“This is called the Golden Snake Restraint... The key of this kungfu is a single word: LOCK!”
--Devil Killer Tat, Love on Delivery (1994)
Chapter Thirty Eight - Close Encounter
Early morning. The sun had yet to rise, the air was chilly and still.
The guardswoman Sunli stepped into the dew-covered courtyard with her military sword, dressed in casual clothes. She began her methodical sword dance, slowly cutting the air with gentle slices and thrusts, as if she was performing at half-speed. The slow, graceful movements seemed out of place with the scimitar-like dao used by the army. To an outsider her movement was more suited to a double-edged jian, used by gentlemen swordsmen like Muge Jian or Huang Lang. However it was a deliberate and straining drill designed to train her composure, rhythm and breathing while wielding the hefty broadsword so that she would be used to it when the time comes for an actual killing blow.
Indeed, when she finished her routine, her brows were lined with sweat. She exhaled as she sheathed her sword, satisfied with her performance. Excited clapping broke her moment of zen and she whirled towards the source. She relaxed when she saw it was the young maid of the Huang family, Yu-er.
“That was wonderful!” Yu-er gushed.
“I’m glad you liked it,” the stern-faced beauty said, a slight smile on her lips.
“Is that very heavy?” the maid asked, pointing to the army sword.
“Would you like to try?” Sunli offered, to which the younger girl bounded over with a thrill. Encouraged by Sunli, Yu-er attempted to hold the sheathed sword, but found it too unwieldy for her thin arms. Sunli watched with faint amusement as the maid wrestled with the military weapon.
“You can have it back,” Yu-er said with a huff as she held the sword with both hands. The maid frowned at her own reddened palms as Sunli took the blade back. “Even the handle hurts,” the maid complained, noting the cord that was coiled around the hilt for ease of grip.
“That’s because you aren’t used to it,” Sunli explained.
“Oh, but it’s still too heavy anyway,” Yu-er replied.
“I can teach you to use something lighter, like a dagger,” the guardswoman suggested. She remembered Huang Ming’s remark about turning maids into soldiers. She was honestly interested in such a project.
“I don’t know if I should…” Yu-er said hesitantly.
“You should learn some self-defence. You’ll never know what sort of danger you could stumble into,” Sunli advised.
“But I’m here most of the time. I don’t really get to go out much,” Yu-er said.
“What about your young master?” Sunli asked.
Yu-er was completely mystified. “What about him?”
“He might ask you to do something you wouldn’t want to. Your master isn’t exactly known for his restraint,” Sunli answered.
“Like what?” Yu-er asked guilelessly.
Sunli blushed. “Like asking you to… to sleep with him.”
“Oh, I have already done that,” Yu-er said as a matter-of-factly.
“I have already shared the bed with the young master,” Yu-er clarified innocently.
Yu-er’s honest admission sparked a fire in Sunli. The guardswoman saw that the maid was very young, perhaps the same age as Zhao Hongqi. What were those words about Hongqi being too young, all were lies! She felt she had been utterly hoodwinked and made a fool of by Huang Ming. All her previous suspicions about his character that she had slowly dismissed came back with a vengeance, causing her heartbeat to roar in her ears.
Sunli bared her teeth in a snarl and marched towards Huang Ming’s room, followed by the bewildered maid. The enraged guardswoman performed a keyless entry by slamming the doors open with her palm, only to see an empty room.
“Where is he!” Sunli demanded.
Yu-er blinked. “The young master is exercising in his own yard as usual. But what-”
Sunli did not wait to hear the maid’s question; she tore through Huang Ming’s private residence and headed to the enclosed yard beyond. Yu-er struggled to keep up with the tall woman’s long-legged strides.
Sunli charged into the yard and immediately saw her quarry. There were various implements of exercise in the yard: buckets of water hung from a carrying pole, a large sandbag suspended from a stand, blocks of stones with rough handles carved into them among others. All showed signs of wear and tear from repeated use. In the midst of it all was the target of her ire.
Huang Ming was stripped to his waist; his body was glistening with sweat and he was breathing heavily from his exertions. He was holding a short wooden practice sword over his head and bringing it down repeatedly with force. The pool of dampness around his feet was evidence of his dedication; it was obvious that he had been doing it for quite some time. Against the backdrop of dawn and with his handsome face a mask of concentration, the young master looked dashing. As they say, a man is the most attractive while he is focused.
Sunli’s sudden appearance interrupted Huang Ming in mid-swing. For a moment, the two stared at each other in shock.
“What are you doing here?” Huang Ming asked as he wiped his brows with the back of his hand, looking at the stunned guardswoman warily.
Sunli crushed her brief moment of doubt and unsheathed her sword. “You liar!” she cursed as she levelled her weapon at the young man.
Huang Ming covered his perspiring chest with his hands in a maiden-like fashion. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! You can rape me, just don’t kill me!” Huang Ming babbled.
“Scoundrel!” Sunli seethed even as her face turned crimson at Huang Ming’s insinuations. Clouded by anger, she charged forward and swung her sword.
Instinctively Huang Ming raised his wooden sword to block. It was immediately chopped in two by Sunli’s weapon. Frightened, Huang Ming threw the remaining half at her and leapt back, his eyes searching wildly for another weapon.
The guardswoman easily knocked aside the thrown projectile. The distraction gave Huang Ming enough time to grab the carrying pole from the water buckets. He brandished it like a spear, pointing one end towards her to keep his distance.
Sunli snorted and attacked with her sword, aiming to chop the pole’s length. It clashed violently with the carrying pole, causing a loud metallic clang when they met. Shocked, she drew back to steady herself.
Her cold eyes squinted when she saw that the carrying pole was reinforced by several metal bands, presumably to prevent the water buckets from slipping off. She was annoyed with herself, such a long target and yet she was unlucky enough to have struck the metal bands instead of the wooden body. The thought of a foppish man deflecting her attack was disconcerting.
“What’s this about me being a liar?” Huang Ming demanded.
She ignored him and resumed her onslaught. Three times she slashed, and three times Huang Ming countered her with simple parries. All her blows landed on the metal bands, filling the courtyard with the sound of metals clashing and ringing.
Sunli was astonished. She realized it wasn’t simple luck; Huang Ming had deliberately met her attacks with the metal-covered sections of the pole to prevent harm to the wooden staff.
“Hey, someone’s going to get hurt,” Huang Ming warned, slowly sweeping the pole back and forth in a small arc to demonstrate his range.
“Who would get hurt!” Sunli growled, affronted at the thought of being injured by him.
“Me!” Huang Ming exclaimed with all honesty. He was already tired from his morning exercise, and Sunli’s army sword was a real and dangerous weapon. Sweat from his brow was dripping down his face and a few drops stung his eyes. By reflex he used a hand to wipe the sweat off.
When Sunli saw the brief moment where Huang Ming was holding the pole with one hand, she seized the chance to dash forward. Her quick movement caught Huang Ming by surprise and he could not swing the pole to prevent her encroachment.
Sunli was close enough that she did not slash with the keen edge of her sword; such a move would actually kill him. Instead, she decided step in further and lashed out hilt first at his chest, a pommel strike that could knock him down. Huang Ming had no time to back off; instead he dropped his staff and kicked out, hitting the pole and sending it horizontally at the onrushing woman.
Pain flashed through Sunli as the flying pole struck her feet. Her momentum caused her to stumble forward, but she still had the presence of mind to fling her sword away to the side to prevent an accidentally stabbing because she knew she was crashing into Huang Ming.
She found herself enveloped by Huang Ming who hugged her tightly as they fell down together onto the floor. The smell of manly sweat assaulted her senses and the tanned woman found herself blushing hotly when she realized her extreme proximity to Huang Ming who had bore the brunt of the crash. She struggled to get free but the young master locked his arms around hers and refused to relinquish his hold, even as her clothes became stained and sticky with his sweat.
Sunli turned her head and glared. “Let go!” she scowled.
“Not until you tell me what this is about,” Huang Ming said fearlessly as he stared back at her. She attempted to lash out with a knee, but their sprawled position on the ground meant she could not muster enough force to threaten him. On the contrary, her defiance only caused increased the pressure from Huang Ming’s hug, squeezing the two of them ever closer. He twined a leg around one of hers and locked her down, MMA-style.
“What is this!” Sunli howled indignantly. Once more Huang Ming found such grappling moves to be effective, even his redoubtable brother had been taken by surprise by such maneuvers.
“Don’t think I’m enjoying this,” Huang Ming said coldly.
‘I’m enjoying this,’ he thought to himself while relishing the experience of hugging a supremely fit and attractive woman so closely. Huang Ming also discovered that the guardswoman had ample curvy soft parts, much to his pleasant surprise. He may be jaded to the point of not actively pursuing the sensual, but that did not mean he was a block of unfeeling stone.
Sunli then tried to bite down fiercely, but Huang Ming repositioned the pressure so she was unable to turn her head. The side of her face was plastered against his exposed chest, their entire pose looked like a comical parody of a passionate embrace. Witnessing the debacle was Yu-er, she had her eyes covered by her hands but she could not resist peeking through the cracks between her fingers.
“I will kill you!” Sunli hissed at Huang Ming. Unfortunately her threat had little effect, because her face was like a puckered blowfish and it distorted her voice to sound like: “Ay bwill brill byou!”
“I can do this all day,” Huang Ming informed her. It caused Sunli to squirm and wriggle angrily, but she simply couldn’t overpower his hold from her awkward position. Her fruitless struggle caused Huang Ming to chuckle softly.
Hearing him laugh seemed to deflate all the anger out of her. She felt completely helpless and humiliated.
“Ret mi gro,” she groaned.
“Only if you promise no more funny business. If you have reason to do what you did, then I’ll make it up to you,” Huang Ming said sternly.
Sunli was somewhat gratified that he did not immediately demand an apology. She swore to make him pay later; first she needed to get out of this mess. She nodded in assent, the immense pressure was released and she found herself exhaling with relief. It was so soothing that she did not immediately jump to her feet, instead she felt as if she had melted while lying on top of Huang Ming.
“Now, lets get up and make ourselves presentable before someone gets the wrong idea,” Huang Ming said gently.
There was a cough, and Huang Ming turned his head to see a smug-looking Huang Ke and a bemused-looking Huang Lang.
They were tied-up with each other,
Now they were in a spot of bother.