You ran away! After taking everything from me, you actually dared to run away!
No, I can’t be impatient. I can’t win against Gong Hua right now, not at all. I have to become strong!
A spiritmancer, a spirit charmer, or a spirit binder… No! I obviously don’t have any other options.
Gong Hua, don’t you agree?
Oh right, I had completely forgotten. You aren’t even human, so how it can it even be called killing a person?
“The Danji Yate. White reigns supreme in their tribe. The four colors in succession are vermillion, indigo, gold, and black.”
West raised an eyebrow when he saw his tent flap open. He then looked at the young man who entered, the latter making himself comfortable in the tent.
“I have no complaints about your report, but I do have a complaint about you. If I’m not mistaken, this is my tent, and the wine glass you’re holding is also mine! Moreover, what you’re drinking smells like the Xialan wine from my collection!”
At that moment, the young man stood up. He downed the wine in his glass, and carefully sat the glass aside. He then saluted West and said, “Commander, I have something to report!”
West replied in an unhappy voice, “Well, aren’t you polite. Speak, Yehv. What is it?”
Yehv gave a smile, and said, “About what I’ve said earlier, the Danji Yate is what is commonly known as Danya. The king of Danya is referred to as ‘White.’ It is said that he has a head of completely white hair, which does not bode well for us. White serves as the base color for all Danyas’ hairs. On top of that, they can have a mixture of red, blue, gold, and black in their hair. They can range from having either one or all four of those colors. Danyas with fewer colors in their hair are more powerful. So White’s strength is not to be underestimated. Of course, we don’t know exactly how strong he is.”
West nodded at the explanation and asked, “Then what do you mean by ‘The four colors in succession are vermillion, indigo, gold, and black?’ ”
“Danya is divided into four great families, which are the . Each of the four families would send someone out to serve directly under White, becoming a ‘Color’ when they assume their post. For example, someone from the Zhu family would just be called Vermillion.”
West understood, and commented, “So these Colors are similar to the Warlords of our own country. Our own four Warlords each command one of the four great clans…”
Yehv shook his head and said, “No, for the most part, the Colors are the children of the leaders of the four families. Normally, the Color is the most capable and talented child in the family. If a more talented child appears, however, then the Color could be changed by White. Also, only Colors who have served under White are able to succeed their family in the future.”
“That is quite baffling. If it’s like that, then is the social status of a Color higher than that of the family leader?” West asked puzzledly after hearing Yehv’s explanation.
“I haven’t investigated that yet,” Yehv replied, a hint of apology in his voice. “Alfven Xi Jiang only asked me to look into Danya’s military matters. Although I’ve researched a bit of their country’s internal affairs, it’s not enough for me to grasp a good understanding of them.”
“It doesn’t matter. We don’t have time to worry about another country’s internal affairs anyways.” West then continued somewhat gloomily, “It has been three months since the Danyas broke through the Zangxia Gates. Since then, they’ve attacked and occupied Zhong Zhen, our country’s easternmost town. They’ve even crossed over the Eastern River without difficulty, and now they’ve pushed us to Dong Zhen! The most important thing for us to do right now is to hold on to . If we lose the battle here at Chakou and let them pass over the Cha River, we would lose our last line of defense. The rich and prosperous would be like a fat sheep waiting for the slaughter.”
Yehv nodded in response and said, “To the north of Chakou, we have the Southern Gulf Mountains. And to the south, we have the Linhai Marshes. Plus, we have rivers acting as natural moats around the city on both sides. Chakou is easy to defend and hard to attack. However, as the city is quite some distance away from the Zangxia Gates, we have not built a military fort here. The strength of the city walls can’t compare to that of the Zangxia Gates.”
Upon those words, West growled furiously. “That bastard who abandoned the Zangxia Gates deserves to have his head chopped off, a hundred times!”
“The person you’re angry at is a , and your superior at that.” Yehv lifted an eyebrow. He then smiled and said, “Although, that person probably isn’t a zong jiang anymore; the result of his court-martial will most likely be worse than death. Despite that, you probably have to thank him.”
West stared in surprise. He didn’t understand what Yehv meant by those words.
“Our Alfven Xi Jiang now has one fewer zong jiang under his command, which means that the spiritmancer regiment Racing Flame’s Left Division is currently lacking someone to command them. According to what I’ve heard, you have a pretty good chance of rising two ranks and directly becoming the zong jiang of the Left Division.”
“Things are different when we are at war. Not to mention, Alfven Xi Jiang has already especially summoned you to join military conferences, and more than once at that. Am I right? Only officials ranked as xi xiao and above can attend those meetings.” Yehv paused and smiled mysteriously. “You might just be the one to succeed the entire Racing Flame regiment in the future.”
Faced with Yehv’s words, West’s heart couldn’t help but race in excitement. His ultimate dream was to command the Racing Flame regiment, but he knew he had something far more important to do at that moment. He straightened his state of mind and lashed out at the other. “Stop with your nonsense. If we lose this battle, we’d all probably end up dead in Chakou. There’s no point in talking about succeeding the Racing Flame right now!”
Hearing that, Yehv’s expression became serious. He replied, “You’re right. This will be a difficult battle. After we lost the Zangxia Gates, the troops’ morale has been sinking. In contrast, the Danyas are in high spirits, attacking and breaking our defenses with unstoppable force. We are at a severe disadvantage. It doesn’t matter if Chakou’s city walls are weak. Soldiers lacking morale can’t even guard a small treasury!”
At those words, worry appeared on the faces of both men. West muttered, “We need a victory to boost our troops’ morale.”
Yehv smiled bitterly. “Looking at the present situation, that would be very difficult. The most important thing right now is to defend Chakou. To steal a victory while doing that would not be simple.”
“Right. If we can defend it until the end, it would be our victory.” West couldn’t help but feel a little dejected, though he then pulled himself together and asked, “How are the plans for defending the city coming along?”
Yehv understood what West was really trying to ask and smiled faintly. “The loss at the Zangxia Gates has crippled the Left Division, reducing it to half its original size. So the main forces that will be defending the city are the Central and Right Divisions.”
West abruptly stood up and yelled, “Even if the Left Division has been reduced to half its size, it still has around ten thousand soldiers capable of fighting. Even if we are down to the last soldier, we can’t lose Chakou to the Danyas! Don’t tell me Alfven Xi Jiang hasn’t realized this?”
“Indeed, a majority of the high-ranking officers have not realized the importance of this battle,” Yehv replied honestly. “Our troops have been repeatedly pushed back during this whole war. Our casualty ranges around twenty-thousand soldiers, which includes around three thousand spiritmancers and two hundred spirit charmers. Judging from those numbers, it can be said that our losses have been disastrous so far. But beside our Racing Flame regiment, our country also has the Xialan spiritmancer regiment which is currently protecting the Old Zhan Plains. Moreover, Qi Feng has the spiritmancer regiment Qi Sheng, which is reputed to be the largest regiment in the country. Due to that, the officials aren’t too worried.”
West frowned and said, “The Danyas are stronger than what we’ve expected. If we let them into the Old Zhan Plains, our country would suffer extremely heavy casualties.”
“To the superior officers, the Danyas are merely barbarians. They don’t even have spiritmancers or spirit charmers. What is there to fear?”
“Nonsense!” West yelled, almost leaping out of his seat in anger. “The average height of a Danya male is two meters! Plus, they all possess extraordinary strength. Not to mention, Danya’s battles techniques are far more complex and developed than our own. An average soldier, no, even a spiritmancer wouldn’t be able to defeat one of them!”
“Alfven Xi Jiang understands at least that. He’s not an incompetent commander.” Yehv then assured, “The zong jiang of the Left Division has been court-martialed. The Left Division is crippled and only has half its soldiers left. It wouldn’t be strange for them to be left alone and ignored. However, that sort of situation wouldn’t last long. Alfven Xi Jiang would never do something as incompetent as not putting ten-thousand capable soldiers to use.”
Hearing those words, West’s expression improved slightly.
“You shouldn’t worry too much. You’re only a zong xiao. Even if you worry, you can’t change the current situation. Just be patient and wait. Alfven Xi Jiang truly looks favorably upon you. In my opinion, the Left Division will be yours sooner or later.”
West’s furrowed brow relaxed at Yehv’s reply. He patted the other’s shoulders and said, “You’ve worked hard. Thanks for the trouble. I’m sorry you had to go and spy in another division. You even had to forge a good relationship with Alfven Xi Jiang. If it weren’t for you, I would never have been able to obtain such valuable information with my rank as zong xiao.”
“It’s simply my duty.” Yehv smiled in response. “Besides, all you would lose is information if I’m not here. If you weren’t here, then I would certainly be in a more miserable state. Even if I don’t starve to death in some forgotten alley, I would certainly be reduced to stealing to survive.”
At those words, West couldn’t help but feel grateful to his unruly younger self. When he was young, he had sneaked out to play once and got his pockets picked by a thief. Losing his wallet wasn’t anything big, but his important family badge was also in his wallet. The scolding he had received at that time was horrific to recall. After tracking the thief, he found that it was a beggar he had passed by before on the streets. The important thing was that the beggar was only six years old.
He became a laughingstock after everyone found out that his pockets had been picked by a six-year-old child. So under the guise of wanting an attendant, he asked his father to bring the little beggar to him. But what kind of an attendant could a six-year-old possibly become? All West had wanted to do was teach the little beggar a lesson.
But contrary to his expectations, when his fifteen year old self stared down at the six-year-old child, he found that he didn’t have the heart to raise his hand. Plus, the child always addressed him with “Big Brother this” and “Big Brother that.” In the end, he even sent the child to be properly trained as a spiritmancer. Unknowingly, the child had somehow already grown to be this big.
Looking at Yehv, West couldn’t help but sigh. Then he remembered he was only thirty years old. How could he already be reminiscing about the past?
“You’re just like my father. Providing you with information isn’t anything big,” Yehv said in an appreciative voice.
“It’s ‘Big Brother!’” West almost coughed up blood when he heard the word “father.”
Yehv chuckled. “Alright, Big Brother it is—”
Yehv stopped halfway through his sentence and turned towards the tent flap. West followed and turned in the same direction. At that moment, a voice yelled out “Report” outside the tent.
West wrinkled his brow and called back, “Speak!”
“Zong Xiao, someone’s here to see you. His name is Zhan · Owen · Paladin. He says he’s your cousin.”
West was surprised and murmured, “Owen? What is he doing here?”
Owen was a spiritmancer of great physical strength and would be of great help in the war. However, West didn’t want him here. Even though Chakou was easy to guard and hard to attack, the Danyas were attacking with relentless force. Guarding Chakou would not be an easy task. Even if they did manage hold their position, the battleground would probably turn into a river of blood in the process.
The Paladin clan was already spread thin. In the previous battle, several young members of the family had already died. If it continued like this, then they would all certainly die off.
Looking at West’s expression, Yehv immediately knew what the other was thinking. He quickly said, “To be able to climb to the rank of xi jiang, help from the family is absolutely essential. Although the situation is dangerous at the moment, it is exactly this sort of situation in which soldiers can climb ranks the fastest. The more members of the family join the army, the faster they can rise in position. This will be of help to you in the future.”
“They’ll probably die faster than they can rise in rank…” West murmured to himself. Then he said out loud, “Alright, I understand. You can take your leave now. You’re the xi wei of the Central Division’s reconnaissance team. If someone sees you in the Left Division’s barracks, it’ll be troublesome for both of us. You can meet Owen after I have a talk with him and explain the situation.”
Yehv nodded and draped the long coat especially worn by scouts across his shoulders. Even more strangely, he put on a half-face mask. Disguise complete, he stepped out of the tent.
The guards standing outside weren’t surprised. They were trusted confidants especially picked out by West himself. They knew very well who the masked man was.
The Yehv without a mask was the xi wei who commanded the reconnaissance team of Racing Flame’s Central Division. He was just a little over twenty years old. Once the mask was on though, Yehv became West’s guard, a position he’d held ever since he was young. His face had been disfigured by a fire, thus he wore a mask all yearlong. He was the same age as West, a little past thirty.
West watched as Yehv left the tent. He couldn’t help but be grateful that he hadn’t made the decision to bring Yehv to the Left Division. If he hadn’t secretly sent Yehv to the Central Division, he wouldn’t be able to gather to all these top secret intelligence today. A war without secret intelligence was like a roadside without a brawl.
The tent flap was lifted once again and West turned his attention back in its direction. What he saw next made him pause in shock.
Owen walked in while holding a girl’s hand. Both of their clothes were battered and torn. The girl’s black hair was even more disorderly, the strands tangled in a gigantic mess. If it wasn’t for the fact that she was wearing a skirt, then it’d be hard to tell if she was male or female.
What kind of situation is this? West was surprised and suspicious at the same time. If it hadn’t been Owen, whom he had known since childhood, standing before him, then he certainly would’ve called the guards in to throw the two out.
“You…” West opened his mouth, but he didn’t know where to start asking his questions. He thought for a bit and decided to start with the most practical one—who was the girl standing beside Owen?
“Who is this girl?”
The question made Owen’s body stiffen. The girl also moved and hid behind Owen.
“What?” West’s eyes widened in disbelief. He then dismissed his suspicions and asked, “Did you desert the army?”
If Owen was a deserter, then West could solve it by using his position and the influence of the Paladin clan. It wouldn’t amount to much of a problem. Besides, Owen even personally came to the battlegrounds. The matter should pass if he said that Owen was worried for his safety and deserted his team to come here and cheer on the army.
Owen shook his head and was silent for a moment. He then pushed the girl hiding behind him to the front. “This is Gong Hua. She has committed a terrible crime, but it wasn’t her intention! To protect her, I took her and escaped. I ended up killing my team’s spirit charmer in the process.”
West frowned upon hearing Owen’s explanation. He killed a spirit charmer? Suddenly, West felt somewhat regretful that he had let Yehv leave earlier. If they had one more person, then they could discuss a way of solving the matter. He could even directly order Yehv to go and destroy the evidence.
On the other hand, West wasn’t too concerned about the girl called Gong Hua who had committed a terrible crime. What kind of crime could a thin and weak girl like her commit? The most she could have done was kill a person.
West’s mind was in complete chaos, but he still wanted to get a clear grasp of the situation. He asked, motioning towards Gong Hua, “Is she the girl you’ve talked about before in your letters? The one you wanted to marry?”
To be honest, West wasn’t very satisfied with the girl Owen had chosen. She looked even…dirtier and messier than Yehv had been when he was a beggar. How could a normal girl let herself become like this?
Upon hearing West’s question, Owen looked as if he had been dealt a heavy blow. His expression caved and he said in a muffled voice, “No, that girl was called Mila. She died…”
“Died?” West was alarmed, and then he noticed Owen’s face.
As the two’s attire were too shocking, West had failed to get a good look at their faces. But now he took in Owen’s sunken cheeks, his cloudy, bloodshot eyes, and the dark circles underneath. The lower half of Owen’s face was even covered with stubble.
Exactly what did he experience to become like this?
“The spirit charmer who was pursuing Gong Hua killed Mila. So I killed him.” Owen only offered a simple explanation.
West didn’t hear Owen and instead worriedly asked, “How long has it been since you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep?”
Owen stared blankly at West; he didn’t know how to answer the sudden question.
“Do you have soldiers following you?” West inquired closely.
Owen shook his head. They had traveled the whole way by vines, which were extremely fast. Even though people could recognize them as wanted criminals by the marks the vines left behind, they had no plausible way of catching up.
West felt reassured by Owen’s response. He patted his cousin’s shoulder. “Why don’t you go sleep first? Get a good night’s rest. We can discuss this afterwards.”
Owen nodded in agreement at West’s suggestion.
West glanced at Gong Hua and said, “That girl can sleep at the army personnel’s quarters.”
At West’s words, Gong Hua grabbed Owen with both hands and held on tightly. Owen shook his head and said, “It will be best that she sleeps with me.”
West was surprised and hesitatingly said, “That wouldn’t be very appropriate… She’s still a girl after all. Oh! Don’t tell me you guys have already…”
Owen was stumped and then understood what West was asking. He said unhappily, “Exactly what are you thinking? She won’t leave my side, so we can only do it like this. I will let her have the bed, while I will sleep on the ground.”
West still felt the arrangement was inappropriate but decided not to linger on such a small problem. He wasted no time and immediately called for people to bring them to an empty tent. He himself had to quickly go and survey the city walls of Chakou to determine how strong they were.
“Thanks, Ge,” Owen said.
West patted his cousin’s shoulder and responded, “Hey we’re brothers. What do you need to thank me for?”
Owen nodded and turned to leave with the soldier who was going to lead the way to their tent.
West followed Owen’s back with his eyes, and he was astonished by what he saw. In his impression, Owen had always been a man who exuded power and vigor even when he walked. Now, Owen appeared like an old man who was past his prime. His back was hunched, and he dragged his steps as he walked. The sight of his back was one belonging to a completely beaten and exhausted man.
“Exactly what did he experience?”
West was perplexed even after giving the question some thought. Even if Owen had killed someone, he shouldn’t have been reduced to such a state. As soldiers, could the amount of blood on their hands be called small?
“Owen, Mila said we have to leave this country. This place isn’t where we should—”
“Be quiet!” Owen suddenly growled out. The soldier walking ahead of them was startled. He turned his head to look back at Owen, giving the latter a strange look.
Owen managed to pull a smile and explained, “The child is being noisy. I’m just disciplining her.”
The soldier shifted his eyes to look at Gong Hua’s direction. He didn’t understand why a girl would come to this sort of place. He was even more alarmed at her wild and untidy appearance. However, he didn’t dare to question his superior’s commands. He would follow his orders to bring them to an open tent and leave afterwards.
When they reached the tent, Owen immediately sat down. He was exhausted, and the only thing he wanted to do at that moment was sleep.
“Owen, we have to leave this country,” Gong Hua timidly probed the other.
Owen’s anger boiled over and he exploded. He roared at Gong Hua, “Leave? How can we leave! I don’t have anything abroad, how would I live in another country?”
Gong Hua couldn’t understand Owen’s point. Even in Zhan Yan, he didn’t have anything. No matter where he went, all he had was Owen. It would be just the same in any other country, but only if Owen agreed to leave with him.
Gong Hua bowed his head, as if he didn’t dare to speak anymore. Seeing that, Owen couldn’t help but feel annoyed at his own irritation. He was on edge after days of being on the run. He truly had no plausible way of calming down at the moment.
“Gong Hua, you only need water to survive. I’m not the same. I need to eat, I need a place to live, and when it gets cold I need to wear thicker clothes.”
Of course, there were more reasons as to why he didn’t want to leave. In Zhan Yan, he had a family and a clan. Moreover, Zhan Yan was currently fighting a war. As a soldier, abandoning his clan and escaping to another country was unthinkable. But these weren’t things he needed to explain to Gong Hua, as she wouldn’t understand in the first place. All she did was stubbornly cling to the promise she had made to Mila.
“But Mila said we have to leave this country—”
That sentence again. Irritated, Owen waved his hand in dismissal and cut in. “Enough, go sleep on the bed. I have to sleep too. Be quiet for a bit, don’t be noisy.”
Gong Hua obediently lay down on the bed, but sleep wouldn’t come to him. For a long while, he stared blankly at the ceiling of the tent. Then, his eyes suddenly widened. A spark of fire had appeared on the ceiling!
Gong Hua didn’t know what to do. He turned his head to look at Owen, who was lying on the floor. Owen’s eyes were shut tight, and he was even snoring. He looked like he was in a very deep sleep.
Although Gong Hua wanted to warn Owen of the situation, he remembered that Owen had told him to keep quiet. Gong Hua hesitated, and then summoned vines to support the ceiling. Even if the whole tent burned down to the ground, he and Owen would remain unhurt. He then continued staring blankly into space, only this time in Owen’s direction.
It was becoming increasingly noisy outside. Perhaps Owen truly was tired, as he was still asleep and showed no signs of waking anytime soon.
Gong Hua didn’t mind. He listened to the racket outside while looking at Owen.
Hearing his name, Owen jumped up. He immediately noticed the vines that were encircling the insides of the tent. However, he wasn’t all that surprised. When they had been on the run, Gong Hua would surround the two of them in layers of vines whenever she felt the tiniest bit of danger.
Owen’s mind was hazy with sleep. He couldn’t figure out what was happening. Outside the tent, someone continued to call his name.
Owen recognized the voice and exclaimed loudly, “West-Ge?” He then turned to yell at Gong Hua, “Get rid of the vines, quickly!”
Gong Hua obediently did as he was told. He moved the vines back, but instead of sending them away, he let them rest on the ground, ready to move at any given time.
Just when Owen was about to step out, West rushed into the tent. He slammed into Owen, and the two crashed into the ground. Numerous shadows then flew into the tent, piercing the earth where they fell. They were arrows, the feathered ends still swinging from their force. If West and Owen hadn’t fallen, they’d probably have several arrows sticking out their backs.
But that was only the first wave. More arrows immediately followed the first into the tent, coming in twos and threes. Although the number of incoming arrows was small, the two men on the ground had no way of dodging them. An arrow struck Owen’s leg, eliciting a muffled grunt from the man.
“Owen!” Gong Hua screamed.
West raised his head. He had originally wanted to stand up and help; instead he was met with a sight he would never forget for the rest of his life.
The girl’s black hair waved about in a wild dance, as if it had a life of its own. Vines exploded out from the ground, lifting off the tent. The darkness was replaced with a sea of green, and then…a red that filled the skies.
“Ge, Ge!” Owen grabbed West’s shoulder and shouted desperately, “Exactly what is happening?”
Owen’s shouts jolted West out of his shock. He managed to find his voice and stammered out, “The Dan-Danyas are raiding us…”
The army had been under the impression that the Danyas were plundering around Dong Zhen for provisions. Even if they were to march over to Chakou, it would take two weeks at the minimum. Due to that, the security around Chakou wasn’t all that high. Instead, the army was focused on relocating the defeated Left Division and reinforcing the city walls. They didn’t know that it was only a pretense that the Danyas were still at Dong Zhen.
Contrary to their expectations, the Danyas didn’t attack from land. Instead, they had used ships and landed at the Linhai Marshes. Using the marshes as a shield, they secretly approached Chakou. They planned a surprise attack during the night, focusing their attack force at the back side of Chakou.
As they were under the impression that the Danyas were going for a direct frontal attack, the army had placed most of its forces at the front side of Chakou. The back side had been left particularly undefended. The forces placed at the back were mainly the crippled Left Division. The army was also in the process of reinforcing the city walls and city gate. They had been caught totally unprepared by the sneak attack. The city gate had been breached almost instantly.
With the gate breached, the entire city sank into confusion. It was complete chaos. The commanders couldn’t find the soldiers, and the soldiers couldn’t find the commanders. Everyone was mixed together in a gigantic mass, each trying to run for their lives.
If the Danyas had arrived this quickly, then it meant they had split their army into two. While one was attacking Dong Zhen, the other was already heading for Chakou! But West never heard news of the Danyas attacking by sea! Truthfully, they simply didn’t have enough information on the Danyas. Humans had always viewed them as foolish barbarians. Now though, it looked like the truly stupid and ignorant were the humans themselves!
It was over. Now, everything was over. The Danyas were fierce and swift in their attacks, appearing very well suited to warfare. They even had an advanced navy. In contrast, the people of Zhan Yan were all muddleheaded. They were completely unaware that they were facing such a powerful enemy. It all made West very discouraged. All he wanted to do was find Owen, pull him along, and escape with the other soldiers.
Now however, the girl’s black hair moved in a violent dance, the vines matching the movement. The Danyas who were as big and strong as demons suddenly didn’t seem as intimidating anymore. Shocked expressions even appeared on the Danyas’ faces, as if they had seen an evil spirit. Then, the previously invincible Danyas met their end as they were run over or sent flying by the vines.
At that moment, West came to a sudden realization.
The war had just begun.
Proofreaders: Syrra, PiKairi