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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

naggy

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Remember to keep with a Laissez Faire party unto the very end!
Or else... the world economy shall welcome oblivion!

I'm not even sure when China even gets an L-F party. All their starting parties are State Capitalism, and stay that way at least through 1870 (which is as far as I played last time).
 

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Naggy (1) - Thank you, so much. :) It means a lot to hear that. The things I want to do most with Letters - and any story, really - is make a story that can feel a bit sad, a bit funny, a bit nostalgic - just something that touches the emotions a bit. And ideally within the format of the game. I kinda gave up on editing out some of the weirder AI moments as the next chapter'll mention. :p

Alex -
When you never try it, you allready failed at it!
This was actually my family's coat of arms, once upon a time. Well, it went like 'Do something, anything - but for heaven's sake, don't do nothing'. Er, and it wasn't even a proper coat of arms - we had a family crest... insignia? Something. I don't think it was ever from any royal thing - maybe I had a great-grandad who was a merchant or something? My great-great-grandpa who settled in Florida had it emblazoned on certain things. And I can't agree more. :)

Enewald - What's that? I can't hear you over the sound of State Capitalism. :p /HEAVY FORESHADOWING

And seriously, it doesn't look like there's any difference, economically speaking. No Planned Economics, no LF... Huh. It's a mystery!

Naggy (2) - Seems that way. I'm pretty sure the hard communists might end up being PE, and I think later-era Republicans and Fascists get Interventionism or LF. I don't know though - I'm just guessing based on policy and stuff.
 

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The Three Emperors Beijing '65 Aigun '70 {1865-70}

Ariabella -

I cannot say how surprised I am to receive your letter! Let me start by saying that despite the events that I am sure both of us are loath to talk about, I am fine and doing well - perhaps better than I have been in some time. Work does wonder for clearing the soul of doubt. But how have you been? I imagine you must have grown like a bean sprout to be writing me a letter all on your own!

That wasn't even funny; I'm sorry. It's just strange talking to someone you can only remember in your head as a young woman, and realizing she has become a young lady- perhaps with a husband all your own, extending (by virtue of presence, if nothing else!) the Osskisson name? Hahaha! Mother and Papa never mentioned any acquaintances of yours, however, so I can only guess at what events have been unfolding in your life. It's nice that you've made a lady-friend, however. She sounds very peculiar, to live so far out in the woods by her lonesome. Do tell me more!

Even in China, news of the war ending has floated in, at first from the new class of tourists that seem to flow in and out of my office gawking at the 'caged Westerner'; I prefer it that way, though. If many people figured out my worth to the Qing Court, it would likely make my life more difficult... Ah, where was I. I'm glad that the war has ended in reunification, no matter the cost, and adamantly hope the new President - Hale, was it? - Will be up to the task of placating America's damaged spirit.

Do you remember those puzzle-games that Papa and Mama would make all of us play? Where we would be thrown a scenario to solve, and had to solve it to progress? Not that there was any reward besides the satisfaction of completion, but - it is the same here. I have things that I have helped to break, and I must fix them. I know you are writing this for Mama, and I wish dearly to see her, you and Humphrey again. But it is the same perseverance that kept us at those games of youth that keeps me here, today. I must fix things.

With all my love, dear sister,

Clark


There was a simple joy to writing from bed, Clark thought. It was rare for daylight to be the light that shone throughout his quarter window - at least when he was in it. But the headaches and shaking that had become worse and worse every month were now so terrible he found he could not leave his room for fear of crashing into people or objects. Already he had broken a beautiful celadon brush-holder that had been a gift from a provincial official - it had been Song Dynasty in make, and he would miss it holding on to the boar-hair brush he used for his early morning rituals.

Chuckling to himself, he winced as every laugh cut a hole into his head. He could tell that both Moonwatcher and Gentleman wanted to talk, but were being polite enough to hold on to themselves out of courtesy. It was an unusual show of restraint for Gentleman, but it was highly appreciated nonetheless. It had given him the time he needed to finish this letter to dear Ariabella - although he doubted it would bring a smile to her face.

His dour thoughts were interrupted by a polite knock on his door; Meng Chuntao let herself in, as she had been frequently doing as of late, a mug laden with something divine-smelling in her left hand. She smiled warmly at Clark, who was waving the letter around - perhaps a bit deliriously, he admitted, but given the temperature his head ached at it was probably permissible.

"Ah, miss Meng! It is a verifiable pleasure to see you. You look cheerful, as usual - and I know I'd become more cheerful in a heartbeat if that coffee would, by any chance, happen to be for me?" Clark laughed feebly, still regretting it as searing pain stole through his skull.

Meng Chuntao simply smiled, head shaking lightly. "It is indeed - I even put some honey and minced ginger root into it, to help you with your headaches. I'm not sure if it will work or not - but we could all use a hero like you back on your feet as soon as possible." They both laughed, but Clark wondered if she actually meant it. He had been working extra-hard of late, filing papers, doing notary sketches... There was even talk that the Tianmen Emperor was so proud of him, one of the xin chao promissory notes they were printing out!

Of course, he couldn't remember who he'd heard that from, or even if he had heard it - but it was quite a thought, wasn't it?

Sipping the coffee gratefully, he detected the faint hint of honey and the strong tang of freshly cut ginger - as well as the trademark taste of bitter almond, perhaps stronger than usual, though masked by the other flavors. The pain did indeed seem to be vanishing, however - and Clark soon found himself falling back into a deep, dreamless sleep. Meng Chuntao's smile was the last thing he saw - it was radiant as well.

But the expression in her eyes

-

"These maps are interesting, I admit." The Tianmen Emperor was reclining in his study, wondering why he was entertaining another member of the conservative faction - more and more, they seemed to be intruding upon the peaceful days of growth he so preferred. At first with news of violence and poverty, anti-Western grumbling and now...

1chap11.jpg

THIS.

"Do you not see, Son of Heaven!" Zeng Guofan's voice boomed throughout the chamber. A brilliant military official with no record of defeat - possibly due to his miraculous ability to earn backing from most sectors of the Qing Court - Guofan had openly supported the Emperor even when he was still the Prince Gong. However, now that the benefits of certain Western-style courts were flowing into the Qing Court, he had become on of the Emperor's most staunch critics. Not that the Emperor minded - such an enemy was worth many allies.

"These dogs, adventure-craving devils from the Americas claim to have subjugated Jiaozhi, and turned it into some sort of foreign protectorate! It is your duty to intervene and liberate it for all that lies under Heaven!" His face red with rage, Zeng Guofan finally managed to regain his composure - it was not common for him to lose control, but this man - who could just as easily be classified as one of those foreign devils himself, with his love of Western clothing and mannerisms - was infuriating. The fact that he was supposedly an Emperor? Even more infuriating.

Unfortunately, the Tianmen Emperor apparently had other plans. Waving for his attendants to fetch a globe, the Tianmen Emperor folded his hands in front of his face, staring at Zeng Guofan over the corrective glasses he had began to wear. "There is no reason to liberate the people of Jiaozhi. Dai Nam should have learned from watching us - if one is not willing to grow on their own, to stand and fight when necessary, and bow and scrape when that, as well, is necessary, then it is their own fault that most of their territory has been swallowed up by these foreigners."

Zeng Guofan's face fell - this was precisely the sort of polished harshness he did not know how to combat; the Tianmen Emperor was a true believer in this sort of reasoning, and nothing could be said to sway him otherwise. However, the Emperor was not done speaking just yet, and beckoned the distraught general to his side.

"However - I do have something that I believe will satisfy the armed forces for now. Please take a look." Pointing to several areas on the globe with a broad sweep of his hand."

A long pause was only followed by the sharp laughter of Zeng Guofan. "I see you the reason that you are such a good diplomat, my Emperor. Your plan shall be carried out, Son of Heaven." And with a stiff and arbitrary bow, Zeng Guofan walked out, leaving the Tianmen Emperor alone with his many attendants, a smile on his face.

-

2chap11.jpg

Another astounding victory for China? What incredible posturing!

Hong Mei Ling was not fond of boat rides - powered by steam or wind, they tended to be jostling, long, and full of too much quiet reflection. Her sole consolation on the trip to Lushunkou was that some of the sailors had taken to playing a new game on board the vessel - one that supposedly derived from Kong Qiu. Although she had been pretty doubtful of that statement, she'd taken to the game wholeheartedly and found she had a pretty good knack for it. It was pretty nice to not have to worry about money for once!

Of course, this paper had been a mistake to buy. It appeared that the Qing had acquired more people they could leave starving and crowded until they were desperate enough to work the bland gray factories that were beginning to become an unavoidable part of the landscape. But, information is power, and he who seeks knowledge has control of his own destiny. Even if she didn't believe in destiny herself, she knew that much to be true.

3chap11.jpg

The Qing had modernized - and it had brought some wonderful things. But to what end?

If a ruler becomes unjust, it is the responsibility of those who know best to unseat him. And if no one else will take that responsibility, it falls to my shoulders. Straightening her shoulders, she put the paper on a nearby bench and set out towards the Capitol, a nearby carriage stopping to pick her up. As it rolled off, she caught sight of several men dressed in thick black suits out the window. They were marching single-file along some tracks that had been set to and from the harbor - she was not sure what the purpose of the tracks was, only knowing that as she stared at the strange men, one stared straight back at her.

He did not appear to have pupils.

-

A man raised tilted his head to the side, unnerved by a passenger staring at him from the windows of a carriage. He was unsure why anyone would stare at a simple visitor such as himself. He and his compatriots were walking along very rudimentary railroad tracks, certainly, but that was no excuse for the look of confusion - nay, malice! - in their eyes.

Nevertheless, he filed it away for future use - it appeared yet another person was suspicious of their presence here. He began buzzing loudly to the man first in procession, who responded by rattling his head from side to side at a frantic pace. Of course, it was so simple! How glad he was to not be first!

He hopped over the tracks, making sure to hold on to his hat, and approached a laborer. "Excuse Me, But Would You Happen To Know If There Are More Of Those Carriages Available." It was not a question, but a statement - even though the laborer was unsure why he could understand the foreigner babbling at him, he knew he could.

"Uh, yer looking for a ride? To, uh, Beijing?" The foreigner nodded his rapid assent. "Well, uh, you're not outta luck. There's one every few hours." Shao Peng felt acutely ill at ease, like there was a tiny needle poking inside of his ear and scratching the words he heard into his brain. "... Who did you say you were, again?"

The stranger paused, a blank and vacant look in his eyes. The two stared at each other for some time, and Shao Peng wondered if he should tell his supervisor about the mysterious man, and his - bizarrely similar - compatriots. However just as he prepared to excuse himself, the man began to talk rapidly.

"We Are From The Egypt Exploration Society. We Were Sent To Congratulate Qing China On It's Startling Progress In This Field." Another awkward pause was filled by an even more grating laugh. "HAHAHAHAHAHA."

4chap11.jpg

Oh, ya mean that far-off stuff? I guess that makes sense...

Shao Peng had never heard of an Egypt Exploration Society - he'd actually been a journeymen of British Studies before poverty and lack of skill had forced him to take a job at the port. But it did sound official, and the Qing had been sending expeditions to Egypt in a desire to build up status and prestige... So it was probably nothing.

And with that, the stranger returned to his group as they waited patiently for the next carriage, not moving when the rain began or as the night begin to darken, only hastening inside in single-file as the evening carriage to Beijing arrived.

-

Clark was glad to get back to work. The last week had been another one full of days spent in his room, grappling with the pain coursing through his nervous system - but as the dawn had risen on a bright August day, he'd known that today was going to be a good day. The pain was gone - mostly - and he could hear a voice chuckling. Rise and shine, you lazy shit. Did you miss me? You and me and the cow, we haven't had too much time to talk - it's time to fix that up. There's some language you understand!

A pleasure to talk to you, as well Gentleman. Clark smiled bemusedly to himself as he walked towards the window and threw open the shutters, multi-colored light streaming into the room and bathing him in mid-morning phosphorescence. You gonna stand there admiring yourself the entire morning, or get to work? You've got enough papers to choke up a lumber mill, heh. And get your clothes on, man!

Still laughing, Clark threw on his customary suit, and then threw his old, tattered and worn jacket over it in a fit of nostalgia. Stepping outdoors, he shut his eyes to protect them from the sun. Hes vision stopped blurring, and the pain in his head subsided completely. He blinked, acclimated to the sunlight, and opened his eyes - and there she was.

-

Hong Mei Ling stepped out of the carriage, thanking the driver as he pulled away to change places with yet another overworked driver. Filled with pity, she had wanted to say something - but had no words to say, and dared not vocalize her quiet hope that soon, somehow, everything would be better. She turned away to face towards the Forbidden City - and there was Clark.

They stood across from each other, staring for some time. She wasn't sure who moved first, only that soon they were both crying and embracing and she was holding him so tightly that she didn't think she would ever let go.

"I guess, I probably could've guessed you'd be here, huh?" Smiling through her tears, Hong Mei Ling took Clark's hand. "Kind of stupid on my part, hoping to sneak in here without being seen by someone. Just my luck it turned out to be you." Laughing quietly, she wiped the tears from her eyes and stared into his. "You look just like I remember. You haven't aged a day."

Clark, stared at Mei Ling - at the almost-invisible wrinkles in her face, at how her broad shoulders slightly stooped, and at the tears she was trying to wipe out of her eyes. He smiled. "You haven't aged either, Mei Ling. It's good to see you again." He hugged her tightly, not bothering to wipe his own eyes, then slowly rose to his feet, laughing. "You look like you've been pretty busy, madame. Could I ply you for stories over coffee?"

Her smile was radiant. "I would love some coffee, Clark. And you don't have to ply me for anything." She laughed brightly, and he realized he hadn't heard her so unguarded for a long time - how long, he could not remember. But it didn't matter. Nothing mattered as the two of them walked into the Outer Court, hand in hand and talking amicably of days long since past.

Neither noticed another carriage pulling in, much quicker than they were supposed to go, wheels sparking along cobbled roads, it's doors-half open as a thick, viscous sludge poured onto the cobbles - and slowly began to take the shape of three well-dressed men, guarding their eyes in unison against the sun and circling around the City like vultures - not daring to step inside, but waiting for the moment it would come crashing down.

-

Steam rose off of the freshly brewed coffee as he poured it into a mug. Mei Ling smiled and took a sip, then turned her nose, coughing. "This is really bitter! How can you drink this stuff - why don't I make us some nice tea, or something? Believe me, I've had more experience than you can believe as of late." Clark laughed, although he couldn't help but looking a little hurt.

"I don't doubt it - the whole story about working at a teahouse - in Japan, no less! - was almost unbelievable. Almost." He grinned at her as she began her work, whistling to herself. "A-anyway, what's so bad about my coffee? I made it with the secret Osskisson ingredient - love!" They both laughed, but Mei Ling adopted a serious expression.

"It's not so much that it's bad - it tastes terribly thick of almonds. It isn't a bad flavor, just a little unusual, I guess." Clark paused, and it was his turn to look thoughtful.

"The ground coffee I tell my assistant - Meng Chuntao, you haven't met her, but she's quite capable - to get in bulk. Come to think of it, I never really pegged the taste as unusual - but find that, like Socrates and the subtle but divine hint of mint upon his tongue, it helps me think and achieve a hard day of work - ah, that looks divine."

Two cups of camellia tea rested upon the table, savory aroma distracting Clark from whatever rant he had been engaged in. Mei Ling smiled over her cup, lifting it to her lips and taking a deep swig. "Aaaah - that's the stuff. If you don't stop staring, I'm gonna drink yours too, heh!" Grinning, she reached for Clark's cup quickly - but he cut her off with another exaggeratedly wounded look. "... And cheapen this beautiful moment? I'm surprised, Mei Ling. I would never have expected this from you."

And with that, before she could retort, he drunk the whole cup in an instant, laughing raucously. She looked surprised, and then began to laugh as well. The sun began to set outside as they talked, the setting sun bathing the room in a languid orange glow as they stared out the window together, side by side.

"... I'm sorry I couldn't make it to Yelu's funeral. I didn't even know he died, because I was wasting my time so far away." Mei Ling's face was unreadable. "If only I'd been here, maybe I could've changed things, somehow. He didn't deserve to die like that. It was the right thing, but..." Clark massaged her shoulders and felt her tension slowly melt away.

"What would you have done, Mei Ling?... He was determined to change things, and I don't think Yelu was the type to listen to anyone but himself. I - I beat myself black and blue for days trying to figure out something I could've done - but I guess you can't fix everything." He smiled. "At least, not by yourself." They continued to stare at each other for some time, and then Clark frowned. "Which leads me to something I want to ask - so what is this great plan you have? Are you planning to assassinate the Tianmen Emperor? Because that won't fix anything -"

Mei Ling laughed and reached up to pinch his nose; Clark dodged too late, cursing and laughing while Mei Ling filled him in on her plan. "Nope! How would that change anything?... I'm going to talk, and he is going to listen. I don't know if that'll change anything, either. But it's all I can do... And it's what I'm going to do." Her smile was contagious.

"I wouldn't have stopped you, you know. Even if you were planning some sort of bizarre heroic suicidal last stand. And you know why, don't you?" She shrugged her shoulders, smirking self-deprecatingly. "... I love you. And I'm terrible at saying it, or showing it, and pretty much everything, but - I love you, Hong Mei Ling."

She was silent for sometime - she didn't need to say anything, though. He could read the response in her eyes. "You know - I'd always hoped. But somehow, I didn't ever figure there'd be someone who could appreciate me for being who I am. And after we went our separate ways, I -"

They kissed for a long time. When his lips finally left hers, Clark smiled softly. "Let's never do that again. Uh, split up, I mean- not, ah, damn-" He turned beet red as she laughed musically. The sun continued to fall, and after some time, Clark snapped his fingers with the realization seemed to him to be an excellent idea. "Let's go then. Right now, to see the Emperor. He is quite used to taking my company me in the gardens, and then we can get this over with. We'll go to try to convince your brother to give up his foibles, and perhaps then take a ride to visit my parents. And then, let's go somewhere new to both of us - on another adventure."

He clasped her fingers tightly, grinning from ear to ear. "What do you say?" She remained until she had stretched out the moment long enough to enjoy the anxiety in his eyes, a coy grin crossing her lips.

"It would be my pleasure, Clark. Well then... Shall we go?" And looping her arm around his, the two of them headed out of the ostentatious room for the last time.

-

The first blow hit the Tianmen Emperor hard enough to knock him onto the ground. Panting, he had tried to rise to his feet, but his unseen aggressors had taken care of that; with a horrifying crunch he could feel his femur twisting until it was pointing towards his chest. Gritting his teeth, he pulled himself up to the ground, eyes blurry - possibly a concussion. "What is the meaning of this!?" His voice bellowed around the empty chamber - no attendant or guard answered his call. The few loyal soldiers he constantly kept around had vanished, nowhere to be found... As members of the secret police stepped out of the shadows. Some looked apologetic, but most wore apathetic expressions.

5chap11.jpg

This farce has gone on long enough, Yixin. You should know when you are beaten.

Stepping out of the gloom was an woman of the court. Her face was harsh from many years of being sidelined and ignored, and her eyes danced with a brilliance that rarely had the chance to sparkle.

cixi.jpg

One of her guards had began to kick the prone Emperor - she raised an elegant hand.

"Stop. You will only wound him more, and I would not like to hurt him. I owe Lord Yixin that much." She smiled as if this was intensely amusing, prodding Yixin to rise. Somehow, he managed to pull himself to his feet, but it took all of his energy; a guard rushed to each side, supporting him by his arms and the one on his left bracing his leg.

"Lady Cixi..." He growled through the pain. "Why are you here, and what is this joke?" Cixi frowned, as if disappointed that the Emperor could not see what was going on with his own two eyes.

"You are being replaced. My consort should have been Emperor - but I supported you in the succession. I alone have recognized the threat that is upon us now. Seizing power on my own was nigh impossible, given how everyone in the Court seems to unite in hatred of me even when divided by their own petty feuds, ahaha!... I see that you're a bit too wounded to find this humorous, Yixin. Let me assure you - I do not derive any pleasure from this, in my heart."

He looked up, prepared to spit at her feet - but she did not seem to be lying. Shocked, he marshaled all his rage and attempted to break free - only to nearly fall to the ground as the guard on his left threatened to pull free. Sweating, he spoke again. "... So, a bald-faced grab for the throne, Cixi? Of all my rivals, I did not see this coming from you. You know that such a move will be temporary. Father would lay witness to this as being unjust! He would not allow it!"

Cixi once again frowned. "Don't act so wounded, Yixin. The throne shall not go to me - I only desire the power to protect my people - people who in your rush to 'Westernize' -" She snarled, teeth glinting in the darkened room. "- Have been abandoned, becoming nothing more than statistics. I will protect the Manchu people - and so long as they remember to obey, the Han Chinese as well. No, the throne shall be going to my son."

tongzhi.jpg

He will be known as the Tongzhi Emperor - a suitable name.

"Of course, ruling alone is a challenge for any man." She chuckled. "I absolutely despised the little Mongol he'd chosen for a wife at first - delicate as a flower with no stem. And he was too young to make a wise choice - or so I thought. It seems that after some thorough convincing, Lady Alute will be a fine Empress."

ladyalute.png

It was she who came to me voicing her fears of the British, actually. What an amazing coincidence!...

"Now, stop cowering. This isn't like you, Yixin. Truly, I am sorry that this is how things must be, but I will ask you - will you abdicate?" The desperation in her voice was barely visible, hidden behind a mask stronger than that any Emperor had to bear. The Tianmen Emperor considered his options - if he chose to resist, he would die, of that he was certain. But no one would support Cixi and her schemes, no one.

Would they?

Had discontent with his reign really become so widespread that they would be more willing to accept his brother's widow, the mad old witch, as an Empress proper?... No, that's not right. It wouldn't even be Cixi on the throne, would it? Young Zaichun... He seemed like such a gentle soul. And Lady Alute was as pure as a fresh winter snow. Could they really be involved in this treachery?...

His strength left him. Yixin bowed his head, and Cixi smiled.

6chap11.jpg

The reign of the Tianmen Emperor was over.

-

The night air bit at Hong Mei Ling's skin as they approached the palace. It was an unseasonably cold August evening. She moved closer to Clark as they stepped inside, bumping into him and nearly sending him tumbling into the younger woman leaving the palace with the haste of a lady possessed. Clark pulled himself up embarrasedly, apologizing to Mei Ling, who apologized to him, and they both turned to apologize to the stunned woman staring at them.

"Good evening, miss Meng." Clark uttered cheerfully. "My companion here and I were hoping to visit the Tianmen Emperor. Is he awake as of this moment?" Meng Chuntao's usually cheery expression had warped into a snarl. "You. You should've been deep asleep right now - I'm amazed you didn't do the world a favor and die earlier. I kept upping the doses, and you still wouldn't die!" Tears of rage flowing down her cheeks, she ran into the distance, leaving a visibly unnerved Clark.

"What... Did she even. Mei Ling, did a word of that make sense to you? Ahaha, she - she must have been having an off-day, you know..." Mei Ling's eyes had narrowed, watching her form as it disappeared into the inky darkness. "Unfortunately, Clark, it made perfect sense. And I think we weren't the first people here tonight with this brilliant idea." She clasped his hand tightly. "Hurry!"

-

Cixi had all but finished preparing everything for the news and coronation tomorrow - but was interrupted by the boiling hiss she had been expecting. "Ah-" Her voice was cold and sharp. "You. I imagine you came to kill the Tianmen Emperor. Well, he is already dead, worse than dead. A living corpse, you might say. He is in a place where you cannot reach him. Instead, I shall be your opponent this evening!" Whirling around to face the three strangers in precisely matching suits, she smirked.

"Is that really all that she could bother sending? Pathetic. I'm impressed you managed to keep yourselves stable - do come in. I am unarmed, as you can plainly see." The first in line took a step forward, his hands expanding like huge boils as they exploded in a sour of nebulous tar-like substance, and began to flood the room - or they wouldn't if he hadn't screamed inhumanly and burst into a green fire, crumpling and sizzling on the floor like so much grease.

Cixi smiled, a smile that only grew as the distant sound of two pairs of feet grew closer. "And what a wonderful surprise - it seems we are not alone tonight. I'm sure whoever comes in that door will be more than capable of dealing with both of you. Now, if you will excuse me - I must ensure that my son is ready for his coronation." Laughing quietly, Cixi vanished into the night as twin jets of oil scoured the area around the throne where she had been standing mere moments before.

Hong Mei Ling and Clark burst into the chamber - to find no one there but two strange men. Hong Mei Ling's eyes widened as she instantly recognized the vacant stare one was casting towards them. She sunk into a fighting stance as Clark looked confusedly around the room.

Finally, kid. I've been waiting for years for this part! Let's cause some havoc! The ecstasy dripping off of Gentleman's voice reverberated around Clark's mind as he felt something coursing through him. Holding a hand to his head, he shook it off, and stood back to back with Mei Ling. She smiled apologetically.

"This isn't quite what I was expecting, but I'm sure we'll be fine... Thanks for coming this far with me, Clark."

He wanted to tell her something, anything - about how they'd go traveling soon, and that this bizarre situation must be some sort of strange waking dream. But before he could even voice that - the two men had walked towards each other, no into each other, their bodies roiling until their was nothing left but a thick, viscous sludge - coating what looked to be nothing more than the body of the Tianmen Emperor.

"Thieves! Bandits! They've murdered the Emperor!" The voice seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time - all around them it boomed out, and there was no time to think. Clark and Mei Ling ran, as fast as they could, leaving the palace behind them as they ran into the sudden August rain, only pausing to catch their breath when they were far from the outer court and close to the edge of the city proper.

As soon as the two intruders were long gone, the 'corpse' spluttered, the two strangers rising from it in a flash - only to vanish the moment they appeared, a ghastly chuckling the only sign they had ever existed at all.

-

The next day, the Prince Gong announced his abdication due to 'matters of health'.
Simultaneously, the Tongzhi Emperor was coronated. Relations with Britain and foreign powers plummeted, even as British concessions in Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim were brought under Chinese control - and the Qing looked hungrily at Macau, and areas that had fallen under foreign yoke.

7chap11.jpg

She wasn't sure why they had kept running.

8chap11.jpg

But nothing they had seen that night made sense.

9chap11.jpg

And somehow she - no - they both knew that death awaited them if they stayed.

-

Emperor Tongzhi stood cautiously on the balcony his uncle had stood upon so many times before. He was very unsure of how to rule or the challenges he faced. But neither was he a weak, foolish child. His mother had taught him the dangers the West posed, especially the British. And although it was true his mother would be the power behind the throne, and that his uncle's spirit had been broken, he knew that it was necessary to protect the Qing. He walked back inside to where the Empress Xiao Zhe was painting a beautiful picture of the Outer Court gardens.

She smiled, her lips red with the rich make-up favored by the Court. "You look well, my Emperor. Are you prepared for the journey that awaits you?" The new Emperor smiled. "So long as you are with me." The new era had come, one where the Qing would use the power and knowledge they had gained through admitting weakness to move to an unmitigated position of strength.

10chap11.jpg

And finally, the Jealous One would no longer attempt to assert hegemony over the Middle Kingdom.

-

They had been hiking for some time through wetland and forest. Mei Ling had mentioned they not use the carriages - due to their destination not being on any route, and not due to any danger of them actually being suspected of murdering the Tianmen Emperor, given that he seemed to be very much alive. But eventually, Clark turned to Mei Ling as the autumn air began to grow exceptionally cold, and asked where they were heading. She smiled reassuringly, and squeezed his hand. "Somewhere Yelu used to go to think things over. We need to learn what just happened, away from the new Qing Empire. It's only my opinion, but -"

I feel as if we've just stumbled upon a secret war, and if we do not understand why it is being fought, we're already dead on our feet.

Clark couldn't help but agree - and he had a few ideas where to start. The two vanished into Aigun, it's border garrison and large expatriate community embracing them like the perfect camouflage as storm clouds drew heavy in the sky...

-

Thoughts so far -

Whoa, so many shocking turns of events! I can't even tell what happened! Well, actually I can - but that'd be spoiler-ing it for the rest of you. And that? That's no good. So as I sit here eating gingery silken tofu, let me remind you that I absolutely am cool with any questions you want or need to ask. I can't promise I'll answer them fully, though, ehehehe!... In addition, I'm starting to realize that we've hit the half-ish way point for Letters. Which is great, but it means at some point it'll be time to move on to another AAR. ;_; Tragic as that is, I've got plans for a few countries I'd like to play - and all will have tie-ins to Letters, including one that'll (sort of) continue the adventures of the Osskisson household, since they're kind of fated at being periphery characters. But, because crowd participation is rather fun, I might just hold a contest to decide what I'll do next, bwahaha! Or perhaps, better yet, story elements and things like that. In between, I might even do a mini-AAR or something. Not sure yet, we'll see. But here's what you definitely can help your dear old uncle Communitarian! out with in the meantime.

You might have noticed that I'm struggling to catch up with plurality and education/literacy boosting techs. After those I'm liable to get base industries and railroads - Even if Britain attacks now, I feel fairly secure. Is this extreme foolhardy waywardness? I'll grab some screens of my technical situation before next update, if you would all like. And as usual, I'd hugely appreciate your advice. As usual, love, peace, and jazz!

Oh, and if you have some time, check this out. It's by the late, great, John Hughes, and yet no one seems to know it besides me. S'agreat movie, probably his best if you're a big old softy, like me. And it's kind of the quintessential growing up at a certain time in a certain socio-economic state movie. More enjoyable by far than Pretty in Pink, light years beyond Sixteen Candles (Eegah, nononono).
 

naggy

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I noticed you haven't boosted military techs (especially tactics). Before you think you can handle Britain, look at how many brigades she has in the ledger, and consider that with her military techs, you'll need a 2:1 advantage to hold them off. Don't count on mobilization - your mobilized armies are actually too large to effectively use until you get several supply boosting techs.

And as always, great update! I didn't expect the emperor to get a literal beat down...
 

Enewald

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That is some nice income!
Yay for protectionism!
You just killed Europe!
 

LordTempest

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China looks funny once it's annexed Nepal and Bhutan, no?

Great update as always, what part will Cixi play considering China has already westernised?
 

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I might even do a mini-AAR or something.

You... a mini-AAR? Excuse me i have to grin a bit here :D
I guess that would be the challenge for you to keep it "mini" ;)

Oh, and if you have some time, check this out. It's by the late, great, John Hughes, and yet no one seems to know it besides me.

I know alot of those 80´s movies, but i dont remeber that one... the music is cool... but not much (besides the rocky soundtrack that is above everything else) beats this opening:


(Music: Lion - Never surrender)

You know that one maybe? :)

Sorry for tracking into off topic here alittle :D

I love the update too of course :)
 

Tommy4ever

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I finally got around to reading this update. I'm sure you can understand that you have to be in the right state of mind to read so much text. :p

Its seems that now that it is as powerful as the West China is ready to burst forth. Russia, Britain and the USCA beware!
 

unmerged(219496)

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Naggy - Done and done! I've been alternating industry and combat technology, mostly; updating my combat infrastructure and my civil infrastructure in one fell swoop. And of course, utilizing the complex to compliment that...

Enewald - My economy is a beautiful monstrosity; with it's red hair, it eats investers like air! Also, it appears that Corporation and State can work well together. :eek: WHAT AM I DOING NOOOO-

Tanzhang - It looks hilarious! Although I've been tempted to release them as buffer states, that seems more like something Yixin would do. Cixi is far too aware with the fact that they'll just fall into British influence in due course; this is a pre-emptive buildup to war, and an obvious one at that. As for her role - it's up to everyone! ;) Well, moral ambiguity (how've I done on that btw?) and spoilers aside - I've always been interested in her. I think she unfairly gets a bad rap. She was no less ruthless than anyone else, and had to struggle for a single scrap of respect. Plus, gaining such strong control of so much was a feat of iron will - if she had access to the things she so despised, then I do not think there is a force in this world that could've stopped her from becoming a dominant player on the world stage. So now that China is Westernized... Well, we shall see what happens. Just don't expect her to suffer a Yixin style beatdown - Prince Gong got uppity, and apparently needed to be put in his place. :eek:

Alex - Hehe, I'm serious! I was thinking it could be a hands-off game as Hawai'i! Then I start thinking of the inter-island tension, power plays between French, Japanese, Russian, British, and American interests, possible venues for modernization... :D Okay, perhaps I cannot write a mini-aar. Yet! One day my voracious textwalling will be contained via an impenetrable Maginot Line! xD

WRAITH---------------- :D :D :D
With my deep love of 80's movies, how could I not?! :D Some Kind of Wonderful is pretty obscure, but good. Wraith is a classic, totally. Also, one of the best openings of all time. And I officially sanction off-topicness in my threads, so long as they eventually diverge back to on-topicness. I mean, given the little Communitarian! rants at the end of every chapter, I'm kind of guilty of it myself... :p

Tommy4ever - There's never any rush - I'm just glad to have your readership and opinions. :) Honestly, a friend of mine reviewed a paper on Machine Intelligence I wrote and mentioned he'd read it when I spoke in intelligible English. Except it was funnier and more to the point, but I can't remember the wording. D'oh! :p

Yeaaah! This episode we kick some USCA around, woo woo!... Not like that was a challenge at all. I also broke a peace treaty by declaring war on it twice. Besides infamy and militancy, are there any other behind the scenes effects?
 

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(...)
Yeaaah! This episode we kick some USCA around, woo woo!... Not like that was a challenge at all.
I also broke a peace treaty by declaring war on it twice.
Besides infamy and militancy, are there any other behind the scenes effects?

I am not sure... i think the AI remembers such things and takes them in consideration in later negotiations.
(or i might have played too much Civilisation and am wrong on that :p )
 

unmerged(219496)

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Sahaliyan Ula Aigun'70 Aigun '75 {1870-75}

Ariabella -

You're very lucky that this letter found it's way to me! Due to a rather incredible series of recent events, my current work in the palace has come to a rather jolted conclusion. Never fear, however - I have found a kind of simpler work, and have enclosed details of my new residence and methods of reaching me in this letter. It impresses me that you've gone to work at one of the new textile mills; and as much as I hate to say it, it may be an unfortunate necessity. I can no longer continue to send the earnings of my travails to home.

I'm very sorry, Ariabella - I know that Mama is getting increasingly distant and withdrawn, but what it just means is that you and Humphrey need to keep an eye on her. She has full reason for her detached demeanor after all. At least some small measure of fortune is upon us - that this friend of yours has been staying with the family for some time is a boon in and of yourself. You mentioned that she had some skill in poultices and herbal identification?

We could benefit from those skills here, ha. Hong Mei Ling and I - How is it that you and Mother were so perceptive? I dare say I hadn't told you enough to guess that little fact, ahaha! - have been subsisting mostly on the supplies we can earn or make ourselves - or trade for in town. It's much like home; although the plants and animals are quite different, I have been learning much of the local fauna... It is a treasure trove, our planet; lady Nature is a miraculous woman, to have created all this.

Again, I am sorry for the lack of information on either side of this letter and my caged attitude in regards to current events. It is my belief that by simply including the information in a manner only an Osskisson would know to check! I'll be trusting you. Please.

Lovingly,

Clark


Ariabella tapped a finger against the letter without any addressing besides their own. Although the sender seemed to be Clark, it wasn't like him to close so clumsily. And any 'method' he was counting on her to remember, she surely could not. Sighing in exasperation, she ran her fingers through her hair and wondered if Humphrey would find any work today. Deciding it was unlikely, she stepped into the foyer, where Mother, reading glasses perched upon her nose, was reading one of the books that Carmeline had brought over. She had a peaceful expression upon her face - indeed, was peaceful indeed, so long as conversation was short and simple.

She was about to sigh again, when she felt, rather than saw, Carmeline staring into her back. It was quite possible she did it unintentionally, or for the presence it created. Either way, Ariabella turned to face the woman she had found living out in the hills. Ariabella had offered to make her new clothes, ones that weren't so constantly mended - and so many shades of yellow - but Carmeline had refused with little more than a shake of her straw-like hair. Really, she looks more like a scarecrow than a respectable woman! Giggling inwardly, Ariabella fanned herself with the letter.

"It's from Clark - but I cannot make heads or tails of it. The silliest idea I have is another game we had as children, where we'd take lemon slices and drip them onto paper; you could use the juice as sort of ink, one that would only show up under heat." Carmeline's expression didn't change; it rarely did. But her eyes shone with intrigue at this new puzzle.

"Do it, then. If everyone's read it, there's nothing to lose." Mother looked up at Carmeline's words, a smile on her face that did not meet her eyes, which were staring into a point just above their heads - far off into the distance, into a past she could not and would not leave.

"That would be fine, Aria. It didn't say much at all anyway, did it?" Laughing, she turned back to the book - some sort of strange text detailing the superstitious 'meaning' behind numbers and occurrences. Where Carmeline found tomes like this, Ariabella couldn't guess. She held the letter above a candle - gasping in slight shock as another message tore it's way through the paper like writhing gold.


Sister - don't worry about me. Indeed, do not spare a second thought if these letters cease entirely. Events as of late have taken a turn I could not foresee; but at least I have it on good word that you are all alright - as much of that as any of us can be, hah. The Osskisson curse is alive and well, is it not?... You'll notice an address here if you need to reach me. Take care of everyone, sister.

Clark


Face contorting with pride, worry, and reserved melancholy, she memorized the location to her mind even as her fingers crunched the letter into dry scraps. Hot tears poured down her cheek as she threw the message into the unlit fireplace. "Don't you understand that we need you here, brother?... You stupid, arrogant, man!" She was about to storm off in a huff, Carmeline tensed to walk after her with a font of advice she did not want or need to hear and mother immersing herself in her reading, one the door tinkled open. In it stood Humphrey, looking world-weary as usual, circles hanging thick under his eyes. He took one look at the scene, and sighed.

"I brought the news, and a few ducks... What did I miss this time?" The scene melted down as a tiny fire was lit, fiery tongues licking around the surface of the letter and engulfing it completely.

Carmeline watched intently, eyes trying to remember the symbols she had seen for a half-second before they were obliterated by the fire.

-

Emperor Tongzhi sat in the back of the palace. Although the Mother Imperial sat far off in the corner of the huge chamber, on a tiny seat that could barely be called a throne, all eyes were on her. It would've bothered him if he'd been a jealous man - but he had learned many things from his mother; one of which was that if people did not value you, if they scorned you with their eyes the few times they looked at you - they did not understand you, and by doing so underestimated you. Besides, with his Empress at his side, he needed nothing else.

He wasn't really listening to the merchants and venture capitalists anyway. Their voices bothered him, sounding like the buzzing of so many flies. Their leader -and their always had to be a leader, didn't there? - was self-grandly proclaiming how they had "Made the Qing... And indeed, were deserving of Imperial Title themselves, most of them. Wasn't self-achievement a great virtue indeed..?"

1chap12.jpg

People want better standards, more goods, more life choices open to them. We could guarantee their happiness.

The Emperor had had enough of it. Rising to his feet, he clapped his hands together , the sleeves of his robes still slightly too large. Instantly the men fell to their feet; their eyes dared not meet his own now. "The Tongzhi Emperor has listened to your decree, businessmen of the Qing. And though I agree with your stated goal, your intent is clearly to profit at the expense of China. Among your numbers I see no Manchu- I see no Korean, no Zhang, no Mongol. If your goals were truly to better China, it would be possible through determination and work to rise into your ranks."

Face falling into a look of rage and instant enmity, the leader was prepared to rise to his feet, dramatically leaving and vowing dangerous threats in his head - but Tongzhi wasn't done with him. Smiling an innocent smile that would've not looked out of place in an Italian statuary, the Emperor slowly fell back into his throne. "... Nevertheless, we grant you exclusive right to serve the Qing as Royal Industrial Contractors. Please use this power responsibly, for the good of all."

2chap12.jpg

Their faces lit up. It was hard to notice the Emperor intoning the few rules they would need to obey...

As the businessmen left, voicing their thanks many times, Tongzhi reclined in the throne, feeling exhausted. He turned to ask his wife for advice, only to see her gone. An instant feeling of unease and panic sank into his chest, vanishing just as quickly as it had appeared; she and the Imperial Mother were returning, the Empresses' soft voice laughing like tinkling chimes. Tongzhi caught his mother's eye - and her look froze him in place for a brief second. They were just having harmless conversation - it looked as if Xiao Zhe had even brought him something warm to drink.

"My dear Xiao Zhe; you don't need to go do something that any servant can handle, ahaha." His voice cracked briefly - and his wife smiled at him. So did the Imperial Mother; and Cixi's smile was a mechanical thing full of sharp edges.

"Oh, but Emperor! It's fine for me to walk around the palace on my own. Guards are everywhere, and your mother is so pleasant to talk to. She and I were just enjoying discussing poetry - she quite enjoyed my most recent writings." The Empress had a look free of the worries -irrational ones, Tongzhi told himself - that plagued his mind, so he did his best to free himself of them. Reaching out to take her hand, the two sat down next to each other. Cixi stared out into the wide hallway, sneering at the mud one of the capitalists had tracked in.

"Pigs, each one fouler and more disgusting than the one before him. My Emperor - you were wise to grant such powerful men privilege in matters of economics - but never let a single one deem himself your better - or they will try to eat you alive for a few more scraps from our table." Her voice took on a serene tone.

"A thousand years shall pass before us
Each one a pale reflection lingering only in memory
Such soft fire dancing in their eyes the only sign;
that once, and once only, they dreamt themselves crownless kings."

Xiao Zhe laughed in celebration, beaming at the Imperial Mother's poetry. Tongzhi laughed as well, his worries drifting out of mind like time on the river-like words of his mother's poetry. They were all friends in this room; there was no danger here. There was no need to feel ill at ease. And laughing away his worries, he sent a servant to fetch the next group of petitioners.

-

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A war to take back land from the Central Americans?

Clark laughed and wiped the sweat from his brow. He was very impressed with the house's form - it had taken shape as hodge-podge of architectural styles. The roof reminded him very much of a house he had once called his own- in another time, another place. Mei Ling didn't like to talk too much about some parts of the cottage, those she had put a lot of personal involvement into making - in some ways, it almost seemed like she had no family at all. It seemed like it must be doubly painful, and so Clark didn't bring it up - and as the sun set, their residence had neared completion.

She smiled, walking over from where she had been resting to join him in staring at it. "It's nice, isn't it?" He made a sour face, as if to suggest it was the war. "Ah, not that. We built this with our own hands - not too bad for a couple of paranoid refuges!"

"Well, time has been at our side, recently. Perhaps those things aren't following us- I know it's a stupid hypothesis, but it's quite possible that we just, on a tension, experience a mutual hallucination-" Mei Ling shot him a skeptical expression - he stammered into another topic entirely.

"A-anyway! I'm just amazed the United States didn't intervene to save their little brother some embarrassment. William Walker's little experiment seems to have meant more people speak English than Spanish there, anyhow." Mei Ling gave a dismissive shrug.

4chap12.jpg

It was a short war because of that, at least. Without the U.S. supporting it, Central America just couldn't handle Qing forces.

"Do you think there's going to be another battle? The Vietnamese have been agitating for a Qing intervention for some time now. And with all those Chinese engineers arriving in Colombia, I can only guess there's something planned that'd make a de-fanged Central America beneficial to Qing interests..." Her lips slid into a relaxed grin.

"Eh, who cares. Aigun is nice - and we don't have to stay in Yelu's place anymore." There was a brief awkward pause; at first it had been wonderful to stay in the little cabin that had been Yelu's during a brief build-up against possible Russian interventionism. But it almost felt wrong to stay at the old home, with it's unpainted walls, barrack-style build, and sketches of a young woman Clark could not identify. At least it had caused him to begin drawing once again - and inspired this, their own homestead in Aigun proper. Just across the Amur was another small village, Russian in origin - also once highly militarized, but a flurry of treaties and trade had turned into a cessation of hostilities and eventually increased local trade.

"Sorry, that came out wrong. It's just - it's nice to have a place that's really our own. And with the village so close by, it feels like - like we aren't on the run." Mei Ling sighed, kicking her shoes off and sitting back down. Each came to rest near the beginnings of their small garden - and Clark dutifully walked over to scoop them, much to her amusement.

"You don't have to do that, you know. I'll just get them myself, later." She chuckled as he held them out in front of him like an unexpected present. He grinned and set them down near the door.
"Well - if you don't, luck dictates we'll get a generous rain, soaking them and rendering them useless, and when market comes along tomorrow, it'll be me alone that wanders into town, paralyzingly confused as I stumble through dialects, find myself unable of saying a snippet of Russian, and losing whatever few goods I manage to barter - as well as my dignity." They kept laughing - and a few minutes later, a small rain did began to fall, although hardly the storm his dire warning had forecast.

"You sure are superstitious, Osskisson. Not that I can blame you; I suppose it's another thing we share in common. And although you were right about the rain - well, imagine that it's just me being grateful I can walk around as I can, and don't have those damn monstrosities that the Manchu have been trying so hard to eradicate." Her toes flexed as if in response; Clark thought for a minute at the woman he had seen so many years ago, moving in a slower tempo from the rest of the world.

Interrupted only by the raindrops, he phrased a question that had been on his mind for some time. "So then... You grew up in the South? I am only assuming, since I met you there and all. Hehe, and what a meeting it was-" She motioned towards his beard, smiling mischievously.

"Sorry, Clark - you didn't have that yet; it's gruff magnificence is a thing to behold." Ignoring the mixture of embarrassment and pride playing across his face as he scrabbled to catch sight of his own beard in the fleeting reflection of the rain, she continued to speak, staring off into the gray clouds drifting above them.

"... Yes, I was born to Hakka parents. My family wasn't too large. They had the son they wanted, and I was a bit of an afterthought. As long as I helped with the harvest, it didn't really matter what I did. At first, I tried just disguising myself as a boy - and it didn't hold too well. I couldn't make a convincing queue. It was Yelu's idea to pretend to be a Manchu - I spoke the language well enough, and my customs often seemed more Manchurian than Han." She paused reflectively, still watching the tiny droplets soaking the loamy soil around them.

"I wasn't that old when I tagged along with Minsheng to meet his supervisor. If it hadn't be such a lucky coincidence for me - and a less lucky one for him - I'm not sure what would have happened to me. Yes, I've broken many laws - but to think that by virtue of hair alone, I could've been classified as some sort of rebel. Funny to think how things turn out for all of us... Anyway. I drifted from job to job, looking for ones where I could do something practical, and meet people. People who'd understand my goals- didn't find too many though. But given how I act, how I look, that's pretty understandable."

Her derisive laughter jolted several crows, and their tiny black wings littered the grey skies. Clark was silent until she'd stopped, just staring at her. Hong Mei Ling blinked, her face a light shade of red. "What are you staring at me like that for? I'd understand if you'd said something stupid, or tried to support me, but why are you just staring?" Her voice rose slightly, but her laughing had stopped.

"Granted, I could've just said something. But I have a bad track record with words - I say something I think will make you feel better, and it only digs deeper. You needed to say those things - and although you may not be a shining example of the Xiao Jing, I think you live up to filial piety in your own way. And for what it's worth - I think you look beautiful with long hair, and am sure you would look equally wonderful if you chose to cut it. We're already living rather dangerously as it is!" His smile was confident, far different to the person he felt he had been long ago - she continued to blush even as a very tiny smile crept onto her lips.

The rain continued to fall for some time.

-

6chap12.jpg

Thank you, Lady Cixi. We will redouble the training program immediately.

Preening himself as he stepped out of the Outer Courtyard, Zeng Guofan could feel success beckoning him. Although Yixin had been a competent Emperor in regards to modernization, the man had no spirit, no soul dedicated to victory or conquest burning inside of him. Cixi understood the need for military order and discipline. Not that she was the Emperor in any sense of the word - rather, she was a prince's widow, and therefore to be afforded the utmost respect - and so he had. Her new plans of military development were something to be seen, indeed.

7chap12.jpg

8chap12.jpg

9chap12.jpg

10chap12.jpg

Of course, he was unsure about the new Royal Charter Companies - even if they were better than foreigners.

Cixi watched him go, sharp eyes hawk-like in capturing every detail of the General's stride as he left. He was prideful, and that was a weakness that could be of future use. Not that he had been particularly problematic; she had been amazed at how enthusiastic Zeng Guofan had been about her ideas for military reform.

Although she had no desire to see the West gorge upon China's riches, she credited Yixin for his hard work - he had put an infrastructure into place that would serve the Qing well. Most of the foreign instructors had been fired immediately, but she had told Tongzhi he could keep any tutors he wanted - predictably, the young Emperor had removed almost all of them after this announcement. His aversion to education was another reason she was sorrowful the child was her own.

He hadn't had to struggle, like she had. Then again, very few had. Sighing, Cixi fanned herself off and walked back towards the small throne she had seated in the far corner of the palace chamber. One could be forgiven for even thinking it royal in making. She did not need the trappings of wealth or royalty - although of course she deserved them. No, what she wanted was what anyone wanted; security, stability, order. And very few had the strength to act on their ambitions.

She, however, knew that when the British - or the French, or the Russians - came again, that Yixin's resolve would falter, his head touching the tips of the foreigners blood-stained boots as he hurried to avail himself of their wrath. She knew what powers were at play in this world - and she knew how to fight them.

11chap12.jpg

Make a viper admit that it is weaker than you, and it will slink back into the shadows.

She had instructed the Empress Xiao Zhe to plant the idea of a grand exposition, a world fair, into the mind of her son. His juvenile imagination would leap at such an opportunity - when it wasn't leaping at other things. She bit her lip. It pained her to allow the two of them such freedom, but it was a necessary sacrifice to make sure that power remained firmly in her hands. If it slipped just for a minute, one of the arrogant nobles with their high-strung sneers and their belief that all foreigners were either stupid devils, or magical allies, would slip a knife into her back.

Sighing, she idly wondered why there were not more who understood they were smart devils, or perhaps working for them? But they were weak; growing up in luxury does that. And eventually, the strong displace the weak - such is the way of things. Still, to have her every move stifled by incompetent courtiers doing lip-service to the notion of her as their commander, their proper Empress... No, it was far better to work from a distance. And perhaps this way, that idiot son of hers could find some happiness of his own, instead of feeling obligated to risk everything for a country that could care less about him.

One discrete look at the news had mentioned that the area known as Jumla had become recognized as a federated Qing district, to be henceforth known as Baishan, or formally as Baishan diqu. She had planted the idea of increased migration in the minds of many policy workers, so long as they respected the cultural integrity of the region - such a presentation appealed to the Western sense of progress.
12chap12.jpg

The way she had seen it, Kathmandu especially had always been a cultural crossroads. One more only added to it's appeal.

Ah - and after the Central American government had attempted another war to repair their damaged claims in East Asia, she had ensured that the Qing would intervene - there was a chance that the United States would come to the aid of it's tiny puppet, and the people had protested another war, even after the previous one was quick - it did not matter. She would not see another enemy on her doorstep when the British looked so greedily at her, eager eyes searching for one moment of weakness.

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14chap12.jpg

The first experimental tracks had began to reach from Yunnan to Beijing, perfect for troop movements.

Some guests had also apparently arrived to speak about Chinese exploration in the Nile, but she had let Tongzhi take care of that. He could talk excitedly about endless rivers and foreign lands - she knew the strategic value of such work, but the sheer ignorance as Westerner and Chinese alike acted as if the Qing had no wondrous rivers of their own caused her to grit her teeth and resist the urge to have both beaten for their indolent stupidity.

16chap12.jpg

She would not, however. She was a weak, gentle, woman.
17chap12.jpg

Such a woman whose hidden brilliance would protect the undeserving from rapacious greed hidden in plain sight.

-

Trade days were always interesting. A medley of villagers from many ethnic groups would appear out of farmsteads and forest shelters, congregating on the middle-sized fortified city that was Aigun to trade stories, coins, and goods. Across the river, Russian soldiers, missionaries, and civilians alike came to peddle their ways, crying out in broken Manchurian the cost of goods or services. It was on such a day that Clark and Mei Ling, baskets filled with fresh vegetables, woven clothes, and translations of various articles made their way into town, animatedly talking amongst themselves.

He was watching them with nervous, downcast eyes that constantly darted around, as if worried some invisible force was watching everyone, preying on their every move. Perhaps in the man's fevered mind, it was. He had a shock of hair that might have been blond at some point, but was now so coated with dirt and grime it was impossible to tell it's true color, and wore a mottled green uniform.

Mei Ling stopped dead in her tracks, feeling the intense gaze of the stranger for whom the crowd melted around like a wave upon the shore. Nudging Clark gently with her shoulder, she gestured towards the man. Clark raised an eyebrow and gingerly set his basket on the ground, walking over to the man.

"What the devil are you doing standing in the middle of the road, sir? It's a good day about - perhaps a man like yourself is simply out to enjoy the weather and local atmosphere?" Clark smiled, but the stranger did not return it, or reply in any manner, still managing to stare without ever directly looking at either of them. That's incredibly disturbing. I shall have to remember not to stare at Mei Ling so, if it looks remotely like that. Clark felt the urge to laugh at the mental image - but was shaken sharply back to reality by a raspy, high-pitched voice.

"You must come with me. She cannot. You need to know; the things I know. I can help you - and you must help me. Please. Come with me." The desperation in every thickly-accented, short sentence the man spoke was painful to listen to. His Russian-tinted English hinted to his occupation as a diplomat of some sort - but Clark hesitated to think of a diplomat who would be so terrible with people. Walking back towards Mei Ling, who was staring at him in concern, he pursed his lips.

"Well, you heard the man- it appears he very much wants me to go with him. I'd rather like to, but the idea of following this odd fellow around seems potentially dangerous. Should we go home?" He smiled, but she shook her head.

"I'm interested as you are. If he doesn't want me there, I won't come with you. I'll follow from a distance. Given our relation before - well, I feel safe in saying that I have some experience stalking you, Clark." She grinned toothily, and he suppressed a laugh before resuming seriousness.

"Very well. If things get bad - Well, even if I tell you to run, you wouldn't, would you?" They exchanged smiles, and a short kiss - and with one fleeting glance back towards her, he walked towards the stranger, who was now staring straight at him - for once, meeting his eyes.

"Good. We don't have time. Much time, at all. You have more than me. Let us go."

-

Mei Ling wandered through the woods, breathing shallowly to try to hide the strain of carrying both baskets and following Clark's trail. He occasionally did something completely unsubtle - turning around trying to catch a glimpse of her, 'cleverly' dropping stones onto the path; even whistling like no type of bird she had ever heard before - but luckily their mysterious host was oblivious. Or worse - acted like he was. Cursing herself for feeling winded already, they soon arrived at a Russian-style house on the bank of Sahaliyan Ula. It was not too uncommon to live on a different side of the river - but the house was strange.

Orthodox crosses were hung from every wall of the house; and although she was far from an expert, the location of the building upon the waterfront seemed correlated to feng shui. She saw Clark and the man step inside, catching sight of a painting - a dusky woman with arms raised beatifically was staring upwards, an enigmatic expression on her face. It almost seemed as if she was defying something.

Setting the baskets down, Mei Ling wandered around the house; and realized it had no windows. Teeth gritting, she picked the baskets up and walked up towards the door, eyes and ears intently focused; yet inside, she heard nothing, and her heart began to race.

-

The inside of the house was cluttered from head to toe with maps, books in many languages, and the rotting remain of many types of food. The sickly sweet scent of decay was strong inside - but not strong enough to unnerve Clark, who had noticed no firearm on the man or in his place of residence and was now determined to find out why he had been called here. His host motioned for him to sit on a simple wooden chair obviously carved by hand as he prepared tea; it was served in tiny, damaged porcelain cups, each one stained with the many remains of dregs previously drained.

goatskull.jpg

Catching sight of a skull hanging from the wall, Clark was hit by a flash of memory - and began to sketch it as the man spoke.

"I am sorry. Not enough time. I know what you will ask, so we'll talk quickly. Was a diplomat for the Czar. Did not agree with his methods, assigned to Khabarovsk Krai. Demilitarized, and no one remembered me. Saw strangers sailing away in unmarked boats - intervened, noticed they were carrying away Nivkh possessions, people. Stupid. Attempted to interfere again. They weren't people."

He paused, and took a long breath. Then, his eyes shot towards the door, as if expecting someone to burst in. There was a tense pause, and he continued. "Colonel. Anatolii Georgivich Boklov. You are fighting them. Therefore, we are friends." He held out his hand, seemed to think better of it, and retracted it.

"Their queen, their childlike Empress - she still rules in Britain, one who would be queen: an unknowing pawn. Their leader, the Jealous One: He commands them to search for the things that could undo Him. Belief is His currency. Wait! Please, don't go!" Clark had got up to return the tea cup to an overcrowded basin; he sat down with an attempt to look placating. Anatolii was obviously panicking, however.

"I know. The voices you hear. You have not heard them recently. So long as you are doing what one or both of them believes right and good for you, you cannot. They guide you. Both mean well. Mean. Aha." He laughed, and shot another threatened - or was it threatening? - stare at the door.

"No one can defeat Him. There is no way. Therefore..." He began to pant, and Clark realized he was sweating heavily. Clark began to tense, trying to remember the various forms Mei Ling had been trying to teach him. He was caught off guard, however, as the colonel fell to his knees. "Please. Kill me. I cannot bear this horrid waiting, no chance of victory. We are puppets. Kill me." Head shaking for some time in fear and trepidation, he finally stopped his spasming as Clark answered, apologetically.

"No. I'm... I'm sorry. Whatever demons haunt you, I cannot."

A sigh, whispering as an autumn wind, and the colonel rose to his feet. "I was afraid that would be the case. Good though. You're a good person. The Qing - they have no feud with you. But the men - they will continue to hunt you down, until they have taken all you love. Be warned." Their eyes met, and Clark realized the colonel was waiting for him to speak - and asked the only questions he could come up with.

"Who are they? Why do they do this? Is there any way we can protect ourselves? And thank you for your advice - I wish there was something I could offer you in return." The colonel's sad, resigned smile spoke volumes.

"There is nothing I need or want, anymore. It was taken away, not long ago. Conversation is nice though - reminds me. That we are human." His smile began to fade.

"As for them, they are not. More like spirits. Can pretend, however - very convincing fakes. Little details give them away. Belief makes them stronger - but is also their weakness. You fear them, thus they exist. Funny, is it not?" He did not laugh.

"Perhaps they do it out of desire to serve Him. I think they do it out of fear. Such hatred and jealousy, uncompromising vision is a powerful motivator. Sealed off such emotions, however. The ones that did not... They are not here, now. They could have been friends. You can protect yourself - through help, through belief, through raw power. But mostly, by trusting yourself and your loved ones. Kindness is the one thing such hate cannot stand." The sorrowful look had returned to the colonel's gaze. Out of questions, Clark nodded awkwardly, muttering words of thanks as he edged towards the door.

No. This isn't how you should leave. He sighed, distracted by his thoughts and turned - coming face to face with the painting visible from the entrance. "Ah, Anatolii. Who is the woman within this painting?" The colonel smiled with no visible sadness, as if drawing sustenance from the words.

"She is Sophia. She is the only protection there is left for me. She is one who would guide us, if we are lost. But she cannot help me, anymore. Just offer me some kindness, as water crashes ashore the river bank." The awkward air remained, and the colonel sat down in his chair, attention now lost to everything but his thoughts, not reacting to the sound of the door being slowly shut.

-

Mei Ling embraced Clark as he stepped outside, expression changing almost instantly to hide her worry. "I was just about to bust the door down and get y-" Clark's somber, confused expression brought the worry back, full force. She looped her arm around his, and they each took a basket as they began the long walk back to their new home, grey clouds giving way to an evening sky.

"He seemed to be just a sad, hermit-like man, possibly insane. But he spoke words of such truth I cannot discount his sanity as such, so quickly. And thank you. For being worried, I mean. I cannot deny - I was terrified the entire time." A soft, embarrassed smile materialized onto his lips. She kissed them softly.

"You don't have anything to be worried about, Clark. I will not let any harm come to you. But I do want to know what he said to you - if it could shock such a driven man as yourself, I feel that it'd be best if I heard about it." Her smile faded slightly as they walk; Clark seemed locked in an inner struggle, unsure whether to tell her or keep his thoughts to himself. Then, with relief drifting into his eyes, he returned her smile - and the doubt fled from her face.

"It might make me as insane as him - but for some time, since when I was wounded at Hui'an, I swore I have heard two voices..." As they talked, the night drew around them like a blanket, moonlight dancing upon the worn road home.

-

He slowly took the barrel of the service revolver out of his jacket. He had not wanted to alarm the American or his friend. But his warnings had come, and likely far too late.

The steel against his head was both terrifying, and oddly calming. He knew this was a sin - but he had nothing left, and no one left to warn. This would be comforting - and it would be over quick. "Sweet Sophia-"

As the tears flowed freely from his eyes, he turned to the painting, unable to finish his words. He could hear the faint sound of chimes, see the censor and smell the incense inside of it...

Colonel Anatolii Boklov let the gun rest against his temple-

and pulled the trigger.

-

"Mother." Emperor Tongzhi was excited - recently, the Imperial Mother had been letting him take control of ever more Imperial Duties. Indeed, she had hardly been present at all in any affairs of state, much to his pleasant surprise. His wife had lovingly told him that it was due to his skills as a diplomat; idle praise, but not so much he couldn't believe her. Victory after victory had flown into China and it's coffers, and he felt as if the world itself was yielding to all under heaven.

Cixi was quiet as he approached, face unreadable even though she wore a smile. "Yes, Emperor Tongzhi? What would you ask of me on such a frightfully cold December, when even the weather itself seems dry and disagreeable?" Tongzhi looked proud, holding forth several Imperial missives.

19chap12.jpg

Punjab has taken a Qing surveyer hostage! They refuse to release him to our jurisdiction!

"A perfect reason to cease Srinagar - which is rightfully part of Tibet, and therefore Qing patrimony." He looked hopefully at his mother, expecting one shred of pride to appear on her face; but none was there, just the same far-off expression he was used to. She raised an elegant eyebrow.

"So then, Emperor. Why do you come to me? If you wish to add it to your holdings, I am sure that none will complain. Or is there something else on your mind?" She knew he hated being treated like a child, and indeed was slowly showing the signs of turning into a capable young man. Or at least just a young man, she thought with some amusement. Nevertheless, her words still seemed to leave him confused, struggling. As expected.

"I do not know... Mother, should I? It seems unnecessary. And there are already tensions from our wars of liberation- I- I don't want to end up like Yixin." His words cracked for a moment, and she felt a thin veneer of respect for her son. Perhaps he could one day learn, after all.

"Very wise, Emperor Tongzhi. Although this is the perfect opportunity, our administration is already burdened as it is, and the West needs only one reason to find fault with the Qing; even if we are completely justified in our actions. And besides - "

Her last words that evening left Tongzhi completely puzzled.

" - She would see it as a subtle act of war."


-

Thoughts so far -

Hey guys - I love you all, but this Thanksgiving has turned into one incredibly massive funfest. I promise I'll be back on in a few hours (no sleep tonight, bwahaha!) to comment on everyone's wonderful work- but I wanted to post something before heading back to the fray, so here's yesterday's post, giftwrapped and smelling of fried bean, cranberries, and too much iced tea, turkey and pumpkin cheese cake. Me and my kin have reunited for one hell of a time! But it'll be over soon, and updates will continue until morale improves.

;) :D ;)

Until then - some brief questions: I've been playing up to 1890 out of contradictoryness due to the game becoming terribly slow, more than any other round I've played. Any thoughts on why that could be/fixed? Don't worry, it won't stop me, even if every day takes ten minutes. Two - again, I'll be back on later. Sorry guys, but Thanksgiving becomes quite serious when a family like mine is involved. So, even if you don't celebrate it where you live (or because the idea of celebrating a holiday that basically is 'well done land-grabbing, guys) - feel free to find a day that's important to you as a day of Thanksgiving. I'm thankful to my family, my friends, Eris, and everyone wonderful here in AARland. And a bajillion other things! My friends, stay groovy!
 

Enewald

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Reduce population, reduce lag.
No man, no lag.
Sad I think.
 

naggy

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Current speculation about the lag are that there are more splintered POPs running around, and that as unemployment becomes a problem (due to RGOs filling and the time required to build new factories), those POPs migrate more. More migration + more POPs = more processing time. There was a strange screenshot of Bryansk receiving a million immigrants in a month, all running in to find an open job. Your might be able to help by building/expand factories non-stop (to get them to settle down), but I don't know if the world's demand can necessarily support that.

As for techs, I have two suggestions: get Medicine (the attrition bonuses and supply limit increases will help your human wave tactics) and try to get to Biologism (to trigger Darwinism) to boost literacy.
 

unmerged(198309)

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Strategically I agree with grabbing medicine, however that will end up increasing your own population growth when it's invention's trigger, meaning that the lag will become even worse. Just a thought before you pick your research.
 

naggy

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Strategically I agree with grabbing medicine, however that will end up increasing your own population growth when it's invention's trigger, meaning that the lag will become even worse. Just a thought before you pick your research.

However, if you don't, you'll run into a situation where you either have to eat attrition or constantly be outnumbered by better European troops (who will have the supply bonuses).
 

unmerged(219496)

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Enewald - I considered jettisoning Manchuria and playing as it, with the Qing as a satellite - but that would be too much work for relatively little gain, I'm guessing. As interesting a challenge as it'd be. It is sad, though, isn't it? Ah, well- I'll make do by playing onwards, to victory!

Naggy (1) - Medicine has been one of my priorities that I neatly forgot for some time. I can't remember if it's the next update, or the one after - but I shall soon have it and a few more logistical techs under my belt. Biologism though I completely failed to notice. That'll be corrected soon enough. And weirdly? Now I want to force my pop into Bryansk and recreate that... Er, not really of course, but just because it sounds so interesting. :)

Surume - Oooh. Ouch. Well, what's done is done, and I haven't noticed it spike too much yet- but it hasn't had much time to kick in. In a few years? Yeah, things might not be so bright.

Naggy (2) - Britain has refused to attack me so far due to my large armies; but getting them to bear has been hard. Increased supply and logistics are worth any lag. After all, as a famous and brilliant strategist once noted - an army moves on it's stomach.

Also, it was really hard not to grab Srinagar. But it just seemed unnecessary when my borders look fine as it is- and I don't like unnecessary warmongering when there is no IC reason.
 

naggy

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Naggy (2) - Britain has refused to attack me so far due to my large armies; but getting them to bear has been hard. Increased supply and logistics are worth any lag. After all, as a famous and brilliant strategist once noted - an army moves on it's stomach.

Yes. At one point, since Britain was my only threat, 2/3rds of my army was stacked 4-5 provinces deep on the border, so that when they attacked, my reserve armies would pour in just enough to avoid attrition but to grind them down. It was a very, very bloody strategy. :)
 

jafloresl

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Manifest Destiny for China?, how is that?, which countries can have this desition?.

Nice ARR by the way.
 

Enewald

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The game should have an option, if people cannot afford food they cannot reproduce.
So simple.
 

Alexspeed

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The contest is over and i am happy to present you your final rank:

3377161contest-placement-02.jpg


Communitarian! - Letters from an unquiet August - A Middle Kingdom AAR

Your AAR ranked number 2, Congratulations!

You also won my 2nd Prize!
30.000 Blue Coins on Gamersgate!


Irv my friend, you did sign up as the first for my contest
and now you come in as a second!

You deffinatly have no reason to be sad to miss the first place,
because you managed to get some superlatives with your AAR!

You did get 5 times the 99 points from the judges!
If that dosent say anything then i dunnow :)

You also wrote the largest updates overall.
But this could also have been a small penalty to your AAR for some judges.
I had deffinatly to plan extra time in for your AAR to read it,
not everyone will be able or willing to do that i guess.

When it would go only for storywriting & characterisation,
you would be very likely the first.

Your memorable characters are worthy of getting read and
you made playing China really interresting with your narrative.
I doubt strongly that i would do even half as well with it than you do :)
If any of the AAR´s has touched my heart and mind yours would be the one!

Also your cheerfull personality and open attitude towards anything
truly did inspire many and not only me.
Your little ramblings all over where a great thing.

You brought alot of life in this contest just by participating
and i have to thank you for that! :)

Also you didnt shy away from commenting on nearly all (or all?)
other contesting AARs, and that with valuable insights most of the time.
You visiting a AAR is guranteed that it will cheer someone up, thank you! :)

Your AAR was the only one besides Tanzhang´s that was leading for a time,
And i was suprised that he was able to overtake you and come in first.
When more scores came in you had even to fight Alerias for your place.
That battle you won, but it was closer than the end result may make it look like.

Thank you that you showed up and brought life and a great AAR to this Contest!
I hope to read alot more of you in the future and that you will stay here as a writer till the end of time :)

I thank you for competing, congratulate you to your 2nd Place, and i wish you all the best!