Viang, capital of Lan Xang.
At the campus grounds of the National University of Lan Xang, many students stuck their heads out of their dorm rooms, staring in amazement at a rare spectacle up in the sky.
Countless crows were converging from all directions, swiftly transforming into a tide of crows. Cell phones and cameras were flashed and snapped away incessantly. Zhou Gu glanced at the sky. Then, he made a hand seal, and one of the crows that had formed from pigeons immediately vanished from the sky and appeared on his hand.
It was a messenger bird.
A split second later, he rushed back into his dorm room, locked the door after him, and vanished from the room altogether.
Boom! When he reappeared, a massive wave of fire erupted in the pitch black skies above. This was a city that was built by the river, almost akin to Eastern Wu. That said, it was clearly a replica of Eastern Wu back in its full glory and splendour. Green “Wu” flags flew majestically across the entire city, yet it almost looked as though they were shuddering in fear from the massive ghastly face that was slowly descending from the dark skies above.
His appearance was different from the rest of the Yin spirits around. It wasn’t lit with the usual green netherflames. Instead, the fire that blazed was a Ninefold Karmic Soulfire, striking red in colour, and qualitatively more fiery and fearsome than all others around. This was Fire God Zhou Yu’s true body - one that regular netherflames were unable to even get close to.
Waves of flames rippled out like a blossoming lotus flower, revealing a figure wearing a white scale armor, a flowing red cloak, and toting a longsword by his waist. The figure stepped out.
He had a striking gaze in his eyes, one that was so sharp and incisive it appeared to cut deep into the heart. His face was chiseled, and yet he exuded a peculiar sense of softness about him. Scarlet flames danced about in the depths of his eyes. He pulled on his cloak and gently waved it about, and the flames around him dissipated in an instant. Everyone, including the ten generals below, immediately knelt down respectfully, “Greetings, Grand Viceroy!”
They were standing atop a high platform, from which they had a grand vantage of the entire Tangming underworld. A golden scroll sat on a pedestal that was placed right in front of Zhou Yu.
An imperial edict!
Zhou Yu took a step forward, gently unfolded it and began to read in a deep, booming voice, “... summons all feudal officials to Hell at the end of this calendar year for the semi-centennial imperial court meeting… The summons of King Yanluo Qin are thus set out hereinabove.”
The edict was written in vermillion ink over a white backdrop. The scroll itself was golden in colour, decorated with the symbol of clouds on the outside, and even had long golden tassels hanging from it. It looked simply exquisite and austere.
Zhou Yu gently ran his fingers across the written words, before turning to look far into the distance.
He could see the Mekong River roaring in the distance, with peculiarly shaped ships anchored stably on it. These ships were blazing with incessant netherflames. The coastal area marked the start of the ostensibly prosperous Tangming underworld.
“It’s finally here…” He shut his eyes, and exclaimed with indescribably complex emotions, “After hundred long years… Hell has finally summoned us back for an imperial court meeting once more… How bold…”
“My lord…” One of the generals cupped his hands respectfully, “Are we… going?”
Zhou Yu opened his eyes and deliberated for some time, before finally gritting his teeth, “We go!”
“Virtue dictates that we must go. Besides…”
He paused and smiled faintly, “This imperial court meeting… isn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill…”
“This is the first time the twelve envoys are being summoned since the collapse of the old Hell. Without Sun Bin, Sima Yi, Zhuge Liang, Liu Bowen, Qin Qiong, and other famous generals of the past… I’d like to see what the new Hell is going to use to keep us in line!”
“It’s going to be another round of profit distribution, and this imperial court meeting might even determine how the situation in the East Continent is going to pan out. How can we pass up on such a key event like that?” A Yin spirit dressed in white walked out with a blazing gleam in the depths of his eyes, “In fact, I’d even venture so far as to say that the upcoming meeting will tell us how power is going to shift over the next hundred years or so. Wouldn’t it be far too much of a waste if we pass up on an opportunity like that?”
“So, it’s Lu Ziming…” Zhou Yu smiled and waved his hand, causing his majestic cloak to flutter about. Then, his voice resounded like thunder throughout the Tangming underworld, “All generals, hear my command.”
“The new Hell has been established in Cathay, and they have passed down an edict, summoning all feudal officials back to Hell at the end of the year. Assemble the troops, and prepare three thousand Yin soldiers that shall accompany me back to Cathay!”
“Yes!!” A unified response thundered across the entire Tangming underworld. A moment later, countless banners fluttered wildly like a surging tide, while the sky was lit up with scarlet netherflames like fireflies on a warm summer night.
A powerful nethergale swept across the skies, stirring the excitement of all Yin spirits on the ground. After a long time, one of the generals below lifted another document above his head and presented it to Zhou Yu, “Grand Viceroy, this is a form that was sent along with the imperial edict. Would you please take a look at it?”
Zhou Yu picked it up, skimmed through its contents, and then chuckled listlessly, “At a time like this… Hell must have a million things to do in preparation for the upcoming imperial court meeting, and yet the new King Yanluo of Hell is doing this… as a gesture of goodwill to us?”
“Wouldn’t these meaningless things cause Hell to appear far too weak?”
A pen appeared in his hand, “But since you’ve extended your hand to us, I’ll happily indulge you in this game of yours…”
Kantipur, capital of Licchavi, is dissected by the Bagmati river and the Bishnimati river, amongst others.
Yet nobody knew that what sat right below Kantipur, the largest city in Licchavi, wasn’t a series of Licchavian styled buildings at all. Rather, it was a dark city built in the style of the last Han Dynasty in the history of Cathay, the Ming Dynasty.
It was ostentatious and luxurious.
The palaces of the Ming Dynasty were known for their beauty and spaciousness. In fact most modern day depictions of ancient Cathayan palaces take after the Ming Dynasty architecture. Austerity and sobriety are seen everywhere, including homes, gardens and even the shrines around. The streets were bustling with endless Yin spirits, while innumerable pavilions lined with perfectly arched eaves were decorated with exquisite carvings of all sorts of auspicious beasts. Everything was flourishing - possibly more so than even that of the Hanyang underworld!
This was the Licchavi underworld.
A seven-storey wooden building was erected in the center of the Licchavi underworld, and its peak was the highest point in all of the lands. The building exuded a sense of stateliness that was only befitting of a great official of the Ming Dynasty. A pair of green Harken statues stood guard right outside the main entrance of the building, while the interiors were decorated in glorious red and yellow. This building obviously stood out from the rest with an added measure of austerity.
There was a room located at the highest point of this building, decorated with burnished braziers, vases of brilliant flowers and beautiful furniture. An elderly, scholarly Yin spirit wearing a red robe and a belt decorated with jade pieces was trembling as he stared at the small table in front of him.
He was clearly the top official around!
The white-bearded man looked thin, and his face was covered with old age spots. He stared intently at the table in front of him, where a glorious scroll representing the imperial edict lay. He read it carefully, word by word, as the netherflame in his eyes burned brightly.
“Well… well… well!” After a long time, he exclaimed thrice, and then sat back down onto his seat.
“Lord Yu.” The attendant beside him immediately brought over a cup of tea and placed it gently on the table. Lord Yu picked it up and gently ran his finger across the lid of the teacup, before abruptly responding, “Where’s the imperial envoy? Have you made the arrangements for him?”
“Yes, in accordance with my lord’s instructions. We’ve settled him into the best room available.”
Lord Yu closed his eyes and nodded gently. His voice was barely audible, and yet it was authoritative in a strange and peculiar way, “Immediately have Qiu Dehuai assemble five thousand troops. And they have to be elites! Arm them to the teeth, and be ready to march back to the capital!”
“Cap--... capital?” The attendant froze.
“What else should we call the location of the new Hell if not the capital?!” Lord Yu slammed his teacup back onto his table, spilling tea everywhere. His chest heaved and fell heavily, almost as though he were fervently suppressing the welling excitement in his heart, “It’s been a hundred years since the collapse of the old Hell… and the new Hell has finally appeared! The establishment of a whole new dynasty must mean that they’re facing a multitude of problems, both within and without. If we feudal officials don’t show up to help stabilize the situation for them, who will?!”
He leaned against the table with his pale hands, “The twelve envoys… are all full of their own ideas. By my understanding of their character, I imagine that only two or three of them would be wholeheartedly willing to stand on the side of the new establishment of Hell. The rest of them are just rebellious troublemakers!”
“My lord… please calm down.” His attendant patted him on the back gently.
“Well… don’t blame me for disregarding our longstanding relationship between feudal officials.” Lord Yu snorted coldly. His face was incomparably pale, yet the murderous intent in his voice was profound and palpable. The attendant hesitated for a moment, and then responded with great hesitation, “My lord, then… General Qiu’s troops… Would it really be a good idea to move them without a proper military edict…?”
“What do you know?!” Lord Yu waved his sleeves, “We’re doing this in order to protect the new king! What kind of military edict do we need?! I’ll bet that the number of troops gathered at the City of Salvation this time is going to be in the region of thirty thousand or more! We can’t afford to let others covet the new capital of Hell! The only trustworthy officials are myself and Yang Jiye, the Lord of Luzon. As for the others… Let’s just say that their great name and reputation would have faded away after a hundred years of silence. We would be wise not to underestimate the hearts of ghosts.”
After a long time, the attendant finally whispered, “Lord Yu, then what about the survey form that came together with the imperial edict?”
“Tomfoolery!” Lord Yu barked back with great resentment, “We’re at the cusp of a massive uprising! How can we still be in the mood to respond to such silly questionnaires?! Pass it on and let others fill it out. There’s a storm brewing over the upcoming imperial court meeting! The twelve envoys are reassembling once more… so what’s King Yanluo doing with such trivialities?!”
Meanwhile, in Boutan.
Lush grass plains sat right along the banks of the Teesta River, where large golden tents were erected. However, none of the human beings around could see these tents at all.
This was a kingdom of Yin spirits, and they looked no different from the flourishing era of the Yuan Dynasty. Countless skeletal horses mounted by Yin soldiers were seen all over the plains, while banners with symbols flew high in the sky. It was a completely different sight from some of Hell’s other vassal states.
The interior of the golden tent was completely decked out with luxurious fittings. Pearl and jade adorned the decors everywhere, while the ground was covered with plush fur rugs made out of the skins of Yin beasts. Several plaques lined with the bones of menacing-looking Yin beasts hung on the walls around the tent, while a large pit of netherflames burned brightly in the center. An arc of tables and chairs were set up around the fire, and the centre seat was occupied by a domineering general dressed in Yuan Dynasty garbs. He held a cup of wine in his hand, and he was clearly mulling over something.
After some time, he finally quipped, “Everyone… Emperor Wu of Song has personally sent me a missive. The new King Yanluo’s edict has also arrived. All of you are my trusted aides, so I’d like to hear your opinion on how you think we should respond.”
Nobody responded immediately. They were clearly gathered for an ordinary meeting, yet for some strange reason, there seemed to be an atmosphere of tension in the air.
A general finally chipped in coldly, “My lord, Emperor Wu of Song has opined that the new emperor of Hell doesn’t even look twenty years of age. Is he really… able to firmly hold the throne?”
“It’s going to be tough.” The plump general at the head of the table tightened his grip around his wine glass, “There will be some loyal fools who would definitely stand on Hell’s side, and… Hell has in all likelihood already secured the Book of Life and Death. If that’s the case… then there’s little chance of us succeeding even if we were to force our way in.”
The Book of Life and Death… The mention of this artifact caused everyone to gasp in horror.
“But this is such a good opportunity! Are we simply going to watch a newbie of less than twenty years of age become the next King Yanluo of Hell and do nothing about it?!” Another general barked back, “He’ll have to prove his worth to all of us! I’d like to see if this new king of the Han people still has the verve of the Ming emperor back in those days!”
The head honcho looked somewhat downcast. Then, seconds later, he actually crushed the wine cup in his hands with great determination, “No. We can’t do anything to them, but they likewise won’t have the ability to do anything to us either! Get in touch with the Lord of Jiaozhi, the Lord of Siam, and the Lord of Sanfotsi… Let’s see what they think of these summons!”
“It’s been a hundred years since the last assembly of the twelve envoys. There’s going to be a reshuffling in the balance of powers! I refuse to believe that nobody is moved by the prospects of what they could be!”
The rest of the generals nodded. Seconds later, one of the generals asked, “Then, my lord, what about the questionnaire that was sent over together with the imperial edict?”
“Fill it out.” The chief general waved his hands impatiently, “We’ll indulge in his antics. After all, what can a little kid of no more than twenty years’ of age know? Does he think he’s playing house? We’ll satisfy his curiosity and let him enjoy his brief moment of peace in the City of Salvation.”
3. This refers to a military general called Lu Meng who lived from 178-220. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%BC_Meng