Forward! Towards the West! On the meandering Great Road of the Far East, an endless line of Demons marched westwards, crossing the province of Minske. The army in question was no other than the victor of the plain of Moon Bay, General Rudy’s army. Everywhere the eyes could see, a sea of banners swayed in the wind, while spears and blades shined even brighter than the snow itself. The new and mighty conqueror of the Far Eastern Regions marched proudly under the daylight.
Standing on top of a hill adjacent to the long road, Duke Rudy gazed upon his mighty army. In that instant, a feeling of overwhelming power washed over him. I have the mightiest army under my command. With it, I will destroy the indestructible, impenetrable Fort Warren. I will make the Great Empire bow before me, I will conquer the whole world, I will pile up the bodies of Humans onto a mountain, and use them as stepping stones to ascend to Greatness!
Seemingly catching on to his thoughts, the General of the Imperial Guards – Yun Qian Xue smiled: “What a great army! Your Grace is truly the greatest!” Even though his words were nothing but praises, the way Yun Qian Xue said it, half seriously and with a mysterious and never-ending smile, Rudy couldn’t tell whether that cynical and pretty-faced fellow was really praising him or mocking him.
Rudy was a lowborn. He always had an inferiority complex to the likes of Yun Qian Xue, who was educated and a member of the royal family. The more inferior he felt, the more arrogant he behaved. He would constantly remind everyone of his overdeveloped muscles and many terrible scars, in an atten Xue quickly averted his gaze, concealing his laughter from him.
Recollecting himself, Yun Qian Xue spoke abruptly: “Your Grace, obtaining the opening victory on the plains of Moon Bay has greatly boosted the Empire’s morale. His Majesty is most pleased!”
When the name of the Supreme God King was mentioned, even the disrespectful Rudy dared not ignore him. Besides, the man in front of him, the Imperial General, had the Emperor’s favour, and was a close confidant to the “Mad Dog”. All the more reason to get on his good side. Trying very hard to sound modest, Rudy spoke: “It is all thanks to His Majesty’s great wisdom…”
“However, although you have annihilated an entire House ZiChuan’s army, you have failed to kill the enemy general, Fang Jin, robbing the Empire of a total victory. His Majesty was not pleased with the result. He even said: “I thought Rudy was a capable general, who would have thought he’d turn out to be so useless?!”
“Just enough; exactly how I wanted.” Yun Qian Xue watched Rudy’s reddened cheeks in satisfaction. Even that thick layer of rough hair on his face could not hide his anger. “I just made that up for you. His Majesty didn’t even bother to react to the report, less so feeling displeased about it. I doubt a wild bear like you would dare confront his Majesty about it.”
Rudy roared furiously: “General Yun, I told you a thousand times! We definitely killed Fang Jin. I can show you his uniform and the Commander’s golden star epaulet!”
“I saw but a headless body.” Yun Qian Xue responded calmly.
“But that is…”
“How are you going to prove to His Majesty that it was indeed Fang Jin’s body?”
“The uniform and the epaulet…”
“Perhaps the cunning Fang Jin gave his uniform to a fellow soldier while he was long gone. The Humans are all despicable cowards. Isn’t that what you keep telling me?”
“But that was really…”
“I know, and I believe you. The question is, how do you make His Majesty believe you?”
No matter how much Rudy stamped with rage, that shallow smile never once left Yun Qian Xue’s face. As Yun Qian Xue picked softly at the petals of a wildflower in his hand, it made Rudy absolutely furious. There were hundreds of thousands of heads rolling about, the size of a small mountain. How was he supposed to find the head of a man he had never met?! If that annoying pretty face wasn’t the envoy of the Emperor but a subordinate of his, he would have cut him down where he stood!
After having a little bit of fun, Yun Qian Xue spoke casually: “Well, there is always a way…”
“Really?” Rudy instantly calmed down, waiting patiently for the next set of words to come out of Yun Qian Xue’s mouth. Yun Qian Xue stared at the sky, at the ground, at the trees on the side of the road and at the flowers growing in the grass, anything but the words Rudy wanted to hear. Every movement, every facial expression he made spoke only one thing: “Beg me!”
Rudy asked reluctantly: “General Yun, why aren’t you saying anything?”
“Oh!” As if he just noticed someone was standing beside him, Yun Qian Xue looked to the sky and said: “The weather sure is great today!”
Rudy smiled dryly in agreement: “Hehe. Yes, indeed.”
mpt to overcome the grace of others that he did not possess and of which he was incredibly jealous, with his own brutishness. Ignoring him, Rudy sneered pompously to the sky, as if he hadn’t heard a word Yun Qian Xue just said.
As an envoy from the Emperor, Yun Qian Xue was quite handsome. Despite his refined scholarly upbringing, he did have a bit of manliness customary of a soldier. He was born into the House of Yun, a famous household known for having produced many generations of excellent generals and which was considered as the famous House amongst all famous Houses of the Demon Empire. Unlike many, Yun Qian Xue’s own performance had lived up to the name of the House, and was regarded as the elite of this generation of Royal children. He was often praised for his poise and demeanor, even by the Emperor, who had promised to betroth his beloved daughter to him. If it wasn’t for Princess Ka Dan’s untimely death during the previous encounter with House ZiChuan, Yun Qian Xue would have been a prince by now. Even so, the Emperor still favoured him greatly, promoting him to the Commander of the Guard Brigade, the Imperial General.
Seeing Rudy’s rudeness, Yun Qian Xue laughed instead of showing his anger. Before he came here, the Second Prince, Kalan had told him: “Rudy is infamous for three things, barbarism, ruthlessness, and…” Kalan purposely stopped for a second. “He is unbelievably ugly!” Looking at him from an angle, Rudy had a monkey-like face, bull-like ears, dog-like nose, fish-like eyes, ram-like horns, horse-like neck, bear-like body and a pig-like brain. Yun Qia
“The view is nice too!”
“Hoho. Yes, of course.”
Yun Qian Xue rambled on: “The Far East is such a beautiful place; it should have been ours ages ago. Damn those thieves of House ZiChuan! How dare they keep it from us for so long! They cannot be forgiven! No matter, His Majesty is the God reborn. We will soon conquer the world! It won’t be long now, the day the radiance of…”
Yun Qian Xue was getting sidetracked, talking about this and that in a drawn out fashion, lasting over half an hour. All the while Rudy stood beside him, too afraid to interrupt. He could only stomp his feet in frustration. Finally, while Yun Qian Xue was catching his breath, he hastily asked: “What about the thing you were talking about earlier?”
“What did I say?” Yun Qian Xue asked perplexed: “The part where we are going to conquer the world?”
“Erm, no. Before that.”
“Oh! The part about House ZiChuan, and that we are going to destroy them.”
“A little bit before that.”
“You mean the part about how great His Majesty is. Why, Your Grace does not agree?”
Rudy jumped, explaining himself in a hurry: “Of course I do. I’m His Majesty’s most loyal servant…”
“Yes. I’m sure His Majesty will be happy to know you have been very loyal. Now that my mission here is at an end, I shall bid my farewell. I sincerely wish Your Grace to be ever victorious in your upcoming battles!” With that, Yun Qian Xue was getting ready to leave.
Rudy had to plea: “Please wait, General Yun. You were saying earlier, that there may be a way…”
Rudy purposely stopped there, hoping Yun Qian Xue would finish the rest of the sentence. Somehow, Yun Qian Xue seemed to have forgotten all about it, not saying a word. Rudy had no choice, and was forced to continue: “I hope you can teach me the ways. Rudy will forever be in your debt.”
“Oh! About that! You should have asked me sooner, Your Grace. I almost forgot all about it!” Yun Qian Xue smiled on the inside: “It is simple, Your Grace. The problem right now is that you can’t find Fang Jin’s head, correct?”
“That is right.”
“Then don’t! You have his epaulet and uniform. All you need to do is to grab any human head, and say that you have killed him!”
“But, but that would be deceiving the Emperor. It is a serious offence!”
“Haha, Your Grace must be tired! Think about it for a second. Who has really seen the face of Fang Jin in the palace? Marquis Halcyon is the only one who could recognize him. As long as he is willing to vouch for you, saying: “Yes, that is indeed Commander Fang Jin!” Who else could possibly refute him?”
“Marquis Halcyon? That treacherous dog?” Rudy’s voice was filled with contempt hearing the mention of that name: “But why would he lie for me?”
“Haha. You are wrong again, Your Grace! Didn’t you tell me that Fang Jin is definitely dead? So how is it a lie? As a subject to the Emperor, it is your duty to please His Majesty. No one can fault you for that!”
“I understand, but I have never been a friend to Marquis Halcyon. Why would he help me?”
“Well, Your Grace need not worry, because Marquis Halcyon is a great admirer of the Second Prince. If His Highness gives the word, I’m sure Marquis Halcyon will agree.”
The Second Prince was Kalan, the second son of the Demon God King and a reckless madman who often indulged in wine and women. The Demons called him the “Mad Prince” in public, and the “Mad Dog” in private. For some strange reason, Yun Qian Xue, a famous general with great prospects and blessed with royal blood, refused to serve the First Prince – Kadun. Instead he was incredibly close to the Mad Dog – Kalan.
Hearing Kalan’s name, Rudy blurted the word: “The Mad Dog?!”
Yun Qian Xue’s eyes instantly turned cold and his expression turned lethal. Rudy could feel his heart freezing as he quivered uncontrollably under his icy glare.
Yun Qian Xue hastily suppressed his killing intent, thinking to himself: How dare you insult His Highness in front of me?! Had you done so a year ago, I would have killed you where you stand! Rudy, you may act arrogant all you want, but if you make me your enemy, I can take your head within twenty moves! Luckily for you, by His Highness’ orders, you will get to live for a while longer…
Yun Qian Xue cracked a smile, saying: “As you said, Your Grace. You are not well acquainted with the Second Prince, but His Highness has heard much about you and your bravery. He has always hoped to befriend a brave warrior such as yourself, Your Grace! As a token of goodwill, His Highness is willing to let Marquis Halcyon vouch for you, no strings attached.”
Rudy had yet to recover from the assault to his senses earlier. What was that sudden feeling of terror all about? Was it an overwhelming killing intent? How is that possible? I’ve been through hundreds of battles. I’ve killed countless enemies. I’m the mighty General Rudy. How could I possibly feel threatened by a meek looking pretty boy like him?! Was I mistaken? Right, I had to be. Perhaps the days are getting colder, I should wear another coat.
Regarding Yun Qian Xue’s suggestion, he was still considering it. Even though Rudy was a brute, he knew that deceiving the Emperor was a grave offence, especially since the Emperor was the wisest being he had ever known. If his lie was ever discovered…
Yun Qian Xue didn’t try to pressure him. He laughed: “I didn’t know Your Grace was such an honest man. I’m truly impressed! If Your Grace is not interested in claiming your prize, then forget I said anything. I heard that in the south, General Ling Buxu killed many enemies as well. I’m sure he would be interested.”
The effect was almost instantaneous. The mere thought of letting everything he had fought so hard for, the big prize of killing the enemy General, fall into the hands of that hateful Ling Buxu… was enough to make him fume. He argued: “Wait, hold on! General Yun, I will do as you say! Please let His Highness know that I will be forever grateful!”
“Haha. As I said, His Highness has great respect for you! We are all friends now. I promise you, His Highness is always true to his word!” Yun Qian Xue smiled, thinking: different baits for different fish. For an angry bear like you, haha, the best way is to dangle a piece of honey in front of your face. His Highness is truly wise. Is there anything he can’t foresee in this world? Rudy, once you take the honey, you will have to dance at the whims of His Highness for the rest of your life!
“Hehe.” Rudy laughed dryly, seemingly realizing something was amiss: Since when did he become a friend with that pretty face?
Yun Qian Xue didn’t give him time to think, speaking promptly: “Very well. Shall we start drafting the letter for the Emperor? I will deliver it and the rest of the evidence to His Majesty right away. In case someone tries to steal what is rightfully yours!”
Rudy didn’t hesitate as he began drafting the letter. In it, he detailed how he had killed the enemy Commander – Fang Jin with his bare hands and crushed House ZiChuan’s Army with minimal casualties on the plain of Moon Bay, then handed all the evidence to Yun Qian Xue.
Yun Qian Xue took a glance at the letter, smiling ominously: With his handwritten letter, I now have proof of his treachery! Naturally, as long as he behaves nicely, there is no need for me to ever play this card.
Though at the same time, Yun Qian Xue felt a little bit sad for having to manipulate a brainless bear like him. It was a job beneath him. As a General, his biggest wish was to face off against a powerful enemy on the battlefield.
Yun Qian Xue gazed towards the distant west, praying silently: “Di Lin… Before I exact my revenge, you better not lose to anyone else! Or I will not be able to live with myself! But before I defeat you, I will first take down one of your equals, Stirling. His death will summon forth our destined battle! You better not disappoint me! Di Lin!”
A mounted courier suddenly came into view below the hillside, heading directly towards them. Rudy’s guard instinctively stepped forward to stop him. Seeing the urgent expression on this courier drenched in sweat, Yun Qian Xue turned to Rudy, saying: “Your Grace, we should let him through!”
With a simple gesture from Rudy, the guards quickly moved aside. Rushing forth, the courier dismounted and dropped down to one knee: “Your Grace, I have an urgent report!”
Rudy sneered: “Speak!”
“The Human’s Central Army has launched a large scale counter attack. Their army has crossed the River of Grey Waters and defeated three of our forces, over seventeen divisions, in the process! Baron Mu Yinan was killed! Stirling’s army is closing in on the Maple forest where His Majesty is currently staying!”
The news came as a shock to both Rudy and Yun Qian Xue, but it was Yun Qian Xue who asked first: “Is His Majesty safe? How many men does Stirling have?”
“His Majesty is fine, but Stirling’s Army is very powerful. The rumors say he has succeeded the First Commander of the Far Eastern Front. He is now in charge of all the Human Armies operating in the Far East, over five-hundred-thousand men in total!”
Rudy and Yun Qian Xue shared a look, sensing the fear in each other’s eyes. In order to crush the remaining Human resistance, during the last high ranking war council, the head advisor, Mr. Heisha devised a massive encirclement plan spanning across seven provinces. The goal was the total annihilation of the remnants of the Human forces stationed in the province of Deja and Iriya. And the plan was to deploy the Demon Army and the Rebel Army, a massive force totalling over two million men, to the seven adjacent provinces.
The initial intelligence suggested that the Human Forces totalled five-hundred-thousand at most. After the first wave of attacks, there shouldn’t have been much of it left. The fact that Stirling still had such a large force at his disposal came as a huge surprise! Now with the Demon Forces spread thin all over the region, they now faced the risk of being divided and conquered by the much more mobile forces of Stirling.
Even worse, Stirling’s goal seemed to His Majesty himself! At this very moment, the Emperor’s entourage was protected by two-hundred-thousand Guards at most. If the Tiger of ZiChuan was really as terrifying as the rumors say…
Rudy thundered: “That damned Marquis Halcyon! What kind of bogus intelligence did he feed us?! He was completely wrong about the size of House ZiChuan’s army! I will skin him alive if I ever see him again! And Advisor Heisha, always acting as if he was the smartest one in the room, what a great plan that turned out to be!”
Leaping onto his horse, Yun Qian Xue remained silent. A fiery will burned brightly in his heart: Tiger of ZiChuan, you did not disappoint me! Come, you are mine!
Seeing Yun Qian Xue leaving, Rudy hastily asked: “General Yun, what should I do? Do I keep marching west as planned, or…”
“Your Grace, you are the Commander of this army. You must make that decision yourself! This is an urgent situation, I must go!” Accompanied by a score of Imperial Guards, Yun Qian Xue rode forth like a swift wind, leaving a trail of sand stirring in the air.
As Yun Qian Xue’s shadow vanished in the mist of sand, Rudy began to think: What do I do? Unlike Yun Qian Xue and the other royalties, the reason Rudy could rise from the bottom all the way to the high rank of a Duke and the Commander of an Army, was because he was relentless, ruthless and fiercely loyal to the Demon God King. Coming up with ideas and plans were not his forte; he was much better when he had a clear instruction or plan to follow.
But now the situation had changed. He couldn’t ask the Emperor; he couldn’t ask the two Princes; he couldn’t even ask the Head Advisor Heisha for instructions. Rudy had no choice but to resort to his already lackluster brain: What do I do? Keep going or turn back?
Perhaps it was a miracle or eagerness that led to his inspiration as an idea suddenly popped into Rudy’s head. Isn’t this the perfect chance to prove myself to the Emperor? If I can defeat the famous Tiger of ZiChuan, I’ll have truly distinguished myself! I can kill a million runaways or civilians, but none of it matters when compared to having defeated Stirling! Besides, if I’m lucky…
Images of glorious battles swirled inside Rudy’s mind as he laughed, gritted his teeth, and tensed up in rapid succession. His guards all stared at him with unease: Is he going mad? I hope he doesn’t lash out on me!
“Listen up!” Rudy had made up his mind. Fort Warren was not going to fly away. He could
always attack it later if necessary, but the chance to rescue His Majesty was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It would be such a shame if he was to let it slip through his fingers!
Rudy gave the order: “Inform all units, we are going to turn around and head for the Maple Forest!” A long line of Demons began to turn as ordered, converting rearguards into vanguards, marching in the direction from whence they came.
Rudy praised himself softly under his breath: I’m simply too clever! A lesser man wouldn’t have come up with such a smart idea! No one will dare to call me all brawn and no brain ever again after I cut off the head of Stirling! I have to keep my army’s movements a secret. I can’t let the other forces get ahead of me and take away my prize, or all will be for naught!
What he didn’t realize however, was that almost all of the Demon Generals had come to the same conclusion: It was a golden opportunity to prove themselves to the Emperor!
Perhaps it was the chance to prove their loyalty, or perhaps it was the chance to defeat the famous Tiger of ZiChuan, or perhaps they were genuinely concerned about His Majesty’s safety. Either way, all the Demon Generals heading deep behind House ZiChuan’s lines decided to turn around, making a headlong dash towards the province of Dusa, hoping to be first to defeat the Central Army and cut off Stirling’s head.
Head Advisor Heisha fumed with rage underneath his veil. A perfect encirclement plan went up in smokes before it even began. He stomped his feet, screaming: “Back! Go back!” But how could the generals let go of what was soon to be theirs: an ambitious dream to be the champion who rescued the Emperor! They waited patiently, staring over the horizon. Like pining for the return of their loved ones, they waited in anguish, hoping for Stirling to show up, sighing profusely: “Stirling, where art thou?”
And for that reason, a total of four million civilians from the province of Deja and Iriya barely made it out of the encirclement of the Demon Armies, escaping to the core regions behind Fort Warren. Imperial Calendar, Year 780, January 21st, a group of three-hundred-thousand civilians, the last group of refugees, made it safely to Fort Warren. Less than ten miles away from their position, twenty thousand Far Eastern Garrison Forces, tasked with covering the retreat, engaged the Demon Army led by General Ling Buxu in a fighting withdrawal. He was the first one to continue the pursuit of the Human Refugees. During the battle, Red Banner Master Eeling was killed, and was promoted to Deputy Commander posthumously by the High Command. With Deputy Commander Lin Bing’s help, the rest of Eeling’s forces all managed to retreat into Fort Warren.
Meanwhile, Stirling’s Army remained in the province of Dusa, a place nearly a thousand kilometers away from Fort Warren, distracting the Demon Army’s attention. Surrounding him in a radius of a hundred kilometers, over a million Demon- and Rebel Forces had gathered, and more were arriving constantly every day…