Early in the morning before the moon hid away but as the sun rose up from the horizon, a soldier dressed from head to toe in black armor that gleamed under the light of the sun rode his trusty steed deep into the forest near the Azure Tower. With a golden scroll tucked tightly in his robes, the soldier rode day and night to complete his objective.
“Jiao Fu, all you have to do is deliver this scroll and then return back to camp.” The soldier repeatedly said in his mind as his steed sped through the forest, galloping over unkept roads and grassy patches of earth.
Generally being a messenger was one step higher than a regular soldier, however during times of war when messages were sent to enemy lords and commanders, a messenger’s job was a dangerous one. If the receiver of the message was in a bad mood then the massager’s life would be forfeit if the receiver of the message did not like what was in the message then the messenger’s life would also be forfeit.
So the messenger named Jiao Fu, headed toward the Azure Tower all he could hope for was for the lord of the Azure Rain Province to be an understanding person and not a temper driven brute.
“Halt!” A voice rang into the Jiao Fu’s ear as a group of riders clad in azure colored armor rode out from within the woods.
With a hard tug on his horse’s reigns, the messenger came to a sudden halt as he was surrounded by four riders from the Azure Rain Army.
“I’ve come with orders from his highness, Prince Zhang of the Aurora Kingdom to deliver a message to the lord of the Azure Rain Province.” Jiao Fu said in a loud audible voice since the last thing he wanted was for the enemy soldiers to mishear what he said and possibly attack him.
“Lord Tian Lan has personally ordered for us to escort you back to the Azure Tower.” One of the four soldiers of the Azure Rain Army said as they gestured Jiao Fu to follow them.
After traveling roughly, a day lone and half a day following behind the four soldiers of Azure Rain Army, and once he rode out of the forest, Jiao Fu found himself in front of a massive fortress built around the base of what looked to be an ancient dormant volcano. Thousands of buildings lined the mountain while a magnificent azure colored tower rose out from the crater at the peak of the mountain and pierced into the skies.
“To think such a large fortress was here…” Jiao Fu thought as he gazed at the fortress that was practically hidden away thanks to the surrounding mountains and dense forest canopy.
Once he passed through a small side gate that was cut into the fortress’s solid stone walls, Jiao Fu saw many dozens of rice paddies and countless people tending to them. Cattle and other domestic animals could be seen in makeshift pens while patrolling soldiers were constantly keeping an eye out on their surroundings.
“With so many rice paddies and animals, they could survive in here for decades without a problem, no matter the number of mouths they had to feed.” Jiao Fu thought.
From what Jiao Fu could see, Zhang’s decision to erect the five forts at the choke points that were the only exits out from the mountain range was a good one because if they were to march into the mountain range, sieging this massive fort would be a large issue even with nine hundred thousand soldiers.
With the forest and mountains acting as natural barriers, there would be no way to move in siege weapons or quickly assemble large units of soldiers in one area. Enemy ambushes along the way would have caused a significant decrease in the number of Aurora’s soldiers while the solid walls and lack of siege weapons would have prevented them from quickly breaching the fortress.
“Follow us.” Jiao Fu’s escorts said as they noticed him eye the fort’s defenses and the various facilities within it.
Although a messenger’s primary job is to deliver messages, their secondary job was also to act as scouts since they were able to infiltrate deep into enemy territory. A good messenger would be able to scout out and memorize the layout of the enemy’s base of operations while gaining a good grasp on the personality of the enemy’s leader.
As he was led through the fortress and up the mountain toward the Azure Tower, Jiao Fu began to notice the countless gazes concentrate on him. Looking around he saw hundreds of not thousands of common folk watching, some had curious expressions on their faces, others seemed fearful, a few show looks of disdain and hatred.
“Maybe I should have taken off my armor and wore regular clothes before entering the fort… Let’s hope I’m not done in by these people before I can even deliver this scroll…” Jiao Fu thought as the crowd around him continued to increase. Once the common folk saw his gleaming black armor they were drawn to it as insects were drawn to a fire at night.
“Aurora scum! Leave our lands!” A few of the people yelled angrily.
At first, Jiao Fu was assaulted by words but this quickly escalated into small stones which eventually turned to fist sized rocks.
Luckily for him, Jiao Fu was fulling donning armor while equipped with a large steel shield that managed to repel most of the things thrown at him.
“Stop! Do you not know that harming a messenger is an act of war!?” One of the escorts sent by Lord Tian Lan yelled as he tried to disperse the crowd that was attacking Jiao Fu.
Since they did not know what their lord hoping to accomplish, the soldiers of the Azure Rain Army didn’t dare to allow Jiao Fu to be injured because if Jiao Fu isn’t killed after delivering his message then depending on what he reports when he returns to master, then an unwanted outcome could occur.
Before thanks got even more out of hand, a group consisting of a dozen or so soldiers in azure armor marched in and formed a safety perimeter around Jiao Fu.
“Thank goodness…” Jiao Fu said with a sigh as the commoners were pushed back and he was allowed to continue his journey toward the Azure Tower.
Once the crowd was forced to disperse and after Jiao Fu managed to ride to the top of the crater located onto of the mountain, he saw countless tents littering the inside of the blown out crater around the Azure Tower.
Luckily for Jiao Fu, Lord Tian Lan was waiting on the first floor of the Azure Tower and he did not have to walk all the way up the many thousands of steps within the tower.
“My lord, Prince Zhang, sends greetings to you Lord Tian Lan.” Jiao Fu said as he kneeled on one knee.
“No need for small talk or formalities and just deliver your message.” Lord Tian Lan said coldly.
“I, Zhou Zhang, sends greetings to the lord of the Azure Rain Province.” Jiao Fu said after he pulled out the golden scroll tucked in his robes and began to read it.
“I humbly ask for your surrender because blood not spilled are lives not lost. If you surrender, then you are free to govern your lands like before and not much will change at all. But most importantly is no one has to die and no blood has to stain your sacred tower.” Jiao Fu continued to read.
Since trying to appear polite would only make him seem weak and indecisive, and since trying to appear aggressive would only make him seem like a brute, Zhang tried to limit his words as much as possible.
“Return to your prince and tell him I’ll agree to surrender if and only if he grants me a plot of land four times the size of the Azure Rain Province, along with a few other things listed in this scroll. I also want for him to personally come and give me the good news or blood will have to be spilled.” Lord Tian Lan said as he tossed a blue colored scroll that he had prepared beforehand toward Jiao Fu.
“I shall deliver this to highness as soon as possible.” Jiao Fu said with a bow.
“No, stay for the night. I’ll have some men escort you back tomorrow.” Lord Tian Lan said.
While Jiao Fu was staying the night at the Azure Tower, the construction of the five forts was coming along splendidly. The trenches that would wrap around the exterior walls of the forts were expanded and now equipped with wooden spikes. So although no walls were up yet even if the forces of the Azure Rain Army were to decide to attack they would find themselves unable to due to the trenches.
Although they were not given meat to feast on like the previous day, the morale of Zhang’s soldiers was currently as high as they could be because they had yet to encounter enemies and no fighting had occurred yet.
However, peace does not often last very long because the following night, Jiao Fu who was escorted by the soldiers of the Azure Rain Army returned to camp.
“My lord, the enemy lord told me to give you this scroll that contains his terms for surrender.” Jiao Fu said politely as he presented the blue colored scroll to Zhang.
After getting the scroll from Jiao Fu, Zhang broke its wax seal and began to unroll the scroll to read its contents.
“Dear Prince of Aurora,
My terms for surrender are simple but they all must be accepted or it’ll be like none of them were accepted, my first condition is the safety of my people must be ensure and no harm must come to them. My second condition is that you must ensure that after my surrender, you’ll shield my people and me from the retribution that will come from the Southern Alliance. The third condition for my surrender is that you must aid us in the reconstruction of the province. My fourth condition is that you must….” Zhang read the scroll half way before laughing and tossing it onto a desk not too far from him.
“Darling what’s so funny?” Lingqi asked as she walked over and picked up the scroll and began reading.
“Hmmm, their safety can be ensured, the Southern Alliance can be dealt with, the province can be reconstructed although they were the ones who destroyed it to begin with…” Lingqi said as she read the scroll, however as she reached Lord Tian Lan’s fourth condition she stopped talking and tossed the scroll on the desk.
“Absolutely not! Absolutely now!” Lingqi said angrily with furrowed brows.
“Let me have a look…” Yuying said after she saw Lingqi’s reaction.
“What’s the fourth condition, sis?” Ai asked, curious as to why Zhang and Lingqi reacted so differently.
“My fourth condition is that you must… divorce your wives and marry one of my daughters in exchange for the province…” Yuying read before she tore the scroll into two and tossed it into a small open flame furnace.
“That fox… If we all got divorced and honey had to marry one of his daughters, then wouldn’t all of the lands under Aurora’s control eventually fall into the hands of his grandchild?” Ling said in a surprisingly calm tone.
“What are you laughing about mister?” Ai said as she pinched Zhang’s arm.
Since Zhang did not currently have any children with the four beauties, if he were to divorce them and marry one of Jian Fan’s daughters then his if they have a child then in the future all of the lands of Aurora would fall into that child’s control, thus inevitably falling into the hands of Jian Fan’s descendant.
“He even said that we must accept all of his conditions or else he won’t surrender… Maybe I’ll show him not to get on my bad side…” Lingqi said angrily.
“How about a fake divorce?” Zhang said with a laugh.
“No!” All of the beauties replied in unison with burning flames lit in their eyes.
“Well since a real divorce is out of the question and a fake divorce won’t work, I guess all there is left to do is finish building those forts and prepare for blood to be spilled.” Zhang said with a smile.
Thus, Lord Tian Lan earned the scorn of the three beauties as they each began to concoct various methods to invoke their wrath on him.
“It seems someone wants me to turn them into a tree…” Lingqi mumbled as she recalled a certain trio who were turned into living trees.
“Uncle Si Ren will help me send someone to the last floor, won’t he?” Yuying mumbled as she recalled a certain inverted tower that expanded deep underground and a certain uncle who is renowned for guiding people who have nowhere to go.
After not hearing a reply from Zhang, Tian Lan took the initiative to send his own messenger, however unlike Jiao Fu, this messenger wasn’t so well received.
Had it not been for Zhang’s intervention, Lingqi’s poison would have mysteriously made it into a bowl of soup that was offered to this messenger. Or a random ray of light accidentally turning the messenger to ashes.
For the most part, Tian Lan’s messenger tried to relay to Zhang that Tian Lan was awaiting his answer to the conditions. To which Zhang replied by trying to change some of the conditions to something else. Instead of the fourth condition, he offered to give Tian Lan a piece of land that is four times larger than the Azure Rain Province.
As the days went on and messengers were sent back and forth, Zhang felt extremely irritated at Tian Lan’s stubbornness in regards to the four conditions that were set.
But as the five forts neared competition things began to matter less because once the forts were done, Zhang would be able to keep the Azure Rain Army in check and move forward with his invasion of the Southern Region.