pei Lian.

"His name was not always Pei Lian," responded Sin Ying. When he reached his 18th year he was compelled to change his name to reflect that achievement. Pei Lian was the name he selected in honor of one of his ancestors. I'm not sure which one as the name is somewhat common, so I am told."

There were other questions Olivia wanted to ask, and as they put kilometer after kilometer behind them, the questions and conversation flowed swiftly between them.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-31-2002 @ 03:01 PM).]

posted 12-31-02 04:23 ET (US)     62 / 128  
It was near noon. The heat from the sun bore down on the travellers. Civis shaded his eyes with his hand and squinted into the distance.

Still no sign of any people.

Civis sighed as he rode on. How much longer would it take before they could settle down somewhere for a rest? They had been riding onwards all morning and had seen nobody, nor heard anything except the trotting of the horses' hooves and the chatter of Sin Ying and Olivia, both who never seemed to feel tired. An occasional moan of fatigue came from Titus or Dania. Da Long and the newcomer, Rong Ming, both rode on quietly. Accipiter sat on his saddle as silent as ever, thinking. Civis couldn't and didn't attempt to think of what Accipiter was pondering about.

Civis looked at his horse. The poor stallion was so exhausted both by the distance and the heat that it was already starting to pant. It's head drooped downwards as it moved on.

A bloodcurling scream broke the silence.

Everyone jerked up in alarm. Da Long immediately rushed to the side of Sin Ying to protect her. Civis whipped his horse forward. There was nothing to be seen in the void of this grassland. Only the mountains rose in the distance. Other than that, the endless plains were empty.

His quick eyes soon detected some movement. To his right, there was a white streak of light. It looked like a person, sprinting at incredible speed. No, he looked like he was flying and running at the same time. Before Civis could strain his eyes for more details, the figure disappeared into the horizon.

The rest of the group soon caught up with Civis. Worried faces surrounded him, asking questions which he could not answer. What had happened? What was the scream about and where did it come from? Civis had a premonition that he would find something unpleasant soon.

He dismounted and walked to where he first saw the white figure running. Ordering everyone to start searching, he went ahead to the path which the mysterious person took. There was almost no trodden grass to be seen. That person was definitely not running, which would have left bent grass in its path. Yes, he flew. Suddenly, he heard Olivia scream.

Everyone rushed over to where the girl was. She was immobilised on the spot in shock, pointing at something a few feet in front of her.

It was a corpse.

A corpse of a man, lying amidst the tall grass.

Civis, Titus and Da Long both approached the dead body. It was of a man who looked like a warrior. There was a sword lying not far to his right. Definitely his, for his own sheath was empty. The man did not seem to have any superficial wounds at all that would have suggested his death. He was lying prostrate on the ground. Everyone was shocked and puzzled. How did the man die?

Da Long spoke up. "This is not an ordinary death. This man has been killed by a very skilled person. His assailant appears to have strong internal strength that can rupture all of his internal organs. We do not find cases like this often."

Civis turned to look at Accipiter in dread. A skilled assailant. One who could apparently fly. Accipiter nodded his head. He knew what Civis had seen just now. He motioned for his Roman friend to come towards him. "The killer of this man will not harm us. He is in fact, helping us remove an attacker of us. Don't worry, Civis. All will be fine."

Civis looked up at him in puzzlement, then heaved a sigh of relief. He would not tell the others about this. Not yet anyway. There was still much to be known about their secret friend.

posted 12-31-02 16:01 ET (US)     63 / 128  
Noon passed and the horses were refreshed with rest, feed and finally, water from a small brook that found a path at the bottom of a wandering ravine. Titus noticed that Accipiter and Rong Ming were in continuous conversation. From time to time the boy pointed to the north, his hand animated, his index finder dancing in the air. Accipiter would nod occasionally to show he understood.

Titus swiveled his head looking for his friend from Roma. Civis lay on his back, eyes closed, under the sparse shade offered by an abbreviated tree growing from a place carved into the brook's bank by some ancient flood. The commander seemed older today somehow than the day Roulv Dania first showed them the oddly carved wooden box. His faced showed lines Titus thought until then were nothing but shadows cast by the great light in the sky. His brown hair seemed thinner in some areas; and in others, why, it was far less brown in places than in others. Yet, the commander still possessed the broad, muscled shoulders that gave great strength to his sword, and his legs rippled with muscles honed by constant need to guide a horse with his legs or walk great distances on foot. Older now, yes. Armed with experience and wisdom, even more formidable than in his youth. And with those penetrating blue eyes, able to intimidate some among the gods themselves if not Jupiter himself.

Titus turned his head to see that the Ch'in boy had returned to his place and Accipiter was sitting alone in his. Cautiously, Titus approached the tall man with the unusually colored green eyes. Accipiter's expression seemed welcoming and so Titus sat nearby. "When did you first meet Civis Romanus, if you don't mind my asking."

"Not at all. It was during the great civil war that led to the Hun invasion. Civis was a legionnaire, actually a Commander of a Legion encamped defensively on the border with Parthia. When the war began, Civis led his legion back to Roma to confront the usurper. He was defeated and his legion destroyed. He was forced to flee eastward with others. It was there he, I and Incontinentia, the famous Governor of Londinium, among others gained access to an oracle that revealed a way to defeat the Hun and restore the Empire of Roma. It was Civis who masterminded the strategy. It was my role to communicate his plan and coordinate his forces.

"But I am told you purposely do not interfere in any person's matters," said Titus, puzzled at the possible conflict with what Civis asserted about Accipiter.

"In truth I do not," said Accipiter with a disarming smile. "I said I communicated and coordinated activities, I made no decisions and gave no orders in those days. It is the same now as then. I merely petition, inform, reason with and advise. You lead yourselves in this quest. It is not I who leads."

"And the beast who brought us here?" challenged Titus.

An event you will eventually forget, thought Accipiter. Instead he replied, "I merely informed him of the circumstances and asked for his assistance, which he gave of his own free will. That is no more interfering than handing you a piece of armor from your legionnaire's chest so that you may choose on your own to wear it or not. I have merely relieved you of the mindless burden of obtaining it from the chest yourself."

"I think I see," said Titus, who had the look of a man peeking out his villa's door at a rising sun, squinting to shade its brightness. Then he shook his head as if to signal the moment of this thought had passed. "Are we near the Forbidden City yet?"

"Yes, Titus Tarquintius. Very near. It is beyond those mountains ahead and below what we shall see."

"Below? You mean below in the valley at the foot of the mountains?"

"No, Titus. I mean below all that you will see from the peaks of the mountains ahead. It is what Rong Ming told me today. What we seek is below the Forbidden City. What you see above the earth is reflection only." He saw disbelief on Titus' face. "We must find the doorway to the depths of the City. When we do, you will believe this then, I assure you."

"If we find such a doorway..."

"When, Titus... The word is 'when'".

posted 01-02-03 05:45 ET (US)     64 / 128  
Titus would never lose the skeptic in him. It was a trait that hounded him from before the original trip through the Silk Road to it's continuation during Civis' murder accusation as a relentless driving force that helped him focus and succeed in proving his friends innocence. And although Gaius Accipiter's words were at times both comforting and informative, it was Titus' forever skepticism that kept him from a false sense of security and at times put himself in harm's way.

He did know for what ever reason Civis had agreed to accompany Accipiter here was worth the effort and a noble cause. It was these traits and others that Titus admired about his former Commander and current friend and why he so quickly agreed to accompany him this time.

It was also why he and Olivia had spent time together discussing just what Civis Romanus was like. The questions rangeing from what kind of father he is to his military leadership and of course, his friendship. Titus answered each question with great resolve to have Olivia understand just what made Civis....Civis. And in the end he felt she understood him better.

Titus had been drawn to try and understand Olivia more since he followed her out of the cottage and silently observed her saddened thoughts. Yet it seemed more than just curiousity. It was.....he couldn't quite explain it. At least not yet.

posted 01-02-03 16:05 ET (US)     65 / 128  
Something itched at the tip of Civis' nose. To find it took something of an effort in that his nose, though not the finest example of its kind, nonetheless mimicked to a great extent what the Mediterranean world had come to call a "Roman nose". It meant that finding an itch at the end of his nose and scratching it demanded that he lift his hand and search above his face for the outermost point of his nose, rather than follow the curve of his face and then make a gradual, brief rise in the center to find his target.

Half asleep he launched his mission, found his battleground, inexpertly discovered and attacked his assailant and awoke to the sudden pain of the buzzing insect's counterattack. This time, Civis attacked in full force slamming his hand, palm open, on the point of his nose where the bee originally had landed peacefully. The enemy was destroyed, but not without leaving his primary weapon embedded in the battlefield. Civis let out a yell, "Ow! By all the gods! Ow!" And he leaped to his feet clutching at his nose.

Whether Civis' nose hurt more from the bee's counterattack or from the assault by his own hand became a guarded discussion for later that day. At the moment, all that seemed paramount was to remove the remnants of the bee's abdomen and its stinger from the outermost extremety of the commander's nose. It was Sin Ying, sympathetically but with a bit of a suppressed giggle who pulled the stinger out of Civis' nose with a grasp of her slightly elongated Ch'in-styled finger nails.

The others looked on with various expressions some of which were not exactly appreciated by Civis. With the stinger gone, his quite reddened and slowly enlarging nose could be medicinally dressed. It was Accipiter, to Civis great relief, who approached him while the commander kept his nose covered by his own hand, both for comfort and to hide its growing malformation.

The tall man had walked to the brook and had reached in to draw two handfuls of cool mud, one large and one small, from the bottom of the stream. As he walked towards Civis, the Roman could see that Accipiter was trying to decide something. When Gaius got down on one knee very near Civis, the Roman whispered, "No need to debate about healing it or not, I know what you do and why. Just heal it. Go ahead." Then, despite the pain, Civis smiled in expectation.

Accipiter grunted and whispered back. "I'm debating what volume of mud to use, Civis. The large lump or the small lump. It's a matter of sizing."

Civis smile crashed to someplace below his chin. "You can cure this can't you?"

"Well, Civis, as a matter of fact... No. The bee's sting deposits a poison... Not fatal of course... but a poison nonetheless. You know what that means, don't you?"

Civis knew full well what that meant so he nodded his head and said nothing as Accipiter made his decision. "It will have to be the large lump, Civis, all things considered. Sorry." Without ceremony, Accipter applied the mud liberally to Civis nose, leaving openings so that the Roman could breathe.

"It's like wearing a legionnaire's helmet on my nose," said Civis, the weight of the mud causing him to sound like someone was pinching his nose.

"Yes, same color too, and without the horsetail," observed Accipiter, noting that the darkness of the mud compared favorably to the color of the hardened leather helmet of the legionnaires, sans its plume. "This should give you some relief."

Civis looked skeptical, but said nothing in the hope it would not discourage Accipiter's prophecy from coming true.

They broke camp soon afterwards and headed north towards the low mountains that rose between themselves and the Forbidden City. Civis hoped they would not meet anyone soon, nor be forced to face the Black Dragon's slaves again. He did not relish wielding a sword with his nose packed in mud, nor in the event of an attack did he wish to be exposed to speculation, assuming he and they were victorious, that his appearance did more to entertain the enemy than did his sword. Civis could be just a little self-conscious that way.

They were into the mountains almost before they realized it.

posted 01-02-03 17:39 ET (US)     66 / 128  
Olivia had to stifle a giggle every time she looked at Civis. The mud helmet on his nose only served to accentuate its size, although from what she had learnt about their leader, she knew that any expression of mirth would not be met with an answering smile.

Having talked about Civis with Accipter, Sin Ying and Titus she felt she was beginning to understand him a little more. She was still somewhat afraid of his short temper but she was even more afraid of what Accipter had told her. She didn't want to have powers; look what powers had done for her mother. Why couldn't she be normal like Sin Ying ... well, as normal as the wife of an Emperor could be.

The horses climbed the narrow path slowly, picking their way amongst the rocks. This gave Olivia time to look around. The scenery was beautiful. Mountains as far as she could see with snow on their peaks. She could hear the gurgling sound of streams making their way down the mountain to the valley far below and, up in the sky, birds of prey hovered hoping to see something moving on the ground far beneath them.

It also gave her a chance to look around their motley band. Civis was out in front riding with Accipter in, it seemed to her, a companionable silence. She longed to speak with Gaius again. There was so much she needed to know, yet she realised that he would explain things to her when he felt the time was right and no amount of questioning on her behalf would get her anywhere.

Dania followed close behind. She felt she didn't know him very well yet. There was sadness in his eyes, yet he radiated peace and tranquility. He almost seemed to be the driving force behind their journey although he took commands from Civis just like they all did.

Sin Ying rode beside Rong Ming, deep in conversation in their own tongue. She liked Sin Ying, quiet yet full of fun, always ready for a bit of girlish talk yet with an almost aristocratic bearing. Close behind her rode her guard, Da Long who rarely left her side.

Finally, bringing up the rear was Titus. She had enjoyed talking to him as she had had a very sheltered upbringing and had only spoken to young men in very formal circumstances. She liked the way she could make him smile but wondered at the way he looked at her sometimes.

Suddenly up ahead, Civis and Accipter had stopped and beckoned to them all. They realised that they were at the top of the pass and there, what seemed like miles below them, they could see a great city spread out on the valley floor.

posted 01-03-03 15:57 ET (US)     67 / 128  
Even from this distance the travellers could make out the distinctly Ch'in architecture characterizing the buildings hugging narrow streets. The city was a riot of color that featured reds, yellows and blues. Now and then something green could be seen; and everywhere the city glistened richly with reflected light from the setting sun. If it did not originate with the glaze on the tiles, then the gilt beams that edged the buildings or emerged from high peaked roofs became the source for the bright reflections they saw from above.

There, at the center of the Ch'in city, they saw their destination for the first time. The red painted buildings of the complex were walled in to isolate it from the rest of the city. Thick stone, massive wooden gates painted red, and sentry posts ensured that the isolation of the complex was complete, or if violated, easily detected and remedied. It was an awe-inspiring sight and the travelers spent a long moment studying all that they could see.

"It's magnificent is it not," observed Sin Ying. "Very much in its own way like the great city of Roma."

Civis answered, "Yes, Sin Ying. It is magnificent." Then he turned to Accipiter. "But Gaius, we are told this is illusion. How can something so... so real... be an illusion, like water that appears on the parched Parthian desert and then disappears when one nears it?"

Accipiter frowned. "Illusion, Civis, can take many forms. What you see is indeed real. The illusion is that what you see is all that is real. There is more... And it lies in a place you cannot see from here. That reality is what we are seeking. What you are seeing is merely its gateway.

Titus' horse suddenly gave a start and responded nervously as small rocks from an unknown place just above slid noisily to the path at their feet. They all looked up but saw nothing. In unconscious reaction, Roulv Dania placed his hand on the only personal belonging, other than his weapons, that he carried with him on his horse: the carved wooden box inside of which was the bronze urn.

It was the boy's suggestion that they backtrack about 300 meters to a place he recalled that seemed appropriate shelter for the night. The others did not recall the place, but were willing, given the hour, to look it over. Rong Ming was right. The site was well suited to camping. Soon a fire was burning, meals were eaten and the travelers settled down for the night.

At about the midnight hour, three pairs of small, human-like, brightly lit eyes appeared in the rocks above the campsite. Soundlessly the bearers of the illuminated eyes climbed over rock and crevice slowly, carefully making their way to a specific place in the camp. That place was occupied by Roulv Dania, and nearby the sleeping citizen of Roma, by his carved wooden box. It wasn't Dania himself who was the target of these monkey-like creatures with human-like faces sent by the Black Dragon to do his bidding. No... It was the wooden box they sought, that their master ordered them to steal... or never return to their beloved master again.

Parted from their master? NO! NEVER! Cursed stones! Their presence was nearly given away once that day! Not this time! The leader of the three hsigo gingerly avoided a pile of loose stone and moved that much closer to the wooden box. Very close now. Very, very close... The hsigo reached with his long, muscular, ape-like arms and placed his dark palmed hands on the box. Soon it would be his master's again, just as he ordered.


The Black Dragon laughed a deep throaty laugh. "Pei Lian, do not despair, your stay in this place will be brief enough. Yessss, very brief indeed..."

Pei Lian did not like the sound of that. He folded his arms and stared with determination right back at the shadowy beast with the red eyes that glared at him out of the darkness beyond. "My minister, Fu Hachu, will find me and then deal with you! You will regret what you have done!" shouted the young Emperor of the Ch'in.

"Fu Hachu? HA! HA HA HA HA HA!" roared the beast. "Deal with me?! HA HA HA! Too funny! Deal with me! HA!" The beast continued to laugh even as the red eyes seemed to disappear followed by an echo of laughter and great feet, many great feet, coming from the walls of the chamber.

Pei Lian stared into the darkness as the echoes faded away. It was sometime later that he realized he was alone... quite alone.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-05-2003 @ 06:37 PM).]

posted 01-03-03 17:57 ET (US)     68 / 128  
While the two other hsigos excited looked on and now and then took a quick glance around the camp ready to react if someone woke up, the leader of the three very slowly began lifting the box.

The dust behind the box moved a tiny bit as a fine thin line started to lift from the earth.

Unaware the leader lifted the box up from the ground and began carefully getting the box closer so he could get a better hold on it as it was heavier then he had expected. The two other hsigos nearly screamed as their leader almost dropped the box, but he got it and then tried carefully to move it closer to himself as fast as he dared but, what was that?

The box seemed to resist being moved.

The leader tryed dragging a bit harder but to no avail, the box wouldn't move. Marveling at what was going on he lifted the box a bit more and looked under it.


Then he moved it to the right and the long horsehair tied to the box pulled Roulvs left arm down on the earth instantly awakening him. The eyes of the hsigo followed the horsehair to the arm and from there to the face of Roulv Dania.

A few short moments they looked each other in the eyes.
"Wwwrrrraaaaaaahhh" shouted Dania as he realized the hsigo wasn't part of one of the nightmares he often had.

"Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii" screamed the hsigo in chock and froze by surprise and scare.

The next the two other hsigos saw was a sparkle in the air as Dania swung his sword against their leader but apparently without hitting him. Hurriedly they run closer for dragging him out of the now by Danias sword ruined tent when they saw something red start running down the back of their leader, then his head slowly tipped to one side and fell to the ground while the rest of his body collapsed and tipped forward covering the wooden box.

At this moment the whole camp was awake with Olivia in full panic fighting with the collapsed tent she and Sin Ying shared and Civis, Titus and Da Long with weapons ready running against Danias tent....

[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 01-04-2003 @ 08:24 AM).]

posted 01-03-03 21:03 ET (US)     69 / 128  
One of the two remaining hsigo, realizing their leader was dead, unceremoniously grabbed his headless body and threw it off the wooden box. Just then Da Long and Titus, with Civis behind them, exploded onto the scene. Dania extricated himself from the twisted mess of his tent paying no attention to the women shouting and screaming in the tangles of their own tent.

With a primal scream, Roulv threw himself on the box the hsigo had grasped in his hands. The smaller monkey-like creature was no match for Roulv. The tug-of-war ended with Dania swinging the box so hard the creature flew off the box and into the air well over the heads of the onrushing Titus and Da Long and right into the face of the unprepared Civis.

Meanwhile, the other hsigo, knowing further stealth was futile, began to run monkey fashion across the campsite straight for the mangled mess the struggling girls were making of their tent. To the hsigo's and the girls' mutual dismay, the two women extricated themselves from the tent just as the hsigo arrived two steps from the frightened, frustrated women.

"AIIIIII!" screeched the unlucky hsigo, his bright eyes growing two times larger than normal. The two women stared at him for one brief second and then screamed at the top of their lungs. The hsigo fainted dead away.

Civis clawed at the hsigo that had landed on him, gripped him tightly and was screeching nonstop. The creature held on so tightly that in combination with the mud cake on Civis' nose, the Roman was barely able to breathe. Furthermore, his sword was useless. "Get this thing off of me!" he cried out.

Titus and Da Long had skidded to a stop when they saw the creature fly skywards. As they turned on their heels they saw it land on Civis. Now they were running back to him to do what they could. The creature's grip was monumentally strong, but to the relief of them both, the creature did not seem predatory. In fact, its behavior was more likely due to fright not malice.

"Easy, Civis," came Accipiter's soothing voice. "He isn't going to hurt you." The tall man had finally arrived on the scene from nobody knew where. "He is frightened, that is all."

"He's frightened (mppff) that is all?" He's all over (mmmpfff) my face... and my (nmpfffmpfff) nose! My poor nose!"

"He won't hurt you."

"Not hurt me? He's already mashed my nose!"

The women had calmed themselves enough by now to have found a piece of unused cord and tied the hands and feet of the hsigo that had fainted before them. They were carrying the creature over to the men. The hsigo on Civis saw them and tightened his grip once more. Accipiter raised up his hand to signal they should place the animal on the ground. As they did so it regained consciousness and stared fearfully all around. "Do not hurt us," it said in a high pitched, plaintiff voice. "We do not mean you harm. We only wanted the box for our Master." Roulv Dania stiffened and his grip on his sword and the box tightened.

"We will not harm you if you do us a service." Accipiter noticed the hsigo on Civis had loosened his grip somewhat. Civis equally relaxed as the hsigo's grip relaxed on him. This one spoke next, continuing to ease his grip. "We have no master now. Will you be our master?"

"For the while, if you behave," said Accipiter.

"Oh, we shall behave because you are our master now. What is it you want us to do, Master?"

"First, get off of the man called Civis."

The hsigo obeyed. Civis held himself steady as the creature climbed down to the ground and stood there looking up at Accipiter. "And next, Master. What shall we do next?"

"Show us a way into the city - a way in which we will be seen by as few people as possible."

"He knows a way, Master," said the hsigo pointing to the tied up hsigo. "Must he be bound like that, Master? We will be good. We promise."

"Please untie him, Olivia," said Accipiter. Both Roulv Dania and Civis stiffened once more; but Civis was more preoccupied with his throbbing nose than with the hsigo which he decided were now Accipiter's problem. He rubbed his nose through the caked mud as if it would help. It didn't.

"Come with me," said Accipiter to the hsigo. "Tell me about the way into the city."

"Yes, new Master." And both of the hsigos followed as requested.

Titus and Da Long gave the hsigo's beheaded comrade a fast burial among the rocks while Dania returned to his collapsed tent to rebuild it and to better store his box. Civis, covering his nose with his hand as if cradling it, asked if the women were okay. They were, they said. Civis pulled his hand away from his nose and nodded. Unfortunately, the movement caused the dried mud cake to finally crack apart, and it slipped off Civis' nose and fell in four distinct sections onto the floor of campsite.

The surprise of seeing the mud cake break at that instant coupled with Civis' look of dismay struck something funny in both ladies. As quickly as the mud cake hit the ground both women brought hands to their mouths to hide their grins and to stifle the giggles threatening to rise. Civis straightened his back, elevating even more his enlarged reddened nose, and stomped off to return to his own tent. The two women waited as long as they possibly could before letting loose waves of laughter at the condition of the Roman's battered nose. They hoped Civis was out of immediate earshot. He was, but only barely.

Titus and Da Long knew better than to say anything when they saw Civis arrive sans mud cake in their part of the camp. They merely glanced at each other, faces in the grip of military trained correctness, but the twinkling in each other's eyes saying what their expressions did not.

Civis made no effort to acknowledge what he knew they were thinking. If this is what it took to foster camaraderie, then so be it. He was very much a Commander who knew that if it must be at his own expense it was a small price to pay.

But by all the gods in Olympus, could the Fates now leave his poor throbbing nose alone!

posted 01-04-03 08:19 ET (US)     70 / 128  
The next day at midmorning when the camp woke up they found Roulv Dania sitting at the outskirts of the camp at a campfire busy mixing something in a small jar.

"Goodmorning, breakfast is ready" Dania greeted them.

"Morning Dania. What is that smell?" Titus responded while sniffing in the air. Then he noted something was missing "Hey, where is your tent?"

"I found it a bit too damaged to be easily repaired, and it also had got a foul smell from that strange creature I killed, so I burned it"

"Oh, that is the smell," Titus blinked his one eye knowing Dania was a great cook. "afraid for a moment it was the breakfast."
Satisfied with the answer Titus began eating.

"Ain't you going to have something yourself Dania?" Civis asked.

"No, thank you. I have allready eaten"

"What is it you are working on?" Olivia asked pointing at the small jar.

Dania dipped the tip of a little finger in the jar and let a drop fall on his wrist and while rubbing the spot gently answered "It is for Civis's nose, should take the pain and help it go back to normal. Have used it myself a lot of times when gone hunting for honey. By the way, there is some fresh honey in that bowl." Dania pointed at a small bowl covered with a piece of cloth.

"Thank you." Da Long responded and after tasting the honey "You must have been up for a long time."

"Yes, couldn't sleep so I took a small trip and found a bees nest." Dania lifted the small jar. "Think it is as good as it can get now. Civis, if you allow?"

Civis gently touch his now even more swollen and hurting nose. "Are you sure it's a good idea. It was bad enough already and getting hit by that creature didn't make it any better"

"Well, I got a few stings myself when I took the honey and the ointment works on me. We can test it on one of your scratches first if you like, just to be sure?"

A few minutes later Civis's nose had got a glistening appearance besides already being both red and swollen to almost double its normal size, and Olivia and Sin Ying found it very difficult not to start laughing, but Civis didn't care as the ointment started having a anaesthetic effect.

"Just remember to be carefull as you will not be able to feel it if something hits your nose. If it starts itching againg just tell."

[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 01-04-2003 @ 01:08 PM).]

posted 01-06-03 16:17 ET (US)     71 / 128  
Civis chuckled, the first time he had done so since his encounter with the bee, "Well, Roulv Dania, the table is turned. On our last adventure here I recall it was you that we were patching up most of the time." The anaesthetic effect of the balm was having a positive effect on his good humor. "Now I'm the one getting repaired, and from a wound inflicted by an insect no less."

Dania smiled, "Let's hope that's the worst of it on this journey Commander, just the sting of a bee and nothing more serious."

"Agreed," said Civis. The commander noticed that Dania's box was at his side and thethered to his arm by a leather strap. "Taking precautions, I see?"

"Wouldn't you?" said Dania.

"Under the circumstances, yes." Civis glanced to where Dania's tent had been. There was nothing there but charred ground and a small object, scoop-like, that Dania must have commandeered from some scattered debris around the campsite. It's purpose was lost on the Roman so he commented idly on what he was thinking. "I suppose where were going we won't need a tent, just torches.

"Maybe," sounded a different voice. It was Accipiter newly risen for the morning. "But given the glow that precedes you Civis, only one torch and its reflection off your face will be all that is needed." Giggling from the women and barely contained laughter from the men followed. "What is that substance that glistens on your nose?"

As Civis' face reddened from embarrasment and irritation, it was Dania who answered. "An ointment I made and applied, Master Minstrel. It soothes the pain and has a cooling effect."

"I see. Well done, Dania." Accipiter's voice then took on the unique tone and timber that carried on it a subliminal message that calmed the spirit of anyone to whom it was directed. This morning it was directed at Civis. "Forgive us our humor at your expense, Commander Civis. There are times when we become so convinced you are closer to Olympus than to this earth, it is a relief to us to know you are truly very much one of us. It helps us believe in ourselves and our abilities all the more; for if you can be what you are, so can we be what we are as well, by example."

Civis Romanus stood in stunned silence. This was Accipiter? The entity that surpassed anything mortal speaking to him in this manner, saying these things? Civis didn't know how to answer. He looked around and saw the others looking at him, smiles on their faces. Even the girl Olivia looked at him without the disdain he had seen on previous days. They seemed to be expecting him to say something. Civis searched high and low, but finally settled on this. "Ummm... I ummm... I most likely am quite a sight." Again there was laughter. "But if this is what makes us strong like a legion and capable of winning this quest for Sin Ying, then I shall consider that damnable bee to have been sent by Jupiter himself; for I believe the gods are on our side! Now let's finish our work and make our way to the Forbidden City. It's why we are here, isn't it?!"

There was assent all around and renewed energetic activity. Accipiter smiled. He could always rely on Civis to seize the moment. He had done so again, just as the tall man had hoped. Gaius walked over to Civis and whispered in a confidential voice. "No harm intended my friend. In a few hours the bee's poison will have completely been absorbed. I should be able to do something about your nose."

"It's about time," Civis whispered back. "I was beginning to think more highly of the bee's powers than of yours."

"I suppose I deserved that," said Accipiter, a twinkle in his eye and a feigned hurt expression on his face.

"For the time being, yes."

Soon they were mounted and on their way towards the Forbidden City. The two surviving hsigo rode Accipiter's horse speaking nervously to the tall man and pointing with their monkey like arms and fingers. Civis couldn't exactly be sure, but it seemed they were guiding them to a depression in the plains that lay before the western edge of the city. He saw water running there away from the city... And... Yes! An opening from which the water ran. A cave-like structure that seemed to lead... seemed to lead... He couldn't be sure until he and the others were closer. Now they were close enough. Though the cave entrance was dark and smelled of mold, they could tell the cave and its interior seemed to lead directly into the Forbidden City of the Ch'in. The hsigo indeed had done as their "master" requested.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-06-2003 @ 04:23 PM).]

posted 01-08-03 15:44 ET (US)     72 / 128  
There were no guards at the perimeter of the city. There were no walls with sentrys visible from the cave's entrance. No one who saw them approach would probably care, for neither Civis nor Titus wore their armor that day, choosing instead to carry it on the back of their horses. They were just another entourage of visitors to the Ch'in city spread out before them. So when they disappeared beneath the edge of the ravine no alarm was sounded. There was no particular interest in another group of pilgrims or merchants or wandering souls, whoever they were or from wherever they came.

The cave's entrance was tall enough for the tallest among them to enter without stooping and from what they could see the tunnel stayed that way throughout its visible length. The need for horses was ended. What supplies they needed they could carry.

Civis and Titus were faced with an uncomfortable decision. Their armor was distinctive and highly visible. Neither of them could wear cloaks over it and hide it. What were they to do? Da Long's armor was Ch'in and therefore not unusual. Titus and Civis legionaire's armor, with its hardened brown leather and red and gold highlights, was seen only once in the long history of the Ch'in, when these two visited the land a few years earlier. To wear it would bring too much curiousity their way. Finally a decision was made. Civis and Titus would retain their swords and other weapons, but the armor would be left behind.

The women modestly looked away as the two men changed into Ch'in peasant clothing and then rebuckled their gladii to their waists. It wasn't quite Ch'in-like, but it was the best they could do. The hsigo looked on with curiousity but said or did nothing until it was time to enter the cave.

"No, Master! We musn't enter. The other master will find us and then we will be forced to tell him we do not have his chest! Let us go, please, Master. Don't make us go there with you!"

Accipiter paused and looked at the hsigo. Something that suggested a decision crossed his face and his eyes seemed to have found something blue and gold to reflect, if only briefly. The hsigo lowered their pleading eyes and a calm seemed to descend upon them. "Yes, Master. We shall," they said almost as one. Then they suddenly scurried up the wall of the ravine and disappeared in the direction from which the group had just arrived.

"Why did you let them go, Gaius," said Civis. "Won't they give our presence away to their master?"

"No, I don't think so. They are simple creatures and cannot do other than what they are told. I have sent them away and away is where they will go, because that is what their current master said to do."

"I hope that will be the case."

"It should be. Now Civis, may I suggest that Titus lead us into the cave, the others in the middle and you and I keep an eye on what might follow."

"But Accipiter, I am not usually..." Civis saw the expression on Gaius face and understood. "Oh, my nose. But how will you find it in the dark of the tunnel?"

"It won't be that hard, Civis, if you understand what I mean."

Civis frowned. "Apolita would not approve of what you say about it."

Gaius Accipiter placed his hand on Civis shoulder reassuringly. "You should hear what she says to me about it." Then he turned to Titus who was at the head of the group. "Lead us in, Titus. Civis and I will ensure we all get through."

Titus looked at Civis and saw the Commander's look of irritation, but saw him make a motion with his hand that seemed to reinforce Accipiter's words. Titus responded, dutiful as always. "Alright, everyone. Follow me."

They entered the cave. The men noticed the shallow stream of water and the darkness. The women noticed, above all, how much the tunnel stank of musk and mildew. Part way into the tunnel a hand on Civis shoulder paused him in mid step. Then came a hand gently placed on his nose. Civis imagined rather than saw the everchanging colors appearing in Accipiter's eyes and a moment later felt the first true relief since the bee's attack on his nose.

"Thank you," said Civis, putting aside all of the irritation from his friend's teasing. "You are always welcome," said Accipiter, his calming voice fully engaged. They picked up their pace to rejoin the others, but to their dismay, the others were not where they were supposed to be. In fact, they were not, it seemed, anywhere at all.

posted 01-13-03 21:04 ET (US)     73 / 128  
Civis and Gaius inched forward squinting their eyes to see more clearly in the dark. "Where are they?" said Civis in as low a whisper as he could manage.

"I don't know," answered Accipiter. "They should be here. They couldn't have had enough time to go too far."

"Up ahead... Do you see it... The light?" There was no use in Civis trying to point. It was too dark still for Accipiter to see his finger.

"Yes," whispered Gaius. "I can see it now. It's sunlight."

"Appears to be sunlight. No flickering. Where are they?"

Suddenly a hand reached out from the darkness and grasped Civis' shoulder. Civis gave a shout and jumped sideways striking the other side of the tunnel with his other shoulder.

"It appears we have found them," said Accipiter with his calm, measured voice.

"Found you is more like it I think," said the familiar voice of Titus. "We thought we were being followed and we thought you were with us at the rear. Then, when we heard noises, we saw you were not with us and thought the worst, such as an ambush or something. So we found this niche in the tunnel and have been hiding here waiting to pounce on whatever it was that was following us. Turns out it was you."

"You gave us both a start, if I might say so," said Civis, rubbing his right shoulder where the tunnel wall had made its mark. "We wondered where you had gone off to."

"Just to here, Commander. The exit gate is there, just ahead. We saw it just before retreating to this niche."

Civis looked to where Titus pointed and nodded his head. "I guess it's time to leave this tunnel then."

"Yes," said Olivia. "And not a moment too soon. This tunnel reeks. I can hardly stand to go another step... And one more thing, Commander."


"Don't disappear like that again! I was... I mean... You worried us all... uh... you and Accipiter, I mean." Even in the dark, Civis could imagine Olivia's face turning somewhat pink.

"I won't," Civis said, hoping circumstances would permit him to keep his promise.

"Good." Saying this, Olivia turned a bit so that she seemed to be looking at Sin Ying or ahead in the tunnel and not Civis. Even so, Civis noticed Olivia glancing back at him ever so briefly from that point forward as they carefully made their way through the remaining length of the tunnel. Checking on him he surmised.

His musing ended when they came upon the exit to the tunnel. They straddled the running water seeking to leave the city and stepped out into bright sunlight. Strangely, there was not a Ch'in in sight.

posted 01-20-03 20:01 ET (US)     74 / 128  
It was Roulv Dania and Titus who stepped forward to lead the expedition into the light of the Ch'in day within the walls of what appeared to be a thriving city with no people in sight.

The buildings were spectacularly conceived, built and colored. Gilt eaves thrust out of brightly painted red structures with yellow highlighted designs. Here and there golden dragons seemed etched into the structures just below the blue glazed tiled roofs. If not for the obvious curves and foreign designs, Civis would have sworn that a Roman architect had designed the structures with their peaked roofs and then permitted the Ch'in to add curves and outer art according to their own unique taste.

Titus and Roulv Dania looked high and low, up and down nearby streets, but saw nobody in the streets, on the stairs of the buildings or curiously observing them from windows or doorways. Then something shimmering in the heat of the day on the street ahead caught their attention.

"Soldiers!" cried out Titus. They were dressed much like DaLong when they first met him in the bamboo cottage of Zen. There were nine of them marching shoulder to shoulder directly towards the newcomers, and their faces did not convey expressions of welcome.

Accipiter closed his eyes and stood calmly and still. When he opened them again, the soldiers were twenty paces closer with only fifty paces yet to go before they would be upon the newcomers. Accipiter heard swords being drawn from scabbards and the women breathing hard with fear.

"Rest easy, everyone. Let them pass," said Accipiter soothingly. "They are an illusion." Titus, Dania and the others turned him with incredulous expressions.

"Are you sure of this?" asked Titus, disbelief edging his voice. Accipiter merely looked at him. Titus then said, "I hope you are not wrong on this one or those of us still alive will be very upset at you."

Accipiter looked away and in the direction of the soldiers. "Stand fast," was all that the tall man said. They did so as the massed troop relentless closed the distance, raised their swords and brought them down on the newcomers.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-20-2003 @ 08:01 PM).]

posted 01-21-03 16:04 ET (US)     75 / 128  
Their hearts pounding during this entire act of faith in Accipiter, the newcomers closed their eyes as the swords descended, only to feel... nothing.

Slowly, as each struggled to control emotions, breathing and pulse rate, they opened their eyes. The first utterance was a gasp from Sin Ying. "The city! It's, it's... It's not a city at all!

The others by now were staring in awe at what they individually beheld. In place of the magnificently ornate red Ch'in buildings were primitively constructed huts and other structures more typical of a nomadic people and not the Ch'in. Where paved streets once ran, dirt paths, rough and rutted, disected the sections of housing.

Civis turned around to look at the tunnel from which they exited and the walls they bypassed. The tunnel was there, but there was no stone ediface reinforcing the entrance. There was simply a hole into which water ran collecting from rivulets descending from around and from under the huts.

The walls were there, but these were merely mounded piles of dirt, not stone emplacements with ramparts for archers and spear throwers. The sentrys were missing, no doubt made of the same illusory substance as the nine soldiers who seemed about to attack the travelers.

"Accipiter, how is this done?" asked Roulv Dania, who had stepped backwards until he was in the proximity of Gaius, waiting until then to ask his question. The freeman seemed to be grasping something within his shirt as he spoke his question. The look in his eyes said he was holding it for reassurance if not for anything else.

Before Accipiter could answer, a wailing sound, young yet powerful, filled the air. "A child!" exclaimed Olivia. "I hear a child's cry." It was then that the Ch'in woman stepped out of her hut, a child clutched to her bosom. She stood there staring at the strangers who had arrived from nowhere.

"Who are you?! How did you get here?! See! You have frightend my child! You are not supposed to be here! Go! Leave us! Leave us now! Before HE comes to see what has happened! Go!"

Sin Ying responded. "Before who comes? Tell us!"

The woman looked over her shoulder and then at the sky. "HE! The one who comes at night from the sky! The black one! The giver of death! Go now!"

Sin Ying looked at Accipiter. The minstrel read the question in her eyes. "It is the Black Dragon. We are near its lair." Roulv Dania tightened his grip on the bronze urn and loosened his hand on the object in his shirt. Part of his question was answered.

Accipiter's eyes flashed blue. Gold flecks appeared and disappeared within their field of blue. The woman, and all of the other people who had left their huts to see why the woman cried out so, became silent. Most went back to whatever business inside their homes they were undertaking. The rest merely observed passively as Titus, Dania and Civis took the lead and the travelers began to make their way to the center of the city that was not.

Accipiter muttered something under his breath. Civis cocked an ear to see if he could make out the words. "What, Gaius, did you say?" he asked, frustrated he couldn't decipher the words.

Accipiter raised his voice just enough for Civis and a few close by to hear, one of whom was Olivia. "Forbidden City, indeed, I said," repeated Accipiter. "All that is forbidden here is the means to live decently and to be happy. An inhuman denial... Zen was more right than he knew..." Accipiter lowered his voice and continued to mutter under his breath. He did not seem inclined to share anything more and so Civis didn't press the matter.

The boy Rong Ming remained oddly quiet during the entire sequence of events after they emerged from the tunnel. He seemed neither amazed at the revelation that the soldiers were illusory or that the city of red was neither red nor a city. Titus turned to Dania in that moment and said, "Dania, where are all the menfolk?"

It was the boy who answered. "Enslaved or transformed, I imagine."

Titus turned to look at the boy. "And how do you know this."

"Because I was once a babe in my mother's arms here. I came from this place. And that is what happened to my father."


Something disturbed the Black Dragon. Its sonorous snoring suddenly ceased. It took a moment for it to understand why. A presence among others, some of whom he knew, some of whom he did not. Yes, one, the girl: Sin Ying. The second, of course, the Captain. Not surprising. But the other. Strange. The source of something, a power, the presence. The answer welled up from ancient memory. Them! One of Them! Twice now in the Boy Emperor's life has one of Them appeared! And twice is too much!

The Black Dragon shook off his sleepiness. There was time, but precious little if they found the entrance too soon. Preparations must be complete. The Dragon went about his domain to see that they were.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-21-2003 @ 04:04 PM).]

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Caesar IV Heaven » Forums » Story Archives » THE SILK ROAD III: FORBIDDEN CITY - A Story
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