Rough Draft: “SInging Mountains”

Singing Mountains

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace…I pray that peace is upon my soul and that of my shining prince…” if only the denizens of Roan Va had heeded Elyssa Rui, the great Myryrklos philosopher’s Tale of the Singing Mountain…after 250 years of peace and prosperity, the 5 Empires of Roan Va, the Winged Guardian Empire of Myryrklos in the Northlands, the sinister Strigoi Empire of Vatria in the Southern Forests, the elegant, aristocratic Gothic Germanic Empire of Baronia-Felix, ruled by the Human race in the Central Mountain Steppes and the only Empire that used industry to power its society, the Tempelritter Empire of Sorcerers in the Temperate Savannahs, and the Empire of the Silver Moon, ruled by the ethereal, beautiful and delicate Sea Goddess race in the Tropical Seas region were preparing for war. The roots of the conflict stemmed from Rui’s 5,000-page book about living as a bathhouse maid in the Imperial Palace at Amame-Sakura, she was the daughter of a fruit farmer near the capital city of Serenity; like all Myryrklos court females, she was more than 7 feet tall with a long, red and white dress that spread into huge, ethereal white wings, allowing her race to soar on the summer breezes that blew over the land. She had two huge ribbons in her long, black hair, as well. The saga began with Prince Heiji, the heir to the throne of Myryrklos, spotting Rui working in her father’s farm field one day, and promptly developed feelings for her. He sent a message to her personally and invited her to live in his royal bathhouse, working as a maid and a waitress. She happily obliged and was paid very well, with one condition: Prince Heiji allow her to write about her experiences and express herself through art, she was a singer, writer, painter and novelist, as the Myryrklos culture valued art, wisdom and knowledge over all other pursuits, and were by far the wisest, most intelligent race in Roan Va. For two years, Rui wrote about her experiences in the rarified, closed-off world of the Myryrklos nobility, a cutthroat environment of betrayals, allegiances, pacts and families that few anywhere else had any exposure to. It became clear very early on, however, that Prince Heiji had a major crush on his newest maid. She had grown her hair out long and flowing like the rest of her newfound friends there, who knew why Prince Heiji had invited her to the royal bathhouse, as did she, and placed red and black striped ribbons and a bow in her hair as well. The handsome young prince, who flew by means of a cape that spread into wings, like all male Myryrklos had, often childishly teased Rui by purposely stepping on her long, flowing black hair with his shoe as it trained behind her, causing her to squeal; one time he even tore the back of her dress off by accident, causing no small amount of embarrassment for both of them, he also one time tried to swat a huge dragonfly off of Rui’s left breast, it had landed on her dress, and Rui was upset with Prince Heiji, squealing and ranting, not because Prince Heiji had hit her in a very sensitive area, but because Rui loved nature, and was always one to promote peace, something Prince Heiji didn’t quite understand, being trained as an unrelentingly vicious warrior, insects were low, useless forms of life, only existing to be squashed, crushed or abused for the might of the Empire. “What did that little dragonfly ever do to you?” It wanted to enjoy the sunshine just like I was, and it came to rest on me because I was sitting in the sun, please do not harm anything alive unless it is actually trying to harm me.” Rui scolded Heiji for his cruelty to the dragonfly, and Prince Heiji quickly learned that Rui valued the lives of creatures that couldn’t defend themselves, which was something the Myryrklos nobility viewed as strange. They were superior to all others because their Sun Goddess Wyurkyrr had created the Myryrklos in her image, and they feared neither death nor harm, for they saw their time in Roan Va as temporary servants of Wyurkyrr, and were completely fearless on the battlefield, wielding the powers of weather and their Cumulonimbus Scythes to destroy their enemies. Eventually, the pair grew closer until one sweet, late-summer night after a bath in the local spring river, in which both Prince Heiji and Rui were in the stream together, Rui wrote about a “dream” in which she felt a “warm presence, caressing, kissing and embracing me lovingly and peacefully, until I responded, we locked in the most sacred union possible for a short time of pure bliss and happiness, and then slept, in the most sacred of natural, basic states.” Interestingly enough, a few days later, Rui was permanently expelled from the palace by Heiji’s father, Emperor Koji I, after writing in her manuscript for 2 years, she had exactly 5,000 pages. Heiji married a princess named Omiya, but, tragically, was never happy or content with the boring, snobbish, dull, cutthroat personality that Omiya had. Eventually, Prince Heiji assumed the mantle of Emperor from his 900-year old father, who had reached the end of his race’s typical life span, he snapped, killing Omiya with his Cumulonimbus Scythe, a weapon reserved only for the Myryrklos nobility, as well as the 7 young Apprentices that Omiya trained, and his own mother, for “forcing him to accept unhappiness.” He promptly donned his feather cape and spread it as his wings, flying to Rui’s farmhouse, only to land and see Rui’s family grieving over a pall. Rui’s father looked at Emperor Heiji angrily, and yelled: “You! My girl is dead because of you! She took her own life! Why would you do such a thing! She told me she loved you, and you do this to her?! I do not care if you are Emperor! You have no right to be here!!” After the two 9-foot tall Myryrklos men got into one spectacular argument, where they roared and screamed like crows at each other between insults, Rui’s father calmed down, and allowed Emperor Heiji to see the face of his sweetheart one more time…she looked more asleep than dead, but at least she was at peace. The scene where Heiji saw the limp, ashen face of Elyssa Rui, the young woman he had come to love and had been unable to live without for 2 years, was dead. She had drowned herself, thrown herself from a rowboat with an anchor tied to her foot into the same lake where she loved to spend hot, lazy summer days swimming and singing, bathing and diving for pearl shells, days that would forever be tainted by the memories of paradise lost; because she blamed herself for the deaths of those poor little Apprentices…she should have never gotten involved. Broken and beside herself with grief, she had cut her long hair, usually grown long as a symbol of nobility, and swapped out her royal maid’s robes and dress for her typical farmer’s garb again; her father explained to the sobbing Emperor Heiji that she was a truly strong, wise and beautiful girl, and that you, as Emperor, truly deserved her as an Empress. He went on to explain that Rui, being strong, tried to get on with her life as best she could, but she was never quite the same…it was when Heiji killed those children that Rui could no longer live with herself. At that moment, Heiji fell to the ground with the awful realization that he was responsible for everything…the death of the Apprentices, his mother, Princess Omiya, and Rui’s tragic, heartbroken suicide. The least Emperor Heiji could do to make it up to the grieving family was to make sure that Rui was given an Empress’ funeral. Rui was given a full Imperial funeral, complete with a chariot and a casket of flowers, she was given hair extensions, her royal robes, her dress and her beautiful face paint, with her wings folded across her chest like a blanket. More than 900,000 Myryrklos attended the funeral, and it captured the imagination of every Empire in Roan Va. The Strigoi lit a Black Flame Candle in her honor, astounding given their hatred for the Myryrklos, the Sea Goddesses held a wail for her anguished soul, their straining voices echoing for miles, causing a misty, ethereal rain to fall all over Roan Va, Kaiser Rudolph Eisenheim III and his elegant Gothic-Aristocrat handmaidens of the 6 million-square mile wide, steampunk-industrialized Gothic-Germanic Empire of Baronia-Felix had an enormous funeral parade in Rui’s honor, playing the traditional Baronian funeral hymn, “Ich hatt einen Kameraden.” The Sorcerers of Tempelritter had one of their famous fireworks shows in memorial for the tragic story of the Myryrklos Renaissance girl who was born a farmer’s daughter, but died Empress Elyssa I, posthumously inducted into the Royal House of Amame-Sakura. Her memoir became an instant, worldwide best-seller. Rui was laid to rest in the Royal Cemetery, with the last words she wrote just before her suicide on her sarcophagus: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace…I pray that peace is upon my soul and that of my shining prince…” That was 900 years ago, and now Emperor Heiji lay right next to her in the cemetery, after a long and mighty reign as the 900-Year Emperor of the Myryrklos Sky Wraiths. The present day, however, brings a new challenge to the Myryrklos Empire, one that presents a deep implication for the other 4 Empires and the races that rule them. Heiji’s son, a 300-year old, headstrong young Myryrklos named Prince Oda, was the first in line for the throne, but his connections with Elyssa Rui’s family, which still owned the same farm, worried some of the Elder Council, the most valued advisors to the Royal House of Amame-Sakura, for they were old enough to remember Elyssa and how she mesmerized Oda’s father when he was young, more than 900 years before. The book Tale of the Singing Mountain, long thought to be a simple description of Elyssa’s time with the Royal House, was a classic in Roan Va amongst all 5 Empires, the Myryrklos race’s elite class was synonymous with egotism, self-righteousness and tended to look down upon all other races as “unsophisticated,” which was true in most cases, and the rest of the Roan Va’s inhabitants wanted to see the nobility through the eyes of someone who was lucky enough to live with them for 2 years, so the many publishing houses in Roan Va made a lot of money selling Elyssa’s book and the hundreds of adaptations in popular fiction and comic books, for example, influenced by it. Few thought it was anything more, until a Strigoi literary scholar at Nightstar University, Ertaz Vidiun in the Empire of Vatria, the Empire of the Strigoi Cossacks, postulated that Elyssa had an illicit affair with Prince Heiji, and it was Princess Omiya that snitched on Elyssa, causing her to be expelled from the palace, based on the erotic-sounding “dream” passage that one summer night. The moment the Vatrian press Strigoi Pravda, published this finding, the Myryrklos Royal House fervently denied it and dismissed the Strigoi Royal House of Shion as a “pack of slanderous vampires.” The Strigoi Cossacks and Myryrklos Sky Wraiths were deep-seated rivals, with a long, valiant history stretching back more than 25,000 years. They fought no fewer than 4 major wars against one another, and by the present time, it had become more of a sports rivalry than a real political issue in terms of severity, especially when the Cossack and Myryrklos warp-ball teams played against each other in the Pinnacle Series for the championship every fall. This looked to be nothing more than just that, slander, and all 5 empires saw it as just a joke by the Vatrian Empire to poke fun at their old rivals. After three weeks, however, the Myryrklos Empire did something unprecedented: they confessed to what they knew to those that they saw as inferior. In a public statement, Prince Oda announced that his father did indeed have an affair with the bathhouse maid Elyssa Rui, but it had no bearing on anything that was currently happening in the Ooku, or Inner Chamber, of the House of Amame-Sakura…much anguish still remains, and the events of 900 years ago have not been forgotten, nor will they ever…there is, however a prophecy in Myryrklos culture that states that all things happen in cycles…900 years later, history is about to repeat itself.

  1. Emergency Measures

And down the glen, through the marshes, went the brave few, stoic were their faces, they knew what they had to do…as they marched behind her, the requiem bells rang free and clear, but it was no matter. The world gazed with deep amazement at that fearless girl, and the Voice of Freedom itself, for slavery fled, on the wings of the glorious dead, when they fell behind Sei Kiriru. ‘Twas noon around, in Rii’ne Town, hung high was the flag of war. As down the glen, that Equinox morn, to the city fair, their armed lines of marching men, in squadrons passed by, no pipes hummed, no battle drums drummed, each face stood iron and firm…they marched into the misty fog, for it was better to die ‘neath a Northern sky, than in Baronia, Forest or Steppe…while at first the men balked, refusing to accept a maid’s command, she made them see with haste, that their fearless sacrifice wouldn’t go to waste. The dawn rose red, over a thousand lakes, as the men rose that morn, to face their fate. Their leader stood, her figure shapely, her dress-wings spread in triumph…her long, silky black hair covered her left eye, one blue and one green, her haunting, beautiful eyes told all of what she had seen, and from the foggy plains, her troop marched, forward unto dawn. Her long seductive, emerald-green dress, with her wings folded behind her, she wore her tall dress shoes into battle as a calling card…She drew her blade and with an awesome gaze, the Sky Folk finally accepted her, with the battle drums, pipes and flutes playing loud and clear, unity of all! And back through the glen, my heart breaks again…for those young men I shall never see more…but slavery fled, on the wings of glorious dead, when they fell behind Sei Kiriru…”

The audience in the colossal Sakura Opera House in the Myryrklos Empire capital city, Amame-Sakura, responded to Rika Fuuro’s masterful rendition of “Sei Kiriru’s Lament” with thunderous applause. The song, about a young Myryrklos beauty named Sei Kiriru and her phenomenal accomplishments during the final Strigoi-Myryrklos War 250 years before; Sei, realizing that her city was under attack by the Strigoi Cossacks, didn’t bother to warn the local Myryrklos military base, they would never take a girl who made all of her money through sin, that is, modeling, dancing at clubs and some rumors suggested that she was even an escort for non-Myryrklos races, seriously, despite the fact that she was considered the most attractive individual in her entire Empire. Coy, aloof and extremely clever, like the rest of the Myryrklos, she was not about to stand idle while the Strigoi Cossacks destroyed Featherwhisp City, where she had grown up in the foggy glens near the border with the Strigoi Cossack Empire. She lived and breathed the beauty of the place, and she would fight them herself if she had to. With no allies, she called a huge group of townspeople, most of them were fans of her modeling work or dancing; at first, they thought her plan was a joke, but then, they realized that she truly meant it. She loved her town and her friends and family, she was rich from her work, but still seen as a “dreg” by the highborn Myryrklos nobility…she would show the world that she was not powerless, nor were the 600 Myryrklos men that volunteered to fight with her. She had trained extensively with a Cumulonimbus Scythe, and on the misty Spring Equinox, she led her militia to buy time for the Myryrklos military to respond to the sudden Strigoi assault. It was a textbook suicide mission and everyone knew it, but they did not care. Their faces were stoic and expressionless for the duration of the march through Featherwhisp, and it didn’t take long for the civilians, living in their huge, elegant homes that characterized Myryrklos architecture, to get the message. They banged drums, played flutes, blew bagpipe tattoos, and waved flags for the marching militia, capturing the world’s imagination, as the Myryrklos culture so often did. Sadly, Sei was killed at the battle, but her sacrifice allowed the Myryrklos Empire to fend off the Strigoi warriors, with their dark hoods and huge Flare Blades, and burgundy Cossack nobility and soldier robes, they were nocturnal, maintained a 6-million man Army, and used illusory, beguiling images as weapons, confusing the enemy forces into attacking themselves and self-destruction, not to mention terrifying with their red eyes and their massive size. They liked to gamble and were psychotically addicted to grapes; it was a certain enzyme that made them act like tobacco addicts and drove them into a single-minded rage called “Mastigata,” wine was also consumed in massive quantities, leading to drunkenness and barbarism on an unparalleled scale. The Strigoi Cossack Emperor and Empress, Emperor Stefán Premysyl Mermell, and his wife, Rina, were close allies with the Empire of Baronia-Felix, and the human race that ruled it, Kaiser Rudolph Eisenheim III and Emperor Stefán often went fishing together, always at night, because Stefán could not be in direct sunlight, even with his hood and imperial robes. He was more than 10 feet tall, with a massive, burgundy, fur, wool and velvet coat and robe, making him look nearly twice as big as he already was. Kaiser Rudolph Eisenheim looked tiny compared to him, and Rina was 8 feet tall with massive purple hair, tied in huge pigtails, with a black dress and orange runes all over it, with a black hat and a Cossack cross on top of the hat. She had fangs and red, glowing cat-like eyes, and always got annoyed when her husband and Kaiser Eisenheim went out fishing all night, she liked to have her 2:00 A.M. lunch with the rest of the Royal House of Shion and she always liked to have her husband there, but Stefán, to be perfectly honest, thought his wife and her 10 Countesses talking were comparable to a bunch of “screeching chickens.” Still, the two vast Empires of Vatria and Baronia-Felix, the largest military powers in Roan Va by far, the steampunk-industrial war machine of the Baronian military and the elite, nocturnal and illusory fighting force of the Vatrian Strigoi Cossacks were the peace-shield of Roan Va, and fiercely opposed the arrogant and egocentric Myryrklos, as much as the Myryrklos liked to preach about their sophistication, they wouldn’t stand a chance if Baronia-Felix and Vatria attacked them at once. Still, the fact that the Strigoi were beaten by a supermodel, not a soldier, with a Cumulonimbus Scythe and a bunch of Myryrklos townsfolk was something that the Myryrklos liked to rub in the faces of the Strigoi at every chance they got, even though the Myryrklos Empire’s nobility didn’t even recognize Sei as a hero, because she was not born into a noble family. To Rika Fuuro, however, Sei was enough of a hero as it was. Everyone claimed that she looked just like Sei, just prettier because she wore a red dress, and most Myryklos men were attracted to red more than any other color. Her eyes were the same mix of blue and green, and her skin was alabaster pale, with long, silky black hair. She also trained with a Cumulonimbus Scythe, as most wealthy Myryrklos did, either for self-defense or as a hobby, if they weren’t going into the Imperial Army. Like Sei before her, Rika had made her fortune in the entertainment industry; she was just more sophisticated, dancing in classical shows, acting in plays, and also modeling outfits, she was internationally known for her beauty, her figure and her intellect, and always kept her wings carefully preened and beautiful. She was 7 feet tall and 270 lbs., but it was all proportionate, she had the same Body Mass Index as a 6’1” human supermodel. Her dress was haltered on both sides, revealing her long, graceful legs; she wore black, high-heeled dress boots with mink fur, much like her role model, Sei, once did. She was extraordinarily attractive, but had an extremely no-nonsense approach to her life, even though she was involved in the entertainment industry, she would never take on a role that forced her to even act in a nonsensical manner, she took herself that seriously. If she did anything involving nudity in modeling, it had to be artistic, not sleazy. She often seemed sad, even, and she never told anyone why, but she had no reason to be. Rika took a bow for her performance and walked gracefully off the stage, into the backstage hallways behind the opera house like she always did. “Amazing performance, Rika, just like always.” “Thank you, Seta.” Rika told her photographer, Seta Yoshiro. “Tell me, Seta, what is it that you like best about me? I mean, why did you specifically request to be my photographer?” Rika re-applied her lipstick in front of her vanity. Seta froze momentarily; he had dreaded the day when Rika asked him this question, he had a crush on her for a while, and came up with a very clever excuse to be paired up with her when he got the job at the agency where Rika worked. “It was because I could fly faster than anyone else on the Etherea University air racing team, I keep my wings in tip-top shape and I can keep you out of danger, just like what I told the agency CEO.” Rika smiled seductively. “I was there the day you came in, Seta-kun, and I heard you saying something to yourself in the CEO’s office before he came in to give you the job. You said: ‘I hope I get paired up with Rika, the one with the haltered red dress. She’s stunning…’ Weren’t those your exact words?” Seta’s face flushed red, he knew he was royally screwed, but maybe not, she had addressed him as “-kun,” a term of affection for a young man in Myryrklos culture, so perhaps she was just teasing him, but given her prior record of taking herself very, very seriously, she might have been mad, he just didn’t know. “Normally, I wouldn’t pay any attention to it and ignore some young photographer’s weird thoughts about me, but…you’re sweet. I think you’re different because you don’t objectify me and you value me as an individual, not as a sexual object.” “Well, I always saw women as people, and if I do see them as something to be admired, it is as a work of art, that is why I became a photographer.” “So taking pictures of wildlife got boring after a while?” Rika teased, laying down on a couch right in front of him. “Well, not exactly, I did get some amazing shots of Woolly Titan Stags being stalked by Giant Reaper Weasels in the Onsen Country in the northern part of the Empire. They are the largest herbivore and carnivore species, respectively, found in the Myryrklos Empire, by the way, they are perfectly at home in the extreme blizzards that hit the area every winter. Woolly Titan Stags are huge, bulky antelopes that weigh 10 tons, are covered in 3 feet of shaggy, long wool and have 6 inches of fat, as well as a huge fatty hump behind their head. They have huge antlers that are 8 feet wide and a beautiful bugling whistle during the rutting season; they use their antlers as snow plows to clear thick snow away from their food and to fight over territory and mates, and they are hunted by Giant Reaper Weasels, huge, 6-ton, snow-white super-predators with saber teeth.” Seta lectured, with Rika showing minimal interest in the natural history lesson. “Onsen country…I heard that they have some amazingly beautiful hot spring spas up there…places where we could sit for hours as the snow falls around us, and then get massages, staying nice and warm.” “Us, Rika?” Seta said, slightly tense after her rather seductive-sounding fantasy. “No, not like that, I meant the collective us, as in, everyone, not just ‘us’ in the literal sense…” Rika squealed in a strangely cute way. “Well, it was nice talking to you, Rika. Have a good night, and I’ll see you in the morning.” Rika stood up and smiled sweetly. “Goodbye Seta-kun. See you soon.” She put her coat on over her dress, and walked out into the hallway, towards the banquet room for the performers; she was the final performance in the chorus show, and, as usual, she floored the crowd with her voice. She was going to meet with the rest of her stage crew and performers in the banquet room, but the moment she walked out of the room, she felt…sad, as usual. Rika was 250 years old, Myryrklos aged 10 times slower than typical humans, and other Myryrklos had pointed out that she acted much wiser than she should have for her age; it was as if she had grown up very, very quickly. Usually some kind of traumatic event does that for someone that young, like the human soldiers from Baronia-Felix going off to war at 18 for Kaiser Eisenheim III, dressing in the Haidnur Dream stormtrooper uniforms, which looked like elegant Gothic Aristocrat and male Gothic Lolita outfits blended into one ensemble, taking an MP-779 assault rifle and “growing up real fast” after what they saw while on the frontiers of their Empire, but Rika never spoke about her past with anyone. Few ever asked her, for they knew that they would never get an answer from her. She tried to put the general unease and depression back into her subconscious as she walked into the banquet hall; all eyes immediately fixated on her as she walked in, she was just that pretty. “Hello, Miss Rika, a truly amazing performance, as always, you must grow weary of hearing so much praise for your talent.” “Never do…” Rika said, in her usual elitist manner, typical of her race’s upper classes. Rika sat down in her usual seat, near a huge, shimmering water fountain in the center of the grotto, in the rear of the banquet hall, right next to the three other equally-beautiful Myryrklos girls that worked with her at the agency. “Amane, Yamada, Rayna, I haven’t seen you in a while, where have you been?” “Rika, Amane was saying goodbye to her boyfriend; he just enlisted in the Imperial Army.” Yamada cooed, softly, as Amane looked sweetly at Rika, her long, red hair, green dress and pale blue eyes shining in the chandelier lights. “It’s something he’s always wanted to do, even though I worry about him going off to war. Ever since the Strigoi spilled the beans on the Royal House’s affair with the author of ‘The Tale of the Singing Mountain,’ things have been rather tense, I have nightmares about the Imperial commissar coming to my house and telling me that he’s dead, and if Baronia-Felix assists Vatria, we’ll be dead too…eek! I’m too young to die…” “Calm down, Amane, can you stop being such a drama queen for once?” Rika said, rolling her eyes. “I am NOT overly dramatic!” “Oh, like that time you thought you acted like the world was ending because your hair got wet in the rain, or when you screamed so loud that security guards came rushing in, thinking that you were being assaulted, but they ended up quitting their jobs because they were too annoyed that your reaction was from seeing a spider on the wall, yeah, real underwhelming.” “Rika, I cannot believe this, that was a big, scary spider, eeeek!” and my red hair is what everyone likes about me…” “Oh, but it looked like that one guy liked your figure more than your hair, especially your chest…” Yamada said, in her typical, soft voice. “Yamada, please, stop it…” Amane said, rather annoyed. Yamada was very beautiful, yet very quiet, her long, burgundy-brown hair complementing her blue eyes, alabaster skin and sweet smile accordingly. She was the smartest of the 4 performers that worked at the agency and always claimed that she was very quiet out of modesty, she was every smart, intellectual Myryrklos guy’s “it” girl, she earned her acting and performing arts degree and graduated summa cum laude with a 4.35 average, with extra credit, from Imperial Pinnacle University with the St. Miranda’s Cross, an official government medal awarded to a student that received the highest grades in the entire Myryrklos Empire, had 1500 hours of community service, had traveled to every major Empire and had seen and studied the cultures of humanity, Strigoi, Tempelritter, Myryklos, and Sea Goddess intently for 100 hours each, and was a successful entrepreneur, she had started her own photography business and took stunning pictures of flowers, sunsets and wildlife, many of her images now hung in the huge, world-renowned art museums that the Myryrklos Empire was famous for. She was the first recipient of the St. Miranda’s Cross in more than a century, and she also won more than 25 medals and awards, including the Order of Wataru, 1st Class, and the Badge of St. Spyridon the Miracle Worker, among other decorations. She kept them in her treasure chest at her manorial house near the Imperial capital of Amame-Sakura, and, strangely, had never been in a relationship; perhaps she was seen as too intimidating or beautiful for most men. It didn’t seem to bother her. She had some pretty nasty experiences with her stays in Vatria and Baronia-Felix, Emperor Stefán and Kaiser Eisenheim III didn’t appreciate her coming into their respective Empires very much, and was nearly framed of a phony crime by the Strigoi Cossack KFV police forces, just to make an example out of the Myryrklos Empire. She was treated cruelly by every human soldier and civilian she met, as well. “Arrogant slut” and “conniving wench” were common stereotypes for young Myryrklos women, and the human race, as well as the Strigoi, relished every chance to brutalize the Myryrklos that they got. The “Four Wars” between the Myryrklos and Strigoi were over, but the rivalry was still brutal, and given the slanderous remarks by Strigoi Professor Emeritus of History Ertaz Vidiun about the intimate lives of the Myryrklos Royal House, and the Cossack House of Shion’s nerve to publish said remarks in the Imperial news media, the Myryrklos believed that the Strigoi had reached an all-time low, and another war was not out of the question, as Amane’s concerns for her boyfriend showed. Even the heir to the Myryrklos throne, Prince Oda, was so horrified and disgusted by Vatria’s transgressions and offensive remarks that he was forced to break the Royal Code of Silence to prevent a war, and confirm that his late father, Heiji I, did indeed have a relationship with his bathhouse maid, Elyssa Rui. The Code of Silence stated that royal matters were to be discussed within the Imperial Palace walls only, and the fact that Oda had broken that code deeply shocked the Elder Council and the Ooku, or the young Myryrklos women that served as advisors to the Emperor. Little did any of the four star performers at Moonlight Talent Agency, Rika, Amane, Yamada and Riana, realize that things were going to get worse. Just then, Seta, Rika’s photographer, walked into the room with a concerned look on his face. “There’s another development in the Vatrian slander case.” Seta said. “Against Prince Oda’s wishes, Vatria just published Oda’s admission of his predecessor’s infidelity with Elyssa Rui. Not only that, they made a disgusting remark about Emperor Heiji I, calling him a ‘man-whore’ and Elyssa a ‘disease-ridden bag of filth, infecting the kingdom with STDs.’ This is coming from the same Empire that mourned Elyssa’s death 900 years ago, we now see that even this gesture was a sham, just trying to be polite. You understand what this means, right? The Royal House is egotistical as it is, they’re going to take this as an unforgivable insult, and I believe that a Fifth War is likely.” The broadcast channel came on the television, showing the headline: “OUTRAGE!! VATRIA BREAKS THE LAST STRAW!” “There are a lot of angry Myryrklos out there, and all 300 million of us, our whole Empire, seems to want war. The good news is that the House of Amame-Sakura has not yet ordered military exercises, so the alert level is still at Base 0. Heaven knows, however, that that won’t last.” “Oh my God…this, no, it can’t, he just left for basic training…” Amane gasped, her eyes welling up with tears. “Your point is valid, Seta, but I’ve read in my political studies that Vatria has a few laws in place by the Slatzcha, the Cossack Imperial Senate, that prevents the Emperor from simply declaring war, but…I cannot know the position of the Strigoi senators, and if they’re anything like the rest of the Vatrian Empire, you might be right.” Rayna said, rather worried. She was extremely politically aware and followed current events to the letter, if something happened; chances are that she’d know about it and understand it perfectly. “Anyway, enough of this political nightmare, where’s the whiskey and vodka!?” Rayna was the most “hardcore” of the four, she was smart and elegant, but also loved to guzzle hard liquor and dress in extremely suggestive outfits, something that was frowned upon by the Myryrklos as scandalous, but she loved it. She took being called a “harlot” as a compliment, gloated about how many guys she “de-virginized” in college and was extremely self-conscious about her appearance, she often showed up to the athletic pre-game workouts at her university dressed in black lace lingerie unannounced, she’d walk into the lockers in her long, black dress and give the athletes cookies, but then take her dress off and goof around with them in the locker room, the athletes never told anyone that she did this, but she was always a very good student, so no one ever suspected anything. She was a good, hard-working, intelligent, beautiful and successful member of society…who just happened to have a wild side, like when she had too much to drink one night and showed up at the pre-Series banquet between the 27-time World Champion warp-ball Myryrklos team and their arch-rival Strigoi team and promised that if her boyfriend at the time, one of the All-Star players for the Myryrklos team, ever cheated on her, she’d sleep with every single member of the Myryrklos team in one night, embarrassing her boyfriend horrifically, but everyone else got a kick out of it. “There is no alcohol here, Rayna, just wait until after the banquet, the owner of the opera house is an old fuddy-duddy who doesn’t believe in alcoholic beverages.” “What?! It’s actually possible to use those words in the same sentence?!” “Umm, yeah, Rayna, it is. I’ve read the dictionary 35 times and memorized it. Trust me, it is. It’s called temperance.” Yamada interjected. Just then, Amane began breathing shallow and quickly, her face grew pale, and her eyes grew heavy and sickly. “Oh God, Amane’s anemia is acting up again!” Rika panicked, trying to calm Amane down, “Help…get me something to drink…need to calm down…” she wheezed; it was very, very frightening, her condition was triggered by stress, and the thought of her boyfriend dying in war was enough to trigger an anemia attack. Instantly, Seta leaped into action, spreading his wings from the back of his red and black uniform and cape, he flew to the other side of the room in a split second, grabbed a glass of water from the tap and handed it to Amane, she sipped it slowly and carefully, as Seta held her hand for a pulse. “Her heart rate is dropping. She’s calming down, but she’s going to need to rest for the rest of the night to get her blood oxygen content back up. I trained as a first responder for medical emergencies as a field photographer for wildlife, when I was on the air racing team at the University; I treated injuries when they happened.” “Seta…” “Yes, Amane?” “Would you mind taking back to my house tonight? I don’t want to be there alone…if something should happen; I want someone who can protect me…” Amane smiled sweetly, her long, silky red hair covering her left eye. Seta tensed up for a second, but how could he say no to such a beautiful, successful young woman? “Ok…I’ll take you back to you house.” “Thank you, Seta, call the limousine, ask for Mogi. He’s my driver, just say, take us home.” “I’ll sit with you as long as you need me, Amane.” “Seta…thank you.” Seta picked up Amane’s phone, dialed the limo driver and explained the situation. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Thank goodness that you were there to make sure that Miss Amane Tsuruko is alright, I’ll be there to pick you up soon.” “Was that Mogi?” “Yes, Amane, it was him. He’ll be here to pick us up in 20 minutes.” “I just worry about the people I love, I just don’t want him to die…” “Don’t think about that. You’ll only make your condition worse. He’s being trained as a soldier, so he knows the risks. He wouldn’t have signed up to be in the Imperial Army if he didn’t understand that life is finite. Once you realize that life ends, losing it doesn’t bother you too much anymore. He wants to see the world, and he doesn’t care if he gets shot at or attacked to do it. He chose his own path, and you’ve chosen the route of the entertainment industry, and look at you! You are so successful, so beautiful and so talented that he’s probably gushing over you every chance he gets; his bunkmates at boot camp are probably worshipping him for dating you! The point is that we all die, yes, but it’s not death that defines us, for death defines all life. It’s the way we as individuals live our lives, please understand that…I know this because my younger sister died of anemia. It’s a common condition that affects Myryrklos women, so you are not alone.” “Seta, for a photographer, you are exquisitely articulate and intelligent…thank you so much.” Seta was so involved with comforting Amane that he failed to notice Rika looking curiously…perhaps enviously, at him. “He never paid that much attention to me…ever…” Rika thought to herself. “No…wait, what am I saying? He’s a photographer. I’m way above him.” Just as Rika finished her thought, Mogi’s limousine pulled up beside the Opera House banquet hall door. “Seta, Amane, the limo’s here for you.” Rika yelled from the other side of the room. “Ok, time to go, can you stand up now?” “Yeah, I’m good.” Amane staggered to her feet from the couch that she was laying on, and put her coat on over her long, green, satin haltered dress, revealing her long, graceful legs, and both Seta and Amane walked out the door, with Seta keeping Amane steady as she walked down the stairs. They both sat down in the limo, Seta made sure Amane was comfy, and Amane told Mogi to take her and Seta back to her house for the night. “Oh, you’re going to love the guest rooms Miss Tsuruko has. She has a hot spring and a huge indoor pool. Judging by how kind you were to her tonight, she’ll probably let you use them if you ask her nicely.” “May I?” “Sure, Seta, I think you’re a sweet guy, and I want you to be comfortable when you stay with me.” Seta smiled. His gig with the agency couldn’t have gotten much better. The limo pulled away and headed for Sea Cliff Manor, the manorial home of Miss Amane Tsuruko. For the first time in many years, Seta finally felt…happy.

  1. A Night at Sea Cliff…What’s that in the Pool?!

“Wow…this is…incredible…” Seta gawked as he saw Amane’s huge, onsen-castle style mansion on the Sea Cliffs of Mythrill, the city where Moonlight Talent Agency’s headquarters was located. It had the pagoda-style roofs of an ancient Myryrklos mansion, like the ones used by the Royal Family, with a huge koi pond in the center courtyard, with a footbridge over the pond and a willow tree growing on an island in the center of it, ringed by balconies looking down on all sides. There were hot springs and a huge indoor pool in a pool house/bathhouse complex on the far side of the property, heated to keep Amane and her guests warm in the winter and cooled to keep them comfortable during the long, harsh summers in this part of the Myryrklos Empire. There was a huge, main, 30,000-square foot house complete with a gym, a tennis court, 3 floors, a 3,000 square-foot Grand Ballroom, complete with a concierge and a butler service, 7 bathrooms, 6 full baths, 5 guest rooms and one master bedroom for Amane herself, decorated with original oil paintings and a 60-inch plasma-screen T.V. The dining room was connected to the master bedroom via a long hallway with Oriental rugs and more paintings, with a huge, cherry-wood table capable of seating 12 guests…Seta just gawked at the size of the place as he walked in, the house actually had a “YOU ARE HERE” map upon entry into the anteroom and foyer, with words like “AMANE’S ROOM” and “TENNIS COURT” labeling the various locations around the house. There was also a huge grandfather clock against the foyer wall between two potted plants that had the numbers going the wrong way, it counted backward from 12 in a clockwise direction, causing Seta to scratch his head, puzzled upon seeing that, according to the clock, it was 11:00 in the morning…at night. “Just flip the A.M. and P.M. I put that there to keep my brain sharp, in case you haven’t noticed; I’m a huge health nut.” Amane giggled. Clearly, she was feeling better. “Yeah, that’s always good. Always need to stay healthy.” Amane took off her coat and hung it on the hanger, revealing her green, satin dress, her graceful figure and her long, curvy legs. “Well, I’m going to go get on my PJs and sit and watch a movie. You’re welcome to join me. Relax; make yourself at home here for the night. Look around, just be careful, there is some expensive art in the house. It’s insured, but, I really like it and I don’t want anything to happen to it.” Amane walked to the huge spiral staircase leading up to hallway linking the dining room to her bedroom. “The guest rooms are on the first floor; my room is up here, just so you know. There’s also the sign that I put there when you walked in if you get lost. See you in a few.” Amane walked up the staircase, with Seta trying not to stare at her long, silky red hair and her dress, thanks to the halters on both sides of the dress, if you looked at it from an angle, you could actually see up her dress as she walked up the stairs. “I wonder what color her panties are…Ack! What? No! She’s a celebrity; I’m just here to take care of her for the night because she asked me to.” Seta thought to himself, trying not to think improper thoughts. But then, standing under the huge chandelier in the foyer, 9 feet tall and dressed in his red and white elegant uniform and white, feathered cape, he felt…important, he remembered when he was younger, he had always dreamed of going into one of the huge “Nobility Houses,” and spending a few days at most, just to get a glimpse of the rarified world of the Myryrklos Empire’s legendary upper-class. He had read Elyssa Rui’s memoir, Tale of the Singing Mountains, many times, and had become quite an enthusiast into his country’s upper-class lifestyle, and knew as much as it was possible to know without being rich himself, but now, out of nowhere, there he was, standing in a place he thought he’d only ever see through the pages of a huge coffee-table book…and the owner of this house wasn’t too shabby-looking herself, to say the least. Seta smiled and harkened himself back to his childhood, drawing his father’s sickle-sword that he carried as a badge of honor, his father was a veteran of the Fourth Strigoi-Myryklos War, and his sickle-sword and Quad-Shot rifle were both in his house. As a veteran’s son, he had the legal right to carry the sword in public as a form of ID and proof of family heritage, but it was illegal to carry a military-grade firearm in public, no matter who you were. Seta began re-enacting famous instances in Myryrklos Empire history, drawing his sickle-sword and pretending to be General Ryu Morimasa during the Battle of Forlorn Valley during the Second Strigoi-Myryrklos War, where Morimasa single-handedly fended off an entire platoon of Strigoi Cossacks with just a sickle-sword, his Cumulonimbus Scythe was broken by his immediate second-in-command, confused by the Strigoi illusion techniques into thinking that Morimasa’s scythe was an enemy soldier, and then killed himself because he thought the “soldier” had possessed him. Just then, he saw something hanging on the wall, it was a uniform worn by a pharmacist, framed right next to Amane singing in front of 90,000 other people at the Opera House for one of her concerts. The uniform had her name on it. “Wow…so even the celebrities had to start somewhere…” “Oh, it seems you saw my old uniform.” Amane’s voice echoed from the top of the staircase. “You have a pharmacy degree?” “Yes, I earned it from Etherea College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences; I heard from Rika that you yourself are an Etherea alumnus.” “Yeah, I graduated 20 years ago, at age 200.” “Oh, that’s young.” “Yeah, I was ahead of my class.” “I finished on time, got my pharmacy degree and started making a six-figure salary within two years…and then I posted a video of myself on my computer singing a song I wrote…that same song I’m performing in that picture. I’ve also modeled, acted and performed in plays, and now…well, it speaks for itself.” Amane said, after looking around at her entertainment empire she had built around her talent. “Well, I try to sell my pictures of wildlife, they’ve made a couple nature documentaries with them and they’re in quite a few coffee table books, but…I can’t say I’ve come anything close to this level of success.” “Well, there’s a reason for that. You take pictures of scary, gigantic wildlife, like 150-foot long, 300,000-lb. Leviathan Whales, 120-foot Reaper Squid, killer Saber-Toothed Weasels, and huge, lumbering Woolly Titan Stags. That makes the nerds and other nature enthusiasts happy, but that’s just a very specialized audience. More people your age want to see a girl like me dancing around on stage, posing in swimwear and lingerie, acting in movies and in plays and writing songs about having a good time, wouldn’t you agree? The point is that you need to get into an art field that caters to everyone and gets them wanting more, not just nerdy animal enthusiasts or the Imperial Elder Council, or any other geriatric wildlife watcher from any of the 5 Empires. You taking the job at the agency was a good first step, if you published a book with pictures of me, Rika, Rayna and Yamada as the main subjects and published that as a photographic record of your time spent with us, I guarantee you’d sell far more books with that than with a picture of something that’s going to make people never want to get in the ocean again.” “You know what, you’re right, Amane. I’ll take some of the shots I have of Rika already, and put together a collection of images of all four of you in one book, there will be four chapters, showing each of you going through your daily routines in each of your homes…” “In our underwear.” Amane interjected, winking seductively at Seta. Seta’s face reddened. “You want to sell, don’t you? We’re used to this, trust me, we get paid millions to do stuff like that and we’d be honored to work with you on your project.” “Ok…note taken. All I need is a title now, and some time to start shooting.” “Well, that’s easy enough to take care of, our managers can work out times for us to shoot, and you can just get the images and start uploading them. As for the title…I’m sure you could think of something, in the meantime, why don’t you join me for the movie? It’s something funny…” Amane had changed her dress into a long, satin-black nightgown with her long, silky-red hair combed straight and beautifully. The nightgown revealed a lot of her bust as well, Seta tried not to stare at her cleavage. Both of them walked into the bedroom and sat down on Amane’s huge bed, it was big enough for three fully-grown human beings, as Myryrklos women were 7 feet tall, usually. “Would it be too much for me to ask, Seta, if you rubbed some lotion on my back, please?” “Ehh…no, it wouldn’t.” “Thanks honey, I just need that before I go to bed, it relaxes my nerves.” Amane pulled her hair forward and undid her nightgown straps, so that the dress fell and revealed her alabaster, smooth back. “I hope my bra strap isn’t in the way.” “It’s not.” Seta started rubbing the lotion into Amane’s back, and she closed her eyes and just sat there, with a very happy, relaxed look on her face. “A little higher…lower…you missed a spot…lower…higher…oh, that feels amazing…” “Is this normal for you?” “Yes, I feel calmer and more at ease after a massage. You give some amazing massages, seriously.” Just then, the movie came back on after a bunch of annoying commercials; Amane couldn’t stand annoying advertisements and always programmed her T.V. to mute commercials, and turn the sound back on when the feature presentation came on. “We now return to…Night of the Robot-Infested Tornado…” “Ha! This is one of those movies that are so bad, it’s funny!” “I told you it’s funny.” The two of them watched the dumb movie for the next hour and laughed until they cried. For two people from totally different walks of life, they were really on the same wavelength, she had the same sense of humor, they were both artists, they thought the same things were funny…it was a pity that Myryrklos society would frown upon a celebrity spending any time with a commoner, that is, someone who wasn’t rich. For all the might and power, the prestige and glory of Imperial Myryrklos, it was certainly a very conservative, old-fashioned Empire, one that was a bastion of Imperial tradition and class-bondage, with the Emperor, his Court, the Praetorian Guard, the Myryrklos Senate, the massive Legions and the rich, rarified plutocrats of the upper class holding total sway over all 300 million of them. The 1% was in absolute power, and they too had the power over who was allowed to love whom. Not to mention, Amane’s boyfriend, a Myryrklos soldier, was a product of this class-bondage, this is the one reason why the Vatrian Empire of the Strigoi Cossacks constantly railed against the Myryrklos Empire, for they were far less class-conscious, not as elitist, and more tolerant of class-mixing, as was the equally-massive Baronia-Felix Empire, ruled by the Human race. The Strigoi and Human races argued that the Myryrklos race had become a victim of its own prosperity, the ultimate destination of capitalism: it is destroyed by the very forces that drive it. Amane and Seta both believed that financial status should never make it wrong to love or care for someone, but reality, unfortunately, was far bleaker than idealism. Class separation in the Myryrklos Empire was a fact of life. It was one of those things that could not be reasoned with, argued with or questioned, even if it was grievously unfair and intrusive into the personal lives of the 300 million or so Myryrklos Empire’s citizens. It was just how it is, not how it should be, and if someone didn’t like it, they were told to “love it or leave it,” and with the House of Amame-Sakura being as conservative and traditionalist as it was, the choices anyone had in opposing the downright oppressive conservative, class-structured, traditionalist Imperial ideology were few. Still, a large population of Myryrklos had rather liberal beliefs, but until a more liberalized Emperor took the throne, they would remain a fringe group, and the soon-to-be Emperor Oda was just as conservative as his father and his grandfather, who founded the current Samamaru line of Emperors. Seta finished giving Amane her massage, and before they knew it, it was 1:00 A.M., Seta had massaged Amane’s back for more than an hour. She put her nightgown straps back on and smiled at Seta sweetly. “Well, it’s time for me to go to sleep, Seta. I need some rest. As Amane got under the covers and rested her head on the huge, fluffy pillow, she reached out and held Seta’s hand again. “Thank you for taking care of me tonight. You are so sweet, and I hope for the best for you and your, no, our project that we discussed. Sweet dreams, honey.” “Goodnight, Amane. Sleep well.” Seta said walking out of the bedroom as Amane turned off the lights. He shut the door quietly and smiled as he walked down the hallway, past Amane’s paintings and the dining room towards the second-floor landing. He saw on painting that caught his eye, and it was a truly spectacular one. It was a massive fresco, 25 feet long by 8 feet wide, depicting a huge Myryrklos Imperial Navy airship fleet, a supercarrier (CNV) and 15 heavy cruisers, (HC) two destroyers (DDG) and three frigates (FG) flying at cruising altitude, all the airmen standing at attention on the 300,000-ton, sleek, graceful, ornately-designed nuclear-powered supercarrier airship’s flight deck, saluting to the stars and the full moon at night, their left hands to the sky in reverence of their Emperor and the Goddess Wyrrykyr, their Imperial capes spread as their wings. They did not have fighter planes; they were their own planes, capable of flying at 600 MPH and shooting infantry targets with their Quad-Shot guns and vehicle targets with Cumulonimbus Scythe thunder-waves at that speed with the accuracy of a sniper rifle, they had eyesight that was 90,000 times more precise that even the best human eye, and were assisted by computerized targeting goggles. Dressed in regal robes, winged Valkyrie helmets and their capes, which became huge black wings when they jumped from the carrier’s flight deck in the heat of battle, they were the most feared airborne force in Roan Va, and no other race had such a complete mastery of the air. The Myryrklos Empire was completely landlocked and majestically alpine, with lush evergreen forests, pristine lakes and rivers, and grassy, rolling steppes, so their Navy was all airborne. The Navy and Air Force were synonymous terms. The Army and the Navy were the two arms of the Emperor, and his reach was global. “This must be Amane’s boyfriend’s decorations…” Seta thought, gawking at the painting. There was a line of text written on the bottom of the painting: “The strength of our people is written in the stars, hold firm in the roaring storm!! For God, Emperor and Fatherland!” The Human race of Baronia-Felix were the only other Empire that had mastered air warfare to the extent of the Myryrklos Empire, the Gothic pilots of the Baronia-Felix Luftstriekrafte did not use nuclear power for their airships, but huge propellers and rotors to create gigantic, 450,000-ton steampunk-style airships that “rowed” their way through the sky by flapping huge canvas wings, along with gigantic, four-prop bombers built in the same steampunk style. Bristling with machine guns, each manned by an airman in an open-turret, wearing the elegant Gothic aristocrat uniforms of the Baronia-Felix military, these bombers flew alongside small, agile pusher-prop fighters, capable of flying at 500 MPH, with the pilots and gunners wearing targeting computer goggles to enhance their vision to the level of the Myryrklos Sky Warriors. The gunners on the bomber turrets were exposed and vulnerable to enemy fire, but they took pride in their work and the bombers were huge and lethal, and the Kaiser’s air fleet, as well as his huge Navy and Army, were the only military force capable of challenging Myryrklos air power. Humans and Myryrklos had never been close allies, but they had never fought an actual war with one another, the Baronia-Felix Empire was strongly rooted in Gothic Aristocracy and Lolita-Germanic style and culture, they used the Germanic rune alphabet, focused mostly on the glory and beauty of nature in almost every artistic and literary aspect, with a large emphasis on trees and the forest, worshipped and performed human sacrifices involving ritual cannibalism to pagan gods and celebrated holidays like Yule, Samhain and All Hallow’s Day, and Oktoberfest, and their outfits for both men and women looked like those worn by dark Lolita and Gothic Aristocracy dolls, mimicking the ancient German styles and customs. Perhaps the reason why the Baronia-Felix Empire and the Myryrklos Empire never fought was because they were so similar, even though their interpretations of the way the world worked, and their social philosophies, were so different. Seta, as a Myryrklos, was expected to behave in a way that saw his Empire as superior to all others, and that their superiority lay in their ability to out-class all the other Empires in every respect, but Seta never understood why the Baronia-Felix Empire was seen as beneath the Myryrklos Empire’s contempt. He enjoyed listening to the cheerful, jubilant and powerful Baronian Germanic Oktoberfest, Yule, Samhain, Hallow’s Day and Janus hymns and war marches, and studying the Lolita/Elegant Gothic Aristocrat way of life, known as Jungsturm style in Baronia-Felix, pagan runes, symbols and occult heraldry just as much as he liked listening to the elegiac, breathtaking, beautiful, longing, orchestral masterpieces played by Myryrklos composers and orchestras. The Myryrklos believed in similar gods and spirits, had similar holidays, such as the Summer’s End Festival on September 21, The Day of Remembrance on December 21th, the Vernal Revival on March 21, and Sunset Festival on June 21, they used similar runes, and took great pride in their natural beauty. Why, Seta wondered, must two such honorable races hate each other? The Baronian airmen, on their massive steampunk flying machines, were just as honorable and gallant as his Myryrklos countrymen, they even allowed women to serve in the Luftstriekrafte, there was an all-female bomber crew of 12 women called the “Unholy Birds of War” that each wore different colored EGA-EGL dresses and fought just as valiantly as their male comrades. Seta would love to meet their squadron leader, an EGA pilot named Renee Föcke, even though she’d probably hate him for being a Myryrklos. Why couldn’t everyone just get along? Seta knew what he needed to do at that moment. When he found his dream woman, he would give his all to make her life better than she could have ever imagined. They would do whatever they wanted…it would be them against the world. He was concerned, however, that such an ideal world would never be realized. War appeared to be the only fact of life.

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