Flight delays, but managed to make it home for Mid-Autumn Festival dinner.



“But I am a generous god.”
--King Xerxes, ‘300’


Chapter 221 - Gift

“If not you, then who… oh,” Huang Ming realized. He looked up at the dark clouds warily.

“Nothing will happen as long as I am here,” Miss Black said dismissively.

“I’m worried about when you’re not here,” Huang Ming replied.

Miss Black opened her mouth to respond when the sky began to rumble ominously.

“We have an agreement, get lost!” Miss Black snarled. She shook a fist at the skies, and incongruously; the dark clouds actually retreated. The clouds relocated to squat at a neighbouring mountain peak. Huang Ming could almost imagine some entity within staring back at them with simmering wrath.

“What is there to stop your opponent from meddling even more?” he asked.

“We are not to interfere in the Great Game, it would take all the fun out of it,” Miss Black answered with all seriousness.

“Really. What about the fact that the enemy Avatar arrived so much earlier than me, hmm?” Huang Ming asked sarcastically.

“I told you, it was not supposed happen,” she said testily. “We are still investigating.”

Huang Ming had a sardonic expression. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be all-knowing and omnipotent?”

“It is… unusual, to say the least; to be puzzled by something,” she admitted.

Huang Ming rolled his eyes. “Maybe you guys already know but decided to erase it from your minds just to keep this interesting.”

Miss Black raised an eyebrow appreciatively. “Perhaps you are right. When I return, I will have to consult.”

“Consult who?” Huang Ming asked curiously.

“Other parts of myself, of course. I am not all here,” she told him.

“Ah. You’re doing the ‘send bits and parts of me to observe everyone and everything’ shtick,” Huang Ming said knowingly.

“You know it well,” she nodded.

“Do you also have a big head like Uatu?” Huang Ming asked, recalling a comic character from Earth.

“I do not have a big head,” Miss Black said while frowning. She tried peering into Huang Ming’s mind again to see what he meant and to her surprise; she suddenly found a mental barrier. It was a trivial sort of defence that meant nothing to someone of her stature; she only stopped because she simply did not expect to find any sort of resistance at all.

“You dared to try such a thing at this point in time? Are you not afraid of spontaneous combustion?” she asked, astounded by his gall.

“I figured that you will step in to save me,” Huang Ming said with relief. It was a minor spell from another world, the success of which lifted his spirits immensely.

“Why would I?” Miss Black demanded.

“Because you might think it was caused by your opponent. Besides, aren’t you here to give me a cheat in exchange for that ten-year headstart?”

“No, I am not. And do not do that again unless you want to burst into flames,” she said brusquely.

Huang Ming stared at her, flabbergasted. “Then what are you doing here? Even without telling me about the princess, I am already on a collision course with her,” he demanded.

Miss Black raised a finger and Huang Ming felt the impression of a dome-like wall of energy had enveloped the room. Suddenly the ambience of rumbling thunder in the background was cut off, and there was only sterile silence.

“That old fart was becoming annoying,” she said with self-satisfaction. Huang Ming glanced out at the window. The dark clouds on the neighbouring mountain peak seemed to have thickened; there were even the occasional flash of lightning. But within the bubble of energy, Huang Ming couldn’t hear the thunder.

“Where was I? Oh, right. No, I can’t give you a cheat,” Miss Black said.

Huang Ming glared at her with impotent rage.

“What I can do is to give you a reward,” she continued, effectively dousing his anger.

“What?”

“I have taken into account of your various experiences and your merits that you have achieved while in service to me. What is it that you desire while in this particular world?” she asked.

A host of answers swarmed in Huang Ming’s mind. What an open question! It was more than he had hoped for. Even though she had denied him ‘cheats’, wasn’t this the same?

“No, it is not the same. A cheat is something completely out of the ordinary of the setting. For example, magic powers in a technological world. Or constructing mechanical wonders in a backward fantasy setting. I do not want to see this world turned upside down by such a method. It has been done before… you have done it before,” she admonished.

“Don’t worry, frightening the natives can be pretty tiring. Do you know how many times I nearly got burned at the stake for being a ‘heretic’?”

“I know, I see everything,” she reminded him.

Everything?” Huang Ming echoed.

“Everything,” she confirmed with a deadpan.

“Even…”

“Yes.”

He facepalmed.

“To see you rant and curse against the being responsible for you being an Avatar was quite entertaining at times. But others have done it before and so I am not very offended,” Miss Black said evenly.

Huang Ming looked up, relief on his face.

“I have witnessed the births of entire planetary systems and unique lifeforms. To see the biological acts such as procreation is nothing in comparison,” she continued.

He facepalmed again as she calmly took a sip of the tea. Her face scrunched up at the taste, and she nonchalantly tapped the cup before taking another taste. She evidently changed the contents to something more agreeable, because there was a pleased expression on her face.

Huang Ming scowled. “Why don’t you burst into flames...” he muttered underneath his breath, envious at her ability to freely cast magic.

Miss Black narrowed her eyes and Huang Ming quickly averted his gaze.

“Ahem, I mean, what exactly can you give me? Strength?” he asked hurriedly.

“Your exercising every day made you quite fit and in better shape than the average dweller of this world,” Miss Black said.

“Alright. What about boosting my mental capabilities then?”

“You have already compassed the deaths of entire armies, and due to your experience; had remained calm in the face of tremendous adversity. At this point in time, you already have several plans well in progression.”

Huang Ming’s expectations were dampened somewhat by her roundabout refusal, and he had the sneaky suspicion that more was to come.

“Give me a boost in charisma?”

“Your tongue is glib enough and you already have two love interests,” she pointed out. “Do you want more?”

“No,” he sighed as he saw the writing on the wall. “Wealth?”

“Your mother’s family is rich and prosperous.”

“Power?”

“Your father and second brother are military generals of great fame. You yourself have already have nobility rank.”

“You are so stingy,” Huang Ming said, disgruntled.

Miss Black ignored the complaint and sipped her drink. “Decide quickly, our allotted time is running short.”

Huang Ming threw up his hands in exasperation. “Why don’t you just give me a treasure and be done with it?”

“Done.”

Before Huang Ming could vocalize an “Eh?”, there was a soft glow in the room and…
 

Words spoken in tiff,
Seized upon quite swift,
The short end of the stick,
He felt that was the gift.​