Charting a Path: Huawan Storyline

In the presence and ages before. The lands of Huawan has been a court of drama and intrigue. A cosmopolitan group of people that fought for nature and culture against outside influence trying to unbalance those that bear its banner.

These are the stories of those who led it, the intrigue that feeds the blooming flower of The mountain Peony.

Act 1 - A Martyr’s Promise (1st Review, HIA402, Rin Kagamine)
Chapter 1: Fit to Rule
Chapter 2: A Promise for the Stars
Chapter 3: The Plane
Chapter 4: A Test for Martyrdom
Chapter 5: Stormy Night
Chapter 6: Milk Tea
Chapter 7: Baguadao
Chapter 8: Rin Kagamine

Act 2 - The Winter (Shizuka Rowena, Sedunnic Royal Family, Reizen)
Chapter 9: Spring Festival Ball
Chapter 10: For the Spirits
Chapter 11: Minamoto Shizuka Rowena
Chapter 12: Sedunners
Chapter 13: Jade Christmas
Chapter 14: Reizen Winter

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Chapter 1: Fit to Rule

The Peony stood around a circle of delegates and councillors. In response to calls over the lack of autonomy by the Royal Palace, The Peony asks that a four-year mandatory review is to be made of her performance, similar to those of the royal council, the court and the people’s council. An unprecedented move since the Great War, in which the preceding Nuwang cancelled the mandatory review of her rule due to increasing anti-war sentiment and the infiltration of Karnetvorian agents in the Shogunate.

“Are you ready, my Nuwang?” Royal Premier Sima Yi asked. He was the presiding chair on the review as the second head of government and the highest figure in the royal council.

“Insyaallah… I am ready.”

“Distinguished members of the government, today we shall review the performance of the honourable Nuwang of Huawan, doctor Yan, as by the request of the Royal Palace on 30th of October 20XX. Members of the court must follow the rules of the review as established by the Peocratic Law 60.915 in regards to mandatory governmental review. As such neither the reviewed party nor the reviewer be allowed to pull rank and maintain quorum or face high consequences. We may begin.”

“Thank you Royal Premier. Doctor Yan.” Said High Justice Tamhane Fang, “will you please explain about the current government and how has it improved in your care?”

“Esteemed Reviewers. The Royal Peonic Government has been given more autonomy and taken a more progressive step to provide its son and daughters the ability to chart their own paths. Autonomus Governments has been made for each provinces, most notably the eastern government, which have decentralized the power from the Royal Palace and the central provinces. Every province has its own prefectures that passed the “amanah” from us to the people, and the concerns of the people to us. Our government has become strong, and wise, we work for the people, with the people and ensure a great foundation of government for years to come.”

“While it is true that the decentralization from the Royal Palace had certainly gone smoothly on your watch, you have also been accused for tyranny. The silencing and forced disbandment of political parties in both the people’s and royal council has alarmed observers from the World Alliance and the World Forum. What are your thoughts?”

“Our government follows the Peonic rule and Peonic law. It does not adhere to philosophies that designate to divide us. We all grow and live on this good earth we call home, and nurtured by the country we place our roots. Political ideas have given us an excellent opportunity to open our minds and come up with fresh ideas that would flow with time. It is the belief of the Royal Palace under my guidance that we must nurture new and different political ideas so that we remain up to date and ready to face future challenges, however, enforce that we are members of the same government and statesmen that adhere to Peonic law. We therefore believe that political parties that proclaim to be on the side of the everyday statesmen, that do not adhere with the peonic belief in which every part of nature intertwines and help everyone develop, are simply misguided and must be swiftly addressed. I will not allow the palace to be a house divided by a mere thought.”

"“The Peocracy has seen remarkable expenditure increases in the 4 years of your leadership.” Remarked People’s Speaker Renatta Yokosuki “With heavy investments towards greener energy, education reform, industrial incentives, scientific research and healthcare. There is also increased expenses on the military and navy, in addition to it, countless weapon tests in the Overseas territory of ZhangHai, including ballistic missile tests have concerned observers. Are these increases justified?”

“The world is changing honorable chairs. There is no benefit on investment of the proven true if they are not proven true in years to come due to its sheer unsustainability. In my rule I have given my ministers tasks to reform our humble Peocracy for the better. We are, by no means, leaders of the region nor the WF, but we aim to be the best of our shadows, better than the past and even better in the future. Our economy has increased threefold and we are the leading fronts in healthcare and scientific research. As for the military, our interests and the defense of our nation is even more important than the past, the region is in continuous turmoil and there is never a dull moment where we might be risking an all out war.”

“The People’s Council has expressed its continous fear that our Nuwang, the defender of the Peocracy of Huawan and both the head of state and the head of government, still retains its role as a general surgeon for the Lian Royal Hospital, a specialized lecturer for the Lotus University Medical Faculty and a researcher. All roles that definitely take a lot of your time from governance. Despite your relinquishment of your duties to your subordinates, there is still concerns regarding your capabilities amidst so many posts, what are your responses?”

“As the Quran said, to kill a man is to kill humanity, to save a man is to save humanity.”

The entire courtroom sat in silence as they wrote their notes. Lord Sima Yi looked left and right towards the council circle, understanding that the question session was over.

“Thank you My Nuwang, we will be in touch with you shortly.”

What followed was a day long discussion and deliberation of the answers of The Peony, and the calling of various other representatives of the state. Bringing a level-headed assessment of The Peony’s current rule since 2014. The Peony sat silently in the royal chamber, sitting and drinking tea, before the next summons. It wasn’t until next morning that she was told to approach back the council, the door opened with reporters and councillors on view.

“Thank you for waiting my Nuwang.” Said the Royal Premier Sima Yi, as he allowed the Peony to sit. The Peony sat in attentive silence as she was read the 20 page document of the deliberation results.

“…Hereby, the honorable council and chair has taken into account the inquiry and review. Under god, nature and the empire, this council views that the Peocracy of Huawan is under sufficient leadership, and therefore we choose to trust your post as our guardian until the next review. We hereby proclaim the continuation of your rule as The Peony of Huawan.”

The Peony stood as flashes of camera began to broadcast the decision. She bowed solemnly to the council in a sign of gratitude, upon a response through a bow, she walked out elegantly. She is still The Peony of Huawan.

And after her review, The Peony moved to the Grand Assembly of Huawan to provide several words. A mere two days after she found herself infront of the peonic leadership and government.

“The Peocracy of Huawan must assume a position of power in this world, and we must lead the region to success and prosperity. Our foreign and domestic interests is of upmost importance, and I ask you all, honorable councillors, ministers and members of the Royal Peonic Court, of your dedication to serve the Peocracy and her citizens. Insyaallah, with cooperation under competent leadership, we can all ensure that The people are served well. So let us work together and bring our nation to the jade of the South Pacific.”

Present, Chapter 2:
A Promise for the Stars

Lian, August 3rd, 2020

The military parade commemorating Sunrise Day continued after no more cases in the GID-20 pandemic. The Royal Palace had decided to cancel the parade this year, however public support on the military parade convinced the Royal Palace to begin, with health and safety etiquette of course. While some in the People’s Council support the parade as a way to get out of their houses, others believe that the parade is a show of force once more. How could it not, with so many tensions going on in the region.

The Peony stood on the viewing balcony with the heads of government of Huawan. The Royal Premier, High Commodore, High Diplomat, Imperial Military Advisor and the Imperial Exchequer, among others. As regiments after regiments passed through the streets of XinYue, The Peony continued to discuss on the recent events that transpired in the region.

“Earemland and Absolustan is going to go on war, and Besern is going to join in with Earemland. It won’t be long that our allies would join in on the conflict.” Said Imperial Military Advisor Roland Young.

“The Kingdom of Sedunn has reached out to the countries in the conflict on the situation.” Responded High Diplomat Diao Chan as she looked at the soldiers pacing, making sure that she remained respective on the parade. “I am not sure that they are willing to listen to them however, the tensions are too intense in the area.”

“Several reports from our merchant vessels corroborate, the conflict is increasing missile trails in the skies.” Said High Commodore Zheng He, “we have to reroute every vessel to calmer waters and maintain our naval presence there.”

“We managed to float through the pandemic thanks to sufficient exports of medical equipments and military equipments.” Said Exchequer Lord Kim Sol, “however if tensions increase it would be very difficult to stay as well as we currently are.”

“Absolustan would definitely retaliate against Earemland, Valora along with Ryccia would definitely counter attack on Izaakia. There seems to be an insurgence from FiHami to Besern.” Said High Commodore Zheng He, shaking his head.

“There is never a dull moment in The South Pacific, yes?” Said The Peony, chuckling as she hid her mouth using her hand. "“These fools believe that the best thing to do after a regionwide pandemic is a war.”

“You’re not thinking of joining my Nuwang?” Asked the Royal Premier, Sima Yi, worried.

“Certainly not. I would never…” Responded The Peony, she continues to smile as the parade moves along. Visibly shaken.

The parade continued as the troops assemble in the square for the Peonic address, The Peony took her time washing her face and cleansing as the call for prayer begins. She looks at the tap water and the mirror. Idle, before moving out of the toilet and into the waiting room. The High Commodore Zheng He looked out of the window, with his hands in his pockets, before gazing at The Peony. He looks at the 3rd generation that he served with, Yan was almost like his own granddaughter. He remembered the times when his own children were distraught in various situations. He of course is one of the few people that knew The Peony has anxiety, and she does an excellent job hiding it. However, not now.

The Peony continues to look on the mirror in the room., still visibly shaken. When the High Commodore places his hand on her shoulder

“…Yan, I can only imagine the weight that you hold on your shoulders, and how testing it would be for you.” Said Zheng He, “Understand that this office requires your full attention, and now, our people needs purpose. You have promised in the 4 year mandatory inquiry that you will try to sew together the division that splits the council.”

Zheng He looked at The Peony from the same mirror her eyes are fixated on, and continued. “Your family has continued to preach strength in unity, weakness in division and strength in nature. Your inclusion in the South Pacific Special Forces, as well as the expansion of the expeditionary forces to liberate against invaders and raiders, have certainly provided much needed support for the military. However, we need to set concrete goals… Call it your legacy.”

“My legacy?” Asked The Peony, as she blinked and looked at her High Commodore. The High Commodore then took the opportunity to point at the royal portraits in the waiting room.

“The Honorable Peony, Mei Yan, took a stand against the allies and the imperialists while maintaining the country in an all out civil war and standing firm against a rebellious government.”

“Your grandmother, The Peony Lingxin Yan, managed to form the first Shinkansen line, the Huawan Intercontinental, and strengthened our nation in the Iron Century like no other.”

“Your mother, Akane Yan, strived for conservation and industry, enriching and expanding Peonic interests outside of our region, including launching the first Peonic mission to Maxima and Minima, launching the first woman to space. You must begin a legacy and ensure that The Peocracy moves from strength, to strength.” Said Zheng He.

“From strength to strength? That is good.” Said The Peony as she smiled, which soon wore off when Zheng He stared at her seriously. She continues:

"I do not see any reason to have our statesmen to join the conflict in the northwest, and I will only mobilize on the offensive if needed be. 爷爷, I must respect my mother’s wishes to sow the seeds of peace and prosperity, while respecting my ancestor’s wills for strength and solidarity… Elder sister Shizuka needs me to grow popularity and economic strength to ensure strength in the Austra Empire.

“…Yan, what do you want?” Asked High Diplomat Diao Chan when she entered the toilet, looking at The Peony so visibly shaken.

“…I am a doctor, 妹妹, more than the past and even more in the future.” Responded The Peony, sighing. Her best friend simply hugged her tight and brushed her hair. Zheng He shook his head and said a poem.

“When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.” “That is what Lingxin used to say.” He said.

Zheng He looked at The Peony once more, like a father looks at his son when the entire weight of the world sat on him. The Peony did not thread on egg shells, on the contrary, she is given egg shells to walk on. A knock on the door was made.

“My Nuwang… You are needed for your address.” said a Guardian.

The Peony then gently pushed her friend off, and fixed her hair. She gave a deep breath, before walking out of the room. She didn’t know what to say, somehow that day the world had so many riding on her shoulders.

Sunrise Day Assembly, Lian, August 3rd, 2020

“The Peocracy of Huawan is a strong nation in the region of The South pacific, we strive for excellence, progress and strength. Seasons change and nature stays, so does her statesmen that feeds off the abundance of mother nature. We have lost our way many times, but nature continues to defend our existance, as such we are the children of nature. Honorable statesmen, I thank you for entrusting us in representing our great land in the region, and our efforts in the seas of The South Pacific continue to expand.” Said The Peony, she pauses… her words are usual. The appreciative patriotism of the Royal Palace. She gave a sigh and paces her eye on the crowd of onlookers behind an array of cameras waiting for her to act.

The Peony looks up, she remembers the days her father took her stargazing when she was 4. That at 9 at night, when she couldn’t sleep and her father was working in the study, he took her to go see the street lamps. Adorned under the bright stars. She took a deep breath, and begun again.

“Years of being a doctor in Huawan made me explore the world unseen. Our lives are defined by what it is seen and done, yet we sometimes fail to assure ourselves of the things done that we can’t see.” Said The Peony, "as a pathologist I realized that the world is one that’s unseen, the microcosmos, a whole galaxy of cells and connections that exist invisible to the naked human eye. An orchestra of unity, peace and cooperation that everyone take for granted. Every breath, every smile, every sorrow, is the product of trillions of connections in our body, working in tandem to create even the simplest reaction. This is the micro-cosmos.

She increased her tone

“Statesmen of The Peocracy of Huawan, We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. For this is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity…” The Peony paused “everything tells me that I am about to make a wrong decision, but making mistakes is just part of life. What does the world want of me? Does it want me to take no risks, to go back to where I came from because I didn’t have the courage to say “yes” to life? in foolishness, birth progress, my friends. We move from strength, to strength, and to appreciate our the unseen, we must explore the cosmos above!”

Her statement seemed to resonate with the onlookers. This might be her best speech yet.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she thought. “I, The Peony of Huawan, hereby announce that we shall finally explore the world above, we shall have the first mission in The South Pacific to land in Tyr and lead the world to prosperity. For the world, for The South Pacific, For HUAWAN!

Mori no rei o mamore!

Kami no rei o mamore!

Mori no rei o mamore!

Kami no rei o mamore!

Mori no rei o mamore!

Kami no rei o mamore!

Xiongwei Mountains, Sacred Forests of The Peony, 3rd of December, 2020

The Peocracy of Huawan. A country filled with tradition and a spirit for innovation. A country that touts much economical spirit and enthusiasm for regional safety, compared to the military giants of Techganet, Izaakia and the Frost Empire or the diplomatic power of Sedunn, Stoinia and the Gi’Land it pales in comparison. Yet Huawan is respected, it knows what is necessary for development and prosperity, whilst respecting the nature that gave birth to its people, sustaining them. The entire country is over 80% preserved nature, 60% of which are preserved. It could’ve been much, much more, this nation, had it became a bit more willful to use the lands for economical sustenance, yet the Peocracy chose not to.

That was the thoughts of Minamoto Shizuka Rowena, as she climbed about the Sacred Forests of The Peony, trekking its woodlands and hearing the animals chirp. A subtropical forest had made the land rich of biodiversity, where the tropical north and the Terran south collide. She took steps that made the sounds of wet leaves, it was humid, and she continued. There were not many mosquitos, thankfully, the trek was made and sustained well for those that would like to visit the sacred forests. It’s been a while since she hiked ever since her first child, and definitely not in the Peocracy.

Her sister, The Peony, was in her errands from the HIA 402 crash. After a stunt pulled by the expedition heads on numerous sabotage, which was surprising to say the least. She had planned to visit her sister that day, but she will be back tomorrow after an assembly with the expedition heads.

“Probably to scream at them.” she thought, as she pressed on. The ground was higher and hilly, she looks to the front and saw the outline of the Xiongwei mountains towering up, reaching the skies. It’s been a while since she would try to journey to the peak of Mt. Nara, the highest point of the Xiongwei Mountains, and the highest point of The South Pacific. She decided, however, to just trek the forests. On a safe and dry clearing, she sat down on the rock, took her bottle and drank the water within. Pacing her breaths while enjoying the sounds of the forest, the birds chirping and so forth. Her machete on her right, in case, if wild boars were to rush at her.

Shizuka sighed and enjoyed her rest. Taking out her map of the trek, one given to her by the Peonic guardians. They were instructed to escort her on the hike, but Shizuka was an Austran, and there was no Austran citizen that could not fend for themselves. A hike was simple, and she continued traversing the leaves and the rock paths, the ones laid out by The First Empress of Huawang, Lady Mangling Mangsten. She looked at the map, and took a walking stick from her bag, using it as she continued her journey. The next camp is an hour walk away, and another hour to walk to the village. “What a way to spend the day,” she thought, hoping that The Peony would be finished.

The metro en route from Quandong to Shirou station was a far one. The Eastern Line route of RPR Metro is built to transport village workers near the mountains and forests to the city, as well as increase tourism prospects in the rural areas of Lian. The city of Lian did not reach the skies liike the buildings of XinXian and Hai Lan, the residents sprawl across the landscape with rural houses, there was not much density, since there was not much need of creating tall skyscrapers. The city was large and wide, but it lacked density, thus the second metro line ever to be created in Lian were to connect the people in the villages to the town.

Shizuka had arrived at the village after hiking from Nara to Quandong, certainly an achievement. She had eaten some dorayaki and drunk some warm soy milk as she looks at the rice fields and the village. The sun continues to stay up top on a great Peonic summer, shining bright at the rich green rice fields. She bit onto the dorayaki, a reward that she normally gives herself after a long and arduous hike in the Sacred Peonic Forest. The taste of her teenage years when her law school did a bunch of nature exploration programs, hiking hours on end only to taste the pancake. Shizuka knew that the confection wasn’t exactly the best bread she has ever tasted, she’s had richer ones. Furthermore, the place was so close to Quandong station, she could definitely afford to take a train to Quandong station instead of hiking from Nara station.

But Shizuka always knew that this was the best dorayaki, simply because she had trekked the forest before. A long journey only to be rewarded by a simple taste of warm pan bread with sugar and red bean filling reminded her of life, of reward. This was, the best meal she has ever tasted. After paying for the bun, and her legs relaxed, she walked towards the station. She took her phone and tapped it on the ticket box, the EDC got her through, and she a seat on an empty metro train, standing by.

Within 5 minutes, the train closed its door, and the stationmaster signalled the conductor to prepare for the journey. The train driver closed the doors, of a train carrying a sole passenger as it moves away from the station, through the cherry blossom forests. Shizuka gazed at the pretty cherry blossoms as the train moves along, enjoying the pretty sight of home, she wonders why she didn’t come home sooner, why it took her so long to realize that this is home. The lingering feeling of satisfaction only achieved when you are truly home, and as the train sped up, so did her heart flutter at the elation that she is now at home.

She looks at her watch and then her phone, looking at the messages. Then took out her second phone, the standard-issue phone. A message from the Austra ambassador to Huawan, Murdock Hilawood. The man had contacted Shizuka, The Peony would arrive tomorrow. Shizuka sighed, she had wished to meet the Peony tonight, at least take her out to eat. Oh well, it’s her Christmas vacation after all, despite not celebrating Christmas. There wasn’t much in the International Relation office of Austra, so after placing her phones back to her backpack, she continues to watch the windows. Being lost at the beautiful sight of Huawan, its nature and effort to live beside it. Before she knew, the train was packed.

As the train arrives in Shanzhou transit, she got off and platformed hopped to the next train on the riverside line, the first commuter line built in Huawan. The train, as usual, was packed, and she looped her hands unto a bar. Shizuka wondered the last time she could ride a train like this, she was not seen as royalty at that moment, more like a tourist that isn’t a tourist. She is Peonic, and she definitely looked like a Peonisian woman. The train was leaving, and she took off her backpack and wore it in front of her. It was common courtesy to be mindful of your bag in trains.

She noted the manor’s station, the Peonic manor was accessible from Rika station at the Central Eastern line. She however, decided to alight at Walker’s Quay and hopped another metro to L’ecole. She had a meeting to attend to, something that she didn’t think she would do. It’s been so long. Alighting at L’ecole station, she tapped her phone at the gate, and made her way to the north exit, a series of bicycles were rentable, and using her phone once more, she rented a city bicycle and started to pedal. She took her time and continued pedalling through the streets of Lian. En route to a certain housing and food district. There, she met a couple of friends, preparing their cameras and the setting.

“Shizuka!” a man shouted, to which Shizuka pedalled towards him, keeping her breath controlled.

“Producer, hi! I’m terribly sorry I’m late.”

“Nono, you’re early as a matter of fact. Come there and freshen up, we’ll be in for a long night.”

Shizuka nodded, and pedalled to a large van on the side of the road. The hawkers and restaurants were going to open and the night market was beginning to emerge as the sun starts to set. Shizuka locked the bicycle and leaned it to the wall, she walked up into the van, where the staff was standing by for her. After greeting the staff, she took off her backpack and jacket, then she went to the restroom to cleanse herself. Cleaned from the debris and sweat, she took her prayer gear from her backpack, and went to the designated “star” area. 15 minutes of praying later, she got out of her room, and folded the gear up into her bag. She approached the cosmetics person, who then guided her to a seat infront of a mirror. She smiled at the thin flamboyant girl with a black shirt and tied sky blue hair, and they began to prepare. She changed her clothes to something rather… playful. Once done, Shizuka went out of the van, and addressed the producer.

“I’m ready, producer-san.” she said, nodded.

“Excellent, Shizuka,” he addressed, smiling as he sipped his coffee. He pointed at the man beside him. “This is Takeshi, he’s your director for the video, I assume you’ve practiced already?”

“It is an honor, director.” said Shizuka as she bowed at director Takeshi, “shall we?”

The team moved to the spot where to begin, block apartments that faced a courtyard, old buildings that marked an era of dense living space since the recession of 1970. Colorful, dirty, an aura of a city that’s fascinating to behold. The courtyard was a playground of sorts, a place normally frequented by those that live in the block apartments. Tonight however, it would be the place where one that would begin the trance. Shizuka stepped on the platform, she already knew her moves and her songs.

She had sung it and published it in her album, but the MV was due today and good timing. #AuditWrapped was going to begin, and they are going to publish this live, everywhere, tomorrow. The song is popular, but the MV is everything in this case. She kept her cool and did the one thing that no one else, apart from her, could do in the family. She had inherited, her mother’s singing voice, and limber body for choreography. She was ready.

“Roll camera… ACTION!”

Present, Chapter 3:
The Plane

(Context: This is a reference from the HIA402 RP, which can be read in this link: (IC) What happened to Flight HIA 402?)

Red is Mandarin (Huayu), Green is Japanese (Kotomoto).

Monteros, Winston Island, 5th of December, 20XX

It has been a week since the HIA402 crash investigation in Christie’s Trench. The founding of the lost black box had shook the nation, nations scrambled to help the Peonic navy search the missing plane.

The Researcher Vessel, RPNV Raika, docked at Monteros at 7 AM, as the townsfolk and the tourists start to get out of their houses to go get breakfast, which was normally a dose of muffin and coffee. The sailors of the RPNV Raika joined in with another company of the Peonic Expeditionary from the RPV Katsugawa, a makeshift base using containers were built in the harbour, and preparations began as the engineers gave thorough maintenance of the Raika, following a refuel. Captain Denning Ko had instructed his first mate, Lieutenant Hakeem Zhang to oversee the process. The leaders of the expedition at the RPNV Raika was called for a meeting, and a Winstonian patrol speedboat was there to take them.

It was clear what they were moving towards as their speedboat leaped over the ocean waves. A behemoth that sat near the Winston Islands, the Jobu-Masako 10th Generation Nuclear Aircraft Carrier had made rounds in reconnaissance over Frastinia amidst the Besernian-Absolustan war, after the declaration of peace, the ship was relocated to the Winston Islands for a special meeting.

Captain Ko of the RPNV Raika wore his best uniform, white with markings of rank, The Peonic Salvation Corps was the tag that he wore on his left. Zahra Lliong had worn an orange life vest and sat on the side trying to photo the admiring panorama of Winston Island. The Head Oceanographer, Kao Min Hao, was also present with his own life vest, he was a bit moody.

“Are you feeling seasick, honorable professor?” asked Zahra Lliong.

“It is nothing, honorable investigator. The potato salad for dinner and for breakfast was simply the epitome of depression that soured the beginning of the day.”

“You are not sick, I hope. Professor?” Asked Captain Ko.

“I am not, food poisoning would lead you to regret and anger of consumption. This is not like that, I am merely, utterly dissapointed.” Said Kao Min Hao, looking moodier as he gazed at the oceans, he didn’t feel the need to say that he had some stomach problems before arrival, but he had taken the medicine subtly given to him by the medic.

The speedboat continued to sail closer to the carrier as the morning fog cleared the view. Siding the boat to the carrier, the ladders unto the ship were pushed out into sight.

Captain Ko tightened his white gloves, his standard issue captain gloves and got up the ladder leading to the entrance. Zahra tightened her hijab first, making sure the ocean wind would not blow it off, and made her way up, noted the chilly temperature of winter steel, and continued. Professor Kao Min Hao however, was a swimmer, and while he braves the depths of the ocean, fears depth when there is no liquid, otherwise known as heights. Sighing a couple of times, he took every bar and got up at a slow pace, telling himself to not look down.

As the three were escorted into the conference room, sailors were forming at the runway of the carrier. Lining up in front of the jet fighters that flew under the Peonic banner, they welcome a small passenger jet that landed, markings of the royal emblem were abundant.

The planes hooked unto the runway, and the doors open.

“Attention!” The row of soldiers stood in unison, a salute to welcome the head of state. Peonic guardians with their traditional silk uniform came out first and stood by the side of the stairs of the plane. The Peony wore a black dress suit with her hair cut neatly. She had cut her hair after her Sunrise Day address a couple of weeks ago.

Following her is the High Commodore, Lord-Admiral Zheng He, and the leader of the Peonic Salvation Corps, Admiral Han Lee. Both in their respective admiral uniforms. They followed behind The Peony as her guardians boxed them in.

All of them made their way to the meeting room, and reports begin.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of the Royal Palace, I would like to provide a couple of words of appreciation for your attendance in this meeting to discuss the retrieval of fight HIA 402. In attendance, Honorable First Minister Ragnhild Larsen who will be attending the briefing digitally from Valkyria. Honourable High Commodore of The Marine Council, Lord Admiral Zheng He, and Admiral of the Peonic Salvation Corps, Admiral Han Lee. As well as Lord-Captain Shuichi Souma of the RPNV Sakura for hosting the meeting, Captain Hiro Kaze of the RPV Katsugawa and Captain Denning Ko of the RPNV Raika as vessel heads of the Peonic Expeditionary Forces Number 23, as well as the honourable investigator Zahra Lliong and honourable professor Kao Min Hao.” Said the Peony as she opens the briefing. “Under the blessing of God, I allow the meeting to begin.”

“Thank you my Nuwang.” Said Lord Admiral Zheng He as he opened his binder. He opted to sparingly use the standard-issue ministry tablets. “I believe it is in our best interest that we receive the report from the honourable investigator, if you may.”

“Thank you, Lord Admiral.” Said Zahra as she bowed a bit, “If I may have your attention on the screen.”

On the 8th of January, 2005. At precisely 1:24 AM, flight Huawan Intercontinental Airlines 402, a vessel by the CM 8000, took off in clear weather en route from Kate Walker International Airport, ZhangHai to the city of Targassona, Ceretania. The plane carried over 140 passengers, and 20 crew on board, along with a hold filled with passenger baggage and express mail. The plane had also taken a sizable shipment of gold reserves from Ribbank, which would be sailed to Gi-Land upon arrival. There is also a shipment of Spiced Rum on board en route to Targassona for a supposed birthday party by the mayor. It is to be noted the passengers on board, of the 140 in the cabin, there are over 7 cardiologists en route for a symposium, 10 biochemical scientists, which, from further identification, was wanted Gi-Lanndian bioweapons engineer Doctor Hanno Lieber, speculatively flying to Targassona for a stopover before being picked up by separatists in Bruuma. Also in the plane, Besernian celebrity Leuchte Vandermark, and Sedunnic investigative reporter Sasha Oeinna, both took the plane for transit.

Based on radar flight data retreived by Royaltican authorities, the flight had continued through crossing the rainbow islands, continued to be detected in Mo’oloa islands of the country of Kaha’i. Antarchan flight towers in FiHami should have detected the final signal of the plane, however, the recent war of independence for FiHami had completely destroyed all records by the Antarchan flight tower. By the 83rd minute, precisely 3:47 AM ZhangHai time, the plane was missing from all towers.

Uniquely for the nature of the crash, is that based on sources, there was no sound of an explosive crash, one that would normally indicate a high-speed impact unto the ocean surface. Even more interesting, is the nature of the very items that would allow investigators to locate the crash. The black box, a module filled with flight data and cabin recordings, that would be vital for investigation regarding the nature of the incident, had not turned on. The black box, under the South Pacifican Civil Aviation Organization, is a device that would allow the transmission of sonars every second for 30 days upon exposure with saltwater. The device would be able to transmit their radar over 6000 metres deep from the ocean surface.

Previous investigators baffled; the black box should be exposed to saltwater upon impact at the ocean surface. A consensus by search and rescue units back in 2005, after a 2-year search, was that the blackbox was had submerged unto Christies trench, a trench that goes as deep as 13000 metres, twice the allowable depth of the blackbox transmission. Coupled with major earthquakes in the area, leaves immense doubt that the crash would be retrievable. A cold case was declared on July 4th 2007.

However, on the 1st of December 20XX, radar from Winston Island Climatologist and Oceanographers unveiled a signal just off of Christie’s Eye, a sinkhole like structure that seemed to be like the drain. Recorded to be much deeper than the 13000 metres deep. The area surrounding Christie’s eye are a series of mountains and canyons submerged below, and we suspect that the signal is in the shallower area of these canyons. Izaakian scouts that arrived a couple days earlier revealed that the signal came from Christie’s Ridge, northeast of the eye. It is also unknown whether there are wreckages in the islands, previous searches reveal negative findings, however, the region’s harsh weather and natural disasters may submerge the parts near the island, it is proposed that a team of divers are to search for wreckages if it is possible.

“And what did the Valkyrian radars detect, First Minister?” Asked The Peony of Huawan.

“Under the Valkyrian government, the Winstonian government had placed the radars to oversee earthquake and tsunami warnings. The rainbow islands is a region laden with high activity volcanoes, most of whom, originate from the trench. The trench itself birthed from the most volatile subduction zone in the region with the highest velocity of friction none has ever seen. The devastating earthquake in Erinor is evidence of the devastation that may lead from this trench. Our radars are also equipped with tsunami and typhoon warnings, which are a common occurrence in the North Pacific Ocean. We were surprised that an unknown signal suddenly turned up in Chrsties eye, of which having the similar frequency and pattern that of a black box.”

“We may be of need of your radar facilities in case any weather-related disasters would happen as the search begin” said Professor Kao Min Hao.

“Under executive orders of president Kate Murphy, Winston island would spare no expense in supporting the operation. Our facilities are at the disposal of the allies of Valkyria.”

“Thank you very much, honorable First Minister, your help is deeply appreciated by our humble peocracy.” Said The Peony, “thank you for sparing your time for us.”

“Yes, your excellency. We wish you good tidings and the best of luck on your search.”

The transmission from the Winstonian First Minister turned off, and Admiral Han Lee began to click his tablet, which was connected to the table.

“After the forward base is built in the harbour, the RPNV Raika are to sail to Christies mouth and launch the 17th generation RED-class sonar submarine drones, that way, we could divide the workload between the foreign searchers in Christies ridge. The RPV Katsugawa are to set up buoys in the area and initiate a diving mission in the islands. Hopefully if we could specifically triangulate the sonars, we would be able to send the deep sea diving submarine to retrieve whatever is left.”

“Yes Admiral.” Said Captain Ko and Captain Kaze in unison. The briefing was about to end as the finer details are discussed, but Captain Denning Ko and Zahra knew that they only had one shot in inquiring about the redacted documents. Hopefully The Peony would be gracious.

“My Peony, before we end this meeting, perhaps you could answer a couple of questions.” said Zahra lliong

“As you wish, honourable investigator.” Said The Peony, giving a nod to allow the question.

“My team had taken a large database of documents regarding the crash back in 2005 from the Peonic Civil Aviations Commission, Ministry of Transport RPC of Aeronautics and Space. A couple of documents regarding the nature of the flight had been redacted prior to its unveiling.” Said Zahra, The Peony looked at her surprised.

“You should have asked the corresponding ministries, honourable investigator.” Said The Peony, in a sense of disbelief. “I believe that is common direction?”

“It is… However we do not have the proper clearance for it,” answered Zahra Lliong, continuing to press her luck, and suddenly understanding the weight she placed on herself.

“…Then I am sure the corresponding bodies would have its own reasons, honorable investigator. Redaction is common in investigation, and you must make do on what you are cleared to know.” Answered The Peony, nonchalant, subjective and with a flat tone. One she uses towards her interns at the hospital.

“My Peony,” interrupted Captain Ko, which commanded the attention of the room. “…we believe that the redacted information by the ministries may be the key to solving the crash, and we humbly ask you, as our Nuwang, for your information. It may help us greatly to solve this puzzle once and for all, and I beg you to consider our proposal”

(Song for effect)

“…” The Peony paused, silent, deep in thought. She gazed at the High Commodore, and her admiral, who responded at her gazes, before looking down in respect. She shuffled her eyes up, rolling them left and right to access her brain. The silence was unbearable for Captain Ko and Investigtor Zahra, they were fighting the urge to shout for reassurance, the Peony is lofty in royal conduct, preferring to act rather liberal than her regional counterparts, but she is still The Peony of Huawan.

The Peony gave a nod in understanding.

“Rin.” she said, it was the signal for the Peonic Guardians. They bowed deep, and left the room in a neat line, there was no one else in the room except the 8 in attendance. “If you may, Lord-Captain.”

Lord-Captain Shuici Souma of The RPNV Sakura then took his tablet to close the blinds of the room, and locked the doors. He proceeded to sit back down. The Peony looked around for a couple of seconds, seeing the time correct, she took phone and logged into the Royal Servers.

“What I’m about to tell you may change the course of this investigation completely, you are not to unveil this information in any radio/transmittable device. Every logging referring to this information must be analogue and for your own eyes only. Use it sparingly unless you have a direct approval from me.”

The other people in the meeting room were a lot more surprised than they look, The Peony of Huawan had rarely been so… serious. She is definitely aware of the secrets of the Peocracy down to the tee, and has been given confidential information as much as she provides them too, but she is seldom serious in this. High Commodore Zheng He saw her demeanor, the one that reminded him that no matter how many times you see her as your own granddaughter, she is the Nuwang of Huawan, more importantly, she is the descendant of his employer, Lingxin Yan, where he was the butler and retainer of the Royal Crest of Huawan

The Peocracy of Huawan had been a major player in the defence of the region, and its offensive capabilities proven in the numerous expeditions sponsored by the South Pacific Special Forces and its own in the expeditions to client states. We knew that the region was such in turmoil and madness is abundant, and under the royal guidances of the previous Nuwangs, Lingxin Yan and Akane Yan, we established a suitable intelligence network, extensive, far reaching, and spread all over. Infiltration was our bread and butter, and intelligence is the currency of power for today.

At that time, my mother, The Peony, Akane Yan, had comissioned for a counter-bioweapons program in ZhangHai. Superfood rations for soldiers, undetectable toxins, weaponized viruses transmitted via trained animals, even going far to weaponized prions. Undetected, silent and… manageable. Now we had an encrypted message from the scientist, doctor Hanno Leiber, regarding some of the…projects… he was offering, healing moulds, mind control parasites, poisonous grain strains. Every epidemic disaster, from the Baillish incident, the Catra Death was somehow connected to him and his lab. We were certainly interested at what he has to offer, but felt that it would be much of a red flag if word got out that we were buying illegal weapons, a disaster would go out if this came to be, and the decision was to reject them. You would know that in these kinds of… transactions, laying it out bare is one of the most dangerous things one can do. We know their cards and they know ours, and it is a mutual agreement in intelligence that disclosure is mutually assured destruction. We went our separate ways.

But our Crown Prince, my brother, Ryuunosuke Yan however, had his own networks. He knew about the transaction and confronted my mother an hour after, he believed that our involvement in the bioweapons research must remain hidden, and anyone not cleared to know, must be eliminated…I’d like to think that he did it because he didn’t want such weapons on the hands of the wrong people… But I must see this in an objective manner, a member of the secret service was sent from one of our networks in ZhangHai, and he was cleared to lace the hot towels with absorbable poison, within 24 hours their arrival, they would be long gone.

But our intelligence were flawed, we didn’t know how deep these people were. The pilots, some passengers, were with them. We lost contact over FiHami, and we did not know what happened afterwards. By that point, the plane dissapeared, and we do not know for sure whether the mission was accomplished. It took the lives of so many people, over the greed and thoughtlessness of my brother. I am here to pay the price, and make things right.

“The full report shall be available to you in printed form by tonight, given by one of my guardians.” Said The Peony, sighing deep. “I like to think that all of this are connected somehow, the gold reserves, the cardiologists, the Besernian celebrity and the investigative reporter. Why the black box gave out the signal nearly 15 years since the dissapearance, this is such an interesting… puzzle.”

“Thank you for your honesty, My Peony.” said Captain Ko, still processing the ideas. “This will certainly help us decipher the ideas and find the clue.”

“I’ve trusted enough people to know that betrayal is the most painful thing that can ever come to a person.” Said The Peony, “I will be looking at the three of you with great… interest. Understand it.”

As the room remained silent for a while, the phone in the conference room rang aloud, and Captain Souma answered the call.

“Yes…Ok.” He answered before putting the phone down. “My Peony, we had dire news. A helicopter by the Anserisans was downed in an accident, and a rescue call was issued.”

“Lord Admiral.” Said The Peony

“Send a squadron of rescuers to their aid and transport them to the island. Instruct the forward base to create a makeshift medical base, cooperating with the doctors of Winston Island.” Said High Commodore Zheng He, before looking at the two captains in the room “Please see to it that the preparations to receive these men are complete, and instruct the incident commander of the Anserisan fleet on our plans for further cooperation.”

“I’ll be coming.” Said The Peony, “you all have your orders and know of your instructions dismissed.”

The meeting ended, with everyone going out, knowing their commands. As officers made their way back to their crafts, The Peony got unto the paramedic helicopter on the carrier, against her guardian’s wishes. The RPNV Sakura launched a chinook filled with paramedics to rescue the Anserisans, and they managed to arrive earlier than others. However, as they landed, there was not enough equipment to transport the Anserisans to the medical post, they needed more equipment so that the Anserisans could be transported to the base quickly.

Present, Chapter 4:
A Test for Martyrdom

??, ??, 5th of December, 20XX

Music for effect

The Anserisan pilots had crash landed down in Deep Island, the pilot did all he could to maintain a good landing, but was unable to control it as much. The plane crashed, setting out a loud “boom”, the soldiers inside were unconscious from the impact, until one of their corporals came to, look at the team, and decided to do what some people called the impossible.

He took the bodies of his unconcious comrades, he doesn’t know whether they’re alive or not. “Get them to safety, now” he thought to himself. Carrying the staff one by one, out to a safe place, his leg was in pain and his body was giving up.

“Not yet, not now, please, give me strength.” He said, as he continued to carry everyone out. On his shoulders, and dragging them. After he got the pilot and the co-pilot out, he limped towards his designated safe zone, until an explosion boomed behind him. Throwing him out to the zone, he couldn’t move.

He took several breaths, his chest was in pain, and his legs were gone. He gazed up on the sky, and the smoke that followed. His eyes were giving out, and his life flashed before him. The girl back home he didn’t get to admit his feelings to, getting back with his brother after an argument, and regret that he didn’t get to eat his mother’s cooking anymore.

He was ready to face something that the military didn’t prepare him for… And he saw the angel of death came into him, wearing black with a silky black hood. The face was white. “How nice… the angel of death is so…beautiful.” he pondered.

“SIR! SIR! WAKE UP!” He heard the angel shout, and he wanted to answer, but all they got was a groan. He closed his eyes, and felt pressures on his chest

Deep Island, 5th of December, 20XX

“Come on, come on, stay with me soldier!” The Angel of Death shouted, she was on her knees and trying to give him rescucitation. Pumping his chest continuously, 100 presses every minute, whilst giving him oxygen. She wiped his mouth with some alcohol tissue and blew him her breath. “I need a defibrillator!” She shouted.

One of the paramedics threw her the bag, and The Peony took his knife and opened the soldier’s armor. Placing the diodes, where needed. “Ventricular Fibrillation, shocking 200 Joules!” The machine then shocked the soldier, and the Peony continued to give the CPR for an extra two minutes.

The paramedics saw her move, with grace and timely manner as they did their own procedures. She wasn’t a soldier, nor the head of state, at that time, she was the doctor in charge of the operation, and my god was she a good one.

“SOMEONE GET ME SOME EPINEPHRINE!” She shouted, one of the paramedics came to her while getting a syringe and got exactly 1mg of the drup. “Ready to switch. 200 Joules!” She turned on the defibrilator and shocked the soldier once more. The paramedic switched with her as the epinephrine was injected, she then proceeded to switch after one minute.

After The Peony gave one more breath to the soldier, the man opened his eyes, and coughed. He was gasping for air. The Peony then gave a sigh of relief, feeling his pulse, he was back. tilting the soldier’s head backwards and placed his left arm on his side, and his right hand on his cheek. She pulled his knee 90 degrees, and rolled him to ensure the head is supported.

“Get them transported!” The Incident commander shouted, the paramedics then began helping the soldiers one by one. Soldiers who could more slightly, are propped up slowly, others supported up with a stretcher.

“Let’s get him out.” Said The Peony to the paramedic, she stood on the right of the man’s body, and propped him to her chest, so did the other paramedic.

“Ready? On my mark… Up!” Both of them got up, and slowly walked the soldier to the helicopter.

“Commander! We do not have enough room!” A paramedic shouted, the Incident Commander was surprised. Turns out there were more people needed to be in a strecher.

“Some of us must leave behind.” Said The Incident Commander, “Take the Nuwang and head back to base! We must get them back to base as soon as possible.”

The Peony was then ushered into the helicopter to head back to base, she was inserting IV fluids for some of the soldiers. She had a hunch, a hunch that may cost her, she was crazy, she knows this is the craziest thing she’s ever going to do this year. She’s the doctor in the rescue, but she is also the Nuwang.

“Commander, tell base to get these people stable and inform the Anserisan navy. Launch another rescue party to the Izaakians. Return immediately after your arrival.”

The Peony then took a handgun from one of the soldier’s pockets, and ran out of the helicopter, landing on the sand as they were taking off

“My Nuwang! Get us back down!” Ordered the Incident Commander.

“Get them to safety, my word is law!

She shouted back, and the incident commander, while hesitant, understood. Then, she gazed the helicopter going out, and saw the two members of the team that were left behind, one a soldier, and one a paramedic. The Peony sighed, and relaxed her breathing. She then straightened her hair, and addressed the two, still surprised at her.

“Your name?” The Peony asked.

“My Nuwang,” she bowed, “Corporal Sa’arina Abdal, RPNV 8th division.”

“And yours?” she asked as she gazed at the paramedic.

“My Nuwang,” he bowed, “Corporal Fa’reed Wakabe, RPNV 8th division.”

The Peony nodded, she looked at the sea, took off the soldier boots she borrowed from the RPNV Sakura and placed them neatly. She took off her jacket, and sat down on it, looking at the sea and the helicopters that is going into the island. She’s brandishing the Anserisan pistol, she learnt how to shoot a long time ago from Rin.

She turned off the safety pin, checked the ammo, it was still full. She cocked up the pistol and laid it in front of her. She expects the people coming to her, and expects the worse. Her knees up and feet planted, she just gazed at the calm sea. She turned her back, looking at the two, frozen in surprise.

“You are now the Peonic Royal Guardians. I trust you both with my life.” She said, giving a smile, before looking back at the sea, she took out her lipstick and fixed it.

That minute, both Sarina and Fareed knew, that now they have to lay their life, in the guardianship of The Peony. Their lives now worthless, as they must make sure that The Peony gets out of this alive, even if it means they won’t.

Monteros, Winston Island, 5th of December, 20XX

“Yes, observe the situation there.” Said High Commodore Zheng He, as he turned off his phone. He looked at the forward team as the RPNV Katsugawa was preparing to move to the location. He stood under the command tent, it was empty, but reinforced with a couple of soldiers, including the Peonic Royal Guardians.

The Rungenbougen affair suddenly became a hot zone, and although Absolustan was now at peace with the Besernians, the Finixian rebel incursion managed to place pressure on the area, an invasion if he ever saw one. While The Peony had promised the Finixians a defence pact, the Besernians are the victim, and he had ordered the ships to stand by. The High Commodore then looked at Rin, the Peonic Guardian, who stood to protect him instead of her. She had an excellent flat face, but Zheng he knew that she’s worried. Zheng He called for her.

“Rin.” He said as Rin walked in front of him, hands behind her back, looking stern and serious.

“Yes Honorable HIgh Commodore?” She asked.

“Talk to me child.” he said, looking at the woman infront of him.

Rin Kagamine was the milk sister of The Peony, a servant under the tutelage of her school when she was in the orphanage. At the time, The Peony was a closed-off child, she was taught by the royal educators, and preferred reading and being silent. Her mother didn’t know what to do to get The Peony to open up, until she saw how Rin managed to get her youngest daughter… speech full. Akane Yan decided to adopt Rin, and in technicality, she is the Lady-Princess of The Royal Family.

After her training and post in the Peonic Field Army and The Peonic Air Service, as well as having a continued as a Peonic wushu olympian. Rin had been knighted by her adopted mother as head guardian of the Peonic Guardians, but the tragedies that followed led to some loose ends, ones that she needed to hide to her adopted sister. Rin was always mindful of The Peony, being older than her, she always had a deep sense of worry towards The Peony’s safety and health. The office of the Guardianship certainly needs her to be as such. Now The Peony was not back with the helicopter carrying the Anserisans, they were successful in keeping this a secret if they didn’t want the Royal Assembly panicking.

“I do not have much words yet concerning the situation, and I am still trying to comprehend her thought process, 爷爷。” Said Rin, beginnning to show sorrow but maintaining composure, “Sorry, I don’t think I could loosen up, at least not yet.”

Zheng He nodded, and Rin went back outside to her post. He understood what went on her mind, and felt like it’s not the time to say anything. She has such a cool head.

Deep Island, 5th of December, 20XX

The Peony of Huawan heard the two helicopters as she sat down, enjoying the seaview and preparing her mind. The two corporals were shaking, but they were ready to do the work. As the soldiers pointed at them, Sa’arina decided to point her Marika-4 shotgun back at them, cocking it, while Fareed pointed his standard-issue N9 pistol. They crouched in front of their line of sight to The Peony, protecting her. A standoff was happening between the Izaakians and the Besernians, and the ocean waves filled the silence of what seemed like an eternity. The standoff was broken by a sigh and a couple of words.

“The sea is nice isn’t it?” Said The Peony, “What a good day for a swim I think.”

She stood calmly as she raised up her hands on her chest. It’s the first time guns were pointed at her. She was foot, and stood confidently, despite deep in her heart she’s trembling with fear. Her two guardians also stood but continued to block their line of sight

“I’m afraid the both of you are too late, we have rescued the Anserisan helicopter and my men had transported them back to the forward base in Winston Island.” Said The Peony, as she looked at them dead in the eye, thumbs on her pocket now. “I’m sure that most of you have yet to be acquainted by me, I am The Peony of The Unitary Peocracy of Huawan, her Imperial Nuwang and the head of state, as such, the head of this operation. There wasn’t enough space in the rescue helicopter, so I humbly decided to drop back with my two guardians.”

She then smiled and gave a single clap, one that rang out. “Now, before we continue anything that the two of you might regret, may I ask that you all drop your weapons? Don’t be so rude.”

The two companies faced each other.

“Ordnen waffen!” Shouted a commander.

The Besernian group lowers their arms.

Hildebrand mutters to himself.

“This is a disappointment. Absolutely bullshit I must say. Should have arrived earlier to rescue them.”

Captain Ingstad of the Izaakian Rescue team also motions to lower weapons: “We’re not here to shoot Besernians, we’re here recover Anserians and find out what they know of the island. Since we’re too late to do that boys, search the island, be back before mid afternoon. We’ll do a fly over on the way out.”

Hildebrand turns towards his group. He talks in a soft manner towards sergeant Volker.

“Alright, this is your time to shine. What do you say, sergeant Volker?”

“Lieutenant Hildebrand, at least we tried our best, should we transport the Peony back to Winston Island?” Answered sergeant Volker.

“I believe this is most appropriate. Let’s stop wasting our time on the Izaakians. This is getting awkward.” said Besernian Corporal Martin.

The Peony watched as the two companies muttered and discussed with themselves. The two corporals continued their sights and standing by, hoping that the worse won’t come to be. It was then that after it seemed they didn’t want to stir up anything, The Peony gave her order.’

“Stand down.” in which Sa’arina and Fareed lowered their weapons, and held them in position. They sighed a bit of relief but knew to maintain their composure. The Besernian Lieutenant then turns towards the Peony.

“Lieutenant Hildebrand Zimmermann of the Besernian federal expedition.” He gives a sharp salute. “I deeply apologize for the situation just now. If you are stranded, we can help you fly you back towards Winston Island.”

Captain Ingstad, ignoring the Besernian lieutenant strolls up to the peony, sizing her up, walks around her twice, and says

“Ms Peony, it looks as if the rescuer needs rescuing. A damsel in distress if I ever saw one. You are welcome to return with us to HMS Sting Ray, perhaps you’ll be welcomed by the admiral and empress abroad the Royal Yacht, feel free to our rations until this afternoon, I do believe we have a some Montacian Wine rations and cheese board going free. As they say, an army marches on its stomach.”

“I have heard many things that happened in the span of less than a week. I thank your enthusiasm and spirit to help us solve the mystery, however… There are things that I was reported to, and I would like to call for an assembly to regroup.” Said The Peony, “I want answers, please deliver this message to your expedition heads, tell them that I would like to meet with them.”

The Peony sighed a bit, still maintaining her composure. She gave it a brief thought, and was considering their offer.

The Peony gave her thoughts,

“I appreciate your hospitalities, and I’ll definitely take the cheese, but pass on the wine.” Said The Peony, as she accepted the cheese board from Captain Ingstad of the Izaakian Expedition “They will send a helicopter for me, and I believe it is proper courtesy and respect to wait for their services. So I think I’m just going to sit back here and enjoy the beach, it’s not every day that you could sit and relax at the shores of Rainbow Island after all.”

The Peony then placed a finger on her lips and looked up a bit, she then clapped her hands once and gave a nice smile. “However, may I humbly suggest checking this island out for clues? I understood that there was a lot of issues that the expeditions had in getting to Deep Island, so maybe you’d like to explore a bit? Any help we can get is appreciated, as much as I appreciate your efforts in helping us solve the puzzle.”

The Peony then gave a slight bow.

“So, do not mind me, honourable expeditions. I shall be here.”

She then turned and took off her jacket once more, sitting down and enjoying the beach whilst eating cheese. Her two soldiers stood by their Nuwang, and chewed cheese that she offered to them. Within an hour a helicopter came for the three, and The Peony was transported back to the forward base. They left the Besernians and the Izaakians on deep island, awaiting orders to accept The Nuwang’s suggestion and explore Deep Island, or fall back to base.

Peonic Expedition Forward Base, Monteros, Winston Island. 5th of December 20XX

As the base was busy to prepare for the arrival of the RPNV Raika and the preparation of the RPV Katsugawa, a helicopter’s shadow was seen as it lands on the big yellow H. The Peonic guardians formed outside at a safe distance from the rescue helicopter welcoming The Peony as she exited out along with the two corporals that stayed along with her. After Rin ordered the other guardians to bow, which was a common courtsey, the Peony gave a nod and turned to give a light bow at the Sarina and Fareed.

“Thank you for your dedication, which shall certainly be rewarded. I now relieve you back to your respective companies.” In which Fareed and Sarina bowed deeper, mentioning their gratitude, and setting off. The Peony looked to her guardians, and the High Commodore, looking rather stern.

“The diplomatic conference will start in an hour, my Peony. It would be best that you be prepared.” Said High Commodore Zheng He as he gave the reports to The Peony.

"Of course… Thank you for the suggestion." Said The Peony when she accepted the report. She then snapped her fingers in disappointment. “I don’t think I’ve brought any clothes with me… What a shame, perhaps I could visit the nearest boutique, I believe madam Harrison once said to me a boutique she owned in Winston Island, what was it Rin?”

“I believe it was @Chique, my Nuwang.” Answered Rin, in an austere fashion.

""Ah yes, @Chique, well I should get ready for the meeting." Said The Peony, and she nodded to Zheng He. “Honorable High Commodore, would you see through the invites and the attendance of the meeting?”

“It shall be done, my Nuwang.” said High Commodore Zheng He.

“Very well, Rin, please accompany me to @Chique, and instruct the other guardians to help with the preparations.” Said The Peony, smiling before she gaze unto the High Commodore, “tell me when the RPNV Raika and the RPNV Katsugawa arrive, they are the leaders of the expedition and must be available on the negotiations.”

“I shall instruct and brief them accordingly, my Nuwang.” said Zheng He.

The Peony bowed in gratitude, before gazing to Rin with a wide grin, “let’s go shopping!”

Present, Chapter 5:
Stormy Night

Medical Facility 1B, Peonic Expedition Forward Base, Monteros, Winston Island

As the typhoon went continues and the expedition meeting at an end, it was time for The Peony and her guardians to head back home. She is needed back in Huawan, a large number of her responsibilities needed to be met back home. She’ll contact Huawan Intercontinental to be present in the area to aid the expedition as she decides to retire back to Capital Lian. She does, however, intend to see the wounded currently in the makeshift medical base.

As the car went to the lobby, The Peony got out, escorted by one of her guardians with a large black umbrella. She walked into the facility into the doctor’s office, where she washed her hands. A nurse bowed beside her and dressed The Peony in a white doctor’s coat, one that’s been steamed with antiseptic. Two slides out from the sleeves, she buttoned them to close the white dress she was wearing. The Peony then took a surgical mask, before nodding at the nurse.

“Stay in front,” Rin ordered, as she saw The Peony exit the office. Rin bowed deep to The Peony, and stood infront to open the door to the observation room.

Lights shone from the top as the crashing rain drummed unto the canvas roofing on top of the container, folding camp beds were laid out in a row with many men laying on it, along with poles by their side where fluid bags hanged., Pillows below their heads and blankets on top of their bodies, they were mostly Anserisan soldiers, resting and sleeping, except one, who was being tended by a nurse.

“How is he, nurse?” The Peony asked the nurse as she gave a light bow. The nurse was Winstonian, from her complexure.

“Honorable doctor, he is currently stable in his vitals. There are however massive impact wounds in his back that led to pressure in his spinal column. The doctor in attendance already called for a radiologist to examine him tomorrow morning.”

“I see, send for some needles and a reflex hammer.” Said The Peony, as she read the soldier’s charts.

The nurse gave a nod and moved to the equipment cabinet. The Peony then stood beside the soldier on his right, afterwards, kneeling down, the soldier then looked at her, half awake.

“Your hand, please.” In which the soldier gave his hand, The Peony grabbed his wrist and felt the radial artery, trying to feel his pulse, its strength and the tempo. She then gazed at his breathing, while taking a stethoscope and gliding the diaphragm over the valves.

“It is still rather weak, but the beats are regular.” Said The Peony, as she received needles and a reflex hammer from the nurse. “I’ll have you tended to a cardiologist tomorrow after your radiology session. Tell me, do you feel any numbness in the body?”

“I can’t feel my jaw.” He said, slurring. The Peony then lightly pricked the needle to the temple and watched his reaction.

“Is it painful?” she asked.

“Yes.” Before stabbing the needle unto to the jaw.

“Is it painful here?” asked The Peony

“No.” the soldier said.

The Peony then took the needle out, and placed her hands on the man’s jaws. “Please move your jaw left and right, try to fight against my pressure.”

The man tried to move his jaw left and right, against the Peony’s palms. She can sense weakness and numbness from it. “Good”, she said, before taking his chin with two fingers, opening it.

“Relax, don’t hold it in.” She said, before she took her reflex hammer and tapped it unto his chin. The reflex was felt, but rather lightly from what she’s used to.

“I’ll make sure that the neurologist would have you checked as well. We need to preserve your motorics as much as possible, especially in your spinal column.” said The Peony, when gazing at the other patients in the room “how are your squadmates?”

“They’ve been worse, doctor. We are soldiers after all. Apart from heavy bruises, concussions and burn wounds, there isn’t much.”

“I’m glad.” said The Peony, nodding. Before calling out for her guardian, “Rin.”

Rin then entered the room quietly with a quick posture, towards The Peony. She then took a gun from her hidden holster and gave it to The Peony.

“I believe I’ve borrowed one of your pistols, I do apologize for it, noting the circumstances.” Said The Peony, brandishing it, before giving it to the soldier, which he gave a laugh.

“I knew you were the one that resuscitated me,” the Anserisan soldier said, trying to speak clearly from such a weak jaw “you’ve helped us greatly when you landed on the island, and you did what you needed be, including saving my life. Not to worry your excellency, your secret is safe with us.”

“My deepest appreciations, But I simply could not accept your praise, had it not been you, your squadmates wouldn’t be here.” said The Peony, as she bowed deeply to the soldier. “Our workers will make sure that your squadmates are tended properly until your companies decide on further orders, nurse.”

Another nurse came to attend the group, she was Peonic. “Yes my Nuwang.”

“Ensure that they are comfortable, with a well-balanced diet. Tell the head doctor to get these men recovered.”

“Yes my Nuwang.”

The Peony then stood up and nodded at the soldier with respect.

“I must depart back to my own patients, honourable soldier, may Allah give you a speedy recovery.”

“Your excellency.” nodded the Soldier, in his thick anserian accent, with whatever strength he could muster. The Peony then walked towards the exit, taking off the white coat and giving it to the nurse. She paused to address Rin.

“Rin, Are they inside the car?”

“Yes they are, my Nuwang.”

“Please ride with the guardians, Rin, I need upmost privacy.”

“Yes, my Nuwang.” bowed Rin. The Peony walked to the exit, and waited until an umbrella had been unleashed, allowing her to enter the car dry.

*Red for Mandarin (Huayu)
*Green for Japanese (Kotomoto)

As the storm begins to die out in the middle of the night, a motorcade runs towards Winston Island airport at a steady pace. The red Peonic flag waved about as the winds continue to crash. The Peony sat in her seat, crossing her legs as she looked outside. Admiral Lee sat beside the Peony as Captain Ko, Captain Souma and Investigator Lliong sat in front of her.

“Investigator, I believe you have an urge to smoke?” Asked The Peony, as she gazed back to the investigator, who was rather rattled.
“No, my nuwang.” answered Zahra Lliong, bowing deep.
“Your fingers, they clasp unto your pen as if it was a cigarette. You try to place it towards your lips, but recognized that it is not the time.” Said The Peony. “I could not blame you, after what had happened in the meeting.”

The Peony sighed, and looked back at the three.

“I had thought by providing them with the dossier, they would certainly be able to recognize the ability to work together. The delegations speak of cooperation, of unity. Yet it continues to prove that The South Pacific is unable to band together in cooperation for humanitarianism, and instead, their special interests run wild forevermore.”

“The honourable Izaakian empress was rattled, so was the Besernian minister of transport, my Nuwang.” Answered Captain Ko.

“I suspect I’ve given their cards away…” The Peony responded, “Sad, the Besernians seem to forget who gave them the dossier before, using them as tools of their gains. I suspect as much… The Izaakians, Besernians, and the rest, they preach of the sanctity of life and sacrifice for the good in finding the truth, yet they find it acceptable in sabotaging foreign vessels and destroying telecommunications in several nations…Pity.”

The Peony was silent, the reactions solidified one thing. Regardless of their purposes, the other expeditions could not be trusted.

“Honorable investigator. What’s troubling you?” The Peony asked.

“…The World Aircraft Safety Organization under the South Pacific had always preached for unity, we can trust investigators and expeditions in aiding each other. A professional front in helping recover and solve downed aircraft, and it has been trustworthy… Now? I am not exactly sure what to believe, although I see that without the other expeditions, we could never have been closer to finding the aircraft.”

“…Admiral Lee, your thoughts?”

“Since we have maintained a helpful front, we must continue to do so, my Nuwang. We can definitely try to see an opportunity in having them so brutish, and the moment they got something of interest, we could ride the waves of their success.” Said the Admiral, then looking at the two captains, “the Peonic navy will see to it that they will continue being on their tracks, whilst doing our own searches.”

The Peony nodded.

“That is wise.”

Admiral Lee took out an envelope from his pocket, and gave it to captain Ko.

“Captain Denning Ko of the Peonic Salvation Corps, I hereby promote you to first commander of the Peonic HIA 402 expedition. You are to see this through, and make sure that no foolish judgements would occur that may jeopardize this expedition.” he said, and he looked back at The Peony, “with your blessing, my Nuwang, I shall ask the Peonic Royal Navy to provide a corvette and a submarine to help assist in any case of… violence.”

The Peony nodded in understanding. At that point, they arrived in the airport and the rain was still going about, the motorcade made its way to a hangar, where the imperial jet and the helicopter is located. The Peony had nodded in understanding, and gave a deep bow to the three. Something that surprised everyone in the car.

“Please, I ask you. Find the missing plane, and solve this puzzle. I am in your debt if you find this vessel and give peace to the families that are affected by this tragedy…”

The Peony then got her head up, looking rather melancholic, before going out of the car, and walking to the plane.

Over the Trans Pacifican Seas

As the typhoon begins to end, a plane had taken off and into the harsh weather. The modified CKJ Swallow experienced harsh turbulence as it tries to fly south, the plane designated as the 3rd VIP transporter for The Peony and the Royal Family. Codenamed the Hummingbird, the plane was under the airforce’s tags but mostly paid by the Peonic Royal Family as a “Charter plane”. Fitting only a room for the Peonic Royal Family, quarters for attendants and guardians. Although completely allowed to use the Royal Plane for her travels, The Peony herself prefers to take commercial coach/business, as it is cheaper to get a commercial flight ticket than to charter the Hummingbird. She does like the Hummingbird however, as much as other modes of transportation, and tries to use it when the time needed it.

As the violent turbulence ends, the pilot announced the seatbelt sign off. A showerhead unleashes a flow of water, warm but not too warm. Just right. The water trickled over the hair as it filled the room with the sound of raindrop, dripping shower water to the floor under light plane turbulence. The Peony took a bar of soap and slathered it all over her body getting all nook and cranny, her hands placed the soap back, and her mix of hair rejuvenator she caressed her hair with the care it needed. She was tired from everything that happened today, and realized that she has more things to do tomorrow as the year goes to a close, she sighs as the water drips, and decided to stay longer under the shower, matching the body temperature with the shower water.

Turning it off, she took a fluffy towel from the side, and dried herself up. The shower door was still steaming, and upon getting out, she took a white bathrobe and wore it over her body. She saw her mirror, and wiped off the steam to unveil her reflection. She’s 32 already, couldn’t believe that she was already that old and so long in power. It’s improper for her to detest her position after ruling quite a while, her name is slowly forgotten as her titles carry her family name instead. Come to realize, no one knew The Peony’s real name, generations of monarchs and only known as “Yan”.

The toothbrush sat at her gaze as she took it, and with a toothpaste, started to clean her teeth moderately. She makes an effort to brush every morning and every night, and become mindful on her eating habits prior and after brushing. She’s brought up by a strict household afterall, one that provides her with everything she could want and need, in exchange of selling her soul to the masses. A predetermined path that the royal family must take to the people of Huawan, a destiny she tried to fight, and lost.

It is not uncommon for her to be so mindful, being brought up with ADHD and Schizotypal Personality Disorders in her teen years, she tends to hate thinking so much when being alone, and that by only being so busy, she could instead do her present instead of thinking of it. It does take a toll on her body sometimes though, sores in areas, migraine episodes, itches on her ankles, and periods that seem a whole lot worse now than before.

Spitting, and washing her mouth from the minty paste. She placed her hands on the sink and looked at herself again. Before getting out of the restroom and back to her seat. She didn’t feel the need to change back to something more proper, at least not until an hour before landing to Huawan. She crossed her legs upon sitting down, and took her glasses. Her notebook, reviewing the aftermaths of the HIA meeting, and the things needed preparation for the upcoming year. She wrote in her journal when a knock came in to earshot. She then spoke, in clear mandarin.

“Yes?” asked The Peony

“It’s Rin my Nuwang, may I come in?”


Rin entered the room to The Peony. Wearing her suit, she saw The Peony reading and writing in her journal. She dropped down on her knees at the floor, to level her gaze as custom.

“We should be arriving four hours to Royal Capital Lian, my Peony. Is there anything you’d need the guardians to do, or for me to say?” Asked Rin.

“Tell them to rest Rin, it has been a long day for them.” Said The Peony, without averting her gaze.
“It is my humble opinion as your guardian that you too, should rest for the night, my Peony.”

The Peony continues to write on her journal on the things needed to be done later.

“I don’t think I could now, Rin. These are the responsibilities of the Nuwang of Huawan.”

Rin looked at her sister that’s too engrossed in her work, too focused like before.

“Would you oblige me permission to speak and act without a title?”


“Thank you.” Rin stood, and walked to the opposite seat. “Could you explain to me, meimei, the thought process that led you to do what you did yesterday?”

“I must say that the thought of death in our own led expedition shook me deeply. You know what my thought process are.”

“And what of the risks that you decided to take. are they also wise in your book?”

“Not the slightest, but necessary, I believe.”

“Your death, for the lives of foreign soldiers?”

“They would not dare to kill me.”

“And what if they did, meimei? Do you not fear the barrel of the gun?”

The Peony stopped writing on her journal, and placed her pen down.

“Do not try to lecture me, Rin jiejie, the office of power is never immortal from acts of assassination, ever since I was born. Intermingling with the public is always a risk I must regrettably accept, a trust may be strong but nothing is unbreakable. If I were to die that day then so be it.”

“Is your life truly that worthless to you?”

“I am simply stating the facts, Rin jiejie, I do not long for death, but it is unavoidable, I have seen death to those we give our most, and life to those from utter chance. Death to those loved, and life to those abhored. I am a physician, and we shall give our all, equally, to the best of our knowledge.”

“Come now, are you trying to be a symbol of martyrdom meimei? From helping a handful of people that’s not even your own countrymen? For a perfumed letter by a head of state? Is this a tactic of yours to gain support?”

“I wouldn’t call it tactic, jiejie, that would be to mistake lethargy to strategy.”

“And your strategy for your lethargy of the current world would be to risk yourself death by getting off the transport plane with an Anserisan pistol as you faced with the Besernians and the Izaakians.”

"闭嘴!“ The Peony shouted, “how could you say it so.”


It stung her left cheek, the nerves signalled the blood to travel to the area and reddened. The pain receptors jolted as contact was received, it was strong.

“How dare you.” Said Rin, as she teared up “how dare you think that your life is that worthless… I don’t have a family to begin with, and I was happy mother took me in. I’ve lost my brother and my sister. I CANT LOSE YOU TOO!”

The Peony sat watching Rin, trying to compose herself

“I walked back and forth with my mind panicking on where you are and what became of you. I was the High Princess and the high guardian, your own security detail. Had they put a bullet through your body I’ll make sure that their bodies grinded to dust till there was no trace of their existence.” Said Rin, “you are not like Finix Fi’Shi nor Yena Yamera-Hyudo. You are far more than a snotty brat who couldn’t even calm the mind of her people, or a head of state that believed that she knew better than disaster relief staff at evacuating people. You know death but have never administered it yourself.”

“You are no martyr, martyrs are symbols of the past that the present looks up to. In death they remain a symbol of an idea, but they remain just that, a symbol. You are still in the present, integral to the future, instead of being a symbol, you are in full control of the path to make those ideas to a reality. By dying, you have betrayed your own capabilities to acting on those ideas, your role to secure the nation is much more important than the lives of those soldiers. When can you understand that?” Said Rin, she looked at The Peony again.

“If you were to die that day, meimei. I have failed my duties to protect you as your guardian, I have nothing but sorrow and sadness as your royal High Princess, I shall mourn you as a statesman, and I shall cry for you as your older sister. You are all I have left, meimei, please.”

The Peony looked at Rin, sobbing. Rin was never this… truthful after a long while. The Peony did nothing but hugged her sister tight, and reciprocated her tears as with a sister would.

The Peony stayed silent however, she wanted to tell Rin and assure her that everything is alright, that everyone shall live and can be a happy family once more. But The Peony knew better to expect it or to promise such a rosy picture. Rin was right, she has to live to make the ideas a reality, but no one is above failure, let alone death. So she just hugged her elder sister for her comfort in the matter, whilst trying to console herself as well. The sun rose afterwards, but nothing was expected to be any brighter.

Chapter 6: Milk Tea

Lotus University, Lian, 23rd of December, 2020

The sun was still shining despite it being over 5PM, the birds were singing and the wind was gushing. Although it may be December, it was summer for The Peocracy of Huawan. As such the lights lasted longer than usual, much to the chagrin of those who retire early, and the satisfaction for those who preferred to stay up.

In Lotus University, however, a lot of the research groups have been called off for the holidays, except for some dedicated members. The Peony herself had stayed over in the lab after she arrived back from the HIA expedition, as there were cells she needed to excite under the confocal microscope. It was a moment of truth, recording these cells before sending them off to the imaging specialist for further enhancement of the pixels. She needed the results for the sake of her PhD and Professorate, something that was continuously denied from her due to administration and those oldbags in the Faculty of Medicine.

She was still shaken up with her conversation with Rin, but she told herself to not think about the thoughts until the time she arrived back home. The Peony was also told that her older sister, the Sapphire Paladin, Shizuka Rowena, is going to spend the new years in Huawan, along with her husband and her young son. The Peony had been acquainted with her nephew ever since the Spring Festival Ball 2 years ago, and she’s deeply fond of him. She can’t wait to see him again.

“God I feel old.” she pondered. When she finished packing up her stuff and moving out of the lab, Rin entered her older sister’s office, suit and tie, stern and disciplined as ever.

“Shall I prepare your escort for you, my Nuwang?” asked Rin.
“…Let’s take the tram back home, it’s such a nice sunny day.” Responded The Peony as she strapped her bag on her shoulder, one strap.
“As you wish, my Nuwang.” said Rin, as she exited out to inform her guardians

The Peony wore her mask and walked off her office, en route to the exit of the facility building. She noticed the sun and the wind, dancing around her as if to ask her out to play. The Peony was too tired to think anything else, let alone to play with the wind.

She saw Rin waiting for her, after dismissing the other security detail. She walked with Rin towards the university tram station, and upon their arrival, waited for the tram to arrive. Rin was cordial, but The Peony knew her milk sister enough to know that there was something weighing on her mind.

“Are we still angry at each other on what happened yesterday morning?” Asked The Peony, while she was reorganizing her bag.

“I don’t think I’ve resolved it right now, my Nuwang.” said Rin, her hands behind her back “Although, there is something else on my mind.”

“I’m glad that we’re at least getting somewhere,” said The Peony dryly, “what is it?”

“…I know that you do not celebrate the holidays with people out of our family, my Peony, last new years are basically a sleepover with just me, you, Diao Chan and Ambassador Cherche. Now we’re grateful in having Da Jie Shizuka and her family with us.” Answered Rin.

“Refreshing isn’t it? I’ve heard that she just published her MV in audit wrapped. It’s pretty popular on Stream and MeTube. I can’t wait to see our nephew again, just the feeling of seeing him makes me flutter.” Said The Peony, smiling

“He does share your interest in trains, Yan. Much like our grandmother.” answered Rin, “it’s a shame that you can’t buy him a proper train set yet, he’s still too young.”

“Call me meimei.” Said The Peony, “he’s completely fine with seeing my diorama, and once he’s 5, I’ll buy him his first set. Do you have that nagging feeling that you’d just like to pamper your nephew and give him the best things?”

“Surely meimei, I’d be his favorite aunt.” Chuckled Rin, “our nephew is Austral, the son of a martial artist family, and I’m just saying that as a martial artist, he’ll definitely appreciate my tutelage and my old wushu sword.”

“I’ll gladly take that into a challenge, Rin.” Remarked The Peony, as the tram arrived at the terminal. The Peony came inside and tapped her card, before moving to sit down. Rin stood up instead, preferring to hold the straps as the tram moved along. The both of them continued.

“Have you got your metro card?” Asked The Peony.

“I used cash.” Said Rin.

The Peony sighed, “I’ll get you a card soon.”

“I assure you meimei, the only time I’ve used the public transport is when you’d like to.” said Rin, “which I hope you’ll try to not do often.”

“I comprehend the implications, Rin. It’s nice to remember a simpler time though, something I can never have anymore.”

“Promise me you’ll not make this too much of a habit.” Warned Rin, brushing off The Peony’s points.

“I’ll try to keep it in mind.” nodded The Peony.

Rin then looked around to check up on the security, and immediately looked back at The Peony, clutching her bag on her lap as she looked outside, thoughtful. Rin remembered that she forgot to ask The Peony.

“Well, meimei, I was wondering.” Rin said, meekly. “If I was to invite someone for the holiday dinner today.”

“Who do you have in mind, Rin?” Asked The Peony.

“Well, its–”

Before Rin was able to answer, the tram had just stopped into the faculty of arts and culture shuttle halt. As the driver opened the door, some people got on the tram. One of which, is a man, both Rin and The Peony knew full too well. How could they not? he’s been a frequent guest in The Peonic manor. The two didn’t notice him however, and the man made it clear a mission that he wanted to surprise someone.

He walked towards Rin, as such with people shuffling into the tram, he wanted to pay her back for something she did a long time ago, and hope she wouldn’t take it the wrong way. He reached out his hand to Rin’s shoulder, trying to embrace her and kiss her.

Rin was of course, was on duty, so the time she felt a hand, she twisted it and tied him back. Which was surprising some of the tram’s passengers. Apparently, Rin did take it the wrong way. It took her a bit to wake up from her instincts and realized what had happened.

“Rin, Rin! it’s me!” said the man. Which, after Rin took off his hand, him spun around to see her boyfriend. Rin was worried if The Peony saw anything, and he was trying to stop him.

Weirdly, he was braver that day to embrace her, a sudden feeling of moxie enveloped him to do this. It was then he registered that Rin’s little milk sister, a woman wearing a mask, saw him embracing Rin. The Peony saw everything.


Aran Koigataki had seen many things, he had thought of staying in The Peocracy for 2 years, but realized that the number of things in this country could not be easily drafted in 2 years. He asked for more, to a point that he made a special class on Frost culture and Frost language in the Lotus University Faculty of Arts and Culture. At this point, his visit became more of a study rather than a diplomatic visit. He always joked with his friends in the anthropology department that if he’s here longer, the emperor might ask him to be the Frost Ambassador to Huawan instead.

Actually, there was another reason why he stayed a bit longer, a reason why he started being frequent in The Peonic Manor. There’s better milk tea in the cafe near the river, and he’s not exactly the number 1 fan of The Peony’s tea library, he found the taste quite complex. Someone that he didn’t expect of noticing, considering her occupation. The person urged him to stay a bit longer.

He was wondering about how to impress this person, he found Peonic women very difficult to understand. They don’t really react well to the common Frost lingo, let alone him being so reserved.

So after his class, he had a late lunch with his friend in the anthropology department. A specialist in Northern Huawan Anthropology, and a professor in austral academic writing. He confided in him of his girlfriend, one that his friend already met.

“Peonic women are more reserved, and you’ve already made a good impression. That is enough, but you need to show them that you’d like to be serious.” he said, “Weirdly, something brave and blunt is something they like, respectable of course. Maybe hug her and try to kiss her, so she’ll know. A little bit of moxie.”

“Moxie” Aran thought, a word that he rarely hears. He’s going to try, maybe it’ll go well.

The Peony’s Manor, Lian, 3rd of March, 2019

It’s a couple of months before the 2019 Female Football World Championships in Huawan, and The Peony was hosting a couple of guests in her manor. She wanted a bit of time for some tea after finished discussing with the championship organizers through video conference. She had invited a couple of her friends for teatime, one of which, is Aran Koigataki. He was an infrequent visitor in the Peonic manor, and The Peony does enjoy his work to understand further anthropological and cultural relations between Huawan and the Frost Empire. The Peony has a special agenda to ensure Sino-Asianic countries are close, and that includes the Frost Empire.

They had discussed it quite a long, about many things, which in The Peony’s words, many interesting yet un-noteworthy things. But when the discussion became noteworthy, came a call for her to the hospital for an emergency procedure. It was not uncommon, but what made it unique that day was that two of the four attendants that day were also doctors in the same ward, all of which, had the page.

As The Peony and her fellows took their coats and rushed out to the hospital, Aran sat there She took her white coat and rushed out, leaving attendees of the teatime to be left inside. Aran had thought that although it’d be best for him to leave as well, one of the other guests is still sitting there drinking her tea, leaving her behind is something that you don’t normally do.

Aran kept on thinking about this person, and he remarked that the mysterious woman barely said a peep at tea time. This woman wore long length hijab while wearing a golden long-sleeved cheongsam. He was wondering what to ask this woman, just because she looked tremendously familiar to someone.

“Have you ever went to hike in the Xiongwei mountains?” Aran asked.

“I certainly have, quite a lot of times actually.” the woman answered, “have you, honorable prince Koigataki?”

“Aran would suffice, please.” Pardoned Aran, as he raised his hand to dismiss her formality, “I’ve never hiked in the Xiongwei mountains, let alone to the peak. It seemed interesting, we don’t have mountains as tall as Huawan back in the Frost Empire.”

“The mountains are immensely large, I think there are over 200 routes of varying difficulties. Each going to different hills, peaks or locations” The woman said, “the one path I like is the one our older sister used to take, a forest route laid with river rocks across hills and a stream. It’s known as the ‘Samurai path’ an old path for the Daoist samurais back in the SongHwa empire.”

“The SongHwa empire? You don’t mean the Sino empire 14 centuries ago in Huawan?” Asked Aran, interested, “that would mean you’ve trekked in a path that’s almost one and a half millennium ago.”

“Yes, you are absolutely correct. There are two variations of the path, one from the Daoist Samurais of the SongHwa empire, the other by the first Peony of Huawan, Honorable Nuwang Mangling Mangsten.” Told the woman, “the difference, if I recall, lies in the fact that Nuwang Mangsten’s path crosses the Sacred Forests, while the path of the Daoist samurai next to the stream and old relics.”

“It’s absolutely fascinating, I wonder if there are anything of interest for my research. I always find it interesting that while Huawan has strong Sino-Asiatic roots, it does share a lot of Nihon roots similar to the Frost Empire.” Said Aran, “with the samurai, the shogunate, manga, kimono. It’s incredible.”

“Hahaha, I find it interesting that we have various different cultures and roots in Huawan, its tribes and kingdoms are absolutely different, and you have a feeling that the more you study about it, the more you can go deeper and find such an immense part of history.” Said the woman, sipping another cup, until realizing the pot is empty. “I think I’m going to get a bit more tea, if you’d like to continue, Aran.”

“Please! I’m always ready to discuss culture and anthropology.” Said Aran, not realizing that he’s in a stranger’s home with another stranger who let herself into The Peony’s kitchen for another pot of tea. It came to his attention when the woman came back with a tray, with a pot of frothing tea in an aluminum teapot.

Wait, an aluminum teapot? In The Peony’s manor? The Peony may be humble but she wouldn’t serve her guests’ tea from an aluminum teapot. After setting the tray down, the woman then poured an untransparent liquid into Aran’s cup.

“I’m sorry to be brazen and assume you’d take your tea with milk. I do, quite often, and so I served you some pulled aromatic tea.” Said the woman, “I hope you’ll enjoy it, it’s something I picked up after coming to Anzhou.”

Aran watched the milk tea in his small porcelain cup, milk tea in a small peonic porcelain cup is like eating sushi with ketchup. It’s not something common to have milk for high tea in Huawan, since the tea itself is too delicate to be ruined by milk. Well, it was a recipe from Anzhou.

He felt the cup, it was cold. So not only it’s as taboo as eating sushi with ketchup, it’s even as worse as grilling the sushi beforehand. Aran felt like he was tested to betray a sacred Peonic custom, and was contemplating whether or not the woman before him was actually Peonic at all. His instincts, however, were interested in tasting the tea, he’s got a sweet tooth, and milk tea is something he can’t refuse.

He took his cup after she poured herself one. He raises it at her, “Ganbei.” he said, the cheer before a drink.

“Ganbei” she responded, before both of them drunk the tea. Aran tasted it, and realized such a complex milky flavor, a sinfully sweet tea with strong spices. Hints of star anise, ginger, palm sugar, honey with smoked tea melding together with milk. It was something he tasted before, and it was too strong compared to his cafe recommendation. On that day, on that time, that tea was exactly what he needed that day.

“…Ah.” Aran remarked.

“Don’t you like it?” She asked.

“No, I do, absolutely.” Said Aran, “I absolutely love this taste. It’s a good break from bitter tea most of the time”

“I am glad.” She remarked, before sipping once more, and wiping her mouth with a tissue. “Thank you Aran, I absolutely do enjoy your company this afternoon.”

“…I’m absolutely sorry, but I didn’t catch your name.” Admitted Aran, embarrassed.

“Don’t worry, I don’t believe I’ve said it as well.” Said the woman, chuckling, before offering her hand “I am Rin, Rin Fayya Kagamine.”

“Aran Koigataki” Aran said, accepting her hand while trying to remember where he’s heard that name before. “Likewise, if I may be so prude, may I look forward to seeing you again in the future?”

Rin then looked at Aran, gave a gaze trying to process this. Before giving her response.

“Unfortunately, my duties do not allow me to be available in this short amount of time. My responsibilities are numerous,” apologized Rin, but she quickly responded after seeing Aran. “but, I’ll be available once more here two weeks later on the weekend.”

“Here? You mean… here?” Asked Aran, confused.

“You’re not the only frequent visitor of The Peony’s manor.” said Rin, as she winked, silently finishing her milk tea.

Chapter 7: Baguadao

The Peony’s Manor, Lian, 17th of March, 2019

Red: Mandarin
Blue: Japanese

It was always an interesting trip to the Peony’s manor, Aran Koigataki knew that the location of the manor is within old manor complexes and ancient buildings, dating back as early as the LiuSong dynasty, 7 centuries before the Peocracy of Huawan. He once walked with The Peony at their “date” on that… interesting day. He wanted to walk with her to the tram station, but ended up staying way longer than expected when he was continuously interested with the facts of ancient Peonic architecture. The Peony did try to explain as best she could and she was glad that someone had taken an interest in Peonic culture, that day, him in his suit while her wearing her white tea-colored top, dark blue scarf, and glasses.

“Lian was never a capital city unlike WeiSheng, XinXian and XinYue. They didn’t have dedicated ‘wealthy districts’ until the Huawang Dynasty, when Lian became the de-facto capital. My manor used to be owned by a renowned physician back in the 16th century, and the surrounding areas were alms houses and clinics for the poor, it’s said that at the time of the war, soldiers and medics were trained here while the peasant soldiers were cared for in the vast courtyards. That is why the area isn’t exactly all that fancy and neat compared to the old mansions in XinXian, let alone the royal palace. I just feel there’s something about this neighborhood that really clicked with me, and I also paid for this place myself before I became The Peony, I still do.”

Aran continues to walk past The Peony’s neighbors, a mix of residents and shops through the alleyway. He saw kids playing in the street, and old men playing pai sho or chess, while some people prepared to erect a food stall for lunch. He knew that some of the residents were actually royal guardians or spies, tasked to ensure the path remained secure and safe. The Peony’s manor was hidden away behind this maze of houses, with an “official” entry for dignitaries and guests was through the underground parking lot or the main driveway. The path he took was going to be through The Peony’s small clinic, one she told him to pass through after Aran told The Peony that he’d like to view an artifact in her home.

At this point, Aran wondered why he started his date by being such a nerd, maybe that’s one of the reasons why he got rejected on the date with The Peony. He knew his cousins and siblings back home are teasing him about it, telling that he was awkward and nerdy, they still do. It’s not like she hated him for it, as his cousin, Crown Princess Remilia said “The woman still invites you to her place for tea and cookies, she wouldn’t if she didn’t want you as a friend.” Well, at least now he could be more honest with who he was with her.

As he walked into the small and tiny clinic, he greeted the nurse manning the reception as he saw a couple of patients waiting for their turn for care. He saw The Peony on his left, preparing some tools with her physician assistant, while a man with a bandage on his head was sitting down.

“My Nuwang.” bowed Aran.

“Ah Aran!” The Peony said as she was washing her hands. “I apologize that I couldn’t accompany you at this moment to take a look at my father’s collection. I still have some patients to attend to, but I’ve instructed someone to be with you.”

“It is more than enough for you to do this, my Peony.” said Aran, seeing that The Peony might be taking off a patient’s stitches.

“Excellent, I’ll try to join you for lunch after I finish. Please, make yourself comfortable.” said The Peony, while she takes the patient’s chart from her assistant. Aran was then led by another nurse to pass through The Peony’s own office, leading him to a door unto the courtyard of the manor. The nurse then bowed to return, leaving Aran to walk the path towards the main room.

The stone bridge path winds along to the courtyard as he walks on it along the pond. He walked through it as he admired the scene. Aran wonders whether or not the people that passed through this bridge ever admired the pond and garden as much as him, the pond didn’t seem like something that was made recently, maybe it lasted and cared for centuries. Yet for the creatures of the pond, life just passes by without care of time or who owned the manor, a fact that he deems noteworthy on creatures that are anthropologically irrelevant. He wasn’t in a rush as he walked.

Passing through the trees and the bridge, he managed to be in the courtyard, which was surrounded by the main hall, stone walls with bright red frames for doors and windows, engraved by a master craftsman. He saw the view that he sees every time he sits at the dining table for teatime. A patch of grass surrounded with colorful common flowers, fenced by short bamboo fencing that overlooked the pond and the other buildings that circulate it. The view was usually empty every time he visited, it was calming and zen-like. Only today, he saw a person practicing in the courtyard.

A woman in white wushu robes and pink embroidery, with pink soft shoes and a matching sword. She swung her sword while elegantly moving about every wushu form. Aran remembered that WuShu literally meant “war art” and a martial art form in Huawan to “please” dignitaries and higher-ups. Older monarchs in old dynasties seldom wish to go to war by themselves, and they find masters of WuShu able to tell the story of war just by their movements. Aran then remembered the time he trained Aikido back in Oured, something his parents got him to do, and one he continued after his service. It certainly fended off his bullies when they teased him for being so reserved as a kid.

Aran continued to observe her set, elegantly swinging the sword as if the sword was an extension of her body. Her flexible body made her movements efficient and quick, yet strong and accurate. “Fly like a butterfly, and sting like a bee”, but there was a sense of realism to her movements, a feeling of combat and precision. Channeling her body to strike with every stroke, she was focused, she was entranced, she was lovely.

After she finished her set, she sheathed her sword back and rested it on the floor. She gave a stretch, before sitting down. She took out a scroll from her side, and began reading it. The woman reviewed the wushu sets and forms. Aran gave a smile and a sigh, before entering himself to the vicinity, of which he bowed a bit to the woman to greet her.

“Good morning, Rin.” He greeted.
“Good morning, Aran.” she greeted back, standing and bowing. “I don’t understand why I told you morning when it’s clearly noon.”

Aran understood it completely, he hated that he had to greet her at noon, austral salutations were always more complicated at noon. Usually, he would approve, but the schedule called for noon and he hate noon appointments. If it’s before 12:01. no way that he could use afternoon yet. If the person was early enough, he could still use morning. Alas he got there just as the clocks knocked the hour, which would be acceptable to use good morning.

“Are you surprised to see me?” Asked Aran, playfully.

“I can’t say I am, although I did notice that I was being watched.” said Rin, “however it is not proper for me to end my set without finishing it.”

“I absolutely understand,” said Aran, “I’m sure The Peony would like a show today?”

“Doctor Yan rarely wants me to put on a show for her or for guests,” Said Rin, dryly, “as much as I could and as much as I have, I did not practice Wushu for the show.”

Aran was taken aback that Rin referred to The Peony as such, which was an uncommon way to address the Nuwang, yet he continued.

“Is it not for show, however? Its popularity did come as an art form,” asked Aran.

“Its roots, as with other martial arts, comes in the name, martial.” Explained Rin, “Unfortunately, Wushu has nowadays become too commercialized, losing many of its original values, and potentially threatening old styles of teaching. As such there’s a clear contrast between formwork and combat application, I try to harmonize the two as much as I can. The original fundamentals shouldn’t be forgotten.”

“I see.” said Aran, “you’re a crusader.”

Rin smirked, looking at her sword. “I guess I am…”

Rin then took her sword, and unsheathed it. Showing one of her many collections of weapons.

“This is what we call the baguadao, or the bagua style sword. In wushu, the sword is known as the “gentleman of all weapons.” As such the straight sword is a single-handed weapon, and the free hand is held in a “sword fingers” position: thumb and outer two fingers curved to meet each other and inner two fingers extended together.” Demonstrated Rin, “The sword has a thin, straight blade with two sharp edges and a centerline ridge that supports the blade, and the tip of the blade extends to the ear when the sword is held at the side. A woven tassel is sometimes attached to the pommel of the sword for counterbalance.”

Rin raised her sword and did a slicing form to the right with agility. “Due to its light construction, the straight sword cannot be used to deliver raw power; sword players must instead rely on technique and finesse.” said Rin, “a wushu saying states that ‘Sword-play resembles a flying phoenix,’ meaning that the practitioner must be quick but controlled, choosing the time and place of every attack, like a phoenix which darts in to strike at openings and slips gracefully away when threatened.”

Aran listened intently as he saw her hold the sword, he thought that the woman before him was a living relic, a transcendence of centuries of teaching and lessons.

“I see, we have a similar thing in aikido as well.” said Aran, “when my sensei instructs me for Kata drills with the katana. Unlike kendo, which was seen as a predominantly sword fighting sport, aikido uses the sword to illustrate self-defense techniques and situations. This involves two students where one is the attacker and the other being the defender. Combat application, I believe, was the word you used.”

“Would you be interested in a light spar, Aran?” Rin asked, while she sheathed her sword back “I mean, you’re wearing jeans and a shirt instead of your uniform, but that shouldn’t be too restricting for you.”

“A handicap, if that amuses you.” joked Aran, “I’m not exactly good, perhaps you can teach me a thing or two.”

“I doubt it, please wait, I will bring my katana for you.” Rin said, as she bowed to go back inside with her sword. It took her a couple of minutes to return with two swords. A katana, and a Longquan, a thicker type of wushu sword. Aran continues to wonder how Rin managed go in and out and navigate around The Peony’s manor like its her own home.

“Rin, I try to recall from the day we’ve met, it dawned on me that you’re one of The Peony’s guardians.” Remarked Aran, as he took off his shirt and folded it, showing only a navy blue t-shirt underneath. “Yet I have to inquire, would The Peony be alright with you shuffling around her manor and taking her things?” asked Aran while he stretched.

“I assure you Aran, she’s perfectly fine with me taking my own stuff in her manor. Besides, it’s my break.” said Rin, smiling, after giving the katana to Aran, “are you finished with your warm-up?”

“I am.” said Aran, as he finished stretching. He unsheathed his blade and admired the katana. It wasn’t like the ones he had back at home, but the blade is of superior quality as well. “Are you ready?”

“Ready.” Said Rin, before unsheathing her own blade and entering a stance “Let’s dance.”

Lian, 23rd of December, 2020

“I still remember how that day went.” Said The Peony as she walked with Rin in tow. “I finished with a gastritis patient and made my way to the main hall, I didn’t hear clanging, I heard screaming from you. There was a grasshopper on your head and you’re shouting at Aran to get it off you.”

Rin continued to blush and walked silently while closing her face, for once the role between guardian and escortee became switched, how embarrassing that she see what had happened. Aran was too brazen to do that infront of The Peony, Rin’s own milk sister, and The Peony was understandably surprised, although she just nodded and greeted the weirdness infront of her. She was relishing the fact that came up to her as of this moment.

“And when he tried to take it off your head, you continued to squirm making it very difficult for him to get it off you. I remembered trying so hard to hold myself from laughing, which I promised not to do for your entomophobia, but it was extremely comical.” said The Peony, continuing to tease Rin.

Rin just walked silently, she felt like she wanted to dissapear from this world and crawl into a hole out of sheer embarassment. The Peony had put two and two together and invited Aran to the holiday celebration tomorrow. Knowing that this is what Rin was asking for, Aran accepted the invitation, but he and Rin stood there together blushing, like two naughty schoolchildren caught making out by the teacher. To save Rin, The Peony decided to exit the tram two stops earlier to walk with her milk sister.

“Did…did you see anything else?” Asked Rin, still closing her face with her hands.

“Was there something I wasn’t supposed to see?” Asked The Peony, curious, “after I saw the entire thing, I tried to walk away to laugh. It was an incredibly funny scene.”

“Oh… For god’s sake.” Said Rin, still hoping the entire day would just end.

The Peony’s Manor, Lian, 17th of March, 2019

Aran did try to get the grasshopper out of Rin’s panicked state, but the both of them ended up tripping while the grasshopper escaped from the both of them falling. Aran tripped on top of Rin, who was still hyperventilating from her phobia. When Aran registered what was going on, he realized that this is a very “nono” position, and tried to get out. It was then that Rin grappled his shirt collar and pressed her face on his chest. Aran can feel Rin’s breathing down his chest, of fear, of distraught from encountering bugs.

“Please, please don’t go.” said Rin, Aran didn’t know what she said because of her dialect different than his own japanese, but he understood it all the same. He took his arm and rested it below Rin’s head, it was a massive fall that certainly surprised her, and her head might be throbbing from the pain. Rin took this as a sign to take her arms around Aran’s neck, trying to keep him close.

“shhhh, it’s fine… it’s fine… I’m here.” Aran said, trying to comfort Rin. He never done this before, not to such a stranger, he was always restrained in these things, he was always objective when it comes to dating and relationships, that there was a line he shouldn’t pass unless he knew the person was ok with, which came up far rarer than one might think. Aran always thought that not a lot of people could be this intimate with him. But on that day, something in his mind clicked, he’s never held a woman so close before, at least with this intention. Come to think of it, he’s never felt like a boyfriend before, a partner that someone could rely on as such. He held her tight, and she held him, unwilling to let go.

As Rin slowed down her breathing, she let go of Aran. Immediately after realizing what happened, her mind became even more clouded with embarrassment, she decided to slap him on the right side of his cheek and push him away. When she realized that she just slapped him, she frantically apologized to him for being such a klutz, especially in the middle of a match she started, that she didn’t know what she was doing to him while touching the side side of his cheek she slapped. Within a quick moment, she took her swords and left in a huff, red faced and extremely embarassed. Aran just watched her stomp back to the main hall, feeling his throbbing cheek that’s radiating with pain. The woman had got a lot of power in her, and it’s the first time he was slapped by one, “and what a woman.” he thought to himself.

The Peony saw it all, she hid behind the main hall building, a place Aran took to peek at Rin. She can’t help herself chuckling, and decided to let it all out by walking back to the stone bridges and laughing. There’s so many things that she could do to tease Rin, and she had many things on her mind. She ended the laughs with a small smile, her chest was heavy and her mind was weighty.

“My Peony,” she was called. She looked to her left, it was Sebastien Lister, The Peony’s Trassunnerian guardian, and the only foreigner from her band of Royal guardians. He donned a standard-issue suit, and holstered a gun. “I was supposed to replace royal agent Safa’a to guide Prince Koigataki to your father’s collection?”

The Peony was looked at Mr. Lister, trying to process what the hell happened and who the hell is the person infront of him. When her mind was back on track and her composure with her, she looked at Sebastien Lister, who was looking confused on what on earth has happened to his employer.

“Yes, Prince Koigataki is in the courtyard. See to it that he got a good look at the artifacts.” said The Peony. “Oh, and tell the matrons to prepare for lunch.”

“Yes, my Nuwang.” Bowed Sebastien, as he made his way to the courtyard. Leaving The Peony to sit on the railings of the stone bridge, wondering about the pond, its inhabitants, and the stillness of it all.

The Peony’s Manor, Lian, 17th of March, 2019

It was close to lunch, and the matrons were busy preparing the dishes in the kitchen. Sauteed vegetables and chicken on the wok while the rice was steamed with stock. The manor’s matrons continued as they cooked, it will take some time until lunch is ready to be served, but The Peony is willing to wait.

Meanwhile, at the right wing of the manor, both Aran Koigataki and Sebastien Lister are browsing around The Peony’s father’s collection of heritage items. In particular her father’s collection of indigenous Poenic cloths and textile, all that was of great interest for him and his research. Clothing and garments were a great link between understanding the mindset of the paeonisians, as different garment materials and embroidery would have cultural signifiers of identity, status, and wealth for makers, users, and observers alike. He was trying to find a link between the people of Huawan and the people of the frost empire, and the symbolism from garments might be the key to it.

Aran continued to shuffle through different types of garments while opening catalogs of garments neatly preserved like stamps. Sebastien Lister stood there austerely, though he was bored out of his mind. He was molded and smithed to become a disciplined royal guardian of The Peony of Huawan, and he had his share of fights and anything concerning his past. Rin was a tough teacher and an even harder taskmaster for the royal guardians, yet their loyalty towards the guardians and The Peony of Huawan was unwavering.

Nevertheless, even Rin’s special training can’t get him to stop being disinterested in these things. Sebastien’s type of fun time is drinking at the nearby pub while watching some wrestling or playing some paisho with the old men near the manor complex while drinking some sugarcane juice. Accompanying this foreign four-eyes bigwig looking at textile cloths is another level of boring. Luckily, Sebastien was good at poker, and he has a very good poker face.

Aran continued to look at the garments and take pictures of them for reference, he took some notes on his tablet and at times gave a sigh. He’s still wondering about the things that happened half an hour ago, the bizarre encounter with Rin, and her facets all served to him in a single half an hour. Of her austerity, of her passion, of her drive, of her fears, of her insecurities, of her anger, and of her embarrassment. When Sebastien met with Aran moments ago, Aran quickly put his collared shirt back on and came back to earth, he was still wondering whether the entire encounter with Rin was real, it seemed like something someone would sloppily write.

Aran took his glasses off and stretched a bit, before sneaking a gaze at Sebastien Lister. He wondered where he’s seen this man before, he’s certainly not a part of the usual set of members from the Royal Guardians, the man was taller with a stronger build, not to mention caucasian. Yet he wore the official royal guardian uniform, well, not the ceremonial one at least.

“Honorable guardian,” said Aran, “may I be so blunt in asking who you are, where have I seen you before, and why you look awfully familiar?”

Sebastien faced Aran, and bowed a bit.

“Permission to answer, honorable prince.” said Sebastien, “I am Sebastien Lister of The Peony’s Royal Guardians. I believe I’ve met you on the day of my employment, honorable prince.”

“Sebastien.” Aran though he’s definitely not from the Peocracy all right. He continues to speak, “and when would that day be? If I may ask.”

“It is…” Sebastien didn’t know how to answer the question respectfully without saying such a crass remark on his employer, “on the 26th of May, 2017, honorable prince.”

“Ah,” Aran said. He came to understand what Sebastien Lister meant, that interesting day. Come to think of it, what a weird turn of fate this is. Two people who were in the running to court The Peony, ended up staying for something else, whilst The Peony sees Aran as a confidant, Sebastien became an employee under the Peonic Royal Guardians. What were the chances that an event as insane as the secret courting for The Peony led the both of them here?

“So… you were…my rival, of some sorts,” claimed Aran, as he tried to smirk.

“Yes, honorable prince.” Responded Sebastien, he still remembered when it was “his turn”. The man ended up trying to look his best while eating the best noodles he ever tasted. The Peony just looked at the man in front of him, a man with a great appetite and a sense of realism. The Peony can read a lot of people, and he knew well enough the facade of “a gentlemen” he was putting on was a clear fake. Yet it was his honesty that made The Peony interested, even asking him of his actual motives, motives that ended up him becoming offered an opportunity to become a member of the Royal Guardians.

“It’s a better life now, at least.” Sebastien thought, although sometimes he couldn’t hide his little crush on The Peony of Huawan, which she herself knew and accepted as goodness whilst inferring nothing more.

Now it was awkward between the two, one that was held back by code, conduct, and boredom. While another, a man that has unaccommodating social skills, especially after the things that happened a while ago.

“So honorable guardian,” said Aran, trying to break the air, “how are you doing as a royal guardian?”

“If I may be blunt, honorable prince. The process has been a tough one, but it’s a living, being the royal security detail. I wonder what came to the Peony’s thoughts when she offered me this job, the empress told me that if I was unwilling to return back to Floodport, that I could stay, and she would give me employment.” Said Sebastien, trying so hard to remain cordial. “The empress told me if I had any skills, she knew that I wasn’t the brightest man she’s ever met, but I only have my body to offer. She certainly wasn’t going to make me a pencil pusher.”

“So she offered you a job in the royal guardians?” Asked Aran, intrigued.

“It seemed like something easier. Under The Peony, all I had to do was to keep her from harm’s way and wear a suit. A bodyguard, easy enough, much like my…previous employments.” Sebastien said, “however when I was introduced to the High Knight, the head of the Peonic Royal Guardians, I certainly didn’t expect that I’d be going to hell and there was no coming back.”

“The High Knight?” Asked Aran, knights aren’t something that Huawan would have, and it’s the first time he’s ever heard the existence of knights. “He’s the leader of the royal guardians?”

“…She, honorable prince, was one of the harshest and cruelest women I’ve ever met in my training to become the guardian. Apart from needing near-perfect fluency in mandarin and passing the intelligence exams, we were trained in many different types of combat martial arts. But nothing comes close to the signature.”

Aran listened, he had thought that the training was a standard-issue, like the ones that he saw with his family back in the Frost Empire. He was wondering about this “signature”.

Chapter 8: Rin Kagamine

FaoLing Monastery, Aweiqinna, 6th of October, 2017

The High Knight stood infront of Sebastien, a woman shorter than him with a bit more leader build. Yet she had bested him multiple times with her blades in various spars. It was a cold, it was harsh, it was nothing like he’s seen before.

“I’ve told you that I did not need to get myself a weapon,” said the High Knight, as she pointed the swords at his neck “I’ll take your blades from you once you were through with them.”

The rest of the guardians stood silently around the entire proceeding. Watching Sebastien continuously being defeated again and again by the high knight, Sebastien was much larger and stronger, but crude, The high knight was weaker, smaller but quicker and more precise.

“Your hardware is of the highest quality, mister Lister.” said the High Knight, lowering her swords, “but your software is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, it has method, but it’s crude. It’d be difficult to teach you from scratch with our usual techniques.”

“I am prepared to do anything,” said Lister. “I can’t go back, I can’t go back.”

“…Your spirit is wild, mister Lister. Your state has to be calm, free of anger, irritation, fear, self-pity, delusion, and pride.” said the High Knight, “You are is much well suited to learn the combats of your own country, the Izaakian Krav Maga or the Karnetvorian Systema, but first, you must throw away all that’s within your spirit that imbalances you so.”

“These are necessary in order for you to learn the true way of the guardians, 夭護犧.” Said The High Knight, “To protect and sacrifice for the sky, once known, your entire body will be a weapon, a weapon to protect the, the sky, to protect the Peocracy, and her Peony.”

“If taught, I will learn it.” Said Lister, bowing to the ground “I will serve The Peony of Huawan.”

The High Knight gave a nod, she knew that Sebastien Lister was a difficult person to train as a Royal Guardian. Yet she persisted, her instructors would certainly mould him to be ideal.

“Very well, we shall impart upon you the teachings of the guardians.” said the High Knight.

[b]The Peony’s Manor, Lian, 17th of March, 2019

“The High Knight of The Peonic Royal Guardians, its a position made for the leader of the royal guardians. A position was given to The Peony’s most trusted confidant.” said Sebastien, “I think the honorable high commodore Zheng He once held this position for The Peony’s grandmother, The Peony Lingxin Yan.”

“And I assume the high knight is your superior?” Asked Aran.

“In a way, she’s more to the leading guardian in every operation to protect The Peony. She’s not exactly the strongest out of all of us, but there is more to the royal guardians than strength alone.” Explained Sebastien, “it’s also interesting to note that the high knight is The Peony’s own sister.”

“Really? I didn’t know the Peony has another sister.” Aran remembered what happened in the Spring Festival Ball this year, when The Peony’s older sister has finally reconciled with her older sister. It was a scandal for an entire month in the news, one that was discussed constantly for a week after the festivals.

“Yes, well she’s not exactly the most famous royal. Unlike some of your cousins or other royal members in the region, honorable prince,” said Sebastien.

“I understand.” Aran said, “Sebastien, if I may ask. What is Miss Kagamine like?”

“Why are you inquiring about The Peony’s sister, honorable prince?” Asked Sebastien.

“…Now it makes sense,” said Aran, he tried to contain his surprise, living in The Peonic manor, able to go in and out of the kitchen. The lot. It continued to dawn upon him of the facts. “So… the honorable princess Rin Kagamine is the head of the Peonic Royal Guardians?”

“Chosen by The Peony herself and her mother, the honorable princess had her service in the Peonic Field Army as a soldier, before being promoted to the Peonic Air Service, rising to the rank of Captain First Class. She’s also the Wushu gold olympian in the country, I believe she’ll soon be a Wushu grandmaster.”

“What is she like?” Asked Aran, the thought just came to his mind, and it blurbed out right away. “personality-wise.”

Sebastien was interested in gossip, he gazed left and right to ensure no one was listening in, even though it’s a closed room and they’re the only ones there. Anything to break the boredom.

“Strict, disciplined, and austere when she’s active. She’s one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever seen dedicate themselves to something, and it shows on the field.” said Sebastien, “I’ve not known her as much, but I am satisfied in being a trusted person for her. At times with her friends, she can play around or joke around and there’s a feeling that she’s a bit more opened or relaxed than The Peony, even though she still has royal conduct to think about.”

“I see, she does strike me that way.” said Aran, nodding. “she’s a very interesting character indeed, loyal and always up for a challenge. She is such a delight to talk to if you get to know her.”

“More of a pain in the ass at times,” said Sebastien, chuckling, “as much as I adore the high knight, she is a bit abrasive and controlling. We understood that she needs to be objective especially with the task at hand, but she’s rather impatient and inconsiderate with the other guardians.”

“I suppose that years in service did cause her to be vain and judgemental with her platoon,” agreed Aran, remembering the things that he noticed in his own service back in the Frost navy. “Nevertheless I see her controlling nature is her being determined and practicality to ensure The Peony remains safe and secure. She’s very impressionable, despite being reserved and esoteric compared to the big picture.”

Knock knock

The door was knocked and brought the two men back from their locker room talk. As Sebastien tried to return his composure, Aran straightened up his posture.


The door swung open, and Rin entered with her usual composure and discipline, she walked slowly but with precision. Wearing her wushu garments under a long pink hijab and an embroidered necklace. Similar to an abbess of a Peonic daoist monastery. Looking at Rin, Sebastien knew that Rin is still inactive, yet there are some responsibilities that she is unable to shake off.

“Honorable prince Aran, I am instructed by The Peony to inform you that lunch has been served, and she asks that you join for lunch.” informed Rin as she gave a bow.

“Yes, I shall join her in a couple of minutes.” responded Aran.

Rin then gave a light sigh before facing the two again. “I also do not appreciate any conversations behind my back, honorable prince, I find it distasteful and absolutely shallow that you did so.” Said Rin, trying to keep her composure, she turned to Sebastien. “You as well, mister Lister, I look forward to see you tomorrow.”

Rin then gave a bow, before turning and walking away. Lightly slamming the door behind her. She was extremely angry, and as Sebastien gulped on the punishment he’ll receive from Rin, Aran felt that he just squandered a golden chance.

The Peony’s Manor, Lian, 17th of March, 2019

Aran Koigataki finished his notes and turned off his tablet. He was finished categorizing the collection and he’s looking forward to making the report. Correction, he’s looking forward to having his assistants make the report with him overlooking their every moves. It’s something that he needs to have, after the events of today.

The lunch with The Peony had an atmosphere so thick you can cut it with a knife, Rin was being cordial and silent as The Peony carried the conversation with Aran regarding his research. There were times that he managed to ignore Rin’s silent wrath, staring daggers at him as she stabbed the dumplings to eat. They’re, however, few and far between. Aran lost his appetite that lunch, not only from Rin’s absolute yet justified hostility but his guilt of how he got the curiosity the better of him. Nevertheless, he tried to eat the appropriate amount as a guest should, wouldn’t want to insult The Peony of Huawan in addition to her sister as well.

Sebastien Lister had less of a problematic time, yet he was annoyed why time was ticking much slower after Rin caught the two. Did the woman have the power to slow downtime? How he wishes that Rin was gracious enough to lend her power when he had exams to write or school reports overdue. He realized that Rin’s punishment will be harsh, steadfast and severe. Yet he remained austere in front of Aran, continuing to use his titular name despite the latter urging him not to. It’s the best way to ensure that the punishments don’t add up when served.

The two remained silent in that room, occasionally having one of the matrons entering with some tea for Aran to have. As the tea finished out, so did Aran’s research. It was in the afternoon, and the fall made everything a bit more breezy. He yawned, and looked at Sebastien Lister, realizing that there was an apology due.

“I’m sorry that I managed to get you in trouble, mister Lister. It’s certainly not my intention for you to do so, and I understand that there will be a lot for you to endure later on,” said Aran, looking at Sebastien Lister as he packed up his things. Sebastien bowed and smiled.

“Pay no heed of it, honourable prince. It was my fault that I was indulgent with our discussion that I broke conduct, it is improper for a Peonic guardian to do so.” said Sebastien, “I am also sorry that I responded to your curiosity, knowing that the information I said was a bit too sensitive.”

“I’ll try to say something to Rin, hopefully, she’ll be forgiving to… our situation,” said Aran, although he doubts what he just said will ever come true.

“If I may ask, honourable prince.” said Sebastien, “why are you inquiring about the high knight?”

“she…piques my interest. Mister Lister,” said Aran, truthfully, he answered the question without a pause. The answer, under normal circumstances, by his peers, would be taken as another of Aran’s curiosity for knowing the inner workings of something. However, Sebastien Lister was not a “peer”, and he took it some other way that most might take.

“…So honourable prince, you failed to court The Peony of Huawan, so now you’re trying to date her sister instead?” Asked Sebastien Lister, being blunt whilst holding a chuckle.

Aran certainly gave a thought to his response, he looked at Sebastien with a glare, and he can’t help but wonder whether to scold Sebastien or to laugh with him at the sheer weirdness of the situation. Aran stood up with his belongings and approached Sebastien.

“You’re a good man, Mister Lister.” Said Aran as he slipped his card into Sebastien’s pocket, “let me buy you sake or rice wine at your immediate availability, a sign of goodwill.”

Sebastien chuckled and slapped Aran’s arm in goodwill.

“Likewise, mister Koigataki.” said Sebastien, smiling.

As Aran went out of the room with Sebastien in tow, he saw The Peony trying to read a book near the windowsill overlooking the gardens. Hot chocolate in a mug with whipped cream, burnt marshmallow and cinnamon, with a generous amount of tissue to wipe any excess she might have on her lips. She also had a glass of water, which she took instead to clean her palette.

They both stopped a bit to gaze at The Peony, the beauty of an empress, a woman both men had the grace to become a meaning for her. Sitting down with her two legs on the chair, with orange checkered pyjamas and hair tied. The two found the entire thing serendipitous, two years ago Aran and Sebastien were “rivals” for The Peony’s heart, now the both of them are in her close vicinity, but yet farther than they’d both expect. Aran bowed to The Peony, and Sebastien soon followed with a deeper bow.

The Peony did notice the air and saw the two as she took another sip of water. She gave them a very warm smile as she closed her book.

“Hello Aran! I take it you’ve finished exploring my father’s collection?” asked The Peony with great interest.

“I believe so,” said Aran, “although would you be against it if I drop by to review these textiles once more?”

“My manor is open to her humble excellent guests, Aran.” responded The Peony, smiling. “Do let me know when you’re dropping by once more.”

“Please, your generosity in having me as your guest is flattering, my Nuwang,” said Aran, trying to be humble.

“Pay no heed.” Said The Peony, she then gazed at Sebastien, standing behind Aran. “Ah Mister Lister, I was going to summon you. I’m currently trying to read an article that had some Transsunerian scripts. Would you please help me decipher these words?”

Sebastien then took a step around his newfound friend and knelt before his empress. “I will do my best, my Nuwang.”

“Excellent,” said The Peony, as she invited Sebastien to sit down next to her. “I will have another person escort you out, Aran…Rin!”

Rin, who came out behind the screen divider, stood up and walked to The Peony. She kept a straight face while she saw the two men. She bowed to her sister, who had equally already changed to her pyjamas as the sun was setting.

“Yes, my Nuwang.” asked Rin, summoned.

“I am sorry to trouble you, especially during your break, but would you please escort Aran out?” Said The Peony, “Also, would you please get some muttabaq from the usual place?”

“The usual flavour, my Nuwang?” Asked Rin, knowing what The Peony meant from her request, it was sweet black sticky rice flavour.

“Yes. Please.” said The Peony, smiling, she gazed Aran once more, before giving a nod. “Thank you for your visit. Aran. Goodbye!”

Aran gave a bow, before meeting another bow from Rin. Rin then signalled Aran to move in front of her to lead. Of which Aran followed. Sebastien took a chair next to The Peony, not before sneaking a gaze at The Peony herself before she sat down. The Peony opened her fan as she looked at Aran and Rin, hiding a smile under it. Sebastien paid no heed, apart from silently complimenting The Peony for being such a sly fox.

The two continued to walk past the courtyard and into the stone bridge. It seems Rin wanted to go through the clinic rather than the usual entrance. Aran noticed that Rin had changed her hijab, and she wore a modest and simple dress instead of her wushu uniform. She too was going to prepare to end the day, as the sun sets ever more quickly than usual. The sounds of the pond critters began to be more soulful, and the lanterns in the bridge were already lit up.

Aran wondered what to say to the woman behind him, something to break the tension and save his skin. Should he try to apologize? Should he try to strike up another conversation? He was wondering what he should do in the situation, and asked what his siblings would do. He realized that it would be a long time until The Peony would allow him to visit again, and even so, it’s unlikely that Rin would be available. He promised, however, to try something, and so he did, he stopped, before turning and looking at Rin

“Honorable Princess Kagamine,” said Aran, trying to use Rin’s honorifics instead of her nickname, “if I may confide in you about what you saw. Please do not punish mister Lister, I was the one who asked him, and it was understandably rude for him to ignore me.”

Rin stared a bit at Aran, blankly, before closing her eyes and nodding her head down.

“Mister Lister was in no position to break his conduct and answer you regarding such matters, honorable prince.” said Rin, “he will still be punished accordingly as the guardians see fit.”

“I suppose there’s no other way to convince you otherwise, princess Kagamine?” asked Aran, curious. This led to Rin stopping to gather her thoughts, she gazed back and around. They were alone, most of the matrons were sent home and the other guardians are currently in rotation.

“…Let me get this straight. At my embarrassing and sensitive point, you decided that the best way to understand me is through asking an active royal guardian of The Peony, to gossip about The Peony’s own sister. Within the walls of The Peonic manor, inside a room filled with our father’s prized collection of traditional textiles, cloths and artefacts.” Explained Rin, visibly angry, “now you have the audacity, to ask me, the person you gossiped about so liberally, forgiveness for her own subordinate which went out of line at your own volition and hubris?”

Aran stood silent, it’s been such a long time since he’s got an angry verbal reprimand like such. Rin was shorter, though muscular, smaller. Aran himself was a prince of The Frost Empire, he is, on paper, on par with Rin. One might also argue that Rin, not being related to the Yan bloodline, is lesser of a princess than Aran is. “So why is it” Aran wondered, “that I found her anger very palpable?”

Rin was one that rarely breaks conduct apart from those she fully trusts. Her anger or disapproval was sharp but calm, she rarely resorts to increased volume nor provide physical action. Her words were sharper, and her soft power has never made her stoop lower to prove her point or get a win. In her elegance, power and discipline, much that was taught to her by her mother. Aran could only give a bow, a low bow that the Frosts do to give their sincerest apologies.

“I am sorry to have done that, honourable princess.” Said Aran, continuing to bow, he said nothing more.

Rin saw him, she realized he meant it. There was nothing else she could do or say in this situation, despite the feelings inside her. She found it inefficient and unnecessary in saying more, and so, she didn’t.

“…I will try to reconsider mister Lister’s punishment, honourable prince.” Said Rin as she grabbed Aran’s shoulder to relieve him from his bow. Before moving away and giving a bow herself. “I will forgo this transgression between us, let us just agree that this day never happened.”

“I am sorry, Rin.” Responded Aran, braving himself. He realized that if he didn’t say anything now, he might not have the opportunity later, “I am afraid I could not forget this day to not happen.”

“Are you trying to start something, Aran?” Asked Rin, annoyed.

“No such thing, Rin.” Aran said, “I am merely curious, about my tea today when I was studying.”

Rin grew silent afterwards, and looked away. “What about, your tea?” asked Rin.

“It was cold, intentionally cold. Chilled with milk and sugar within.” Responded Aran, as he looked at Rin, “I wonder why is that.”

Rin threw her gaze away at the pond. Her blush was hidden, but from under the lanterns, one could see it clearly. Aran waited for her answer with anticipation, yet Rin did not say anything. Instead, she guided Aran to continue to the exit. Passing by the changing royal guardians, into The Peony’s empty clinic, before exiting themselves to the alley. With lights and lanterns lit, but themselves alone. Rin wore her mask before going outside, where she led Aran out.

As Aran gave a silent bow to Rin, and Rin reciprocating one back. They were to part ways then, for maybe how long until they’re going to see each other again.

Yet, something came up to Rin, a tingle in her body, a feeling that she kept within her. Something that mindlessly made the man before him sweet pulled milk tea, something only the two would know to be a language of their close intimacy. She was still angry at his pride and hubris, yet there was something else that made her want to know more about this man before her.

She didn’t spend much time dawdling as his figure dissipates from her view. She took some quick steps, and into that empty ancient alleyway. She wrapped her arms around Aran, and rested her head behind his back. Aran was stopped dead in his tracks, feeling a strong yet kind on his torso. The hold he knew all too well today, a hold she gave to him before, and now. She was unwilling to let go.

“Do you feel the same way, Aran?” Rin whispered, her voice and face resting on Aran’s pectoral. It was soft but he heard the words too well, he was hoping to hear it later, maybe in a few months or years, but never today, certainly never from her.

“…I do, Rin.” Responded Aran, mindful of what he was about to say, “if you’d give me another chance.”

“,Next week, lunch, at the Liuwei Tea House in the Eastern Gardens, do not be late.” Said Rin, as she took off her hands from Aran. She didn’t want to bite more than she can chew today, and she decided to walk quickly from the scene to get The Peony’s dessert. As she walked, she squeezed her two cheeks together trying to realize what she did. Aran continued to stare upon Rin as her image slowly dissipates from his view, when it was fully gone, he began to wonder what he just did.

His bag of documents and notes in his grasp, he looked at the sky when the sun was coming down. He gave a massive sigh, and gave a smirk. He wanted to tell the world, he wanted to tell everyone, he was happy.

Aran wanted to cheer, but he just found himself silently pumping his hands to the air in the middle of an empty alleyway. On that day when the sun sets, and the fall was starting to brown the leaves with beauty.


Chapter 9: Spring Festival Ball

Lian, The Royal Palace, 2000

“Mom, I’m scared. I don’t know what to do. There’s so many people.”

Akane looked at her 10 year old daughter, still a bit confused at the amount of people in the palace. There’s so many attendants and people tall as skyscrapers. With classical music aloft in the room and words lobbed no one could understand. Yan clenched her adopted sister’s hand tight, and saw her siblings ready to enter, nervous with a hint of faux confidence. Akane knew that as The Peony she needed for everyone to become a host, and someone who could entertain the visitors of the country as a show of goodwill and power.

She then got down a bit to Yan, behind the doors, before the announcement.

“My princess, when you’re older you are going to feel the pressure to that of being a host. Even if your siblings are the one that hosted you’ll be seen by all as the princess of Huawan.”

“Yes mom, I just don’t think I’m good enough. I can’t be as charming as you.”

“Beautiful girl, you’re me and more. You’ll have the full weight on your shoulders, all of us do, take it with poise, grace and a smile. You will be alright my sweet.”

Akane kissed Yan’s cheeks and told Rin to accompany her sister. Yan saw the light that emerged from opening the doors, it was blinding, and only heard a noise that they are introduced. Upon the end of the light, she walked towards the throne, where The Peony sat down, her grandmother, smiling at her.

The Peony’s Manor, Lian, January, 2019

That was almost twenty years ago, no one had thought she’d take the title of The Peony of Huawan from her mother, so no one had bothered much to train her as the perfect host, let alone the perfect head of state. She didn’t take classes to manage the Peocracy like her brother, nor was she enrolled in a lady’s etiquette class like her sister. As such it’s completely understandable that she feels immensely anxious, and it is her curse to hide her inhibitions and lock them up under her smile.

A couple of meets with heads of states, she could do, but to commandeer an entire international event with her as the host? That’s certainly a tall order. She stood there in front of the mirror, with her makeup and her dress ready for her. A silent face where a typhoon of emotions inside, but she can only stare at her reflection to not ruin her makeup.

She took her arm and checked for the pulse. It’s rhythm is fast, a bit too fast.

“Easy Yan, relax…There’s no room for error.” The Peony remarked, no room for error indeed…

“Allah help me.” She prayed as she exited her room. Rin waited outside with Sebastian Lister, and the latter was certainly quite enchanted by his employer.
“Permission to speak My Peony.”

“Yes Mr. Lister?”

“You look gorgeous, my Peony.”

“Thank you Mr Lister.”[/color]

Rin then took The Peony’s hands and clapped them under hers, then clamming them like a strong two-way slap to the hands.

“You’ll be fine, let’s go, the others are waiting.”

The Peony sat down in her living room to wait for her motorcade. Rin had ordered most of the Royal Guardians to stand by in the party venue to guard the incoming guests and had entrusted the palace to the armed forces. Only a handful of the guardians shall cooperate with the police force and the paramilitary forces to escort the incoming dignitaries to the venue.

It was decided that Diao Chan and Zheng He are escorted by the paramilitary forces, and other Peonic delegates to be escorted by the police. The rest of the royal guardians were to escort the Peony from her manor to the venue, and thus she waited for her motorcade to be unleashed from the Royal Palace.

Her tea was warm, warm enough to soothe herself in an abnormally cold evening.
“Fall seems to be coming earlier this year,” she thought, as she took another sip.

The Royal Palace, Lian, January, 2000

“Da Jie?”
“How did you make everyone like you?”
Asked Yan as she slept in her older sister’s bed that day.

Shizuka wondered what to answer her 10 year old sister that night, and she’s certainly feeling awake even after such a tiring banquet.

“What do you mean, meimei?” Asked Shizuka as she tries to close her eyes once more. Yan then poked her older sister’s cheeks countless of times to ensure that she’s responsive.

“Alright, alright, stop poking me!” Said Shizuka as she turned on the lights.
“I mean, when you were in the party everyone wanted to talk to you. You seem amazingly confident, not to mention graceful too. They all wanted to be your friend, and you are the star of the show… All I did was steal sweets with Rin.”
“That explains your sticky dress.”
“I want to be like you, Da Jie.”

Shizuka pondered on her words a bit, she knew that her position as the Crown Princess and her status as the eldest daughter of the three would invite much people to please her. Licking her hands like the dogs they are, trying to get on her good side. Those young wish for a favourable employment when they’re older, and the elders want an award that would last them until their last breaths. None of them are her true friends, and her position forbid her to complain about it. It isn’t a good place to be, and
she’ll learn it sooner or later. Shizuka decided to respond.

“You could be like me,” said Shizuka, “unfortunately, you aren’t. You’re not me, you’re you, mei mei. So you can never be my best nor my worst, you can however, strive to be the best of who you are.”
“But I don’t like myself, no one likes it.” Said Yan, and it was enough to have Shizuka sit right up and face her sister eye to eye.
“Just because some morons decided to talk to me than to you doesn’t mean anything, meimei. You’re graceful and nice in your own way, not mine, not older brother’s, not father’s, not mother’s, not grandmother’s and not grandfather’s. You are your own person, if people like you, alhamdulilah, if they do not, then screw them.” Reminded Shizuka, “they have no right to change who you are, and you shouldn’t bend your knees so that they’ll like you.”

“But I want to be like you guys!” Shouted Yan, “I don’t want to be left out anymore…”
“No matter what happens Meimei, you must never lose track of who you are.”
Responded Shizuka “look to the shadows of those you admire, and walk their paths. It will never be exactly the same, and thus it would leave you to another destination, somewhere where you’ll be the best of you.”
“And if there’s anyone that told you you’re never any good, that you won’t amount to anything, remember what I taught you.”
Reminded Shizuka.
“Slap them?” Asked Yan.
“That is correct, you can always count on your da jie, meimei” Said Shizuka,[color=#E74C3C] “Whatever happens, I’ll always be here for you.”

“…Promise?” Asked Yan.
“I promise.”

The Peony’s Manor, Lian, January, 2019

“You liar!” thought The Peony as she clenched her cup filled with incredibly hot tea. The bad memories of a false promise returned to her. It took a monumental amount of time to make peace with the fact her elder sister abandoned her alone to carry on this duty. It’s quite difficult to be so angry that you wanted to cry your tears out, but couldn’t because of the makeup.

She banged the cup out of frustration when she heard a sound like porcelain breaking on the floor. She checked the underside of her cup, and it wasn’t from there. Noting that she’s alone in the room, she decided to check out the noise.

It came from the garage, a place that The Peony almost never visits. She had noted that this tiny garage used to be filled with motorcycles used by the guardians just in case an urgent escort is needed, or at least getting The Peony into the hospital. The renovations had placed the motorcycle elsewhere, however.

It was quite tricky to wear such a long dress into a place that’s dustier than other parts of the manor, it’s as if she’s wearing a duster. Nevertheless, as she tries to pull up the long parts of her koi-like dress, she walks to find the cracked porcelain. A pussycat had jumped it and cracked the vase, and the Peony locked eyes with him, sitting on a cloth looking as if he is without wrong in the world.

She decided to turn on the lights to assess the damage of the porcelain, instead she unveiled something she promised to never touch again. Underneath the cloth, an amazing piece of engineering lies alone covered in rich silver paint. She remembered where it all started for her mother, that sudden boost of confidence and grace in the violent world of Peonic socialites.

“Look to the shadows of those you admire, and walk their paths.” Recalled The Peony.

The Peony’s Manor, Lian, January, 2019

“Agent Safa’a, report.”
“We are in front of the Niujie Central Mosque, already within the district.”
Reported Agent Safa’a, “entering the royal zone in 4 minutes.”
“Thank you, keep us posted.”
Responded Rin, it was then that another guardian ran towards her and Rin, unable to contain herself, started to become more alert than usual.
“I’m sorry leader.”

Rin did not hesitate to alert everyone in the area. As sounds of a 4.7 litre turbocharged V12 engine was rushing out of the manor area and into the main road.

[color=#E74C3C]“Attention all Guardians, be advised that The Peony has exited the manor area in the Soy and Eggs. Find her and escort her immediately! Over.”

“Copy.”[/color] Responded all the Guardians. Agent Safa’a did not hesitate ordering the motorcade to break away from the royal limousine to frantically search for an old silver convertible.

“You morons, utter, utter morons!”
Shouted Rin to the guardians in the manor.

The Streets of Lian, January, 2019

The Peony drove at amazing speeds in the streets of Lian, comsensible driving is one that’s focused in a somewhat under-crowded place for its size. One of the motorcycles from the motorcade caught up with the car, and alerted the rest.

It took quite some time to get into formation, as The Peony barely slowed down to give her guardians a chance to position themselves. But what was a mere two-one-two formation with motorcycles suddenly became a full motorcade.

Rin then sped her motorcycle and took command of the motorcade, she rode next to The Peony’s car looking quite distressed. The Peony looked at her milk sister and gave a brief smile, like the cat that didn’t have a problem in the world.

Shaking her head, Rin then assumed control of the front of the motorcade and guided the party to the venue. The Peony’s arrival in the foot of the ship certainly turned heads, and camera flashes were all over her.

Exiting the car, she walked unto the massive treasure ship, and walked on the red. Looking right are the press with their cameras, already bombarding everyone with the flash. Between them a thick pane of glass for security reasons.

She waved and posed gracefully before making her way, and after the guardians caught up with her, she signalled them to formation, and moved into the royal hall. Where upon her entry, everyone bowed at their Nuwang.

“I guess it’s my turn now.”

Chapter 10: For the Spirits

Austran Opal Palace, January, 2019

“Alright, brief me once more.” Asked Governor Raquelle Valotton, as she ran in her treadmill.

“The Austral chair now moves to our protectorate once more, making you the leading chair. The Energy Council requests an additional 300 million platinums to build another nuclear reactor. While Rector Dietrich requests aid to research man-made leaves for the Universus.”

“What else?” Beeps were heard, increasing the speed of the treadmill.

“Today you have a meeting with the Arnchow ambassador for the new silver pine leaves, and the permit to build the communist party of Arnchow. What’s more the Stock Exchange wants to sign another twenty additional companies allotments for the stock market, and the insurance system for the Armed Forces needs your signature.”

The treadmill slowed down, and Raquelle jumped out of the treadmill. Her feet still active, she moved around the room before moving to her paladin.

“Alright. Ensure that I did all of it on the flight.” Responded Raquelle.

“The flight?”

“I’m heading to Lian.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“And please bring tell Michelle to bring my dress from my loft. The one I placed on the sofa. Also, please have Suzy meet us.”


“Yes, us.” Said High Paladin Valotton, “I know I’ve told parliament that it is unnecessary for us to attend the festival, however my duties are, as the leading chair as well as instructions from the Bank of Templar require me to attend the proceedings.”

“I believe I’ve not made this clear to you enough, Raquelle.”

“And I know perfectly well what you’ve done, and why we ran the bilateral relations between Huawan and Austral to the very ground. I am also aware of the typhoon of excrement all of you have given to me to handle the crisis between the two states. Princess Shizuka.”

Shizuka looked at her High Paladin, noting that Raquelle rarely becomes so austere.


“Minister Shizuka, you are one of the Ministers of Foreign Development and International Relations for the Austral Empire. You are in obligation to attend matters of foreign affairs with me, and follow my instructions. Now you are to attend the spring festival, and you are to attend with your husband.” Said Raquelle, as she stepped in front of Shizuka, “my secretary is available for your usage, do I make myself clear?”


“You are free to relieve your position in response to this.”

“…I don’t have a choice.”

“Incorrect, you have choices, just this is the only one where I would not bring you down.” Said Raquelle, “I’ll meet you in the jet, and if you wish to hide yourself in front of your sister, wear my steampunk spooktober goggles.”

Austran Airport, January, 2019

“Governor Raquelle Vallotton”, has a nice ring to it. Being one of the head governors of the Austran Empire is certainly an achievement, for someone thats still 24. She got off the plane and into the car, and ordered her delegates to enter as well.

She did not bring much delegates, except two, Lord Rowena, Sir Marcus Vanderbilt Rowena and the Minister of Foreign Development, Lady Minamoto Shizuka Rowena.

Shizuka looked around the airport and saw the surroundings. It has been a while since she landed her feet in Peonic soil once more, and saw much has changed since. 5 years has passed since her citizenship for Huawan has been steamrolled for a Austran one, and it has been 5 years since she had run away from her position.

The autumn breeze was enough to blow her scarf, and the smell certainly made her feel like home. She took her two year old son and carried him in her arms. Entry to the car was done, and the car sped up to the Treasure Ship.

Mangsten International Airport, January 5th 2015

“Why did you do this Da Jie?” asked Yan. “Answer me!”

Yan stood herself in that airstrip, her mother’s car stood by near the plane en route to Hammerstar. A windy day in Mangsten International, and one that got the attention of spectators. Shizuka turned her back to address her younger sister.


“Da Jie… How could you do this to me.”

Only four years prior did their older brother, Crown Prince Ryūnosuke Yan died in the aeroplane crash that took his life. A year before, their grandmother, Lingxin Yan, passed away. It certainly took a toll on the Royal Family, and with the despair, it took The Peony, Akane Yan to the realm of the unknown.

It had not been five months that the crowning of the new Peony was to be executed, and the Royal Council determined that Yan Shizuka were to take the throne in her mother’s stead. The Royal Peonic Ambassador to Hammerstar is next in line to become the Guardian of the Peocracy.

“You disgraced the home that you grew up in, and abandoned!” Shouted Yan.

The Royal Council rejected Shizuka’s reason to withdraw the Peonic throne based on her union to a Hammerstarian marquis. It was a long and arduous trial that rocked the country to its heart, and with help by High Paladin Elena and High Paladin Do Xeo, her endorsement for citizenship in Hammerstar had quashed any claim of hers to the throne.

A reform to an elected monarchy is out of the question, with large support of Royalists. Therefore with nothing to nullify her claim, the person who would be honoured the title of Peony would be her sister, Doctor Yan, and an unwilling heir of the duty in question.

Huawan requires her protector, and the tragedy of the court had left Doctor Yan ensnared in her responsibilities, the country could not afford the royal family surrendering their country, and Yan is forced for the crown.

“First Ryuu-Chan died, then papa, then mama and now you’re ditching me?”


“All those years, was it… was it for nau–”

“Hold your tongue!” Shouted Shizuka, which certainly commanded her sister’s attention. She then realized her own statements and then turned back to the plane.

“I don’t expect you to understand. It is time that you stand on your own two feet, and no longer neglect your obligations as royalty.”

“…You fool.”

“…May Allah be merciful to you, and may Allah forgive my decision.”

Doctor Yan could definitely have Shizuka restrained in force. However, the Austran Empire would not allow their “citizen” to be held in custody, and Doctor Yan had many of the thoughts on her mind, but it is not something that never comes in actuality.

So she watched the plane taxi and take off, instructing the Royal Guardians to ensure that airport security and the police did not disturb her. Her gaze to the plane left her motionless for an hour, with tears causing her white coat wet.

An entire month till then went on without any news from Shizuka, and without interruption from anyone. She sat on the house of Huawan as her guard, and her position as The Peony of Huawan was sanctioned. Yet an entire month went on without any word from her, until she exited her manor on the eve of the Spring Festival, providing her first address to the people of Huawan.

Her smile warmed the spirits of the people for a renewed homeland, yet her own heart bled and scarred from the incident that took her light. If there is no light to be seen from her eyes, then she must’ve been the light.

As the visitors sat down, the commemoration for the eve of the Spring Festival proceeded. The gong was rung, and a young lady came into the centre of the area and the music flowed. The light dimmed

As the light then turned on, the spectators clapped as the young lady proceeded to bow. Then moving away to the other end of the room. Afterwards, The Peony then stood up from her table, and unto the podium at the centre. Her right hand signalled for an attendant to move to the centre.

The conductor stood, and turned to The Peony, prostrating towards her before being acknowledged. Then, his hands signal for others to stand, and with his baton retracted out, signalling the beginning of the national anthem, the anthem of spirits.

Anthem of The Spirit

Haritsumeta Yumi no
Furueru Tsuru yo

Chie to shukufuku no kagayaki
Watashitachi no Kokoro

Seishin no Utsukushi

Botan no saku utsukushi-sa

Mi ketsugō no umi

Kanashimi to Ikari ni Hisomu Makoto no Kokoro
Wo Shiru wa Mori no Sei

Mononoke-Tachi dake

Mononoke-Tachi dake

Kanashimi to Ikari ni Hisomu Makoto no Kokoro
Wo Shiru wa Mori no Sei

Mori no rei o mamore!

Kami no rei o mamore![/align]

The first stanza was sung by a vocalist sitting with the orchestra that was set up in the side, a chilling tune that was sung in this very treasure ship as well as throughout the history of Huawan. When the second stanza began, every one sung it, and the entire ship vibrated by the harmony of voice.

As the dimly lit room was brightly lit back up once more, a standing ovation was given and the conductor turned away from the dance floor and back to his position.

The Peony then looked to her right and her left, wearing another dress. Knowing the honourable dignitaries and heads of state anticipating for her to continue. From kings, presidents, ministers, archbishops and emperors. She viewed the Governor of Austran, closing her eyes in silence, and the Izaakian empress, Astrid, looking keenly. She saw Gi-Lanndian King Gianluca, and next to him Sedunnic King Vimmru and his wife. She also saw Bruuman Minister Hunt and Valkyrian Chancellor Harrison. Everyone was watching at her eagerly.

Her first address as The Peony of Huawan since her coronation was in the Spring Festival, and as such, her tasks are to provide another speech for the circumstances of today.

“Assalamualaikum.” Greeted The Peony.

A response was made accordingly, she then resumed.

"Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends of Huawan. My fellow statesmen of the Peonic state. The sun is blazing, the ice thaws, and the dew reveals another hope for the year. We celebrate the start of spring as a new chapter in our lives and prepare to plant a bountiful harvest.

The world we live in is the end product of many years of history… the fruit of human determination and knowledge! Like a gem, polished to a gleam through trials… and errors. It is this fruit we take, and pass on, and face in our time. And it is always changing, evolving. Nurturing it is our task as human beings.

The choices of the past, its events, its joys and woes shaped the present as we understand it to be. As such we may bring the baggage of the past. To let go, and move on, maybe a concept favourable for many, but to leave such confined in time would cause nothing but a weight in your thoughts to face the present.

Hence the new page of our lives is nothing but a vehicle to face the problems of old, and confront the issues of now. We define time, and its flow, as with the universe itself. We must not be deceived by the idea of eternal stagnation, for we may not change nature, but whatever is natural changes.

The times are intense for all of us, yet, it’s only essential for living creatures to fight to protect their own lives. But what makes us human is that we fight for others.

A question once posed to me, who do you fight for? How hard must you fight…? That’s the true depth of what human life is worth. Even when the conflict is over, and the relations that connect us are severed… We always return… Time and time again.

Now I ask… For you to stand your ground, guest."

As she made her speech with a succinct voice and articulate speech. Shizuka listened intently on their guest table with her spouse by her side. She had listened of the outcome of four years away from her sister.

The first day that she came back to her country is the day that she saw how The Peony has developed, and how her overall posture mirrors their mother and grandmother. When Shizuka learned of her sister’s ideas of facing the baggage head-on without concern, an emotion came out since the course of her flight.

It was not easy for her to relax and come to terms with the decisions she took four years ago, she had no wish to take the office of Peony of Huawan, and as a result, sacrificed her sister in exchange for freedom. If the ends justify the means, how could it be well if the proper means are not the transport that led her to those outcomes?

Fear of being identified the minute she entered the room with the High Paladin blew out of proportions, and seeing her sister’s sorrow hidden underneath maturity and duty, is one that certainly troubled her heart. Her husband took notice, and with their two-year-old son dozing in his arms, gave a nod, as if he trusted what must be done.

Of course, the Sapphire Paladin stood up from her chair and did the forbidden act of leaving before The Peony completes her speech. Something that does not bode well for the Peony herself. For the attention of the guest that stood up had incurred the Royal Guardians to capsulate Shizuka.

Being a Austran, despite not of their blood, had meant she had to acquire several defence mechanisms. As such in that party, she unsheathed the blade that’s under her skirt and fixed a defensive stance against the Royal Guardians.

Rin did not hesitate to command the Sapphire Paladin to be held down, and the Raquelle looked at the entire mess without upsets in her heart. As such, she ordered her aides-de-camp to stand down as well.

Shizuka was prepared to fight the guardians off, other than being an international prosecutor, she is also a seasoned martial artist, one carved deeply to her soul. Before any act goes on and totally wrecks the Spring festival, The Peony gave her direction.

“站起来!” The Peony ordered, with stern authority. It certainly gave Rin a jolt, and proceed to direct the Royal Guardians to take a step back and stand by.

The Peony did not wait to walk her way towards the commotion. She walked unto the dance floor and made her way towards Shizuka, she had wandered the efforts that this person took at such a sacred time in Peonic history. There was something, nonetheless, that made the figure extremely familiar.

“…And you are?”

“…” Shizuka maintained her stance. The Peony decided to gaze at the figure’s characteristics, hair that steeped to her shoulders, gleaming white skin, several injuries on her chest and a pair of goggles worn. Unless she is Neo-Steamlanndian, she is surely someone that wanted to hide her face.

She continued to look below, towards her arms. One containing the blade, that caused such trouble towards the Royal Guardians. She noticed the grip of the blade, and the blade itself.

“On my sister’s 30th birthday I gave her a gift that honoured the completion of her degree. A custom made sword that is made of the finest steel and a handle that anatomically fit her hands.” Said The Peony, she grew closer than the guardians, and Rin seemed to be aware of the situation.

The Peony then saw the goggles on Shizuka’s face, which perfectly hid red rings of crying. Tears had certainly moistened the figure’s face, along with despair as well. She proceeded to take off those goggles, before her hands being held by the figure.

“…It would be best if things didn’t come to this.” Said Shizuka.

“…It’s been too long, and it is time to face it now.” Answered The Peony, continuing to take the goggles off. Revealing the face of her sister.

It certainly sparked chatter and uproar in the hall, one surprised of the revelation. After all, Shizuka is a character that seemingly dirtied the Royal lineage. The Peony then gave a smile to her sister and processed the face that’s before her.

“There’s always a sense inside me that you’ll come back.” Said The Peony, [color=#e74c3c]“Allah has sealed my role as guardian of Huawan, but there is never a time that I neglected to pray for us being a family once more.”


The Peony then squeezed her sister and embraced her. Wept rather loudly in rage, sorrow and satisfaction.

“It has been a long time, Da Jie.” Announced The Peony, “welcome home.”

Shizuka acknowledged The Peony’s embrace and allowed the turn of events despite the commotion it will bring. Even for only for a little while, she would like to be thankful to finally have her sister back.

The Peony then let go of her embrace and summoned for Rin.

“Rin, please arrange for a table for Da Jie Shizuka and Lord Rowena in the Royal Table. Immediately.”

“Yes, my Nuwang.” Curtseyed Rin, she looked at her older sister and bent to her as well.

“Please come join us at the royal table, Da Jie.” Requested The Peony, she then looked at the other guardians. “Make sure they are treated well, understood?”

“Yes, my Nuwang!”

After the preparations finished, The Peony then stood up to the podium once more.

“We are thankful for your patience, honourable guests. Without further ado, let us wish well for a new year!”

She rose her cup of tea and invited others to do so.

“乾杯!” She shouted before others respond, she sipped her tea. Signifying the start of the spring.

Chapter 11: Minamoto Shizuka Rowena

referenced in this: (IC) Spring Festival Ball

Royal Peonic Manor, Lian, 23rd of December, 2020

It was a day before the Christmas holidays, which should stereotypically be winter, but in the southern hemisphere of Pacifica, everything is summer in December. Curse the northerners and their huge populations, they fail to account the fact that not everywhere is winter in December. The sun was shining a bit longer, but not too long, it was afternoon soon.

After the prayer was dinner, which was already prepared. It was modest, compared to the feast that’s going to happen tomorrow. It was noodles, sauteed tofu and braised fish, shared between 6 people. The Peony saw the loud clanging of the table, the movements of chopsticks and the very chaos of the dining table.

Rin had nibbled on some spring dumplings she slathered with sweet and spicy sauce, she continued to chew the crunchy rolls as she said a word or two to her eldest sister, Shizuka. Shizuka was happy as she talked about various things with Rin, while she had to grab some meat slices with her tongs, wiping her forehead from the hot summer breeze. It had been so long since she had sat down to eat dinner with her siblings, it reminded her of a time long gone. Shizuka was emotional with the entire situation, she wanted to cry out of joy, but her son was playing with his food.

Shizuka’s husband, Marcus Rowena, was a Austran man, tall, caucasian, strong built with an intimidating gaze. He was struggling with his chopsticks, he wanted to impress his sister-in-laws, especially The Peony, who wouldn’t want to make a diplomatic incident from not using chopsticks. He had some luck with lifting the food, but only to have it fall again to his dismay. “His talent lies more in his diplomacy, and not in his chopstick skills.” Thought The Peony, trying not to look amused at her brother-in-law struggling using chopsticks.

Yet there was another person on the table, someone The Peony didn’t expect to be here at all. Ati, a 15 year old Sedunnic student in Huawan, just started high school for a homestay. The daughter of the King of Sedunn, Vimmru II. The Peony continues to wonder what kind of serendipitous fate did she stumble upon. She recounted the events as she looked at Ati helping Shizuka clean up a baby boy.

WF Headquarters, Grovne, 2020

It was the end of the leader’s debate in the World Forum, well, the end for today. As delegates poured out of the assembly hall for some coffee and pastries. The Peony had to review notes from the debates in her standard-issue tablet, she gazed around at times. Seeing Gianluca talking with the new prime minister of FiHami, Kilaui Krui. While Anserian President Septimum had a bit of a discussion with the Izaakian prime minister Valkyrie Mountbatten.

The Peony saw a man she needed to talk to, the Sedunnic King himself, Vimmru II. Honestly, The Peony didn’t know how to talk to this man, stoic and disciplined, a lot of people might see him to be cold. His administration does wield a strong political influence in the region, that’s why they were all in Grovne instead of anywhere else. This was his home base, his home turf, a strong message to the dignitaries in the WF, if she ever sees one.

Yet The Peony did recall nearly 7 years ago before she was Yan instead of “The Peony”. When she had to style King Vimmru and his wife, who apparently was a first lady and not the queen of Sedunn,. A mistake The Peony had made. Anyway, she had to style them for a certain gathering or a certain gala. The name Vimmru II was still fresh in the region, and not a lot of people had thought a small country like Sedunn would be holding so much sway in the region.

“Yet with his newfound power, he can never seem to choose the proper tie.” The Peony thought, as she inched closer to King Vimmru II and his entourage, she recognized a certain pin in his lapel. A pin she knew all too well, how could she not? She was a member as well.

“Your excellency,” said The Peony, bowing. “how are you?”

“Honorable Excellency,” said King Vimmru II, nodding, “I am fine, I trust you are as well?”

“Never been better, my lord.” said The Peony, trying to maintain cordiality, “excuse me, I can’t help but notice the pin on your lapel. Are you by any chance a member of the cartographers guild from the Southern Grovne University?”

Vimmru was certainly surprised and so did his entourage, on why The Peony of all people would identify a metal pin of an old organization he was acquainted with in his bachelor studies. But he maintained his composure.

“Yes indeed, your excellency,” said Vimmru, “this pin is awarded to members of the guild. May I ask how did you know about this?”

The Peony gave a smile, “I must admit that you’re not the only alumni from the SGU” The Peony then took her little black notebook, and showed it to the Vimmru.

“I may not be a member of the cartographers guild of South Grovne University, it’s been a while since I was in something similar, back in high school.” Said The Peony, “however, I am a Faculty of Medicine graduate from Southern Grovne University in 2012.”

“Fascinating.” said Vimmru, looking at the little black book, which had the engraving of the Southern Grovne University Faculty of Medicine “you’re from the SGU. I didn’t expect The Peony of Huawan is a Sedunnic graduate.”

“Well, my program back in medicine was a double-degree program between Lotus University and Southern Grovne University, so I was technically an alumnus. I did also spend some time for in-person classes in SGU.” Explained The Peony, smiling.

“It’s been a while since I’ve taken a memory lane on my days in the SGU.” Said Vimmru, reminiscing. He gazed at his cartographer’s pin before gazing back at The Peony. “Your excellency, would you care for some tea with me and my wife?”

“If your excellency wills it. I’d be honoured.” said The Peony, giving another bow. Her guardian whispered to The Peony, and Vimmru’s assistant whispered to Vimmru. It was time to head back to the leader’s debate.

Royal Peonic Manor, Lian, 23rd of December, 2020

“Ati, how are you liking Huawan?” asked Shizuka, interested, as she was cleaning the dishes.

“It’s been going well, your excellency,” said Ati, helping Shizuka with the plates. “So far I truly enjoy Huawan, it is so different than back home.”

“Please, don’t hesitate to call us 阿姨, or aunt.” said The Peony, while wrapping the leftovers with cling film, “we are your host family after all.”

“I can’t help but give my appreciation to you my Nu… I mean, aunt Yan.” said Ati, smiling at The Peony, “and I am excited to see my classmates next year. I do have to learn some huayu. It’s not that easy.”

“It does take some time for beginners, Ati. You need to rack up over 20 months of learning to be fluent,” said Shizuka, wiping her forehead with her arm, “nevertheless it’s fine if you’d like to converse in Austral, most of the people in Lian can speak Austral and they would be understanding.”

“I see, still I’ll be staying for a while, might as well study the language,” as Ati finished wiping the table off any dirt, she approached The Peony, “Aunt Yan, a couple of my friends are asking me to play football with them, may I be excused?”

The Peony looked at Ati, before looking at Rin. Rin gave a nod as if expecting The Peony to ask for permission first. They had to send one of the royal guardians with Ati of course, more to navigation reasons than security.

Alright, don’t come back too late. Do you have your stuff packed?” asked The Peony.

“Yeah, my shoes and sportswear.” said Ati, pointing at her sports bag, “I promise I won’t come home too late, aunt Yan.

The Peony then gave her hand, of which Ati took it and pressed it on her temple. She went to Shizuka, Rin and Lord Rowena all the same, asking them for their hands and pressing it on her temple. After typing away on her phone, she took off to the courtyard, where Sebastien Lister was waiting for her. The Peony hoped that Sebastien would be able to make Ati more comfortable, she was Sedunnic while Sebastian was Transunnerian. The two should get along, shouldn’t they?

“She’s such a well-mannered child,” exclaimed Shizuka, smiling at The Peony.

Much like her father.” The Peony remarked, “but she does have her quirks, I look forward to have her in state affairs soon.

Shizuka then rubbed The Peony’s head, scruffling it and held her shoulder with Shizuka’s wet and shriveled hands from washing the dishes.

“Look at my little sister!” Said Shizuka, “all grown up, and given the practice to handle a teenage child.”

“…Eldest sister, you’re embarrassing me.” responded The Peony, smiling as she gave a blush. They continued to wrap the leftovers and cleaned the plates. The Peony steeped some tea before serving it to Rin and her guests, the summer nights were gorgeous.

As they watched the pond and its critters croak, while the reflection of the two moons danced on the water while the waves were made by the fish. The three sisters sat down drinking tea and conversing about the old days, while the man accompanied his son to check out The Peony’s model train layout. He does seem interested in seeing the trains snake around the oval, wide-eyed as he was held by his father.

“So… Rin meimei. Yan meimei told me that you have a boyfriend now.” said Shizuka, suddenly.

Rin gazed daggers at The Peony as Doctor Yan chuckled under her tea.

“…Yes, his name is Aran.” Said Rin, clenching her teeth to force a smile.

“Oh please spill the tea!” Said Shizuka, excited. “You were never interested in going out with someone Rin meimei, tell us about him!”

“…Well…He’s…an Anthropologist from the Frost Empire.” said Rin, blushing, “I think he has been tenured in Lotus University as a lecturer.”

“To be honest Rin meimei, I didn’t expect you’d be interested in a bookworm like an anthropologist lecturer.” said Shizuka. The Peony snorted when she heard her sister said it, “I’d always pictured you with a tough rugged outdoorsman who beats the pulp out of bad guys, maybe one of those men from the Royal State Security Agencies.”

“He’s coming for dinner tomorrow.” Said The Peony, laughing.

“Is he?” said Shizuka, then turning back to Rin, trying to maintain her blush, “well I look forward to see him, you must’ve chosen him well, Rin meimei.”

Rin sipped her tea, before getting an idea on how to pay The Peony back.

“You know Dajie, Aran was actually The Peony’s boyfriend.” said Rin, this caused The Peony to choke on her tea.

“Ehem! I’m sorry, what?” Asked The Peony, her reaction then invited Shizuka to be wide eyed and squeal.

“Yan! You had a boyfriend?!” Asked Shizuka, “I can’t believe it, scandalous!.. and that man decided to date Rin after breaking up with you.”

Shizuka was going angry, her eyes went from awe to murderous rage. How dare this man broke my little sister’s heart and decide to move on to the other one. Shizuka’s rage came to a point The Peony had to stop her.

“It was nothing of a sort! Basically a couple of the imperial council wanted to get me wed off, since I made it very clear for them that I am not looking at the moment. I went on a date with some people, including Aran, but we decided to be friends as well.” Explained The Peony, calming down her oldest sister, “I admit, he’s my type, yes, but nothing happened between Aran and I. Besides, I’m not one to listen to his anthropology lectures everytime we meet, which would increase exponentially had we dated.”

“…I look forward to see him introduced, Rin meimei.” Said Shizuka, smiling as she sipped her tea. Even though she was the guest, it didn’t mean she wasn’t the older sister to the two, and she was sure as hell going to test Aran through coal and fire. Rin continued to blush until she gazed at Marcus and Rin’s nephew, with the little boy opening a train set and setting some up on the floor. She decided to change the topic.

“I always wondered why you never introduced him to mother, eldest sister.” said Rin as she sipped his tea, “Marcus is a very good man.”

“I was embarrassed at the time, meimei.” said Shizuka, recounting a time she didn’t want to, “I met Marcus many years ago while I was finishing my masters in law, I was going to introduce him… Until Ryuu-chan.”

“Oh…” said Rin, sipping her tea.

“You two both know that mom was not the same after the incident, it all happened so fast. I became the crown princess automatically, and I was not supposed to marry a foreigner.” Said Shizuka, as she continued to gaze upon the two.

“Did Marcus never considered a change of citizenship?” Asked The Peony, dry but curious.

“…Not only he is not granted a change of citizenship from Austral Empire from his own royal clan, but the implications that the emperor beside The Peony of Huawan is not of a sino-descent is large.” explained Shizuka, “that’s why I made the deal with the Austran government, and relegated by peonic citizenship and my royal status.”

“And gave me everything to deal.” Said The Peony, as she sipped her tea. The Peony was not impressed at her older sister’s answers, and it showed.

“Yan, there has not been a single time I’ve regretted the decision I made. I still am, as I sat here in front of you. I am so sorry that I forced you to this decision.” Said Shizuka, looking down at her teacup.

“… I could just dissolve the Peocracy, you know. There were times that I thought about that, whether our people should just elect the monarchy like Sedunn, or forgo the monarchy entirely.” Said The Peony, sighing. “Huawan needed a better leader than the ‘background princess’ and the last ten years have reinforced that fact.”

“Yan…” said Rin.

“… I felt my heart shatter at the decision I must make, the nation expects me to fulfil my role as the head of state, a deal they expected me to fulfill, and no one else.” Said The Peony, looking outside, “After many nights in tears and prayer, I could see no other way out than to break that vow… I would trade my own happiness for the happiness of the Peocracy, I shall become the Peony of Huawan.”

The Peony gave another sigh, misty-eyed, she already accepted the fact that she said to the two. She remembered the time when she holed up inside her room for an entire month, trying to contemplate the answer to her problems, whether or not her decision is true. Even now she’s still haunted by the decision, yet she became better at wearing her mask against her peers. Her smile is deadly to curiosity, and she used it well.

“Allah forgive me. I said”

The Peony closed her eyes, then moved on to face Shizuka, who was listening intently, “nothing can turn back time now, as a matter of fact, I believe you are very wise, dajie, to choose your own happiness and love instead of the perfection of fate people placed upon you. Believe me that I bear no anger towards the past any longer.”

“Mama!” The young boy said, as he rushed to his mother, asking for a hug. Shizuka held him tight, as she continued to listen to her little sister.

“Also… I understood completely why you could not take the throne. The circumstances pertaining him is… sensitive, had the royal council found out.” Said The Peony, as she sipped her tea.

“You mean Marcus?” asked Shizuka, brushing her son’s head and pecking his cheek.

“…little Chen.” said The Peony, hearing it made Shizuka’s eyes wider, and her husband shocked.

“What are you talking about, meimei?” Asked Rin, curious and surprised. She looked at The Peony with anticipation, the calm woman before her finished her tea before setting it to the table. The Peony looked at Rin, before moving her gaze to Shizuka.

“The times, matched. Very conveniently.” said The Peony, “of his birth, of his age. I would not be surprised that the reason why you didn’t take the throne was because that you were pregnant. Dajie. Am I accurate?”

“…How did you know?” asked Shizuka, looking down in shock.

“It was not hard to put two and two together, dajie.” Said The Peony, “the scandal from 5 years ago was already too inflammatory, I could imagine how it’d be if you were to be outed. Marcus’s position as head of the Rowena clan meant also that Chen is to inherit the clan as well.”

“…He was born out of wedlock, meimei.” Admitted Shizuka.

“Darling.” said Marcus, as he held his wife’s shoulders.

“It’s fine honey, I owe them at least this much.” said Shizuka, “mom was sick and so was dad. You were trying to help them the best you could, and I could never bring it to tell you all that I was pregnant. The scandal was too much, and it’ll weigh more on all of your minds, and I did not want…I did not want… I didn’t want to let him go.”

Shizuka held her child tighter, as she cried. The child looked at her mother with those beady eyes, confused as to why her mother was crying.

“I had to leave, meimei. The court would be cruel to my little boy, and even more so that my husband is not an approved man of the state. I am so, so sorry… I am sorry that I had to sacrifice my sister for my own son.” said Shizuka.

The Peony stood up, and walked towards her sister, and gave her a hug.

“…I’m just glad to have my older sister back now.” said The Peony, hugging her sister tight, “We can be a family again, despite the new circumstances.”

The two hugged tightly, it was the time to finally bury the hatchet between the two siblings. Rin just watched the entire thing between the two siblings, she was glad that The Peony is able to finally find some peace from the past. She continues to drink her tea until Shizuka noticed Rin.

“Come here, Rin meimei.” said Shizuka, welcoming her milk sister. Rin walked and gave a hug over the two, she was also weeping, but Rin had to maintain a stronger face, for the both of them.

“Thank you for trying to keep it all together, Rin.” said Shizuka as she embraced her two sisters and her son clinging his arms around her. “I’ve missed you two, let’s be a family again.”

Chapter 12: Sedunners

Cartographer’s Cafe, Grovne, 2020

Sedunnic: Green
Huayu: Red

It was in the afternoon and the end of the first day of the Leader’s debate. The Peonic delegation will leave morning after the last day of the Leader’s debate in a commercial HIA flight. However, The Peony could not resist an invitation from King Vimmru himself, especially in the famed Royal Cartographer’s Cafe, which is one of the most exclusive clubs for the elite in The South Pacific. It was a homage to those who charted the region and the Pacifican planet.

The Peony and King Vimmru II entered the cafe with her guardians outside, intermingled with King Vimmru’s own entourage. She walked beside him as she admired the cafe and the intricacies, of the old charts that were drawn, and countries she never heard of, adorned next to exploration relics from famous explorers. They’d be having tea before heading to the WF diplomatic dinner.

The two heads of states saw a blonde woman sitting down with such fancy clothing, The Peony remembered her very well, apart from King Vimmru II she was also one of her clients at some point when she had to style her. Vimmru came to his first lady and kissed her cheek as she stood up to welcome him.

“Dear, I wish to introduce you to The Peony of Huawan.” said King Vimmru II, to which The Peony gave a bow to the first lady.

“sum rommn, your excellency.” greeted The Peony, in clear Sedunnic, which surprised the first lady Aenn Innienn. “it is an honour to meet you.”

“Likewise, your excellency.” said First Lady Aenn as she shook The Peony’s hand, “I have to say you speak very well Sedunnic.”

“Oh I did took some classes when I studied, unfortunately, I’m not wholly fluent with the language yet.” Said The Peony, smiling.

“Yes, her excellency apparently studied in SGU.” said Vimmru to his wife, “in the double degree program for the faculty of medicine.”

“Really? How fascinating!” Said Aenn as she directed her hand towards the seats, “come sit down you two, I hope you’d enjoy the pine needle tea in here, your excellency.”

King Vimmru II and The Peony sat down, and of course, the conversation distanced quickly from international politics towards their respective times in SGU. It was an interesting conversation between the three, although everyone remained cordial, it was an interesting discussion to memory lane.

“–Apart from my experience when I’m studying, I also did a couple of homestays when I was a child. I lived in Ullenst when I was 14 for about 3 months for summer.”

“Really? how did you like it?” Asked King Vimmru II, interested.

“My host family were very kind to me, and I did spend my time travelling around the country. My host father also taught me some sailing and kite surfing, while my host brothers taught me some fishing. I’m actually planning to meet with them tomorrow before my departure.”

“Interesting,” said First Lady Aenn as she held her husband’s hand, “you know our daughter is interested in doing some homestays for her high school. Honestly, we were a bit worried when she wanted to live abroad.”

“Yes, she’s a very gifted student and an excellent communicator. I’d say she took a lot from my wife.” said King Vimmru II as his wife tapped his hand in annoyance, “She’s much of an avid hiker, but she also plays for the youths football league.”

“Something her father barely does, apart from cracking some jokes on tv.” jabbed First Lady Aenn, as she sipped her tea, “I don’t know if it’s well for her to do some homestay, there would be much to prepare for her, and… you must understand that the daughter of the king of Sedunn…is”

The Peony nodded, “say no more, your excellency. I completely understood your worries. That’s why my mother and father had my milk sister accompany me, and my parents contacted me frequently. I recall that my parents paid for my host family’s phone bill because they called me too much.”

“May I ask how old were you, your excellency?” asked Lady Aenn, curious to continue listening.

“I was 14 at the time, and I did spend other places for homestay as well. I spent a month in Techganet for volunteering work, two months in Besern, two months in Stoinia, and an entire semester in Izaakia. I have to say it was an interesting year of my life, I was a full-on nomad,” said The Peony, smiling as she sipped her tea. “One could say that I quite a large experience with a homestay.”

King Vimmru II was pondering as he listened intently to The Peony’s story when she did her homestay. An idea dawned upon him suddenly, and he was interested in bringing it up as a joke.

“I suppose with your expertise, your excellency.” said Vimmru, smiling, “that maybe you’d be open to hosting our daughter for a homestay.”

“Oh stop it, darling,” responded Aenn as she jabbed her husband one more time. “forgive me, your excellency, he’s merely joking.”

The Peony almost choked on her tea when she heard Vimmru’s proposal, but she did calculate it for a short amount of time in her mind while the two had a small lover’s spat.

“If you trust me, your excellencies, I would be happy to take Ati under my roof for her homestay. If she’s interested living in Huawan.” said The Peony, smiling. “We have many mountains she could climb, she could also do some skiing. Also, I can introduce her to our women’s team.”

“Oh please don’t mind him your excellency, my husband merely said it in jest.” said Aenn, glaring at her husband.

“I am serious, your excellency.” Said The Peony, “Huawan is an excellent place for your daughter’s homestay. Rest assured she’ll be safe under my roof, and you don’t need to pay for my phone bill to call her constantly. I give you my word not only as the ally of Sedunn or a friend of its king, but also between two alma maters of the esteemed SGU.”

“…I’ll ask her if she’s interested, your excellency,” said Vimmru II to Doctor Yan, before looking at his wife. “I’d certainly have to have a discussion with her and her mother first. Nevertheless, we appreciate your offer.”

As tea time continued with some snacks before the time was close to the diplomatic dinner, in which the three departed to the Grand Palace of Sedunn. The entire leader’s debate went on smoothly, with The Peony taking her role as the Peonic Head of state with seriousness.

Peonic Embassy, Grovne, 2020

After the leader’s debate and the publicity photos with the other members of government. The Peony snuck out to have dinner with her host brothers back when she had her homestay. The Peony had missed her two host brothers, and they both chatted much about the life after. She remarked that the last time she saw her host brothers was when she had her double degree in the SGU, while her host brothers said that they wish to visit Huawan soon. The Peony laughed and she promised to visit the host family in a short time. The Peony had departed from the restaurant, hugging her host brothers before being driven back to the embassy, where she decided to rest after hearing the late briefings.

As it was midnight, and The Peony had wanted to go to bed before her departure the next morning. She didn’t expect that a night before her departure, however, that a guardian knocked on her door and said a call from the grand palace was going on. She accepted, it, thinking it’s from King Vimmru himself. Was there something he’d like to say after the leader’s debate? She decided against taking off her dress, sat down and turned on the loudspeaker for the phone.


“…Your excellency, I’m sorry to bother you so late at night.”

“… Lady Aenn.” recognized The Peony of Huawan, “how can I help you?”

“Were you serious when you said you could be Ati’s host family, your excellency?”

“…Is something the matter your excellency?”

“Ati… was ecstatic when Vimmru offered her the opportunity for a homestay in Huawan. Saying that she was really interested in living there, and she’d like to explore the natural paths,” the First Lady gave a pause and exhaled before she sternly continued. “Allow me to say that I do not trust any other family with my daughter, the only reason why I might consider you is that… I’ve known you since before you became The Peony of Huawan. When you were our stylist on occasions, we didn’t know you above that, but we are at least acquainted to a degree.”

The Peony then sat her back straight, nodding. “Yes, I was, your excellency.”

“My husband is the king of Sedunn, and although we do not have royal ancestry, he is a head of state through and through. Could we… no, could I trust you, doctor Yan.” Continued Aenn, being blunt. “Could I trust you with my daughter?”

“Your excellency, I will do my best to ensure that Ati’s safety is ensured in Huawan, and that she’ll be cared for. I won’t let her miss her homework, I will ensure she comes back home on time, and I’ll see to it that she enjoys herself.” Responded The Peony, “I give you my word.”

“My husband and his cabinet may have access to the royal arsenal, but I myself, as her mother, would do you a lot worse if something befalls to my daughter. Do I make myself clear?” asked Aenn, with conviction that could be felt through the phone lines and The Peony’s ears.

“Yes. I promise.” Said The Peony, tired yet listening to everything Aenn said.

“…Have a good night, your excellency.” said Aenn, as she turned off the phone.

The Peony slouched to her chair, with her little book on her hand. Rubbing the temple of her head, as to try to process the entire thing. A joke made by the King of Sedunn was now going to be a reality. His promise with Vimmru was between an alamater to another, but Aenn’s call was different. The Peony had felt the motherly caution and worry against her.

“سبحان الله…” The Peony said, in her mind.

The Peony knew that if Aenn were to break conduct just to tell her this, then both Vimmru and Aenn must’ve loved their daughter very much, so the words were sharp but understandable in the circumstances. The Peony continued to relax on the chair, as she went off to sleep on it.

Royal Peonic Manor, Lian, 24th of December, 2020

“Ati!” The Peony called, it was in the afternoon.

“Coming!” A voice was heard, Ati opened the canvas door to see The Peony in the hallway.

“Get ready, the dinner will start today.” said The Peony to the young girl, “have you called your parents yet?”

“Yes, I have, aunt Yan!” responded Ati, smiling. “I told them that I’ll be spending the new years here.”

“Always remember to call your parents Ati” reminded The Peony, glad. “don’t forget that dinner will start in one and a half hours.”

Aunt Yan, can I ask you a question?” asked Ati, smiling.

“Yes?” Asked The Peony, “is something wrong?”

“Umm, mom told me that you were mom and dad’s stylist a long time ago when dad was in his early times.” said Ati, “I’m not very good, so I was wondering if you could help me for tonight?”

The Peony looked at Ati, the young woman currently living under The Peony’s roof. A girl that’s as high as The Peony’s shoulders, smiling sweetly. She has her mother’s eyes and her father’s nose. An aura of friendliness like her father, yet a physique like her mother.

Although Ati wondered why she’s staying in The Peony’s manor instead of The Peony’s own palace, in which The Peony said that living in the manor is much more manageable and that living in the palace is just open for bullying. But Ati is living comfortably in the manor, moving in a month after the WF leader’s debate. Although Rin had some qualms about having to split some of the royal guardian’s for Ati’s protection, incognito.

“Come with me,” invited The Peony, as she walked with Ati to the Peony’s bedroom. “Nearly eight years ago I started to style your mother and father, and sometimes she asked for my services until I became The Peony of Huawan. Now I have the liberty to dress up their daughter.”

The Peony opened the sliding door to her room and invited Ati to the Peony’s walk-in closet. A room modeled to ease the process, a very different room than what’s normally accustomed in The Peonic manor. The room housed a monumental collection of The Peony from fashion shows and modelling, some runway dresses made by world-famed and local designers alike. Including some ceremonial garbs and traditional dresses that The Peony often wears. Ati looked at The Peony’s closet with awe, of the beautiful and expensive dresses The Peony has in her arsenal. The Peony asked Ati to sit down on the chair, while she opened the closets for some dresses

“I have a couple of dresses that might fit you, we can definitely start with those.” said The Peony, she then walked back to her bedroom to grab her tablet. “Would you like me to play some music? I know your father liked to play some rock when my team and I were styling him years ago.”

“Do you know Ilta? This singer from Sedunn?” asked Ati, feeling happy for her makeover. Of which The Peony gave Ati the tablet.

“Be my guest.”

The music began as Ati searched for the MV, and with it, so did Ati’s styling begun.

Chapter 13: Jade Christmas

Royal Peonic Manor, Lian, 24th of December 2020

The eve of summer for the eve of Christmas. Or as The Peony likes to put it, “a holiday celebration in no way related, but just coincidentally be happening, at the same time and space, as Christmas”. It’s not her fault that most of her guests are available on that date. Well, the food was prepared by Shizuka, who had an affinity for cooking meat products. Dishes were served including boiled fish with broad bean chilli sauce, braised tofu slices, roasted duck and dumplings. Rin had helped, until she had to order the royal guardians for the holiday patrol and to relhax themselves, weirdly then, asking Sebastien Lister to help The Peony’s oldest sister in cooking food. Lister could cook for himself, but the thing about cooking for oneself is that they aren’t necessarily to impress. Lister began to wonder who’s worse to be a taskmaster, his boss, Rin, or her older sister, Shizuka.

Lister watched from afar as Lord Marcus Rowena was playing with little Chen, as the lord’s son watched the trains move about The Peony’s model train layout. The child was ecstatic to see snakes of miniaturized monoliths of engineering crawling around pieces of track, and Lord Rowena was tending to his son quite well.

Lister wondered when he has ever felt this type of familial relationship, it’s been such a while since he’s been in such a warm place with so much holiday cheer. Trassuneria was unbearable with the heat in Christmas, and his old apartment was concrete surrounded with air conditioning, which can only be described as a glorified fan with ice cubes hanging in front of it. So he was not discouraged as the cold summer air of Huawan was felt around the manor, conditioned by AC, as he was instructed to peel potatoes and pound spices in the kitchen.

Rin arrived back in the central room wearing her long pink and purple hijab under a white yukata. Heading to the kitchen quickly to help her older sister with the cooking, only to hear a buzz in the intercom. She answered before peeling a single piece of garlic, the guardians had told that two visitors are in front of the main door. Rin pulled out her standard-issue phone, and it was then after seeing the images and credentials that she went to greet the visitors in haste. Well, the female visitor was technically a far cousin of The Peony, and an empress of one of the most prominent empires in The South Pacific.

After a couple of minutes, the two went in after escorted by Rin. Empress Astrid and her partner, Hugo Heinriksen came into the manor. They were invited by The Peony, and Empress Astrid was one of The Peony’s close friends. The tower of a woman with an absolute unit of a man came inside the manor through the main door. “Merry Christmas!” the two shouted, with the empress herself wearing a santa hat while her partner Hugo came in bearing gifts. Shizuka smiled as she cleaned her hands and hugged Empress Astrid, Astrid was technically a princess of Huawan due to Peonic history with Izaakia in the Island region of Hai Men, and Shizuka was acquainted with the woman nearly 10 years her junior. Lord Marcus Rowena had also stood up to shake hands with Astrid and Hugo. Astrid had wondered where The Peony was, until Rin said that The Peony was preparing Ati for the party.

Rin then heard another buzz in the intercom as she served tea to Astrid and Hugo. She went outside to greet the next guest, knowing who the man outside was. The manor bustled with voice and cheer, as Hugo and Marcus talked much about the former’s adventures across the tundra of Keyli. As Astrid towered over Shizuka was attracted by the smell, only to close her mouth from sneezing at the pepper. Lister gave a snort when she heard Astrid sneeze, and Shizuka smacked the back of Lister’s head.

The next man to come in was Aran Koigataki, with a sharp suit and a black pair of spectacles as well as a bottle of zero-alcoholic chardonnay in a paper bag. He had tidied his hair as neat he could, until Rin scruffled his hair, undoing every single neatness he tried to make the hours prior to impressing Rin and her family. Rin walked with Aran in tow, she wanted to hold his hand, but realized it wasn’t the time. He entered through the clinic. so the two made their way to the manor through the courtyard. Aran introduced himself, and Lister, throbbing in pain in the back of his head, snickered as he saw his buddy be so stiff and nervous. Shizuka welcomed the man, and shook Aran’s hand, with smile and a squeeze.

Aran then sat down after shaking hands with Marcus, Hugo and Astrid, sitting down in the living room drinking tea. Aran was a bit unnerved since the Izaakian empress was in front of her, and the Frost Empire did have below-warm relations with the Izaakian state. Yet he knew that he himself didn’t have much bearing to Frost foreign relations, and Empress Astrid herself has plans to relinquish her throne in parliament, so he could relax but maintain cordiality as he drank his tea.

It just then so happens that The Peony, with sweat on her forehead, entered the room. She wore a simple long-sleeved black qipao with golden embroidery, wearing a red silk cloth around her head and neck like a hijab. She bowed to greet her guests with enthusiasm, before announcing her latest masterpiece. It has been a while, yet The Peony hasn’t lost her touch just yet. The 15-year-old girl in Ati Innienn, came into the main room of the manor where all the guests are, in a beautiful sleeveless blue chinese dress with red embroidery and floral patterns. It was a beautiful traditional dress that Ati wore, and The Peony was especially proud of it.

Shizuka and Rin immediately walked over Ati to admire her dress and complimented The Peony at her efforts. The Peony was being modest, while she held Ati’s shoulders. Ati helped Rin set up the table as The Peony entertained her guests on the living room table, listening to her guests as Hugo painted a gnarly scene at his latest adventure while in contrast, Aran told the others about his research. When it was time, The Peony stood up, and invited the others to the table. They all sat down on the round dining table with a spinning glass table for the food. Shizuka and Sebastien had already placed the meals, until Shizuka placed the duck, sliced to bits ready for consumption. They all sat down, ready to consume the dinner before them. It smelt so heavenly, duck, rice, tofu, vegetables and dumplings. It was a holiday dinner, and a well one at that.

Royal Peonic Manor, Lian, 24th of December 2020

I sat down and led the prayer. Astrid meimei asked to make a toast for me hosting this dinner party, of which I am glad to be hosting such a closed-door event. We all sat around the food, and in similar Asian fashion, there was a sense of community which I absolutely adore at dinners like these. We each took turns to take the food using tongs, ladles and chopsticks. Once it’s on your plate, however, it’s on your plate. Mother however told me to gaze at others and recognize their attendance as we eat. So I did, after eating some ginger. There were quite a lot of people on the table, I’d have to admit.

Rin sat next to me as she happily ate the tofu while looking at Aran next to her, she was explaining to him a little bit about the dishes served. Most of the food here was from the northern region, its spices were necessary to ensure the warmth of the body coupled with the heat from the dishes. Aran was interested in listening to the different ways one needs to use the chopsticks in the north, and the courtesies at using such long chopsticks.

Rin sighed and held Aran’s hand to help him configure how to get the braised lotus “No, it’s like this you see… I always love the dishes from the north, they give much flavor and warmth, it’s so fulfilling.” I see Aran was blushing a bit, Rin jiejie was feely with her hands but I can see his unnerve lies in Dajie Shizuka staring daggers at his across the table. She was going to grill the two, and I only wish that there was popcorn.

I looked across me and saw Empress Astrid admiring the spices of the food in front of her. She was trying to be cordial and she does enjoy the meal, but I know someone that couldn’t handle their spice. Her partner, on the other hand, is completely capable, and I may say rather normally. Although the food was amazing, I do believe he’s the type that prefers to eat in the outer hawkers instead. “Hugo, you have to try the duck. It tastes absolutely awesome with the sauce.” Astrid said, as she fed her partner the duck breast blanketed with the pastry and the vegetables. Hugo was certainly welcoming of her partner’s chopsticks with the duck, who wouldn’t want an empress feed him. Perhaps it would make Hugo more at ease at the fact I didn’t notice him pouring whisky into his tea.

I looked at my brother-in-law and my nephew. Of course Shizuka needed to help her son with eating and did not have any time teaching Marcus how to use chopsticks. Marcus had however stabbed the tofu and ate it, while using the soup spoon to eat the rice. He has a sense of ingenuity to him. “This meal is absolutely excellent.” said Marcus, complimenting his wife as the main cook, smiling at her. The three were such a perfect puzzle match, and I’m glad they came for dinner.

Perhaps weirdly in the table is my own courtier, well, new courtier really. Sebastien Lister sat down on the table after Ati pleaded with me that he be allowed in the table with us. I’m glad that Sebastien made Ati very comfortable, he spoke fluent Sedunnic of course. Rin was of course eyeing Sebastien to ensure he doesn’t cross any lines, but I can vouch that he was well aware of Peonic culture already, and simply introducing Ati from the eyes of a person that has close cultural relationship with Sedunn. Yet he was still crude, unlike Ati, who was already trained with formal conduct. Ati could also use a chopstick, and was very… Peonic indeed.

“Which one is your favorite?” I asked Ati, Ati was sitting next to me of course.

“I absolutely love the fish, aunt Yan. It has such a hearty flavor.” she said, smiling at me before facing Shizuka. “Thank you for cooking, aunt Shizuka.”

Shizuka gave a warm smile, “I’m happy that you enjoyed it Ati. It’s actually very simple if you use the instant spices and have some frozen fish instead. But I like grinding up the spices first to create a stronger broth.”

“The duck is also excellent.” Empress Astrid said, happily complimenting the duck, “why did the duck be cut to multiple parts for consumption?”

“Ah… Well when we prepare the dish, we mostly divide just the skin, sometimes meat is served separately and the bones are made into soup.” Explained Shizuka, “I’ve used the bones for broth, and it could later be grounded up as well for a stronger broth. It does take time to ground up bones though, doctor Yan is more interested in it.”

“It’s good for water regulation and tonifying Qi for traditional medicine.” I responded, “Of course it can also be excellent for calcium replenishment as well, I’ll ask my nurses to process them properly.”

“I didn’t know TCM is still applied, I thought it was written off as quackery.” said Hugo, as I saw him drink his spiked tea.

“Well traditional medicine is only quackery if not backed, or disproven by scientific research.” I tried to explain, “we try to reduce the usage of exotic and rarer materials, especially those that aren’t scientifically justified, nor ethical.”

“Such as sharkfin soup in Hai Men.” Aran said, trying to get into the conversation. “The cartilage was a huge popularity in the region of Hai Men, even deep rooted to its culture, but it was proven to be ecologically damaging and unbeneficial for health.”

“Which drove the Izaakian government at the time to ban it,” said Empress Astrid proudly, “a rule that was adopted by the Peonic government next door.”

I responded, “It encompassed such a small niche in the fishing market, which very much justified the ease of outlawing it. There are much better luxury foods, such as the duck we serve today. So we do invest much effort to reduce the sharkfin business.”

I saw Shizuka drank her tea, before she moved to change her attention to Aran. “So Aran, you are an anthropologist?”

Here it comes.

“Yes, before and after I served in the imperial Frost navy, I am an anthropologist for Oured University before serving my tenure in Lotus University.” Aran said, proudly to Shizuka.

Shizuka nodded a bit, before asking another question “I see, so you did some service. Commander, I presume?”

“Of the FS Free Spirit, your excellency.” Aran responded, of which I saw Rin continued to give the riposte. “He’s a very talented member of the navy, although I’d like to think his contributions in Peo-Frostian cultural relations is second to none.” said Rin, proudly. “Recently he just finished his book on cloth pattern history between Huawan and Frost.”

“His students also love his lectures, as I see it,” said Sebastien, maybe trying to elevate his friend, or maybe curry favor with Rin by defending him. I see Shizuka was interested, it’s like there was a little war going on in my dining table, and I’m all up for it.

“I hear you’re dating Rin,” said Shizuka, looking at the two, “why do you want to date my sister?” A question that was hard hitting, and I looked at Ati, all interested in the questions. I think Vimmru and Aenn might be people who’d grill Ati’s future partner, so I’d guess she want’s to know on the things to do in the situation, or what not to do. I looked at Aran and Rin, Aran shouldn’t take too long to answer the question.

“Rin is an absolutely fantastic person, your excellency,” said Aran, I think he knows that he needed to impress Shizuka. “She is stong, intelligent and amazing. I asked whether I was allowed to be an important person in her life, and we agreed that both of us were.”

“You understood Rin’s posting and responsibilities, do you not?” Asked Shizuka, strong. It was a valid question, and there were implications of Rin’s position. Rin definitely tried to answer Shizuka’s question.

“Dajie Shizuka, my responsibility as the peonic royal guardian shall not be compromised. Although I would need to be held under scrutiny later on. Rest assured however, that the protection of The Peony, and The Peocracy shall not downgrade in any circumstance.” said Rin, strictly to Shizuka. Rin was not the type that welcomes questions towards her capability as a guardian, let alone a question that assumes that her relationships pose problems to her responsibilities. I looked at Dajie Shizuka, and I try to signal her to stop, for now.

“I am absolutely glad that you and Aran are happy, Rin jiejie.” I said, I needed to stop this questioning. “Aran is such a good man. Anyway, Astrid meimei, could you tell me more about your trips later on?”

I think Astrid knew what I meant, as chaotic loving she is, she knows that it was time to change the topic. “I plan to explore the world, maybe outside The South Pacific. If the Izaakian parliament decided to end the monarchy of course. I’m considering to stay in Hai Men, it was the roots of Izaakian culture and the Iceborns.”

“I’m actually making a documentary later on, on the topic. The roots of the nation.” Hugo interrupted, proudly. “It’s fun to make a nature and adventure documentary at times, maybe something in the Xiongwei mountains later on?”

“That’d be amazing, there could be an entire volume on the mountains themselves,” I responded, keep calm, I need to continue this discussion. I looked at Ati, before continuing.
“Ati here is incredibly interested in the mountains too, I heard from first lady Aenn that she’d like to join the Sedunnic mountain rangers.”

“Uhh yeah! I’m considering taking the test to join the mountain rangers for my service later on.” Ati responded, smiling, "so it’d be nice to have a bit of mountaineering experience here. "

“We should take a hike sometime, the summer is excellent for a hike and the land is not wet.” I exclaimed, “maybe sometime next year, before your departure back at home. Would you be welcome to accompany us, mister Lister?”

Lister of course stopped eating the spring rolls to answer me, he thought he could blend into the entire conversation and none the wiser to strike up a conversation with him.

“Of course, my Nuwang.” said Sebastien, trying to maintain his composure. “I shall be honoured to accompany Ati and yourself to the mountains.”

“Excellent, it sounds like a fantastic plan.” I said. “It’ll be nice to stretch your legs once in a while in the mountains. Summer is the best time to go around the mountains, and I hope it’ll be proper.”

It was an excellent time for the discussion, and we continued to eat further. It was incredibly festive.

Royal Peonic Manor, Lian, 24th of December 2020

I stood outside to look at the moonlight, although the crowd was comfortable, I needed a breath of fresh air. The others have finished eating, and Chen had welcomed the gifts Astrid and Hugo got for the people here. Ati joined the crowd with Rin and Aran, and it was such a nice sight, seeing them so jolly around the couches and the television.

What wonderful moonlight, hearing the critters sound. It was a nice time, such a tremendous summer. It was nice… It was a nice end for such an insane time right now. There are more things that trouble on my mind, and I’m glad that I got this at least.

I sipped a cup from my tea when I sat down on that bench, I had Rin pour me another cup for me to take outside. It felt incredible. I saw Sebastien outside as well, standing a bit far from me. Either Rin told him to accompany me, or he got out of his own volition. He is a guest after all.

“Attend me.” I said, calling him to my side. He was being sneaky, but he hid his cigarette near the stone bricks before coming to me. He walked and knelt towards me.

“Yes, my Nuwang.” He greeted me, I looked at him, and could smell the tobacco from him.

“You were smoking, were you, Mr. Lister?”

“…Forgive me, my Nuwang…” he admitted to me, there were some things that was difficult to quit. I suppose I had an experience with it myself, it tasted like shit, but it was something that… saved me? How interesting, something that kills me, saves me.

“I saw nothing.” I said before continuing, “if I may ask, Mr. Lister, you said about Aran’s class… By any chance did you shadow him?”

“I was actually an attendant in one of his classes, my Nuwang. I was curious about university life.” He admitted it with a blush, but he kept it cordial.

I was interested to ask, “Are you perhaps interested to go to university, mister Lister?”

“…The thought did come to my mind, my Nuwang… But I don’t know where to go next. I barely finished high school myself. I’d have to go through the little documents I had if any.”

I asked him a question, “Would you be alright if I assisted you, Mr. Lister? I could certainly ask a favor or two to get your documents, or an opportunity to take the package and that, a high school degree, which would help you get to university.”

“Please my Nuwang, you’ve given me food, shelter and occupation. I do not wish to extend my list of things that I owe you.” He told me, putting his head lower, I try to push him a smile, he truly is my courtier.

“If I could make your life, or… a life of my statesmen better, then I shall.” I reassured him, I looked at this man who knelt before me, “yet I shall not force anything that you are not comfortable with, Mr. Lister, you are a citizen of the Peocracy.”

“I am honoured to receive your assistance, my Nuwang.” He told me. I am glad that he decided to take it.

I looked back at the moon and took another sip of tea. “…That’ll be all for now, Mr. Lister. Do remember that you please be mindful that you smoke elsewhere.”

“I beg my leave, my Nuwang.” Sebastien said, scurrying off as he walked to somewhere more hidden. I presume for another smoke. It was the least I could do to help the man, after everything that I looped him into. It was nice.

…I couldn’t force myself to smile further, it was difficult when I continued to remember the paper in my pocket. I took the letter I had with me, a letter that I got half a year ago. A message, using a paper letter. I don’t know why, maybe for security to not have a digital trail. The letter continued to haunt me, which compelled me to put it in my pocket and bring it with me. I opened it, to read it again. Just to make sure whether I read it correctly.

My Peony

*Happy winter to you my friend. *

The snow is starting to fall here as well, it’s cold as I write this to you from the frontlines. It was a battle we had to win, and it is unfortunate that we did not manage to accomplish our mission.

We severely miscalculated the enemy’s capabilities and arsenal, we did the best we could, but regardless, the damage was done, and I’m sure you’ll know they were massive indeed. We try to help with the displaced as best we can, but it is known that history claims this as a dark day indeed.

I wish to tell you otherwise, my friend. Oh, how I hope I could, Yet I must tragically inform you that there is more on the horizon, my friend. Our enemies have something up their sleeve once more, and we have to re-stack our decks once more. We were surprised to see that everything was linked to the virus and the crash of HIA 402, and the untimely death of your older brother. I wish to tell you more, but only time will be able to provide us with all the answers.

We aim to neutralize the threats to our regions by any means necessary, and I hope lady Caitlin will be able to secure us enough support for the days that’s about to come.

We shall be fine, my friend. But I ask you, to please be strong, for all of our sakes, on the roads that will come to light. On the rivers of fate where every wave crash to one another, you must be strong enough to paddle us to the path of righteousness.

May your sails are winded, and may your flowers bloom, and may the spirits be with you,


Doctor Kane

??, ??, 24th of December 2020

“We must go, doctor Kane.”

“…Yes we shall, Ms. Toudou, call the others.”

Chapter 14: Reizen Winter

??, ??, 24th of December 2020

The explosion came soon.

Sooner than expected.

Expected? That was the attitude, we knew there was the possibility for them to detonate their nukes. I signed them off when they unloaded it in the harbour, I thought they would be aimed toward the peacekeepers and the royalists, bringing The South Pacific to the first nuclear winter. We never expected this to be their last stand, that they’d kill their own people instead of being tried.

My cleaners have been at work keeping the peace of whatever’s left. The royalists have also not been kind to us, the RIM technically never surrendered, and the society that tried to live its life with blissful ignorance against who’s running the show was targeted by the dozen. I don’t imagine the Frost Empire would be looking forward to stabilising these nuclear wastelands until they can have order, and order be it be, with bullets, blood and propaganda.

As for people like myself, our whole operation was destroyed. After years of work to ensure the city is maintained and fed, its underground is in order. All that was destroyed in a day, a blinding light that didn’t escape my mind as The Broker told me to come down to the bunkers.

The Broker, they call him. My superior, he’s missing, kidnapped. While trying to do one of his community services, he was ambushed by unmarked vans from our enemies. The connections and influence of our family are not as strong as before, but I am able to discern my target with help from a… surprise visitor. Intel told us that the convoy will be here to transport the Broker, we need to clear the garrison.

“There’s too much radiation, we’ll have to go around.” He told me, I heard my Geiger counter. We have to plan our paths another way. Our boots stomped on the dust and ruins of the city as we walked through it. The jiggle of our ammunition and grenades accompanied our path, with my kevlar weighing from my shoulder. We walked carefully for a couple of kilometres, passing by crowds and patrols from royalist forces and peacekeepers.

“Don’t move.” He told me, we were at a couple of apartment complexes on the outskirts of the city. Ourselves hidden behind the ruins. He looked by the side with his binoculars.

“Two tangoes by the lorry, and a sniper.” He motions me to get into position, “Fire escape, 4th floor, on my go.”

I moved quickly to give some space, I can get a clear shot now. “Standing by,” I answered.

“…Weapons free.” I pulled the trigger, the man is no more.

“Two tangoes by the lorry, we have to take them out at the same time. Wait until I get into position.” He told me, before spacing away. I watched my perimeter and the patrol’s movements.

“I’m in position, we have to take them out at the same time. On my go.”



Two bodies fell down, our clock is ticking. We moved quickly to new positions. We calibrated the radio to hostile channels and continued our pace.

“Clear, go.” He ordered. I followed suit. We both know where to go. We moved through the ruins and the frozen soil into the apartment complex.

“Don’t let your guard down, we’re not there yet.” He told me.

We entered through the side entrance of the short complex and treaded snail’s pace by the doors. Listening closely if there are other hostile combatants. Room by room we cleared out the combatants with flashbangs and suppressed weapons, securing every floor before moving on to the next. We don’t think there are many citizens living here, and both of us viewed that anyone is expendable. It took some time until the building is cleared.

“This is team alpha,” he radioed to my cleaners, “we cleared floor 3 of building A.”
“Bravo team cleared floor 2 of building B, moving up.”
“Charlie cleared floor 3 of building C.”
“Secure the floors and the buildings, get into position.” I radioed
“Copy that team alpha.” One of my cleaners responded, “bravo out.”
“Charlie out.”

I sighed, I waited for the other cleaners to come. It’s very difficult to move through this city from the royalist forces. We’re going to wait for the exchange here. My partner took off his gas mask and pulled out a cigarillo. He smoked it, and seemed to enjoy the release.

“These things never get old,” he remarked. “Isn’t it right, Ms Toudou?”

“It has been a while since I’ve been on my toes like this, doctor Kane.” I remarked, “mind giving me a puff?”

He offered me his lit cigarillo, I took it and gave it a smoke. I think I took too much, I ended up coughing the nasty thing while my tongue is sweetened from the paper.

“You don’t smoke that much do you?”

“Not as much as you,” I said, myself still coughing while taking another puff. He gave a laugh.

“Oh I’m not a chain smoker, I simply smoke once in a while.” said doctor Kane as he checked the magazine of his sidearm, before taking the cigarillo from me. I looked outside the window, a square surrounding short apartment complexes about 3 stories high. In the middle, a playground and a jogging track, or what’s left of it. A road sliced through the community square between the towering apartments leading to some shops. Intel told us that the convoy will pass through here soon, where the Broker will be traded like cards.

“This is where I used to live,” I muttered, he listened. “Over there, that was the community square, I played with the other kids in the neighbourhood.”

“It didn’t matter how much sun we had until evening, nor how much homework we had to do before tomorrow, it didn’t bother us at all.” I mentioned, “look, can you still see the outlines of the square?”

Doctor Kane just looked at me in silence as I continued.

“Had I defied my orders, had I alerted the peacekeepers. Had I not signed off that transport from those ships.” I wondered why I mentioned those words to him. I suppose he understood the field as much as I do.

“We are taskmen, operators if you will.” He responded as he put out his cigarillo, “the war never ends for people like us. No matter the discouraging factors, there’s always a task to complete. Its completion is all that matters, regardless of the things that entail.”

“And this is one of them.” I continued, by instinct. “Let’s plan the patrols. Control will inform us of developments.”