// Chapter 3 : Ardor
27 May 2019

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Fires crackled. The wind blew loudly.

Ashes and smoke filled the air so thick it was nearly impossible to see anything except the debris that remained. Thousands of bodies, in either bright red or purple armor and still damp with fresh blood, laid all across the stone fort that looked over the city-state of Yaoguang.

The only remaining city, Yaoguang’s capital, has become incredibly desolate. Not even a shadow can be seen. What used to be a small, but lively and prosperous state has become unfathomably melancholy and gloom.

Beneath the steps of the fort, a pair of small feet wearing red shoes appeared. The slender figure slowly stepped over the bodies of dead soldiers, avoiding any blood or rubble that obstructed its path, and made its way up the fort.

Murong Li (慕容离, 22), Prince of Yaoguang, with features as soft as a feather, glimpsed at the fallen Yaoguang flag that laid on the cold ground as he reached the top. His features are small and delicate, his lips a pale red. Two long strands of hair hung over the sides of his cheeks. There was something ethereal about Murong Li. Every footstep was graceful. He was as beautiful as a fairy who just descended to the mortal realm.

Murong Li took a seat at the top of the fort and looked down at the thousands of fallen soldiers in the city of ruins. He laid out a set of small cups made of gold, poured himself some wine from a wine vessel, and took a sip.

He poured another cup after the first one was emptied. This time, he dribbled the wine on the ground.

Murong Li stared at the distance for a while, not saying a word or moving a finger. He felt as if he was the only person in existence at this moment. He then continued to hastily gulp down several more cups of wine until he finally decided to throw the cup aside, grab the vessel, and lift it up above his face to let the wine pour directly into his mouth.

“Murong Li, that is enough!” yelled a voice approaching him.

Murong Li stopped and put the vessel down, “You’re here.” His voice was low and brittle.

He poured some wine into another cup, stood up, and offered it to the person who now stood beside him, “Here, drink with me.”

The person slapped his hand, causing Murong Li to drop the cup. The wine spilled on the ground. “Murong Li, wake up!”

Cai Xu (蔡煦, 24), son of a Yaoguang nobleman, grabbed Murong Li’s shoulders to turn and face him. Cai Xu was a person of average looks who appeared frail and sickly. Currently, he looked he only had half his life left. His face was sickeningly pale.

“A’Xu*, just let me be,” said Murong Li. (A/N 1)

“What are you doing here?! Tianxuan’s army is on the hunt for you right now! You appearing in the open like this is seeking suicide! Are you crazy?!” cried Cai Xu.

Murong Li drooped his head, “My country* is destroyed. My father and everyone is all gone. What meaning is there left for me to remain in this world?” (A/N 2)

“Silly person. I am still here, aren’t I? Although we have not bowed to the heavens and earth, I already see you as my wife. I will not let anything happen to you,” Cai Xu assured.

“The day you were going to ask Royal Father for my hand-in-marriage, he received a declaration of war from Tianxuan’s king. Don’t you think this is heaven playing with us?” Murong Li glumly replied.

“No. A’Li, this is not the end. You have to believe me. Take a look at this.” Cai Xu took out a small embroidered box from his sleeves and opened it to reveal an intricately-carved jade seal, a royal stamp used by the king to validate relics and sacred documents.

“The Yaoguang Royal Seal?” Murong Li asked in surprise. “How did you manage to retrieve it? I thought it was lost forever when Tianxuan’s men invaded the Imperial Palace.”

“Don’t worry about that. The most important item is back in your hands. What matters most now is to gather forces and restore Yaoguang back to its glory days. A’Li, there is hope. This is not the end of Yaoguang.” Cai Xu’s voice was full of hope and zeal.

After looking at the seal for a while, Murong Li suddenly noticed the sleeve on Cai Xu’s right arm was slowly dampening with red. He immediately grabbed his arm and pushed up the sleeve to reveal a deep cut that was bleeding.

Murong Li cried out, “How did you get hurt?!”

Cai Xu shook his head, “It’s nothing. A’Li, listen to me. You’re the only surviving heir to Yaoguang’s royal family. You must restore the kingdom. All we need is patience. Patience and time.”

“Cai Xu, answer me right now! How did you get hurt?! Is it because you went to retrieve this seal?!”

Cai Xu sighed and knew that Murong Li would not give up until he gave a definite answer, “I am so useless. Just retrieving the Royal Seal and I managed to almost get caught. This weak body can’t do anything right. Don’t worry, it is just a surface wound.”

“Surface wound?! This obviously is a sword slash!”

“But the seal-”

Murong Li knocked the seal from Cai Xu’s hands and it fell onto the ground. “Do you not understand? Look around us! So much blood has been shed. I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t want to see more people lose their lives. I’m so tired… I really am…” Murong Li’s voice became brittle as he sounded more and more dejected.

Cai Xu grabbed Murong Li and pulled him into a tight hug. “I know this is hard on you, but for every citizen of Yaoguang, for His Majesty, for me, you must hang on.”

Murong Li felt like his world was tumbling down. After living in fear and hiding for so many days, his body felt physically weak. His mind was in scrambles.

Cai Xu’s embrace provided him a moment of tranquility. With his chin resting on Cai Xu’s shoulders, Murong Li began to recall the happy memories he had before the war began.

Living in affluence and peace his entire life as the young prince of Yaoguang, Murong Li rarely experienced a day of hardship. His family spoiled him. He was going to be the heir to the throne, the person that all the citizens of Yaoguang honored and depended on. His longed-for marriage with Cai Xu was about to initiate.

But in one day, the state of Tianxuan has caused him to lose both country and family. He lost everything he loved and cherished. After what seemed like an eternity, a thought crossed his mind.

“I promise you,” Murong Li muffled, his chin still on Cai Xu’s shoulders.

Upon hearing those words, Cai Xu pulled out of the hug and looked at Murong Li.

“You are right. As the heir of Yaoguang, I have the duty to protect my people. If I give up, then how will I face my ancestors and all the citizens of Yaoguang?” Murong Li said softly.

Cai Xu smiled. “Hearing those words of yours have made me very relieved.”

“A’Xu, I only have you now. Let’s restore Yaoguang together.”

As Cai Xu lifted his hand to caress Murong Li’s cheeks, loud chants and sounds of galloping horses broke the silence.

“Remaining occupants of the capital, reveal yourselves now and surrender to the glory of our great King of Tianxuan and we will spare your lives, or else, do not blame us for being cruel!”

Murong Li and Cai Xu quickly scurried over to hide behind the columns of the fort. They peeked down to see hundreds of soldiers on their horses being lead by an intimidating man in armor. It was the voice of General Sheng leading an army of soldiers behind him. Purple flags raised proudly in the wind.

“They’ve returned. There’s no place else to hide. Sooner or later, they’ll know I’m here. I’m afraid if I don’t show myself they’ll start hurting innocent civilians. They will not quit until they kill off every member of the royal family. They want to see me dead,” whispered Murong Li, distressfully.

“A’Li, remember my words, ” Cai Xu grasped Murong Li’s hands and held them tightly. “You must persevere. You must seek revenge. You must restore the kingdom and carry out your destiny as the King of Yaoguang. Do not forget your reason to stay alive.”

“I–” Murong Li was suddenly knocked unconscious in the back of the head with a heavy object–the Yaoguang Royal Seal.

Murong Li fell back and Cai Xu caught him in his bosom.

Cai Xu began taking off the outer layers of Murong Li’s clothes, removing his royal red robe. He then took off the gray robes that he was wearing and wrapped it around Murong Li. He quickly put the red robes on himself along with Murong Li’s crown and placed it on his own head.

After Cai Xu finished exchanging the two’s outer garments, he lifted Murong Li up to carry him in his two arms. From behind the column, a masked man, dressed completely in black, appeared. Cai Xu carefully handed the unconscious Murong Li to the man, picked up the jade seal to put it back in its box, and instructed, “Take A’Li out of here. Go past the western border of Yaoguang. There should be some people waiting to assist you. Ensure A’Li leaves here safely.”

“Master…” uttered the masked man.

Before he could finish, Cai Xu shoved the box containing the Royal Seal into the man’s empty hand and exclaimed, “Hurry! There’s no time. Take good care of A’Li for me.”

The masked man nodded in hesitation, and within seconds, has disappeared behind the walls of the fort, carrying Murong Li and the Royal Seal.

Cai Xu pulled out a dagger from his inner garments.

Slash. Slash.

Cai Xu made several cuts on his face with the dagger.

Slash.

He made several more deep cuts. His forehead, cheeks, and chin were dripping with blood.

“Prince of Yaoguang! We know you are here! Reveal yourself now and we will escort you back to Tianxuan alive!” shouted General Sheng from below. “I will count to three. If you don’t reveal yourself, then I might just have to let my men go up there! By then, I can’t guarantee your safety! Three…! Two…! On–”

Thud!

A body fell from the top of the fort and landed face-down on the cold concrete right in front of the hundreds of soldiers waiting below. Upon a closer look, the person was dressed in a brilliant red robe, a crown on his head. Blood was oozing out from the broken skull; the face so disfigured it was unrecognizable.

End of Chapter 3

⚔️——————————⚔️

*A/N 1: Adding the prefix A’, pronounced ah, before a person’s name is considered an informal and endearing way to address someone that you are close to.

**A/N 2: Country and kingdom interchangeable words. Characters will refer to whatever they are home to their country/kingdom. The four vassal states (including Tianxuan) are territories under the Juntian Empire. Only Juntian is referred to as an Empire. Yaoguang is a city-state, about 1/3 the size of a vassal state that borders Tianxuan, also under Juntian’s rule. Vassal states and Yaoguang are governed by individual kings, Juntian is ruled by an Emperor. More details on this later.

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See you in chapter 4.

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