The Wukong Scrolls - The Battle Of Eden
The sound of rain slapping against mud enveloped them in a blanket of noise, even the distant roar of the great Open Sea was silenced by the perpetual torrent.
Emperor Wang stood motionless looking out over the misted valley overshadowed by the city of Eden beyond. Water droplets splashed up from his helmet and armour surrounding him with a vortex of vapour. To Wang's right stood An-Shi Liu, chief bodyguard and head of the Mu-Wukong Elite Guard. Behind them the rest of the generals on horseback sat in silence, the flapping of the banners they carried meshing with the relentless slap-slapping rain.
An-Shi Liu shifted his feet and cleared his throat gently. For a moment he wondered if his Emperor even remembered they were there, it was not unknown for Wang to pause in contemplation of a particular debate or piece of news being delivered to him by a vassal or courtier. Liu himself had seen the Emperor once pause for over half an hour between sentences, whilst the entire court of four hundred and fifty men and women waited in silence for him to continue.
Liu watched Wang's shoulders rise and fall with each inhale and exhale, for a moment it seemed as if the breath of the Great Emperor controlled the tempest that befell them.
As usual, much to Liu's secret frustration, he was slightly startled when the Emperor finally spoke.
"What do you see An-Shi?" Water streamed from the cuff of Wang's heavy ceremonial robe as he lifted his arm to point into the distance.
Liu took a half step forward so that he was almost in line with where Wang stood.
He followed the outstretched palm of the Emperor. They stood on a low hill, no more than an escarpment really. In front of them the thick cover of the Enchanted Forest lay carpeted in front of them, a patchwork of a hundred shades of green mottled with the white/pink glow of cherry blossom.
Liu narrowed his eyes as he tried to pierce the swirling mist clouds rising from the forest floor, shrouding everything but the highest trees. Eden stood barely visible high on the far side of the valley, atop a hill a good three days hard riding away. The sky graded from the dark grey above them to milky white by the far edge of the forest. A single shaft of distant sunlight drilled down out of the clouds only to be scattered by water vapour, showering Eden in white-golden light.
Liu agreed with the old legends, to see it, was to understand its magic.
"My Emperor I see hope."
Wang turned to Liu, his face full of smile as he spoke.
"An-Shi my loyal friend, I think perhaps you have been around me too long. My optimism is at last threatening to infect you."
"Sir I -" Liu's cheeks warmed as he looked back over towards Eden.
"Of course I am only playing with you An-Shi, I am sure your sharpness has not been dulled by my willful optimism. Your wit, and indeed your paranoid distrusting disposition has saved my life on many occasion."
Liu let his head drop slightly. The Emperor continued.
"It is indeed hope my friend. We have travelled a long way, we have navigated the treacherous Open Sea with its jagged rocks and devious pirates and now it seems at last we shall have safe haven within the city walls Eden."
"But Sir, the Monkey King moves against us. At risk of speaking out of turn my Emperor we should strike now. War is inevitable it cannot be avoided."
"Yes An-Shi, I too have studied the wisdom of the ancients."
An-Shi let his head drop further. He looked down at his feet, sunken into the soft mud. The rain abated back to a soft drizzle, in its place a cold steel wind wriggled its way inside the gaps into Liu's armour and underneath the folds of his clothes insisting on gifting him its icy embrace, wanted or not.
"Forgive my impertinence My Lord. My spies tell me that the Monkey King is ready to show his hand. If he attacks us here in the swamplands, "Liu turned to gesture past the horsebacked generals down the other side of the hill to their camp.
"we are at a severe disadvantage."
"Don't worry An-Shi, the Monkey King will not attack yet. You and I both have our spies, and that is good because they have separate skills allowing them to acquire varied information." The Emperor paused again breathing deeply.
The scent of freshly fallen forest blossom carried its way to the two men as Wang continued.
"The Monkey King has petitioned Grand Emperor Yin to deny us entry to Eden and the Emperor has agreed."
"What!?" Liu's heels squelched and slipped as he spun to face Wang.
"We cannot stand for this My Lord!"
"Calm An-Shi, plans are in motion. Do not worry, the Monkey King will not get his way, The Kingdom will not thwart the progress of the Wukong Clan. This is my promise to you An-Shi Liu."
The sound of the generals' impatient horses caused Liu to turn. The five of them still sat unmoving on their mounts, unblinking gazes fixed on Emperor's rigid back.
Wang continued. "An-Shi you are my most loyal, which is why I'm entrusting you to retrieve the scroll in which the Monkey King admits to trying to block the path of the Wukong Clan."
Liu's eyes widened before replying, "Sire, I cannot leave your side, these are treacherous times."
"You must An-Shi!"
The change in the Emperor's voice startled Liu. Wang continued.
"You must go to the Sun Wukong and meet with the Bored King, he and only he has the proof of the Monkey King's treachery. I must have that evidence before I go before Emperor Yin. Once he is aware that I'm in possession of the scroll, he will acquiesce to our needs."
"You are sure my Lord?"
"Yes An-Shi Liu, I am sure. Now go."
The Supreme Commander of the City of Eden, Zhuoxin Yin sat in the upper atrium of the fifth Secret Garden in the Crystal Palace. A row of high arches lining one side of the long rectangular hall were lit by green tinged sunlight dappled through the stained windows.
In places where the sun came directly through the windows, it reflected brightly off the white and gold stained marble floor, briefly washing away the dancing shadows playing on the dark brown-gold ceiling.
At the far end sat a messenger whose name Yin had not consigned to memory. Probably just as well, the man had brought him bad news. Yin glared at him, even at this great distance he could see the sweat that had formed on the man's brow. The messenger was doing his best look-at-me-I'm-ignoring-you pose.
Yin had already received advanced information as to what had transpired, but he had to hear it from the source. He gestured the man forward.
"My Lord!" The man flung himself to his hands and knees into a bow so deep his head hit the floor with an audible thunk.
"Tell me of the news." Yin said.
"Sire Xu Shuzheng, the Bored King has betrayed the Monkey King and by doing so has exposed you my Lord."
Yin's eyes narrowed as he stared at the back of the man's head, he had delivered the news still prostrated in his ridiculous bow.
"What form has this betrayal taken?" Yin asked.
"The Bored King asked for assurances that his army would be safe from attack once the Wukong entered Eden. The Monkey King sent assurance in the form of a sealed scroll telling of the pact between yourself and he, that you shall not allow the Wukong into Eden." The man replied.
"I see." Yin replied.
The Supreme Commander sat back, his eyes glazed over as a distant sound of children playing by the fountains below wafted gently through the hall. The messenger cleared his throat snapping Yin out of his moments reverie.
"There is more my Lord."
Yin felt a sudden irritation for the man. "Go on."
"There is word that An-Shi Liu is riding to retrieve the scroll from the Bored King."
Yin silently cursed the Monkey King, he had put him in an incredibly difficult position. On the one hand the Kingdom had become a major force within Eden and Yin could not afford to lose them as either patrons or allies.
On the other hand the Wukong Clan had gained much influence in the short time their arrival into the city had been announced and in an ideal world Yin would happily play both sides, yet that blasted Monkey King knew this and decided to force Yin's hand. It was now obvious to Yin that the Bored King had affiliated himself with the Kingdom in order to infiltrate and help the Wukong.
Yin had not spoken to Wang since he had done his deal with the Monkey King. The Baby Wukong would be at the city gates in three days, if Wang held proof of Yin's duplicity the resulting loss of face would almost definitely lead to a war between Eden and the Baby Wukong Clan.
Yin stroked his beardless chin as he stared back down at the messenger still on his hands and knees. The man was beginning to tremble with the stress of holding the position.
An-Shi Liu found himself in a small tavern in the city of Xeng. He was beginning to regret his choice of seating, he had taken this spot because it afforded him a perfect view of both exits. Whilst with his back to the wall he was safe from surprise attack.
The problem was the spot was also the perfect place to catch the full smell of the latrines outside as it blew into his face anytime the far door opened. This mixed with the overwhelming smell of strong ale began to turn his usually steel stomach to jelly.
He watched as one of the waitresses weaved her way through the maze of tables, expertly balancing a tray of drinks in one hand and a plate of food in the other. Her passage was made all the harder by the tiny gaps left by the patrons sitting almost back-to-back. She nodded in answer as various patrons tried to get her attention, though how she heard anything over the noise was remarkable to Liu.
The place was a port bar and as such there were many travellers, merchants, thieves along with every delight and misdemeanour Xeng offered. Liu could tell the difference between those who had just arrived and others whom had been here perhaps a little too long.
Liu watched the waitress shimmy sideways between two tables and spin half round and lift one tray higher in order to avoid a customer suddenly rising from his seat. The man was totally unaware how close he had just come to being showered in cold beer. The waitress made a face as she reached her destination and set both trays down. The men and women at the table barely acknowledged her as they grabbed for their drinks and food.
On the table behind them Liu noticed two men, they were dressed like him in traditional light armour, though they carried no flag and wore no crest of affiliation.
Two untouched drinks sat on the small table in front of them, Liu took a sip of his own drink as he watched them from the corner of his eye.
Liu was distracted by another foul smelling blast rushing through the sudden opened door. A man in the orange and purple finery of the Sun Wukong stood at the door, scanning the room.
Liu started to rise to greet his contact, he noticed one of the men from the corner stand, he held something in his hand shielded by a black cloak, his associate stayed coiled in his seat.
Liu started to shout to the man but his voice was lost in the hundred shouted conversations going on around him. The nobleman saw him and waved. Liu crashed straight over a small table, sending drinks and food over angry customers who had already started cursing his name.
As he went for his sword Liu felt someone tug at his right arm, preventing him from grabbing the hilt. He swung round to face a large round-faced man, his upper half was completely soaking and his beard was covered in some kind of yellow foodstuff.
Liu half spun and used his free hand to push the man hard in the chest. He twisted back to look at the nobleman in the doorway, he was frowning now, Liu turned to his left and saw that the man with the cloak now had a crossbow levelled at the nobleman's head.
Liu drew his sword and took another giant stride over a table. People in the immediate vicinity quickly realised there was a shouting madman waving a sword about. Some crashed into each other trying to get out of the way, others screamed.
The panic set off a chain reaction of people diving to the floor and scrambling out of his way. Liu could see the man in the corner had a clear shot now, and that he would not make it to him in time. The nobleman had realised that something was wrong, but by now his path back out of the bar was blocked by panicking customers trying to flee the scene.
Liu changed his angle of attack to face the men and thrust his arm towards the one with the crossbow with all his might. Just before the end of his strike he let go of the sword, it cut through twenty feet of air before landing with a thunk into the neck of the man.
His comrade had drawn a short sword and charged towards Liu. Without breaking stride Liu picked up a metal tankard from a table and flung it at the mans face as he dived for his midriff.
The tankard put his attacker off enough to allow Liu's dive to reach him. The two of them went tumbling onto the floor amongst the upturned furniture and general chaos. Liu drew his own short sword and brought it swiftly up towards the man's neck.
Before Liu could say anything a wet crunching sound followed by a short scream announced his attacker's death. Liu looked up to see the man with a crossbow, bleeding heavily from his neck had fired at them. It was unsure whether he meant to hit him or stop his comrade from talking, it didn't matter though as they were both dead.
Liu walked over to retrieve his sword, he turned to the door and spotted the orange robes of the nobleman on the floor. Liu had been too late, the assassin managed to fire his bolt before Liu's sword had hit him.
The man's dead eyes stared up to the ceiling, Liu put his ear to the man's mouth, but there was to be no dramatic message, he was well and truly dead.
To be continued...