LOOG – Chapter 31

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Chapter 31: Delicacies

Many weeks earlier….

Sunan led his men back to Daolu at breakneck pace. They rested only when necessary, and were completely focused on the journey.

There was no casual chatting.

When they returned to the city, they immediately convened a council of the most trusted members of the Golden Dragon Sect. In the past, Sunan and Sun Mai had casually discussed what would be involved in defending the city against invaders. This time, they delved into it in greater detail.

Troop placements were discussed, strategies for reinforcing walls. They even considered the idea of sending men out to fight outside of the walls. One of the members of the council was a man named Sima Zikang, who had proved himself exceptionally talented when it came to matters of strategy and tactics. With his input, they soon had a masterful plan in place for how to withstand a siege.

After hours of discussion, it was Yuwen Huo who finally broached a certain subject that many of the others had been wondering about from the very beginning. “Sect Leader, why are we talking about this?”

Sunan’s face darkened. “Because of the threat to Daolu!”

Yuwen Huo and Tie Gangwen exchanged a glance.

Tie Gangwen cleared his throat. “Sect Leader…. What is this threat of which you speak…?”

“The great threat!” replied Sunan. “You know… the great threat! Isn’t it an army?”

Tie Gangwen grimaced. “Sect Leader, there are no reports of any armies. Nothing has happened since the burning of Tung-On all that time ago. They even say that the Bone General headed south to fight some invaders or something along those lines.”

Sunan and Sun Mai looked at each other very seriously.

“Assassination!” Sun Mai exclaimed. “It must be an assassination. The Magistrate Pei Bai might be a figurehead, but killing him would send the common people into chaos!”

“That must be it!” Sunan replied. Subsequently, they discussed how an assassination might be carried out, how they could defend against it, and how to unveil the assassin ahead of time. They also planned how to deal with the consequences of such an assassination, were it to be carried out effectively.

Somehow, the conversation eventually switched to the possibility of a natural disaster….

Then they talked about drought and famine….

It wasn’t until two days later that Sunan and Sun Mai finally realized they had somehow been compelled into believing something that wasn’t true.

Neither of them were the type of people who cared a lot about face; they weren’t so much embarrassed as irritated. In fact, the other disciples seemed far more embarrassed than they were.

“She must be a witch,” Sun Mai mused. “Some kind of Yen-Li cultist.”

“I don’t think so,” Sunan replied. “It was that fallen star. As soon as she touched it, something happened to her. Her eyes turned white, and her voice changed. Then, everything she said….”

“We did.”

Sunan nodded grimly. Further speculation about the matter was relatively useless. Sunan and Sun Mai determined to be on the watch for Chieftess Bao in the future, and spread word through the Golden Dragon Sect about her powers, and potential ways to defend against it.

After the ill-fated adventure south of the Chezou River, things returned to relative monotony for a period of time. Months went by during which the primary focus was training and the administration of the Golden Dragon Sect.

However, that calmness didn’t last for long.

A letter arrived for Sunan, from the south. From none other than the Demon Emperor’s Love General.

It was delivered by three Lions of Peace on horseback. They swaggered about arrogantly, and yet were careful to show a modicum of respect to Sunan.

The letter was a simple request for information regarding Sunan’s intentions regarding Daolu and the territories surrounding it, and whether or not he would “consider suggestions” provided by the Demon Emperor.

Considering that the city was officially part of the Hen-Shi Empire, and ruled by Magistrate Pei Bai, the letter was very telling.

After much deliberation regarding what to say, Sun Mai crafted a vaguely worded response that they hoped would come across as deferential and yet not a declaration of support or allegiance. The letter was taken away immediately by the Lions of Peace, who didn’t even stay in the city overnight.

A second letter came more quickly than either Sunan or Sun Mai had imagined it would, after less than a month had passed.

This letter contained more pointed questions, requests, and even a few “suggestions” regarding various aspects of Daolu law and administration.

The response to this letter was much more difficult to craft. It took a full two days before both Sunan and Sun Mai were happy with the contents, whereupon the Lions of Peace rode back south.

This time, a whole month passed by with no response. Then another. And another.

Sun Mai apparently forgot about the matter after the first month, but Sunan was very nervous. With each day that passed in which no response came, that nervousness grew. He could imagine numerous possible scenarios playing out, and none of them were any good.

According to the news that filtered across the Chezou River, a major rebellion had broken out somewhere in the south. The Bone General, the Fire General, and the majority of the Demon Emperor’s armies, had been sent to quell it. But Sunan couldn’t shake the feeling that Demon Emperor would eventually turn his gaze to the north.

The so-called Hen-Shi Empire was the only thing that existed south of the Huang Mountains and north of the Chezou River. There was simply no way that the Demon Emperor would just allow it to exist free of his rule forever. And when the time came that his armies marched north, what would happen? Sunan couldn’t imagine himself acknowledging allegiance and actually working for the Demon Emperor. And yet, he also couldn’t imagine himself leading a fight against him. A fight like that would be stupid and essentially suicidal.

But what other options could there possibly be than those two? Running? Sunan didn’t care much about face, but he certainly didn’t want to be labeled as a coward.

Like it or not, he had somehow ended up in a position of relative authority in the city, with people who looked up to him and respected him, even relied upon him. How could he possibly bring himself to simply abandon them?

He mulled over matters like this constantly as he waited for another communication from the Love General.

The response finally came on first day of the second cycle of the fourth lunar month, the Demon Moon. Although Sunan wasn’t given to extreme belief in signs and portents, the fact that the response came on that date was unnerving.

He became even more unnerved when he saw the contents of the letter.

 

To the most honorable and righteous Sect Leader Sunan:

It is my distinct pleasure to send one of my most trusted lieutenants to meet with you personally and discuss the matters which, up to this point, have been only briefly touched on in our written communications. Huang Dayang is a wise and circumspect man who is very familiar Daolu, and will surely be able to offer you the soundest of counsel.

Unfortunately, an incident occurred in Daolu some time ago that you may or may not be aware of. One of the Lions of Peace was cruelly cut down by two unnamed assailants. I was frankly shocked by such a show of barbarism and disrespect. Because of that, I have instructed Huang Dayang to camp some distance from the city and await your presence for a meeting of the minds.

Even as you read this letter, he will be waiting patiently to speak with you in person. As a show of goodwill, the bearer of this letter also brings a chest filled with various valuables and treasures, a gift for you.

Please make the arrangements necessary to meet with Lieutenant Huang as quickly as possible.

Regards,

Love General

 

Discussing the matter would help little, so he and Sun Mai quickly went about making the necessary preparations. The last thing to be settled was the clothing. For Sun Mai it wasn’t a difficult matter. He wore scholar robes of the finest silk with a jade abacus tucked into the belt.

When asked about the abacus, he explained that since they might be entering into a negotiation, it might come in handy.

When it came to Sunan’s clothing, things didn’t go as smoothly. He wasn’t fond of silk and brocade, so when Sun Mai suggested he wear voluminous robes embroidered with dragons, he refused. After much bickering, Sun Mai finally said, “How about some armor?”

“Armor? What am I, a soldier?”

“You’re a leader. Like a general!”

Sunan closed his eyes and rubbed his temple. “I’m not a general. I don’t lead an army. Come on, Sun Mai….”

“Well you can’t go naked. Quit being a child and just pick something!”

After a bit of grumbling, he finally made a decision. “Fine. Armor. I’d rather be a general than a stuffy lord.”

**

Several hours later, Sunan and Sun Mai found themselves in a strange situation. They had originally assumed that Huang Dayang would come with an entire regiment of Lions of Peace, and would attempt to cow them with threats of doom and gloom. Instead, he had only three people with him. Two were Lions of Peace. One was a woman.

They had set up a small, open-air pavilion on the plains to the east of the city, and were waiting just a few paces outside of it.

Considering that Sunan and Sun Mai had brought an escort of fifty disciples, all armed to the teeth, they couldn’t help but feel a bit silly. Stationing the men a short distance away, they approached Huang Dayang on foot, bringing Yuwen Huo and another young soldier with them as escorts.

As they neared the pavilion, the gazes of all four young men were drawn to the woman.

Sunan was convinced that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. At first, he took her to be a foreigner because of the fact that she had long, crimson hair. But her facial features were typical of Daolin women, except perfect in every aspect. She wore a long pink gown of modern fashion, expertly tailored to complement her curvaceous figure.

Sunan had a hard time tearing his eyes away from her to look at Huang Dayang. Clasping his hands in greeting, he said, “I am Sunan. Greetings, Lieutenant Huang.”

Huang Dayang clasped hands in return. “Greetings, Sect Leader Sunan. I’ve heard much spoken of your illustrious name. Please, have a seat.” He gestured to the table in the pavilion, upon which was spread various delicacies. Sunan didn’t recognize many of the food items, but one clay pot had the words “Naqani Heavenly Honey” on it, and there was a flagon labeled “Dhammi Rice Wine.” Sunan had only heard of such distant places, let alone eaten foods from there. Presumably, the other delicacies on the table were equally fantastic.

The two Lions of Peace didn’t sit at the table, so Sunan ordered Yuwen Huo and the other young disciple to wait a few paces outside of the pavilion.

After they all sat down, Huang Dayang poured some of the Dhammi Rice Wine into some drinking vessels and then passed them around. Then, he raised his own vessel and said, “If you fear poison, there is no need to drink. I won’t be offended. Please, allow me to offer a toast, Sect Leader Sunan. I wish you good health and increased power here in the north. To you!”

With that, he drank deeply, as did the woman.

Sunan didn’t hesitate to join them.

Huang Dayang smiled and nodded. “Before discussing the important matters at hand, why don’t we eat. I’ve brought many delicacies from all over Qi Xien. For example, this is cured deer meat from Heiping Valley. Over here are steamed mantis shrimps from the Yao Yun sea. And over there….”

Huang Dayang went on to introduce all of the dishes, and Sunan’s mind began to spin. Each and every one seemed to be completely fresh, whether they were fried, grilled, or even baked. Most were still steaming hot, and yet there was clearly no kitchen nearby or even any other people other than the Lions of Peace. How was so much fresh food here in the middle of the wilderness?

After finishing with the food, Huang Dayang snapped his fingers. “How could I have forgotten! Please allow me to introduce Lady Yan from Xuanlu.”

Lady Yan smiled. “Greetings, Sect Leader Sunan. Greetings, Chief Minister Sun.”

Sunan smiled in return. “Greetings, Lady Yan.”

For the following hour or so, they sampled the delicacies and chatted randomly. Both Huang Dayang and Lady Yan seemed to be expert conversationalists. Sunan was actually surprised to find that he thoroughly enjoyed interacting with them. Somehow, matters relating to the Demon Emperor were never mentioned.

At a certain point, however, Huang Dayang cleared his throat. “Very well, enough with the pleasantries. The time has come to explain why I’m here.”

Beneath the table, Sunan clenched his fists nervously.

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4 thoughts on “LOOG – Chapter 31” - NO SPOILERS and NO CURSING

  1. “finally breached a certain subject ” >> broached a subject??

    “The times has come” >> the time has come

    Thanks for the chapters.
    Looking forward to the diplomatic game.

    [Are you still looking for proofreaders?]

    1. The Daolu expansion has already been sent to the layout guy, so it’s a bit too late for proofreading on that. if you’re interested in proofreading the story, send me a message.

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