The Forbidden City was a vast complex of architecturally impressive buildings, walled off from the rest of the world, leaving anyone without the Emperor’s permission “forbidden” from entering. In the center of it all stood the Imperial Palace, the tallest, most luxurious structure in the entire country.
The gruff and grizzled General Tsang wore impeccably polished black armor. His posture was rigid. His demeanor was curt. In his youth, a knife had been dragged across the right side of his face, from just underneath his eye all the way to his jaw. The wound never slowed him down, but the scar remained.
The general walked on top of the city’s wall, inspecting his troops along the way. One young soldier appeared to be suffering a case of poor posture.
“Stand up straight like a man!” the general barked. The soldier immediately complied.
Further on down the wall, the general found Weiyuan and Tengfei, his two laziest soldiers. They engaged in a frivolous conversation, paying attention to anything but their duties.
Weiyuan puffed out his chest, put a dour expression on his face and did his best General Tsang impression. “‘Blah, blah, blah! I’m the boss! Blah, blah, your armor is out of order. Beg for forgiveness and kill yourself! Blah, blah, blah!’”
Tengfei slapped his knee and laughed until he saw “the boss” approaching. He straightened up quickly.
“‘Blah, blah, blah!’” shouted Weiyuan.
Tengfei looked away.
“What?” Weiyuan asked.
Tengfei kept quiet.
Weiyuan gulped. “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?”
“Unghh,” came the general’s grunt of disapproval. Weyuan quickly joined Tengfei in standing at attention.
“Do you two think it is funny to mock your commanding officer?” the general asked.
“He did it all on his own!” Tengfei blurted out. “I tried to stop him. Oh, I how I tried!”
“Lies!” shouted Weiyuan. “It was all his idea, sir! Please punish this rapscallion! He is a walking offense to the Imperial Army.”
The general grunted. “Do you think it would be funny if an assassin were to sneak through these walls and make quick work of the Emperor while you two fools are amusing yourselves?”
Weiyuan and Tengfei looked at one another then met the general’s eyes with blank stares.
“Is this is a trick question, sir?” Weiyuan asked.
The general provided the correct response. “No, it would not!”
“Right, sir,” Weiyuan said.
“That wouldn’t be funny at all, sir,” Tengfei added.
“Return to your duties or I’ll have you both skinned alive and boiled in oil,” the general said.
“Yes sir,” the soldiers replied in unison.
As the general headed down the wall, he could hear his subordinates whisper about him.
“He’s in a better mood than usual,” Weiyuan said.
“Thank goodness,” Tengfei replied.
Further on down, the general came across a soldier with a smudge on his breastplate.
“What is that?” the general asked.
The general broke out in a cold sweat and began shaking. “What is what, sir?”
General Tsang snapped his pointer finger up, brushed it across the smudge, then showed the soldier the filth that had rubbed off.
“You make me sick,” the general said.
“I…I’m sorry sir,” the soldier said. “I make myself sick as well. A thousand apologies.”
“You will get no sleep tonight,” the general said. “You will polish your armor until sunrise and you will show up for duty looking presentable or I will personally throw you off the side of this wall. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” the soldier said.
The general slapped the soldier’s arm. “Good. Say hello to your mother for me, Cousin Nianzu.”
“Yes sir,” Nianzu replied.
The general reached a quiet, lonely spot and took a moment to observe the city below. Bureaucrats, administrators and servants all hurried about, tending to their duties in service of the Emperor.
“General,” came the voice of an old man.
On pure instinct, General Tsang drew his sword and turned, only to find the ghost of…
“Infallible Master?” the general asked.
“The same,” the master answered.
The general returned his weapon to its scabbard. “Congratulations on your mastery of astral projection. I knew you’d figure it out one day.”
“Thank you,” the master said.
“Still,” the general said. “I’d prefer to see you in person.”
“Would that I could,” the master said. “But I can’t, for I am dead.”