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  1. #81
    Senior Member patricia n's Avatar
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    Continued from post #76

    Ai Lang hesitated; he knew Huo Yuan disrespected his father while Ai Lang thought highly of him. Telling him why or who he learned this escape technique from would cause the drift between father and son to widen. “Er….”

    Huo Yuan glowered at him.

    “What the heck. He already hates his father so much, and I need them to be on my side to successfully get rid of that stupid king of Pan,” thought Wang Ai Lang. “As you can tell, my injuries were not light when the soldiers went after me. The distraction technique was something I picked up from your father during my days with him. He always taught us that survival is crucial for anyone to complete his task even if it means making certain sacrifices.”

    Huo Yuan gave a “Hmph!” but he dared not to doubt what Wang Ai Lang said because these actions were typical of his father.

    Wang Ai Lang continued, “Even if those soldiers were stupid enough to be fooled, I didn’t think their chief would fall for such child’s play. Who in his right mind would target his own party?”

    Despite hearing the explanation, Huo Yuan’s prejudices against Wang Ai Lang prevented him from forgiving him. And hearing how Wang Ai Lang picked up on some of his father’s despicable behavior caused him to dislike Wang Ai Lang further. But now that they were stuck in this situation, wanted by Xiwu’s people, what could they do. Huo Yuan turned to Wu Haocun and asked, “Hero Wu, what do you plan to do next? It looks like we will not be able to live in Luoyang in peace now that we are targeted by Xiwu,” he quickly darted his eyes at Wang Ai Lang and finished off with, “and Pan now.”

    Suddenly, Wang Ai Lang asked, “Hero Wu, are you the infamous Wu Haocun?” He was so distracted by his injuries and animosity with Huo Yuan that it only occurred to him that he was standing in the presence of a reclusive hero. Seeing Haocun nod, Wang Ai Lang further asked, “I heard that once you aim for someone, the person’s death is certain, but…” Wang Ai Lang also failed to recognize Wu Haocun because he saw that the daggers released did not kill all of its targets.

    Haocun answered, “I’ve returned to the martial realm because of a very important reason which I can’t share yet. Because I want to prevent too many people from learning about my return, I purposely chose not to kill all those masked men.” He paced a bit more and finally sighed, “I hope you two can put aside your differences since we have a bigger task at hand. We all need to leave Luoyang for various reasons, and since the city has been closed off, this is exceedingly difficult to do. Yet, there is one person who can help us leave Luoyang.” He looked at Feng and asked, “Little friend, I originally did not want to take this dangerous option and risk your life, but now that I’ve rescued your friends, I hope you do not mind reciprocating this favor and help me find those two people.”

    Feng looked down and answered, “I am not afraid of death and you did help me, so…so I will go along with you and help guide you to this person.”

    Huo Yuan joined in, “Hero Wu, if you do not mind us going along with you in the meantime.”

    Haocun pleasantly declined, “There is no need for such a large party…”

    Huo Yuan interrupted him, “There is strength in numbers and we can all help protect Feng for you too.”

    Xue Qian gave a “Hmph!”

    Huo Yuan asked him, “Unless you want to stay and deal with the Xiwu envoy yourself?”

    Xue Qian exasperatedly replied, “Alright, I will go with you, but do not expect me to protect that dirty waiter.” He was afraid for his life. If the true mastermind behind that ambush was who he suspected it to be, he might as well be dead if he stayed in Luoyang.

    Wang Ai Lang also volunteered, “If you do not mind me joining the escape, I promise to also protect Feng until you find your friends.” The truth was, he wanted to be surrounded by people while he recuperated from his injuries and hopefully he could recruit their help in completing his task.

    Wu Haocun finally consented, “Fine. Asking this person can be a bit tricky. But whatever you do and however you seek her help, do not mention my name.”

    Feng was curious. Wu Haocun was such a well respected hero that he was surprise someone would deny his request, “Who is this person?”

    Haocun’s eyes slightly softened as he responded, “One Hundred Flowers Brothel’s musician Chen Biyu.”
    Last edited by patricia n; 09-05-11 at 03:36 AM.
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  2. #82
    Senior Member Ren Ying Ying's Avatar
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    Pan Palace, Late Night Cont. from Post #80

    “So what if it is me,” Lanyi rolled her eyes at Yushen.

    A sly smile spread across Yushen’s lips and she spoke in a sweet voice, “So it seems Lord Zhou has quite some luck with women. Yesterday he gets a maid pouring out her love to him and today another one comes to his rescue.”

    //[i]So it was because of her![i]// Lanyi wanted to punch the lights out of Yushen but resisted, as she knew she was no match for Yushen’s sword. Instead she kept a straight face and replied back, “What luck Lord Zhou has is none of my business. What is my business is that two people are meeting in a deserted renovation area. Whatever business is going on here is very suspicious. If I were you, I would be scooting.”

    “But if nobody has seen us here, then we were never here. I’m sure Lord Zhou’s words carry more weight than a mere maid’s?” Yushen continued to smile as she looked at Zhou He. Surely, he wouldn’t want word of this to spread out either.

    “Perhaps my words don’t carry much weight, but the Patrol Guards’ words do. Did you not know? Even though this area is deserted, it still requires patrolling since it is part of the Palace. With the recent assassination attempts, the numbers of patrols have increased. They now patrol here at least every two hours during the night and should be coming around pretty soon. I have been around this palace long enough that I have enough friends in the Patrol Guards. I don’t know if they will be as friendly towards you.”
    Last edited by Ren Ying Ying; 09-05-11 at 04:06 AM.

  3. #83
    Senior Member Ren Ying Ying's Avatar
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    Residence of Xiwu Envoy in Luoyang, same timeline as Wu Haocun & co. (post #81)

    Zhang Duo Qian sat in his chair and sipped at his tea. The night was late and he was tired from the day’s work. Yet he had to stay up to hear a report from his personal bodyguard. What’s worse was that report that the bodyguard brought back. Empty handed! How dare of him to have the face to show up with a failed mission? “

    “Twelve men. I sent a dozen of top rated fighters with you for a reason. It was to make sure that you finish those two off! How can twelve top notch fighters not be able to finish off two men? How am I supposed to report this to the Princess of the Northern Clouds? Do you purposely want me to lose face?”

    The bodyguard stayed in a kneeling position, with his head bowed to the ground. “Master, I would never dare! You know I am loyal to you for eternity. I will give my life up for you. It’s just that they had some unexpected help!”

    Zhang Duo Qian stayed quiet.

    The bodyguard still had his head bowed down so he could not see Zhang Duo Qian’s expression. However, since Zhang Duo Qian did not interrupt his explanation, he assumed it was safe to continue. “Master, we were just about to finish the fighter with the spear but he was suddenly rescued by another man. But we managed to injure him and was about to succeed until…until arrows and daggers came darting out at us.”

    “Daggers? Flying daggers?” Zhang Duo Qian’s tone suddenly changed from anger to concern.

    Knowing what his master was thinking of, the bodyguard quickly added in, “I initially thought it might be Wu Haocun, too. However, while the daggers always hit their targets, it did not always kill…”

    “Who he is, is none of your business. Your job right now is to kill the two rats. Don’t show your face here again until you do so!” Zhang Duo Qian waved his hand.

    “Yes, Master! I will not fail you this time!” The bodyguard bowed again and exited before Zhang Duo Qian could release more anger.

    “Flying daggers…” Zhang Duo Qian mumbled to himself. Unless Wu Haocun had taken disciples that no one knew of? But why would they want to save Xue Qian? Or could it be someone else? Who could it be? Will they ruin our plans? Should he report this to the Princess? Or should he take care of it on his own so that he will not lose face in front of her. Who knows what may be the consequence of her wrath…

  4. #84
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    Yushen considered Lanyi’s words. Being part of the Xiwu entourage who were still new to the palace, it wouldn’t be wise making herself look suspicious.

    She smiled coldly at Zhou He. “Looks like we have to stop here. But don’t think this is over. This is just the beginning.”

    Zhou He stood up and stared at her. “What do you mean?”

    Yushen merely smiled but did not reply.

    “I will take this sister’s words to heart and leave now before I get into further trouble.”

    “Wait! Explain yourself!” Zhou He demanded.

    Yushen laughed. “I did say your world will be destroyed like mine did, didn’t I? That hasn’t happened, but it will, soon.”

    Zhou He stepped forward to stop Yushen but she leapt away from him and in a blink of an eye was gone.

    Yushen’s words weighed heavily on him. What did she mean? The only way his world could crash was if the Donghai expedition failed and if anything happened to his lord… But Yushen doesn’t have the ability or influence to do so, could she?

    He turned to Lanyi and held his fists together. “Boyan thank Miss Lanyi for the help…”

    He hesitated. How long has she been here? What has she seen or heard?

    “… Whatever you have seen or heard, Boyan would like to ask Miss Lanyi not to say anything about tonight. Especially to…” His tongue tied, unable to easily speak of that name.

    Zhou He sighed. “… I would be very much grateful if you could do so…”
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  5. #85
    Senior Member patricia n's Avatar
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    continued from post #81

    Wang Ai Lang slightly jumped, “Miss Chen? Well of course, why didn’t I think about her?”

    Wu Haocun looked at him and asked politely but somewhat impatiently, “How do you know her?”

    Covering the wound on his shoulder, Wang Ai Lang responded, “If it were not for her, I would not have been able to penetrate the palace so easily even with my lightness skills. Even though we have worked together, it puzzles me how she chooses to do business with people.”

    “This person seems so interesting. What kind of business does she run?” asked a curious Feng.

    “She sells and exchanges information. One Hundred Flowers Brothel is the perfect setup for her. Drunken men easily leak important and secretive information, and men of all walks of life traverse brothels. From the common man to pugilists to the palace guards and even important government officials,” answered Wang Ai Lang.

    Huo Yuan suddenly recalled the first time he encountered Wang Ai Lang in Luoyang; it was outside of the brothel. Now he understood why Wang Ai Lang would enter such a scandalous place.

    “Hero Wu, you had mention that this person’s method to help us escape might be dangerous?” wondered Feng.

    Wu Haocun nodded, “Only because I do not know what to except. Worst case scenario would be we barge out at nighttime, and she would be able to tell us what the best hour would be to perform that task. Best case scenario would be for her to find a way for us to exit unscathed.”
    Last edited by patricia n; 09-08-11 at 02:39 AM.
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  6. #86
    Senior Member patricia n's Avatar
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    The harmonious melody emanated from the zither. In the center of the stage, a radiant beauty plucked the strings while all men focused on her. Looking at them, one could not tell if they were mesmerized by her face or her music. The tempo of the music quickened and the beauty increasingly focused on the zither before abruptly ending the song, causing the men to snap out of their trance. Unbeknownst to them, while she pretended to concentrate on the music, she was actually trying to focus on the more important conversations. The men stood up and cheered wildly.

    “That was awesome.”

    “Miss Chen played beautifully like always.”

    “Here’s a drink for my lady!”

    Chen Biyu curtly nodded before disappearing behind the curtains. The old madam rushed towards her and requested, “Aye, Biyu. You’re always so rude to the patrons who frequent this establishment just for you. Many of them are such important government officials too. Please save me some face and say hello to them.”

    “Li Mama, *cough, cough* I am not feeling too well. You don’t want me to greet them when I am like this do you?” Chen Biyu eyed the madam who had nothing more to say. Li Mama never was able to convince Chen Biyu to do anything regardless of what she said, and she knew if she said more, Chen Biyu would displease the patrons and hurt her business.

    “Hmph, you just wait and see Chen Biyu. One of these days, you will be begging me for favors,” thought the old madam. It was better for her to make a profit than suffer a loss, so once again, she let Chen Biyu do whatever she liked.

    She then noticed four men with mustaches stepping into the brothel with the smallest one looking around in amazement. The four were not too lavishly dressed and because business was so good that day, none of the courtesans rushed towards them. However, the madam noticed them and every patron could be profitable if she willed it. She swayed towards their direction and smiled widely, “Esteemed guests, welcome to paradise. How many girls do you need to please you?”

    The smallest of the four asked, “What do you mean? Why do I need girls to...”

    The man to her right elbowed him and whispered, “Feng, just let you-know-who do the talking.”

    Feng responded in a whisper, “What kind of place is this? Why are the women dressed like that?”

    Huo Yuan asked, “You don’t know what a brothel is? Just stay quiet and we’ll explain later.” The group had been planning this for four days and could not wait longer. There was too much to risk if they stayed in Luoyang any second further.

    Wang Ai Lang brought out a small bag and passed it to the madam, “We want to see Miss Chen.”

    She asked, “All of you?” She snorted, “We have so many other beautiful ladies here and you want to see her?”

    “Look inside the bag.”

    The madam’s eyes sparkled when she opened the bag, and she immediately led them to Chen Biyu’s room. “Esteemed guest, our Biyu is not feeling so well, so please excuse her behavior.”

    As she led them along the corridor, they observed that there were postings along the corridor looking for Huo Yuan, Xue Qian, and Wang Ai Lang. She explained, “Excuse the décor; every establishment is forced to place the posters of these criminals.” She knocked on Biyu’s door and even though there was no reply, she allowed the men to enter the room. “I’ll take my leave now, but let me know what more I can do for you.”

    Wang Ai Lang waved her off and was the first to enter the room. The other three soon followed. Chen Biyu looked up from the tea table, and the men behind Wang Ai Lang were startled by her beauty. Wu Haocun mentioned nothing about her beauty, and they were unprepared for such a vision before their eyes.

    Chen Biyu kept quiet and waited for them to speak.

    The men closed the door behind them, and Wang Ai Lang ripped off his mustache.

    Chen Biyu smirked, “You have a lot of guts coming here to ask for my help again.”

    “But I know you don’t care for political rewards.”

    Chen Biyu picked up a teacup and asked, “So you’ve seen the posters of yourself? What is it you seek, and what do I gain in return?”

    “My friends and I need to escape from Luoyang.”

    “That matter is obvious. I suspect the people with you are Huo Yuan and Xue Qian. But who is this fourth person?”

    “This person is an ally of ours but is not wanted by the king.”

    “How many of you are there?”

    “Five.”

    “Where’s the fifth person?”

    “He’s too sick to be here.”

    “Fine, then what do I get in return?”

    Huo Yuan took out a bag and tossed it to her. He was the best person to protect the valuable good as he was the least injured and thus was the most able.

    Chen Biyu took the bag from him and took out a small gold plaque with the word “Pan” engraved in the center on both sides.

    The group worked hard before coming to see Chen Biyu, thus they were prepared to meet her demands. Knowing that what they sought was difficult to achieve, they had prepared to pay her something equally desirable.

    After carefully examining the plaque, Chen Biyu asked, “The city pass?”

    “We can only obtain one city pass, and there are five of us. We’d rather give you this pass in exchange for your help in order to leave Luoyang.”

    Chen Biyu smiled with satisifaction. It did not matter how they got it or who they got it from. This would be of great use to her in the future, for this pass represented many things. Today, it would mean freedom to enter and leave the city at will. In the future, it may mean something else. “Alright, I will help you. In exactly two weeks at the break of dawn, the soldiers will leave the city for the war against Donghai. Take this opportunity to leave with them. I will provide you with the uniforms. You will have to somehow take five soldiers’ places in the march.”
    Last edited by patricia n; 09-08-11 at 05:06 AM.
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  7. #87
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    The King sat at his working desk with a thoughtful expression, his eyes focused on the candle flame that was dancing in front of him.

    A pair of pale arms wrapped around his neck gently.

    "Your Majesty... you are so bad... you haven't been listening to what I was saying, right?"

    The King turned and smiled at the pouting face of Yue Fei-er.

    "Of course not... my dear. You were talking about how Xiwu's General Zhong and his wife were such a loving couple."

    "Yes."

    "And you were saying he held a big feast for his wife's birthday that lasted the entire night, inviting the whole city?"

    "Yes."

    The King's smile broadened. "Let me guess... your birthday's approaching?"

    Yue Fei-er giggled but did not deny it.

    "Well, I assure you will get a big surprise for your birthday. How's that?"

    "Yes!" Yue Fei-er beamed as she nuzzled her face into the King's neck and kissed him. "You are the best, Your Majesty...!"

    "Well, of course. Anything for you, my dear..." The King smiled as he kissed Yue Fei-er's lips.

    Yes. A surprise.
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  8. #88
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    Even though he had only met her twice, and they would soon meet again in another two weeks' time, Prince Ying had difficulty waiting.

    For some reason, he couldn't forget about Guo Xingling. She seemed so worldly - possibly because she had been helping out with the family business that must have taken her to many different places before - yet so innocent.

    Her face, her eyes, her voice... it was difficult to forget them. Prince Ying paced up and down in his room. Where was Zhou He when he needed him?

    Finally, Prince Ying made up his mind. He walked to the doors, threw them open and exited the room.

    ****

    He was delighted to find her at the stable. He had half-expected to score a miss because she might be out for business or maybe just in her home having lunch. The servants had looked at him strangely when he appeared but he didn't care. They would just think he's here for business.

    Bracing himself, Prince Ying stepped forward.

    "Miss Guo..."
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  9. #89
    Senior Member IcyFox's Avatar
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    Yue Jiayan started and jerked around. She had a hunch that Prince Ying would show up at the stables again, but she wasn't particularly expecting him that day.

    Prince Ying suddenly found his speech impaired as the face he had been thinking of day and night now appeared in front of him.

    He hawed, "Erm... I was wondering..."

    She smiled lightly and he was enthralled by her sweet rosy cheeks as she said, "Your Highness, are you worried that I cannot deliver the horses as promised?"

    Prince Ying hurriedly said, "No! ... I mean, yes! The army cannot go into battle without sufficient battle horses. The Donghai lands directly south of here are mostly open plains, if enemy is prepared for our advance and engages us with their superior horses, surely we'll be defeated..."

    Yue Jiayan listened patiently as he rattled off, then explained, "The horses also need to be well-fed and exercised before they are battle-ready. Without the muscles and stamina, they will be less agile and slower in a front-line engagement, and they will hinder the army's progress in a long-range march."

    Prince Ying mumbled an "Ohh..." as he had not considered the finer details. Even though he was thirsty for revenge, he did not realize that planning and preparing for battle required such detailed knowledge of the army's logistics and supplies as well.

    Yue Jiayan continued, "Even the terrain is not very hostile, there are many rivers and tributaries along the way. You'll also need boats that can keep the horses dry and well-rested as you cross those rivers. Also, when fording, the troops will have to move quickly as horses are not well-suited to dealing with attacks while wading in the water."

    "As for seiging cities, you need different training for the horses because they have to be armoured together with the chariots and battering rams they will be pulling. Of course, assaulting a well-fortified city doesn't bode well for the army whether horses or soldiers are used. Oh I think I may have spoken a little too much here. Forgive me for forgetting my place."

    Prince Ying was nodding as he heard Yue Jiayan explain about the horses, but he was somewhat fogged out and he only saw her sharp features drifting through a cloud with her melodious voice echoing in the background.

    Her last sentence snapped him from his trance and he stuttered in finding a response, "Oh no it's perfectly fine! I... I just realized I didn't know as much about horses as you do." He sighed.

    Yue Jiayan patted Prince Ying gently on his arm, saying, "It's alright, my family has been supplying horses to the Pan armies for some time now, so I came to know about these matters through experience. The main thing is that man and horse must have a good relationship. Every soldier should treat his horse like his bosom friend, or master and beast will fail to work effectively together in battle."

    Prince Ying felt her touch to be soothing and sensual at the same time, and he found himself getting aroused... "I wonder if she feels that too. Or am I imagining things? No I should get a hold of myself."

    He was starting to feel awkward and decided that he should excuse himself. "Erm alright I should be going. I also have other preparations to make. So you'll rendezvous with our army in Xinyuan Town, correct?"

    Yue Jiayan said, "Yes. The horses will be delivered as promised. Have a safe journey."

    Prince Ying cupped his hands and walked off, but had gone barely 10 steps when he could not resist and turned around to look at Yue Jiayan again. Just at that moment, he found her looking up from her books in his direction.

    Yue Jiayan blushed when he saw her stealing a glance at him and she turned her head away shyly. Prince Ying felt his heart thump as he forcefully peeled his eyes away from her. He did not notice it then, but he was falling sick. Lovesick.

    After Prince Ying disappeared from sight, Yue Jiayan snorted, "What a creep."

  10. #90
    Senior Member Ren Ying Ying's Avatar
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    Pan Palace, Late Night Cont. from Post #84

    “Lord Zhou,” Lanyi stared at Zhou He through the corner of her eye. “If you don’t want others to find out what you have done, then you should not have done it in the first place. I will use my own judgment on what to say to whom.”

    Before Zhou He could explain further, Lanyi had already turned and left. Though, she wondered whether or not she should comply with Zhou He’s plea. She knew who he was specifically referring to. On the one hand, it was better not to worry Lanxi about Zhou He’s affairs. The less Lanxi thought about him, the better it was for her. Yet, Lanyi is a nosy and chatty person by nature. Although living in the Palace has trained her to be strategic about what she says in public, she still has the urges to gossip and chatter. Lanxi was the black hole that Lanyi spills all her thoughts to. How could she actually keep anything a secret from Lanxi?

    ************************************************** **********************************

    “Alright, what gossip is it that you need to spill today?” It didn’t take long for Lanyi’s nature to betray her, as it didn’t take more than half an hour before Lanxi began to squeeze information out of her.

    “Hm? What? What do you mean gossip?” Lanyi smiled innocently.

    Lanxi rolled her eyes impatiently. “Every time you start twirling your hair with your fingers, you have something you need to gossip about. Just say what you have to say. All that twirling you do is making me dizzy.”

    Lanyi puffed her cheeks and tried to resist the urge to speak but she knew she couldn’t hide anything. “It’s…it’s about you-know-who…and that Xiwu swordswoman.” Once Lanyi had opened the conversation, she could not stop. She described everything she saw earlier in the night.

    When Lanxi first heard that the gossip was about Zhou He and the Yushen, she looked down at the table and sighed. What did it matter to her anyways? She has no right to question over his relationship with other people. However, once she heard that Yushen was seeking Zhou He and was actually able to defeat him, her eyes widened with worry. When she heard that Yushen threatened to destroy Zhou He’s world, she grabbed Lanyi’s sleeve with a fearful expression, “He is going to be in grave danger. We must do something to help him.”

    Lanyi patted Lanxi on the back and consoled, “Don’t worry. Lord Zhou will be going south with the army. Even though that little brat’s is highly skilled in martial arts, I doubt she can defeat an entire army. Plus, what can WE do to help him? We’re just palace maids.”

    Lanxi stayed silent and did not speak. Her eyes stared outside at the dark sky. What Lanyi stated was true. She is just a palace maid. What could she possibly do for him?

  11. #91
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    At a lonely lane in Luoyang

    At a lane at Luoyang, a few people sat at the tables of a bun stall. Even though the lane was set in the middle of Luoyang’s busiest streets, the shadows cast over the lane by the tall buildings often obfuscate the lane and sadly enough, also the bun stall.

    At one of the tables, two men – an elderly man and a younger man – were talking to each other.

    “The Fabulous Four? What? What’s that? Stage play characters?” The young man stared blankly at the older man.

    The older man laughed at the question.

    “The Fabulous Four is an exclusive group made up of four pugilists some 20 plus years ago. This group travels extensively, setting foot in the four great states of Pan, Donghai, Xiang and Nanxi.

    It was said that their original plans were to only explore and seek adventures in foreign lands, but changed their minds upon seeing unjust inflicted on the poor and weak by the rich and powerful. At first their activities were to only play pranks on corrupt officials and wicked merchants to teach them a lesson, but later their scope increased and they defended towns and villagers from bandits, thieves and murderers.

    In fact, they were so efficient, so good and yet so ruthless with the wicked that they put the local governments to shame and the wicked tremble and flee at the mere mention of their name!”

    “Wow, really? Who are they?” The young man was amazed at the tale.

    “Hahaha! You will be shocked when you know who they are!”

    “Just tell me already!”

    “The leader of the Fabulous Four is none other than Wu Haocun, the legendary flying dagger!”

    The young man spat the wine he was drinking. “You serious, old fart? You are not kidding?”

    “Who’s kidding with you? And who are you calling an old fart?? You think my past 60 years has been for nothing?” The old man retorted. Seeing that the young man was stunned to silence, the old man was pleased.

    He continued, “Alongside with him was the legendary Iron Fist Gu Yunfeng, Lan Mengying the younger sister of Lan Tianying and missy of Lan Manor, and Xingye from Jiancheng. It was also with the Fabulous Four that Wu Haocun and Gu Yunfeng’s reputation grew, the start of their legendary pugilist life.”

    “Wait wait wait.” The young man interrupted, “Iron Fist Gu Yunfeng?! Wasn’t that… wasn’t that Wu Haocun’s greatest enemy? I heard he was the one who crippled Wu Haocun and he was never heard of again! Many said he went into retirement after losing, while some others said Wu Haocun killed him!

    And that Xingye person… I’ve never even heard of her before, but isn’t Jiancheng a Shuzhong school? Pan and Xiwu were still warring 20 years ago, so what are these good people doing with someone from Xiwu?? And with these kind of people in the Fabulous Four, how is it that nobody knows of that name now?”

    “Take it easy, will you, young man?? Don’t ask so many questions at one time!” The old man snapped in irritancy.

    “First of all, the martial realm saw things differently. Perhaps they weren’t too concerned about which state a pugilist comes from, as long as their ideals match. Indeed, the fact that Xingye became part of them was proof of that. Besides, Jiancheng hasn’t been involved with Xiwu’s political or military endeavours for the past several decades and it has never done anything bad in the Central Plains, so there was little reason for them to feel particularly negative about it.

    Wu Haocun, Gu Yunfeng, Lan Mengying and Xingye had their own distinctive traits. Wu Haocun was calm and collected as the leader, making the plans and decisions for the group. Gu Yunfeng was quite a complex one since he’s apparently aggressive to the point of violent yet possessed a gentle side. Lan Mengying was exceptional with the sword, not surprising since she’s the sister of Lan Tianying and must have been taught well by her father and brother. She’s also intelligent and witty; many of the sly clever tricks played on the government officials in the early days of the Fabulous Four were said to be her brainchild. Xingye was the voice of reason; each time any of the three were to step out of line or close to doing so, she’d stop them and they’d listen to her counsel. She doesn’t seem to fight much so nobody knows how good she is at martial arts, but much has been said about her beauty, elegance and kindness.”

    The old man then sighed and shook his head sadly.

    “But as the saying goes, nothing lasts forever. The Fabulous Four lasted for only three years and then it was disbanded. After it was disbanded, Wu Haocun and Gu Yunfeng each carved their own name in the pugilist realm, so much that the name of Fabulous Four was cast into the shadows and forgotten.

    Perhaps that was also what the government officials wanted… and maybe even Wu Haocun and Gu Yunfeng. Apparently they fell out before, or not too long after the Fabulous Four was disbanded. The exact reason was never known… but it appeared that they never got along after that… until, of course, that legendary duel between them whose result nobody really knew of, except that Wu Haocun came out with a crippled leg and Gu Yunfeng never seen again.”

    “That’s sad…” The young man sniffed. “What about Lan Mengying and Xingye? What happened to them after Fabulous Four got disbanded? I heard Lan Mengying passed away many years ago…”

    “Well… what happened to Lan Mengying was exactly what you knew. Some freak fire accident at Lan Manor… It was such a pity… she was a good-looking young woman who was of excellent character. Had she not died so young, surely her achievements would have rivalled her brother’s!” The old man shook his head.

    “As for Xingye… it seems like she was the first to leave the group because subsequent activities of the Fabulous Four were done only by Wu Haocun, Gu Yunfeng and Lan Mengying. Nobody knew why Xingye left, but she most probably returned to Jiancheng.

    Not long after that, Gu Yunfeng too left the group… and the Fabulous Four was over since. Lan Mengying returned to the Lan Manor but passed away in that fire less than two years later, while Wu Haocun continued to make a name for himself in the pugilist realm.”

    “I see. How sad! What a pity things went the way they had!” The young man remarked. “Maybe if they had stayed together, things wouldn’t have gone the way they did, and the Fabulous Four’s name would be famous throughout the land by now, never to be forgotten.”

    “Very true… but who knows! Only the Heavens would know.” The old man replied.

    “Hey, old man. How did you know so much?” The young man suddenly asked, “And when you described them earlier on, it was as if you’ve seen the real thing before!”

    The old man smiled. “Ah well. You’d know and remember so much too, if you happen to be part of a town they saved from tyranny and if they stayed in your hometown for as long as two weeks.”

    “What?! Really?? Whoa!” The young man exclaimed, apparently quite impressed with the old man.

    “So only Wu Haocun and Xingye are still alive?” The young man asked again.

    “Well, Wu Haocun is most definitely alive. In fact, I heard he was recently sighted at Zhao Long Inn! I went there but didn’t get to see him… maybe it’s just rumours… As for Xingye… who knows? I’ve never heard anything about her since she left the Fabulous Four. She could be dead or alive, just like Gu Yunfeng…”

    The old man sat down and gently hammered his back with his fist.

    “Ah… what I wouldn’t give to see the Fabulous Four together again…” He sighed.
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  12. #92
    Senior Member Ren Ying Ying's Avatar
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    Imperial Garden, Pan Palace

    “Are you ready? Even though you have joined the military for many years, this is actually your first major war, isn’t it? ” Lady Yi asked Yi Quan as they strolled down through the Imperial Garden in the cool spring evening. Yi Quan had come to visit his sister one last time before setting out of Luoyang for the war with Donghai the next morning.

    Yi Quan smiled calmly, “I’m only accompanying Prince Ying’s cavalry unit of 500 men. It should not be too different from the duties I had on the Western borders.”

    Lady Yi gently patted her brother on the arm, “the Western borders have been relatively peaceful these past few years. Chasing marauders and settling tribal uprisings are different from a full blown war with Donghai. Even though the Donghai Princes are battling each other, the Donghai armies are not to be overlooked. Donghai soldiers are known to be the most disciplined and their formations the most sophisticated amongst all the Kingdoms.”

    “Yes, dear sister. I will keep that in mind,” Yi Quan replied in a robotic tone.

    Lady Yi smiled and shook her head. “I’m not trying to nag you just to annoy you. Don’t be so impatient. It may harm you in the future, especially on the battlefield.

    “Now you are sounding just like Father.”

    Lady Yi sighed, “Perhaps it would have been a better idea to send you to Xiang, instead. They are deteriorating pretty quickly. It would have been safer for you to start there instead. I don’t know what His Majesty was thinking, sending you in with that Prince Ying who is probably even more inexperienced than you are…”

    “Well, Lord Zhou seems to be pretty knowledgeable and I’m sure he will be a lot of help,” Lanyi suddenly butted into the conversation as she followed behind them.

    Yi Quan turned his head to look at Lanyi. He seemed as if he was about to say something, but instead stayed silent. Although the night was growing dark, one could still make out a hint of annoyance on his face under the moonlight. Something Lanyi said must have displeased him. After a while, he suddenly asked, “Where’s Lanxi?”

    “She said she wasn’t feeling well after dinner, so I let her go back to her room to rest,” Lady Yi answered.

    “Oh? She’s feeling ill? I should pay her a visit, then.” Yi Quan's expression quickly changed into one of concern.

    “She should be fine and should be better with some rest. It’s getting late. You should get some rest soon, too. You will probably have to wake up early to prepare for the march out tomorrow morning.”

    “My Lady, I will show young master the way out,” Lanyi bowed.

    Lady Yi nodded. She placed her hand on Yi Quan’s cheek and smiled, “Good luck and take care.”

    ************************************************** *********************

    As they walked towards the exit of the Palace, Yi Quan suddenly spoke, “Lanyi, I think I should still pay Lanxi a visit since she is not feeling well.”

    Lanyi looked at him and smiled but did not reply.

    Yi Quan looked at her quizzically, unsure of what she meant by the response. He continued to explain, “I mean, once I leave tomorrow, I don’t know when I will see you guys again next time. So I thought I should say my goodbyes.”

    Lanyi continued to smile, but her eyes extruded an air of helplessness. She sighed and shook her head, but she still did not reply. It wasn’t until they had reached the exit of the Palace that she finally spoke, “I’m sure it won’t be too long. Young master, please take care and be careful. We will be praying for your safety. Good night.”
    Last edited by Ren Ying Ying; 09-16-11 at 12:50 AM.

  13. #93
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    ****

    The horse galloped spiritedly under the morning sun. The rider manipulated the horse expertly, making it turn and swirl in sudden sharp turns and avoiding obstacles. The rider’s eyes glanced sideways at six other horses trying hard to keep up with her.

    A smile curled on her lips. Lord Jueqing was right. Barely three months after he left Shuzhong, these fools had gotten too restless… too impatient. Now throw her into the picture, they just couldn’t wait any longer.

    Surely they should have realised that even without her or the lord, they would never be able to get out of the vicious cycle that was Jiancheng?

    “Die, witch!”

    A blade cuts through the air viciously and the horse neighed painfully as it was hacked to half.

    But the assailant was not happy at hitting target. In fact, he was stunned because his target – the rider – had disappeared!

    “You killed my horse. Don’t you think I deserve compensation?” A woman’s voice said from behind.

    The man turned in shock, only to be palmed right on his face. As he fell off his horse, the palm clenched into claws, gripping him so tightly on the face that he didn’t touch ground.

    “I will borrow this too, if you don’t mind.”

    Another hand simply pulled the sabre out of his weakened right hand grip.

    “Argh…” The man groaned. He tried to struggle but the overwhelming pain on his head had paralyzed him he could barely move his limbs.

    “You Jiancheng witch! Let go of our brother!” Another of the attackers raged as he rushed his horse forward and stabbed his sword toward the woman in offense.

    “If you say so.” The woman obliged. But instead of simply letting the man go, she pulled back her arm and threw him toward the second man.

    “NO!” The second man gasped when his sword stabbed clean through into the man’s body.

    “Ahhh…” The man moaned. Then his head rolled to one side.

    “You… you witch! You will pay for this!” The second man screamed in black hatred.

    Too late for him. Even before he could pull his sword out of his brother’s body, the woman had threw the sabre at him. The sabre shot through his chest and the force threw him off the horse.

    The woman smiled in satisfaction at her handiwork, and even more so when the other attackers seemed to have slowed down, apparently discouraged from further attacking her.

    Kicking at her new horse’s abdomen, it picked up speed and ran through the hill road like wind.
    Last edited by Guo Xiang; 10-08-11 at 12:37 PM.
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  14. #94
    Senior Member patricia n's Avatar
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    A few days after post #89 and #90

    It rained heavily today, and the winds howled, causing the windows to creak and slightly flood the small home. A beautiful lady gazed at the creaking window and sighed. She returned to packing her traveling bundle when a pair of large hands stopped her. She looked at the owner of the hands and smiled, “Dear husband, I already promised your sister that I would visit her in the city today.”

    His gentle eyes slightly narrowed with concern as he responded, “It is raining so heavily outside. A woman with low internal energy such as yourself could not possibly tolerate the harsh weather condition.”

    She patted his hands in reassurance, “Brother Baozhi, you need not worry about me. Plus, your sister must be lonely being the only girl in such a place.”

    “But you just visited her a few days ago,” he protested.

    She diverted her eyes from his and focused on her travelling bundle instead, “I know. I feel awful for not having visit her frequently in the past. It’s been quite lonely for her.”

    “She will understand if you cannot make it today.”

    “Please allow me to make this trip. It will mean so much to her if I can deliver some homemade snacks.”

    Tang Baozhi sighed, “Sure. It doesn’t seem like I can stop you anyhow.”

    His wife smiled sweetly at him and gave him a peck on the cheek. She saw that he still hadn’t cheered up and presumed that it was because of his concern for her well being; however, she did not realize that he was frowning for an entirely different reason. He noticed her behavior was unusual. As a matter of fact, she had been acting very strangely this past month. For as long as they had been married, he could not recall her ever behaving so strangely. He could no longer ignore this matter and had decided to secretly trail her.

    His wife grabbed an umbrella and faced him once more, “There are more snacks that I prepared for you in the kitchen. I promise to return as quickly as I can.” She smiled once more and left.

    The husband tightened both fists and thought, “Cuifen, I don’t know what’s going on. Let it not be what I am suspecting.”

    Two hours later, the woman walked to the same pasture she’s been visiting for the past month. Two figures waited for her, and she quickly ran to them. She happily exclaimed, “Royal brother Ying. How have you been?” She noticed the glow on him and asked, “Has life been good to you? You look more radiant than usual.”

    Prince Ying had been thinking about Miss Guo before Sima Cuifen’s arrival and a smile naturally crept on his face when he thought of her beauty and purity. He quickly responded, “Yes, err…I mean, life has been the same,” for he realized that Miss Guo might not feel the same about him.

    Sima Cuifen’s question startled Zhou He because he had been so absorbed in his own affairs that he was unaware of his master’s behavior. He thought to himself, “Darn, we are entering a war soon. I cannot let a brat and Lanxi distract me during this crucial time for Donghai and Prince Ying.” He swore to himself to focus more on the most urgent and important political matters at the sacrifice of his own personal affairs.

    The three proceeded to discuss the upcoming war. Although Sima Cuifen was a weak woman, her intelligence and determination surpassed many. She listened in on the details as the three spoke in quiet whispers and offered her advice when she questioned the design of the plan. After each meeting, Prince Ying and Zhou He felt more secure and confident in their strategy. Sacrifices had to be made, but perhaps this revised plan would decrease the lives lost during the upcoming war.

    Zhou He suddenly saw an unusual movement behind a bush. Although it was natural for rain and wind to disturb the bush, this sudden movement was unpredictable and out of the ordinary. He drew out his sword and intended to kill this intruder to avoid having anyone spoil their plan. Before Prince Ying and Sima Cuifen realized what had happen, Zhou He somersaulted towards the bush and pierced his sword through it.

    Fortunately for the person behind the bush, his own martial arts was not bad. Not the best, but still good enough to escape from the sword. Unfortunately for him, his skills were worse than Zhou He. The man jumped back ten feet and quickly grabbed his bow and arrows and started aiming for Zhou He. He grabbed five arrows and shot them at once, each arrow intended for the head, neck, heart, liver, and spleen. Zhou He used his sword to knock down some arrows and easily evaded the rest. Had his injury from Yushen been fully healed, he would have easily used his internal energy to throw the sword towards the intruder from his current distance. Another five arrows shot towards his direction, aiming for the same points. Zhou He knocked down four arrows. He used his sword and with a quick jab, he intercepted the fifth arrow and swung it back towards the intruder at an amazing pace. The intruder had not expected this and the arrow hit him on his right shoulder. He fell down and Zhou He took advantage of this to kill him.

    “Stop!” cried out Sima Cuifen, “Please stop! Don’t kill him.” She ran over to the intruder to help him up, “Husband, why…why are you out here?”

    Tang Baozhi pulled himself away from her and looked at her with an unreadable expression. He looked over in Prince Ying’s direction and saw a handsome man extravagantly dressed in clothes that he would never be able to afford. He looked to the ground and mumbled, “We…we…I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore.”

    Sima Cuifen stared at him and asked, “How can you say that?”

    He pointed at her and then at Prince Ying, “I never took you for a golddigger and believed that you earnestly love me. It’s no wonder you have been behaving so oddly this past month. It turns out you and he are seeing each other behind my back.”

    Sima Cuifen stared at him wide eyed, “What?” She wanted to slap him but knew that anyone would have misunderstood if they were in his position. She was a very reasonable woman and decided it was time to reveal the truth about her past in order to preserve her relationship with her husband, “Brother Baozhi,…I…I want you to meet my brother, Prince Ying.”

    Tang Baozhi looked at her, completely speechless.

    She nodded as to confirm his speculation, “I am the long lost princess of Donghai, Princess Sima Cuifen.”
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  15. #95
    Senior Member patricia n's Avatar
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    Same time frame as post #91 in Luoyang

    Feng and Wu Haocun strolled down the streets of Luoyang, inspecting the city more carefully to devise an escape plan in case they failed to leave the city during the march out. Since posters of Huo Yuan, Wang Ai Lang, and Xue Qian were plastered all over the city, the three had to stay in the secret room at Zhao Long Inn to avoid getting captured.

    Feng and Wu Haocun approached a small bun stall in the middle of the street and accidentally overheard the conversations about the Fabulous Four. The old man who spoke so highly of the Fabulous Four looked around the streets as he excitedly shared his knowledge with his younger companion at the table. The irony of the situation was that he remembered the details of his past with the Fabulous Four yet he failed to recognize that the man who he saw standing out in the streets and listening in on his conversation with interest was none other than the same man who he worshipped, Wu Haocun. Feng’s mouth opened slightly as he heard of Wu Haocun’s heroic deed. Wu Haocun signaled for Feng to stay quiet.

    Feng nodded. He decided it would be best if he purchased a bun to shove it in his mouth to better stay quiet. He left Wu Haocun in the street as he went to the stall to purchase a few buns for the group.

    At a table close to the conversation, a beautiful lady left a few taels silver coins to pay for her tea and buns. She was hoping for a quiet and peaceful morning, but listening in on this conversation brought too many sad and painful memories from the past. She quickly stood up and head towards the streets when she met eye to eye with Wu Haocun. Her eyes quickly darkened. She wanted to hurt him, but she knew she needed to be more discreet in public to avoid unwanted attention.

    Wu Haocun eyes lit up and he whispered, “Biyu.” He didn’t know what more he could say to her. What could he say to her? A mere apology belittled her suffering, and he had an urgent matter that required his full attention.

    As she swiftly walked past him, he wanted to reach out to stop her but he couldn’t. He would be leaving soon and perhaps would never see her again. It would be better to end her suffering rather than prolonging it.

    After Feng made the purchase, he immediately stuffed a bun into his mouth and turned around to witness the scene between Chen Biyu and Wu Haocun. Once Biyu left, Feng ran to Wu Haocun and took out the bun. He nudged Wu Haocun and said, “I have so many questions to ask you. I don’t even know where to begin.”

    Wu Haocun seemed a bit distracted and didn’t even realize Feng was speaking to him. He slightly shook his head and continued to walk down the streets. It had been a very long time since anyone else brought up the Fabulous Four. What really did happen to the other members? At one point, they were best friends who always looked out for each other and were willing to give up their lives for each other. Now, no one knew who was dead or alive or even the whereabouts of any member. He then thought about Chen Biyu and his heart became heavy with much regrets.
    Last edited by patricia n; 10-04-11 at 07:03 PM.
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  16. #96
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    Prince Ying stepped forward to be next to Cuifen. He tucked his arms into his robe's sleeves and bowed ever so slightly to pay respects to the man who was his brother-in-law.

    "I am Sima Ying, Fourth Prince of Donghai." He introduced. Gesturing to Zhou He, he said, "This is my Chief Attendant Zhou He. I apologise if he has offended you."

    Zhou He by now had sheathed his sword and bowed respectfully to Tang Baozhi. "My apologies for attacking you, Princess Consort."

    The last time Sima Cuifen talked about her husband, she mentioned she loved him very much and Prince Ying did not doubt her feelings, for she was an honest woman and she was glowing in true happiness when speaking of Tang Baozhi. But both she and him were in a difficult position, being royal exiles of Donghai and their lives could be in danger anytime. It was only natural she wanted to protect her husband from such political intricacies. Only the people involved knew how their lives were constantly on the fringe.

    Yet Cuifen had stepped out again to help him. He must not allow his sister's happiness to be ruined at his hands.

    "As you might already have heard, the Pan troops will soon be moving out to assist me in regaining the land and throne of Donghai. Royal sister merely wanted to help. Please do not misunderstand her. She greatly value her marriage with you..." Prince Ying looked at Cuifen apologetically. "... I'm sorry to have caused you trouble, Sister."
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  17. #97
    Senior Member Ren Ying Ying's Avatar
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    Luoyang Barracks, Morning continued from post #86

    “Are you nervous? You are sweating like a pig.” The soldier standing next to Xue Qian asked. The Pan army led by General Lu Xunzhao stationed in Luoyang had just lined up to prepare for the march out of the city.

    Xue Qian replied, “Yea… it’s not every day that we march out for war.” Despite it being a cool spring morning, he could feel sweat accumulating under his helmet and dripping down from the sides of his temples.

    The soldier nodded. “That’s true. By the way, I don’t think I’ve seen you guys around…”

    More sweat soaked down Xue Qian’s neck. It was a good thing that Chen Biyu had suggested that the three fugitives grow a beard and used some make up to cover their face as much as possible. Otherwise, who knows what other observations this soldier might pick up.

    “Um, we’re new here.” Despite having practiced this line a few dozen times last night, Xue Qian could not rid his voice of the nervous quiver.

    The soldier raised his eyebrows. “New? Why would they add in new soldiers in at the last minute?”

    “There were a few soldiers that suddenly fell ill yesterday. So, they had to find emergency substitutes,” Huo Yuan quickly added in once he recognized the doubt in the soldier's voice and the tremble in Xue Qian's.

    “Ill? What do you mean by ill? How ill are they for them to skip out of the war?” the soldier’s eyes widened with mixed expressions of worry and disbelief.

    “They didn’t tell us the details,” Huo Yuan answered. “But it appears that because a group of people became ill so suddenly, it might be some sort of plague…”

    “Plague!?” the soldier blurted out, causing a few more heads to turn in his direction.

    “Shhh!” Wu Haocun quickly motioned for the soldier to quiet down. “Don’t alarm the entire army! The reason they kept it quiet was because they didn’t want the troops to panic on the first day we march out for war. Anyways, the few soldiers that were ill has already been taken away and confined. It doesn’t appear to have spread any further, so don’t worry for now.”

    “But…but…”

    Wang Ai Lang coldly cut the soldier off, “The authorities have already ordered for us not to speak of the incident so the news doesn’t affect the troop’s morale. Anyone who talks about it excessively will be punished.”

    The soldier bit his lips and sighed, “Hopefully everything goes well. There was a girl back in my village that was famous for bringing bad luck to those around her. Good thing she isn’t here, or else that plague might really spread…”

    ************************************************** ***********************

    Soon, the horn sounded and the army exited the barracks to began parading down the main street of Luoyang. Pan Citizens lined both sides of the street, squeezing by each other so that they can see the soldiers marching, hoping to catch of glimpse of their fathers, brothers, and sons.

    //Do they have any idea that they are cheering their relatives to the path of death. The younger generation have never experienced the cruelties of the battlefield nor do they know the pain of being invaded by outsiders...but the older generation--how could they forget the bloody wars with Xiwu from no more than 10 years ago? How can their memories be so fleeting?// Huo Yuan shook his head with anger and disappointment at the citizens of Pan. He did not want to look at the scene anymore and instead focused his vision forward towards the gates of Luoyang.

    On the other hand, Xue Qian’s eyes darted nervously from one side of the street to the other, as if searching for someone in the crowds. While other soldiers were searching the sidelines enthusiastically for their family and friends, Xue Qian eyed the crowd of citizens with fear. He had a dreadful feeling that there may be pairs of eyes in the crowd that were looking for him, too. Unfortunately, they were most likely neither family nor friends.

    ************************************************** *********

    60 km South of Luoyang

    Finally, after what seemed like years, the Pan army finally made their way out of Luoyang. The morning air outside of the city smelled much fresher than the crowded and suffocating air inside. As the cool breeze blew by, Xue Qian immediately felt the sweat drying off his neck.

    Still, leaving the city was only the first step. They could not run off into freedom yet, as it would be extremely obvious and dangerous to depart from a marching army. The punishment for deserters is not exactly more forgiving than the punishment for assassins.

    The army continued to march for what seemed like a thousand miles. The sun had curved across the sky and began to fall behind the western horizon. After 12 hours of marching southward, General Lu Xunzhao finally called for the army to break for camp.

    Xue Qian let out a sigh of exhaustion. Never in his life had he walked such a long distance continuously by feet. Not to mention the army did not even bother to break for lunch and simply passed some steamed buns and water while marching.

    While the rest of the soldiers were taking the opportunity to socialize with each other, the group wanted to avoid contact with others. Therefore, they sat at a desolated corner away from the main gatherings. As soon as he grabbed his portion of food, Xue Qian quickly joined the rest of his group. Once he sat down, he began taking off his boots to massage his feet.

    Feng quickly pinched his nose with his fingers and made a disgusted face, “How do you expect us to eat with the smell of your feet polluting our air?”

    “My feet still smells better than you on a daily basis,” Xue Qian snarled back.

    Huo Yuan rolled his eyes, “You guys, this isn’t the time to fight.”

    “His feet do smell pretty disgusting, though,” Wang Ai Lang muttered as he stuffed a steamed bun down his mouth.

    Wu Haocun shook his head at the youngsters as he scanned the scene of the camp. Would it be easier to sneak away while the army is sleeping and there are fewer guards or is it easier to leave in chaos while everyone is busy eating and chatting? He would need to make a decision soon before the chance escapes them.

    Just was Wu Haocun was about to discuss his plans with the group, a young bearded soldier suddenly approached the group and sat down next to them. Wu Haocun tried to refrain from frowning, but nevertheless, there was a glare of annoyance in his eyes.

    “We didn’t ask you to sit here,” Xue Qian quickly stated.

    The young bearded soldier shrugged his shoulders and replied nonchalantly, “I didn’t ask for your permission. Do you own this piece of ground?”

    Xue Qian was about to retort back but Wu Haocun motioned for him not to speak. It probably wasn’t the best idea to upset another soldier, as it might draw more attention to them.

    “Young fellow,” Wu Haocun spoke, “why are you here alone and not joining the other soldiers?”

    The bearded soldier raised his eyebrow at Wu Haocun, “Alone? Aren’t you guys sitting here, too?”

    “Fine, we’ll move!” Xue Qian stood up with annoyance and prepared to leave. However, as soon as he stood up, he sat right back down. He held his head down and stared at the ground. Sweat began to pour down his temples again despite the cool evening air.

    Huo Yuan noticed a look of horror in Xue Qian’s eyes and scanned the area to see what Xue Qian was being terrified of. It didn’t take long for him to find the culprit. Walking towards them was a young officer with an angry expression on his face. The officer was none other than Lieutenant General Yi Quan!

    //SH*T! How did he know we were here?!// Huo Yuan tightened his grip on his spear and tried to throw Wu Haocun and Feng an urgent warning with his eyes, hoping that they would be able to recognize the eminent danger. Since the only other soldier around was the bearded soldier, the five of them could certainly still take down Yi Quan or even escape by taking Yi Quan hostage. But, this must be done quickly before the rest of the army is alerted.

    However, before Huo Yuan was able to take any action, he heard Yi Quan’s footsteps stop in front of them. Yi Quan quickly scanned through the the group. However, his eyes stopped on neither Huo Yuan nor Xue Qian but rather on the young bearded soldier. Yi Quan furrowed his eyebrows and interrogated, “What are you doing here? Are you crazy?!”

    The bearded soldier shrugged his shoulders and replied, “What are you going to do? Report me and turn me in? Go ahead.”

    Yi Quan sighed and stared at the bearded soldier with exasperation. Suddenly, he grabbed the bearded soldier by the wrist and began to drag the soldier away. The soldier tried to pull his hand away and cried out, “Where are you taking me?”

    “Do you want to discuss this in front of other people?” Yi Quan did not pause and continued to drag the soldier away until they were out of sight.

    Huo Yuan and Xue Qian looked at each other in disbelief at the chain of events. Was their newly grown beards and make up that effective that they were able to fool Yi Quan? Or was Yi Quan too absorbed with the bearded soldier that he failed to pay attention to anything else? In any case, they were lucky this time round. But next time, lady luck may not be so kind...

    Huo Quan quickly turned to Wu Haocun and whispered, “Elder Wu, that officer that just left has seen us before. I don’t know why he didn’t recognize us, but it is better not to risk meeting with him again. I don’t think we can wait until nighttime. We need to leave here now!"
    Last edited by Ren Ying Ying; 09-21-11 at 02:01 AM.

  18. #98
    Senior Member Guo Xiang's Avatar
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    Unknown to the Pan army, they had been followed by a lone figure ever since they left Luoyang. She kept a safe distance, keeping out of sight by hiding behind foliage or boulders. Now sitting high up on a tree, she munches on a bun, watching the resting army as she swings her legs gently.

    A familiar chirp catches her attention and she raised her arm. A pigeon rested on her arm and stretched out its leg. She removed the note tied to the leg and gently shook her arm; the bird flew away.

    She unrolled the note and read it. As she reads the note, a fleeting shadow on the ground a distance away alerted her.

    A broad smile spreads across her face.

    Finally.

    ****

    Prince Ying and Zhou He were discussing plans in their tent when a soldier walked in and bowed.

    “Your Highness, a man is at the camp asking to have an audience with you.”

    “Who is he?” Prince Ying asked.

    “He said his name is Lan Tianying.” The soldier reported.

    “It’s Senior Lan!” Zhou He was delighted. Lan Tianying must have received his message and came here to meet him. “Bring him in immediately!”

    “Yes!”

    “Lan Tianying? From the Lan Manor?” Prince Ying was surprised. But looking at Zhou He’s face, it was obvious he had been somewhat expecting it. As their eyes met, Prince Ying immediately understood.

    // I see. Given Lan Manor’s influence in the region, Boyan must have asked his senior for help so that the campaign will not be fully dependent on Pan. This will lessen my future obligations to Pan should my succession come to pass. //

    After a few moments, the soldier returned with another man following behind.

    “Senior!” Zhou He bowed respectfully to the man who gave a warm smile.

    The man wore dark silken clothes with red collar, his flowing long hair were a mix of grey and black, neatly tied with a headpiece. His eyes, deeply set, were sharp and his cheeks were chiseled. His face looked much younger than his forty-four years, as though time had stopped for him.

    Prince Ying held his breath. The man certainly had a presence of nobility.

    “It’s been a long time, Boyan.” Lan Tianying greeted his junior. Turning to Prince Ying, Lan Tianying bowed respectfully.

    “… Lan Tianying greets Your Highness.”

    “Forget the formalities. Master Lan’s name is renowned throughout Donghai. It is my fortune to be able to meet you in person.” Prince Ying replied earnestly.

    “Thank you for the kind words, Your Highness.” Lan Tianying said.

    “Senior…” Zhou He wanted to speak but Lan Tianying raised his hand, stopping him.

    “… Forgive my impudence… but I, Lan Tianying, is here to make a request out of Your Highness…”

    “A request?” Prince Ying was puzzled. He looked at Zhou He but his friend looked equally confused.

    “Yes, Your Highness.” Lan Tianying bowed lower now. “I am here to request that Prince Ying withdraw the troops and do not invade Donghai.”

    A stunned silence held the atmosphere.

    “Senior… this… isn’t an invasion…” Zhou He said awkwardly.

    “It is an invasion no matter how you spin it, Boyan.” Lan Tianying replied. Turning to Prince Ying, he continued, “Your Highness… Ever since the King passed away, Donghai has been embroiled in an internal strife. The people and the court are torn and tired from the internal conflicts. They do not need another external war to add on to their troubles. I beseech Your Highness to stop this before it is too late.”

    “This isn’t a war to harm the people of Donghai. This is to solve the internal strife once and for all!” Prince Ying argued. He couldn’t believe it. What was this well-respected man saying?

    “For you it is. But have Your Highness thought about what the people and the court of Donghai will think when they learn that Your Highness is leading the army of Pan to invade them?”

    “I already said this isn’t…”

    “Your Highness,” Lan Tianying cuts Prince Ying off with such a steely coldness that stumped even Zhou He. “… Did you think nobody in Donghai knows what happened in Pan?”

    “What?” Prince Ying tried to look surprised.

    “The only reason Pan has agreed to lend Your Highness troops is because of the recent assassinations of several key Pan officials. This is nothing more than a punitive war than helping you gain back what was rightfully yours.” Lan Tianying’s voice and expression was grave and stern.

    “To lead an army of such intention into war, and to eventually win it, means only the subjugation of Donghai. The people of Donghai will not welcome you or the prospect of becoming Pan’s vassal. You will meet a stronger resistance than you’d expect, the war will wear down both Pan and Donghai for little purpose. And for you… Your Highness…”

    Lan Tianying looked at Prince Ying.

    “… You can never return to Donghai and can never become King. No one in Donghai will accept a traitor as a King.”

    “Senior! This is too harsh!” Zhou He was shocked. “This is why I…!”

    “Don’t be foolish, Boyan.” Lan Tianying frowned at Zhou He. “Did you really take all the other princes as fools? Did you really think all they did for the past three years were nothing but only infighting? That they are clueless about what has happened so far, including the fact that you are now only a few miles away from Donghai borders?”

    “You mean!” Prince Ying was able to deduce the hidden meaning of Lan Tianying’s words.

    “Yes, Your Highness.” Lan Tianying’s face was dark and serious. “… If you so much march any closer to Donghai’s borders, you and this army will be vanquished without even knowing how and why.”

    An ambush! Lan Tianying’s meaning could not be clearer. Either an ambush awaits them, or Donghai had already managed to activate its armies to ready for battle. What’s more surprising was the hint that the three princes had stopped their fights and teamed up to deal with Prince Ying and the danger of Pan.

    “But… how…” Prince Ying was too stunned.

    “The princes are not alone in their actions, Your Highness. They still have loyal retainers who had always kept an eye on you, Your Highness. They were only waiting for your return… particularly in such a manner, so they can destroy you in every way possible. The princes feared the righteousness of the previous King of Pan, but they feared even more the ruthlessness of the present King of Pan and the possible allied forces of Pan and Xiwu. It is only natural they make sure they know every movement of Pan, especially Pan’s army, like the back of their hands.”

    Lan Tianying released a deep breath.

    “… There is still time, Your Highness. It is not too late for you to turn back.” He said slowly.

    Prince Ying held his breath as he considered Lan Tianying’s words. To be hated and branded as a traitor by his people… just the mere thought of that hurts his head. Could he really be causing more pain to the people of Donghai rather than delivering them from a state of limbo?

    Then he made a decision.

    “No. I will not turn back.”

    Both Zhou He and Lan Tianying stared at him.

    “It is true that Pan is treating this as punitive war. It is also true that Donghai blood will be spilled because of this war. But this war, led by I, aims at ending the uncertainties in Donghai once and for all.

    The people might call me a traitor, but I know very well what I am doing – getting rid of the source of the troubles in Donghai. Only will then Donghai regain the peace and strength it once knew. Compared to that and what the people had gone through for the past few years, a little stain on my reputation is nothing. If I allow myself to be ruled by a love of reputation, then the people of Donghai will continue to suffer.

    If I do win the war and the people of Donghai decided they do not want me to be their King, I will simply abdicate to an able man. If they do keep me in their confidence, I will do whatever is possible to protect them. Subjugation or not to Pan isn’t the issue, what I’m truly concerned about is how to maintain the peace and livelihood of the people and I will do so with whatever methods I have at hand.”

    Prince Ying stared back into the two men’s eyes.

    “What I now want to know is, are you with me in returning stability to Donghai or not?”

    Zhou He stared at Prince Ying. Was that really Prince Ying talking? It didn’t sound like him.

    “Yes, of course, Your Highness.” Zhou He bowed. “Zhou He will always follow Your Highness no matter where you go and what you do.”

    Prince Ying nodded; he never had doubts about Zhou He’s loyalty. He then turned his attention to Lan Tianying who wore an unreadable expression.

    Suddenly, Lan Tianying broke into laughter, surprising both Prince Ying and Zhou He.

    “Hahaha! Well done, Your Highness! Now I see why the previous King chose you as the heir and why Boyan chose to follow you all the way.” Lan Tianying laughed.

    “What do you mean, Master Lan?” Prince Ying asked, not quite understanding what was going on.

    “I must apologise, Your Highness, for I was merely testing your resolve.” Lan Tianying said.

    “A test??”

    “Yes, Your Highness. Boyan requested my help in this war, but seeing that you are willing to bring war to your own people, I want to know what your true intentions are and most importantly of all, your resolve. From our exchanges earlier on, I am convinced by your sincerity and is truly impressed by your determination.”

    “Senior!” Zhou He could not help but smile. So his senior was only testing Prince Ying. Now that he had been won over, surely he would help?

    “Alas, but I wasn’t lying when I said there is an ambush awaiting at the borders.”

    Prince Ying and Zhou He’s smiles faded when they heard that.

    Lan Tianying chuckled at their disappointed faces. “Why this look? I never said there’s no solution, right?”

    “What is the solution, if you would, Master Lan?” Prince Ying quickly asked.

    “As you might know, I have good relationships with a number of court officials. The court and the people of Donghai are tired of the infighting among the other princes. The officials who once supported the other princes are also disillusioned because they were still in disunity even when war is on the doorstep. What they want now is a King on the throne, a leader who could bring back the peace and stability Donghai once knew.

    A number of cities will only be glad to surrender themselves to Prince Ying if you could promise that. Your Highness should start with Shouchun governed by General Huang Shi, since he is also the one leading the ambush party.

    But to convince General Huang, you must show your sincerity and resolve to crush the troubles of Donghai. Therefore, it is important that Your Highness do not cross swords with the army of Shouchun.” Lan Tianying instructed.

    “That is fine with me and I don’t think the Pan generals will reject the idea if it could cut down casualties on their side. But how do I convey my sincerity to General Huang?” Prince Ying asked.

    “Show him you are the rightful heir to the kingship of Donghai.” Was all Lan Tianying said.

    Prince Ying stayed silent as he pondered on how to prove such a thing, especially when his sister had not managed to retrieve the secret edict.

    // Wait. General Huang’s family had served Donghai for six generations and he was one of the more neutral officials in Donghai court. Master Lan also said the officials are tired of the infighting and they want a King! That means! //

    Prince Ying turned to Zhou He.

    “Boyan, do you remember the unique crest that only the King of Donghai can use?”

    “Yes, of course. It is a dragon soaring to the sky, with the Sima name etched right next to it. The dragon signifies the leader of the Sima family and the King of Donghai, and its raising represents Donghai’s ambition and how the King will lead Donghai to power and prosperity.”

    After saying that, realization crossed Zhou He’s face and he smiled. He glanced at Lan Tianying and saw the man smiling in satisfaction as well.

    “Yes. We must now commission the army to produce a flag with this crest immediately, and it must be huge enough to be seen from a great distance.” Prince Ying said.

    ****

    Prince Ying, Zhou He and Lan Tianying were on their way to visit the head general Lu Xunzhao when they saw Yi Quan dragging a soldier.

    Curious, they walked toward Yi Quan.

    “General Yi, what…” Zhou He was starting to ask politely when he saw the soldier’s face. The soldier had tried to hide his face but he was a little too slow for Zhou He’s sharp eyes.

    “You…” Zhou He was rendered speechless when he recognised who it was.
    Last edited by Guo Xiang; 09-27-11 at 11:56 AM.
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  19. #99
    Senior Member IcyFox's Avatar
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    Back at the Pan Palace


    The Xiwu diplomatic bodyguards laid 2 charred headless bodies in the quadrangle outside the Pan Palace Court. Some personal artifacts were placed on a tray close to the bodies.

    The Pan King stood some distance away, his face full of displeasure as he listened to the Xiwu Chief Envoy Zhang Duo Qian explain, "Our guards found the bodies of Count Xue Qian and his bodyguard Huo Yuan near the Wu Yuan shrine, together with the body of your spy not far off.

    "From our own investigations we found that the assasin Wang Ailang tricked them into going to the shrine, and then he killed them to present their heads to Xiang hoping to use the merit in appeasement for his failure to assasinate Your Royal Highness."

    The Pan King frowned, "Are you sure they were not silenced because of their collusion with the assasin?"

    Zhang Duo Qian replied, "Your Royal Highness has my assurance - I vouch for Count Xue's character. He may be rash and and foolish, but he is definitely no traitor - he will not do something so outrageous and unpardonable which would ultimately undermine Xiwu's strong alliance with Pan.

    "Besides, we have several witnesses testifying to Wang Ailang's forged papers and exit permit which he used to leave the city together with the army. He was last sighted speeding towards the Xiang border, confirming our suspicions."

    The Pan King spat, "Damn it! What useless guards! Execute the whole bunch of them on duty during Wang Ailang's escape together with their captain!"

    The palace guards saluted and rushed off to carry out their grim orders when Yue Fei'er came upon the scene.

    She gasped in shock and ran towards the bodies but was held back by the maids, whereupon she collapsed onto the ground wailing, "Oh Count Xue! What tragic death! I've failed your honourable father!"

    She beat her head with her hands, but the King immediately rushed to stop her, "My beauty! Don't grief, you've already done what you could."

    Yue Fei'er threw herself into the King's embrace and sobbed onto his firm chest, "Your Royal Highness, you must avenge his death and the brazen attempt on your life! Oh what transgressions! I shall live in fear from now, oh how I shudder for your safety!"

    The King smacked his sword on the ground, "Himph! Xiang! Donghai! You pitiful thugs shall taste the wrath of my mighty Pan! Generals, double your efforts! Bring these rogue states down at all costs! I want to rip their overlords with my own hands!"

    The senior military commanders present all beseeched the King, "Please be appeased, Your Royal Highness. Our entire Pan strength only stands at 300,000 and we have already commited 250,000 to the expeditions against Xiang and Donghai. We don't have that many more to spare."

    The King was in a dilema now; he badly wanted to exact vengeance, but did not have the resources to achieve a swift victory... or did he?

  20. #100
    Senior Member IcyFox's Avatar
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    Donghai capital - Jianye


    The reports from the borders streamed in endlessly as the 3 princes of the strongest Donghai factions formed a coalition congregated in the capital to respond to the threat of the Pan and Xiwu armies marching into their territories.

    "Our despicable rat of a brother Sima Ying has fooled the Pan king into believing that we sent assasins to murder their high officials. That ungrateful turncoat!" scorned Sima Zhang, the eldest prince in Doinghai.

    "He's not our brother! We should tear him to pieces and offer his flesh to our late Father-King's grave," said Sima Xing, the 3rd Prince.

    "But our useless 2nd brother Sima Ren at the Pan border refuses to cooperate with us, claiming he can handle it by himself. Hng, the Pan armies almost routed the Xiang armies in the Battle of Yunbei, and 2nd Brother thinks he can beat them? Fool!" shouted Sima Huang, the 5th Prince.

    Sima Xing said, "6th Brother Sima Pi is no better. Xiwu is actually the mightiest kingdom in the land, how can he stand against their onslaught? The fact is, those brothers are suspicious of us, afraid that we will remove their princedoms and absorb their lands after the war."

    Sima Zhang said, "No use debating that now. In the worst case scenario, those 2 territories will fall, and we will be trapped in a pincer attack at Lujiang. If that happens we will have to withdraw to Jianan to put up a last stand. But if Linchuan is lost as well, then we will be entirely cut off. Any plans?"

    Sima Huang whispered to his 2 brothers... And finally he said, "We shall smite them there."

    Sima Xing nodded thoughtfully but Sima Zhang frowned, "Isn't that too risky?"

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