“People die if they are killed…”
--Emiya Shirou, ‘Fate/Stay Night’
Chapter 260 – Being direct
Zhao Tong was wily enough to know that Huang Ming was about to squirm his way out of the predicament. He put down his wine barrel and turned to solemnly face his daughter.
“I heard the reason you fell for him was because he bested you in combat once,” he said bluntly.
Zhao Sunli’s face flushed, the redness coming through even on her tanned features.
“It was just that one time,” she said through gritted teeth, neglecting to deny the earlier part of her father’s statement.
“One defeat is enough,” Zhao Tong said with all seriousness. “One lapse on the battlefield and you will find yourself on the wrong end of a spear one day.”
“I know,” Sunli grumbled.
“How exactly did he beat you?” Zhao Tong asked with a bushy eyebrow arched. He glanced at Huang Ming and did not hide his doubt, looking up and down at the scholarly-looking young man.
“A fluke,” Huang Ming said depreciatingly, only for Sunli to give him a glare.
“Are you trying to patronize me?” she demanded.
Huang Ming blinked and shook his head.
“How did it happen then?” Zhao Tong asked with real curiosity.
Sunli narrowed her eyes, keeping them on Huang Ming as she answered: “He took me down. He refused to let me go and I was completely helpless on the ground.”
“Don’t say it like that!” Huang Ming exclaimed in alarm.
“What did you do?” Zhao Tong growled dangerously as his eyes bored into Huang Ming.
Sunli allowed Huang Ming to stew for an uncomfortable few minutes. She relished the sight of her father looming over him. Just when the situation was about to turn ugly, she sighed.
“Father, he used a grapple move. I simply did not expect it, and he was far stronger than I realize.”
Zhao Tong’s hands stopped moving. Huang Ming exhaled in relief as the general begrudgingly settled back onto his seat.
“I see. So there are still things in martial arts that could surprise you,” Zhao Tong grunted to his daughter. Then he squinted at Huang Ming appreciatively. “Seems you inherited some of your father’s gifts,” he said.
“A few, though I would like to think that I take more after my mother,” Huang Ming grinned.
“Your mother is no slouch either,” Zhao Tong muttered. “Why, she could…”
He stopped abruptly, as if remembering a distant warning about how certain things should never be mentioned again. Ever.
“You were saying?” Huang Ming prompted, genuinely interested about his mother’s past.
“Ahem,” the general coughed. He turned to look at his daughter once more. “You have learned almost everything here, right?”
Sunli’s head dipped as she seriously pondered the question.
Huang Ming suddenly remembered that the tent had racks filled with all sorts of weapons. Spears, glaives, spiked club, swords, axes and everything in between; their edges and metal parts caught the candle lights and gleamed maliciously…
“All of them except for the meteor hammer. It feels unwieldy and clumsy,” Sunli nodded a moment later.
‘What,’ Huang Ming was amazed, having only seen her in battle with a spear.
“He only beaten me in empty handed combat, not in weapons,” Sunli added.
“Oh. Lucky for him then,” Zhao Tong commented as he shuffled to his feet.
‘Now what?’ Huang Ming thought warily. Was he going to demand a rematch on Sunli’s behalf? Huang Ming eyed the Chinese battlefield weapons all around the tent; there were only a few that he was proficient at. And he was out of practice, having no need of using them in this life.
“I did teach you some bare handed techniques, but not everything,” the general said.
“You have been holding out on me?” Sunli asked with a frown.
The general nodded. “Of course, since I did not see the need for you to learn them. But maybe it is time.”
He crooked a finger at Huang Ming. “Come here,” he ordered.
“I am not feeling well-”
“Come here,” the general repeated as he glowered at him.
Huang Ming obeyed.
“Now, I have taught you the basic forms of martial arts. But do you know how to stop a man without killing him?” Zhao Tong asked.
Sunli shook her head. “If I am in position to use force, it would be for deadly reasons.”
“Well, that’s no good. What if your mission is to capture someone alive?”
“I would just cut off a leg,” she said without skipping a beat.
“That meant bleeding to death,” Huang Ming said helpfully, earning a glare from the Amazon.
“The captive would be alive long enough for me to send him back to camp. Whether he lives or dies then has nothing to do with me. My ‘wise’ commander would know better than to give such a delicate task to me in the first place,” she retorted.
“Fine, I will keep that in mind,” Huang Ming said lightly.
Sunli snorted and folded her arms, slightly pleased that he had all but accepted to be her ‘wise’ commander.
“That is no good,” Zhao Tong interrupted. “There will be times where it would be better to capture than to kill. At such times you should aim to incapacitate your target. Like this.”
He suddenly swung a vicious chop directly at Huang Ming’s neck. The strike was so unexpected and so swift that Huang Ming could not evade it; instead he stood rock still and blinked as a violent gust of wind from the attack brushed a few stray strands of his hair.
The chop ended mere inches from Huang Ming’s throat. He did not gulp at the sudden relief, because his throat had been dried by the wine earlier.
“You’re tougher than I thought,” Zhao Tong muttered with reluctant praise, mistakenly thinking that Huang Ming had seen through his test with ice-cold calculation.
How was he to know that Huang Ming was starting to feel cold sweat running down his back?
Huang Ming merely smiled as he brushed his hair back with his hand, using the gesture to covertly wipe the sweat off his brow.
“People do die if their throat is smashed,” he said and managed a smile.
Zhao Tung frowned to cover his embarrassment.
“I know,” he growled. “That is why when it comes to disabling a man quickly, the best way is this.”
He lifted his knee is a powerful thrust aimed at Huang Ming’s nether regions.
This time Huang Ming reacted by jumping half a step back and using both palms to grasp the offending knee.
“Men would die if they get hit here too, sir,” Huang Ming sweated.
“Depends on how much is broken,” Zhao Tong replied nonchalantly as he pulled back.
“Why?” Sunli asked with genuine curiosity.
“Eh?” Huang Ming and Zhao Tong chimed as they swiveled their heads to stare at her.
“I know it can hurt there, but enough to kill someone?” she asked.
The two men slowly looked at each other. When Huang Ming arched an incredulous eyebrow at the older man, Zhao Tong reddened and coughed.
‘You haven’t taught her such things?’was Huang Ming’s unsaid question.
‘I leave such delicate questions to the female soldiers,’ was the general’s unsaid answer.
“Ahem. I meant, men would wish they were dead if they got hit there,” Huang Ming offered and Zhao Tong nodded sagely in agreement.
“But why?” Sunli persisted.
“You will find out in time once you are married,” Zhao Tong muttered, giving Huang Ming a sidelong look.
“Oh,” Sunli answered quietly and couldn’t help but look at Huang Ming. Her head then suddenly jerked back, as if chastising herself for that lapse.
Zhao Tong belched. “This is beginning to bore me. I am leaving tomorrow for Tigertrap Fort. Settle it between yourselves so that your father would have an answer when he arrives here.”
Huang Ming was about to say something, anything but the general merely shooed them out of his tent and went back to his wine barrel.
Outside, Huang Ming shared a look with Sunli who was trying her best impression of an impassive stone statue.
Huang Ming gestured vaguely towards somewhere in the distance.
“Do you want to-”
“Yes,” she answered hurriedly.
She blushed, and Huang Ming thought it was quite cute to see the War Goddess so flustered.
Against one deceptive and evasive,
Some honesty can be persuasive.