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An old man sat upon a rocky outcropping. He was tall, and unbent by age, with broad shoulders. His bearing was regal. His eyes sharp, and full of profound wisdom. His beard and long hair swayed in the breeze.

The old man’s robe had been torn off, exposing a bare chest full of rippling muscles. Cuts and burns marred his body, and yet he was no lesser for them.

Beneath the outcrop was a charnel house. Shattered limbs, and twisted, broken bodies filled the valley. Black blood and acid bile marked them as demons. He observed the carnage he had wrought with disinterest.

“You have a report for me?” he asked.

From his shadow, a form emerged, kneeling in respect.

“Yes, Master. The Demon’s advance falters. General Tou Le has requested you to join the eastern offensive into Blackfire Hell Pass.”

The old man stroked his beard.

“Is that all?”

“Yes, Master.”

“I see. Dismissed.”

The shadowed form of His Imperial Majesty’s messenger bowed, and once more vanished.

The old man rose, looking towards the distance. Two years, hm? How they had flown by. The constant fighting was an annoying distraction, and the demons so useless to be refined for his needs.

Ah, the sacrifices he made for the Empire.

With a mere thought, a sword formed out of the aether, and he stood upon it. It pierced through the skies, a near invisible blur, carrying him faithfully to his destination.

When he arrived, the attendants bowed before him, and a member of the profound realm swiftly got him a new robe, and humbly requested that he join the General in the command tent. The old man sighed internally, and nodded his head imperiously. Many experts bowed as he strode through the army camp, all vacating his presence, as not to impede him. The guards bowed, as he approached the tent, and announced his presence.

“Master Shen Yu.” The General That Holds The Gates greeted, clasping his hands in respect. “This Humble Servant of His Imperial Majesty is honoured by your presence.”

The old man nodded. “His Imperial Majesty Called, and I answered.” He declared. No matter how much he wished he didn’t have to. The bastard was getting entirely too cheeky, ordering him around so much.

The command tent was well appointed, and well organised. Tou Le was an excellent defensive commander, and had brilliant formations for his soldiers, both mortal, and immortal. But he faltered on the offense without sufficient support.

He received a cup of fine wine from the general’s son, as he settled into his seat.

Idly, he wondered how his own disciple was doing. He had to leave him at an important stage, but the boy was resilient.

Hopefully little Rou was doing well in his old Sect.

/////

Senior Disciple Lu Ri wandered the compounds and pavilions of the Cloudy Sword Sect. He had parchment in hand, and was dutifully cataloging every piece of disrepair, and improperly grown Spiritual Herbs.

The Outer Disciples had become slack. He would have to hand out chastisements and punishment details. It was enraging that they would treat the sect so callously! There was nothing he hated more than a lack of diligence.

He needed to take a moment to calm himself, after he finished his rounds. He sat upon one of the benches arranged around the pavilion, and gazed out into the sky. The highest Peak of the Cloudy Sword Mountains pierced the sky, and stood above even the clouds. It looked like the world went on forever from up here, with the permanent cloud wall below obscuring the land. One could be forgiven for forgetting Crimson Crucible City even existed far below.

He sighed, as his anger waned. The stark beauty of the mountain calmed him.

He took another calming breath, and headed back to the office.

One of his fellow Senior Disciples was already there, frowning at the Disciple registers.

“What troubles you?” he asked his fellow Senior.

“Brother Lu Ri, do we have a ‘Jin Rou’ among our disciples? A letter arrived for him, bearing the seal of the Imperial Army.”

Lu Ri paused. A seal from the Imperial Army? That was uncommon for a member of His Imperial Majesty’s Army to send a letter here.

But Lu Ri remembered that particular disciple. “No, we do not, he left a year and a half ago.”

The other man thought on the matter. “Wait, is he the one who actually used the honourable departure provisions?”

Lu Ri nodded. “Indeed, he is the same.”

The other Disciple blinked, and then looked mildly impressed. “But those haven’t been used in over three hundred years.”

Lu Ri shrugged.

“Then…by the section pertaining to honourable departure, we must find him, and deliver any mail we received as a result of one believing he is still with us?” he asked, trying to remember the regulations he had to memorise to become part of the Cloudy Sword’s bureaucracy.

“He may also beg for shelter from disasters natural and demonic, provided he has never aided the Sect’s enemies.”

“....why do we even have those provisions? They seem entirely too lenient.” The other complained.

“The honoured founder's wisdom far exceeds our own.” Lu Ri stated with conviction. “I spoke to him last, so I will take care of this matter. He can’t be too hard to find.”

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