Imperial Calendar, Year 780, January 9th. Late in the evening, a giant red moon rose from the bare forest. Its bloody radiance mixed with the roaring flames of war to burn through the curtains of mist obscuring both banks of the River of Grey Waters, illuminating the snow capped mountain ridges.
At midnight, the Demon Forces stationed at the western bank of the River of Grey Waters felt the silent rumbling of the earth beneath their feet. Barefoot demon soldiers rushed out of their tents one after another, screaming uncontrollably as though they were living a nightmare.
Like ghosts in the dark, an iron wall of ten thousand heavy cavalry in a square formation charged in from a distance. A dense formation of black armored riders spread their wings in the gloomy darkness, thundering forth in a ghastly, deafening rumble of iron hooves, like a mountain of blades, a sea of death. They swept through the land like a whirlwind, destroying everything in their path. Before the terrifying current of destruction, Demon barricades, tents, woodwork, horses, and men were all shredded away like paper. Mired in an ocean of death throes, crushed by the unbearable pressure of the iron flood, the Demon soldiers scattered in all directions.
Stirling’s Army started the attack on the Demon encampment. Shortly after midnight, ten-thousand heavy cavalries had seized the Vaga crossing, tearing several thousand Demon defenders to pieces. At the same time, next to their forgotten corpses, five pontoon bridges were assembled over the surface of the River of Grey Waters, allowing the massive infantry divisions to swiftly cross the greatest river in the Far Eastern Region. By dawn, Stirling’s forces had appeared undetected on the eastern bank of the River, outside the walls of City – Payi.
Baron Mu Yinan’s forces spent the whole night celebrating; the constant victories had made the Demon General complacent, not even a single guard stood watch that night. Under the cover of darkness, large groups of Human infantrymen snuck over the walls of the slumbering city. The endless arrowheads of their spears flashed brilliantly in the dark, like stars in the clear night sky. The soldiers quickly took control of all the important crossroads in the city, capturing both of the city gates. Five thousand longbows were strung, aiming directly at the gates of the Demon Encampment inside the city.
Finally, with everything set, Stirling gave the order: “Go!” Soldiers dumped the oil and an array of burning torches was flung over the wooden palisades. Instantly, the entire Demon’s Camp was drowned in fire. Some of the Demon soldiers who were more sober than the rest managed to escape the sea of flames, dashing out of the gates, shouting: “What is going on?” The answer came in the form of several arrows that pierced their skull.
Over twenty thousand Demon died in the fire that night, and the lucky ones who didn’t, found themselves surrounded by hundreds of angry Human soldiers wielding sharpened blades. Stirling did not intend for the massacre to happen, but nothing he said worked. Even the few Division Leaders who agreed to stop would secretly encourage their soldiers: “Kill them all!” In the end, Stirling had to send out his personal guards to get the Demons out from under the butcher knives of his own men. Those dozen Demons were the last survivor of Baron Mu Yinan’s unit.
From the mouths of the prisoners, Stirling found out about the imminent arrival of another Demon Army, a group of three divisions, over ten thousand men. They were meant to join Mu Yinan’s forces in the City of Payi, and were supposed to arrive later today. The valuable information couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Stirling immediately gave the order to put out the fire in the Demon’s Camp, but most importantly, to preserve the Military Warehouses where their uniforms and armors were stored…
As it turned out, the prisoner did not tell the whole truth, the arriving army was not a small group of three divisions, but a large group of ten infantry divisions led by Demon General Ora! When the long line of marching Demons arrived at the gate of Payi, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Soon, the gate was raised, and a few lazy guards stood on both sides of the gate, basking under the sun. Everything seemed as they should, except the few wisps of black smoke rising in the distance, and the stench of burnt flesh in the air… But that was normal too, especially in the regions recently conquered by the Great Demon Army.
General Ora frowned: Seriously? Hasn’t Mu Yinan had enough fun yet? What is there left for us to do if he kills all the human prisoners? Feeling slightly annoyed, he never once noticed the odd expressions showing on the Demon Guards standing near the gate. By regulation, Ora was supposed to send out scouting parties before entering a city. Perhaps it was due to being away from the frontline and in Demon controlled territory, or the fact that ever since the start of this war, the powerful Demon Army had yet to face any serious challenge, either way, Ora ended up making the same mistake Mu Yinan made by bypassing the army regulation. And thus, over thirty-thousand unsuspecting Demons began marching into the city in loose formation, laughing, smiling; some even left their weapons on the back of their horses.
Seeing as General Ora himself was coming through the gate, and the terrible massacre was about to repeat itself, a patriotic Demon prisoner finally mustered his courage, yelling: “General Ora! It is a tr…”
Suddenly, a swift arrow came out of nowhere piercing the soldier’s throat, felling him before he could make another sound. Chaos broke out. While the Demons were still trying to find the assassin, the heavy gears had churned, turning the huge city gate into a meat grinder as it was dropped right on top of several Demon riders, crushing them into a pulp. General Ora, barely avoiding the same terrible state, shouted angrily: “What is going on up there?! You almost got me killed! Raise the bloody gate now! Or I will send an arrow through your…” Before he could finish, another arrow came, killing him where he stood.
In an instant, row after row of archers lined up on top of the walls, unleashing a storm of arrows upon the unsuspecting Demon soldiers from General Ora’s unit, dropping men and horses alike. The sudden closing of the gate cut the Demon forces in half. Without their General, the Demon Army fell into disarray, unable to decide whether they should fight or retreat. Inside the city, the same massacre continued. From every direction, Human soldiers appeared on the rooftops and behind the corridors, attacking the Demon soldiers with arrows, spears and sabres. Standing in the middle of the streets, with no cover hide behind, the Demon forces were quickly routed into a panicked retreat, scattering in all directions deeper into the streets of the city, where another set of traps were laying in wait.
The second in command of Ora’s forces was a bit slow on the draw; Still thinking it was all a big misunderstanding, he shouted loudly: “Stop attacking! We are friendlies!” The result was another downpour of arrows and a wave of laughter. Finally, he realized what was going on: Shit! They are Humans! The humiliation of being made a fool of blinded his senses and made him give the order: “Attack! Kill them all!” forcing his already weakened army to scale the walls. The only outcome of such ill-prepared and forced attack was leaving another several thousand corpses behind in front of the walls, which also cost them the opportunity to retreat. By the time he had realized something was amiss, earth shook from beneath him as an expanse of black armored heavy cavalry emerged from the forest behind him, surging forth like a tidal wave… Not many Demons from Ora’s unit survived the battle, and none from the ones who were trapped inside the city.
Less than twenty-four hours, Stirling had defeated three groups of Demon forces, totalling over forty thousand men, but that was not enough. In order to really get his message across, Stirling divided his force into several smaller groups, instructing each of them to carry more banners!
The officers protested: “Sir, we don’t have that many banners!”
Stirling replied impatiently: “Who says they have to be real banners? Just find a stick and a piece of cloth!”
Everywhere they went, the sea of banners brought fear to the heart of every demon along the road. According to Human Army Custom, each battalion was only to have one Bannerbearer. The number of Stirling’s Banners… well, was simply too many to count for the few Demons frantically trying to escape.
If they only knew, the moment after the sun had set in the west, the impressive Army of Stirling immediately grabbed their fake banners and ran back to the City of Payi. In the few days after the battle, Stirling’s forces flaunted their banners in the exact same fashion, purposely making themselves visible to the Demon scouts.
Before long, a flurry of reports arrived at the Demon Headquarters, each of them describing the same terrible truth. A large Human Army was on the move, sweeping towards them. After each subsequent report, the size of Stirling’s Army multiplied, from the initial a hundred-thousand to two, three, even four-hundred thousand… and kept increasing…
In addition, according to the latest reports, the massive Army of Stirling was headed directly towards the Emperor’s entourage staying in the Maple Forest! Yet, the whereabouts of Stirling’s Army made every Demon General scratch their heads as no one could ever pinpoint the exact location of the bulk of Stirling’s seemingly overwhelming forces!
Ultimately, all the sightings could only lead to one logical conclusion and served to further prove the devious nature of the Human Army. Stirling had to be lurking somewhere in a nearby forest, waiting to ambush the Emperor’s entourage. It was a well known tactic in the Human’s book, the Art of War, to cut off the head of the snake! Kill the enemy leaders first, incite chaos, then divide and conquer!
“As expected from the Tiger of ZiChuan, he is very cunning indeed! Luckily we have seen through his petty tricks; we will not fall for his traps!” Commander of the Guard Brigade in charge of Emperor’s safety, Duke Leo beseeched in earnest: “Your Majesty, right now, Stirling’s Army has the advantage in numbers. There is no need to put your safety at risk. If I may be so bold, perhaps Your Majesty should retreat…”
The God King smiled with pride, saying: “We do not shy away from anyone.”
All his subjects praised in unison: “Hail to the Emperor! The God King shall reign supreme! Stirling stands no chance against our mighty Army. He is digging his own grave!”
Amidst the singing of praises, the mysterious black cloaked and veiled Head Advisor, Heisha whispered from behind: “Your Majesty, what if it was Duke Zuo Jia Ming?”
The Demon God King turned towards him, whispering so softly only Heisha could hear: “Even if it was Duke Zuo Jia Ming himself, I would cut him down just the same.”
The God King smiled. His imposing blue eyes was as unpredictable as the vast ocean and as hazy as the mist on a winter’s dawn. They were simply magnificent.