Imperial Calendar, Year 779, winter came especially late this year. The first wave of cold only started to push through Fort Warren and head westwards, crossing the continent, in mid December. Temperature dropped under zero in less than ten hours. Even though the first sight of snow had yet to come, thunder could be heard in the distant sky. In front of the Headmaster’s House, a flag post was struck by a sudden bolt of lightning, breaking it in half, which subsequently hit the two guards on duty on the way down. Soon, a downpour hit the area, followed by three days of storm and thunder. When the sun rose again, a colourful arc of rainbow had appeared in the eastern sky, in contrast to the west, where clouds had formed a giant cross over the horizon.
Not many could recall ever seeing such peculiar sight in the sky except for a few wiser old men who could still recall the winter of fifty years ago. It was the same back then, thunder in the late winter, followed by days of storm. But in the spring, three-hundred-thousand men from the Border Army rebelled against House ZiChuan.
On the Plain of Ancestors, a place less than ten miles away from Di Du, the Army of ZiChuan encountered the Rebel Forces joined by House Liu Feng’s Army, and a fierce battle ensued. The sea of corpses stretched over dozens of miles across the battlefield, more than wild dogs could eat. The old men who remembered the battle firmly believed: “This is an omen. The Army of ZiChuan will engage the Rebel Army in a massive battle of unprecedented scale. The death toll will probably exceed that of the terrible battle of fifty years ago.”
Even though the Council of Elders had already agreed to the terms made by the Rebels and a peace treaty was underway, almost everyone, including the officers, nobles, and even the common peasants had the feeling that, ultimately, a fierce battle against the Rebel Army was inevitable, and a terrible disaster was about to befall them.
The City of Di Du was in a state of panic, false rumours spread everywhere. Many believed that it was the sins of men that brought the wrath of the heavens upon them. However, as to whom the evil sinner might be, their opinions varied greatly. Some even pointed their fingers at the Supreme Commander – Luo Ming Hai and the Inspector General – Di Lin.
As if the world was set out to prove this ominous omen, on December 21st, near the year’s end, a small incident in the Capital had escalated into bloodshed.
The cause of the incident was quite simple. In a small local tavern in the city, several drunken officers from the High Command started causing a ruckus and got into a fight with the patrolling constables from the Ministry. A small bout quickly turned into an all out battle between the officers and the constables. How it got so out of hand, however, would forever remain a mystery, because none of the officers who first started the riot could still speak.
By the time the situation was resolved, the tension between the High Command and the Ministry was at an all-time high, to the point both Commanders could only access their respective workplace under the protection of a large armed escort. Their men treated each others like enemies, piling up barricades along every major street in the Capital. Soon, the city had turned into a warzone, with conflict brewing around every corner. It didn’t take long before everyone came to the realization: We must never put Di Lin and Luo Ming Hai near each other, or a similar riot could happen again at any time.
In the end, it was Luo Ming Hai who petitioned for Di Lin to be sent to the Far Eastern Front… In fact, the same had been suggested by the Council of Elders much earlier. They thought it was a huge waste to keep such a capable general in the Capital.
ZiChuan Shen Xing had always been wary of letting him go; Di Lin was like a ferocious hawk. It was easy to set him free, but much harder to rein him in. He was much like a double-edged blade, which could hurt your enemy just as much as it could hurt you. But seeing the situation Di Lin and Luo Ming Hai were in now, he had no choice but to separate them. When he informed Di Lin of his new assignment, Di Lin complained: “Sir, I have done nothing wrong. Why am I being exiled to the distant Far East?” He sounded like an innocent child.
ZiChuan Shen Xing reassured him: “How is it an exile? The situation in the Far East is still unstable. We need a high ranking officer to supervise the transition. The House has entrusted you with that responsibility. Everything you do there will be important to our war effort!”
Di Lin kept expressing his reluctance to depart and leave the comfortable lifestyle of the Capital behind. ZiChuan Shen Xing had to pull out every trick in the book to convince him that he wasn’t being punished, but instead, that he was being offered a great opportunity. Even though Di Lin reluctantly agreed in the end, in truth, he couldn’t be happier: Luo Ming Hai you stupid fool! Once I get to the Far East, I will be like a bird out of its cage. As the highest ranking officer in the Far East, I will have several hundred thousands of House ZiChuan’s finest under my command! The moment ZiChuan Shen Xing dies, I will march for the Capital with a great army. With ZiChuan Xiu and Stirling at my side, what hope will you have to stop me?! Killing you will be like squashing an ant!”
“Sir, how can I refuse a request coming directly from you? However, there is just one thing I…
“Oh? You can tell me anything.”
“My wife, Lin Xiu Jia is pregnant and will soon give birth. As you already know, Luo Ming Hai hates me to his core. There is nothing he wouldn’t do! What if he did anything to my wife while I am away from Di Du…” Di Lin wanted ZiChuan Shen Xing to let him take his wife to the Far East, eliminating the only thing they could use against him when the time came.
“Oh.” ZiChuan Shen Xing readily replied: “Is that why you are worried? You have nothing to worry about. I’ll have everything taken care of. Your wife will stay here in my house. No matter how reckless Luo Ming Hai may be, he will not dare to harm her while she is under my roof. I promise you, she will be kept safe.”
The answer caught Di Lin off guard. He hurriedly responded: “That is too kind, Sir. But I wouldn’t want to trouble you with my own affairs. If I could just take her with me, I’m perfectly able to…”
“Hmm? Di Lin, that is very wrong of you. Lin Xiu Jia is with child. How can you let her march with the army? Not to mention you will be putting her in harm’s way. Are you worried that I might take advantage of your wife? Haha, I’m old enough to be your father!”
Cold sweat broke out on Di Lin’s forehead as he tried to sound appreciative: “You are making fun of me, Sir.” Meanwhile, his head screamed profusely: “Shit, this is bad! I went for the wool and came home shorn! What do I do? What do I say? Damn it!”
“Very well then, it is decided. Di Lin, if you are still hesitating, then I will have to assume you don’t trust me!” ZiChuan Shen Xing’s voice turned serious.
Di Lin jolted, lowering his head: “As you wish, Sir. My wife will be in your care.” Before he knew, sweat had soaked through the back of his thick uniform. Smiling, he curtsied as he left the Headmaster’s House. He carried that smile all the way back to the Ministry, where he ordered everyone to leave the room. Behind locked doors, his rage flared into a frenzy, shouting: “Damn you, old fox!” By the time he had finished, there was nothing left in the room for him to break.
Imperial Calendar, Year 779, December 28th, Forty-thousand Military Constables led by Inspector General Di Lin departed from Di Du, marching for the Far Eastern Front.
Year 780, January 1st, in the Far Eastern province of Wargo, a Beastman rider raced through the mountain path under the dawning sun and into Xiu’s Company’s encampment. He quickly dismounted from his sweat drenched horse and spoke to the drowsy guard on duty in fluent human tongue: “Urgent report for Xiu the Lightbringer. I must deliver this to him in person!”
Xiu’s Company spent the whole night celebrating the new year. ZiChuan Xiu had just fallen asleep when Bai Chuan woke him: “Old man Dren has important news.” Dren’s report got him wide awake if he wasn’t already: “We encountered a large unknown Rebel Force in the province of Sha Jia. They have destroyed three of Xiu’s Company’s Branch Offices, causing significant financial damage.” ZiChuan Xiu immediately sent a messenger to inform Stirling of the sudden development.
Stirling instantly realized the importance of the report. In conjunction with the information he managed to gather, it was clear to him that the situation had reached critical mass. In response, he gave the emergency order to assemble his own forces and wrote a detailed letter to the First Commander Ming Hui stationed in the Far Eastern province of Dusa. In the letter, Stirling listed all the suspicious movements the Rebel Forces made over the recent month, advising him to be on full alert and to pull his forces back into a defensive position in case of an attack.
A messenger was supposed to deliver the letter, but the Central Army’s Staff Officer Tang Ping needed to discuss other matters with Ming Hui at the time and so, Stirling gave him the letter. However, Tang Ping never made it to Ming Hui’s command tent. In the forest twenty miles out from province Dusa, he encountered the advancing party of the Demon Army. A sharp and strong arrow pierced his lung, sending him tumbling from his horse. As he crashed into the frosty snow, a well of blood gushed from his mouth. Seeing the Demon Dragon Riders rapidly approaching, he tore Stirling’s letter to pieces with his trembling hands and watched the fragments of it get carried away by the wind over the snow covered Far Eastern Plain…
That night, the flames of war had painted the sky red. The Demon Army, a great host of four-hundred-and-seventeen divisions, totalling over one-million-and-three-hundred-thousand demons, led by the Invincible Demon God King Himself had crossed the boundary stone marking the border between the Demon Empire and House ZiChuan, and another seven-hundred-thousand allied Rebel Forces of all races marched in front of them as vanguard…