On the dusk of a summer night, the sun began to set in the west, ZiChuan Xiu lay comfortably in the hammock net against the tall tree in front of the house. There, he drank the cold wine and watched the fiery clouds over the horizon, thoroughly enjoying the occasional times of peace and quiet. He was in a pleasant mood. As he raised his head, dust stirred abruptly across the distance, and from there, sound of hooves was rapidly approaching. Through the dust, he could make out the shape of a rider, a lightly equipped horseman soaked in sweats. He had his left hand on the reins, and his right waved a small red banner. A moment later, a red feathered arrow landed accurately on the gatepost in front of ZiChuan Ning’s house, and the rider shouted: “Alert!”
The rider flashed past him in an instant, and had no intention of slowing down, leaving only a trail of hoof prints behind drenched in yellow stains of horse sweats. ZiChuan Xiu rose up slowly as he watched the shadow of the rider slowly disappearing. He had a stern look on his face.
The sudden noise alerted ZiChuan Ning. By the time she came out, the shadow of the rider was mostly gone. She shared her concerns with ZiChuan Xiu: “Brother, what happened?”
She looked down and saw the red feathered arrow stuck in the gatepost, her face turned pale: “You have been summoned?”
ZiChuan Xiu nodded silently, pretending to not have seen the pain and worry revealed in ZiChuan Ning’s eyes.
Stirling came to see him later in the night. ZiChuan Xiu calmly welcomed him.
“I’m heading to the Far East tomorrow.” Stirling went straight to the point.
ZiChuan Xiu frowned: “That bad?”
“Worse than you think. Fort Warren is about to fall and we haven’t even recalled all our reserves…”
“I’m talking about your terrible sense of fashion. You even wore your socks backwards!”
“Never mind, don’t take your socks off here. I’m sure they smell terrible. So why have you come to see me tonight…” ZiChuan Xiu knew all too well why he came.
“I want to see Ka Dan.”
ZiChuan Xiu fell silent.
“Stirling, think about it for a second. You are about to lead hundreds of thousands men to the Far East to battle Demons. And yet, you came here to see the princess of Demons the night before! Is that something a Central Army Commander should do? Aren’t you afraid of your men finding out? Aren’t you afraid of someone report you to the High Command, calling you a traitor?”
“Besides, what are you going to say to her when you see her? Something like ‘Hi, Ka Dan, how are you. I’m going to kill your uncles and aunts tomorrow. Give me some encouragement in the form of love, and let’s kiss?!’”
“And what do you want Ka Dan to say to you? ‘My beloved Stirling, kill them quick, kill them fast, kill them nicely and kill them all. I’ll marry you when you come back?”
“Or perhaps you intend to make her cry while holding on to your thigh: ‘Don’t, please don’t go.’ So you would relent, unable to fight the Demons fully by the time you get to the Far East and let them slaughter you like a pig!”
Stirling seemed to be in pain. For that to appear on his granite-like and determined face was particularly impressive. ZiChuan Xiu quickly acquiesced: “Fine, you can have fifteen minutes!”
In the middle of the spacious Guest Hall, Stirling sat face to face with Ka Dan in an upright posture.
ZiChuan Xiu, ZiChuan Ning and a few others stared at them, eyes unmoving.
Their gazes quickly shifted to him, then to her, all the while eating sunflower-seeds. Someone whispered: “Look, he blushed!”
“I saw. Ka Dan blushed as well.”
“Shh, be quiet. Let them talk!”
Stirling looked at them helplessly: “Xiu, didn’t you promise me fifteen minutes?”
“I did, I’m giving you fifteen minutes to see Ka Dan. Isn’t she right in front of you?”
“Yes, I can see her. But somehow, I feel the room is a bit too small for all these people!”
“I think it is fine. Other than you and Ka Dan, it is just the few of us. I’m sure the room is big enough for all of us. Stop wasting time, a minute has already past!”
“But the question is, why are you guys even here?”
“Well. Bai Chuan is bored. Chang Chuan wants to master the art of seduction. Luo Jie probably never saw a real girl in his life, and my sister… Right, Ning, why are you here?”
“Erm. I ran out of romance novels. So I thought I’d come and see if there is any romance going on tonight… Ouch, Stirling. Let go of my ear! It hurts! Fine, I’m leaving!”
After ZiChuan Ning left the room, Stirling turned to Luo Jie, asking concernedly: “Master Luo, I heard you are having trouble with your stomach lately. You should rest.”
Luo Jie: “Nothing of the sort. I never get sick, and my stomach is fine…… Ouch, that seriously hurts! Fine, I’m going. Mercy please!”
Stirling retracted his fist as he escorted Luo Jie out of the room with his gaze, smiling: “Have a nice night! So, Banner Master Bai…”
“Sir, you don’t have to ask. I suddenly remembered something important. I have to go! Can I be excused, Sir?”
“Well, Master Bai, please feel free to leave if you wish. What about you, Master Chang, do you wish to sign up as the vanguard on the battlefield of the Far East in the near future?”
“You misunderstood, Sir. I’m having a terrible headache. Please excuse me Sir!”
After everyone left, ZiChuan Xiu showed his annoyance: “I hate those idiots who keep getting in the way. So annoying! Anyways, Stirling. There’s only us left now. So feel free to let it all out!”
“Bang” and the door were slammed shut behind him. Apparently ZiChuan Xiu was kicked out of the Guest Hall by “one of us”.
A moment silence later, Stirling cleared his throat with a small cough.
“Ka Dan… I mean, no. Perhaps I should call you Your Highness. How have you been?”
“I’m leaving for the Far East tomorrow. I’m going to war, but not against your kind. It is against the rebels of our own.”
“It could be very dangerous. I may never come back.”
“Which is why… I mean… I wanted to see you tonight. And so, in other words, it is like, I wanted to say that, you know… It’s been so long. Perhaps you already know what I want to say…”
“I… you… very much… Ka Dan. Ever since I first saw you, I have always been…… you.”
“I’m not born as a noble. I’m just a lowly peasant… But I think, my salary is enough for two people to live a……”
“I know, you are a princess, you are royalty. You will never lay you eyes on someone like me, a penniless soldier who has nothing of value but his broken sword. I just wanted to see you one last time tonight before I leave. I just want to talk to you, that is all.”
“Your return to the Demon Empire will have to wait. The Far East is mess right now. It is not safe. But don’t worry, I will find a way to help you get back.”
“You still haven’t said anything. Are you just tired? Or Have I been wasting your time?”
“Very well. It is getting late. Good night… I hope we can still be friends. Haha, you don’t have to worry about me. Haha. I’m not sad at all. Haha, ha.”
“All right. I’m going. Please take care. If there is anything you need, just let Xiu know. I told him to take good care of you, don’t worry.”
Just when Stirling had stood up and was about to leave together with his sadness, a soft and gentle voice reached him from behind: “Dear Stirling, the arrows have no eyes. Please be careful.”
He couldn’t believe his ears. Turning around enthusiastically, he spoke: “Ka Dan, you…”
Ka Dan already walked away, leaving a few words barely audible to the ear: “I’m not really in a hurry to go back.”
In the empty Guest Hall, Stirling came down to his knees, raising his arms in a prayer: “God, please bless me with fortune! Do I really deserve such?!”
Except neither the ecstatic Stirling nor the shy Ka Dan had noticed, that not sure when it happened, but the normally a fine set of window, had a couple of ‘peepholes’…”
ZiChuan Xiu: “Hey! Chang Chuan, are you done? It is my turn!”
Chang Chuan: “Damn! I though some mastermind like Stirling would be better at this. But no, he was absolutely terrible. He has brought shame upon the name of player!”
Luo Jie: “Yo, Bai Chuan. You are a girl too. What do you think Ka Dan’s words meant? Is that a yes or no?”
ZiChuan Xiu: “Hurry! Hurry! Take her by the shoulders and push her down! Use your intense look and your powerful arms! Conquer her, enthral her! Firmly hold on to her arms, and unbutton her dress…”
Chang Chuan: “Sir, you lost! I told you the love is in the air tonight. Now pay up!”
ZiChuan Ning: “Brother, should you really be peeping on Stirling and Sister Ka Dan doing that kind of things?! It seems wrong!”
ZiChuan Xiu: “Shut up! I saw the way you were staring earlier! You didn’t even blink! I don’t need a lesson of ethics from you!”
Imperial Calendar, Year 779, August 1st, the rebellion continued to spread like a wildfire in the Far East, and House ZiChuan has suffered hundreds of thousands casualties. Close to thirty million Far Eastern citizens struggled in the midst of the chaos. House ZiChuan’s sturdiest barrier, Fort Warren was about to fall and a million barbarian rebels were about to descent upon the defenceless core regions of House ZiChuan. From the Headmaster, High Command down to every single soldier and citizen, none could escape the countless sleepless nights it brought.
Yet, one of the three heroes of House ZiChuan, Central Army Commander – Stirling, had just spent the happiest moment of his life……