After division, comes unity and unity is followed by division. It is the way of the world under heaven since antiquity. The Empire has been united under the rule of the last emperor of the Dragon Dynasty, but the emperor is sick and dying and division is beginning to surface. The soothsayers say that the constellation of Quinlong, the Azure Dragon, which shone the day the emperor took power, is now fading in the skies – a sure omen from heaven that mastery over the kingdom will shift and another will sit in the Dragon Throne. One can be born into prince-hood, but it is ultimately heaven that mandates its steward upon the earth. Even as the emperor is preparing to join his auspicious ancestors, history continues to turn its wheel and four contenders have thrown their fortunes in a bid to be proclaimed “Son of Heaven”. Should they overcome their rivals and achieve glory, they will clearly show heaven’s approval. But who will be victorious?
Li Chen – The Bureaucrats of the Forbidden palace
In the heart of the province of Northern China, lies Beijing. The city of Emperors with a population counting in the millions making a living of whatever they can find. Poverty, crime are rampant and in complete contrast to the whispering halls of Forbidden Palace and its splendor. Referred to as Heaven’s reflection on Earth, the Forbidden palace is a golden apple with a rotten core. The bureaucrats, corrupt, avaricious and ever hungry to expand their power scheme behind ornate walls with hushed voices. Being responsible for the emperor’s wellbeing and His Great secretariats the bureaucrats and eunuchs have risen from sentenced criminal slaves to ministers, advisors and councilmen – all decked in splendor and luxury and all jealously guarding their position of power. To achieve their ends, the eunuchs employ their most efficient and characteristic weapons – plots, gold and ultimately a well-placed dagger delivered from the most unexpected place. Their claws are all reaching as are their spies and assassins – the Hidden Army. Their luxury is not earned with an honest service for the good of the nation, but created from the toil, blood and desperation of its people. With the Old emperor dying, the bureaucrats have seized the chance to become untouchable in their crimes. They have backed the rich noble Li Chen of Beijing, a man just as corrupt and full of love for money as them. Ultimate power is very profitable and in the right hands, eternal wealth could be acquired. The bureaucrats have opened the imperial treasury to him and he has promised them not only the riches of the empire, but also the riches of the Soviet Union - the long standing enemy of the empire and the anti-thesis of everything the bureaucrats base their power on: equality in toil, money and class standing. This enemy must not be left standing; this enemy must be obliterated so it doesn’t spread its communist disease among the citizens of the empire. When Shen conquers the throne, he will annihilate the Soviet Union and Communism with fire and sword and usher his age – the Age of Heavenly Affluence.
Yi Kim – The Scholars and Monks of the Jade hall
In Korea, the land of the morning calm, within the Jade Hall of Worthies, the scholars and men of spirit put forward their candidate for the throne. There is only one true Mandate of Heaven and that is with the people which are closest to heaven. Only those select few are truly privy to the true will of heaven and they are all gathered within the Hall of worthies. From their number, they put forward Yi Kim’s candidacy to the Throne of The Dragon. A firm believer in the spiritual and enlightened superiority of the rule of heaven, Yi Kim was spiritual advisor to the Late emperor. Now that the emperor is dead, he fears that the empire has lost its path and is drifted away from the ways of the ancestors. It was under his advice that the late emperor ordered the infamous “burning of books” where thousands upon thousands of books were burned and hundreds of scholars were buried throughout the empire to unite it under the will of heaven. Now with the emperor dead, the people of the empire will need a new leader and guardian to keep them safe on the right path of virtue and to protect them from the foulness of moral depravity. With Yi Kim’s grasp on the people’s hearts, it seems that heaven has cast its benevolent hand on him – a sign that he will become the son of heaven. With the support of the other scholars and monks, he will usher a new era of virtue and crush all enemies that threaten his “flock” spiritual health. Across the great ocean lies the greatest threat to this dream – the United Republic. These godless, shallow and material people shall suffer the full wrath of the Son of Heaven and shall be taught that none can stand before that might of heaven. Once he has purged the capitalists, he will usher the era of Heavenly Virtue where science and spirit will come first for it is the afterlife that is more important than this one.
Hideki Hojo – The warriors of the Torii Gates
Loyal, brutal and proud are just a few of the many words that can be used to describe Hideko Hojo. He can trace his ancestry back to Medieval Japan and the time of the Shogunate. His ancestors were some of the first warlords who united the clans under one banner against the Mongols. It was his ancestors who defeated the Mongol Khan Kublai at the battle of Koan in 1281. Based in the fabled Himeji castle, this leader will stop at nothing until the entire world bends the knee to the will of the Empire. Hojo was fiercely loyal to the Dragon Emperor, frequently advising him on all military matters. Infact up until the emperor’s death he was his majesties first port of call whenever he needed advice on where to conquer next. Hojo is convinced that the Emperor was assassinated along with his chancellor. Indeed he was so infuriated by this treachery that he has sworn a blood oath to avenge his masters death. This only adds to the resentment that he feels towards the Eunuchs of the forbidden palace and only adds to the chaos that now exists within the Empire. Even though Hojo hates the Eunuchs and the other members of the Empire outside of his control, they pale in comparison to his loathing of every other culture that exists throughout the world, in particular the Warlords of Africa. In one of his most recent speeches he denounces the Warlord king Shaka II ‘as nothing other than a savage who is merely the strongest among a country of savages.’ Hojo firmly believes that the people of the Empire are the superior race. In his eyes the people of Africa need to be invaded to rid the world of their savagery and barbarism forever. The rest of the world needs to be brought under Hojo’s rule because he believes that its leadership is misguided. This is for the simple reason that the world’s leaders lack honor. Something that Tojo holds to be the most important virtue of a great leader. Without honor you can’t set the example needed to serve the Son of Heaven, the Emperor. Hojo is also a big believer in the militarization of the Empire. Japan in his opinion lacks the social degradation of China because every area of society is ruled by a strict set of militarized laws. He claims that he doesn’t need propaganda because all of his people already follow every word that he says. Hojo believes that the army should exist first and foremost to serve the Emperor and therefore recruits for the army must never question any order that they are given. Without this blind obedience the Empire can’t destroy the looming barbarian threat. Hojo has most recently been attributed with the successful defense of the Pacific against the Alliance where he continues to defend the back door into the Empire. For the last few months Hojo has set his eyes on the South coast of Africa where he hopes to begin his campaign of terror against the African Savages. Under the surface of harmony and peace, these three contenders cause ripples throughout the empire - Each vying for power and glory, each trying to outdo the other and each trying to destroy the other. In these uncertain times, the eunuchs of the Forbidden Palace decide to use the tools at their disposal – assassins. Amongst these, they choose their most efficient weapon - Natsuko.
Natsuko – the Assassin
Born is Nuza, the fabled origin of a mysterious order of female ninja, Natsuko lost everything she had at the tender age of six. Soldiers raided the village, slaughtered the small folk and moved on. Natsuko and her sister were quiet as mice, like their mother told them, hiding in a closet. The daimyo’s troops never knew they were there, or couldn’t be bothered with two little girls. She never found out why the village was attacked, or how long it lasted – could be hours, maybe days – but the time in the closed felt like an eternity. She remembered darkness, she remembered screams and finally the rusty red color of dried blood splattered across their living room.
Rot and decay had mingled with the tangy, irony smell of blood. Natsuko and her sister looked for their parents, but found only a man. He was standing just outside their house and looked intently at their door as they stepped outside. He never introduced himself, only stating that they were to come with him. Natsuko knew she had to be strong, she was the older sister. She knew she would never see her parents again and tried explaining this to her sister who kept asking for their mother and father.
The man took the girls across the sea to what he called the Forbidden City. Natsuko always thought a palace was where princesses lived, but the Eunuchs taught her otherwise. Sure it was beautiful, and Natsuko had silks, delicacies or anything else she might need. Except her sister. Upon arriving at the Forbidden City Natsuko was escorted to a small, but luxurious chamber, and the man took her sister. She hasn’t seen her since.
Thus started her training. The Eunuchs, or so they called themselves, told Natsuko her sister was well. She cried, she begged, but they never caved. They fed her poisons, to teach her how to use them. They taught her how to kill using only her index fingers by the time she was eight. Promising her that her sister was safe and would remain so if only she did what she was told. She had made one friend in the palace, a little kitten who curled up against her legs when she went to bed. When the eunuchs found out about him, they taught her how to efficiently kill with a hairpin.
She was also taught how to be unseen, a shadow that no-one would remember. Take the form of a miko, a geisha, a noble lady or a common whore. She must be no-one to get close to her target. Be only a sliver of a person, but be the sharpest sliver they never see coming.
She became the sharp edge of a rose petal. But still the Eunuchs didn’t give her what she most desired. They claimed her sister was fine and well. When she came of age they arranged a marriage for her. Natsuko, they told her, was the deadliest weapon they had ever trained. When she came of age she got her first assignment. It was easy, a simple kill. Briefly she thought about the rusty blood stains on the rice paper, as the blood of her first victim, a minor lordling, gushed over her hand. That day she vowed to herself she would be the most valuable weapon the Eunuchs ever had. Just like she knew her parents were gone, she knew she would never see her sister again. Let them hone me, she thought; let them think they own me.
Upon the Death of the Dragon Emperor, just before the chaos shattered the tranquility of the Empire, the Empress Mother became regent ruler. The late Dowager princess Nagako came from an ancient and noble line of samurai warriors. Famous throughout the Empire for being some of the greatest warriors that Asia has ever seen. Nagako’s father himself was one of the last samurai to fight with the katana, although even he had to submit to mastering the rifle. Princess Nagako was brought up to be a strong and powerful princess. She mastered the arts of diplomacy and politics while attending to her other tedious princely duties. Many who knew her described her as a clever, beautiful and influential right hand of the Dragon. The generals of the Empire would come to her if they wanted to advise the Great Dragon on any issue. This is most certainly the reason why she met an early end. After the death of the Emperor, Nagako was trusted with his responsibilities in his stead. She was seen as a significant threat to the continued success of the Forbidden Palace and therefore she had to be dealt with. The Eunuchs sent their most skilled assassin, Natsuko to carry out her deadly work. One morning the poor Princess was found in her garden, poisoned. This was indeed a tragedy for the Empire. Even though the princess would never have ruled for long, her rule would have allowed time for the leaders of the Empire to delegate power to the next Emperor, now chaos is free to roam once again.