PROLOGUE: THE ADJURING OF THREE KINGDOMS
Year 7218 of the Imperial Calendar
“Lung Wa is dead.”
As I say the words, I graze them with my quill, savoring the delicious heresy they bring. All eyes focus on me as I speak, but those same eyes shift down to scrolls in wordless rage. The only eyes that don’t falter are those of the guards—though, perhaps jailers would be a better term for them. Garbed in ceremonial lamellar plates, wielding pikes of immaculate steel, each of them proudly bears the spiral comet symbol of their patron.
As I write these words, the men and women of the three groups around me watch with stern focus as their scrolls replay the same script I transcribe. My parchment acts as a master, and each of the attendees is witness to whatever I deign write. It is a simple magical tool, one of convenience more than anything. I half-suspect they have me write in this manner so they don’t have to approach, so they don’t have to accept the ‘thing’ I willingly became, and the sacrifice I willingly made.
When they finally found me—resting peacefully in the peaks of the Wall of Heaven mountain range—I did not resist. One would assume I was dragged unconscious to this place, though I have not required sleep in decades. Instead, I was quite awake when the inquisitors of the Mother of Souls opted to remove my legs. They did so with careful precision, their skill with daggers honed over a lifetime of practice and use. When they were certain I could not flee, they boxed me up in a coffin of wood and brought me to this place, though I now admit I am at a loss of exactly where I am.
Knowing that a lack of legs could mean very little for one as skilled as I, other precautions were taken. Rings of metal were forced through the skin of my back and shoulders, attached to great skymetal chains, which even now rise past the borders of my exceptional vision. Similar protrusions have been placed along my arms, surely a precaution should I attempt any of my magical abilities. Each chain is inscribed with a holy mantra belonging to the holy books my jailers keep on their belts. They are quite skilled at their occupation.
In my captivity—a period I have estimated at one-hundred days—I have heard few spoken words. There were no admonishments for my deeds or vitriol at the choices I have made. Indeed, I could tell even from their persecution of my mountainous home that were it their choice, my captors would see me dead from the moment they found me. Not dead… no, ‘destroyed’ would be a far more appropriate term.
Three groups came to read my words. At the arrival of the third and final group, I was given my first true instruction: “Write what you know of Lung Wa.”
Thus, I wrote what I knew for certain. Lung Wa is dead. The fact is true and none can dispute it. Despite what the countless Successor States and pretender nations would have the world believe, the old empire has breathed its last breath and passed into the annals of legend. We live in an age of carrion birds, each picking apart the empires of old in an effort to remake themselves into the next apex of our great land. It is a cycle as old as the Imperial Calendar itself, with the formation and inevitable fall of Yixing and later Shu.
Yet, looking at the starving clusters of buzzards before me, I know that they yearn for more. It is not enough for them to hear me say that the old empire is dead. No, they want me to tell them why. Why did Lung Wa fall? That is the question of the age: how did the greatest empire in Tian Xia fail?
There are few who can answer that question with any degree of certainty. Perhaps the elves of Jinin, though they have always been removed from affairs of the realm. The samsaran people are long-lived, even reincarnating in a cycle that… no, they are far too flighty to be reliable. So, who can tell of the failings of Lung Wa and the events that brought the empire to its end?
Me? That would be too easy, too convenient. While I did live through those tumultuous times, I cannot write a proper document of what occurred across the vastness of the empire.
What I will write, is a tale of heroes. These heroes began much like the young folk now sitting across from my chained form, the group to the left of the warriors who I see admiring the sharp edges of my calligraphy. This will be a tale of champions who came to embody the tumultuous age they lived through. I was lucky enough to count them among my friends.
My name in Pang Zhensheng, once a numerologist in service to the living Eternal Emperor, and now your prisoner.