Angela Wu | Art by Natalie Yang
The air was on fire.
Boom. A giant steel boulder burning with flames arched in the sky and crashed into the great stone wall guarding the capital city. Debris and fire exploded as a soldier below–Lan–dropped to the ground, hands clamped over his ears. Arrows punctured the earth inches from him as he inched away from the thick of the fighting.
Just then, a terrible scream shook the ground as hooves thundered and a horse shrieked. For a moment, it seemed like the arrows ceased and the spears dropped mid–air. There was only one being in the world whose voice shook the earth and sword scared the skies. And that person was…
“Soldiers, forward! Any betrayers will be killed! Forward!” That person was the General, the Great Blood Dragon of the East, the soon–to–be Emperor. Panting, Lan stopped in his tracks and scanned the battlefield for his infamous majestic black horse, Thunder. There!
Chest out and squarely facing the tall wooden capital doors, a lean figure sat on a black horse, broad shoulders manning two spears. He wore a magnificent dark purple robe lined with gold embroidery, clad fully in gleaming armor. The double swords that hung by his side clattered against his boot as he raised a bow straight at the opposing commander, who stood high on the stone wall.
“Surrender now, or every single one of you shall die!
The commander leaned down the wall and yelled, “By my last breath–”
A single arrow stuck out of his chest.
The commander coughed and fell forward, eyes wide with surprise, as the General lowered his bow. Behind his helmet a pair of black eyes glittered with contempt, unblinkingly watching the commander’s body hit the ground. Legends said that the General had gone to Hell to obtain an elixir of strength, that he had gone to the heavens to challenge a god for a magical sword–and he had won. Lan believed it. No one could shoot that far and that deadly.
It was silent for a moment, and then Lan found himself hollering along with the rest of the Dragon Army. In one swift motion, the General stood on Thunder’s back, a figure cut of marble, and pointed a spear towards the capital walls.
The world was silent except for the wind, waiting for his word.
“Their commander has died by my bow! In the name of our country, kill the treasonous emperor!”
“Kill!” His army repeated after him and they surged forward, led by a lone figure who stood perfectly balanced on a great galloping horse. Lan scrambled up and faced the flickering flames of the falling capital.
“Take the capital! Burn the Phoenix Palace down! Kill the treasonous emperor!”
10 years ago
“Mei! Ash! Come out, you thieves!” In a village on the edge of the country, an old woman stabbed at the rice bags in her store storage room. Her walking stick snagged onto a girl’s rags and she harrumphed with triumph. “Caught you this time, brat.”
A young girl stared back at her, large dark eyes glittering behind a curtain of unruly hair. She smirked, a dark line of dirt streaking her face. “Now!”
One moment the old shopkeeper was glaring at her victim, and the next her vision had turned white. She yelled out, half in surprise, half in anger and coughed out fine white powder. It was flour.
“Ha! Got you,” a boy’s voice sounded a little to the right upper corner of the shopkeeper’s vision. He dusted off his hands and jumped off of the shelf he was perched on to help the girl up. The old woman could only watch through blurry vision as the two gangly village orphans once again stole from her.
Rice bag in one hand and Mei’s wrist in the other, Ash ran for the village square. They laughed in delight as the now–ripped sack scattered teardrops in a path behind them.
The General sat calmly on Thunder’s back. Around him, soldiers fell left and right as screams and moans of pain ripped the sky. They had carved a bloody path to the front of the palace–even the General was only left with one more sword, his spears and arrows lost in the battle. Amidst the cacophony, there was a quiet stillness in his eyes, ones that stared steadily at Phoenix Palace.
Ahead of him was one thousand steps. At the very top one stood a girl in red.
Some say he fought for the glory, the power, while others said he sought the exhilaration of battle and danger. Money? Hatred? Revenge? No one knew. Nevertheless, all feared and revered him, and agreed he was driven from the bloodlust born along with his first breath in this world.
But none of them truly knew him, save one.
“Ash.” The wind carried her whisper down the one thousand steps.
Her lips trembled as she looked down at the graveyard before her. Twin flickering flames reflected from her eyes, a figure clad in armor the center of it. A frail blade of grass in the wind, her body swayed forward, falling like flower petals down the steps.
Outside the walls of the Phoenix Palace, it was silent except for the sound of a pair of blood soaked armored knee guards dropping to the steps.
Rain fell from the heavens as a single sword clung to the stone ground.