Chengshi Jinse (The Golden City), Fu Empire – formerly the City of the Unworthy
Approximately 2 years after the events of Animus Lost
Fanning his wings strongly against the wind, the Soldier battled his way onto the opulent marble balcony that led to the rooms of the Golden Empress. The other Soldier waiting there hovered nearby anxiously, and buzzed an inquiry at the new arrival. He replied in the negative, and the attendant radiated disappointment. With a shake, the first Soldier took on the familiar glamour of Goldie. She ruffled her yellow hair, which had grown long since her days as a traveling mercenary, and looked at her Changeling companion.
“Yi Wei, I’m sorry,” she said, and placed her hand on what approximated a shoulder for the insect-like creature. “I waited for as long as I could, but no one came. I don’t think they want to treat with us.” The Changeling drooped and assumed the guise of the handsome Fu Elf that he had finally perfected.
“I had just hoped, after all of this time, that they would forgive me, and us, and see what a wonderful opportunity there is for our kind in these lands. We don’t have to be criminals. We don’t have to hide our abilities, and the bear form is easy to master.” He sighed, and Goldie gave him a hug without replying. Even though the northern Changelings wouldn’t keep any of the diplomatic appointments that Goldie had tried to make with them, at least these two could lean on each other. Sometimes it felt like Yi Wei was the only person she could relate to, which was a far cry from how she’d felt when he was impersonating her friend Quinlan. Who would have thought that her closest friend, confidant, and eventually lover would be a Changeling? The world was truly a strange place.
“My love,” he said, after leaning into her embrace, “I appreciate that you tried. I have a delegation from Empress Valentine waiting in the Jade Chamber, and the usual petitions in the Hall of Living Statues. Who would you like to see first?” She laughed, because he obviously knew that she would put off the Cinderfell delegation as long as possible. Most of her friends from there had abandoned her for their own lives, or no life at all in the case of poor Skygoat, and it was painful to see even the familiar faces of Astrid’s ambassadors. Almost as strange as her rule over the Fu with another Changeling as her lover and Prime Minister was the fact that her main points of contact with her former friends were regular letters from Arkh. He was doing well for himself, and was very proud of her ability to write now in two different languages. She occasionally saw Fritz and his lady, but she didn’t trust either of them in her palace for long. Things always seemed to go missing, including her statues. Just because he had the power to move them didn’t mean that she appreciated him doing so. Thankfully, Ashll seemed to be a voice of reason.
Goldie allowed herself to be primped and painted, and donned her heavy sapphire and gold robes of state. With Yi Wei at her side, she entered the Hall of Living Statues and took her place on her throne. The intoxicating rush of power over the hundreds of lives in front of her never grew old, and she was sure that she had already been corrupted more than a little by it. Somehow, that didn’t seem to matter as much as it should have. At times she was concerned by the loss of some of her empathy, but she was always so busy that she never had much time to dwell on it. And anyhow, Yi Wei never judged her. Perhaps it was good that she had lost touch with her friends. They wouldn’t understand what it took to rule a land such as the Fu Empire.
The first petitioner, some unimportant peasant by the look of him, bowed until his head nearly touched his knees. “My Golden Empress,” he murmured, keeping his eyes cast respectfully down at the marble floor, and continued the traditional greeting. “My life is in your paws.”
Goldie smiled. It was not a particularly nice smile.