Monday, March 14, 2022

Blog Tour: The Empire's Bladesmen


War of the Dragon Throne, Book One

Military Historical Fantasy/ Dark Fantasy

Date Published November 2021

Publisher: Armored History

A military historical fantasy set in the late medieval era--15th century Ming Dynasty.

Follow the story of Captain Shao Lian, a battle-hardened veteran of the Ming Dynasty’s imperial army, had become a respected officer in the emperor’s elite bodyguards.

This notorious and politically-powerful secret service organization, known as the Jinyiwei (brocade-clad guards), also functioned as the emperor’s premiere intelligence agency and as an extension of his iron fist. They were the empire's bladesmen.

After Shao Lian was assigned to eliminate a ruthless crime lord after he had seized power over several frontier towns, he discovers that the Blood Foot Syndicate had awakened a powerful and terrifying adversary from a bygone era.

Shao Lian and the soldiers in his command suddenly find themselves waging a harrowing war of survival against allied criminal gangs and an ancient being who commands hordes of monstrous man-eaters.

Shao Lian later discovers the secrets of prehistory and unravels a conspiracy that set ancient mechanisms into motion that now threaten the Ming Empire and the rest of the 15th century world.




The imperial capital was at peace beneath the passing of wispy clouds. At least by all outward appearances, it shone with blessing T of Heaven. The colors and sounds that ascended from the city provided the observer with a spirit of optimism and hope. The citizens surely felt secured and protected, for it was, after all, an era of peace and prosperity for the Ming Empire—a beacon of civilization of the Middle Kingdom—a land with a story spanning more than five thousand years. A martial powerhouse in the eyes of the known world, many far-flung kingdoms flocked to her docks for a chance to trade and pay handsome tributes to the emperor.

A vast sea of rooftops glimmered all around the elevated vantage point from where he stood. Their corner eaves curved upward towards the golden sun, and the bands of yellow rays shone brightly between and through the drifting clouds. He observed the city’s walls as a thin radiant line that stretched across the horizon as it reflected the afternoon sunlight.

It was only partially obscured by the stately skyline, and it ascended across the landscape. His long, brocade robes fluttered in the wind. He could hear the wooden beams that comprised the structure’s skeleton creak and moan in response to the gusts as a flock of birds took flight from one story below to take advantage of the current. The capital city was sprawled in every direction, and served as the very representation of the Ming Empire’s majesty. Eight hundred thousand people hustled and bustled throughout the streets and establishments, conducting business, buying and selling, eating, and tending to all manner of personal affairs.

Underneath the blossoming of art, literature, industry, and commerce, however—prowling in the shadows away from the all-encompassing gaze of the empire— there were still those who sought to provoke its power both from within and without, consorting with criminality to defy the Ming Dynasty and threaten the emperor. But there were others yet still, who dedicated their lives to hunting them. For the hunters, it was more than a profession—it was a way of life, at least for those who did not deviate from the righteous path. But even they were becoming scarcer and scarcer.

“If only you knew how much filth there is to sweep away,” he muttered at the crowds he was observing. He wiped away the rogue strands of hair that danced over his eyes, and then secured the top knot underneath his cap.

Being careful not to loosen the tiles under his footing, he took two steps closer to the edge of the pagoda’s highest tier and scanned the streets below to observe the crowds. The city’s inhabitants were strewn about like seeds as they made their way across the city. Some diverted from the main avenues and entered narrow alleyways between buildings, while others entered and exited the various shops and establishments to conduct their business. The wind carried with it the faint cries and shouts of street vendors and other peddlers calling out new deals for their wares or to advertise new recipes for popular snacks. For a brief moment, it seemed, he caught a whiff of his favorite steamed pork buns.

From where he was perched, the flowery parasols women loved to flaunt appeared like circular slices of citron, floating over the columns of insects. A squad of armored guards in loose formation made their routine patrol in the district while several bowmen had strategically positioned themselves on rooftops and balconies. It had felt just like yesterday that he, in his youth, took guard-duty shifts in the cities. He missed the simplicity of those times… and the pride he had in serving in the imperial army. I’m a soldier in the greatest empire in the world!  he used to tell himself whenever he became bored or resentful of his station. At least the bullies and street thugs back home never messed with him again. If only his optimism of days past did not become polluted with the knowledge of truth about what lurked in the shadows of the state’s upper echelons.

Shao Lian gripped the curved Spring Blade broadsword slung on his hip and began his controlled descent from the pagoda, one tier at a time. Each succeeding tier was broader than the one above it and thus allowed him to descend like a coiled spring. He vaulted over the rooftops’ edges like a bouncing spring before making the final jump to street level and landing in a perfect crouch. His sudden appearance startled the surrounding pedestrians. As always, the gasps were followed by whispers, yet none of them dared to comment or scold him for pulling such stunts or for any other sort of deviant behavior, for that matter. His brocade uniform, embroidered with a colorful, four-clawed serpentine dragon, made absolute sure of that, for such uniforms were worn only by agents and court personnel with direct access to the imperial palace and the emperor himself.

He dusted his boots, adjusted his collar, and flexed his neck for a crack before proceeding down the avenue. The pedestrians steered clear of his path and they lowered their gazes from him as he passed by. He marched into the street where several other officers wearing similar or identical uniforms emerged from their obscured stations to join him.

“You know, I still haven’t gotten accustomed to it, and I don’t believe I ever will,” said Shao Lian as soon as the other officers were within audible range.

“You’re referring to the stares and awkward glances, Captain?” the lieutenant said with a satisfied grin as he pinched his brush tip-thin mustache. He hastened his pace to match Lian’s hasty gait.

“You can feel it on your skin—the awe and admiration. But it’s most often the fear and intimidation that lingers in the air. I don’t even recall experiencing this when I was in the army.”

“It only means that the uniform is doing its job. You do not like their reaction?”

“It doesn’t matter if I like it. But I think their attitudes and feelings toward us are necessary, Gen,” answered Lian. “It compels them all to think twice, if you catch my meaning.”

“As far as I know, we don’t bother regular people. When was the last time we kicked down any of their doors?” said Lieutenant Shun.

“But it speaks volumes about our reputation of late. I think in their heart of hearts they’re relieved the villains especially need to keep looking over their shoulders,” Lian chuckled as he swiped his nose with his right thumb. The tightening sense of urgency in his gut grew more intense, however. Anxiety was becoming his constant and despised companion, something he had never struggled with in the past, not even on campaign.

He forced himself to control his breathing to a slower, more controlled rate just as his very first martial arts instructor had taught him long ago.

“I don’t know, Captain. The only ones I’ve seen staring at you are all the young city ladies. They giggle to each other and hide behind their hand fans whenever you’re around,” Lieutenant Gen snickered.

“You jest, Lieutenant. We are feared much more than we’re admired,”

Shao Lian answered with a smirk, perhaps even with a pinch of pride.

“Now that we’re all here, I’m assuming we’re proceeding as planned?”

the lieutenant asked, trying to change the topic to avoid making his superior uncomfortable.

Shao Lian nudged his chin up towards the direction they were walking.

“Correct. Our spies confirm that they’re still lodged in the same corner outside the southeastern wall around the Outer City District. That means we’ll have to cut through a rougher part of town. If everything is proceeding as planned, they’ll all be there preparing to make their final move—especially Lunke. Director Yang will be having a marvelous time with him in the torture chambers.”

“So you’ve confirmed this new intel from the Eastern Depot is accurate? I will tell you, sometimes those spooks give me the creeps. Often, it seems they know too much.”

“Of course, the intel is accurate. Everything they’ve been able to assemble for this operation was through the findings of my own investigation. For better or worse, ‘creepiness’ only means they’re doing their job, Lieutenant. After all, the Depot does send agents incognito to canvas the streets and spy on everyone, from the markets to government offices. The Eastern Depot uses us, and we use them.”

“Still, I’m not too fond of the Depot, especially when it’s directed and supervised by those haughty, inexperienced paper pushers. They’re always watching us. They like to poke their noses into our business. At least we’re basically on the same team, m’right?”

“Emphasis on basically,” Lian snorted. “In our line of work, we’re all watching each other, even the castrati. The Jinyiwei is the arm that swings the sword in the name of the emperor. We identify the threats and go for a hunt. I like to keep it simple that way,” Lian said.

“Yes. The ‘empire’s bladesmen’, indeed,” Shun Gen sighed.

The squad plowed a path through the thickening crowds. It was not difficult to notice their passing. The city’s usual racket was silenced, though whispers could be heard here and there as the Jinyiwei officers passed through. Most everyone averted their gazes.

Ignoring the reactions of the crowd, Shao Lian took great delight in walking through the city, most especially when off-duty and out of uniform.


About the Author

Clay Vagrant is an Asian American millennial who loves martial arts, military history and civilizations, and then reading and writing about them. He helped start the Armored History brand dedicatAmazoned to students and fans of the study of world military history and historical fantasy genres. Clay also does all of his own artwork, design, and illustrations for his books' covers and promotional materials. Visit the website for his personal updates and what's coming in future books!

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