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It was raining like a monsoon… Too the shock of nothing, it was that time of year after all. Yet ‘Róngyù’ was still outside training. Every day for weeks she’s pushing herself to the breaking point and then past it. She had to give everything she had as so much was at stake. The fact she’d even be let in past the gates… the fact they’d even humor with an audition for Royal Guard status made every passing day feel like a week. All her paperwork looked over a dozen times, every soldier and fellow captain she named in her papers were spoken with again and again. Nothing can be left to risk, nothing overlooked. This moment was years in the making and even if a Yokai lives for a very, very long time… she truly did not want to waste so much time. This grand game and bet was far from over after all. And laziness on her part will not see her lose it so soon. The other soldiers at the base watched with slack jaws as her blade slammed in to the next dummy. Steel caved in, wood splitters as it was not cut in half but more blown apart from the impact. Her muscles hurt, hell all her body hurt. For all the years she’s used Bullbraker it was still a huge hunk of iron to swing about. And she’s never pushed herself this hard with it before as well. In a way she was thankful for the rain dumping on her head, otherwise she’d be overheating even worse. At least she can rest easy knowing her troops had a good show to watch…. She had one more week. She’d train for six more days, rest on the last and go over there papers again. Then early in the morning depart for Huangjing. ---- ‘Never stop until you pierce the stars!’ That was one line repeated over and over in Honor Quest. No matter what came, how low she was laid, the mare in that comic never gave in. never gave up. And looking up from the warn pages of the comic Róngyù watched the walls of Huangjing come in to view. She’d never stop, she came close one time. Never gain. Not until she pierced the stars. Putting away the comic she pulled out her papers, thick as a hoof and detailing everything she can think of to prove her merit. A few more hours… --- She took a deep breath. Everything was in order. Washed up, trimed, captain's armor polished waxed and detailed. She was rested and looked alert and ready. Another deep breath, if only she can look relaxed. Glancing at the monster of a balde strapped to her side she looked it over. Clean, polished and sharp as the thick beast can be… Well, this was it. She moved her cloven hooves and looked up at the towering gates of the Royal Palace. She’d not meet the empress, odds are she’d not even see inside the building. But she did get to go into the Courtyard to meet the one that will do her audition. She did wonder what he’d be like. He’d have to be a real hero, a true champion of this land! Oh she was so close! Stopping at the gates she looked up at them and wondered what she was supposed to do now. Nock? Stay put? She’s never even been this close to the palace's walls before and felt worried she’d do something out of line. They’d know she was coming, she was on time after all and some guards must have seen her walking up. So… “Hello? Captain Róngyù Rènwù, I’m here as requested for a meeting with Feng Yinhaitao for an audition.” She spoke up some, but did not try knocking on the wooden gates for the moment. She did her best to look relaxed, at peace, but stress was eating away at her every passing moment.
The First Moon: that was the name the Long Sun gave to the very first lunar cycle of the year... the dawn of a New Year. For 15 days between the first new and full moons of the year, beings all across the Dragon Kingdom celebrated the First Moon with family gatherings, dumplings, firecrackers, pageants, and all other possible methods of expressing revelry. The venerable serpent dragons also celebrated these holidays, and so it was a common sight for the youth among their kind to fly down dance in the streets of Long Guo's cities along with the qilin and longma. While it was customary for many shops and establishments throughout the country, things were business as usual over at the Imperial Palace. From the windows of Empress Yuè's bedchambers, the sounds of festivities were but faint echoes from across the Forbidden Lake. Although the royal qilin had always marked the First Moon with the importance it deserved, it had been a long time since she had actually gone out on the streets to join in the partying; not since entering adolescence. Two weeks ago had been the closest Yuè had gotten to the action in many years... this time as Empress, standing on top of a lofty gatehouse overlooking the Imperial Square as to the cheers of thousands, she officially declared the First Moon to have arrived. ...That was typically the one time each year the average commoner could catch sight of their sovereign. Although tonight the First Moon would cultivate in a lantern festival that even the Palace servants partook in, Empress Yuè had more important plans. She had a very busy day scheduled tomorrow, but inconveniently the greatest and loudest fireworks were always reserved for the final night... this night. The Empress needed to wake extra early the following morning and so she wanted to get in bed right after supper, theoretically giving the mare plenty of time to fall dead asleep before the fireworks had a chance to boom and disrupt this process. A part of Yuè wished she could stay up longer to catch the show, but as empress, she was better than lamenting about such things. And so Yù Yuè, already undressed, was giving the twilight sky and rising full moon one final glance from her balcony before intending to retreat to her luxurious empress-sized bed....
*INNER WARD OF HUANGJING NEARBY IMPERIAL ACADEMY FOR MAGICAL STUDY* All around Yù Yuè was nothing but the serenity of trees, a crystal-clear pond, and a quacking pair of mandarin ducks swimming about in it. Even an Elder Long could be lulled to sleep by the soothing qualities of nature pervading the area. The Empress — garbed in a sparkling shimmersilk robe of floral patterns on red — looked just as scenic as her surroundings. A modest crown (by Long Sun standards) decorated the royal mare's head, her hair meticulously styled to accentuate the neckline. All in all, a creature of imperial elegance. The stallion currently privileged to stand beside Empress Yuè was one of the newer instructors at the Imperial Academy, a dutiful unicorn named Silverheart whom was personally recommended to the Academy posting by the Empress. A token band of hoofmaidens and bodyguards stood in silent vigil behind, ensuring the Empress and her companion enjoyed all the privacy they needed. Obstinately, Yuè had come to relay how pleased the Academy's headmaster was with Silver's performance so far... and to extend to the Equestrian an invitation to a palace banquet tonight. Yuè's brother — Prince Hēi Lián — would finally be home in Huangjing with his retinue a few hours from now after an extended stay in the Western realms. Doubtless Lián will be surprised to find a celebration in his honor ready for his return. Yuè missed him dearly. For one reason or another, the conversation between Empress Yuè and Instructor Silverheart meandered onto other topics. At the moment, the focus of Yuè's tangent were the mandarin ducks she was pointing out to the unicorn next to her; ".....They say in Long Kong that the drake and the hen make an odd couple, because their plumage is nothing alike. And yet the pair mates for life, all the same." Nobody could ask for a more serene moment. Only a being of pure chaos would wish otherwise.....