An army assembles. Jian De’s apprentice asks to join the Shan Shi.

Once the details were laid out, the Fox Spirit withdrew to its realm for five full moons to prepare for the oncoming execution of Heavenly Primogenitor’s plan. Meanwhile, Jian De returned to the town of Tie Mao with its prized posession, Spirit Drinker, and retreated into a routine of meaningless adoration.

In those times when political unrest had the fate of the Shang dynasty hanging by a thread, skirmishes sprouted throughout the land on a regular basis. Since Tie Mao held a spot of high strategic value due to its proximity to Mount Kunlun, and sported easy access to a large variety of natural resources, a special, dedicated force of defenders, the Shan Shi, was always on call to assist in the defense of both town and people and to lend a hand whenever the welfare of the Shang dynasty saw itself in peril. Shan Shi’s leader, Xiong Lieren, victor in a hundred battles and scarred only by a dozen or so shallow cuts, was lauded by many as the bravest soul in all of the outer regencies.

One day, Tie Mao’s regent, Huangjin Chengzai, invited Xiong to the Courtyard of Purple Peonies to discuss some disturbing news.

“His Majesty and the imperial court have summoned us, Xiong, to aid in the quenching of a rebellion in East Lu. Forces sympathetic to Queen Jiang and her father are planning to march onto the capital in an attempt to depose King Zhou,” the regent informed.

“I shall get my men ready, then,” Xiong replied.

“Do so, but first hear what I have to say,” Huangjin interjected. “For I will be placing an immense burden on your shoulders.”

“A rumor originating in the imperial court is spreading like wildfire,” he continued. “According to this rumor, King Zhou is showing of late signs of a conduct unbecoming a monarch, indulging in wine and concubines when he should be looking out for the wellness of His people.”

“I have heard such rumors. What do you make of them, regent?” Xiong asked.

“They are true, I am afraid,” he answered. “I have witnessed firsthand the neglect His Majesty has shown towards affairs of the state and His terribly arbitrary application of justice.”

“What would you have the Shan Shi do, then?” Xiong asked, acquiescent.

“Equip your men with the best metal the land can provide and procure the fastest horses. We aid the rebels in their just cause and hope for a worthy prevalence of the Shang,” the regent concluded.

“Consider it not a burden,” Xiong said. “We stand by what is noble. Our bodies are only instruments of Heavens’ righteousness.”

And so Xiong bade the regent farewell and began preparations for the ride to the east.

Xiong selected two thousand horses from the best of breeds and the same number of the highest quality mounts, things of unrivaled beauty inlaid with pearl and ivory. He also hand-picked the most able from among his riders: men expert with either lance, sword, or bow and arrow.

Now, when it came to the matter of steel, Jian De was the one and only choice for supplying the best items in the region. He was, however, mostly preoccupied with something other than his craft at the moment.

When Xiong visited Jian De to place a substantial order for weapons and armor, Jian De would not be bothered with the task.

“My days as a metal worker are over. Take your requests somewhere else,” he said and went back to his quarters where Spirit Drinker awaited its daily dose of endearment.

Jian De’s apprentice, Jinshu Hao Yu, approached Xiong and elaborated on the situation.

“My master is afflicted with a mysterious obsession towards that sword of his,” he explained. “He won’t come anywhere near the forge and will not work on any new design, the origin of the request notwithstanding.”

“That is most unfortunate, for the fate of the Shang dynasty hangs now in the balance and the Shan Shi are to play an important part in its protection,” Xiong said.

“I am but a mere apprentice,” Jinshu said coyly. “However, I would be more than glad to help the Shan Shi and its cause with my meager skills.”

Xiong assessed the offer. All in all, he had nothing to lose, for even when Jinshu was short both in age and experience, an apprentice of Jian De was still bound to produce items of superior quality to those of the average blacksmith.

“Very well. I will send some of my men to assist you with the labor.” Xiong proposed, and set off to continue with the arrangements.

In just a couple of months, Tie Mao’s army was ready to march. Jinshu had produced superb armor and weapons with which the men were promptly outfitted, and the purest of horses had been lined up, ready to bear the weight of Xiong’s best riders.

As the throng of warriors was set to part off at the outskirts of town, Xiong saw a figure rushing to meet them. It was Jinshu.

“Lord Xiong,” Jinshu addressed the leader. “I have no purpose in remaining here if master Jian De insists on disregarding his obligations. Please, allow me to go with you and provide whatever assistance I may during the journey and battle to come.”

Xiong considered the apprentice’s petition in great detail.

Do you want to know what became of Jinshu and Xiong’s army? Read on.