This was posted at 5:54am. Too tired to think of anything profound. Forgive the mistakes.



Wasted.

--Grand Theft Auto

 

Chapter 285 - Closure

 

Gusu, the capital of Wu, was burning.

 

General Yin Yanzhao had prepared for a long time. When the rogue general acted, disgruntled nobles and officials rose up with him. These were the people who had been displaced when Princess Wu Liying ascended to the throne.

 

There was no room for the old aristocracy and bureaucratic establishment in the new world order dreamed by the princess, and the union with Chu will sideline them even further into obscurity.

 

The Princess was still too young, surely all these radical reforms must be the idea of that Huang Ming!

 

The nobles and officials disguised their selfish aims with the veneer of wanting to ‘save the country’, to defend the old ways and to re-establish the way things used to be.

 

Thus when General Yin appealed to them to take action, to get rid of Huang Ming and to save the princess; many of them immediately agreed. They recruited their hanger-ons, hired thugs and secretly gathered weapons. When the general revolted, they poured out in large numbers to join the disturbance. They took advantage of the chaos to begin burning and looting.

 

Of course, how were the rebels to know that the general was aiming for a different princess?

 

When the general split his forces and then veered away from Princess Wu Liying’s position, the other rebels assumed that he was going to confront Huang Ming first. Besides, they had no other choice after committing to this course of events.

 

They were not wrong, but Yin Yanzhao was headed towards Huang Ming only because the younger man was standing between him and the Princess of Jin.

 

It should have been a simple matter. Yin Yanzhao’s men were battle-hardened and fanatically loyal veterans, but they were stymied by the defences thrown up by Huang Ming. He had underestimated the effects of Huang Ming’s propagandistic measures: there were plenty of truly patriotic people inspired by the Princess of Wu’s reforms. The last thing they wanted was a return to the old, corrupt ways where the nobles and officials worked together to do whatever they wished with impunity.

 

Just as the dregs of society oozed out to contribute to the chaos, the cream of the crop rose against it. Throughout the city, old scores were being settled. Ordinary civilians took their knives, clubs and makeshift weapons to defend themselves, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with loyalist soldiers against the rebels.

 

They battled deep into the night, and the narrow streets were awash with blood.

 

Yin Yanzhao’s face was smudged with dirt and ash, his armour cracked and damaged, the tassel on his spear drenched in blood. The general had personally led his men to climb over the barricades, only to be confronted with barrier after barrier in the street. He rued the fact that he had split his forces and had taken the smaller part here, for Huang Ming’s stubborn resistance had taken its toll on his men.

 

But at last, all the obstacles were overcome, and he could see the very residence where the Princess of Jin was being held. As depleted as his men were, he still outnumbered Huang Ming.

 

“Give it up, Huang Ming. Why delay the inevitable?” the general called out at the younger man who was the final challenge before the gates itself.

 

“And I’m an iron man,” Huang Ming replied, mystifying the general with his nonsensical quip.

 

Compared to the general, Huang Ming was the picture of calmness and confidence, his scholarly robes still immaculate clean. It was instrumental in maintaining morale. If the man who had the most to lose was not panicking, surely things will turn out well. Zhao Sunli would come to their rescue, assuredly.

 

“I’m not going to roll over and die. Do you honestly think I’ll say ‘Oh alright, I’ll give up’, when you had swore to tear off my limbs?” Huang Ming reminded him.

 

“I will do it, but only pity those whom you had misled,” the general replied. “All those who surrender will be given free passage and will not be harmed!”

 

A few of Huang Ming’s men shuffled uneasily.

 

“Joke of the year! You betrayed the kingdom and broke your oath of fealty, who in their right mind would trust you to keep your word?” Huang Ming laughed, and the uneasy feet stopped shuffling.

 

He pointed at the general and said derisively, “Look at him! Causing all this trouble just to get into someone’s skirt!”

 

Yin Yanzhao was absolutely furious, but put on a sneer of his own. “Stop trying to provoke me with your worthless trickery!”

 

“I am provoking you, so wait? I’ve dug a deep pit here, I’m daring you to come and try it!” Huang Ming shot back immediately. He gave the general the finger, and though the general did not understand the meaning of the gesture, he somehow knew it was unimaginably rude.

 

Though he wanted dearly to run his spear though Huang Ming, his words gave the general pause. What if there really was a pit? Certainly, Huang Ming had mixed lies and half-truths enough that one could not help but be wary.

 

Yet, he was pressed for time. Already, the flames of the insurrection was being snuffed out, the fires that lit up the night sky were dimming rapidly. It must be the effort of Zhao Sunli the War Goddess, riding to and fro to suppress the rebellion around the city.

 

He had to breakthrough and quickly rescue Princess Jin Hua before the rebellion was completely crushed.

 

As if on cue, Qiong Ying emerged out of the residence with Princess Jin Hua as her hostage. Qiong Ying twisted one of her sister’s arms back to hold her captive and held a blade to her neck.

 

“Princess!” Yin Yanzhao cried out in distress.

 

But Huang Ming was also stunned. “What are you doing?” he asked.

 

“We’re getting bored in there and want this to be over with,” Qiong Ying said matter-of-factly..

 

“Well, this is what happens if you leave things to men,” Jin Hua said with an equally disinterested tone. “I said I won’t struggle, there is really no need for this,” she added.

 

“I don’t trust you,” Qiong Ying said emphatically.

 

Jin Hua tilted her head and rolled her eyes, but the gesture caused the sword to cause a nick.

 

“Oh,” she exclaimed mildly.

 

“Oops,” her sister muttered, without a shred of guilt.

 

A tiny drop of blood began to seep.

 

Perhaps General Yin Yanzhao had the eyesight of a falcon, for he was immediately enraged.

 

“How dare you!” Yin Yanzhao screamed.

 

He had maintained a cold and calculating personality, lying in wait patiently, bearing with Huang Ming’s constant needling and interference as he laid his plans and played all sides in order to achieve his goal to stand beside the princess.

 

He had almost lost control when the Princess of Jin seemingly favoured Huang Ming. Each day, he simmered at seeing Huang Ming being physically closer to Princess Jin Hua than he was.

 

Now all the day’s exertions, all the pent-up frustration and resentment exploded in anger. For too long the tension within have been stretched taut, and now it snapped.

 

Seeing his reason for living being harmed had pushed all rationality aside.

 

Uttering a furious battlecry, General Yin Yanzhao brandished his spear and rushed headlong towards the two women.

 

In his path was Huang Ming.

 

“Sorry,” Qiong Ying said apologetically to Huang Ming.

 

“You can give me that sword now,” Huang Ming said and Qiong Ying obliged. Jin Hua shook herself free from Qiong Ying’s hold but did not run away.

 

“You are going to need a longer weapon,” the princess commented, as if she was a mere spectator.

 

Indeed, it was a mismatch for Huang Ming to be using a sword when the general was bearing down with a spear.

 

“I’m not too worried,” Huang Ming said with a grin.

 

Like a maddened bull, the general was charging directly at him, rapidly closing the distance.

 

Then, suddenly; the ground gave way.

 

For Huang Ming had really dug a pit trap in the area. He even had rotten vegetables ready to be thrown into the pit afterwards.

 

…Only, it didn’t work. Yes, the disguised cover fell apart, but General Yin Yanzhao did not fall into the pit. The moment he felt the trap, the general drove his spear downwards, stuck it into the wall of the pit at an angle and used the spear’s flex to complete his leap over the pit. At the apex of the vault, the general let go of the spear and unsheathed his glimmering green sword, ending in a dramatic heroic landing.

 

Huang Ming’s smirk disappeared, and he belatedly decided it would be a good idea to actually raise his sword into guard position.

 

As it was, he barely managed to ward off the first sword strike. The ringing of clashing metal accompanied the numbing sensation that travelled down the sword into his arm, and Huang Ming had to use a double-handed grip to steady himself. It did not help when he noticed his sword had a visible gouge where the general had struck it.

 

The tremble did not escape Yin Yanzhao, and there was a bloodthirsty smile on his face.

 

“This is my family’s long-lost Jade Dragon Sword,” he said as his sword gleamed with a wicked green sheen. “Did you know that it was Sunli who found it for me? How fitting that I will be using it to cut you to pieces.”

 

“You will be sorely disappointed,” Huang Ming said blandly.

 

“Can you even fight?” the general scoffed.

 

“Come and find out,” Huang Ming returned.

 

“What is the basis of your confidence?” Yin Yanzhao seethed through gritted teeth.

 

“Your tears, like my mother’s osmanthus cakes, are delicious,” Huang Ming said flippantly.

 

“Rarrgh! A mere scholar like you dare to mock me!” the general yelled in frustration.

 

Huang Ming’s strength was inferior, but he had experience. It was like playing a fighting game with lag. But even though this body could not keep up with the moves he had planned out in his mind, he still managed to block and counter the general’s forceful strikes.

 

Yin Yanzhao began to feel more and more impatient. How is it this scholar was able to stand against him?

 

Huang Ming could see the irritated on the general’s face, and he smirked.

 

“You know I’m just buying time, right? My brother is more than capable of holding Tigertrap Fort. Beihai is well defended and ready from the previous time. Even if they both fall, the generals Huang Zheng and Zhao Tong are ready in reserve to march at any direction to assist. Sunli will soon arrive and there will be no escape for you. In short, you are thoroughly screwed.”

 

“Bold words from someone hoping for a woman to come to the rescue,” the general taunted.

 

“Yeah, I have a dependable woman, two of them! If you’re talented enough, why don’t you find one yourself?” Huang Ming retorted, deliberating provoking the general’s sore point.

 

The general roared and swung his sword furiously.

 

With every parry, Huang Ming’s common sword chipped and cracked. Another blow, and the sword snapped.

 

Sensing blood, the general dispensed with any semblance of elegant swordplay and raised his weapon high above his head, ready to bring it down like an axe.

 

“Any last words?” Yin Yanzhao smiled wolfishly.

 

“Do you surrender?” Huang Ming asked.

 

The general had no time to laugh at the unexpected reply, for he had a sudden and unfortunate addition of an arrow sticking out of his back.

 

Yin Yanzhao coughed blood and staggered, but remained on his feet to look behind him.

 

Zhao Sunli had arrived, a bow in her hand with another arrow nocked and on the ready. Her silver armor was smudged, her white horse was now stained in blood, but she was still the redoubtable Amazon.

 

“So you found the reason to shoot,” Yin Yanzhao said wearily.

 

It seemed so long ago that he had that talk with her near the withered tree.

 

Another woman that he had tried and failed to get.

 

“Stop,” Sunli warned curtly.

 

The general still had his sword in hand.

 

He sneered and turned his attention back to Huang Ming and raised his sword once more.

 

Sunli did not hesitate and immediately loosed the arrow. It quickly joined its brethren on the general’s back.

 

The rogue general gasped as the pain seared through his being. The impact was enough for him drop his sword and he fell onto his knees.

 

“Any last words?” It was Huang Ming’s turn to ask the question.

 

The general looked past him to fix his eyes on Jin Hua.

 

“Everything I did… I did it for her,” Yin Yanzhao said, keeping to his promise to the princess.

 

“It was a good try,” Princess Jin Hua said without emotion.

 

It was the final blow.

 

The general slumped, unable to muster any further resistance. He toppled to the ground.

 

“Kill me,” he gasped, “You have taken everything else.”

 

“What makes you think I’ll let you die easy?” Huang Ming asked. “I’ll ensure that your fate will be something people will remember and learn from.”

 

The general managed to bark a harsh laughter. “What sophistry… you are simply pretending to be virtuous when you are simply afraid of killing a person with your own hands…” he mocked.

 

“But in my eyes, you are not even a person,” Huang Ming said without emotion.

 

Thereafter he stuffed a rag into Yin Yanzhao’s mouth to prevent him from biting his tongue and had him tied up. He was not going to let the general take the easy way out.

 

“That’s over and done with,” Huang Ming exhaled.

 

“Well done,” Qiong Ying said dryly.

 

“What about the Princess of Jin?” Sunli asked, and the three of them turned back to look at the princess.

 

“That was entertaining, but it is getting late. We will meet again,” Jin Hua covered her mouth and yawned. Without waiting for their acknowledgement, she turned around and went back into the residence.

 

“She is still our prisoner, right?” Sunli asked, slightly incredulous.

 

Whereupon she had men posted around the perimeter, just in case the princess decided to make a desperate attempt to escape. Then the necessary messages were sent to the royals.

 

“I’m tired,” Huang Ming mumbled when it was all done.

 

“We have just gotten married,” Qiong Ying reminded him with a sly smile. Sunli nodded and blushed.

 

“I’m really tired,” Huang Ming protested as the two women dragged him off…

 

What they did later that night need not to be said, for all three were quite exhausted and welcomed repose with great relief. All that was urgent had been dealt with, and the matter on what to do next could be decided later.

 

The next day however, gave them nasty news.

 

The Princess of Jin had disappeared. Those who remained behind were dead, having taken poison.

 

“I should have expected this,” Huang Ming sighed.

 

“How did this even happen?” Sunli groused, deeply unhappy that the guards she had posted claimed to have seen nothing. Were there still traitors in the city?

 

“Maybe they really didn’t see anything,” Qiong Ying murmured, hiding her own disappointment at her sister’s escape.

 

The three of them walked into the residence that had been the Princess of Jin’s cage to examine the area themselves.

 

“She can’t just disappear into thin air,” Sunli complained in exasperation.

 

Everything the Jin embassy had brought with them were abandoned. Even the armour and weapons of the guards were left behind in neat piles.

 

Huang Ming frowned.

 

He looked around the residence. The princess had indeed knocked down the walls and enlarged the open-air compound as she had told him.

 

Then he realized that the thick rolls of fabric and cloth were missing.

 

Huang Ming groaned. Could it really be…?

 

His suspicion was confirmed later. Scouts sent out of the city to investigate soon returned with a Jin attendant who had been part of the embassy. The man refused to talk but one look at his injuries was enough for Huang Ming.

 

The Jin attendant’s legs were broken and there were signs of his clothes being torn, as if he had rushed blindly through a forest.

 

Or, if he had fallen from a great height.

 

Huang Ming dismissed the prisoner glumly, and his wives could see that he was annoyed with himself.

 

“Have you figured it out?” Qiong Ying asked.

 

“Yeah. She made a balloon and flew off,” Huang Ming mumbled, looking towards the north.

 

“We will meet again,” he said softly, repeating her parting words.

 

The disturbance in the city was quelled, but at a cost.

 

Some cynics would say the rebellion was allowed to happen as it did for Huang Ming and the royals to quash the voices of dissent once and for all. The damage done to the city gave the convenient momentum to justify the shifting of the capital. It would be the dawn of a new age for the newly unified kingdom.

 

Yin Yanzhao’s revolt only lasted a single night. ‘The Impotent General’ was the sneering moniker attached to him, no longer the Northern Star. Having thrown in his lot with the fatuous nobles of the old establishment, he had completely lost the respect of all.

 

Then came news of Wei’s abortive attempt on Tigertrap Fort, and the true enormity of the general’s plot made him the most reviled person in Wu.

 

Huang Ming reminded him of their meeting in Beihai where the general had schemed to weaken the city. ‘You wanted a long life,’ Huang Ming recalled, and had the general buried in the ground up to his neck so that he resembled a freshly pulled potato.

 

Thereafter, the public was invited to gawk at the most infamous head of the day.

 

Yin Yanzhao lingered for three days. When he died, it is remarked that he had aged terribly from the ordeal.

 

The general overreached,

But ended as a pawn,

A warning for others to teach,

A lament in the new dawn.

 

The world was long divided,

And the violence was unrestrained.

Rulers and generals collided,

Till only four kingdoms remained.

 

Jin conquered Wei,

Chu united with Wu,

The old were swept away,

Now four became two.

 

The stage is now set,

To end the confusion.

But there will be some story yet,

Before the final conclusion.

 

END PART V: PARTITIONING OF THE CONTINENT