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Mature content
Monster Art :iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 1 0
Mature content
The Servant of Set :iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 2 0
Embrace, Screenplay Form
Jim, recently separated from his girlfriend for his drinking habit, is making his way down the street in a cold drizzle.  The neon signs of various establishments shine like bright obnoxious stars, the only color in the gray environment.  The wind picks up and Jim zips his coat up tighter and licks his lips.  He is looking a bar, in the hopes of drowning his recent sorrows.  
(in Jim’s head)
Me or the bottle Jim.  Which is it?
Jim shakes his head to dispel the memory.  He pauses in his walk and looks up.
The bar sign glows brightly against the dull gray background.
Jim smiles in relief and anticipation and resumes walking.
Jim is about to pass an alleyway when he hears a scream.  He pauses again.  An instant later a man rushed out of
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 2 0
Embrace, Short Story Form
The streetlights shine like bright obnoxious stars as I make my way through a light drizzle.  A chilly wind blows and I zip my coat up a little tighter.  I lick my lips, feeling very much in need of a stiff drink tonight.  
Me or the bottle Jim.  Which is it?
“Fuck.”  I snarl, shaking my head to dislodge the memory.  Makes my throat dry just thinking about it.
The bar’s only a few blocks away, its neon sign looking like a beacon of hope.  Then someone screams and a man runs out of the alley in front of me.  He runs past me, knocking me against the wall as he does so.
“Ass!”  I yell after him.
I pick myself up and am about to move on when the sound of sobbing reaches my ears.  I peer into the alleyway and see a woman huddled against the wall in a torn dress.
“You all right?”
I walk over and offer her my coat.  That dress certainly isn’t up to performing its intended function to
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 2 5
The Bloody Altar
He crouched amid the bones and filth of his lair, because that was what he did when the Feeder wasn’t bringing him food.  He scratched absently at the wall, making random patterns in the dirt with his long nails.  He hoped the Feeder would come soon.  It was always good when the Feeder came.  Back in the old days, when he was very small the Feeder had come himself with food.  Sweet food from the trees.  Then as he had had gotten older, and bigger the Feeder had brought him meat.  It had been dead meat first.  Small things.  Little birds.  A cavid rodent or two.  Then the Feeder had moved on to bigger things.  Live things, though they were always tied up or asleep so that he would not be harmed when he fed.  
He stopped scratching the wall and looked towards the brightness outside.  When would the Feeder come?  How long had it been since his last meal?  He had no idea.  He looked at his hands.
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 1 4
The Snow Woman
The Snow Woman
I know she’s there.  I know she is waiting.  I know that I must not sleep.
The wind howls.  The trees rattle with ice.  My legs sink up to the calves in the thick drifts.  I can barely feel my feet.  I can barely feel my hands.  But I still feel the ache of cold in my body, and I can still hear my own voice.  And that means that I am still alive.
“I’m going to live. ;I’m going to live.  I’m going to live.  I’m going to live.”
I repeat that phrase over and over.  It keeps my mind on putting one foot in front of the other.  It keeps me moving forward.  Farther down the mountain.  Farther away from her.  The land is a white blur before my eyes, only the jagged black spindles of trees standing out against the whiteness.  When my mind isn't focused on moving forward it wanders to back to the cabin.  Back to how it came to this.
“No good.  G
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 2 5
The American Otaku Song
I am the very model of an Otaku American
I’ve trawled the demographic scale, seinan to josei and shounen
My generation was suckled on the action block Toonami
But then my tastes expanded out and lead to Studio Ghibli
Folks say 2D is just for kids I say get a lobotomy
Don’t they all see that animation’s endless possibility?
It is an artful medium where laws of physics don’t apply
And it is never overused like that newfangled CGI
At recognizing archetypes my eyesight always does the job
I know tsundere, emo bitch and that annoying moe blob
I’ve trawled the demographic scale, seinan to josei and shounen
I am the very model of an Otaku American
The lines are chopped in half just so
Now I can show off what I know
That Cowboy Bebop’s number one
And Gurren Lagann’s stupid fun
While Fate/Zero beats out the first
Damn Garzey’s Wing’s the very worst
Durara has a headless chick
And Redline is one crazy flick
It all began when Disney films insp
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 7 5
Black Shield Excerpt
I've tried writing novels before but this is the first time I've made so much progress.  Since I haven't submitted in a while here's a excerpt from Black Shield.  If you're confused by some of the terms read my journal articles on the story
Here's the set-up.  The Osthan (t'chue) tribes have begun raiding the border in retaliation for the humiliation of their leaders by the Salaschan (also t'chue) governor Nerroi iri As'kla.  She has been summoned to the capital Shagur by Queen Aneshak to answer for provoking a war.
From Ha’chor to Shagur and back the journey was at least twelve days days.  To Khashan Nerroi’s surprise, a reply came in ten.  She had expected to see her successor, (perhaps wearing a smugly satisfied ‘smile’), bearing an order to commit suicide.  That was standard practice.  Instead she received orders to come to Shagur as quickly as possible.  Confused, but impelled to obey by the royal seal upon the l
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 1 3
Katana Matsuri: New Tricks
Mariko drew Yawarakai-Te and waited, avoiding the temptation to look towards Tanemune as the other Muramasa advanced on him.  Jinshu backed away from the duelists, there was nothing he could do here.  
The light of the risen moon reflected off of Kurotori’s blade with an almost painful intensity.  The scarecrow frame remained entirely motionless, as immobile as the features of the wooden mask.
In contrast Tanemune was constantly shifting position as the other Muramasa attempted to get around him, taking advantage of his wounded leg.  He had settled into a low stance, one hand gripping Taikōhaku’s hilt, the sword was still in it’s sheath.
Finally, goaded either by frustration or fear, the Muramasa charged, sword raised for a downward stroke meant to cleave his victim in twain.  Tanemune drew and struck in one fluid motion and sparks flew as both swords connected.  Recovering quickly, the Muramasa disengaged and swung mightily at Tanem
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 1 0
Katana Matsuri: Winds over Nantai
Darkness.  Darkness.  There was darkness all around him.  A thousand colliding thoughts and emotions seemed to overwhelm him like a sudden rainstorm.  A voice.  His voice, yet oddly distorted, whispering words that seemed to drip like venom.  A bright crescent of light.  A sudden flash.  Bright lancing pain.
With a gasp, Taro Gorouda sat up, his body slick with cold sweat.  A gentle hand held him firmly in place.   An elderly man in the robes of a Buddhist monk was kneeling beside him.  
“Eat.”  The monk said gently, holding forth a bowl of kayu (rice porridge).  At the sight of warm steam rising from the bowl, Taro’s stomach made its presence felt and he barely paused to thank the monk before seizing the bowl and eating ravenously.  It was then that he noticed the twinging pain in his right hand and the bandages around the limb and about his torso.  Again dark memories bubbled beneath the surf
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 0 0
Foot Soldiers Diary-Antiquity
Foot Soldiers Diary-Antiquity Story Arcs
"It is an inescapable fact that war has dominated and influenced humanity more than anything else in history.  At once it repulses and inspires.  It fills us with horror and wonder.  It has given birth to mighty states and cast them down.  We may not remember all of the events, but there are the names: Agincourt, Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Thermopylae, Sekigahara, Constantinople.  Now, see the dark side of the human story as never before, through the eyes of the ordinary men and the minds of those who led them.  This is the story of humanity, in all it's bloody horror and epic glory.  This is the Foot Soldiers Diary."
"From Bronze to Iron.  From barbaric tribes, to mighty empires and back again.  This is Antiquity, the era of legendary heroes.  A time when the first civilizations began carving out a place for themselves in a world of savage violence.  From the dusty plains of the Middle East to
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 1 1
Katana Matsuri: Kamaitachi
Katana Matsuri ch 1
Sekigahara, Omi Province (Shiga Prefecture), 1600 (5th year of Keicho)
The sun set in crimson splendor over the plains, highlighting the tattered remains of banners and reflecting bright fire from the blades of swords and spears.  Tokugawa Ieyasu, Lord of Kanto and now the most powerful man in Japan, sat on his camp stool, as his hatamoto (vassals) and supporters came forward with their reports of the casualties, the route of the Western Army and the heads each group had taken.   Ieyasu noted with grim amusement that his Naomasa, his closest retainer would have several new scars to add to his, already extensive, collection.  At the back of the group he could see the leaders who had defected from the Western Army to his side, thus turning the tide of the battle.  Ieyasu made a mental note to speak with them later, already he was calculating the lands and fiefdoms that he would have to distribute and reorganize among these men who had followed him
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 1 3
Mature content
Years of Darkness Ch 1 :iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 0 3
A Boy and his Dog CH 1.1
My name is Kenji Taylor, and my peaceful life ended on a Saturday.  I’m half Japanese, so my hair is more dark brown than black and my eyes are rounder, but I still resemble my mother more.  She was fourth generation Japanese and she died when I was five.  I didn’t understand what had happened at the time, I didn’t know what death was back then. My memories of her are faint at best, but I do remember the day she died.  Me, my dad, my grandparents and several of Mom’s friends from town, were all gathered around her hospital bed.  I remember holding her hand and I remember her speaking to me in a soft, gentle voice, repeating over and over, “Don’t worry Kenji, he will keep you safe.  He will keep you safe.  He will keep you safe.”  She must have been talking about Dad because I remember that he kept saying to Mom that he would.  I remember Mom’s hand going limp and thinking that she had fallen as
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 2 2
A Boy and his Dog CH 1
My name is Kenji Taylor, and my peaceful life ended on a Saturday.  I’m half Japanese, so my hair is more dark brown than black and my eyes are rounder, but I still resemble my mother more.  She was fourth generation Japanese and she died when I was five.  I didn’t understand what had happened at the time, I didn’t know what death was back then.  Even after the funeral I kept asking my dad and grandparents where Mom was and when she’d be coming back.  My memories of her are faint at best, but I do remember the day she died.  Me, my dad, my grandparents and several of Mom’s friends from town, were all gathered around her hospital bed.  I remember holding her hand and I remember her speaking to me in a soft, gentle voice, repeating over and over, “Don’t worry Kenji, he will keep you safe.  He will keep you safe.  He will keep you safe.”  She must have been talking about Dad because I remembe
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 0 6
Godling written chapter 1-Revamped
One thousand years ago, the age of advanced human civilization came to an end.  Some say that it was the work of The Maker.  Still others say that man’s greed caused his downfall.  Whatever the reason, the period known as the Ancient Times ended, the secrets of their magic and technology lost.  In their wake, the Ancients left behind an altered planet.  If any had lived to see this new land they would have likened it to the long ago past.  The world had returned to a forgotten age.  An age of gods. . . . and monsters.  
                                 Ch. 1: Dos Hombres
                  Western Sonora, 1034 pc (Post Collapse)
The rumbling was faint at first.  It was barely perceptible on the edge of human hearing.  However, the noise grew louder and louder as it’s source drew closer.  The small desert lizard was more co
:iconstraight-lace:Straight-Lace 2 10


Model of a Social Justice Warrior
I am the very model of a social justice warrior
I want to ban free speech from each and every college corridor
I know I'm a progressive, and I think that I'm above reproach
And on the rights of others I've no shame at all when I encroach;
I'm very well acquainted too with all matters grammatical
I understand which words are fine and which are problematical,
About the gender theories I'm teeming with a lot of lies ---
With innacurate claims about the behavior of college guys.  
I'm very good at victimhood and blaming the establishment,
I know how to protest to bring about a change in management;
In short, I want to ban free speech in every college corridor
I am the very model of a social justice warrior!
I know our trumped up narratives, Anita's and Brianna Wu's,
I'm always full of nonsense, such as that of Arthur "bomber" Chu's,
I quote in many soundbytes all the crimes of the patriarchate,
Especially those which have something to do with that GamerGate.
I can tell easily mansplai
:iconaristodes:Aristodes 31 25
Graylag Geese Drawing by EsthervanHulsen Graylag Geese Drawing :iconesthervanhulsen:EsthervanHulsen 500 120 Mad Max - War Beasts by sandara Mad Max - War Beasts :iconsandara:sandara 8,402 442 Sweet Dreams by EsthervanHulsen Sweet Dreams :iconesthervanhulsen:EsthervanHulsen 401 83 Cowboy Bebop: Crew Wallpaper. Realism. by DjamilaKnopf Cowboy Bebop: Crew Wallpaper. Realism. :icondjamilaknopf:DjamilaKnopf 1,542 107 FRENCH REV: Leaders by frozen-lightning FRENCH REV: Leaders :iconfrozen-lightning:frozen-lightning 63 33 megas xlr by orangehexagon megas xlr :iconorangehexagon:orangehexagon 141 37 Red by Raipun Red :iconraipun:Raipun 1,487 214 2012_06_24_019530 by landsverk 2012_06_24_019530 :iconlandsverk:landsverk 807 103 Fair Stranger by SnaiLords Fair Stranger :iconsnailords:SnaiLords 3,566 523 All Aboard by Clockwork7 All Aboard :iconclockwork7:Clockwork7 81 12
Ode To The Tsundere
He loves me not, he says with blushing cheek.
He'd rather die a fiery death than kiss
A girl with zero sex appeal, a geek
(he says it twice for extra emphasis).
So why the constant stares? I ask. He lies.
He hates the sight of me, he quickly shouts –
Without the scorn his panicked oath implies.
The dissonance contributes to my doubts.
Alone one day, he smiles at me; I gasp.
A joke? A lapse of judgment? Or perhaps
A glimpse of truth at last within my grasp!
I kiss his cheek and watch his walls collapse.
A victory for me, like striking gold.
For him, a death by kisses hot and cold.
:iconacaciathorn:Acaciathorn 534 195
Night Sky by Aeveternal Night Sky :iconaeveternal:Aeveternal 31 6 Prodigy - Family Poster by JuuniLee Prodigy - Family Poster :iconjuunilee:JuuniLee 25 26 Mossy by Mr--Jack Mossy :iconmr--jack:Mr--Jack 4,197 203 Anansi boys book cover by AnitaKOlsen Anansi boys book cover :iconanitakolsen:AnitaKOlsen 2 4


Vision-Presentation and execution, especially the use of contrasting light and dark elements are flawless, 'nuff said Originality-There...

Vision-Overall this was well planned and well executed though I think the dark edges effect detracts a little, albeit not significantly...

Vision-Very well executed. The scenery is impressive but I must admit the red deer thing is the real attention grabber for me. I also a...

Vision-I know only a little about the series but the elements tell something of the story as any good tankobon cover should. The MC, an...



Straight-Lace's Profile Picture
Robert Webb
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United States
Just your average guy who likes to write in his free time. Like discussing philosophy and politics. Other than that I can appreciate the work of others on the sight as opposed to the 'art' I sometimes see in the real world.
I spent last year writing my first book, only for my computer to crash in December and lose everything.  Fortunately after my initial bout of rage and despondency I was able to whip something up in a month and a half.  Several family members and Shingu have graciously agreed to review it and I hope it will help me improve the story.  Here's an excerpt that I hope will interest you.  The setting is an oriental style fantasy with action, intrigue, all that good stuff.  There is a succession dispute after the death of the previous emperor and Yun Lao Caorong, the Prime Minister has been invited to meet with one of the imperial princes vying for the throne.



    Yun Lao Caorong, stretched his aching back and sighed as his felt the tightening and relaxing of muscles.  Spending the whole day bent over documents, legislation and letters from the various branches of the government had never agreed with him.  He would have preferred to lie down on a couch or cushions as he did his work.  But that would highly inappropriate behavior in a Prime Minister. 

    A tentative cough sounded behind him.  Lao turned to see his steward at the doorway to his study, looking extremely nervous. 


    “Lord Prime Minister, this unworthy servant has just received a message from the palace.”

    “Oh?  Who is it from?”

    “The Lady Lao Lin, Master.”

     Lao blinked in surprise, as far as he knew the overindulged favorite of the late emperor had never shown even the slightest interest in anyone other than the emperor and her son.

    Lao held out his hand and the steward handed it to him.  Lao dismissed the man and steward bowed and exited.

    The paper was of good quality, you could that from the smooth texture, it was also scented, doubtless a perfume had been applied.  The calligraphy was flawless, neat and demure, an expression of the person who wrote it.  Lao could have believed that Lao Lin had written it herself; if he had not already known that the woman didn’t even know how to read.  Her father had been a fisherman from a tiny coastal village.  Her story was almost like something out of a cheap, romantic shadow puppet play, a story of a poor girl blessed with incredible beauty and purity of spirit who catches the eye of a cold and cruel emperor and by her gentle looks and manner, softens the monarch’s heart.  Almost. 

    The message was a request for the esteemed Lord Prime Minister, the Honorable Yun Lao Caorong, to attend upon the lady and her royal son at the middle of the hour of the rooster in her personal apartments in the Palace of Eternal Summer.

    Lao considered.  He had an hour or so to prepare and the fact that Zu Song himself would be present was an even greater incentive than the invitation by late emperor’s favorite.  All he knew about the third prince were rumors.  It would interesting to see what he was really like.  It probably would not change Lao’s decision to support his eldest brother but, well, one could never know enough under Heaven.

    So it was that, at the precise time he was expected, Prime Minister Yun Lao Caorong strode through the halls of the Hougong, the building that housed the women of the Imperial Harem and entered the apartments that, during Emperor Weizong’s life, had garnered the name, The Chamber of Spring Torrents. 

    He was ushered in by a eunuch in maroon robes and as always Lao had to suppress a shudder of disgust as he walked past the man.  Eunuchs had been a part of court life since the Chu Dynasty and in some periods they had been entrusted with great power.  After all what reason could a man who could not sire children have to try and supplant the emperor?  Even so, Lao knew the history of his people well and could easily recall the fact that the Huo Dynasty had fallen, in part, because men like this one had gradually turned the Huo emperors into indolent puppets feeding them glib fantasies of prosperity and peace while they wallowed in excess and civil unrest had swept the countryside.

    “Prime Minster Yun Lao Caorong!”  The eunuch announced as he entered the chamber.  It was quite spacious, at least as large as four or five of the other concubine’s quarters combined.  The walls were dripping with silk in warm pastel colors.  A small marble table, with precious inlays and three cushioned chairs, two of them already occupied, were set up in the center.  A small, discreet doorway in one corner led to the actual bedchamber.  Another doorway led to the quarters of the servants, all women or eunuchs, whose sole duty was to attend upon the woman who lived here.

    “Ahhhh!  Prime Minister Caorong, welcome!”  The woman in question now called cheerfully from the cushions that nearly swallowed her petite frame.

    Lao bowed low, twice, hand in fist to both of them.  As always his courtesy was impeccable. 

    “This humble one is honored beyond his worth that the Gracious Lady Lao Lin should be so welcoming.”

    “Please be seated, Prime Minister.”  Said the prince. 

    Lao sat, a eunuch placed a cup of aromatic tea before him and there were several small plates of delicacies within easy reach.  He sipped from the cup and sighed appreciatively.

    “From Yenling province, truly the finest in the empire.  I have not had tea of such quality in months.”

    “Whatever do you mean?”  Lao Lin said, her painted face frowning prettily.  “My servants prepare this for me every day.”

    Lao stopped himself from sighing at her ignorance.  “Yenling tea is rare and expensive Gracious Lady.  It is difficult to acquire, even for those of us in the civil service who labor unworthily for the Son of Heaven.  I am sure that the late emperor, may his spirit know everlasting joy, would have done all in his power to provide only the best for his favorites.”

    “Yes.”  Lao Lin said wistfully.  “He used to tell me how he would move mountains for me if I asked him.  I knew he was only being silly but it was still so sweet of him.”

    Lao regarded her.  Age was assailing her looks with some degree of success, despite her make up, her elaborately jeweled headdress, but even in her early forties, she was a striking woman.  He could only imagine what she must have looked like in the full flower of her youth.  It was no wonder the emperor had favored her above all the others of his harem. 

    Before he could reply Zu Song chuckled softly.  “Please Dear Mother, you did not invite the Prime Minster here, simply to reminisce.  I am sure he has important work to do.”

    Ah.  So that’s how it is.  Lao thought.  This meeting was the prince’s idea.  I guess I should not be too surprised.

    “It is no trouble at all, Lord Prince.”  He protested calmly.  “It is always a great honor to attend upon such esteemed personages as yourselves.”

            Zu Song smiled.  He had a charming smile, he had probably gotten that from both his parents, but try as he might, he could not make that smile reach his eyes.

            “If I may Prime Minister Caorong, I would like to know if anything has been done concerning the investigation into my mishap a few weeks past.”

            You mean concerning the baseless poisoning rumor you planted?

            “It is shameful to admit,” Lao said, the very picture of contriteness.  “but thus far our inquiries have been unable to find anything.  With respect, might it be possible that your indisposition was merely a minor illness?”

            “I am sure your men have been most thorough in their work.”  The prince said smoothly.  “But considering the present situation I am somewhat reluctant to discredit the idea of an attempt on my life entirely.” 

            Lao Lin’s features crinkled in an expression of petulance and worry.  “It was no illness!  My precious son was bedridden three whole days!  It must have been a poisoning attempt.  You must order your investigators to work harder Prime Minister!”
            Lao bowed in his seat.  “It shall be as you command, Gracious Lady.”  He said humbly. 

            “That reminds me.”  She continued.  “Why has there been no word regarding the search for the sword?  It had been over two weeks since you told us about the artifact.”

            “I cannot say Gracious Lady.  All that is known is that it was rumored to be in the possession of a monk in Zhenshan province.  Perhaps the searchers are having difficulty acquiring it from him.

            More probably they’re still fruitlessly searching for the thing like myth that it is.

            “But why would be difficult?  Who would dare oppose my son’s right to rule?”  Lao Lin asked.  She seemed genuinely bemused by the very idea.

            This was risky ground, but Lao had come expecting something of the sort.  He noticed that Zu Song seemed more interested in the conversation now. 

            “Who can say my Lady?  Great men have always attracted their shares of obstacles, but many have overcome them in the end.”

            Lao Lin looked unsatisfied with this answer.  “It’s probably those hideous half-brothers of yours my dear.”  She said, placing a comforting hand on Zu Song’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry, I am sure that you will be the one to receive the sword, but I do wish your father had named you his heir before going to his ancestors.  I am sure he would have had he recovered.”  She preened as she said this, obviously still confident in her powers of persuasion, despite her fading looks.

            The prince smiled at her.  “It’s all right Honored Mother.  But recall, that my Illustrious Father was very ill when he died.  Shi and Wei would seized any opportunity to discredit any proclamation he would have made, claiming that in his final moments he was no longer in his right mind.”

            Lao Lin gasped softly at the very thought of such scandalous perfidy.

            “But also recall that Father had begun the search for the sword before his death.  I am sure that he intended this to show that it was only his will but that of Heaven that I succeed him.”

            Ha!  You weave a cloth of fiction Zu Song.  I see in your eyes that you don’t even believe your own words.  The Son of Heaven wanted the sword because he believed it would prove his worthiness to the gods so they would see fit to fulfill his desire for immortality when the alchemist’s potions failed him.  He never had any intention of passing on his throne, least of all to you and your brothers.  I wonder what expression you would make if I told you that in his dying moments the emperor compared the three of you to wolves fighting over a scrap of meat? 

            “Of course!”  Lao Lin said happily.  “What a clever man your father was Song!  How clever you are to understand him so well!  Once you take the throne I am sure you will be just like him.”

            Once again Lao’s training and experience prevented his contempt for the woman’s stupidity from showing on his face.  She was like a vase, as beautiful to look at and just as empty.  She had entered the harem at fourteen; after her father had scraped what little money he had to secure her a position as a servant to the women there.  It had taken less than a year for her beauty to elevate her beyond that lowly status.  The favor and gifts that the late emperor had lavished upon her because of her looks had gone to her head and reduced her to a shallow, vapid, simple-minded excuse of a woman.  It occurred to Lao, though it was too dangerous to speak out loud as it was critical of Weizong, that she might have been better off living out her days in that squalid little home of hers on the coast. 

            “Thank you, dearest Mother.”  Zu Song said, but Lao caught the flicker of disgust in the young man’s eyes that, unlike the Prime Minister, he could not hide entirely.

            What a pitiful woman, to be despised by her own son and not even realize it.

            “Mother that reminds me.  There was a trinket from the Wa Islands to the east that you showed me yesterday.  I thought it was most intriguing.  Perhaps the Prime Minister would like to see it as well.”

            His eyes briefly held Lao’s gaze, then flicked back to his mother.

            “Certainly.”  Lao said equably.  “I would be delighted.”

            The woman whom the emperor had favored above all others, rose demurely, and entered through the small door into the bedchamber.  Lao reached out a pudgy hand and took another sip of tea.  This time he did not savor the taste.

            Zu Song leaned forward, resting both his elbows on the table in a manner that reminded the Prime Minister of his father. 

            “You’ve been very careful haven’t you Caorong?”

            “What do you mean, my Lord Prince?”

            “Oh, simply the frequent meetings at your estate with your civil service cronies, the fact that you met with the Grandmaster of the Establishment Sect a few days ago and all the other little maneuvers you’ve been making in preparation to take sides when the time comes.”
            Lao was surprised, and then impressed; he had thought he had concealed his movements well enough to avoid attracting attention while everyone else at Court was focused on the sword hunt.  But it seemed the prince did not know everything.  He remained unaware the Lao had already resolved to support his eldest brother.  He made a small, self-deprecating laugh.

            “I’ve been found out so easily.  Either you have excellent spies under your command or I must be getting old at last.”

            “Hmmmm.”  Zu Song pursed his lips in mock concentration.  “If I were to judge I’d say the latter.  It truly is a shame for you to have such difficulties Caorong.” 

            Lao smiled thinly.  “If you accept that you must also accept that youth can be as great a disadvantage as age, third prince.”

            A flame of anger briefly showed in Zu Song’s eyes, but it was quickly snuffed out.  “You know that I already have the Secretariat and the Ministry of Appointments on my side.  Zu Shi only has a few of the military governors and Zu Wei is so mistrustful he barely has anyone in the court on his side.  It should be obvious to you which of us is stronger.”

            “Currently you are, but if you were really so confident in your own maneuvering you wouldn’t have invited one so old and inconsequential as myself to form an alliance with.”

            “You seem to have done well enough, considering your father was a lowly merchant.”

            “Indeed and like my late and lamented father I never had much patience for the formalities, so let us get to the heart of the matter.  Since you are so well informed as my faction’s activities you know full well that at the moment I may have enough support to tip the balance any way I choose.  I assume, correctly, that you invited me here to persuade me to take your side, in the event that the search for the San Chi Jian fails, or” He paused deliberately.  “even if it succeeds, and someone else acquires it.”

            Zu Song’s face remained impassive.  “What is your point Caorong?”

            “Nothing really.”  The Prime Minister said casually.  “I’m simply waiting to her you give your reasons for why I should support you over your brothers.”

            “I’ve already given-“
            “You just said that, without me, your support is currently the strongest.  I’m going to need more than that before I decide to throw my weight behind you.”

            Yun Lao watched as the young man’s face seemed to go blank for a moment.  Then he seemed to recover and Lao could practically see his mind going through his available options.  What could he offer to make the Prime Minister support him?  Material bribes would not work, neither would offers of position, he was already the second most powerful man in the empire with easy access to wealth and privilege.  It would be useless to appeal to an old and experienced politician with sentimentality, even more so to convince him through debate or reasoning.  Lao, after all, had climbed his way to the top on a battlefield where every word was a sword thrust or parry.

            Lao should not have done it.  He would not have permitted such a slip in his youth.  Perhaps he was getting old after all.  He watched as it slowly dawned upon Zu Song, that he had nothing, neither tool, nor weapon of persuasion that he could use to bring the Prime Minister over to his side if the man did not want too.  As they had established earlier, Lao had the influence and power to effectively decide who the next emperor of the Hong Dynasty.  The odds were not all in Lao’s favor, but they were high enough.  It was in that moment that the Prime Minister saw another realization flare in Zu Song’s eyes, the realization that he had absolutely no control in this at all.  Whether he ascended to the throne or not, depended entirely on the decisions of another.  In that moment the prince realized it and he hated it, and Yun Lao Caorong’s lip twitched for a brief moment, into a smile. 

    Zu Song saw it.

    Quivering with rage, the third born son of Emperor Weizong stared at Lao as if trying to erase him from the earth by force of will.

    “You dare to mock me?”  His voice was soft, and under rigid control.  “You will live to regret that insolence Caorong.  There are other ways to the throne and when it is mine, I promise you, that you and every last member of your family will-“

    Lao coughed loudly, causing Zu Song to stop.  He was suddenly tired of this. 

    “You do realize that I’ve heard countless threats like this in my life?  I have spent half of my mortal life in a world filled with men who would love nothing more than to kill me in slow, painful ways.  Surely you know that I have crushed many enemies in my time.  They were all great men of power and influence.  Men, whose action or merest word could end the lives of hundreds, or even thousands.  Your father faced enemies who were even greater, both in the Court and on the battlefield.  As far as I know the only opponents you have overcome are hapless servants who had the misfortune of irritating you.  Do you not think,” Lao leaned forward, hands clasped together.  “that progressing from your usual victims directly to making an enemy of me is moving far too quickly for someone of your experience, my Lord Prince?”

    The two men stared at one another for several long seconds, long enough for Lao to see terror shining in the prince’s eyes, no longer hidden by anger or arrogance.  The Prime Minister had no way of knowing it, but to Zu Song, the short, plump, innocuous man sitting across from him, had suddenly seemed to loom over him like one if the Judges of the underworld. 


    I really shouldn’t have done that.  Lao reproached himself as he was carried back to his estate. 

    The Lady Lao Lin never did find that artifact the prince had asked her retrieve and show the Prime Minister.  Lao had engaged her in a few brief snatches of idle conversation when she returned from her fruitless search, before finally taking his leave of her and her uncharacteristically silent son.

    Overall I’d say I’ve just succeeded in irreparably alienating the Secretariat and the Ministry of Appointment. 

    Was he really so childish, to actually engage Zu Song in his posturing?  As if the two of them were a pair of fighting cocks in some squalid gamblers den?

    I am the last dragon of this empire.  It will be a time of wolves now.

    Lao sighed and firmly thrust the words out of his mind. 

    This dynasty is nowhere near finished yet.


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Benji-Blacksky Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2016
Hello. I hear you're a writer too. :iconshinguamito: showed me the cover for your story on Atalanta.
Straight-Lace Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Yes.  Why do you ask?
Benji-Blacksky Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2016
He told me I should probably check out your work. I'm a recently published author, myself.
segaman4 Featured By Owner Edited Feb 3, 2016
hey how ya been. you think you can help me edit my work?
Straight-Lace Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Have we met?  And what exactly do you want me to edit?
segaman4 Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2016
You commented on one of my chapters and one of my chapters needs editing
Straight-Lace Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
which one?
(1 Reply)
FaydenDane Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much for your critique! I value the insight and perspective :)
Straight-Lace Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
*shrug* I do what I can
TheHika Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Hey! How are you, Stranger?
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