Prologue: Rumblings of War
Summer 1846, Hotan Prefecture, Western China. 6,000 kilometers from Arendelle.
“On the orders of our glorious leader, Kath Tora, the city of Hotan is now the domain of the Khojah people!” proclaimed Miralai Yaqub, a decorated, grizzled veteran soldier, standing in the town square above a crowd, his voice reflecting off the sand and mud walls of the houses and shops. In the crowd, a mix of Turki and Han citizens stood uncomfortably in the hot, dry winds, watching squads of soldiers going from house to house, listening to occasional screams.
Each house had its door opened; if locked, the door was unceremoniously kicked in by the squad’s largest soldier. Soldiers left some homes alone, while others had the inhabitants forced out into the streets, crying and holding each other.
Once the crowd was fully assembled, the soldiers returned to the square. “Miralai,” shouted one of the soldiers, “all the people are assembled before you!”
Miralai Yaqub surveyed the people of Hotan before him. Hotan was a small village, an oasis in the unforgiving desert. Looking at the crowd, his blood boiled at the sight of so many Han Chinese, an affront to his people and the ground that had been theirs for centuries, before the Qing genocide.
“Soldiers, separate the crowd. Han to my right, Turki to my left,” instructed the Miralai. The crowd split in two. Yaqub continued, “All those who are Turki, kneel now and offer your fealty to our glorious leader, Kath Tora!” Most of the Turki citizens knelt immediately, some with prayers on their lips. A few stood bewildered or angered. Yaqub motioned for his soldiers to seize those still standing and move them into the Han crowd.
Yaqub turned to face the Han. “Soldiers! By order of Kath Tora, you may now claim any of the Han women as your prizes. Choose quickly, separate them, and then march the rest of this filth to the edge of town!” The soldiers eagerly dove into the crowd for their spoils of war, and within minutes had separated out their chosen women, most of them quietly sobbing before their fates.
Yaqub gestured westward, and the soldiers lowered their spears towards the crowd, coercing them out of the square and towards the western edge of the town. As the crowd stumbled through the streets, windows and doors slammed shut in their faces, wide eyes still visible through shutters.
After a few hours, the march ended on a dusty plain with a large, solitary, black, rounded stone in the middle of what had once been fertile farmland, but was now cracked dirt with the occasional tumbleweed. A bearded cleric stood on the rock, white robes blowing in the hot, arid wind, a white cloth cap on his head, standing in stark contrast to his tanned, leathery skin.
Miralai Yaqub strode up to the cleric. “Your Holiness, Hotan is ours!” he proudly exclaimed. The cleric turned his eyes to the Miralai, nodded, and then raised his voice to the crowd.
“Here upon this field, a century ago, your ancestors defiled this land by raping our women and slaughtering our children, in the name of your Emperor. We have waited carefully since that time, in the mountains and villages nearby, to exact our revenge against you for your crimes, and that glorious day has finally arrived,” said the cleric with a feral grin. “Upon this rock, the daughter of my grandfather was taken, raped, and then beheaded. This stone was once as white as the sands around us, but turned black that day from your ancestors’ sins. I have prayed my whole life for the right to justice for my family, and that prayer has been answered. Miralai Yaqub, bring me one of these vermin!”
The cleric stepped to the side of the rock as Yaqub strong-armed a young boy to the rock, kicking him in the back of the legs to force the boy to kneel, head on the scorching black stone. The Miralai held out his curved scimitar, gold and steel reflecting the setting sun. The cleric shook his head at the sword, then smiled toothily.
The cleric raised his eyes and shouted to the wind, “O, great one, I summon you now to help us serve justice for what was taken from us! I offer this sacrifice to invite you to our cause! Arise, and grant us your favor!” The cleric withdrew an ugly curved knife from his robes and ripped it across the boy’s throat, nearly beheading him.
Yaqub’s eyes grew wide, watching this… travesty. This was supposed to be vengeance, not blasphemous worship of some other god.
The red blood immediately sank into the stone and the harsh blue skies of the desert darkened as though a thousand fires’ soot blanketed them. The earth rumbled and cracked. A voice boomed from beneath the feet of the cleric, and asked, “Who shall be my vessel?”
The cleric eagerly shouted, “I am, majestic one! I am Kath Tora, and I offer to serve you!”
The earth rumbled again, and the blood spilled on the black stone suddenly floated into the air, turned black as oil, and then poured into the open mouth of the cleric. The cleric’s eyes turned black obsidian, and his skin an ashen grey. The voice boomed once more, “So be it, servant Kath Tora. From this moment forth we shall be known as Rabi Al-Mawt. After eons, we walk the earth once more.”
Yaqub stared at the former cleric, open-mouthed. He wiped the sweat from his brow, pointed his scimitar, and shouted, “Kath Tora! This is heresy! You said nothing of raising a demon, only seeking justice for our people and punishing the wrongdoers! What is the meaning of this blasphemy?”
“Kath Tora is no more, Miralai. I am Rabi Al-Mawt, and we shall bring justice to all under my rule. You will see the Han fall before us. You will see nations bow to us. You will see all under Heaven worship us,” rumbled the cleric’s voice. “Will you serve?”
“NO! I worship Allah the Merciful, not you… you abomination!” screamed Yaqub, sword held in front of him as if to shield him from the monstrosity before him.
“Very well. I accept that you will not serve in life,” chuckled the cleric. He raised his hand, gestured with his fingers, and Yaqub’s sword turned on its owner and impaled Miralai’s heart. “But you will serve.” He grabbed the dying soldier by the collar and belched oily black smoke into the soldier’s mouth, paling from the effort as he corrupted the soul within and bound it to him.
The cleric turned to the crowd and gestured again. The spears ripped themselves free of the soldiers’ hands and flew like arrows, first through the assembled civilians, cutting them down, and then as eagles circling, flew back and impaled the soldiers. The sand glistened red with blood, bodies crumpled together like puppets with their strings cut.
“Now, my legion, arise.”
The cleric raised both arms high above his head, and the bodies around him lurched to standing, wounds still trickling blood, eyes vacant and black. The army of corpses assembled itself, holding the spears and swords of the soldiers, and turned back towards the town.
The body of Yaqub stood next to the cleric with a lopsided grin. “What say you now, Miralai?” asked the cleric. He could feel his corrupting magic animating the fallen soldier as it had no other; the Miralai was sentient, whereas the rest of the army was mindless.
“I serve you, Deathlord. Let us retake this world and restore you to your glory.”
While this is table setting, there actually was a revolt in 1846 in Xinjiang, China between the Turki (now known as the Uyghurs) and the Han Chinese, and this chapter is VERY loosely based on that time period.
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