Rumourmongers theorize that Shu-Zhen the Valorous, the so-called ‘Extra Soldier,’ is a thrill-seeking scion of a wealthy family. In this, the rumors are partly correct, but few would believe the truth: Shu-Zhen the Valorous is no less than the daughter of the Sovereign Temu. Known to nearly everyone as Lei, she is something of an idol: warrior-trained and stronghearted, the court beauty and a coveted, choosy potential bride.
When Lei was young, her father Temu told her tales of the rebellion, some eighty years past. He was busy in his duties as one of Yakai’s three ruling Sovereigns, but out of martial pride and a sense of history, he made time to raise his daughter and ensure she trained at arms and studied the principles of harmonious common decency that the anti-Mikage rebels promulgated. Lei grew up around soldiers, for Temu’s seat as Sovereign depended on support from Yakai’s military elites. Lei assumed that she would join the army as well, having been seemingly reared for the role, but tension over the subject built as Temu repeatedly deferred the decision.
Lei decided that her father wanted her to be raised a soldier but couldn’t bear to make her one. When she confronted him, he cited safety as his reason for hesitating, but she accused him of wanting to control her. Brooding on their argument, Lei concluded that it wasn’t her physical safety her father feared the army would risk, but her political utility. Either she would secure a marriage alliance, or she would be expected to mount a campaign to succeed her father as Sovereign when he aged. She dreaded having to play politics for the rest of her life, and became repulsed by her father’s hypocrisy – had he trained her to don armour and wield a spear never intending her to use those skills, but merely to burnish her image?
After years feeling as if her purpose was denied, Lei had had enough. She snuck out from her luxuriant quarters in her father’s mansion to the nearby armoury, pilfered an anonymous, inconspicuous spear and armour, and hid her face with a silk scarf. She made her way into the city, acting the part of a patrolling guard, and it thrilled her. But her true goal was to fulfil what she saw as a soldier’s purpose and help someone in need, and on her second excursion, she got her chance. Lei came across a raging street fight between two gangs, thugs smashing each other through storefronts and flinging furniture. Dozens of constables were arriving to subdue them. As a chaotic three-way fight raged, many guards who were involved later reported having been saved from danger, or dragged, wounded, out of the fray, by a comrade who then disappeared into the melee. Given the intensity of the fighting, they could not recall exactly which of their fellow guards did the heroic deed. But as their reports were compiled alongside the testimonies of apprehended brawlers, the constabulary were puzzled by the many overlapping claims of an unknown person dressed and acting like a soldier, fighting with considerable skill. Everyone involved thought, in the moment, that they were looking at someone who turned out to have been elsewhere.
Lei’s ambitions grew. She told Sovereign Temu that she would be traveling the land visiting the estates of potential suitors. This pleased him, so he did not press further. Thanks to her father’s access to Yakai’s top military planners, Lei learned of an expedition against mountain bandits and secretly intervened. Again, reports after the battle accounted for a mysterious ‘extra soldier.’ Growing bolder, her next venture was to fall in with an expedition patrolling the Mistwood border. When she was questioned by the commanding officer she identified herself as Shu-Zhen, a recent recruit, whose paperwork had been lost in transportation. The suspicious officer promised to get to the bottom of Shu-Zhen’s sudden appearance, but before he could, the patrol was attacked by a rabid dire-bear. Shu-Zhen charged the beast and ran it through, saving the captain’s life. After this, the captain’s suspicions were allayed, and she was hailed a hero by the soldiers. However, she’d given a name, and that name was eventually attached to the ‘extra soldier’ by gossips and state intelligence alike. For some of Yakai’s soldiery, the name has become a rallying cry.
As scrutiny on her grows and Shu-Zhen walks a dangerous tightrope, she is determined to continue. If she is exposed and scandalizes her father, so be it – as much as she enjoys her freedom, Shu-Zhen will relish the day when her father learns she was out putting her fighting skills to the test and growing a legend of her own right under his nose.