Saturday, January 30, 2021

DWOA Princess Alliance: Chapter 15


Disney's World Of Adventures: Princess Alliance

Chapter 15 – You’ll Bring Honor To Us All

    Once upon a time, in a kingdom of lofty mountains and bamboo forests, there lived a maiden named Mulan. One day, her kingdom went to war, and it was required that one male from every household join the army. Knowing her father was too old and weak to fight in the war, Mulan disguised herself in his armor and snuck away to join the army in his place.

    With the aid of a guardian dragon named Mushu, Mulan learned to fight and act like a man. She excelled in her ranks, and even helped her troop win many battles, including one climatic battle against the main enemy forces atop a snowy mountainside. Unfortunately, she was soon discovered to be a woman, and forced to leave the army in shame.

    However, upon being dishonorably discharged, she discovered that the enemy forces were still active and set to invade the Imperial City. Quickly, she raced off to warn the others, and convinced them to help her fend off the invaders. She defeated the enemy general and saved the life of the emperor. Triumphantly, she returned home, having brought honor to her family. She also won the admiration and love of the general she served under, and the two of them were betrothed.

    And they all lived happily ever after.

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    From the tips of the bordering ice-capped mountains, to the idle rice paddy fields floating at their base, to the farmland pastures stretching for miles until halting outside the crimson walls of the Imperial City, all was peaceful in the outskirts of the Dragon Empire—all, that is, save for the restless warrior spirit of a border patrol officer standing guard with his two companions.

    Against the stone frame of the border gate rested Yao. Despite the pillar against his back dwarfing him, Yao firmly believed it was his strength propping up the monolith rather than it propping him. He stood, back slouched, arms crossed, one foot against the stone, the other planted on the dirt path under him, as he chewed the wheatgrass between his teeth. He watched his companions, Ling and Chien Po, polearms across their shoulders, pace in front of the gate separating their kingdom from the outside world.

    Yao flicked away his wheat stem and hocked a loogie, then planted both feet on the ground. “Y’know, when I signed up for the military, I imagined doing more than border patrol.”

    Ling shrugged his shoulder, polearm in hand. “What can I say? Ever since the war ended four years ago, things have been uneventful around here.”

    Chien Po politely nodded. “Perhaps our kingdom would benefit from peace. Now that we’re betrothed gentleman, it’ll certainly permit us more quality time with our fiancées.”

    Yao grunted, stretching a kink from his neck and thrusting his polearm over his shoulder. “Shang and Mulan tied the knot three years ago, and they get to go on all sorts of escapades in service of the Emperor. The military life certainly isn’t getting in the way of their married life. They’re experiencing more excitement than us three.”

    “Aw, buck up, bud!” Ling turned about-face and marched in the opposite direction. “You make it sound as though nothing exciting happens on guard duty.”

    Chien Po likewise marched in the opposite direction. “Indeed. Why, we got to meet those nice princesses as they flew by on their magic carpet. It’s not every day you see a flying carpet.”

    Yao thrust his polearm down to lean against it. “Aw, phooey! I don’t care about no flying rug. I want real excitement, adventure. I wish something big would happen around here.”

    No sooner did he say that, a large shadow fell over them. As dark as a thick cloud eclipsing the sun, the ground dimmed to near pitch black. The three guards glanced up to see what was casting that shadow. Their bottom jaws nearly unhinged at what they saw.

    Like a snake slithering through the grass, a giant serpent coiled through the sky above. Its long body stretched for nearly 80 feet. Its scales shimmered a sickly jade green, the sight of which would turn the stomach of any onlooker green. Its mouth, opening wide enough to swallow a full-grown man, let out a roar that echoed through the valley like thunder.

    Mere yards over the heads of the three guards the dragon flew; yet like a person walking past a bush, failing to notice a fly resting upon a leaf, the dragon took no notice of the three guards as they cowered under its enormous shadow. Soon the sunlight fell upon them once more as the very end of the dragon’s tail passed over them, the dragon flying off with it down into the valley and toward the Imperial City.

    Like the statues standing steadfast along the outer edges of the walls fencing the border, the three guards watched as the dragon shrank away from their sight. Their fingers loosened, their polearms fell to the ground, soon joined by their knees.

    Ling turned to Yao. “Is that big enough for you?”

*****

    In the royal gardens, surrounded by the serenity of blooming magnolia trees, stood Mulan. On a mat set upon the grassy lawn, she balanced upon her right foot, her left foot pressed against her right thigh. She folded her hands and raised them to her chest. Her eyes closed, she focused on her breathing. The only other sound she heard was the breeze whistling through the trees and the water trickling in nearby fountains.

    After a minute of silent contemplation, Mulan shifted position. She lowered her left foot onto the mat and set it far behind her. As she stretched her left leg back, she bent her right knee forward. Her hands still folded, she raised them above her head, stretching her arms as high as she could lift them.

    Half a minute passed, she lowered both arms, then extended them from opposite sides of her body, one arm pointing forward; the other, back. There she stood resolute, her senses focused on her inner mind.

    Upon her head stood the tiny dragon, Mushu. He mimicked her yoga poses, shifting positions from Tree to Warrior One to Warrior Two. His eyes closed, he maintained balance, even as Mulan’s head shifted under him. His talons clinging to her hair helped his stance.

    The two stood silently in Warrior II pose when the soft shuffling of footsteps broke that silence. Mulan opened her eyes. Pacing toward her was her husband and fellow general, Shang.

    “Preparing yourself for our two appointments today?” he asked her.

    Mulan rose from her Warrior pose, hands to her side, her feet planted aside each other. “As ready as I’ll ever be. Meditating in these gardens always brings me solace.”

    “You’ll certainly need it,” Shang smiled as he took her by the hand. “Not only are we meeting important dignitaries, but we have an important appointment with the Emperor.”

    A smile shot across Mulan’s face, but fell into a worried frown. “He said he had something important to tell me. I do hope its good news.”

    Mushu hopped off her head and onto her shoulder. “Oh, I reckon it is. I have a good feeling in my bones. Either that or my legs fell asleep from our yoga session.”

    “Even so, I’m still a little nervous, “Mulan grinned. “It’s not every day you meet foreign dignitaries and the Emperor on the same day.”

    Shang maintained his grip on her hand. “I’ll be right there with you. Come what may, we’ll get through this together.”

    Mushu pointed to himself with his thumb. “And don’t forget me. I’m sticking by you through all this thick and thin.”

    Mulan folded her arms and glanced at her dragon friend with a wry grin. “I’d expect as much. After what you did, it’s the least you can do.”

    Shang likewise smirked at dragon. “Yeah, don’t think I didn’t forget what you did. Your shenanigans nearly drove Mulan and me apart, at best—at worst, you nearly got me killed.”

    Like a boy scolded by his parents, Mushu cast a forlorn expression to his feet as he crossed his arms behind him. “I know. I know. The ancestors got wind of all that and punished me real good. Now I’m stuck being your guardian slave—er, I mean, spirit, for the rest of your mortal lives. Serves me right, huh?”

    Mulan giggled along with Shang. “Well, I don’t think we need your assistance speaking with the Emperor. We spoke with him many times before, so I doubt I need to worry about the big news he has to tell me.”

    “Speaking of which,” Shang motioned for her to follow him. “It’s almost time for our appointment with him.”

*****

    Upon his lofty throne, the Emperor sat. His attendant, Chi-Fu, stood by his side, dutifully scribbling upon his notepad. Both Mulan and Shang approached his throne and knelt before him.

    “Your Excellency.” Shang bowed his head. “We came as you requested.”

    Mulan likewise bowed her head. “Yes, your Excellency. What do you require of us?”

    The Emperor, his arms crossed and hidden in the sleeves of his golden robe, nodded in his seat. The tassels of his royal headgear tilted with him.

    “Li Mulan,” he addressed her. “There is a very important matter I wish to discuss with you. It is the most honorable request I could request of you.”

    He closed his eyes. “For many long years, I have sat upon this throne. From it, I have ruled over the Dragon Empire. However, my days upon them wane. I do not have any children, and thus I do not have any heirs to inherit my throne when I am gone. I require a royal successor. I can think of no better candidate to fulfill that position than you, Fa Mulan.”

    Upon hearing her name, she lifted her head with a soft gasp and a blush across her face.

    “Me?” She pointed to herself.

    The Emperor nodded. “You have proven to be the Empire’s most cherished citizen. You singlehandedly thwarted an enemy invasion. You united two of our provinces through a peace treaty without the need of an arranged marriage. And you have faithfully served the Empire alongside Shang as the General of the Army. You have accomplished many things to bring honor to us all. For that, you have gained the love and respect of all the people. I could think of no better person to inherit my throne than you.”

    He extended a hand toward her. “So what do you have to say? Will you accept this most gracious offer?”

    Mulan shut her eyes in contemplation. She placed her fingers under her chin and gave a heavy inhale.

    “Your Excellency,” she bowed her head once more. “I am honored you would consider me for such a privilege. But—I—”

    She struggled to find the rights words. Both Shang and the Emperor waited patiently.

    She soon rose her head. “I do not know if I can answer your request.”

    The Emperor nodded. “I understand. It is a big decision, and not one to make lightly. I will grant you time to think it over, and when you have considered it, you may give me your final answer.”

    Both Mulan and Shang bowed.

    “Thank you, Your Excellency,” they said in unison.

    The Emperor rose his hand. “You two are dismissed.”

    The two rose to their feet. Shang turned to Mulan. “Come. We should prepare for the next meeting.”

*****

    No sooner had they left the throne room, the two generals were promptly summoned to their meeting with the visiting royals. They met their four royal guests in the outer foyer. Mulan and Shang bowed upon approaching them. Jasmine and Aladdin bowed in returned, hands folded over their chests. Susanna bowed, while Marianna curtseyed.

    Mulan rose from her bow. “It is an honor for the Dragon Empire that you grace us with your presence.”

    Jasmine, with Aladdin, rose. “It is certainly an honor for Agrabah to meet with our neighboring trade partner.”

    Susanna rose with Marianna. “And it is an honor for Hermosa Vista for us to visit such a beautiful kingdom as your own.”

    Marianna clasped her hands as her eyes sparkled in delight. “Yes, it’s very much an honor to meet you, Mulan. You are the Mulan, aren’t you? The one who saved the Dragon Empire?”

    Mulan, slightly surprised by the question, nodded in response. “Yes, yes I am.”

    Maria smiled wide, her pearly whites desperately holding back a delighted squeal, as her eyes sparkled even brighter. She bowed with hands folded.

    “Oh, I’ve heard so much about you. How you bravely snuck away from home, disguised yourself as a man, and learned the ways of the martial arts to kick evil in the butt!”

    Mulan could only tilt her head away to hide her blush and grin.

    As Maria gleefully bounced up and down upon her heels, Susan, rather flustered, clasped her by the shoulder.

    “Maria, hun, you really should maintain your royal composure before our hosts.”

    Mulan chuckled as she waved her hands. “Oh, that’s okay. I’m quite honored to know my story has traveled far from our borders, and to know that it has inspired other women.”

    “Oh, and what an inspiration you are!” Maria held her hands to her face as she stopped bouncing, but continued to grin wide. “You’re brave. You’re smart. You’re strong. You’re everything a girl should aspire to be.”

    Mulan could only rub the back of her neck, tilt her head to the side, and blush.

    Susan took a step in front of her fawning wife and approached Mulan. “Yes, and it’s precisely because of your inspirational valor that we request your assistance.”

    Mulan glanced, returning her arm to her side. “You need my help?”

    Susan nodded. “Yes. There’s an Ancient Evil coming that we all need to stop.”

    “Ancient Evil?” a voice exclaimed.

    From behind Mulan appeared Mushu, who casually stood upon her shoulder, leaning with one claw against her head.

    “Well, you certainly came to the right place,” he boasted, jerking a thumb at Mulan. “My girl here has kicked all sorts of evil behind.”

    Maria, shrieking, ducked behind Susan, then cautiously peered over her shoulders.

    “Is that lizard talking?” she asked, pointing a shaky finger at Mushu.

    The guardian dragon cast his arms akimbo with brow furrowed.

    “Okay, first of all,” he held up a finger, “the name’s Mushu. And second,” he held up two fingers, “I’m a dragon, not a lizard.” He crossed his arms. “I don’t do that tongue thing.”

    In a puff of blue smoke, Genie appeared next to Aladdin and Jasmine. The two Agrabah royals were accustomed to his sudden appearances. Everyone else, judging from their startled expressions, were not.

    “Mushu?” he asked. “Is that you?”

    The dragon leaped off Mulan’s shoulder and flew over to the blue genie. “Genie! My main blue man. Give me five.”

    The two greeted each other with a high five.

    Aladdin turned to his blue friend. “Genie, you know this guy?”

    Genie jerked his thumb to the dragon, who hovered in midair with arms akimbo.

    “Course. The two of us are part of the same guild.”

    Mulan raised an eyebrow. “Guild?”

    Mushu leaned back with arms behind his back and one leg over his knee, as if he were lounging on a couch.

    “Yup! Genie and I are members of the Spellcasters Guild.”

    Maria stepped from behind her wife. “Do dragons even count as spellcasters?”

    Mushu scratched his chin. “Well, technically, I don’t cast spells. But as Mulan’s magical family guardian, magic kinda falls within my territory. So I decided to join the guild.”

    Susan pointed to him. “So you know about everything going on?”

    Mushu rose and flew back to Mulan’s shoulder. “Sure do. A lot of dark stuff coming over the horizon like a bad storm. Fortunately, for y’all, my girl here has weathered some fierce storms. She’s perfect for your alliance.”

    Mulan raised an eyebrow at him. “Alliance?”

    Maria clasped her hands and nodded. “The Princess Alliance. We need to gather ten princesses from ten kingdoms.”

    “A princess?” Mulan asked.

    Susan nodded, pointing to her. “Yup. A princess like you.”

    Mulan shook her head. “But I’m not a princess.”

    Both Maria and Susan blinked, and asked, in unison, “You’re not?”

    Mulan closed her eyes and shook her head. “No, I’m not. I’m a general and a war hero. But I’m only a commoner, neither born nor wed into royalty.”

    Maria glanced at her wife, who shared looks with her, before looking at Mulan.

    “Well, that’s okay. We don’t need a princess. We simply need a royal. Your kingdom has one, doesn’t it?”

    Shang stepped forward and cupped a hand. “The only other royal in our kingdom is the Emperor, and I’m afraid his old age and frail condition would not be of great use to you.”

    Susan raised an eyebrow. “So there’s no other royal in your kingdom who can help us?”

    Mulan shook her head. “I’m afraid not. Sorry.”

    Mushu raised a hand to her. “Now hold on just one minute. I have an idea that can solve not only their dilemma, but yours as well.”

    Mulan pointed to herself. “My dilemma?”

    Mushu proudly nodded. “Yeah, your dilemma with the Emperor. I—uh—kinda eavesdropped on your conversation with him earlier. Anywho, I know how you can kill two birds with one stone, as the Ancient Proverb says.”

    “And what’s that?” Mulan asked.

    The dragon raised a clawed finger in the air. “Simple, you—”

    Before the dragon could continue, he was interrupted by the foyer doors bursting open. Through them flew Yao, Ling, and Chien Po. All three stumbled before their two superiors. The soldiers clasped their knees to catch their breaths.

    Shang thrust a fist onto his hip. “You three are awfully far from your posts.”

    Mulan stepped next to him. “They must have good reason.” She turned to them. “What’s the situation?”

    The three clenched their knees, heaving and wheezing. Upon catching their breath, one at a time, Yao, Ling, and Chien Po rose to give their answer.

    “Green.”

    “Dragon.”

    “Coming!”

    Mulan and Shang shared a look before glancing back at their subordinates. “What?”

    The three flung their arms in the air, exclaiming, “A green dragon’s coming!” before fainting, falling prostrate on their stomachs.

    Mulan gasped. “This sounds serious.”

    Shang nodded. “Right. Let’s go check.”

    The two raced out of the foyer, their guests and magical acquaintances following them, leaving behind the three comatose soldiers to catch their breaths.

*****

    In the sky above the Imperial City soared the green dragon. It flew in a figure-eight pattern, its body ebbing and flowing like a wayward boat riding the lapping waves of a stormy sea. Occasionally, the green beast swooped down toward the cityscape, unleashing a jet of green flames that licked the pagoda rooftops below, before rising upward to resume its flight pattern. As the dragon gave a thunderous roar, the city below roared with the cacophony of frightened mobs. The people—men, women, and children alike, screaming in terror—scattered in every direction to escape the dragon flying in the sky and the flames rising from their roofs.

    To this scene of a sinister serpent scorching the city in a raging inferno, Mulan and the others immediately encountered upon exiting the palace, their mad sprint out the front doors brought to a screeching halt upon laying eyes on such a grisly sight.

    “Why is a dragon attacking the city?” Mulan caught her breath from a gasp.

    Maria turned to her. “Well, it is a dragon. They’re evil like that.”

    Mushu popped over Mulan’s shoulder, aiming his scowl and clawed finger at the princess. “Hey! I resemble that remark.”

    Shang shook his head. “Dragons may be evil where you come from,” he addressed Maria, “but here, they’re benevolent and bring good luck and wisdom.”

    Susan placed a fisted hand upon her hip and cocked her head in the opposite direction. “That dragon sure doesn’t seem to be bringing good luck, I can tell you that.”

    Jasmine shielded her eyes. “Doesn’t that green color look familiar?”

    Aladdin copied her action and nodded. “That’s the same green we saw in the eyes of the Cave of Wonder when it was possessed by evil magic.”

    Maria scratched her chin. “And it looks like the same color of Bruja Dama.”

    Susan glanced at her. “It must be the same evil magic.”

    Mulan pumped two fists before her. “Whatever it is, we need to do something to stop it.”

    Shang turned to her, his eyebrow raised. “How are we going to fight a beast flying up there while we’re down here?”

     “Leave that to me.” Aladdin snapped his fingers.

    He placed both fingers in his mouth and blew a sharp whistle. This summoned his carpet, which flew over the Royal Palace before swooping down in front of them.

    Aladdin hopped aboard and pulled Jasmine with him.

    “We can fit two more people on here. Anyone who can fight can join us.”

    Mulan and Shang accepted this invitation. They cautiously stepped onto the flying rug, this being their very first time doing so.

    “Maria! Susan!” he continued. “You two stay here to keep an eye on The Emperor. Genie, you do something about the fire. The rest of us will divert the dragon away from the city.”

    The two Hermosian princesses nodded, while Genie gave a military salute.

    “Aye, aye!” the blue genie said, disappearing in a puff of smoke.

    Maria and Susan rushed back into the safety of the palace, pulling the doors tight behind them, while the others flew off into the distance.

*****

    As green flames and smoke rose into the air, outside the city walls, Genie, with arms crossed, grew to the size of the tallest pagoda. Soon he was able to look above the cityscape as one would overlook a model city. He uncrossed his arms and brushed away the sweat from his brow. His hand balled into a fist to cover his coughing mouth.

    “Phew!” He un-balled his hand to wave away the smoke. “The roofs, the roofs, the roofs are on fire! We don’t need no water, because we have—” in his hands appeared, “a fire extinguisher!”

    Aiming the nozzle, he pulled down the trigger, unleashing a stream of foam that fell upon the rooftops and smoldered the flames. The white foam lingered upon the roofs as the remaining smoke from the extinguished fire wafted into the air.

    Genie transformed into a bear wearing a ranger’s hat. “Remember kids: only you can prevent fires started by evil dragons.”

    Towards his face lunged the open maw of the dragon, bearing its scimitar-sharp fangs. Before it could sink those fangs deep into the genie’s eyes, a yell diverted its attention. Behind its passed the flying carpet, Aladdin and the others riding upon it.

    “Hey you big ugly snake,” the Arabian prince yelled out, hands funneling his mouth. “I’ve fought creatures more snake-like than you.”

    Mere inches from Genie’s face the dragon swerved, its long body trailing behind, as it pursued the flying carpet and the human that dared taunt it. Its tail flicked the genie’s nose, prompting him to rub his finger under it.

    “When a dragon lunges out, and nearly bites off your snout, that’s a close one!”

*****

    “What’s the plan, now?” Mulan lunged toward Aladdin’s shoulder to say in his ear.

    She and Shang knelt behind Aladdin and Jasmine. The two Arabian royals, having ridden the carpet many times, even in tense chases such as these, sat confidently and cross-legged, with Aladdin only clinging to his hat. The two Dragon Empire generals, on the other hand, this being their inaugural flight, sat crouching forward, clenching to the sides of the carpet for dear life.

    Aladdin turned to face her. “Lead the dragon as far away from the city as possible.”

    “And after that?” Mulan asked.

    Aladdin shrugged. “I’m—still working on that part.”

    Roaring past their heads, nearly scorching their hair, a green fireball soared past them. Everyone screeched, their white knuckles clinging to the fabric below them, as the fireball missed and the carpet veered far out of its trajectory.

    Craning their necks fast enough to induce whiplash, everyone looked back to see the dragon’s head trailing behind the carpet mere yards away. The dragon rose its snout, flung open its jaws, and unleashed another fireball. Once more, the carpet veered away, the projectile narrowly careening past them, its heat prickling their skin and hair. A third time, aiming straight toward them, the dragon unleashed another. This time, the carpet evaded with a barrel roll away from the dragon’s attack. Everyone riding it emptied their lungs as they clung with all their might to remain atop it, turning upside-down, and rolling back into its initial position.

    No matter how far and fast it flew, no matter how evasive it maneuvered, the carpet remained followed by the dragon trailing close behind. Once more the dragon opened its maw, allowing everyone to see the back of its throat, green sparks flickering from it, ready to unleash another fiery attack.

    In a puff of blue smoke, the Genie appeared, seated on the back edge of the carpet. He wore a black pinstripe dress suit with a mop of greasy black hair on his head.

    “You want to play?” he yelled out in a Cuban accent. “Okay!”

    From behind him, he wiped out the tiniest squirt gun, so small that his finger could barely fit over the trigger. “Say hello to my little friend!”

    As the dragon fired a green jet of flame, Genie shot his water gun, from which, despite its small size, unleashed a watery torrent that matched the dragon’s fire. Steam and smoke rose furiously as fire collided with water. Genie’s watery jet pushed back against the dragon’s breath, soon overtaking it. The water gushed forward, extinguished the flame, and flew into the dragon’s mouth.

    The green beast choked as the water rushed into the back of its throat. Black smoldering smoke rose from its maw as it veered its heads away and its body, writhing in pain, fell toward the ground below.

    Aladdin and the others further craned their necks and witnessed the dragon make its violent descent.

    “Well, that was close,” the prince said.

    No one could see as the dragon’s head, like a whale breaching the surface, flew up in front of them, its body trailing behind creating a barrier that blocked the carpet’s path. The carpet, with only an inch between it and the dragon’s scaly hide, veered a sharp 90-degree turn up. Unfortunately, no one riding it was prepared for the sudden change in direction, as they all toppled off. Their bodies thrust in every direction, their arms sprawled out, Aladdin and the others fell toward the earth below. Before any of them could reach terminal velocity, the carpet swooped underneath them, swiftly catching everyone safely.

    Shang, heart-pounding, breath racing, flung a loose hair from his face. “Okay. Let’s not do that again.”

    Mulan looked behind her shoulder, the dragon pursuing them. “Actually, we should.”

    Shang shot a glance at her. “What?”

    “I have an idea.” Mulan leaned forward to whisper it to Aladdin and her other companions.

    Aladdin, upon hearing it, scratched a chin. “Sounds risky, but it’s crazy enough to work.”

    “Or get us killed,” Shang replied.

    Mulan turned to him. “You trusted me when we had to defeat the invading army, you have to trust me now.”

    Shang hesitated, but eventually nodded in response. “So be it.”

    Aladdin and Jasmine leaned forward to clinch the front of the carpet as it sped forward. Mulan and Shang, kneeling, turned back.

    Aladdin jerked his head back. “Ready? We have one shot at this.”

    The two generals, drawing their swords, nodded.

    Swiftly, the carpet veered up to enter a loop-de-loop. Jasmine and Aladdin clung tight to the tassels with the whitest knuckles. Mulan and Shang crouched forward as the carpet rose high. As it flew up, becoming perpendicular to the ground below, Mulan and Shang leaped off.

    Over the head of the dragon they flew, gravity soon pulling them down. As they neared its neck, each falling along either side, they rose their blades above their head and flung them forward, slicing through the beast’s neck like a hot knife through butter. Both their blades cut through its flesh with green blood dripping from them. Both landed safely upon the carpet as it swooped under their feet to catch them. Upon landing on bended knee, they sheathed their swords.

    The dragon, the sinews of its head tearing away from its body, gave one last roar. Mouth agape, eyes rolled back, the head detached completely. Green blood rushed out from both severed ends as the body and head fell. Both crashed into the earth below, flinging up dirt upon impact. Once head and body skidded to a complete halt, from its remains rose green smoke. The fresh corpse disintegrated into green dust that dissipated into the air and vanished without a trace.

*****

    For the second time that day, Shang and Mulan knelt before the Emperor in his throne room. Kneeling behind them were Aladdin and the three princesses.

    From his throne, the Emperor nodded.

    “Once again, Li Mulan, your bravery has saved the Dragon Empire and brought honor to us all. We are all eternally grateful.” He motioned for Mulan and the others to rise.

    Mulan lifted her head and placed her hand upon her heart. “You are most welcome, your Excellency. Everything I do, I do for honor, duty, and love.”

    The Emperor nodded. “With such love you show for this kingdom, I can think of no better person to rule it in my absence than you. Believe me when I say you truly are the best person to serve as my successor. I still hope you will consider my offer.”

    Mulan stood, and, with a blush, hesitantly bowed. “It is a most gracious offer, your Excellency, but I admittedly have my doubts.”

    Shang took her by the hand. “With everything you’ve accomplished, how can you still be doubtful? You’re one of the strongest, smartest, and bravest assets this Empire has. If anyone is fit to rule it, it’s you.”

    Mulan glanced away in a futile attempt to hide her blush, but reluctantly returned her gaze to her husband. “Saving the kingdom from an invading army is one thing, and fighting off an evil dragon is another, but is that enough to make me a fit leader?”

    Maria tapped her on the shoulder, prompting Mulan to face her.

    “If it means anything to you,” Maria started, “your story was a real motivation for me. When I heard about how you chose to follow your heart to save your kingdom, even if it meant defying its traditions, well, that inspired me. It taught me I can do anything I set my heart to. Not too long ago, I was forced to choose between following my kingdom’s tradition or following my heart, and for a brief moment, I remembered you, and I chose to follow my heart.”

    Maria reached for Susan’s hand. The two of them shared a loving glance and smile. “That was the best decision I made in my life, and I owe it to women like you.”

    Jasmine approached with Aladdin by her side.

    “You know,” she addressed Mulan. “Around the same time you were fighting in the war, I was facing a similar dilemma as yours. I, too, was forced to choose between following my heart and following the traditions of my culture. I chose my heart, of course. Many times I doubted myself, wondering if I made the right choice. But then I heard about your story, and it helped reaffirm my decision.”

    She took Aladdin by the hand, gazed into his eyes with a loving smile, and then returned her attention to Mulan. “It was also the best decision I made in my life. As Princess of Agrabah, I can assure you that you would make an excellent leader. We need more women in the world like you to inspire women like us.”

    Mulan could barely contain her blushing adoration, but maintained her composure. “Thank you all. Knowing how much I inspired you all, how much I’ve inspired other women like myself, has inspired me in turn. Perhaps the biggest challenge I face now is overcoming my self-doubt. Because you’re all right: I am capable of being a great leader.”

    She turned to the Emperor, took a step forward, and bowed before him. “Your Excellency, upon further consideration, I humbly accept your offer. I would be honored to serve as your successor.”

    The Emperor nodded and extended his arm in gratitude, giving the biggest smile he had ever shared. “A wise decision you have made today, Li Mulan.”

    Everyone cheered in celebration and congratulated Mulan. Mushu was especially happy as he hugged her by the head.

    “And with that, girl, you’ve done solved both your problems!”

    “What do you mean?” Mulan asked.

    Mushu slyly crossed his arms. “Well, now that you’re the Emperor’s successor, that makes you the heir to his throne.”

    Mulan placed a finger to her chin as she mulled over this information. “So, in a way, that sort of makes me—”

    Maria gasped when she realized the implication. “A princess!” Immediately, she glomped Mulan. “That means you can be a part of our Princess Alliance.”

    Mulan, reluctantly, but soon, whole-heartedly, returned Maria’s embrace.

    In a puff of blue smoke, the Genie appeared holding a book labeled, “Da Rules.” He put on a pair of glasses and began skimming its pages.

    “Hmm.” He traced his fingers along one page. “A bit of a technicality, but it seems legit.”

    With another puff, the book and his glasses disappeared, and the Genie nodded. “It flies. You’re a princess.”

    Mulan placed her arms akimbo. “Well, it’s settled, then.” She turned to Maria. “I humbly accept your offer to join the Princess Alliance.”

    A light appeared over her chest, and the chests of Shang and Mushu. When they disappeared, they revealed magic mirrors hanging from their necks.

    Curiously, Mulan picked up her own and opened the lid to inspect it. Seeing her reflection inside, she asked, “What’s this?”

    Maria and her friends picked up their own. “Just something to show you’re one of us.”

    Her mirror then rang.

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