Chapter 289: The Pyre
Moving through the castle, the silence was overwhelming. Although everything smelled of blood, it was obvious that the battle had already ended. The blood and the scent of rotting flesh gave everyone hope as they rushed into the room where they had left the soldiers earlier alongside the emperor.
The sight which met them was enough to stop the entire army, and even Lan Feng, in control of Hui Yue’s body, stopped and felt faint. He saw a room filled with blood. Beasts were lying dead all over the room. Small black cloaks were lying around as well showing that although the beasts had died, the Crusaders paid an incredibly high price.
In the middle of the room was the emperor. His face filled with horror while tears were streaming down his face. He had fallen to the floor and used his arms to cover his eyes as he shook uncontrollably. Looking at this, both Hui Yue and Lan Feng were surprised why the Crusaders had not taken him with them. After a second of thought they realized that they simply did not care about the emperor. Their orders were most likely not to be bodyguards but to slaughter as many beasts as they could. Seeing the dead beasts, Hui Yue’s heart felt heavy. His eyes burned, and he once more became grateful that Lan Feng was in control of their body. He had failed his soldiers and caused them to die, but he could not allow for himself to wallow in self-pity. No one knew whether or not there were more Crusaders around, and right now he needed to use his full attention, but Hui Yue was simply too shaken to focus on what was happening around him.
‘Pull yourself together!’ Lan Feng hissed at him, ‘We are not in a situation where we can afford to feel guilty. Although you lost some soldiers, you have far more under your control. You owe it to them to be clear headed!’ Hearing his words, Hui Yue understood what Lan Feng was saying. With a solemn self-scolding, he could finally focus on what was going on around him.
‘Let start by counting how many Crusaders died here,’ He said, and Lan Feng nodded in agreement. He then moved towards the mess of dead beasts and black cloaks corpses. Walking through the room, Lan Feng counted fifty-eight cloaks, and he could not help but feel proud of his soldiers. There were two experts with Saint ranked strength and all the normal Crusaders with strength equal to their beasts. Although the soldiers had been much more numerous than the enemy, the Saints clearly made up for that difference. Although they had seen the end coming, they had fought hard to the end. If anything, Hui Yue should be proud of his guards rather than pity them. Looking around, he saw a steeled expression on Lady Sun’s face. Her eyes were not crying; instead, they were as hard as stone. Her mouth did not quiver, but a stern smile was shown. She looked at Lan Feng and Hui Yue, but unlike what Hui Yue expected her eyes showed no signs of anger or blame instead they were full of pride and rage.
“In hindsight we can blame ourselves for a lot of things,” She said in a very low voice as she walked to Lan Feng and Hui Yue where she placed her hand on their shoulder. “Although we made a mistake, these beasts were aware that they could very well die in this war. Losing them is a misfortune, but they fought hard. Don’t ever think of them as the beasts we killed, but as the beasts who fought to defeat their enemy.” Her eyes turned slightly moist as she spoke. Hui Yue understood that she was talking as much to herself as she was to him, but the words made him feel better, and Lan Feng nodded his head. He too understood that now was not the time to start questioning one’s decisions.
“Search the entire room!” Hui Yue yelled out, and all the beasts searched high and low to see if any Crusaders had stayed behind. After searching it was apparent none had. They had previously been able to capture the emperor by following his scent, but this was impossible now as the Crusaders left no trail nor footsteps on the ground.
“Carry all the beasts out to the garden and lay them down so that we can say our farewells,” Hui Yue ordered. Before he allowed for anyone to start moving, he sent half of the army to check the entire way from the room to the garden and every nook and cranny of the garden itself before he allowed them to move freely. Fortunately, it seemed as though the Crusaders had left the castle before Hui Yue and his beast horde entered.
“Sir, why are we out here and not inside defending our emperor?” Li Xiaopeng asked with a calm face as he looked around the small cave in which they were located. The ones located within the cave was the Grand Marshall and around thirty Saints from the Siban Empire. None of the Crusaders were present, and neither were the families of the Saints or the Grand Marshall.
“We are waiting,” He said patiently, “The Crusaders were given the order to decimate the beast horde, and they will do all the hard work without our help,” He said with a smile. “When the beast horde is weakened enough we will step in and get rid of them. When they are gone, we will be the heroes who saved the Siban Empire.” He smiled as his white teeth showed a devilish smile in the dimly lit cave.
“We do not need the emperor,” He continued, “We have followed his orders for far too long, and he is not fit to be emperor. Just remember how he sent group after group into Shenyuan forfeiting the lives of our important soldiers. Even my son’s life was wasted in that godforsaken jungle.”
“What we will do is defeat the beast army and then when the beasts within Shenyuan have been completely annihilated, we will take Shenyuan over for ourselves! We will then be the biggest empire on the continent, and we will prove to everyone that we deserved it! We will decimate the beast horde!”
“One could almost believe you had this planned all along,” Li Xiaopeng mentioned with a smirk on his lips as he leaned against the wall. His upper body was still wrapped in bandages, and not all his wounds had been closed, but he did not seem as though it annoyed him.
“It is the plan,” The Grand Marshall laughed out loud. “To get rid of all those common soldiers in the name of the empire makes it easier to take over the empire. The fewer loyal soldiers we have to get past later the better. I don’t want anyone to question whether or not we are truly worthy of the spot. If they ask why we are alive while the emperor is dead, we can always say that it was because we expected his bodyguards to be strong enough. That it was just a mistake which caused the emperor to die. If I look sad enough the people will believe me,” He continued with a laugh. “But for now, we wait for the Crusaders to do their job. They are given to us personally by Lord An He. There is no way that they will lose to a group of uncivilized beasts.”
The Saints all looked at each other. Some of them showed doubt in their eyes while others had large smiles on their faces. They all seemingly approved of the plan as they started to nod their heads. More and more smiles sprouted on their faces until everyone started to chuckle or laugh at their future plans.
While the Grand Marshall and his Saints were hiding deep within a cave in the mountain, Hui Yue and the beasts moved all their fallen brothers into the beautiful garden filled with lilies of all kinds. Beast corpses from across the city had been moved to this garden and were stacked on a massive pyre. Not all the beasts could be within the garden, so those who could fly had taken place on the roofs of the tall buildings or were in the sky looking down upon the funeral pyre that had been created. Some beasts climbed into the high trees where they had a good view.
Holding a lit torch in his hand, Hui Yue, who was in control of his body, stepped forward and slowly lit the different sections of the pyre. “I thank all of you for having given your life in the pursuit of freedom,” He started. His voice was low but filled with power, and somehow it managed to be heard through the entire area. “We left together knowing that some would die, but the casualties were far more than I had imagined. So much of our brothers’ blood has been spilled in this war, there is no way we will lose. You will not be known as the beasts who died a useless death! You will be remembered as the strong, the courageous, the mighty who paved the way for the beasts of the world. You will be known as heroes! Songs will be sung and tales written about your bravery,” Hui Yue continued his voice filled with emotion. None of the beasts said anything. It was late into the night now. It had been around dusk when they returned to find the emperor and hours had passed since then.
Hui Yue allowed for the beasts to set up small camps in the many imperial castle gardens or even inside the castle, but he required that each group had a watch of at least four beasts at a time to ensure that the Crusaders did not sneak up on them.
Hui Yue and Lady Sun both ended up with Wan Qiao’s army. Both of them felt as if they just had the longest day of their lives. Both were listless and exhausted, and both were filled with worry that the Crusaders would attack during the night.
“Don’t worry about it.” Wan Qiao said calmly, “I will take the night watch tonight with a few of my most trusted warriors.” She continued as she placed down mats for them to sleep on. “I have been healed today, so all my energy has returned. Sitting awake for one night will make no difference to me. I am a Saint after all,” She grinned, and both Lady Sun and Hui Yue were grateful as they laid down on the mats and drifted off to dreamland as soon as their heads hit the soft fabric.
Smiling, Wan Qiao leaned against a tree as she sat down and looked at the many soldiers around her. She had to admit that although she had spent most of her life alone, there was something charming about the constant movement around her. Being a part of something made her feel good, and she dreaded the end of the war. Hopefully, she could journey across the lands to protect the citizens. That would be her dream; to travel with her army and ensure that no one dared to enter her kingdoms for the sake of capturing her subjects.
Spending the entire night daydreaming about how amazing this land would be when it was filled with beasts was how she spent her night. During the night, no one sounded the alarm, and no one saw even the shadows of an enemy. The night passed calmly while the pyre burned in the background carrying with it the scent of burnt flesh.