It’s the end of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign… and I had some loose ends to wrap up. Hope you enjoy!
Shirasiau Sai’Li sat on the tall chair that was the seat of power of the Jade Merchant. It was her chair now, by right of combat. There were some that had said as it was not by right of single combat it was invalid, but they did not speak very loudly after the first to question her position had vanished without a trace.
Of course, the transition of the title of Jade Merchant was publicly acknowledged in a far different manner. It was the end of a week of celebrations, feasting, dancing and displays of acrobatics of all kinds, barring combat. As the new Jade Merchant demanded; the martial arts were not to be shown. To be completely accurate, she had mentioned that displays of grace and beauty were pleasing to her eye. As she had never been seen to hold anything more substantial than a silken fan or paper parasol, the planners of the event had reacted accordingly.
She had to admit, the performances were quite pleasing and the dancers lovely. Three in particular had caught her eye and one of them slept exhausted in her chambers. The other two were kneeling close by, one holding tea, the other her kiseru and tobacco.
Sai’Li put out her left hand and the attendant placed the elegantly carved jade and silver pipe into it. When she put it between her delicately tinted lips the same attendant held a coal over the bowl, allowing her to draw the scented smoke into her lungs. Leaning back, she allowed smoke to trickle out her nostrils as she surveyed the room through lidded eyes.
The seventeen women kneeling before her sat motionless, waiting for her to speak. She dropped the pipe and her attendant plucked it from the air without hesitation. After taking a sip of her tea, the most powerful woman in Chen Yun snapped her fan in front of her face and leaned forward slightly.
“My dears.” Her voice was resonant and pitched perfectly to carry but still sounded like a caress. “We are now at the dawning of a new era for the House of the Jade Merchant and for the Shirasiau family.” At her words, the curtains parted, and the sun shone into the room, bright and cheerful.
Screams erupted from four of the women and they began to writhe as smoke burst from their skin. They sprang to their feet, trying to escape from the punishing light, but Sai’Li vanished from her seat, stepping from the shadow of the nearest. Black metal spiders the size of house cats were streaming from her sleeves as she slashed a fan with razor edges across the throat of her first victim.
“We shall not be tolerating the infiltration of the full breeds. Only a select few of the males will be retained for the purpose of maintaining our strength of numbers.” The spiders swarmed over the dying vampires as she spoke, holding them in the sunlight until they were burned to ashes.
Sai’Li sighed as the metal arachnids climbed back up her flawless obi and into her sleeves. “I really do abhor having to resort to violence my dears. It is a crude, crass way of dealing with problems and death truly is bad for business. I have plans lovelies. Won’t you join me for a nice cup of tea?”
The remaining thirteen women looked up. They hadn’t moved from their positions as the others had died horribly around them. Sai’Li flicked the blood off her fan before snapping it open before her face to hide her smile. These women would be the future of the clan. They had the discipline, the skill and the drive to perform. Now if they only had the fortitude to survive bearing the next generation.
She needed daughters raised to respect the old ways. Cunning but worthy of trust, ambitious but respectful, deadly but wise. Her policy would be to reward rather than punish. To encourage and nurture, to take the ideas she had learned during her time trading amongst the mortals and use them to create a family that would truly be legendary.
With a swarm of spiders still swarming behind her like a train, Sai’Li strode into the most important room in her house. The battleground where she had fought and won most of the battles of her life. In the tea room, she would court the mothers of her daughters. She would earn their loyalty.
“Great Mistress.” Keiko was bowing low, her white hair perfectly coiffed in the latest fashion. The gray, blue and seafoam green of her kimono had koi swimming over the sleeves and across the back.
“Please Keiko.” Sai’Li said, rising and taking her longtime partner by the hands. “I have asked you only to address me formally when we are not alone.”
“Mistress of the Jade Chair, Brightly Blooming One, Flower That Opens in the Moonlight, One Who Stands in Daylight; emissaries from The Necropolis are requesting an audience.” Keiko was still bowed low, “They are waiting in the antechamber. I apologize Terrible Star, Princess of Spiders, Hand of Shadow Threads. I do not yet know how they managed to enter unnoticed.”
“Find out.” Sai’Li said, straightening her Obi and changing it to a formal affair of beautiful rippling metallic colors with a ripple of magic. “Send them in. Bring tea in ten minutes.” She smiled behind her fan, “The black, flavored with jasmine and saffron.”
Keiko backed out of the circle of obsidian stones that surrounded the dais before straightening and turning to go. In a few moments three figures dressed in folds of shadow and funerary wrappings entered. They did not walk, but merely moved along the floor in utter silence. Sai’Li stood gracefully and returned their slight bows with an inclination of her head.
“I extend greetings honored guests.” She said, her voice warm as the sunlight that shone in through the high windows on both sides of the room. “If I had but known of your visit I would have prepared for it.”
“We know.” The foremost said, very obviously not flinching from the sunlight in a way that said clearly it wished to. “This is why we have come unannounced. It has come to our attention that you have been breeding. We take exception to this.”
“The half dead are but a byproduct. We do not appreciate your presumptions of superiority.” The second rasped.
“Your beast has hunted an ancient bloodline nearly to extinction.” The third whispered, its voice dry as ancient parchment.”
“Nearly to extinction?” Sai’Li asked, arching a perfect eyebrow. “I cannot imagine that my dearest Tiger missed any of my father’s spawn?” She spat the word without honorific.
“You are the last.” The foremost said. “Centuries of knowledge and research has been lost and you are merely a half dead.”
“I assure you dear guests, I am not merely an anything.” Sai’Li said, snapping her fan open to hide her annoyed expression. “You stand in my chamber. I require civility lest I become displeased.”
The door opened behind her and the aroma of jasmine blossoms and saffron stamen filled the room. It was the scent of spring, of life and it cleansed the graveyard scent of her visitors from her nostrils. Keiko carried a tray with delicate porcelain cups and a centuries old teapot that had belonged to her mother.
Chisara Yi’Tan was the first Empress of Chen’Yun. Her reign had been a brief one; overthrown by one who had been stricken from the records; every evidence of her burned and all her descendants killed to the last. Still, Yi’Tan had not been a virgin when she took the throne although her daughter was unknown to all save one. Sai’Li had devoured the knowledge her father’s extensive diaries had held of her Honored Mother.
The three turned to glare at Keiko and in that moment Sai’Li extended a hand. Black metal spiders flowed from her sleeves and the hem of her Obi and skittered into the center of the group. Each one held a tiny sliver of brilliant glimmering light in their mandibles. Sourcing Sunstones had been rather difficult, but they were most handy tools and her connections with prominent worshipers of Pelor ensured these were legitimate.
“Won’t you join me for some tea?” She asked sweetly, descending the stairs to her dais with deliberate steps. “Perhaps we might discuss this in a properly civilized manner.” Unperturbed by the displays of hostility, rage and fear by the visitors, Keiko unfolded a lacquered table and began pouring the tea.
“Why are there so many cups? Is your servant joining us?” One of the emissaries spat, narrowing its eyes against the gleaming beams of bright light.
“No.” A deeply resonant voice said in Draconic. “You are not the only undead with an interest here. I greatly appreciate the gesture dear Keiko. My sincerest apologies for interrupting you Daughter of the Lost.”
“Coalbraizer, you honor my humble house with your presence.” Sai’Li said, bowing as a form of swirling smoke stepped into the room, flickers that suggested a skeleton of a dragon that would fill half the room seeming to appear at the edges before vanishing and coalescing into an ethereally featured man dressed in a copper colored Obi.
“You three are not worthy of drinking this tea.” Another voice, flat as the sound of a coffin nail being driven home. A woman who would be quite stunning if she had not been so obviously deceased stepped from the shadows thrown by the glimmering Sunstones and they all dimmed to mere moonlight.
“Stileen!” Sai’Li was barely able to keep the pleasure from tinging her voice, grateful for the fan to cover her smile. “It is so good to see you again.” A mental nudge brought her spiders back to their mistress. She did not want to anger these last two; she knew and respected them.
“You three claim to represent the Necropolis.” Stileen said, not yet acknowledging Sai’Li. “Perhaps the three of you could explain which faction?” Her voice was flat and dangerous.
“We represent the Black Quarter of the city of Argus.” One of the three said.
“Quiet fool!” The foremost said, “This is the Lady of Coastwood Mausoleum.”
“Coastwood? That tiny seaside berg?” The other replied with disdain in its voice.
“Coastwood is the gateway to the Bay of Souls.” The foremost hissed, swinging its fist in a vicious arc that sent the other sprawling to the perfectly polished marble floor. “My apologies Lady Stileen. That one is less educated than it should be.”
“Please take tea with me and we can discuss any and all issues that Argus may have with me and my Family.” Sai’Li said, gesturing to Keiko with the tip of the little finger on her left hand. Keiko retreated to kneel on the floor, awaiting her mistress’s summons.
“It is only proper for us to be introduced formally beforehand.” She said, giving the bow to visiting dignitaries within a hair’s breadth of the proper level. “I am Shirasiau Sai’Li, known as The Jade Merchant.”
“I am Revnar, I hold the title of Justicar of Argus Below.” The foremost, “It is the use of the half dead and their elevation to equal status that is at issue here.”
They sat, ignoring the still twitching form of the third emissary and tactfully not noticing that the second emissary remained standing behind Revnar. Sai’Li folded herself gracefully to her knees, noting in satisfaction that the others couldn’t match her grace, although Stileen was close.
After they had all taken their first sip of tea, Sai’Li delicately wiped her upper lip and fixed Revnar with a significant look over the edge of her fan. “Honored Justicar of Argus Below, is the issue at hand that you believe the half dead are undeserving of equal status?”
“Of course.” He said immediately, not appearing to notice. “Although technically immortal, they are inferior in every other aspect.”
“Do you believe that I am inferior?” She asked, her voice not betraying one single iota of anger or discomfort.
“Ah, of course it was not my intention to give insult.” He said, finally noticing that her cheeks had become slightly more sunken and her eyes had begun to fill with black.
“Nonetheless you have offered insult to me and my daughters beneath my own roof.” She said quietly. “You may have your choice of opponents and your choice of champion if you do not wish to fight yourself. But there will be a duel to satisfy honor.”
She continued sipping her tea in contentment, watching the expression on the faces of the others at the table. Those too ancient and set in their ways were far too simple to manipulate in such situations. Now he had to fight and choose the opponent who would be considered to be the strongest or else be deemed weak. It was almost too easy.
“Of course I will satisfy the needs of honor.” Revnar said stiffly, “I will face any opponent of your choosing at a time and place of your choosing.”
“You shall face me.” She said, standing with perfect grace. “Now. Here.”
No fool, he attacked without warning but there were suddenly five of her seeming to flicker in and out of existence and his deadly bolt of black energy passed harmlessly through one of them. It blew him a kiss and vanished. One of the figures behind him struck with a razor-edged fan and decades old blood splattered to the floor.
“You should not be able to cut me.” He hissed in anger, striking out with a dagger made of the tooth of some long forgotten animal. The blow struck another image and it flickered out of existence.
“Perhaps you should have brought your scythe if you came to give insult to ME or MINE!” Sai’Li said, anger bleeding through her normally calm mask. “If we were not at least equal to those of you trapped in the shadow we would have long since ceased to exist. After all it is YOUR kind who create us and it seems as though it is YOUR minds that are susceptible to the madness of the world blending.”
She feinted left and cut horizontally across his face, following up with a downward slash that left a ragged tear that cut his chest to the bone from collar bone to bottom rib.
Revnar had been waiting for her next attack so he could identify which of her shadows was real. With a snarl of triumph, he put a hand on her arm and threads of black shadows ran from his fingers to flow up and toward her face.
“Die half dead scum!” He shouted in triumph as his attack struck, filling Sai’Li’s eyes, nose and mouth.
Her body convulsed with a spasm of pain at the invading power but she didn’t fight it. Revnar’s eyes widened as a delicate hand tightened on his wrist and the flow of his power increased. He realized with shock that his opponent was intentionally draining him.
“What are you doing?” Revnar screamed as he could feel his limbs weakening. Sai’Li seemed to be taking one long, deep breath and her diminutive hand held his arm with bone crushing force.
Sai’Li tossed the withered corpse aside with contempt. Flickers of darkness still hovered about her, looking more like black forks of lightning than shadows. She licked her lips and turned to fix black eyes on the last remaining being from Argus.
“Are there any other opinions about whether I am your equal?” She put just enough hunger and anticipation into her voice and saw a quiver of fear travel through its body. A flick of her wrist closed her fan and cleared the ichor from it. “Return and tell your Masters that I am not to be trifled with.”