Hail to you, Prince Li!

I Greet You in the name of His Most Illustrious and Sublime Majesty, the Emperor Xing He!

By His Endless Mercy and Boundless Nobility, I offer you and your men the chance for amnesty, and with it, your lives.

Throw down your weapons and prostrate yourselves before the Jade Throne, and You Shall All Be Spared.

Further, each man in your army shall be granted ten sacks of rice and ten pieces of gold, so that he may start anew.

Refuse, and you and all your men and all your relations shall suffer the wrath of His Most Illustrious and Sublime Majesty, and His spears and arrows shall decimate your men.

Your names shall be stripped from our sacred records, and the tablets of your ancestors shall be thrown down for such vile sins.

So repent, Oh Prince, and hear the pleading of your ancestors. Submit yourself to Enlightened Governance!

Here me now, Prince Li, and tremblingly obey!


Civil War, Kinstrife. It is a familiar pattern in the human condition.

A kingdom divided must unite; a kingdom united must divide. And they shall be divided; father against son and son against father.

It is the way of man to fight against himself, against his own blood. And in such tragedies, they cry out to me. Oh God, save us from our blood rage! Why do you drive us to fight the most bitter of wars? Why do you drive us to slay our kin!

These questions I have already answered.

To my friend, Arjun, when he kneeled before me on the fields of Kur, asking me why I would counsel him to make war against his brothers and cousins. To him, I said, “Because it is in the nature of the universe to suffer and decay. And because it is the pattern of things to reach for their very limits. The Kings of Kur desire to turn the world into a mirror of themselves and all of their desires, and it is your dharma oh prince to fight them to your dying breath, for yours is a holy task to fight against the madness of Chaos-Illusion.

“Oh, Prince Arjun, every human is a battlefield and all are called upon to rise above sin, suffering, and despair. Thus, it is your duty to pass through despair to emerge on the other side reborn.

“He who thinks he can kill and he who thinks he can be killed are both mistaken. This war you fight is timeless, and you now stand upon a crucible upon which the forces of the universe must resolve themselves.

“Now, rise up! Fight! For the eyes of the universe are upon you. Suffer not despair nor sorrow. But act—as you must act. And know that I am here with you and I love you, as I love all things great and small.”

Many thousands of years have passed since I’ve uttered such words, and now another prince comes praying to me for counsel, but he cannot hear me, nor can he perceive the light that shines beyond Maya; not in this Age of Crows, when men’s hearts have become blind, dumb, and filled with numb sorrow.

And so I must whisper to them through the darkness of illusion to remind them of their duty.


After receiving Li Bei’s message, the rebel prince Li Linfu met with his lieutenants to discuss their next course of action, but in truth, there was nothing to discuss. Their rebel army—only a thousand or so strong and filled with hungry, half-injured, desperate men—were vastly outnumbered by Li Bei’s army, which consisted of more than 10,000 soldiers, about a third of which were dark-skinned Sokudai berserkers from the Western Deserts.

And that’s not all.

Adjacent to Li Bei’s main camp were the flags of several noble Houses, the Tang, the Xia, the Wei and the Bao, and he knew that many of his cousins, uncles, and relatives were among the enemy officers. Li Linfu knew that many of his relatives detested him for rebelling against the government, for betraying his House and Class, but he also knew that some secretly supported him. These, he knew, Li Bei had pressed to join his expedition, perhaps threatening them with accusations of harboring rebel sympathies or faked charges. Tomorrow, when the battle begins, he will put the noble houses and their forces at the head of the assault. They will march ahead of the Imperial troops, with many royal banners flying in the wind to signal to one and all that Li Linfu is a rebel and that he, Li Bei, is the true servant of the Will of Heaven. He will do this for completely political reasons.

If he, Li Linfu, kills any of his relatives, Li Bei can use their deaths to paint him as an impious Filicide and to discredit groups opposed to his rule through guilt by association. If, on the other hand, one of his relatives kills Li Linfu, then Li Bei will use his death to prove his iniquity. “Behold! The Traitor Prince justly slain by his own noble relatives! Behold the justice of Enlightened Governance!”

Once either scenario has happened, Li Bei will send in his Sokudai berserkers to wipe out what’s left of his forces, and perhaps slay some of his own political rivals among the noble houses; accidentally, of course.

As Li Linfu pondered the upcoming battle, he was struck by a ruthless inevitability. He and his men had two choices. They could fight and die in the caves and crevices of Mount Yongqui, or they could surrender their arms and accept the end of their pitiful rebellion, along with all its implications. Retreat was impossible, surrounded as they were, and even if they could flee to the flatlands beyond Yongqui, they had no food or water left.

Cowards and deserters will fall to thirst and hunger.

Prince Li Linfu’s council was divided, with one half proclaiming a glorious last stand and the other half pondering the false hope of surrender. At length, the prince dismissed his men and snuck out of his own camp to meditate on a plateau that overlooked Mount Yongqui and the surrounding lands. Below, he saw the fires that lit Li Bei’s camp. His personal sigil—a white dragon surrounded by golden flowers—not the Imperial crescent decorated the flags of the camp below, giving no doubt as to who commanded this expedition. There were many of them, and the sound of the sieging army’s revelry can be heard echoing through the winds.

Slowly, the Prince began to smell the faint scent of food. Whether this was his own imagination or the harsh mockery of a pitiless universe, he could not tell, but images of wine, food, and comfort filled the Prince’s mind, and he remembered the ache in his own stomach and the weariness of his own muscles. But most bitter of all, he remembered the pains and sufferings of his own men, who now slept wearily in the Yongqui’s caves in preparation for their deaths tomorrow.

Yongqui had once been the bandit camp of a powerful rebel lord, Jin Cao, in an earlier dynasty during the Age of Towers. Cao’s men had meticulously hollowed tunnels into the mountain and filled them with all manner of treasure; glorious bronze bowls, bales of silk, ingots of silver, and precious jewels too innumerable to count. But Jin Cao’s greed overtook his abilities, and his bandit army turned on him at the height of his power.

Yongqui had become Jin Cao’s tomb, and all of its treasures were either plundered or destroyed. Today, only dust and ruins remain. Will I suffer a similar fate? the Prince thought, and he wondered if Jin Cao’s ghost haunted these tunnels, watching him in sadistic amusement.

As despair filled his heart, Prince Li Linfu consulted the coins and hexagrams of the I-Ching, but they too foretold death for himself and all his men. Dejected, the prince sat down on the humble earth, closed his eyes and began to recite a mantra that he remembered from the springtime of his childhood, before the age of death and civil war.


Prince Li Linfu exhaled very slowly, then opened his eyes and turned to face the stranger who had interrupted his meditation. He looked upon a young man, an Imtiri by the looks of him. He was bronze skinned and wore dust-covered clothes. Upon his back was an old sword, which seemed as dirty as he was. Though the Imtiri man was young, there was an old weariness about him that made him seem older than he actually was. Li stared in wonder at the stranger, for he suspected his true nature and why he came here.

Slowly, the young Imtiri sat down next to the Prince, folding his legs in the half-lotus position. He turned to look at the prince, who remained tensely quiet, and he said, “It’s been generations since men have uttered that prayer. Where did you learn it?”

“What?” Prince Li asked timidly, afraid to admit his own words.

A look of annoyance filled the young man’s face, but it quickly passed away, and in response, he began to recite a prayer older than most cities in the living world. “Oh, Lord Dao,” the young Imtiri began, “grant me the aid of your servants in my time of need. I need counsel in the coming battle. Oh, Great Lord, my spirit falters and my heart grows faint. I ask for your—”

Prince Li unsheathed his sword and leapt back from the Imtiri, his face filled with fear. “Who are you?!” he demanded. “Where did you come from?”

The Imtiri chuckled but made no sudden movements. He bowed his head a fraction in deference, then answered, “I am Ynaguinid of the Imtiri, a mercenary, but you and I both know I am more than what my flesh reveals.”

Prince Li faltered for a moment and, nervously, he sheathed his sword. His legs grew weak, and he quickly dropped to his knees to kowtow before the Imtiri mercenary, who remained seated in place unmoving. The Prince did not move from his subservient position, hoping beyond hope that this was all an illusion, a dream, but then he began to feel a burning light fill up the narrow plateau on which he had been meditating only a few minutes ago.

“Rise, young prince,” a low, powerful voice spoke. “There is no need to kneel.”

Hesitantly, Prince Li Linfu raised his eyes and he saw a figure of burning light standing before him, its blazing form encased in a luminous golden armor that gleamed with ancient power. He clenched his eyes shut at such sights and wordlessly obeyed the creature’s command to rise up.

Now standing, he opened them again, and Li found himself standing face to face with the young Imtiri mercenary once more, his clothes covered in dust and grime. The being of burning light was gone and all that was left was a young man with a weary face and dust-covered clothes, who smelled of sweat and old leathers.

Prince Li’s legs shook, and he bowed his head once more just to cover his own discomfort. “When I was young, Mother—” Li swallowed hard. “My nanny, she followed the Old Ways, and she taught me prayers to summon his retainers to guard me against evil spirits.”

Then the prince’s voice cracked, and he began to sob. He stopped talking as he struggled to control his emotions, but his resolve broke and he fell down on his knees again, weeping. “Where have you been?” The prince wept bitterly and years of bitterness and suffering began to seep out of him. “Where were you when my father was executed of treason and my brother was publicly tortured in a public square? Where were you when Li Bei’s Sokudai animals slaughtered the peasants Dayang? I prayed to the Lord Dao and gave all manner of sacrifices, and yet you abandoned us. You and your brothers abandoned us when we needed you most!”

The Imtiri’s answered with a sad, sorrowful voice, filled with pity and regret. “Fighting a losing war,” he said, “against forces that would cover the world in chaos illusion. Cease your weeping, young prince, and walk with me.”

They quickly left the plateau and returned to the caves. They were greeted by the Prince’s battle flag: a black pheasant on a green background. They were dirty and torn, just like the prince’s army. The prince and his guest then walked past many sleeping men, many of them shivering and sick. Their weapons and shields were no better, blunt and rusted as they were. Even the horses—what few there were—were thin and bony, and the torches seemed to flicker with the pale light of death. A few coughs and a sad song from one of the men completed the sad image of the rebel camp. They were desperate men who faced certain death on one side and an ignominious life on the other.

Despite this misery, the soldiers who whimpered and sobbed in their sleep became tranquil when the Prince and his Imtiri companion passed them. And a strange sort of peace began to spread through the camp, reminding them of loving memories and sunlit days with their loved ones. In their dreams, a bright glow seeped through the darkness and they were glad.

“My name in this life is Ynaguinid,” the Imtiri spoke softly as they walked. “But I am known to my battle brothers and my Lord as Duryodan. Do you know of my story, my lord prince?”

The revelation sent a chill down Prince Li Linfu’s spine, though he fought it down. He swallowed hard, as though readying himself to explain some long story, but instead his words failed. “Yes, my lord,” he said. “Modos, and other legends. They say you burned the Empress City for its sins.”

“Good,” Duryodan answered not unkindly, “Then you know that I am no harbinger of love or mercy. I am here because I swore an oath long ago to come to sincere people who utter certain prayers. You are quite sincere, my lord, and so are your prayers, but I am afraid I cannot help you. When the Lord Atman created my brothers and I, he intended us to fight the forces that would blind and corrupt the world. We were never intended to fight against mortal enemies, and so neither I nor my brothers can help you, though we badly want to. Li Bei’s armies are mortal men, nor does he traffic with dark forces, and so mortal men must oppose them.”

Prince Li Linfu did not answer. He remained quiet, as they walked as though pondering an appropriate response or a heartfelt plea. Instead, his thoughts became innocent, child-like.

“Many people say that the Narayani Sena are no more, that you and your kind have left this world because of its wickedness,” Li Linfu said. “I never really believed that, and I am…happy, I suppose, that your kind still walk the Earth.”

Duryodan said nothing, and he led the Prince towards a small, natural alcove far from the eyes of tired sentries. They were far from the sleeping men now, and they could speak openly. He studied Li Linfu for a moment, and his shadowed face seemed older and more terrible than when it was exposed to the light moment ago.

“I see,” Duryodan said at last, as though seeing through Li Linfu’s tired features and into the raging turmoil burning in his heart. “You desire counsel, not spells or arms.”

The Prince bowed his head slightly, and he allowed his fears and confusions to reveal themselves. “Li Bei has offered a truce,” he said.

“And you are wondering if you should take it?”

“Is not a shameful peace better than a just war?” the Prince’s voice cracked a little. “I want to ask the Lord Dao this question, and I demand an answer. I want the Lord Dao to answer my weary heart.”

The Lord Dao commands the Prince to stop whining and do his duty!

“You wish me to summon the Lord Atman, whom your people call Dao?” Duryodan asked. “Is that why you summoned me?”


Duryodan did not answer immediately, and it seemed as though a great burden was suddenly upon him.

“My lord,” the prince began, and great sorrow was in his voice. “I want to know the consequences of my actions. I want to know that my rebellion is right, and not the deluded actions of a foolish noble who desires to avenge his father. The Jade Kingdom is falling apart, but I have always believed that war and defiance will only make everything worse, that my actions will only cause Li Linfu and his cronies to tighten their grip over my country and crush it even further.”

“And peace, young prince, will peace serve better?”

“Peace offers hope and new opportunities. If I could but speak to the emperor, perhaps I could convince him.”

“Would he?” Duryodan asked, his voice hard. “I know of your emperor, my lord, and his reputation is well-known across many lands. They say that he is a lazy lout who prefers the tender arms of little boys and perfumed whores over the needs of his kingdom. Peace! Do not raise your anger against truth! Is his lack of virtue not why Li Bei has almost complete control over the Jade Empire? Is this not why your people are suffering? Spare me your false anger, oh prince. You know as well as I do that incompetence and degeneracy is as bad as corruption and cruelty. Your emperor is as culpable in the troubles of your realm as the corrupt Li Bei. So do not speak to me of reform or talk; you and I both know that your realm is past that.”

“And what is the alternative? To persist in this pointless, pathetic war? To fight and kill and finally die?” the prince snapped back angrily. “I began with an army of 12,000. Only 1,000 are left, and half are sick and wounded.”

“You and your men have walked this path for more than a year. You chose deeds over words, and you rose up in rebellion. Why do you falter now?”

“I fought, my lord, because I had no choice. When Li Bei ordered the execution of my father and my family, I rose up to rescue them. Alas, I have failed, and now, I fight for nothing except bitter memories and for the sake of those who follow me. It is for their lives that I continue to fight, but if the Emperor and Li Bei grants us sacred amnesty, then should we not take it?”

“And do you think Li Bei will actually keep his word?”

“Only the emperor can grant amnesty. It is written in our sacred laws and in the old ways. Even he would not break them,” Li Linfu answered with the deepest sincerity.

Duryodan response was to laugh at him.

“You mock me?”

“Come, prince! No, I do not, but I have seen this pattern play itself out across many realms and kingdoms. Even the most sacred laws and rituals lose their holiness in time, and as their realms become corrupt, they are abused and broken by men like Li Bei. No! Stay your anger! You of all people should know the depths of the nobility’s depravity, but you allow yourself to be deluded by the promise of hope. What is a sacred promise to people who hold nothing sacred, whose nobility are filled with the desire for money and wealth?”

“You seem to know much about the Jade Empire,” replied the prince, though with a petulance that made him feel ashamed.

But Duryodan ignored Li Linfu’s anger and said, “I know much about the Empire of the Qin, oh prince. I know, for example, that Li Bei, his cronies, and the wealthy merchants have taken in millions of slaves from all across the known world; Sokudai, Timkit, Alobean, Uytii and many others. They expel their own countrymen from the farms and factories and then replace them with these slaves.

“I also know, oh Li Linfu of the Qin, that such slaves are acquired through war, war which have left many of your people dead and dying, only for them to return home to find their trades and their lands taken by greedy merchants and their labors taken by slaves from foreign lands.

“I know, oh prince, that your kingdom is filled with corruption, and that the capital where your wmperor dwells is filled with degeneracy, where court eunuchs, oligarchs and corrupt nobles, like Li Bei, vie for power, who use the country as bargaining chips and men as pawns. Was this not how your father met his end?”

“Speak not of my father!” Li Linfu hissed back angrily then became silent.

After a moment, Duryodan became apologetic. “I am sorry,” he said. “You prayed for help, but all I’ve done is mock you.”

“No, it’s…I am at fault. What you say is true. Li Bei’s offer is a sham or most likely half a sham. I may live, I think. In misery and constant danger, yes, but I will live. My men, however, Li Bei will destroy them given time and with a sufficient excuse.” Li Linfu paused and rubbed his eyes; suddenly tired and aimless.

Duryodan answered softly. “You prayed for help and I wish to grant it. But Prince, the Lord Dao is no longer among us…”

I am always here.

“And I am not one of my brothers who can glimpse the future. I cannot answer your questions, nor can I predict the right course for you to follow.”

Tired and frustrated, Li Linfu’s voice hardened. “You could fight with us.”

“I do not like repeating myself, Prince.”

“It is said that there are sorcerers in Li Bei’s army,” the Prince argued, “whereas my own men consist of nothing but peasant farmers who took up the sword and bow.”

“The so-called sorcerers you speak of are alchemists who play with poisons and exploding elements, but they do not bear the taint chaos illusion. I cannot fight for you.” Before Li Linfu could make a response, Duryodan cut him off. “I can, however, aid you in another way. Your men are hungry, sick and weary. They dream of a home that they will never see again. I can offer them succor in this dark hour. Will you allow it?”


For all installments of “The Age of Crows: Glorious Yongqui,” click here.


“Glorious Yongqui” is part of Jed J. Del Rosario’s Age of Crows universe. If you would like to read another story set in the same universe, you can purchase Death Dealers and Diabolists here.