We're in the endgame now.



I tell you this, for when my days have come to an end… You shall be king.

--King Terenas Menethil II, ‘World of Warcraft’

 

Chapter 306 – Last piece of advice

 

The shockwave from the explosions could even be felt miles away at the summit meeting between the Jin royalty and Huang Ming.

 

“You blew it all up?” Jin Hua asked in shock.

 

“I grew tired of cramped spaces,” Huang Ming replied flippantly.

 

“I don’t believe it!” Prince Jin Bao raged, knowing that something dreadful must have happened to his army that he had dispatched.

 

“Neither do I,” his wife said more mildly. “I know the fort is the source of your own weapon productions,” she continued as she turned her attention back to Huang Ming. “I refuse to believe that you would give it all up.”

 

“Why not? I blew up yours too,” Huang Ming reminded the princess, much to her displeasure.

 

“Is this some sort of misguided attempt to save the world from the dangers of gunpowder?” she sneered.

 

Huang Ming shrugged. “Of course not. So long as there are people who are still knows how to make them…”

 

He trailed off, but the insinuation was clear to Jin Hua.

 

She looked on cautiously as Huang Ming slowly undid the top of his clothes. Just enough that one could see that he was wearing a vest underneath, a vest made of brown cylinders with red painted tops.

 

Nobody knew what it was, except for Jin Hua.

 

She instantly recognized the tell-tale markers, and was aghast.

 

“You must be joking,” she stated disbelievingly.

 

“Ah, glad to see that you know these. I was wondering if they looked too cartoonish,” Huang Ming revealed.

 

“Are those real?” Jin Hua demanded.

 

“What do you think?”

 

“You wouldn’t dare!”

 

“Why wouldn’t I? You obviously identified me as the main obstacle to your ambitions. What makes you think that I wouldn’t think the same about you?”

 

Jin Hua closed her mouth, unable to completely refute him.

 

“So this is your objective? To kill me or die trying?” she asked.

 

Huang Ming waved off her question. “Oh, I certainly don’t want to die. I have a good thing going here in this life. No, this is just an insurance policy.”

 

Jin Hua noted that his words did not discount the front half of her question.

 

Prince Jin Bao snarled. “What makes you think you can get out of this alive?”

 

But his wife restrained him. “Stop. He is wearing an explosive vest, it could kill us all,” she told him.

 

The prince growled, but was not willing to test the hypothesis. He remembered the potency of the explosive weapons and so he could only glare hatefully at Huang Ming.

 

“You will not escape,” Prince Jin Bao told Huang Ming.

 

“I’m not escaping,” Huang Ming replied mildly. He glanced at Jin Hua and added, “This is for your own benefit too. I am sure you have a lot of questions. We have some time. Let’s keep talking, and nobody explodes,” he chuckled.

 

The prince could not bear Huang Ming’s mild smugness and wanted more than anything to cut him down where he stood. What was more infuriating was the fact that his wife was not reacting as strongly as he was.

 

“Why would you do this?” she asked with misgiving.

 

Huang Ming gave her an odd look. It was akin to someone looking at a child.

 

She did not like it. Ever since arriving in this world, she was the one who had felt superior to the natives that she considered backwards. She enjoyed regaling and astonishing the Jins with her foresight and knowledge. When Huang Ming appeared and dropped infuriatingly vague hints about their special circumstances, Jin Hua realized that she did not like being on the receiving end.

 

“Haven’t you felt different ever since we met?” Huang Ming asked facetiously.

 

Jin Hua grimaced at his choice of words, but knew what he meant. When she was embroiled in the various drama while navigating the drama surrounding the Jin palace, she knew she had to rise to the top and get revenge for the body she had occupied.

 

Yet after she had secured her marriage to the Prince of Jin and became the most famous woman of the land, she felt unfulfilled. The fairy tale had ended, but there was she knew in the back of her mind that there was more than ‘happily ever after’.

 

What had she missed? Was there something she had forgotten? Was there something more?

 

Then she remembered about her sister Qiong Ying. The middle sister who had been absent most of her life, unaware that the previous Qiong Hua had been abused and neglected by the rest of the family. Qiong Ying had escaped the destruction of the family and resurfaced in Wu, and had done very well for herself.

 

This is it. This must surely be it. The last loose end, the final piece of the puzzle. Once Qiong Ying had been taken care of, then this restless feeling in Jin Hua’s heart would finally subside and she could actually enjoy wielding the power and influence to change the world around her.

 

Of course, it turned out that Qiong Ying wasn’t the fated person, much to her chagrin.

 

Huang Ming took a deep breath.

 

“My name is [⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛]. I was born [⬛⬛⬛⬛] years ago on Earth,” he said in English.

 

Jin Hua’s face scrunched up at the incomprehensible sounds. “Can you repeat that?” she asked in disbelief.

 

But Huang Ming shook his head. “There is no need. It is not possible to reveal our personal details to a fellow Avatar. Don’t bother looking at them, to them we’re still speaking in a language they don’t recognize,” he said as he gestured at all those surrounding them.

 

Jin Hua took a glance around and saw that her husband, the various armed men and Zhao Sunli were all still on their guard. They were looking at their conversation in puzzlement, but it was because she and Huang Ming were talking in English.

 

“[⬛⬛⬛⬛]”Jin Hua said as an experiment. She frowned deeply, more in annoyance than in shock. “Why is this happening?”

 

“It’s a SCP-thing,” Huang Ming said dismissively. “It’s not important. Suffice to say that it is a reminder that we need to be careful at all times, and that there are rules placed by the Patrons to govern their game.”

 

“What are you saying?” the princess demanded.

 

“You once asked me if everything was scripted,” he continued. “A life of near daily amazing coincidences, dramatic occurrences and sudden twists of fate. You feel a strange feeling to be doing something, to be drawn towards an unspecified goal or conclusion.”

 

Jin Hua paused. “You are suggesting that we are fictional characters in some fantasy novel?”

 

“The Patrons seek to be amused. We are but pieces in their great game,” Huang Ming stated.

 

“Wouldn’t talking about this very notion break their immersion?” Jin Hua asked doubtfully.

 

“Ah, but the Patrons have been at it for incalculable amounts of time. Nobody knows how long it has been going on. The fact that I’m not struck by thunder yet meant they are also getting bored with the same thing over and over,” Huang Ming replied.

 

Jin Hua could not resist glancing up at the sky warily. It was a clear day without a cloud in the sky. Only the distant smoke from the direction of Tigertrap Valley spoiled the vista.

 

“So you’re telling me that I am pawn in some cosmic version of chess? What is the object of the game? Are we supposed to kill each other?” Jin Hua asked grudgingly, still smarting from her own mistake about Qiong Ying.

 

“That is what we think is expected of us Avatars, yes,” Huang Ming answered.

 

“Us?” Jin Hua echoed.

 

“Ah, this is your first time so you don’t know about it. Think of a place like a resting zone. We Avatars would lounge around the lobby until we are called to play in the cosmic game. A waiting room, if you will.”

 

“And how many of ‘us’ are there?”

 

“Not more than a handful. Don’t worry, it’s always just two of us per setting,” Huang Ming smiled and added in a crotchety voice: “Always two there are. No more, no less.”

 

Jin Hua was not impressed by his self-satisfaction.

 

Huang Ming’s smile became thinner. “We too had the same questions about free will. Why are we still here? Just to suffer? To be memes for the gods?”

 

“Do we even have a choice?” Jin Hua asked resentfully.

 

Huang Ming spread his hands apologetically. “We are dealing with entities that can whisk us from our worlds and then dump us into completely different settings, and do it across time, space and realities. There is little that we can do.”

 

“Did you even try?”

 

“Of course we did. But those who we thought had performed well will be taken away. We call it ‘ascension’ and we only have hints as what it is to be. We like to think that we get rewarded after multiple lifetimes of service.”

 

Jin Hua’s eyes narrowed. “And what of those who lost? Do they disappear too?”

 

“Yes,” Huang Ming said simply. “There are those who lost multiple times in a row and were never seen again in the Waiting Room.”

 

“Exactly how many of ‘us’ are there?” Jin Hua asked again.

 

Huang Ming sighed. “Too few. Turnover rate, you understand. You experienced it for yourself how you are just thrown into this without any explanations.”

 

Jin Hua’s eyes narrowed as she remembered. Then she turned her suspicious eyes at him.

 

“You’re not telling me that we shouldn’t be killing each other, that we should learn to live in peace and enjoy ourselves, are you? Are you want of those slackers who prefer to live a slow life, build a house and then somehow gather a harem?”

 

“Not quite,” Huang Ming said.

 

“You built up a base and you have two wives,” she pointed out.

 

“I am not definitely not one of those slackers,” Huang Ming said emphatically. “Besides, I blew up the fort.”

 

“Of course. I had forgotten that,” Jin Hua’s tone was full of sarcasm. Clearly, she was still dubious.

 

Huang Ming rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Look, I am trying to help you.”

 

Help me?” Jin Hua barked in harsh laughter. “You sure have a strange notion of what it means.”

 

Huang Ming waved a hand impatiently. “I don’t mean this. I mean in your career as an Avatar.”

 

“You just told me that we’re dealing with bored omnipotent entities,” Jin Hua needled.

 

“I am somewhat of an anomaly,” Huang Ming said.

 

Jin Hua tilted her head in puzzlement.

 

“We don’t have much time so I’ll just be brief. Number 1: Don’t assume everything you learned and know will apply in a different setting. Number 2: You will find yourself in unfamiliar biology. Don’t get too hung up about it.”

 

“What the hell do you mean by that?”

 

Huang Ming ignored her and continued: “Number 3: Don’t bring magic-”

 

Magic?” Jin Hua repeated.

 

“Yes yes, magic. Don’t go casting spells from one setting in another. Especially if the setting doesn’t have magic in the first place.”

 

He paused because he saw she was already becoming lost in thought.

 

“I know what you are thinking,” he interrupted.

 

“What?”

 

“You are thinking that one day you can climb to the pinnacle of a magical setting and discover a way to ‘pierce the veil’ and find the Patrons. Don’t stress yourself going that route. If you are interesting enough, they will find you.”

 

“You sound as if you have met them repeatedly,” she accused.

 

“Perhaps I did. I think I did. But I don’t know for sure, because they could easily erase themselves from my memory. It would explain a lot, actually. ”

 

“In the end, you are not telling me anything too useful,” she groused.

 

“I found out about Number 3 the hard way,” Huang Ming warned. “You will spontaneously combust. You will die and it will hurt the whole time.”

 

Jin Hua blanched.

 

“You’re lucky I’m your first,” Huang Ming continued. “Others would not part with their knowledge as easily as I had, preferring you to ‘pay your dues’ the hard way.”

 

“Am I supposed to thank you?”

 

Huang Ming shook his head.

 

“I have been doing this for a very long, long time,” Huang Ming said heavily. “In those lives, I have many cherished relationships, unforgettable friends and rivals. Wins and losses. In time, you too will have such memories. Cherish the bonds that you will create, but move on when your time there is done. Life is precious, but in our case, we have many of it. So don’t get too obsessed about winning and losing.”

 

“What are you saying?” Jin Hua asked warily.

 

He looked directly into her eyes. “You have done well for your first experience. You have endless possibilities and unimaginable encounters in the future. Remember that. So don’t lose your head. Don’t rush headlong into things, don’t despair when things don’t go your way.”

 

“Is this some sort of sappy, moving speech to appeal to my better nature?” Jin Hua sneered. “Thank you for your information, but if what you said is true, it is nothing that I won’t discover for myself in due time.”

 

“Yes, that is correct,” Huang Ming confirmed.

 

“Ha. So you thought I would be grateful?” she said triumphantly.

 

“Eh, that would be nice. But we’re not even serving the same Patron. I’m just doing you a favour,” he told her.

 

“Why would you to this for me?”.

 

“For you? Who said I was doing it for you?”

 

“What-” Jin Hua stopped herself.

 

Once more, there was a tremendous ruckus outside. It wasn’t an explosion, but the roar of men baying for blood. Sounds of weapons clashing begin to fill the air.

 

“Ah, just in time,” Huang Ming smiled.

 

 

Buying for time,

That was his crime.