Mu Jun Shi * was on duty the night everything went to Di Yu in a hand basket.
Mist covered the land at night, making it hard to see into the darkness. Mu Jun Shi had just made his rounds, ensuring that all his sentries were alert and ready despite the apparent peace. He had caught some of them napping while on watch and handed out the appropriate punishments.
Ah well, he thought. It is to be expected, of course. Meng Xiang hasn’t been attacked in ages. Still, it wouldn’t do to get careless, what with these blasted Heralds running around.
As if in counterpoint to his thought, a sneeze suddenly rang out, disturbing the quiet of the fog-filled night.
Mu Jun Shi half drew his sword before he realised that the sneeze had come from one of his men. He glared at the offending sentry.
“Sorry, sir,” The guard murmured sheepishly. His companion glanced nervously at him, afraid that they would both get disciplined.
Before Mu Jun Shi could berate the man, a bloody tongue suddenly protruded from the man’s mouth. Mu Jun Shi watched the blood drip onto the cobblestones of the great wall that surrounded the City of Dreams.
As the pointed appendage retreated back into the man’s mouth, Mu Jun Shi realised that it was no tongue. It was a sword from an unknown assailant!
With a cry of shock, he reached for the other guard, only to find him gurgling and spewing blood, collapsing onto his knees.
Quickly backing away, he put his back towards the inner side of the wall to prevent any enemy from sneaking up on him. Drawing his sword, he crouched in a ‘ready’ stance, preparing himself to face the two men now stalking towards him.
The first hostile’s sword darted towards him, aiming straight and fast for his throat. A part of his brain registered it was coated in blood. With grim determination, he parried, and thrust his sword, quick as a striking snake, into the chest of his opponent. As the man fell, Mu Jun Shi smiled humorously. He didn’t get to the rank of Jun Shi without superior fighting skills.
Rage clouded the other foe’s face. He snarled, lunging at Mu Jun Shi, his blade outstretched. However, he inadvertently exposed himself when doing so. Mu Jun Shi took that opportunity to drive his blade into the throat of the soldier, ending the snarl prematurely.
Bending down, he noted the insignia of a rising sun on their uniforms as he severed their heads. He growled in disgust. The Heralds were becoming way too bold.
Immediately after ensuring that the two attackers were well and truly dead, he snatched up a torch and plunged it into the stack of oiled wood. The flames and smoke produced would serve as a warning that Meng Xiang was under attack. Already, a pair of soldiers were running towards his location, hearing the brief struggle that had ensued.
“Sir! Are you all right?”
Glancing at the soldier who spoke, Mu Jun Shi noted the man’s rank of Xia Shi **.
“You are…?” He asked.
“Shu Xia Shi, Sir!”
“I have a task for you, Shu Xia Shi. Take the fastest horse in the city and ride to the capital. Ride as fast as you can, don’t stop for anything, and let the Emperor know” - his eyes flickered briefly to the fallen men - “that the Heralds have invaded Wu Dao.”
In the light cast by the flickering fire, he noticed a shadow creeping towards them. “Go!” He commanded, pushing Shu Xia Shi behind him. “With me,” he called to the other soldier, adjusting his grip on his sword.
“For Wu Dao!” the soldier yelled, charging towards the shadowy figure. A blur of movement, and the soldier stumbled back, his life blood flowing from his stomach. Firelight glinted off the wavy sword as the hooded figure stepped forward.
Their swords clashed, and close-up to his enemy, Mu Jun Shi finally recognised him.
“Shan Yu!” exclaimed Mu Jun Shi. Even if he hadn’t recognised the face of the Emperor’s former Shou Xi Jiang Jun ***, the curved sword was a dead giveaway.
“None other,” Shan Yu smirked, and punched Mu Jun Shi in the gut. As Mu Jun Shi doubled over in pain, Shan Yu stabbed him in the back.
Crouching beside the dying Jun Shi, Shan Yu murmured, “We are the Heralds of a new dawn; just as no one can stop the rising sun, none will be able to halt us.”
Withdrawing his blade, he beheaded Mu Jun Shi, just like what the Jun Shi had done to his men.
“I’ll be sure to give your regards to the Emperor,” Shan Yu said with finality, as the rest of his men swarmed up the guarded walls, conquering Meng Xiang, the City of Dreams.
1 day later
“Your Imperial Majesty! A soldier from Meng Xiang is here with an urgent dispatch!”
“Send him in,” the Emperor replied. “If it is something military, send for my brother and my son.”
It was a matter of mere moments before the Shou Xi Jiang Jun and the Crown Prince accompanied the soldier in.
The soldier sank into a deep bow. “Your Imperial Majesty, your Highness, Li Jiang Jun ****, I, Shu Xia Shi, bring you grave tidings from Meng Xiang.”
“Rise, and report, Shu Xia Shi.”
“The city of Meng Xiang has fallen to the Heralds.”
The silence in the throne room became deafening.
“Shu Xia Shi, have the servants find you food, water and a room to stay. Recuperate from your journey; you’ll have your next assignment within the hour. Li Shang, Li Tung, attend me.”
“Thank you, your Majesty!” With that, Shu Xia Shi turned and left.
The Emperor pulled out a sheaf of papers from his desk.
“Li Tung, I’m sending you to rescue Meng Xiang from Shan Yu’s hands. Take however many men you need, leave the rest to guard Wu Dao from the rest of his army.”
“Brother, our army only numbers 30,000 now. Our latest intelligence shows that Shan Yu has more than 40,000 men. We won’t be able to defeat him, especially with his knowledge of how our army works,” Li Jiang Jun pointed out.
“I know, Li Jiang Jun. That is why I am drafting up an Imperial Decree to conscript men from every Family. The other Jiang Juns shall oversee their training. There is no time to send them to the Academy for the full four years’ training. You have four months,” announced the Emperor, “I want them ready by then.”
Li Jiang Jun gave a tight nod.
“Father, what shall I do? Name it, and it shall be done,” Li Shang said.
“Ah, my son, I have something in mind. I want you to train the men from the Gifted families into a lethal contingent. Your trainers have said you’re one of the best, and have declared you ready to lead. Therefore, I hereby promote you to Jian Zhang *****, so you may effectively carry out your job.”
“The will of the father is the will of the son,” whispered Li Shang, in awe of the responsibility his father had conferred upon him.
“Now leave me. I have to draft up this decree and send my messengers out.”
With a final bow, son and uncle left the Emperor to his work.
* Jun Shi: Sergeant
** Xia Shi: Corporal
*** Shou Xi Jiang Jun: Chief General
**** Jiang Jun: General***** Jian Zhang: Captain