The steel after the velvet
“Begone! Scatter before me!”
--Lu Lingqi, ‘Dynasty Warriors 8 XL’
Chapter 144 – The steel after the velvet
Nangong Xie’s shout caused Huang Ming’s face to scrunch up.
‘So much for cutting off the head of the snake,’ he thought wryly as the horde of thugs began to surge towards him.
The Handsome Scholar was right: Huang Ming wanted him alive for questioning. Yet the situation was clearly hazardous to his health, and Nangong Xie had clearly yelled out the command with the hopes of frightening Huang Ming to let him go and defend himself.
Nangong Xie had demonstrated his quick resolve, and so it was only appropriate that Huang Ming did the same. He released his hold, causing the Handsome Scholar to stumble forward to his men with relief… a relief that turned to a shriek of pain as Huang Ming viciously stomped on his calf. It was accompanied by the snapping sound of broken bone.
The blood-curdling scream from Nangong Xie turned the hearts of his men cold when they saw the way Huang Ming had coldly broke the fibula bone of the scholar’s leg. Nangong Xie himself added to the chill as he rolled on the floor while clutching his broken leg.
Huang Ming smiled coldly. ‘Now he can’t run,’ he thought darkly.
Nangong Xie saw the smirk on Huang Ming’s face and it ignited the fury within him. “Kill him! Kill him!” he shrilled. There was nothing left of his usual handsome demeanour: His hair had become undone, his eyes crazed, the veins on his neck and forehead bulging, his face twisted in rage and pain and lined with sweat and saliva mixing together.
Despite his exhortations, Huang Ming could see that most of them were still hesitant. Just as Huang Ming was feeling reassured, Nangong Xie’s voice cut through the air again. He too had seen the doubts of his men, and quickly made the decision to divert their attention to a softer target before they became too broken to respond to his command.
“You idiots! Get the girl! Take her!” he screamed, pointing at the stage where the tightly-dressed dancer was still standing. Those immediately facing Huang Ming regretted being in the frontlines, as it meant the ones nearer to the stage would have first dibs on her, the woman who had stoked their lust just a few moments ago before this chaos.
Huang Ming blanched when he saw the dancer was not running away, as if she was frozen by fear by the sight of savage men clambering up the stage to unleash their evil intent on her.
‘Why is she still there!?’
Just as it seemed that she would be captured, a figure wielding a silver spear charged out from behind the stage. With one sweeping stroke the newcomer swept the thugs off the stage. Those few who escaped the first blow were immediately speared mercilessly, suffering an even greater loss than the previous victims. They screamed and wailed as the silver spear stabbed out in quick succession, causing grievous wounds and bringing death to the disorganized mob.
Once the stage was cleared, the figure spun the spear with a flourish so that it whistled in the air before bringing it down in a haughty manner. The blood flicked cleanly off the spear point, and the glint from the silver made it seem all the more menacing.
Who else could it be but Zhao Sunli the War Goddess, resplendent in her scale armour of black and red? Having cut a swath of destruction before her, her eyes then glowered coldly on the survivors. They cowered before her glare, their morale broken by the sudden death of so many of their comrades.
Huang Ming nodded at her in acknowledgement of the fact that her dramatic entry and show of force was far more effective than his.
Zhao Sunli kept her eyes on the cowering men below the stage as she moved to shield the dancer behind her.
“My hero,” the dancer said with a pale smile.
“Why didn’t you run?” Sunli said in a low voice that only the two of them could hear.
“My hips are killing me,” the dancer replied sheepishly, one hand on her pelvis to emphasize her words.
Sunli rolled her eyes. “That is what you get from moving about so lewdly.”
The veiled dancer blushed. “I’ll have you know that this was his idea,” she said defensively, her tone and her eyes making it clear that she was implicating Huang Ming.
Who else could she be but Qiong Ying, bereft of her Quan Lu disguise? Upon hearing that Nangong Xie had brought far more men than expected, Huang Ming concocted this visual ruse to distract them as the assassins hired by Huang Lang and Cao Shuang stealthily thinned out their numbers.
Huang Ming had taught Qiong Ying this dance as a humorous diversion in one of their private moments. When he had reminded her that she was the one who made the first move on him, Qiong Ying pulled a face to hide her embarrassment.
“It was because you were too slow! I could have easily hooked you in with a single dance,” she said in a huff.
“I’m sure,” Huang Ming drawled lazily. It annoyed Qiong Ying that she immediately danced for him to reclaim her honour. It was exquisite and graceful, enough to seduce any who had witnessed it. She knew that for a fact, she had dazzled and charmed all sorts of highborn guests and famous characters during her identity as the Lady of the Lichun.
She was infuriated when Huang Ming merely clapped at the end and said, “Nice, but I’ve seen better.”
“What nonsense,” Qiong Ying had complained. She knew of every dance there was as part of her upbringing, and supplemented her knowledge with even more styles during her years of hiding her true identity. She was confident in the graceful arts, but she was most proud of her dancing.
“There are so much more. Do you know the South River Horse Riding Style?” Huang Ming had laughed.
“What south river, what horse riding style?” she had repeated in a daze.
“Let me show you…” he said and proceeded to show her an utterly ridiculous and comical move. Her anger dissipated and that night dissolved into breathless laughter as he then taught her other dances, delighting her with dances that had arcane and mystical names like ‘samba’, ‘tango’, ‘rumba’ and so on…
On hindsight, Qiong Ying much preferred those intimate, interactive performances than the solo movement repertoire that she had displayed earlier. They seemed much more classy and stylish in comparison to the moves that Sunli had so roughly labelled as ‘lewd’. The ‘body wave’ for instance, made her feel as if her womanly parts were rippling and swaying like a snake. And it was causing cramps.
“Of course it was,” Sunli snorted.
“Don’t be so condescending, he might find the need to teach you too, it’s good exercise,” Qiong Ying chuckled mischievously. The suggestion was so jarring that Sunli nearly dropped her spear in shock.
“Never,” the Amazon growled hotly through clenched teeth, her tanned cheeks reddening with the mere thought of emulating those lewd movements.
“You’ll never know…” Qiong Ying smirked underneath her veil.
“Never!” Sunli shouted. She stepped forward to attack Nangong Xie’s men, eager to dispel the thoughts from her mind.
Obviously nobody else knew why she had yelled that particular word as her battlecry. Not that it was important, the shocked men were far more preoccupied with running away from the reach of her deadly spear.
Every flash of silver resulted in death, their bodies toppling over left and right as Sunli waded into the crowd. Eventually she reached Huang Ming and stood by his side, having carved a path of bloodied corpses in her wake.
“My hero,” Huang Ming said brightly, unknowingly repeating Qiong Ying’s earlier words.
Sunli scowled murderously at him.
“What’s wrong?” Huang Ming asked, taken aback by her glare.
“Never,” she hissed and ignored him, confusing him even further.
The War Goddess descends,
Her spear bringing many to their end.
1. ‘South River’ Style - ‘Jiangnan’ Style, Jiangnan being the Hangul (Chinese) transliteration of Gangnam. Thus, Gangnam Style.
2. Some had asked me about Qiong Ying’s earlier dance. Closest approximation:
Also, the 'body wave': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-XPIxwhY-Q and "the dance moves are killing me" was inspired by the top comment in that video: "my sister tried the dance on ma boy and she look like a dying shrimp"
3. Lu Lingqi is the fictional daughter of the mighty Lu Bu of the Three Kingdoms, one of the inspirations for Zhao Sunli.