Chapter 1: Different Possibilities
The day was calm and beautiful. The breeze was soft as it made it's way through the plains and leaves. For Ma Dai, it felt like a soft cloth brushing against his face. A calm setting for him to relax in, sitting underneath an oak tree. In between his missions and doing favors for his comrades, he finds himself here. Located a few yards away from Chengdu, he enjoyed the seclusion the spot offered. Away from people yet not too far where that no one can find him. He finds himself often chasing his thoughts and thinking about what the next day holds for him. No doubt running some errands and taking part in yet another supply transport.
That's what most his days were, ever since the defeat of Orochi in the third war. All the kingdoms, both the Chinese and Japanese, were in a state of peace with each other. Some were in legitimate peace while others were more in a fickle alliance. Who knows how long it will last before they all begin to fight again, but for now the days were quiet and for once, enjoyable.
There are some days were the monotony of transporting supplies or helping someone find something does get to him. Ma Dai believes it can get tedious at times, though he can't complain too much about. He does enjoy seeing the strange sights this world has to offer. This strange fusion of different timelines brought together by Orochi both surprised and fascinated him. Never has he ever felt both familiar and unfamiliar in a place he once thought he knew. Elements of his world along the others sprinkled together like pebbles in a pond. He sometimes wondered if other world were also thrown together with theirs. Learning from his little ninja friend, the one he playfully calls his little sister, how far back their history goes. The stories from both Joan de Arc, Ayane and Momiji about their history led him to believe in the possibility of other worlds being fused with this one. It's almost impossible to believe that Orochi simply picked a handful of warriors and placed them in this sandbox he created. There has to be others.
Ma Dai remembers when he asked Lord Taigong Wang this same question only to recieve an answer summed up as, "Eh, maybe." That wasn't enough for the painter. He wanted to know more. The idea both amazed and frightened him. The possibility of other warriors and legends he could learn from amazed him. Yet, he also thought if there are others, would they not be so friendly. What if they didn't want to be disturbed. If Achilles' disappearance was anything to go by, is that some people just want to be left alone. It could just be the fact that Achilles himself was a fierce being that got tired of the peace. But still, someone else like him could be out there, and could have an army.
There he goes again, getting lost in his own thoughts again. Before he knew it, he had a not-so unexpected visiter with him. Sitting on a branch above him was his "little sister," who only seemed to call herself Kunoichi. She sat looking at him till he finally got out his thoughts and noticed.
"Got lost in your own thoughts again, big brother?" She asked him as she juggled her kunais.
"Yeah, I guess I did. How long have you been sitting up there," he asked.
"Mmm, probably about five... or so minutes," she replied.
"And you just sat up there looking at me, doing nothing?"
"I didn't want break up whatever it was you were thinking about. What if you were about to find out the meaning of life, or something."
"I guess, so what are you doing here?"
"Hmm, no reason. Just wanted to see how my big bro is doing." Kunoichi drops down from the branch and plops herself next to Ma Dai. Her bright smile reflected her curiosity. "So, what were you thinking about?"
"Well, it's just... the usual thing I've been thinking about lately."
"Guan Yu's daughter?"
"The other thing."
"The perfect fishing spot?"
"Nope, the other thing?"
"The possibility of other warriors stuck here with us?"
"That's the one."
"Man, that whole thing just makes my head spin. I'm still barely getting over the idea that this... timeline exists if everyone didn't die. Not to mention, the idea of me killing you at some point."
Her voice shook a little when she said that. Ma Dai felt the same way. The idea that there was a timeline where nearly everyone was killed by Orochi's army. The timeline where Kunoichi, underneath the bastard Kiyomori's mind control, killed Ma Dai. He remembers when his cousin Ma Chao told him what had happened. He didn't know what to believe, but the proof was that he was here, alive and well. Kunoichi was back to normal, free of Kiyomori's control was also proof. They may not remember what happened before, but the stories from Ma Chao, Sima Zhao, and Hanbei Tanaka left them baffled.
"Yeah, uncanny." Ma Dai said. He hated the possibility of his dear friend being the cause of his death in a different time.
"How do you think happened? I imagine that it went something like..." she said as she stood up and took a heroic stance. "The valiant and dashing Ma Dai, along with his companion Pang De fought the massive horde of demons. One by one, they were cut down by the heroic duo. The demons needed help so they called upon their greatest champion; the young and beautiful little ninja."
Ma Dai didn't like to be reminded of what had happened, but he did enjoy Kunoichi's morbidly heroic take on it.
"She faced the duo head on. The battle was long, she punch, kicked, and clawed at her enemies. She eventually got the upper hand on them and... well, we know the rest." She didn't want to say the rest. No matter how she changed up the story, she always hated the ending.
Ma Dai placed his hand on her back in hopes of comforting her. He knew that she hated the idea of herself killing him. She looked at him, her strange pink colored eyes read concern on them.
"Come on, little sis. We are both here now, and that's the only thing that matters. Besides, that's not what I was even thinking about so there's no need to worry yourself."
His words seem to eased her thoughts. Anything that kept her from thinking about that reality always did good for her.
"You're right. Sooo yeah, warriors like us being stuck here too," she said. "That could be either really cool or really bad. It all depends if they are the good guys or not."
"To be fair, who's to say that we are the good guys?"
"Well, we did stop a warmongering snake god obsessed with someone trying to stop him, three times. And that third time was also for the survival of this world."
"Yeah, that third time was really weird."
"But if there others out there, I guess the most we can hope for is that they like us and are, at least, friendly towards us."
"Well, we will never know until we go out there and search for ourselves"
Kunoichi made a sly smile and said, "Or maybe they come looking for us."
Ma Dai laughed. She was right though, maybe they didn't have to go and look for anyone. They can just come to them. In that case, Ma Dai hoped they came with good intentions.
The two continued to sit together underneath the tree, talking about other stuff going on in their lives. Kunoichi talked about her prank she plans to pull on Lady Kai while Ma Dai talked about talked about his recent supply transport to Odawara. This went on until Kunoichi decided to take a nap on his shoulder. Ma Dai didn't mind so he let it happened. until he noticed that the sun was beginning to set. He rocked his shoulder until her eyes began to open. As she wiped her eyes, she gasped suddenly.
"Crap! I forgot to tell you! Lord Liu Bei and Lord Tokugawa wanted to see you. They said that it was important."
Ma Dai looked at her in disbelief, "What! Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"Because I wanted to spend some time with you."
"If they said that it was important, I would imagine that it would be important."
"I'm sorry! I just kinda forgot."
Ma Dai couldn't be too annoyed with her. He did enjoy his time her, as usual. Most likely, his lords most likely were going to have him do yet another transportation mission or some other errand they have.
"Ehh, don't worry about it too much. It's most likely stuff I've already heard before. Though, if I run now, I might make it before they retire for the day. See you later, little sis."
He tipped his hat and smiled at her before taking off towards the main castle. Kunoichi looked on till he was out of sight. "Time to go see what they're going to talk about."
"The sun is almost setting, where is he?" Liu Bei said in confusion. "We told that ninja it was urgent that we see him."
"Perhaps he is running late, my friend," Ieyasu reasured him. "Besides, I know that ninja. She most likely what's holding him up. Isn't that right, Yukimura?"
"Uh, yeah. She's always been the playful one," he responds.
"Still if he doesn't show up before the sun sets, we may have to postpone till tomorrow," Zhuge Liang said.
"Don't worry, he's the most reliable guy I know," Yukimura says. "He'll be here."
"Well, I sure hope so. I haven't eaten since early this morning." Liu Bei said while holding his stomach. "Maybe if I leave for a little bit-"
The doors to the war room slide open fast, the members inside look over to see Ma Dai seemingly out of breath. "I'm sorry I'm late my lord," he shouts. Ma Dai took a bit to catch his breath before making his way over to the group. He looked around to see each of the people in the room. Liu Bei, Zhuge Liang, Ieyasu Tokugawa, Noboyuki and Yukimura Sanada made up the meeting.
"Ah, Lord Ma Dai. You've finally made it." Liu Bei said as he sat down, ignoring his growing hunger.
"I understand that you wanted to see me."
"Yes, please come this way," Zhuge Liang told him as he made his way over to the table where everyone else was at. Ma Dai followed him, acknowledging his lords when reached the table.
On it was a map of the known world. A mixture of lands, territories frozen in time from their world and others. There was an area on the map circled marked as "supply depot." It was passed a notorious stretch of land called the "dead lands." A two hundred and thirty-six mile stretch of land between Nanzhong and the depot. The land is nothing more than a massive dessert completely void of life.
"Lord Ieyasu, if you would." Zhuge Liang said.
"Lord Ma Dai, Master Yukimura here tells me that you are the right man for any type of job." Ieyasu said.
"Well, yes my lord. Just as long I know what I'm getting myself into."
"I assure you, Master Ma Dai, this should be a low risk assignment for you," Noboyuki said.
"Alright, what's the problem?"
"As you know, part of the agreement among the kingdoms is to transport supplies to one another," Ieyasu said. "You, yourself have been transported numerous materials between Shu and the Tokugawa and I thank you for that. However, there has been a bit of a troubling development."
"One of our supply depots passed the Nanzhong region has gone dark on us," Liu Bei chimed in. "It has been 2 months since we heard from the depot. We sent a messenger to see what was the problem but he never returned. It's been several weeks since. We even asked Lord Meng Huo if he has noticed anything but his report came back with nothing."
"I understand that this depot is past the deadlands, near the great mountain," Ma Dai said.
"Precisely," Zhuge Liang says. "We merely suspect because of its location, the reason for delay is due to extreme weather conditions."
"You guys are certain that there's no fowl play involved?"
"All kingdoms have been accounted for. Even the smaller clans," Noboyuki said. "We would've have asked if Meng Huo to check up on the depot but he and his people refuse to enter the dead lands."
"So you want me to travel out there and see what's wrong then, right?" Ma Dai asked, knowing very well what the answer is.
"Yes," Ieyasu answered. "We don't suspect any fowl play but we want to be certain."
"Lord Ma Dai, do you accept this assignment?" Liu Bei asked.
He had to think it over for a bit. The dead lands were notoriously dangerous. It's called the dead lands for a reason. Yet, he was Ma Dai. He's always willing to help anyone in need. Besides, he had always been interested in the land and it was considered a low risk. Low risk in the sense that "no one will try to kill you" and not so much "the weather may or may not kill you."
"Splendid, then we will leave you to make preparations," Zhuge Liang said. "You will be accompanied by Master Yukimura and I assume his ninja. As well as anyone else you wish to take."
"I also will lend you some of my finest men," Ieyasu said.
"Thank you, my lord. But I believe that preparations will take some time," Ma Dai said.
"Take however much time you need," Ieyasu said.
All the men bowed to each other they made their way out of the war room.
"Woo, finally. My stomach is growling," Liu Bei had said as he was the first man out.
Everyone else had left as Ma Dai and Yukimura were still in the room. The two gave a knowing look at each other as they knew they weren't alone. "Alright, you can come out now," Yukimura called out. After a few seconds, Kunoichi came out of a small crawl-space near the table.
"So, we are going into the dead lands, huh," she asked as she dusted herself off.
"Seems like it," Ma Dai replied.
"Who else do you have in mind that should come with us," Yukimura asked.
"Well Wei Yan could help out a lot, no doubt he's been in the dead lands before. Magoichi could be help us out as well. We could also ask Lady Yueying for some equipment that can help us-"
"Ahem." The two men looked at Kunoichi as she made the noise. "Isn't there someone you're forgetting, big brother. A certain, special someone?"
Ma Dai gave it some thought before he realized who she was referring to. "Oh no, there's no she is coming with us." He said while giving off a small blush.
Yukimura in confusion asked, "Wait, who are she talking about?"
"I'm talking about the beautiful daughter of the God of War. Miss Guan Yinping, the one who has completely smitten Ma Dai's heart," Kunoichi teased.
"What really?! Ma Dai, you like her?" Yukimura asked.
"What, not you too," Ma Dai replied.
"Come on, I think that's great. You shouldn't feel embarrassed about that"
"Please, it's nothing. Besides, Lord Guan Yu would never allow her to go somewhere like the dead lands."
Kunoichi shrugged, "You don't know that. Maybe if you ask nicely."
She stared at him with that sly smile and hands covering her cheeks. Ma Dai knew she had a point. Who knows how long this assignment would take. That's quite a long time away from someone he had been growing increasingly fond of. He admired Lady Guan Yinping's strength and her determination to protect everyone, whether or not if she knew them. She would always help anyone in need. In a way, she reminded him of himself. However, he hoped not too much. Ma Dai had always helped those who needed it. But in some instances, he wished that he hadn't. Those where the ones that always cane back to haunt him. Something he wishes that Yinping would never be forced to face.
While he wasn't against the idea of her coming along with them, her agreeing to it wasn't the problem. The real issue was convincing her father. Guan Yu is known to be one of the most fiercest warriors of all time. A living legend in his own right and self-proclaim god of war. It should come as no surprise that he is also very protective of his one and only daughter. While he raised her to become a great warrior, that doesn't mean he would simply let any man go near her. Let alone someone like Ma Dai, who Guan Yu has never personally met before. Not to mention, his other children. Guan Ping, Guan Suo, and Guan Xing are also pretty protective, with Ping being just as protective as his father. This will not be any easy task to pull off.
"Well, I'll need some help from Yukimura," Ma Dai said. "You and Guan Yu have met before and he respects you. Maybe he'll consider it."
"No problem, my lord."
"This'll be no doubt the hardest thing I've ever done."
Chapter 2: The Request
The wind blew lightly across the valley, kicking up the leaves as it goes. The leaves landed in between Guan Yinping and her sparring partner, Kai. They had both taken up a stance in preparation for their session. The wind kicks the leaves back up, leaving the two alone on the field. Seconds go by as the two stare down each other as they stood several feet away.
In an instant, they rushed towards each other. Kai made the first move as she swung her sword down over Yinping. She raised her dual headed mace over her head to block the incoming attack. The ground trembled when the two weapons made contact. Yinping had left an indention in the ground as she pushes Kai off. She was thrown off quite a bit before charging at her partner again. Kai made a series of slashes that Yinping had to block. Every slash she blocked felt like a tree being slammed on top of her. It almost felt like a match to her own strength. As another slash came her way, Yinping spun her mace and was able to parry the attack. Yinping now began her assault as Kai had immediately throw up her defense. Almost like a graceful dance, Yinping flailed her massive weapon as of it was nothing. Kai could only dodge the attacks as her own seem to bounce off the mace. Yinping managed to catch her with a sweep kick but Kai used it to jump back a bit of distance. When she landed, she gave Yinping a small smirk and extended her sword. She used distance to her advantage as she push forward. Using her sword like a whip, she slapped it against the ground as she got closer to Yinping. Chunks of the earth were being taken out every time her weapon made contact. Yinping had to roll out of the way before the sword came down on her. However, Kai would keep chasing her down with the whip as it followed her to where she rolled to. She kept dodging until Kai retracted the sword and sent it directly at her. Yinping managed to catch the sword with her mace as it wrapped itself around the handle. The two were locked in a stalemate as both were pulling on each other's weapons. The force of their great strength pulling against each other began to show as a crater began to form around them. Yinping had a trick up her sleeve as she fainted giving in. As Kai loosened her footing, Yinping gave a great tug on the whip that sent her off her feet and flying towards her. Yinping caught her in the air and power slammed her back down to the ground. The impact knocked the air out Kai and before she knew it, she was staring up at Yinping's mace.
"Yield," Yinping commanded. She knew she was the victor. Even though Kai was trying to catch her breath, she smirked and replied, "I yield." Yinping smiled back and gave her hand out to Kai. After being helped back up, she bent over still breathing heavily. "Man... that was a good session. You're getting better."
"Thanks, I learned that trick when I trained with Zhang Bao once. Though, when I trained with him I punched him when he flew towards me. He was out for a few hours." Yinping scratched her head and laughed. "He did say he could take anything I got."
Kai nervously laughs. If Yinping wasn't careful, she would have ended just like Zhang Bao. She was at least kind enough to throw her to the ground, but still. The idea of getting a full power punch by her, she was surprised that Zhang Bao even woke up from that. Much like herself, Yinping was far stronger than she looked. A little too strong.
"See, what did I tell you. She's a natural." Sitting a couple yards away were Guan Yu and Ujiyasu Hojo. They were watching the two women sparring while lying on strangely, colorful chairs.
"Gotta admit, Kai isn't easily tricked like that. Your girl was pretty smart to fake her out," Ujiyasu said before taking a sip of his sake.
"Kai isn't too shabby, either. She quickly knew to keep a good distance away from Yinping," Guan Yu replied. "That was always her greatest weakness."
"Well, it seems that she no longer has that problem anymore. Or at least has found one way around it."
Guan Yu felt proud at the compliment. He sipped his drink before looking at the strange, yet comfortable chairs. They were flat, suspended by metal bars and were colorful. He asked, "By the way, where did you get these strange chairs?"
"These? I saw them when I was Hasedo once. I sat down, thought to myself 'These are pretty comfortable' and took some back with me. I think they were called lawn chairs."
"They're pretty thin, yet very relaxing."
They continued to relax until one of Ujiyasu's guards showed up.
"My lord, sorry to interrupt but someone wishes to see Lord Guan Yu," the guard said.
"Who is it?"
"Lord Yukimura Sanada and Lord Ma Dai."
"Eh, bring 'em on in," Ujiyasu demanded. Guan Yu looked on in a bit of confusion as the guard walked away. Why do they want to see me? What do they want? Were they sent by my brother?
He continued to ponder as the guard came back with Yukimura and Ma Dai following in toe several minutes later. "My lords," the guard said before he bowed and left.
"Master Yukimura Sanada, Master Ma Dai," Guan Yu spoke while him and the two bowed to each other. "You wish to see me for something?"
"Yes," Yukimura responded. "We have a request to make that regards you, my lord. If we were to speak in private, we can go over the details."
"Okay, so..." Guan Yu paused as he looked at Ujiyasu who was lounging on the lawn chair. "Ujiyasu," he said.
"Hmm, what." he responded without opening his eyes.
"Do you mind giving us some privacy?"
"Uhh, I'm getting my nap in, alright. You can go somewhere else though."
Guan Yu became annoyed at the suggestion, but he honored it and the three walked away. Off in the distance, Guan Yinping noticed her father walking away. "Papa! Is something the matter?"
"I'll be back, Yinping," he replied. "I need to take care of something first!"
Yinping noticed two men were accompanying her father. She recognized one of the men as Yukimura Sanada for his signature red armor. She had the honor of training with him a while back, learning so much about different techniques she can do with her strength. She also learned from him what it means to be a warrior, at least what he believes it to be.
She looked at the second man and noticed it was Ma Dai. The moment she saw him, seemingly on instinct, she called out to him, "Hi Lord Ma Dai!" Her arm outstretched as she waved to him. The three men heard her call as they turned to look. Ma Dai smiled and waved back, unbeknownst that her father was looking at him doing it. Yinping giggled and turned back to Kai with a smile.
Ma Dai lowered his hand and turned back to the others. He saw that Guan Yu had a look of intrigue after his little interaction with his daughter. Maybe he isn't familiar with his daughter's friendship with a man he did not know well. Then again, he heard the tone in Yinping's voice. She sounded overjoyed to see him with a big smile on her face. This might not help his chances with this meeting. Ma Dai has heard some horror stories of the poor bastards who tried to pursue the God of War's daughter. Some were scared off by her incredible strength while others were terrified by her father. Whether it was because they were scared of him alone or he gave them a reason to be scared, he doesn't know. What he does know is that most men never get the chance to propose marriage out of sheer fear of her father.
While he wasn't asking for her hand in marriage, what he was asking for wasn't any better. Realistically, he was requesting that his daughter venture out to mostly unexplored lands with extreme conditions in a place notoriously called the DEADLANDS. He might as well be asking him to take her to Hell. Although he was told that this was a low risk mission, that doesn't mean it won't be a difficult one.
Ma Dai knew he had to play his cards right. He had to make it sound like she's important to have on the mission and not just someone he wants to spend time with. He was lucky that the brothers weren't around. Guan Ping was in Nobunaga's territory, Guan Xing was with Zhang Bao on a supply run, and Guan Suo was with Bao Sanniang doing gods know what. Had they all been there, this would have been a futile effort. He had to keep his calm, explain his case, and hope for the best.
The three made there way to empty walkway near the garden. No one was around with only the soft breeze and rustling of leaves breaking the silence. Guan Yu rested himself against a pillar with the other two standing in front of him.
"Now gentlemen," he said, "you have a request for me?"
The two looked at each other. Before they came here, they went over a plan on how to go over the meeting. They just hope that it goes their way, especially when dealing with a founding father of Shu.
"Yes, we do," Yukimura said. "We have a request to ask you. It involves the assistance of Lady Guan Yinping."
Guan Yu crossed his arms, "And what is it you need my daughter to assist you with?"
Ma Dai stepped in, "We are currently making preparations for a mission and are recruiting officers. Yukimura and I came to the agreement that Lady Yinping and her strength would be a most valuable addition to our group."
"And what exactly is this mission?"
"We have been tasked to lead a small group to investigate a supply depot that has gone dark. I was told that this would be a low risk mission but, we would have to cross into the dead lands to reach the depot."
Guan Yu's face grew stern. Even when relaxing on the pillar, his presence made Ma Dai feel tense. Things seem to be going smoothly but he had to keep calm.
"Where exactly is this depot that requires you to cross the dead lands?"
"In the southwest region, near the great mountain."
"So, you wish to have my daughter join you in a mission in mostly uncharted land with extreme conditions like extremely dry heat and ice cold terrain. Is that correct?"
Ma Dai paused a little bit before answering, "Yes, my lord."
Guan Yu turns to Yukimura, "Master Sanada, you agree with this as well?"
"Uhh, yes my lord," he responded. "If it helps, Ma Dai personally requested her involvement in this mission."
Ma Dai couldn't say anything. All he could do was cover his face and press his lips together. Thanks Yukimura.
Guan Yu nodded, "I see." He turns to Ma Dai, "You are familiar with my daughter?"
He uncovered his face, "Yes, I," he paused. The gears in his head turning, trying to find an excuse. "I heard of her great strength and combat abilities. I wanted to see this for myself so that's why I'm here."
"Interesting, but you told me that this is a low risk mission. Why do you feel the need to have someone with great strength?"
"I was told to take extra precautions on this mission. While we suspect to there to be no fowl play involved, I don't want to walk into something I'm not prepared for."
"Hmm." Guan Yu stroked his beard as he pondered. Ma Dai was wondering if what he said was working. The meeting hadn't ended but it seems that he would get his request.
"The way she called out to you earlier, she cares about you doesn't she?"
Ma Dai was thrown off by the question. The God of War kept his strong glare on him. Ma Dai never felt so small in someone's presence before. He had no choice but to give him a honest answer. If he were to try anything else, Guan Yu would catch his lie. At worst, his request would be denied.
"Yes," he replied, "she does. As much as I care about her. She's a dear friend to me."
"You trust her with your life?"
"... One of the few that I do."
Guan Yu closed his eyes and smiled. He heard all that he needed.
"You put your trust in the right people," he said. "I will grant your request under one condition."
"Really," Ma Dai asked. "You will? I-uh... I mean, what is your condition?"
"You take care of her and protect her as much as I know she will to you. Low-risk mission or not, you protect her no matter what." Guan Yu gets off of the pillar and walks towards Ma Dai. "If I find out that something happens to her or you harm her in some way..." Guan Yu towered over him. Ma Dai had to look up, feeling even smaller than he did before. Guan Yu finished his cold warning, "I'll make sure you will never be accepted into any kingdom and your name gets lost in the sands of time."
Ma Dai could only gulp and give a single answer, "Yes sir."
"Good, oh and you're the one that has to tell her under my supervision."
"Master Sanada, can you get Yinping for us?"
Yukimura bowed and left. Guan Yu had gone back to the pillar before asking Ma Dai, "How do you two know each other anyway?"
"Uhh, it wassss..." he responded. It took him a bit until he came up with what to say. "It was during the third war against Orochi, Master Ping needed help finding Master Suo and Lady Yinping. When we did, she thanked me for helping her brother. We've got to know each other ever since."
Guan Yu seemed intrigued by the answer. He believed there was a bit more to it but didn't want to pursue the issue. "I will say this Ma Dai, I can see where Yinping's interest in painting comes from."
"Pardon me?" Guan Yu must have took notice of the ink stains on his face and on his gloves. He's a very observant man.
Yukimura had returned with Guan Yinping following behind. She greeted with a simple before walking up to her father. "Papa," she said, "you wanted me for something?"
"No, but Master Ma Dai here would like to ask you something."
After his reply, Yinping turned to her friend. In his eyes, she looked lovely as usual. Her eyes met his as she asked, "What is your request, my lord?" She was a bit more formal than usual, maybe it was because she was in front of her father.
Ma Dai explained what the purpose of meeting with her. He gave the details of his mission, where he was going and how he had to go past the dead lands. All the while, Guan Yu looked on. Making sure that he tells her everything he told him, in regards to the mission. He had no reason not to trust Ma Dai but he wanted make sure that he wasn't trying to persuade her into doing something she didn't want. After he finished his explanation, he asked Yinping if she could assist him on this mission.
"Well, yes Ma Dai. I would love to come with you on..." she remembered that her father was still with her. "I mean, of course my lord. I would be honored to assist you on this mission."
She gave him a bow. When she came back up, she smiled at him. Guan Yu chimed in saying, "So it's settled. How long until you finish your preparations?"
"At most, within two to three weeks," Yukimura said, "When we are finished, we will meet in Chengdu before venturing out."
Guan Yu nodded. "Alright then. Come on, Yinping, let's head home so you can get ready."
"Okay, papa," she turns to Ma Dai before leaving, "I'll see you then, my lord."
She gave him a smile and a small wave before following her father. Ma Dai looked on as she walked away. That smile of hers always had an affect on him. Like nothing in the world mattered any more. Yukimura must have noticed him trailing off in his thoughts so he tried to pull him back.
"Lord Ma Dai, you alright?"
Regaining his hold in the real world, he responded, "Hmm? Yeah, let's head back. We have to finish our preparations, too."
"Of course. After you."
Guan Yinping paced back and forth in her chamber. She had a week left until she went on her mission and she couldn't figure out what to take with her. If what she was told about the deadlands were true, how should she prepare. Should I bring warm clothes, what if it gets hot? If it rains, should I bring extras? How am I going to take everything, should I pack small then?
It was what she had been thinking about since she started her own preparations. Her thoughts would go from "what should I bring with me?" to "her and Ma Dai will be together for a while." She would continue this circular stream of thoughts before starting back at the beginning, all the while continuing to procrastinate. Because of this, she hasn't been able to make any progress. By the time she circles back around her original thought, if she ever did, it would be time to either eat, train, or sleep. It was like this for several days and she was no closer to finishing.
She continued to pace around until she pulled herself aside. Okay Yinping, just relax for a bit. It'll just come to you. After a small pause, she shook her head. No, you've been relaxing too much. That's why you haven't even done anything. Just think of some kind of solution. She closed her eyes to think of what to do. Her lips began to pucker and she squeezed her eyes. After a few minutes passed, she came up with an idea, "I know! I'll just bring two of everything." It sounded like a good idea, right? If something were to happen to one of her outfits, she would have another one to use just in case.
She started rummaging through her stockpile of clothes, grabbing different types of clothing she felt she needed. Heavy coats, warm leggings, skirts, ribbons and a myriad of other things she grabbed as she organized everything together. She then sorted out her options by separating them into piles so she can get a better idea for what to bring. However, during this process, she realized how much clothes she really had as it was far more than what she was able to carry.
"Mmm, maybe this is a little too much," she said. She curled her hand into a ball and held it up to her mouth. She would spend the next half hour organizing and reorganizing her clothes, ending up with the same unsatisfactory results time and time again. She continued to rummage around until a handmaiden came into her room.
"Lady Yinping, are you in here," the handmaiden asked as she walked in. She looked around and didn't see the lady anywhere. She called out again, "My lady, Lady Yinping?" Her calls went silent until Yinping popped out of one of the piles. She startled the woman as she let out a small yelp. "Oh, my lady! I didn't expect you to pop out like that."
Her reaction made Yinping giggle. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you. What do you need?"
The maiden took a second to regain her composure. "Hoh, well. Your father is here to see you."
"Oh, okay. Please send him in."
Yinping got out from the pile and fixed her outfit before her father walked in.
"Hi Papa," she said cheerfully as always.
"Hello, Yinping," he replied. Guan Yu looked around the room seeing the piles of clothes lying around. "I see that you are packing for your mission."
"Yes, Papa. Though I have been running into problems with what to bring with me."
"I see you thought about taking two of each clothing you have."
"Mhm, I have. There's just a lot of it. I mean I can carry all of it but I don't think I can actually take it. I think it might be too heavy for the horse to carry."
Guan Yu scratched his beard, "You have a point. You also have to consider that you are also carrying your mace, which in itself is very heavy, as well as any other supplies."
"Mmm, you're right. I can't pack too much if I don't want to break the horse's back. I think I managed to put on some muscle so I'm a little heavier, too."
Her father simply looked at her. She was exactly the same size as before.
"I forgot to ask, do you need me for anything?" asked before sitting down on one of the piles.
"I just wanted to talk to you about your mission. Do you have any thoughts or concerns you want talk about before you leave?"
Yinping shook her head, "No, not really Papa. If I do have any, I'm sure Ma Dai and the others will be able to help me when I go."
He heard it again. That happy tone when she said his name. Although she always sounded happy, he knew his daughter well when someone catches her attention. It was obvious from his previous conversation with Ma Dai that he cared about her. Perhaps a little more than what the god of war would want to know. But it seems that she too shares the same feeling for him. He wanted to know how much though. While he didn't have any reason to not trust Ma Dai, if there is something between them, he wanted to make sure he was at least the right one for her.
"Well then, that actually leads me to what I want to talk to you about," he continued to stroke his beard as he looked into his daughter's eyes. "How does it feel that Ma Dai personally wanted you for this mission?"
"How does it feel? Mmm," Yinping gets up from her pile of clothes and starts roaming around the room. "Well, it makes me feel great to be honest, Papa. It makes me feel that my abilities are valued and that I'm needed by someone. Especially, since it's him..." She stood still and began playing with her hair. Her mere mention of him filled her with happiness and nervousness. Her chest grew heavy and her cheeks became red. She closed her eyes as she began to think of him. However, she quickly remembered that her father was still in the room and tried to regain her composure. "Oh, I mean, since Lord Ma Dai is a pretty high ranking officer, working for him might help me get some experience." She let out a nervous laugh.
Guan Yu simply continued to stroke his beard. The way she acted when Ma Dai was mentioned gave him all that he needed know. Part of him wanted to be the overprotective father he had always been. Scaring off any men who felt like they had a chance with her. But she was an adult now. She was old enough to be with anyone she fell in love with. It wouldn't be fair to her if he kept every man away from her, even if he did enjoy terrifying them. It was just a matter of if Ma Dai was right for her.
"I see, you don't have anything else you want to say about him?"
"Hmmm, well..." she said before sitting back down on her bed. "He is a great friend to me, but there are times where I get a bit sick when I'm with him. Nnno-not that he annoys me or anything like that, I really enjoy being with him. It's just when I'm with him, my face gets warm and my chest gets heavy. Sometimes, my stomach feels like there's something flying around inside." She became more flustered and her face turned red again. "Oohhh, I'm starting feel that sickness again! I think it's because I'm talking about him!"
Her father couldn't help but laugh at her. He knew exactly what she was talking about. "It's not a sickness, you don't have to worry it."
Yinping was trying to regain her composure, "To be honest Papa, even if it was some kind of sickness, I wouldn't mind having it."
Guan Yu now could see how much Ma Dai truly meant to her. He didn't wish to pursue any further as he noticed the moonlight peering through the window. He hugged his daughter for the night and began to walk out of the room. Before he reached the door, Yinping called out to him and asked, "If something does happen... and me and him become a thing, you won't be too hard on him, right?"
"No need to worry, Yinping. You just worry about your preparations for now."
As her father left the room, Yinping turned back to the piles of clothes. She decided to merge all the piles into one and placed it towards the corner of the room.
"Hmm, I'll get it in the morning."
Kunoichi waited outside of the main gate of Chengdu Palace with her back against the wall. Her hands resting in her pockets as she stared into the sky. She was waiting for Ma Dai who was meeting up with Lady Yue Ying in hopes of getting new equipment. Kunoichi remembered what he said about how the trip to the depot could be dangerous due to the random weather conditions. That didn't really bother her so much but if it meant having a more leisurely trip then that's fine with her. Maybe she could ask Yue Ying for some gadgets that could help her out. Maybe a gadget that throws smoke pellets further than she can. Perhaps one that can turn her invisible without having to hide. She doesn't want to be too unrealistic, but it doesn't mean that she can't dream about it.
She kept thinking of different ideas until she saw Ma Dai coming back. She shouted to him, "Did you find her, big brother?"
He shouted back, "No, she's not here..."
He walked up to Kunoichi before finishing, "Lord Zhuge Liang told me that Lady Ying is at her workshop. No doubt she's probably working on something."
"Well we should probably go see what it is. Do you really think she might have something for us?"
"She is one the brightest minds here and has created many inventions that go beyond my comprehension. Not to mention with Lord Benkei around, the two of them working together can make something incredible."
"I hope so. I'd hate to have to walk all the way over to the depot."
Ma Dai chucked, "No, if anything, you'd probably enjoy sharing a horse with Master Yukimura."
She got flustered, "Wha-pfft! You're one to talk, I bet you would have no problem sharing one with Yinping, either!"
They continued to make playful banter with each other until they made it to the workshop. The loud clanging of metal on metal, banging of wood, and various shouting from different people can be heard coming from the building. The two can hear Yue Ying yelling out orders and various expletives. They walked around to the back where they saw her standing atop of a large contraption. She appeared to be very frustrated as she was yelling at soldiers who were trying to help her.
They heard her yell out, "The armor plating has to be curved so it is more resilient! If it's flat, then it's more penetrable! How many times have I told you this!?"
The soldiers didn't know how to react as they just starred at the inventor. They were about to say something but Ying interrupted with, "Find a way to fix it or start over! Someone's here to see me!"
Ma Dai and Kunoichi chuckled to themselves as she made her way over to them. Ying had smudges on her face and on her arms. Her coat was wrapped around her waist as more dirt appeared to be on it. Her usual black and white gloves were replaced with bigger, more rugged brown gloves.
"Sorry about the noise," Ying said, "turns out working with metal is a lot easier than working with people. Especially when asked them to do something." She took her gloves off before continuing, "So, Lord Ma Dai, little miss ninja, what can I do for you?"
"My lady," Ma Dai replied, "we are making final preparations for our journey and I was wondering if you had anything we could use?"
"Specifically anything of the 'awesome ninja variety,'" Kunoichi chimed with.
The inventor laughed, "C'mon, I'll show you what I have in the shop."
The three walked past the two soldiers who looked puzzled as to what to do with the contraption. It was larger than everyone in the room and looked as long as the room it self. Out of curiosity, Kunoichi asked what it was. "Lady Ying, what is that big thing you're making? Is it another war machine or something like it?"
"Well, it is something like it. But it is unlike anything I've ever created," she responded enthusiastically. "It is part of a massive prototype that, I believe, will help protect us. Just in case if Orochi, Kiyomori, or anything else tries to wipe us out again."
"Wow! How does it work?" Ma Dai asked, "Does it fire something out if someone gets close?"
"No, not at all. Like I said, this is only part of something massive. Besides, you guys are here for something that works, not something that doesn't."
The three kept walking through the warehouse, Ma Dai looked around the room when he noticed something. He saw a large door that was left slightly open. Through the opening, he saw something massive starring right back at him. He couldn't make out what it was, but the large object resembled a head of some sort. He didn't want to be rude so he kept on walking, but whatever Yue Ying was working on truly is something ambitious.
Numerous weapons and gadgets lined the walls of the workshop. Trebuchets that can be carried manually, Japanese firearms designed to work like swords and spears, and element infused weapons. It was an impressive array, perhaps when the mission is over they'll come back to try them out.
Lady Ying went behind her workbench before rummaging underneath it. "Let's see what we have here..."
Kunoichi and Ma Dai stood on the opposite side, both thinking that the bench seems much bigger on the inside than it does on the outside.
"Ah, here's something." She placed what looked like one of Masamune's guns with a small hook coming out of the chamber.
"It's a self launching grappling hook, or shortly a grapple gun. You fire it at a ledge like you would when throwing it. Saves you the trouble from having to throw it, and it goes about as far between 30 to 35 feet. On the side is a button that lets you retract the cable, the only thing left to do is to reload the hook like you would a normal gun and it's ready to use again."
Ma Dai was impressed by the gadget, but he was a little skeptical. "My lady," he said, "I have no doubt that this will be useful to us. But, for some us especially some in particular, can throw a hook further than 35 feet. Why would we want to have this around?"
"I know what I would use it for," Kunoichi said, "Maybe for a quick escape when our heroic efforts are about to be snuffed out. Or when I need to reach the food before Keiji or anyone else eats it all."
"Well, simply getting to and from somewhere isn't the only thing it can do." Yue Ying said. She turned her head to the left, "Shoot at this wall."
Puzzled, Ma Dai complied. He took aim at the wall then pulled the trigger. The crack of the gun nearly blew out his ear. The hook flew from the chamber of the gun and punched through the wall. Ying's face lit up with excitement seeing her creation work flawlessly.
"Great! Push the button to retract the cable."
He complied with her demand. The cable flew itself into round chamber on the side of the gun. The hook dug itself into the back of the wall, stopping the cable.
"Yes!" she exclaimed, "It's working perfectly! You should able to pull down different types of surfaces now. Just as long as its not a hard one."
"Wow," Ma Dai said, "this IS impressive, my lady. How many of these do you have available?"
"Well, not much. I only have five of these created and you're holding one of them."
"Well that's not bad," Kunoichi said, "four for me, one for you, big brother? Hee hee!"
Ma Dai and Yue Ying chuckled at the comment. She grabbed the remaining guns and wrapped them inside a cloth. She handed the wrapped
Ma Dai and Yue Ying chuckled at the comment. She grabbed the remaining guns and wrapped them inside a cloth. She handed it over to the painter before he and the ninja took their leave. The door he saw the giant head was closed now. Someone must have seen him peering through. The two parted ways with Lady Ying as they left the workshop, hearing the inventor resuming her shouting match with the poor soldiers.
"So, are we just about ready for the trip? No extra things you have to work out, not even a special meeting with your love before the journey begins," Kunoichi teased.
"We are ready, and there's certainly no 'special meeting' of any kind, Kunoichi. I can almost say the same thing for you with Master Yukimura."
She paused herself, before nervously yelling, "Oh c'mon! Why do you have to bring him up again?"
"Only because you keep bringing Lady Yinping up!"
Kunoichi calmed down before letting out a sigh, "Sorry, it's just funny to see you reaction. As for Lord Yukimura, he's off doing his own things that are more important. After coming back from recruited Magoichi, he left again without telling me anything. He most likely seeking some guidance from either his brother or Lord Takeda. And if not, then he's most likely training by himself again."
Ma Dai could hear the melancholic tone in her voice. She didn't even looked once at him when she gave her response. "Kunoichi, I didn't mean to-"
"It's okay, I'm used to it. It's just the way things have always been." She gave a smile, one eerily reminiscent to his own. "We should get going," she said before wrapping her arms around the painter. "I'll see you on the day we leave for the depot."
She quickly turned around and started walking fast before Ma Dai yelled out, "Hey, did you just-"
"Sorry, can't hear ya! Later big brother!"
She managed to steal one of the grapple guns before running off, firing it over the wall and vanishing into the other side. He could hear her cheers as she flew in the distance.
"Damn, she really did that to me. Smart girl." He couldn't help but smile after being tricked. Though he couldn't shake off what she said. He had hoped after Orochi was defeated, Yukimura would settle down and Kunoichi would be with him more often. Not just for protecting him in battle, but for the sake of being with him. He hoped that she would actually admit her true feelings for him as well. But you can't take the battle out of the heart of a warrior and his obliviousness towards her continues. She too also feels like she can't fully open up to him as it would go against her everything she's done as a ninja. Even he, someone who is technically centuries older than she is knows more about her than someone she's known for her entire life. A tragic existence, really.
Ma Dai made his way to the stables to check up on his horse, Yuqiang. He saw the horse standing as usual in the center of his stable. Fitting how he usually desires to be the center of attention.
"Hey there, buddy," Ma Dai said, "I have to get you ready. We have a long journey ahead of us in the next few days."
He entered the stable and noticed some apple cores on the ground. Playfully, he picked up the core and began interrogating the horse.
"Yuqiang, was somebody else here today?"
He responded with a mere moan.
"You know that there's three other people who give you green apples. Kunoichi was with me the entire day and Young Master has been gone since earlier this week."
The horse retorted with another annoyed moan.
"Yuqiang, was Lady Yinping here with you?"
His ears flared up and his eyes widened upon the mention of her name.
"She was, wasn't she?"
The horse neighed in excitement, confirming Ma Dai's suspicion. He rubbed his hand across the horse head.
"You know, buddy, I have a feeling that if she cares for you more often then she'll become your new master. Then you'll forget all about me, won't you?"
Yuqiang placed his head over Ma Dai's shoulders and let out a small neigh. The painter returned the favor and gave him a big hug.
"Nah, you and I have been through too much to forget about each other. Though I will say this, buddy."
He placed both of his hand underneath the horses head so he can look him in the eyes.
"If something were to happen to me, you protect as much you would me, got that?"
The horse lifted his head and stomped twice with his hoof.
"That's right, Yuqiang. C'mon, she will be coming with us on our journey so we must do our best to keep her protected. Even though she could probably carry both you and me combined."
Yuqiang looked at him, as if he was demanding something in return.
"And I'll make sure to bring a stockpile of green apples just for you."
The horse let out a cheerful neigh in return.
Big thanks to Ayane88 for letting me use her name for Ma Dai’s horse, Yuqiang. It comes from her story, Ink-Painted World. If you haven’t read it, please do so, it a great read. Even though she going to see this, give a review and tell her I sent ya.