Translated by Tianic, edited by Grammarly
Note 0: Click here for the series page and the table of contents.
Note 1: A full list of characters and glossary is provided. Please click on the character name for their illustrations, if any.
Note 2: An editable text of this chapter is provided in case of eye cancer.
Note 3: Comments and likes are appreciated.
Note 4: The italics are prayers, feel free to skip them.
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]idnight saw thin and subtle mists hazing around the Clay City, which was an unexpected event for both armies.
Silence gathered within the loess walls. Unassigned soldiers were either sitting or lying, hoping to gain enough rest before the next battle. Days of fighting had exhausted every bit of their strength. They slept, and nothing will wake them except for a commander’s order.
Cold mist crept into a tent full of ragged holes. The change in temperature alerted a man’s body, Gardena rose from sleep.
“Is it starting?” He stood up, murmured towards outside, “Is it really inevitable?”
The moment brought him back to the night he was titled chief of the 36 Tribes.
On that night…
Raging flames burned and watchers shouting deafening roars that stuffed the great leader’s horde. Gardena dropped on his knees before the grand drums. He was ready to swear the oath to the tribe leaders.
“YOU! Are you willing to devote your whole life to the 36 Tribes?”
Excitedly, Gardena said, “I am! My entire life will be dedicated to my people!”
“YOU! Can forever forget your families, dreams, and desires, for the sake of our 36 Tribes?”
Firmly, Gardena answered, “I can! My whole life will belong to my people!”
“YOU! Will you pass on the Wanderer’s Ten Movements, and lead our people to live and thrive!”
Sincerely, Gardena replied, “I will! Since the day I was born, I was ready to inherit the Ten Movements!”
“Take a look at your families!” A shaman touched his hand on Gardena’s forehead, “Take a look at them; you shall not remember them, no more!”
Slowly, he shook, knowing he possessed no courage to confront his families at this moment.
The shaman’s hand begun to shine uncanny lights, lights that made Gardena’s head split painfully. He bit through the lips; however, he did not make a sound till the end.
When the shaman retreated, Gardena had forgotten his families, his past, along with all his memories. All that left were the needed memories as a chief leader.
Silence, all but left was the pitter-patter from the campfires.
“Bang-bangbang!” The old chief sounded the grand drum, other ten drums followed. Gardena gazed at the old chief’s moment, listened to this familiar sound.
Sunrise, Travel, Enquire, Merger, Hunt, Threat, Safeguard, Tearless, Encamp, and the last Homecoming, the old chief was skillful, his body still strong.
“O-HA!” The aged chief leveled his both hands; he hooted to stop all other giant drums.
“Take it!” Old chief widened his eyes, “GARDENA!”
He took the pair of master drumsticks, and he now possessed no additional thoughts in mind, the movements of the music scores went up from the bottom of his soul and took over his brain. Gazed by everyone, he rang the drum in front of him and led the majestic sound spread all across this land. Thousands tribe people roared by the drum sound.
“GARDENA! GARDENA! GARDENA!”
That night, he vowed to the tribes. Tomorrow, he will sound the once proud and historical Ten Movements that was altered by a stranger. It was for the sake of his tribes, but this was the sacred Ten Movements!
“I shall become a sinner of the Thirty-six Tribes. Forgive me, forgive me, my former chiefs…” The memories and thoughts moved Gardena’s body down, and he fell onto the soil. His wrinkled face was covered with tears.
Somewhere near the inner clay city wall, PUF soldiers were busy getting all the traps ready. Due to the effect of the night mist, light beams will pass over to the enemy camp. Thus they had to work in the dark. In such a moment, the soldiers’ previous training began to show gorgeous results. Under the command of their officers, these pre-war preparation were well-undergoing methodically in the silence.
As Cohen gazed calmly into the darkness, several small-sized recon squadrons he deployed were sneaking out of the city under the mist cover. These people wore AUF army uniforms, came from various races. They were all handpicked officers from the recon regiment. Most of them came from the former Nighthawk IGT squadron of the Dark City: the ‘clown’ troop under Jack’s command.
These officers’ skill was just mediocre as recon men, but Cohen had put particular attention on them to make their skill level when fishing in troubled water to an all-time high. Because they all served in the same unit, they had excellent teamwork. Cohen had hope that they would able to create plenty necessary chaos behind AUF’s back during the battle tomorrow. Their final operation outcome was entirely unpredictable. It was like spreading nails on the road: they could harm the enemies or the planner himself.
On the side of the AUF army, several senior officers have pulled their all-nighters for the coming war as well. Although AUF troops had the dominant advantage, their enemy was a tough bone. During the dozen days’ onslaught, the tiny clay city was actually successfully defended.
This afternoon had seen the last reinforcement slave army’s arrival. An order from the AUF military headquarters came in the meantime requiring strongly that the local troops must take over the clay city within the day!
As the party that won this P/A War, major commanders of each AUF regiment and the HQ had to go to the Grand Dark Temple and be granted prizes immediately. If the clay city issue remained pending for any longer, the cat would be out of the bag. Marshal Valerian has bribed all the major priests in the Grand Dark Temple with much gold. Nevertheless, the Dark Lord was not one easy to cheat with.
In fact, the Cammish internal chaos was doomed to not be concealed from the Asmodian King. But since the Dark Lord never initiated an inquiry, he must have wanted the united forces to earn their honor back. If they still failed right before the bestowing ceremony, all the senior commanders were free to commit suicide.
As the time went closer to dawn, the mist thickened. It was so thick that it has become impossible to even see a slightly further companion. Even under such a circumstance, pre-war preparations for both parties were still going on intensely. Unlike the PUF’s sneaky act, Asmodian troops were doing it on a large and spectacular scale.
Amongst the busy noises, a slave army at its full strength has entered its setting-off location. 50, 000 slaves were deployed in a single-line formation facing the clay city wall at a distance. Unlike the previous attacks, the slave soldiers were given crude weapons and armors this time.
After rigorous calculations, the AUF staff officers have pinpointed correct locations for their massive amount of siege weapons: multiple climber racks, shield vehicles for blocking arrows as well as tons of catapults. These cumbersome equipment were fresh out of the crash. Although they were crudely-made, they were indispensable. AUFs have induced great casualties due to the lack of these heavy duty equipment days earlier.
When every preparation was completed, officers and soldiers in the AUFs’ campsite started their last of the three pray sessions during the day.
As an echo of long and unbroken prayer horn sounded, all but none personnel in the AUFs regular legions, garrison troops excluded, came rushing out of their tents and to the ground outside, standing in lines according to their organizational system, facing the direction of the Hell Island.
These warriors of the Asmodian United Forces could be reckless at any points of a day, save for this moment. They were all looking solemn. No matter which empire they came from or what race they belonged to, their eyes all revealed the same godliness and reverence.
As the priests from the Asmodian Holy Temple who traveled with the army stepped in front of the formation, the 2nd blow of prayer horn followed.
Following, these well-dressed priests raised their hands. People started tidying their presence and examining their nearby companions’ tidiness. This was not a joke, if a piece of sand happened to fly into one’s eyes, he must get it out before the 3rd blow of the horn, even it meant he had to rub his eyes out.
As the 3rd prayer horn blew, all knelt.
“Leader of the dark realm, we are only able to breathe because of your benevolence and brilliance. King of the mighty kingdom, the earth shatters because of your mightiness. Your power shakes the world, your influence declares the doomsday. People hail to welcome your arrival. We have sins, we took your sympathy as our pity. Have you ever heard our humble begging from the human world? O, immortal Dark Lord, you are the source of greatness, wisdom, and holiness.”
The priests chanted the Asmodian paean with a peculiar intonation.
“It is you who granted us lives. It is you who lead our advance. It is you who fertilize the land. It is you who direct the rivers to the ocean…”
“We cannot add to your glory because we are nothing but your humble creations. Only by becoming your loyal servant dare we ask for your mercy and sacrifice our belongings. We witness your majesty, our blood will splash for you to make our coronae. We will decorate your holy palace with our humble lives…”
The praying sounds were either flat or lord. Everybody including the soldiers in the slave army followed and chanted. The prayers summed to make a giant soundwave that swirled above the camp.
As the praying in the campsite was going on, the war meeting in the commander’s pavilion continued.
“All six slave legions have been gathered. Now they’re added to the 3 primary battle legions. Less those we’ve lost during the siege earlier, our forces now totaled 300, 000. Tomorrow’s action will be an all-out attack. The strike won’t have interruptions! Now, you’re all clear about tomorrow’s arrangement.” Though his voice was gentle, lieutenant general’s voice revealed a significant killing desire, “Our enemies have suffered great losses during their days’ defend. We should be able to take them for good tomorrow.”
“Rest assured, sir!” Commander of the 27th Legion waved his fist, he said fiercely, “We’ve been waiting for this day for a long while!”
“No problem, sir.” Commander of the 28th Legion bulged his bloodshot eyes, “Yes, we also suffered a considerable loss. But since it concerns the glory of the entire alliance, we know the severity.”
“I’m glad you do.” Lieutenant General nodded in satisfaction and laid his eyes on the 26th Legion commander.
“Sir,” Although Major General Brandon was not a fan of blank words, he had to say something in order to express his standpoint, “there are tens of thousands refugees behind the enemies, how should we handle them?”
“My dear Major Brandon, I don’t see any refugees.” Lieutenant’s face muscle twisted, “In all documents, the Phantom Legion’s count should be more than 200, 000, you won’t forget that, would you?”
Major Brandon was born and raised in Wells Empire where the population was scarce. So naturally, the Welsh people treated slaves or peasants in a more generous manner than the other empires. Major Brandon, by nature, wanted to resist the lieutenant’s decision.
“Drop your nonsense, that’s an order!” Lieutenant carelessly interrupted Major Brandon, “This is the end of my order. All units must finish their preparation by sunrise.”
“Will the mist affect our operation?”
“That’s why I need you few to supervise! We can’t afford to delay. The Phantom Legion is fearsome. So tomorrow’s battle will be a long one. Now get prepared, I have to draft the victory report.”
“Yes, sir!” All 3 majors said together and exited their commander’s pavilion.
After leaving the tent, the 3 army commanders chatted while approaching their respective mount.
“Hah, you two,” Commander of the 27th Legion was certainly in a good mood, “I’ll have to say sorry in advance because, in tomorrow’s battle, I will be, again, leading the strike. The glory of the first place to ride into the clay city shall be mine!”
“Don’t jump over your head,” Commander of the 28th Legion was very upset, “I might end up rescuing you somehow…”
“Guys,” Major Brandon lowered his tone, “We all wish for tomorrow’s victory. It doesn’t matter who comes in first.”
“Yeah,” Commander of the 28th Legion jested, “How could I forget you. You certainly say that given that you’re placed the last. Am I right, mighty general?”
“Major Brandon,” Commander of the 27th Legion joked, “why do you start mourning the refugees right after the commander decided to kill them. You don’t have a relative in their crowd, do you?”
Major Brandon humphed then held up his head and turned to his legion’s quartering place.
“What a sick man.” Gazed at Major Brandon’s back view, commander of the 28th Legion spat fiercely on the ground, “What’s his attitude! Is he really a nobility?”
“Quiet… you’re ahead of him tomorrow. Be aware you’ll be killed by dark arrows.”
“Hehhe, he would certainly not. I’m worried about you.”
“That makes two of us. Come and get me…”
As for the lieutenant, he was writing the letter to Marshal Valerian. Since he worried the lack of time, he predeclared the victory in the letter. Then he wax-sealed the envelope and handed it to his most trusted guard.
“Bring this to the headquarters ASAP.” Lieutenant General told his guard.
After seeing the guard out, Lieutenant General sighed then he summoned the highest-ranked priest in the campsite.
“Your Excellency, I missed the pray time due to this meeting.” Lieutenant said devotedly, “I need to confess, please preside for me.”
“Very well.” The priest helped the Lieutenant tidied his dress, “Your Excellency, you don’t have to be sorry. You missed the time by doing effort for the warfare. I’m sure the Dark Lord will forgive you. I don’t think you’ll need to confess.”
“No, I’m the commander of the army, I must be the example.”
“Very well.” The priest stopped persuading the general. He nodded to tell the lieutenant that he can start.
“May the works of god fear you. Thunder is your sign of your majesty. You have arrived from the high sky, you laid your eyes of authority on your children. You oversee your people on this land from your majestic throne. Since it is you who created our souls, you naturally know my deeds and thoughts were deceptions and sham. I have fooled myself by abandoning wisdom and fear. No one has found my sins. My guilt has received no punishment.
“But your justice resembles the high mountains; your justices resembles the deep abyss where thousands of crimes soar.”
“Your kindness to me has made me stand firmly like standing on the ground of a mountain; but as long as you cover your face, I will feel the loss of direction. So I beg you, help me to leave the dark corner of the sins. Because you are the only one who had told me when I was in fear, “I’ve expelled and abandoned you.”
“However, once I plead for your help, here you answered me.”
“Lieutenant General, your confession is now over. But as part of a procedure, you’ll need to receive your slash punishment in the Dark Temple after the war finishes. Are you ok with it?”
“I’ll accept it.” Lieutenant General nodded.
The priest said in a soft voice, “Are you ready? It’s praying time now.”
Hence, the priest as a host, the Lieutenant started his devoted praying session for the next day.
“King of the Dark Realm, we’ve witnessed your great creations. You raise us. You’ve helped to expel the outsiders. You develop us. You’ve contributed to punish the heresies.
“It is not on our own blades and swords that we took over the enemy’s camp; it is neither on our arms and legs that we gained victories. You love those who serve you. We only achieve what we have by relying on your power and graceful presence. Your name enables us to conquer our preys.”
“We have never relied on our arrows, what saved us were not our swords or sabers. It is you who saved us from our cons. It is you who humiliate those who hate us.”
“We will always be proud to serve you, our Dark Lord. We will forever exalt your name.”
“We eulogize because you salvage us.”
“Because of you, our enemies will die when they come to attack us. We will never fear however more enemies.”
“We will look up and look down upon the hatreds. We will offer joy in his tent. O, Dark Lord, we will chant your prayer on the enemy’s’ grave.”
Cohen has assumed his commander’s position. His eyes were half-closed, and his fingers were gently stroking the fence beside him. He was calculating the approximate position of the people he deployed sneaking out of the clay city.
A while later, he opened his eyes and told one of his orderly, “Go.”
The orderly replied in a small voice then ran as fast as he can to find Gardena. He gasped and told the old man, “Commander Cohen’s order: you can start!”
At the order, Gardena, whose eyes also remained closed, abruptly opened them. He has put on his grandest garments. Even his hair was meticulously packed. The man’s eyes lit as if he was a young man at his 17s.
He strode to the master drum and compellingly took over the pair of drumsticks. Then came a prolonged silence. Other players who stood by just remained wordless and watched Gardena.
In the commanding center not far away, Cohen curled his lips, “What an obstinate old timer. Tradition is so overestimated.”
In the thick mist, Gardena took a deep breath, then the pair of sticks slid slowly on the edge of the master drum. The trifling rubbing noise sounded extra-clear in the silent, mist-filled moment right before dawn.
The hand that had stayed level in front of his chest finally went down.
“DONG!”, The heavy drum beats instantly spread all over the clay city. Although the sound was still far from clear, countless vagabonds who were still in their dreams had their bodies tensely shocked.
As the shockwaves spread like a ripple, they instantly reached the AUF camp.
An army of slaves who served as the front striking team was already in position. Its soldiers were currently sleeping in the field. But when the drum sounds came, the unordinary noise awakened the slaves. They rubbed their sleepy eyes trying to figure out where the drum sounds came from and tell the rhythm pattern. Their reactions were not that much different from that of the vagabonds in the clay city, the slaves had been refugees themselves before they were caught.
As the drum sounds became clearer, the ones who woke gazed at each other. They murmured or exclaimed like they were sleep talking. Some were slapping their own faces, some were pinching their thighs to make sure they were not dreaming. They looked at their companions in confusion because they were all doubting if their ears have gone wrong. During the moment right before the big war, someone dared to initiate a startup!
The so-called ‘startup’ was to sound the master drum three times then play the overture of an individual chapter.
The players near Gardena all observed clearly that at this very moment, 2 buds of teardrops missed out of Gardena’s eyes. Gardena’s lips trembled. He clenched his teeth then sounded the master drum again. It was as if he was still onto something unknown.
The drumbeats that came this time cleared everybody’s suspension. Someone was indeed initiating a startup! Called by the conditional reflex, many men confusedly stood up.
The third round of the drum came rather fast as if Gardena has abandoned all his traditions and focused on breaking them. The overture part of Chapter ‘Sunrise’ followed immediately.
“DONG – DONG DONG DONG! DONGDONG – DONG!”
After the startup, all other drums followed. A hundred drums sounded at the same time. The soaring drumbeats have shocked everybody inside and outside the clay city with their neat and resolute vibrant. Nothing worth mentioning has happened in the PUF camp, on the contrary, it was a general turmoil in the AUF camp!
Soldiers in the slave army have recognized the rhythm currently playing was the ‘Sunrise’ chapter from the Vagabonds’ Ten Movements. They knew the tune was aimed to alert the clansmen to pack their stuff and get ready to move. Thus the slaves all rose. They acted their terrified bodies because their hearts were already beating in accordance with the beats. Their blood also boiled by the drum sounds. It was pure instinct.
Memories called, all were looking in confusion and agony. Though no one had a clear view of what was happening in the clay city, all but none were asking the same question, “They’re my clansmen! They’re my families! They’re leaving! What… what should I do? What should I do!”
Officers of the slave armies surely had no idea of the meaning of the drumbeats. All they had in their heads were to compel the slaves! Thus they scolded loudly in the rows. Their whip lashes dropped on the slaves’ heads like it was raining cats and dogs. They forced in an attempt to let the slaves sit down! Not long after, the army supervisors joined the discipline session on their horses as well.
In the AUF camp, soldiers from the main battle legion were attempting to dress the ranks with all thumbs. These sleepy men kept running while constantly complaining about their allotted time to rest and eat. Now all were up in smokes.
“What happened!” Chief Commander of the AUF bounced off his bed and exited his tent with bare feet. He caught one of his guards. Due to the sudden tense, a most common question turned into a fearful mess that came out of his mouth. His usual graceful disposition had gone. Lieutenant General’s brain has been tensely grabbed for days. Any unforeseen events could make his head explode!
The pale guard replied, “Sir… it’s drum sound!”
“I’M NOT AN IDIOT! WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT, I’M ASKING!” Lieutenant General’s eyes were blazing. He sent out his right hand abruptly then a heavy slap made the tall and vigorous guard swirl for a few good rounds.
“So! You wanna strike back?” Lieutenant gazed fiercely at the clay city direction. A terrified, astonished and raged fire of emotion started surging in his eyes, “Cohen Kheda! COME ON! YOU BASTARD!”
“Send my order!”
“Alert the first troops to stand by! Tell the mages to release lighting spells in front of the clay city, non-stop! You must make clear the enemy’s strike scope and their exact position!”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
“Alert the 28th Legion to stand by as well! Tell them to get ready to strike back after the front troops have successfully defended the enemy’s first attack wave!”
“Tell the army supervisors of both front and rear slave troops to get into their positions! No slack!”
As Lieutenant General gave his series of orders, commanders of the three other main battle legions have hurried here.
“Sir, are we facing an imminent attack?” Commander of the 27th Legion asked in anxiety.
“We’re not clear.” Lieutenant General answered, “Perhaps the enemy merely wants to make a pretended attack, or they aim to sabotage our siege weapons!”
Sir, send me out! I’ll check them!” Commander of the 28th Legion said, “Rest assured, the enemy will not get what they want, not under my watch!”
“Good! I will have the catapults support you!” Lieutenant nodded then the 28th Legion commander left for his job immediately.
“Damn that mist!” Major Brandon barked, “It came at the worst time! Sir, our lighting magic won’t mean much work in the thick fog. We need fire and wind magic to disperse it!”
“That I know. However, the mages only have so much mana. I don’t want them wasted right before the war.”
“Sir, we have abundant soldiers here!” Commander of the 27th Legion continued, “What matters most is to protect our siege weapons. Or we might end up with none and tomorrow’s operation will be compromised!”
Lieutenant General pondered carefully. He knew it was not a good time to linger. He still had the order from the military headquarters there to be burdened on. Finally, he made his call to let the mages drive away the mist at hand by any means necessary.
“In this way, we might end up with a bit more casualties at most…” Lieutenant thought, “However, that means nothing compared with the alliance’s honor!”
What he did not know was that he just pushed himself a bit closer to the end of an abyss.
Not long after, a beam of white light flashed vaguely on the edge of the sky.
Then hundreds of magic fireballs, big or small, fired continuously from the AUFs crowd. Some mages even floated and cast a big mass of firewalls on the field between the Asmodian camp and the clay city.
A while later, the mages who were supposed to be deployed after sunrise have torn the blank space outside the city a hellish one. Countless fireballs wandered in the sky aimlessly. Blazed firewalls stampeded the field. Catapults of various sizes have been mobilized. A big pile of stones traveled through the thick mist, flew over the blank field then smashed upon the clay wall. The flying rocks mixed with a big amount of wind magic. The entire night sky was in scarlet. In it mingled with drumbeats and all kinds of other nasty sounds.
But nothing came out from the city except for more drumbeats.
“Stay alert! No slack!” A few AUF orderlies have brought Lieutenant General’s newest order to each colonel officer. Hence, both magic catapults attacks continued.
AUF officers, one hand with magic torches, the other with sharp blades, patrolled in the soldier rows while shouting encouragement to their subordinates.
“They’re nothing but a bunch of crazy and hungry stinky bugs!” The officers screamed hysterically, “They can’t even hold their stand. You’ll kill two of them with one slash! Come on, brothers! Cut their heads! A PUF head worth a silver coin! A silver coin worth 100 copper! With a piece of copper, you’ll buy 2 rye bread! Half a silver coin, you’ll find a lovely chick to spend the night with! You want more bread? You want chicks? Then bring me those bugs’ heads!”
As the officers shouted, the army supervisors raised money bugs and started to shake!”
“That’s the sound of money! Money! Money! Listen, how pleasing!” Officers jumped over in the rows like madmen, “You want that? You want that? These are all for you! Go change them with enemies’ heads!”
The soldiers picked up their ears, swallowed and listened to the desired bling-bling sounds while replying their officers with high-pitched sounds.
“Watch it, as long as those bugs show, you go out there, and fucking kill them! Then you’ll have money, something to play and eat! Everybody is a millionaire!”
The officers continued boosting morale. They had to keep on doing it as long as the enemies haven’t shown up. The words continued until the soldiers’ bodies become hot and boiling and the silver, round objects made the soldiers dizzy.
However, nothing came out of the city till the AUF officers dried their throats and the army supervisors’ arms became sour.
“It’s the enemy’s evil strategy! Stay alerted!” Orderlies brought more orders. Thus the mages and the catapults continued.
Half an hour has passed, an hour has passed, then 2 hours, then came the moment right before dawn.
AUF officers were too exhausted to yell, the mages were exhausted of their mana as well. The soldiers were still standing in neat formation. However, their much-expected passion for fighting with the enemies have been depleted.
Then suddenly, without warning, the drumbeats stopped.
In the AUF commanding center, a few senior officers were gazing at each other. They were all as bitter as hell. Nothing happened in the clay city except for the drumbeats. Now, even the beats stopped. It seemed that they were fooled for real this time.
Three majors looked at the Lieutenant General. They were waiting for his next order.
No one talked. No one had the gut to blame anyone due to they were so fooled with such an advantage.
“What does he want, this jerk!” Lieutenant General’s face stiffened, and he hailed like an abandoned woman, “He kept us waiting for the entire night!”
“Lieutenant General, what matters is what’s our next move?” Major Brandon reminded, “Our soldiers have been standing here for quite a while. And the sun will come out in any minutes. The time will not allow us to reformat.”
“No need for them to dismiss! Send my order, tell the soldiers to rest on the spot. We will strike at sunrise.” Lieutenant General closed his eyes painfully, “That drumbeat, no matter what’s Cohen Kheda’s purpose, I will not let him pass!”
It sounded as if he will let Cohen Kheda go if the drumbeats didn’t
As for the dozens of recon squadrons Cohen sent, they’ve successfully sneaked into the AUFs camp and settled while the enemies were in a general turmoil. Cohen stopped the beat of the drums because he saw his men’s signal.
“The sun is finally coming out.” Gazed at the sky, commanders of both parties said so in their heart.
“Let the mist be thicker!” Cohen thought something more.
“Catapults start attacking the wall! Rest units, fill your stomach ASAP!” In the meantime, the AUFs commander gave such an order.
This chapter was originally published on Wuxianation, any despicable reposts or copies without proper citings are strictly prohibited.