“Tahiti. It’s a magical place.”
--Phil Coulson, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’
Chapter 308 – End
There was a thunderous gunshot, followed by a ghastly silence.
Princess Jin Hua’s triumphant smirk slowly slowly slipped into a grimace as she felt a red-hot heat radiating from her torso. A steel ball had ripped into her stomach, and the brutal impact had staggered her.
She looked down with the same astonishment that Ran Wei had shown when he had been shot earlier. A mass of thick blood was staining her clothes. Still unable to process what had happened, she glanced at her own shaking gun arm. The pistol was still in her hand, but no telltale report of smoke or smell.
She had yet to fire.
“Wha-” she started to ask.
“What made you think I only had one?” Huang Ming replied simply, and tossed his spent pistol onto the ground to join the first.
When Jin Hua had been focused on pointing her gun at his forehead, he had fired his second concealed firearm.
Jin Hua despaired and began to stagger over backwards.
“Remember the things I told you. I hope they will be useful to you, and that you would pass them on,” Huang Ming said placidly. He gave Jin Hua one last look before turning away.
His blasé attitude seemed to trigger a burst of anger within Jin Hua. Even as the iron-taste of blood filled her mouth, Jin Hua summoned the last of her strength and willed herself to raise her gun.
“Look out!” Sunli shouted.
Huang Ming turned around just in time to see Jin Hua pull the trigger successfully.
There was yet another gunshot, and this time Huang Ming was the one who staggered.
“Agh,” he exclaimed, one hand over his chest as he fell over. “You shot me! I’m done for!”
By all accounts, it appeared that he too suffered a grievous wound. But to Jin Hua’s ears, she knew he was faking it.
Especially when she had expected her shot to ignite the ‘explosive vest’ he was supposed to be wearing.
But in the chaos and clamour of the situation, everyone had forgotten about it.
“No!” Prince Jin Bao shouted, his face ashen as he rushed to Jin Hua’s side.
“Stay with me, don’t leave me alone!” he called out forlornly.
Another woman would be utterly moved at his heart-wrenching wail, but not Jin Hua. She desperately wanted to tell her husband to get up and kill Huang Ming, but by now she was gurgling blood and gasping for air.
“Jin Hua!” her husband cried, too distraught to notice the venom in her eyes.
‘Kill him, you fool, kill him!’ Jin Hua wanted to scream. She lolled her head to have a better view of Huang Ming’s fallen body, only for her husband to cradle her in his arms and block her view.
Thus, the last thing Jin Hua felt as she slipped into the cold void was tremendous resentment.
Her husband Prince Jin Bao wailed as he saw the light go out of her eyes.
Suddenly he snapped his head around to glare at the fallen Huang Ming.
“Huang Ming!” he shouted, even as the person concerned was on the ground and unmoving as Zhao Sunli frantically tried to revive him. The female Amazon had even dropped her spear, and to most observers it appeared that Huang Ming had suffered a fatal wound.
Jin Bao would have leapt at Huang Ming’s corpse and ripped out his heart himself to make sure if not for his attendants.
“Your majesty, we need to go!” they advised urgently. “Another group of men are incoming from the direction of Tigertrap Fort!”
Indeed, there was a rapidly approaching dust cloud. Earlier it heralded the arrival of Ran Wei, who could it be this time?
“Get off me!” Prince Jin Bao raged as he tried to claw past his protective men.
“Persevere, your majesty! Huang Ming is already dead! Your safety is paramount!”
Jin Bao howled with impotent rage as his men began to pull him and the deceased princess away towards an awaiting carriage. Once within the carriage, grief overcame the heartbroken prince once more…
Back at the scene of the summit, Zhao Sunli too had tears in her eyes as she shook Huang Ming.
“Calm down, I’m not dead,” Huang Ming murmured.
Sunli gasped and tearfully hugged him with relief.
“But how?” she asked.
“Nghhh,” Huang Ming winced as he tugged his robe for her to see. Underneath his torn robes, Sunli could see the vest of fake dynamite sticks were actually just painted leather strips atop a metal plate. It was a crude implement that would not stand up to close scrutiny, but it managed to stop Jin Hua’s bullet.
“Are you alright?” Sunli asked as she saw the still smoking projectile buried in the leather strips.
“I’m fine, it’s all within expectations,” Huang Ming said.
Sunli narrowed her eyes. “Did you plan for all this to happen?” she demanded.
Huang Ming busied himself by extracting the spent bullet from the vest, but Sunli was distracted.
“You bloody idiot,” she scolded, “What if she aimed higher and hit your head?”
“I had a lucky feeling it would turn out alright,” Huang Ming said lightly, and Sunli’s glare became incinerating.
Fortunately for Huang Ming, the admonishment was interrupted by the arrival of the dust cloud. As it approached, the Chuwu men could see a scores of riders familiar to them.
“It’s Great General Huang!” the Chuwu survivors exclaimed with joy. Some were puzzled, why were there women with the general as well?
Huang Zheng and Madam Li were in consternation when they saw Huang Ming lying on the ground. Qiong Ying and Min Guang hurriedly joined Sunli to be by his side.
“Don’t worry, ‘tis but a flesh wound,” Huang Ming said before they got too emotional.
“Then why are you lying on the ground?” his father grumbled, secretly relieved that his youngest son was fine.
“So misleading!” Madam Li scolded and slapped Huang Ming on the shoulder.
“Your love and care is so touching,” Huang Ming said dryly and stood up with Sunli’s help.
“What happened here?” Zhao Tong asked as he scanned the surroundings. The tent that had housed the summit had collapsed, and the dead bodies wore uniforms of Jin, Chuwu and even Wei troops.
“Ran Wei’s here too?” Huang Ke exclaimed when he saw the late Marshal of Wei’s corpse.
“Yes, I killed him,” Huang Ming grinned as he dusted off himself.
“Really?” Min Guang asked with wide-eyed shock.
“Mm-hmm. I also killed the Princess of Jin. Sorry,” Huang Ming told Qiong Ying.
“You did what?” Qiong Ying gasped.
“Yeah, not really sorry about that. I’ll explain later. For now, we better make ourselves scarce,” Huang Ming added blandly.
“Our people are already headed for the river. You’re the last one left,” Huang Lang told him.
Huang Ming nodded. “Good, let’s saddle up and roll out.”
Then he frowned. “How many men did you bring with you?”
“Only the ones we have here right now, the rest are preparing the boats,” Huang Ke replied.
“Then who is that coming behind you guys?” Huang Ming demanded.
They looked with growing consternation as yet another dust cloud was approaching.
“Ah. They are friendly,” Huang Ming said after observing. “Have our men fan out to receive them.”
“Why? Who is coming?” Huang Ke asked.
“It’s the king,” Huang Lang answered, his eyes sharpest among them to perceive the royal banners first.
Huang Ming clapped his hands to command their attention. “Tell our people not to make any sudden moves but make sure their guns are in full view,” he ordered.
“Oh. Oh. Oh?” Huang Ke echoed.
“Just keep quiet and let me do the talking,” Huang Ming urged as he lay himself down on the ground again.
“What are you doing?” his father demanded.
“No time to explain. Pretend you’re in grief!” his son hissed.
With no time left to debate the matter, they quickly followed Huang Ming’s plan.
“The king has arrived!” a herald announced breathlessly.
King Chu Xiong and his small retinue rode into the scene, and the Chuwu men hastily fell onto their knees in obeisance.
“Are you alright?” the king asked anxiously when he saw Huang Ming lying on the ground, surrounded by three sad-looking beauties. There were grim and stoic faces all around, and the king feared for the worst.
Huang Ming gave him a tired wave. “Thank you for your concern, your Majesty. But I fear my wounds are…”
King Chu Xiong leapt down from his horse and rushed to his side.
“What happened?” the king asked worriedly.
“It is too late for me, your majesty…”
There was something in Huang Ming’s tone that gave the king pause. The king took a closer look. His clothes were tattered and torn, but there were no obvious wounds.
“Are you really dying?” the king asked suspiciously in a low whisper.
“Pretty sure I’m dying, your majesty,” Huang Ming replied.
“We are all dying, just not today!” the king retorted. “So you’re pretending to be wounded? Why? If you need a vacation, just ask! Why bother with this charade?”
“Because, your majesty; I want a retirement, not a vacation.”
The young monarch stared at him.
“We are in a final struggle against Jin, and now you plan to abandon us in this time of need?” King Chu Xiong demanded.
Huang Ming expounded: “It should be a simple matter now. The Princess of Jin is dead. Her weapon facilities have been destroyed, and so they would not be able to compete against us. I have already passed on instructions to my friends. In time, they will be able to assist you in producing the new weapons.”
Chu Xiong was startled. “Wait, what was that about the Princess of Jin?”
But Huang Ming ignored the question to continue, “Ran Wei is also dead. Once the people of Wei hear how their ‘hero’ had fallen, it would be easy for you to rally them to your side. Liberate the Wei cities, treat them kindly and soon the entire land will acknowledge you as their savior.”
“You thought of everything,” the king commented sarcastically.
Huang Ming sighed. “Your majesty, I have done my utmost for you and the kingdom. From now on, you need not depend on me or my family any longer.”
“So you are leaving?” the king asked quietly.
“You already know I am.”
“Where will you go?”
Huang Ming took a faraway glance. “To the south. We will be using the river to head down to former Chu and then beyond. I have a nice boat waiting.”
King Chu Xiong’s eyes widened. “Is that why you advised my father to subdue the southern barbarians? You used him to clear the path for you?”
“Pure coincidence, your majesty,” Huang Ming lied as easily as he breathed. “I heard the climate in the tropics is very nice. I always wanted to retire to a paradise island to enjoy the sun and alcoholic drinks with little umbrellas in them.”
The king was not sure what Huang Ming really meant but he had to admit it sounded enticing.
“What if I insist that you stay?” the king asked coldly.
Huang Ming sighed. “Your majesty, I am doing this for your own good.”
“Oh? Do explain yourself,” the king scoffed disbelievingly.
“Your majesty, from the very first day you stepped into Wu at my invitation, there were rumours of how I was influencing you from behind the scenes. My family had always enjoyed respect from the kingdom, and with my own rise, it will cause an unnatural order to things,” Huang Ming said.
The king kept quiet, knowing full well that Huang Ming was speaking the truth. His court was filled with whispers and unfounded sedition that swirled around the patriotic Huangs ever since he ascended the throne.
Huang Ming gave Chu Xiong a solemn look. “I do not wish to for my family to end up like that of the Yins.”
“You are not like Yin Yanzhao,” the king shot back immediately.
“Neither Yin Yanzhao nor Nangong Xie started out as traitors,” Huang Ming reminded him. “They thought too much of themselves and were seduced by dreams of grandeur. I wish to stop that from ever happening to me or my line. Just let us go, your majesty. This is for the best.”
“Besides…” Huang Ming lowered his voice so that only the monarch could hear, “You have activated my trap card. You can’t stop us even if you wished.”
He smiled, and King Chu Xiong felt the blood in his veins freeze. Suddenly he was acutely aware of the presence of Huang Zheng, Huang Ke and Zhao Tong and their men who had quietly encircled his own retinue who did not see anything amiss.
The king had rode ahead of his column with all urgent haste in order to catch up to Huang Ming, and so his retinue were outnumbered.
That was not the extent of the ominous feeling. The king noticed the firearms the men of the Huangs had… the new weapons that his own men lacked. Even the womenfolk were armed to the teeth.
Huang Ming did not give him time to mull over such dark thoughts.
“Your Majesty, I have been wounded, but I heard there is a magical remedy in the wild lands. Please, permit me a sojourn to seek this miraculous medicine to save myself!” Huang Ming said loudly so that all could hear.
He bowed and kept his head low.
The king’s face twitched. Nobody except his ignorant guards and attendants knew that Huang Ming was talking nonsense.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Arriving at the inevitable conclusion, the king rose to his full height.
“Hear my decree,” he began, but paused when he saw the smirk on Huang Ming’s face.
The king narrowed his eyes and changed the draft that was in his mind.
“Our humble servant, the Marquis of Dawning Light Sir Huang Ming, has suffered a great injury. Alas, we grieve for the damage done to his manhood, and offer our condolences,” the king proclaimed loudly for all to hear.
All eyes turned to look at Huang Ming who was rapidly turning green in the face. Then their eyes travelled downwards…
“Fortunately, the gods have been magnanimous and the Huangs have found a secret that could perhaps restore his virility,” the king continued as his eyes glinted mischievously. “Thus we bestow upon them this permission. They are to seek this fabled remedy to cure Huang Ming’s impotency and repair the damage to his Golden Rod, his Jade Peak, his Yang Mountain…”
Zhao Sunli colored furiously at each appellation.
“…We graciously give them this leave in view of their long list of merits. May their venture be fruitful, and we await the day when Huang Ming can once more ‘stand proudly’ with us,” the king finished with a flourish.
He stared down at Huang Ming smugly.
Huang Ming put on an impassive face and bowed.
“I thank you, your majesty. My admiration for you is like the great river, unending and ever-flowing; like the grand mountains, towering and ever-magnificent…” he droned on in a flat tone.
“Yes, yes, that’s quite enough,” the king cut him off.
Then the king drew nearer once more so that the two men were face to face.
“Take care, Huang Ming,” the king said softly.
“I will, your majesty.”
“We will always be friends.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“If you should ever come back…”
“I know how to find you, your majesty.”
The king nodded. He stepped back, and climbed back onto his horse. He gave the Huangs one last look, the greatest patriots of the kingdom.
“Safe journeys,” he wished them.
“And to you too, your majesty,” Huang Ming bowed once more.
The king pulled on the reins and rode back towards Tigertrap Valley where his army would be waiting.
Huang Ming and the rest of the Huangs stood attentively until the monarch was out of sight.
“Well, that was easy,” Huang Ming remarked.
“What was that bit about you being impotent?” Zhao Tong demanded. The others guffawed at Huang Ming’s expense.
“The king can go eat shit,” Huang Ming grumbled.
“Are you sure you’re alright…?” Qiong Ying asked suspiciously as her emerald eyes began to look downwards.
“I’ll prove it to you three once we’re on the boat,” Huang Ming promised, causing Qiong Ying, Zhao Sunli and Min Guang to flush furiously.
He grinned like a schoolboy and gave his family a sweeping wave.
“Let’s blow this joint!”
In the third year of their reign, King Chu Xiong and Queen Wu Liying received news about the fall of Tigertrap Fort and all those who defended it. It was said that the King lamented to the heavens when he heard the tragic loss of the patriotic Huang family.
Fueled by righteous anger, the king declared war against the Jins. The entire Chuwu kingdom was spurred into action and cried out for revenge for their fallen heroes. The heavens heard their prayers and a plague swept the Jins that did not spare their princess.
Seizing the opportunity, King Chu Xiong led three columns into the valley and drove the Jins away, liberating the oppressed Wei people in the process. The Wei remnants eagerly joined with the King and swore fealty.
King Chu Xiong treated them benevolently and led them in a crusade against the barbaric Jins. In the climatic battle at the former Wei capital, King Chu Xiong unleashed a storm of fire-breathing weapons. The Jins were terrified and were routed at the first drumroll, their prince fleeing by the skin of his teeth and suffered a tremendous loss of prestige.
Thereafter the Jins were broken. In the fifth year of his reign, King Chu Xiong led an army from the pacified Wei region. Queen Wu Liying launched a coordinated assault from Beihai and the two sovereigns trampled into Jin in a gigantic pincer movement. Within months, the kingdom of Jin was vanquished and the entire continent was finally united.
King Chu Xiong proclaimed himself as Emperor Martial Chu and Queen Wu Liying as Empress Martial Wu. A general amnesty was declared and the Empire of Tian was declared. The sovereigns restrained their might and bestowed their benevolence which was tempered by respect of the law.
The new monarchs conferred gifts on the civil and military officers who joined him, confirming their ranks and titles. Bai Mu and Meng Jian were made Marshals, Zhou Zhong and Lu Wei became Chancellors. Cao Shuang was made Minister of Finance, Ma Jun the Minister of Alchemy, Zhang Ping the Minister of Works, Lei Yan the Minister of Education, He Ding the Minister of Rites, Lin Hua the Minister of Education; Tian Zhu the Imperial Instructor and Zhen Tian the Grand General. Gifts of gold, silver, the finest silk and appropriate promotions and rewards were distributed to the rank and file. Huge numbers of oxen and animals were slaughtered for banquets to the army, while the granaries were opened for the common people.
The land rejoiced greatly, and thus the firm foundations of a long lasting dynasty was established…
It was dawn of a glorious day,
The histories had a lot to say.
Four Kingdoms became two,
Who would win through?
Brave Ran Wei fought to end,
To Jin he did not bend,
From Wu he sought aid,
And offered them his blade.
Alas, all was not well,
And Tigertrap did fell.
By guile and mystery,
Ran Wei downed by trickery.
The Wei men uncoiled,
Their rage turned to a boil,
On their lips were curse after curse,
Wishing the Jins all the worst.
The land went dry,
Smoke filled the sky.
In that evil hour,
The Jins lost their flower.
With thunderous acclaim,
The Chuwu King established his fame.
The world rang out for a saviour,
And the darkness disappeared.
Great men he had several,
With wise counsel and brave generals,
He swept the Jins away,
United the land under a brand new day.
History began violently,
Calm followed the new dynasty.
The heroes were celebrated,
Their deeds were dedicated.
Many were lost along the way,
Forgotten like soft clay,
Like lost youth,
Time will bury the truth...
Huang Ming stretched and yawned as a stray ray of light showered his face. He blearily opened his eyes to see gently swaying leaves above him.
He tried to sit up, but found himself pinned by a mass of warmth. Now wide awake, he looked down to see that he was piled on by his three wives, all of whom were still sleeping blissfully. On his right arm was Qiong Ying, on his left was Zhao Sunli and draped across his body was Min Guang.
He smiled lazily. All three ladies had a healthy glow and light sheen of sweat. They were lightly dressed in sheer silk that billowed gently from the coastal breeze.
Truly, it was a paradise.
They mumbled and shifted more comfortably to snuggle closer to him.
Huang Ming smiled, knowing that they would not get up any time soon; and closed his eyes to sleep once more.
There were things to do in that tropical paradise that they had settled in, but there were plenty of time to do so.
He had all the time in this world.
“Is that it? This is the person I lost to?” the spirit said bitterly. It was the disgruntled spirit of the recently deceased Jin Hua, looking down upon the world using a magical orb, the only tangible thing as she floated in a sea of stars.
A bemused chuckle answered her, and Jin Hua scowled as she tilted up. High above her was a colossal being covered in flaming amour. Jin Hua could not perceive his face, for atop his head was a crown of fire whose light was blinding.
“All things considered, you did well for your first time,” the cosmic figure of her Patron boomed.
Jin Hua pursed her lips in annoyance. So it was true what Huang Ming had told her. To the Patrons, they were just a source of entertainment.
“I could have done better if I knew how things worked,” she grumbled.
“It is against the rules for me to tell you anything,” the cosmic entity replied. “I was already bending the rules to have a newcomer like you to face against a veteran.”
“But why would you do it? Even if you gave me a ten year headstart, I was floundering in the dark,” Jin Hua complained.
“Your performance was to be expected.”
“What? You wanted me to lose?” Jin Hua scowled.
The Patron remained silent, and Jin Hua could feel his eyes sweeping over her patiently.
“No… you wanted something else…” Jin Hua said slowly.
Was it her imagination or could she see a hint of a smile on the cosmic being’s face?
Encouraged, Jin Hua continued to vocalize her thoughts. “You said it wasn’t allowed for you to tell me. So you made it so that I would be facing an experienced opponent… someone you know who would teach me.”
She looked up hopefully for vindication, but there was nothing from the cosmic being except for the same vague, benign smile.
“If that is so, why didn’t you just have your other Avatars teach me? Huang Ming said something about a Waiting Room… No… I get it now. All your previous Avatars had exchanged information among themselves. I am the first one to be taught by your opponent’s Avatar. Am I correct?”
“Correct,” the being finally broke his pause.
Jin Hua scowled. “So what happens now?”
“You will have another opportunity soon.”
Jin Hua waited, but the cosmic did not elaborate.
“Will I be able to meet him again?” she asked.
Jin Hua simmered at the vague answer, but knew she was completely out of her depth.
At least there was still hope.
Next time, she would make sure to punch Huang Ming in the nose…
Many, many years later…
Huang Ming opened his eyes. He took a quick look around, and saw that he was in a room entirely of white.
“So I’m back. Back again,” Huang Ming groaned.
His last memory was wearily dragging his very aged body into bed after celebrating his grandson’s wedding. He had been surrounded by his children and grandchildren; a patriarch of a very large and harmonious family.
It was obvious that his mortal body had passed on while he had slept.
Huang Ming had expected it, having lived a long and fruitful life.
“Welcome back,” a soft voice called.
Huang Ming turned around to see a woman dressed entirely in black, her face hidden by a hood. Only her thin lips were visible.
“Patron,” Huang Ming greeted. “Are you here to give me my ascension?”
The Patron waved a hand and Huang Ming suddenly felt something in his mind clicked.
It was as if he had unearthed some long-forgotten memory, and he suddenly remembered the encounter with the possessed Master Zheng Yen.
It was literally a lifetime ago, but now he could recall the entirety of the conversation with his Patron back then.
“Ah… so you are here to send me back home…” Huang Ming realized.
“If you wish,” the Patron said, and Huang Ming was immediately on his guard
“You want me to do something for you?” he asked suspiciously.
The Patron turned her palms up in a show of offering.
“No thank you,” Huang Ming interrupted before she could explain. “I want to go home.”
“Which home?” the Patron asked, bemusement in her tone.
That gave Huang Ming pause. Which home indeed…
“How about you think it over while in another world? It would be a very easy world for you to live in,” the Patron said.
“I literally just spent decades with a harem in a tropical paradise,” Huang Ming reminded her.
“What is it do you wish for then?”
“How about a world where everyone I know and love are all in the same place?” Huang Ming suggested sarcastically.
“Ambitious. But possible.”
“Really?” Huang Ming was astounded. “But they are from so many different places…”
The Patron turned her head slightly and Huang Ming had the distinct impression that she was raising an eyebrow at him underneath her hood.
Huang Ming sighed. “Actually, do I even have a choice?”
“You do not,” the Patron confirmed. “I thought you would appreciate the gesture.”
“Great,” Huang Ming said sarcastically. “What is it this time? At least make it so that I am super powerful or something this time…”
The Patron smiled.
“As a matter of fact…”
Well, that's that.
When I started writing in April 2016, I was full of ideas and had plenty of time to do it.
Alas, real world intervened. Many things happened over the past few years and I was unable to compartmentalize real life and my writing. I looked back and I see it coincided with many low points of my life: the health scares of my father in 2017, my own leg surgery in 2019, my career changes, the pandemic of 2020... And 2021 began with my mother had a fall. A health check revealed that her diabetic condition was affecting her eyes, and would require intravitreal injections and surgery later this year.
So yeah... my writing changed because my life changed.
I am sure many felt disappointed by the directions I had taken. I truly apologize to readers who gave up on my story. What started as a fun, casual jaunt in the early parts of the story slowly became more overly dramatic and filled with delusions of grandeur.
When I wrote the words "THE END", I did not feel a sense of accomplishment. Rather, I felt relief. It was as if I was dragging a half-dead horse across the finish line. I do not think a creator should feel that way. I had apologized for disappointing my readers, but I also felt I had let myself down.
I hope to do better. If my world improves, maybe I will.
That said, those who spam me with crap: Go eat shit.
Thank you very much to everyone who had stuck on with it this far. My gratitude to you all is like the great river, unending and ever-flowing... like the grand mountains, towering and ever-magnificent...
A huge shout out to those who donated to my PayPal and all my Patrons new and old, ongoing and cancelled. I apologize for my complete lack of engagement, I am totally clueless. I will be closing the Patreon.
Thank you very much to:
Fr H, Marcus Saffron, Streye, Qwer, Micheal N., Tin V Nguyen, Tiffany T, Dicky Wongsonegoro, Jacques Lebreton, Abimael Martinez, HoronXI, Dude Persona, Miguel razo, Jaideep, Cristian Mahecha, Pedro Otavio Zago Furtado, Matthew Vo, Lunnear
Thank you very much David Trinh, Klaurem!
I am very appreciative of your contributions in supporting my poor efforts. I only hope my work had been able to provide some modicum of entertainment.
Perhaps we will meet again in the future.
rdawv, February 2021