Chapter 1: Prologue
I sat in the extremely crowded cafeteria of XX University, reading my tablet as I ate my lunch. Of course, I don't know why I even bothered reading the news on my device since it consisted of the same type of stories that were being featured for the past month: the recent events revolving around the famous players of Life 2.0, namely the champion of the Battle Tournament, Yi Min, and Prince of Odd Squad. Ever since Infinite City Duel Incident, all the media ever talks about is the whereabouts of the famed warriors as they have not logged in since then. This new face of evil in Life 2.0, that player named Fan from Moon City, also appeared declaring war on Prince and his domain. This new rebellion as well as Prince's lack of presence in the game is tearing the Central Continent apart, almost at the brink of a civil war!
"Excuse me," Said someone, bringing me out of my thoughts. I looked up to see two guys about my age standing in front of my four seat table which I was sitting alone at. One had jet black hair tucked into a baseball cap with glasses that were simply just too large for his face; wearing a hoodie that was equally too much for his thin frame. He was on crutches with his left foot in a cast to the middle of his calf, making him unable to carry a lunch tray that his friend was carrying for him instead. This friend was taller than him, wearing a beanie and black thick-rimmed glasses; generally more normal looking than his black-haired counterpart. "can we sit here? Everywhere else is taken." The black haired guy asked.
"Uh, sure. Don't see any harm in it!" I replied, moving some of my belongings closer to me that I had scattered across the table. They both sat down, with the black haired guy resting his crutches against the table. I glanced over at their lunch trays, curious as to what they had bought. The first one was pretty simple, it had a hamburger, fries and a soda on it since today the school was selling American food. When I looked at the other tray, which was placed in front of the black-haired guy, I nearly did a double take by the sheer quantity. He had at least three hamburgers, two things of fries as well as two slices of pizza as well. He dug in nearly immediately, a hamburger in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. "A-Are you going to eat all that...?" I couldn't help but ask.
He looked at me inquisitively, tilting his head to the side slightly. "Hmm, yeah. Why? Did you want some? They still have plenty up there!"
"No, no. Just... Just curious." I replied, slightly disturbed. Who could eat that much in one sitting? And stay that thin at that! Does he have a tapeworm or something? I wondered.
I returned back to my tablet to look at more news sites as the two ate, though as to why I don't know. Every now and then I would sigh out loud as I went to another news feed only to find essentially the same stories once again. Is this what all people care about today? Celebrities? I mean I never had anything against either Prince or Yi Min, so I hope nothing bad happened to them, but this is ridiculous. It's been a month now, I'm sure more has happened outside of a pair of glorified gamers deciding to not play a game for a little bit. Apparently my sighs were not unheard when the black haired guy spoke up, "Is something wrong?"
"Hm..." I wasn't quite sure if I could speak so shamelessly about two famous players in front of two strangers. But they're both men, so at best they probably idolize or respect them unlike most of the girls here who squeal or faint at the mere sight of them. I reasoned. "Well, to be honest I'm kind of frustrated with the news feeds lately. It's constantly 'Yi Min this' or 'Prince that', as if they are the two most important beings in the world!"
Oddly, both of them tensed up with the black haired guy looking anxious. "Tch, of course no one cares that Zhi Sano disappeared too..." the taller guy mumbled before his friend elbowed him in the arm.
The black haired guy relaxed a little bit, an expression of empathy on his face. "I completely agree with you! People die every day of wars, disease and famine, yet all they talk about is silly celebrities!" The black haired guy gave a small laugh, "I mean, they don't even know what they're really like in the real world!"
"Yeah, I mean Yi Min may shamelessly take people's snacks!" The taller guy joked, which resulted in a strange death glare from the black haired boy. The taller guy seemed to look over past the black haired guy towards the floor, squinting his eyes a little bit. "Hey, I think you dropped some of your change!"
"Again?" Asked the black haired boy, acting exasperated. "It's these damn pants, I swear. If it wasn't for my stupid cast, I could wear my normal pair..." He mumbled as he leaned down towards the floor to pick up the coins.
"OH MY GAWD IT'S HIM! IT'S REALLY HIM!" A couple of girls suddenly screamed a couple of tables over from us, looking right at the black haired boy. He suddenly shot straight up, his hat completely gone and his glasses in his hand. With the hat and glasses gone, it exposed his messy jaw length hair and a face that could make any man jealous and any woman lose their composure.
"No way, you're..." I mumbled, realizing who was actually sitting at my table now.
"Damn it, Feng Wen! Your hat fell off again! And why did you take your glasses off!?" The taller man griped, ripping off his hat and glasses to quickly stow them away in his backpack.
"Because they would have fallen off as well, Hong Peng!" He replied, his eyes growing larger as he saw the girls quickly getting up. "Hong Peng hurry, you know the plan!" Feng Wen quickly grabbed his crutches as Hong Peng swung his backpack over his shoulder. In one motion Hong Peng scooped Feng Wen into his arms fireman-style, and preceded to make a dash for the exit. Before they had left the cafeteria, I saw Feng Wen wave at me and shout, "Thank you and nice to meet you, by the way!"
Feng Wen's PoV
I sat in one of the chairs of my mom's hospital suite, anxiously waiting to hear the results of my examination. It had been over a month since Fan revealed himself as a threat, both in real life as well as Life 2.0, where it all started. In that time period I was stuck either in the hospital or my home because of my injuries as well as Mom's, who took a stab wound in the shoulder to protect me from Fan's lookalike robot. Until today that was, where I had gotten to go to school for the first time in what seemed like a century. Of course because I wanted to be around people so bad, I made the unwise decision of eating in the cafeteria... And being seen... Which made us have to leave school earlier because of all those crazy fans. I sighed remembering the incident from earlier, having to be carried out of the school by Hong Peng because of my fractured ankle. Ugh, I hope no one took pictures of that. God forbid what the media would make of that scene.
The door to the suite opened quietly, but not without me noticing. A gentle looking man with glasses walked in, a medical tablet in hand with a stylus in the other. For many years, I thought of Dr. Tian Lang as my family doctor and friend of the family; he was even the doctor that delivered both my sister and I. Not until recently did I learned that he was actually Ugly Wolf, famous member of the Odd Squad and a patron of the priest class. He smiled at me, which I returned, and walked over to the bed Mom was currently napping on after eating her lunch. Of course Dad slouched over in the chair next to bed, asleep as well while holding her hand. Dad had gone on leave from school since the Warehouse incident, and wasn't going to return till Mom was well enough to go home. Which should hopefully be today or tomorrow, with what Dr. Tian was saying.
"Feng Wen?" I suddenly heard coming from Dr. Tian, who I noticed had called me more than once.
"Huh? Yeah?" I replied dumbly, having been pulled out of my thoughts.
Dr. Tian chuckled, shaking his head a bit. "Ah, just like your mom sometimes." He smiled at me, and then scanned a little code on the bed that held all of Mom's medical information. "I'm glad to say I have good news! All that's left for your mom is physical therapy sessions, as the wound is nearly done healing and she has 80% of its function back. After the therapy, it'll be good as new! And as for you..."
"Yes?" I waited with baited breath. Good results, please!
"Your ankle still has a few more weeks till it's done, however your scan came back reporting that your concussion has fully healed!" Dr. Tian replied, knowing the last bit was what I was really hoping for. Because Virtual Reality games are very intrusive on the brain, it's dangerous to play when the brain has suffered any sort of injury; which left me unable to play Life 2.0. Because of this, Hong Peng decided he would also not play till I was better. "It would be so boring without you!" Was his excuse for not doing so.
A huge grin exploded on my face, excited to finally play again. "What about Mom?" I asked, not forgetting about the other person who had been left unable to play. Because natural sleep was much better for recovery than an artificially induced one, she was told she couldn't play until Dr. Tian felt she was healed enough to do so. Without any sort of outlet like the game or cooking had caused Mom to be irritable as the days went along, even with Dad refusing to also play until she was able to.
"Yes, I think relieving some stress and boredom would be good for her. I also don't want to see what she'll do next after she put that poor nurse in a triangle choke*..." Dr. Tian replied with a sigh. How could I have forgotten about that? That nurse was giving Dad and I weird looks until Mom got a hold of her. "Don't you dare look at my husband and son that way!" Or something along those lines is what Mom yelled at her.
"It's good to be home." Mom said, smiling as we entered the house. It was late at night when we got back, so we flipped the lights on. As always, the house was neat and clean thanks to Kenshin, who was a worse clean freak than Mom was.
"It's good that you're better now..." My dad said softly as he came up behind her. He wrapped his arms around her lightly, making sure not to put pressure anywhere near her sling.
Catching the mood and not wanting to be a part of it at all, I quickly said goodnight and went into my room. It's understandable Dad wants some alone time with Mom, after all we've been constantly around security or medical staff for over a month now. Just don't do it while I'm in the room! I lamented, always seeming to be in the room when they decided to be romantic with each other.
My room seemed exactly as it was when I went to sleep the night I was kidnapped, my bed made and in the corner in the room; my desk on the opposite side of the room near the window and bookcase; my wooden door painted a pristine white. Not how in the pictures the police showed me the night after we got to the hospital, with the bed tossed over and my door broken off the hinges. The only thing that wasn't the same though was my laptop that normally sat on the desk, which was not recovered. They probably sold it to buy junk, like drugs or alcohol. I sighed, pushing the thought out of my mind. Gotta stay optimistic, after all you're back home to stay now!
With some difficulty, I changed into my pajamas and crawled into my bed. My headset was thankfully recovered, and was sitting on my nightstand as though it had been faithfully waiting for my return. Well, can't leave Hong Peng waiting any longer. I grabbed my helmet, turned it on and laid down as sleep began to wash over me...
I opened my eyes to bright sunlight and in an empty stadium, Infinite Arena. As expected, I was exactly where I was when I logged off a month ago: sitting in the middle of the battlefield. Fan had just logged off, and everyone was down here. Hong Peng, Shui-yima, Dad and... Mom. Thinking of Mom as Prince was still a very weird experience, one that I doubted I was going to used to for a while.
"Yi, over here!" I heard a familiar high-pitched voice. I turned to see Zhi Sano, Hong Peng's chubby cheeked avatar, running towards me from the gate. "I figured you'd log in as soon as you got home, so I just waited around. God only knows how lost you would have gotten if you had gone looking for me!"
I gave him a quick glare, "Hush, you!"
"That's the Yi Min we all know and love!" He teased, sticking his tongue out at me. "So... What now?"
"Well we'll just-" I paused, the realization hitting me. What is next? I had been so focused on the Tournament, on getting to Prince, that I never thought about what would happen afterwards. "I don't know."
As if to answer our question, suddenly two bright balls lights appeared beside us. Materialized in front of us were Guiliastes and Prince; both looking quite disoriented. "Geez, I didn't feel this out of sort when we first logged on in over thirty years!" Prince said, rubbing his eyes as he adjusted to the sunny weather.
Guiliastes, or should I say Dad, walked over to Prince and gave him a comforting hug; seemingly oblivious to Zhi or I's presence. "Well, it's not like we never played during that period. The medication probably isn't helping you either..." He said quietly.
The old lump in my throat filled with jealousy and hate was starting to form as I watched the scene, till my father mentioned the medication. Mom was the only word that registered in my brain before the mass amount of confusion hit me. Even though I knew in my head that Prince was in fact my mother, someone I love so dearly, looking at her male alter ego produced all the resentment I carried before I learned. Frankly, it was quite draining on my mental state.
Entering the game felt like a roller coaster, leaving me disoriented and weakened when I finally was in-game. Apparently part of it was just being out of it for so long as Gui experienced it as well. Maybe our age is finally catching up to us. I thought to myself, as I had never had the problem during long hiatus from these types of games till now. In order to comfort me, my husband came over and held me as I regained my composure. However, I was unaware we had company till I heard someone pipe, "Ahem!"
Quickly breaking out of our embrace in fear of being founded out, I turned to find my son Feng Wen and his best friend Hong Peng in their respective characters. Hong Peng, who's character was the child-like Zhi Sano, had a sly smile as he saw us acknowledge their presence. My son, the now famous Yi Min, had a conflicted expression on his face as if he was having a inner crisis. This of course sent me into overactive mother mode, rushing over to him and placing my hand on his arm. "Is there something wrong?" I asked, worriedly.
Feng Wen's face became even more conflicted as he looked straight at me, as if at a loss of what to do. His face flushed a slight pink and eventually stammered, "N-No, nothing is wrong... Mom."
Before I could ask why he seemed so flustered, I received a P.M from my sister-in-law Lolidragon. "Prince? About time you logged in! We've got some serious problems!"
"What's wrong?" I asked, having a feeling I already knew what was wrong. I knew there were some problems in game involving Fan, but how bad could it be...?
"Get to the war room in the castle, I'll explain as soon as you arrive. Bring Feng Wen and his friend too!" She replied, leaving me with goosebumps. The war room? We haven't used the war room since we united the Central Continent...
I looked over to Gui, who seemed to have received the same message as I did. "Boys, we need to go to the castle now. All of us." He said urgently to them.
"What about people seeing all of us together? Or people seeing us period? We've kind of been M.I.A for over a month now, with Princ- I mean Mom and I drawing the largest attention." Feng Wen asked, pointing out a very big problem. Though I had become distracted by the fact he had to correct himself when referring to me, Does he still not see me as his mother? The idea of it was clawing at my already weakend mental state.
I pulled myself together, addressing the problem at hand. "We can just teleport to the castle, so we can avoid them all together!"
"Not possible, unfortunately." Gui interjected, "You have to had been in the castle walls at least once to be able to teleport there with a teleportation scroll or spell. Feng Wen would be the only one unable to do so just by that fact. Neither you or I have scrolls anyway, since we usually have Yu Lian use her teleportation spell."
"Only one unable to!?" Feng Wen exclaimed as he turned to Hong Peng, "When have you been in the castle!?"
Hong Peng looked away shyly, trying to look at anything but Feng Wen's face. Eventually, he settled on examining Gui's guqin that hung at his hip. "Uh, it's a long story..."
"Anyway," Gui interrupted, "since it's urgent we all get there as soon as possible, we're just going to have to walk to Infinite Castle... together."
Triangle Choke: A judo move where the user basically wraps their legs around their opponent in a triangle like shape. Reference to Wikipedia and your local judo dojos for more info/to learn (I do not advocate using it on innocent people, however!).
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Feng Wen's PoV
Something was very wrong.
When walking out of the arena and into the masses, I expected the usual to happen: people (the majority being women) screaming, fawning and chasing after three of the most popular individuals in the game. But there was no screams, or chases or even a slight fawn. Instead there were hushed whispers and mumbles as the four of us passed through the crowds, the only thing seemingly normal were the mesmerized stares as we walked past.
We were a half mile away from the castle when I sped up from my third position in our line to walk along side Prince (Dad had decided to keep Mom and I in the middle of the group because of our terrible sense of direction.). "Mom, what's going on? This can't be because of Fan, is it?" I whispered, leaning in slightly to make sure I was heard over the buzz of other conversations going on in the crowd.
Prince turned so he could whisper back in my ear, "I'm not sure yet either, Feng Wen. We'll find out everything once we meet up with your aunt." The crowd had suddenly gotten louder, which gave me a feeling it was far from coincidence in regard to Prince and I's interaction. What are they thinking... I turned away from Prince to glance around the crowd, meeting a variety of expressions as I met eyes with some of them. I've stayed away from the gossip surrounding me for over a month, I can only imagine what they'll be saying now...
That last half mile seemed the longest out of the entire trip, but finally we were at the main entrance of Infinite Castle. The castle was just as grand as ever, with its looming towers and heavily guarded borders yet now it featured scars as well as scorch marks on the stonework of the walls. Surely those weren't caused by players, were they? Neither Prince or Dad had to say a word as the guards immediately opened the gate for us; though for some reason they kept giving nervous glances at Zhi, who returned with a triumphant smile.
"Why did we go through the main entrance? Surely there is a back way to get inside?" I asked as we walked through the lush gardens.
"And have the crowd following us find out those entrances?" My father asked incredulously. "Besides, revealing that Prince has returned may soothe those that felt abandoned. And with you being the 'City's Champion', showing your face may also relieve some tension."
"Ah..." I replied simply, though not completely convinced by his argument. With how they were looking at us, especially with Prince and I together, I think it just made things worse... I fell back to walk alongside Zhi as Mom sped up to Dad since we reached the massive oak doors that were the entrance to the fortress.
"Try not to worry too much about the politics of the situation, Feng Wen. After all, that's your mother and I's problem, not yours." Dad said soothingly as he pushed open the doors; turning his head to give me his gentle smile.
"I wouldn't be too sure about that..." Zhi whispered to me, raising his eyebrow skeptically at my father's words.
"What do you mean?" I asked as we walked through the doors, entering the large foyer. There was a giant staircase in the middle of the room, that led up to a balcony where another pair of large wooden doors were centered with the staircase; no doubt being the throne room. There were also a number of doors that lined the walls of the balcony as well as the walls below it. Overall it was a very grand entrance room, that no doubt was designed by my father. Hell, if I remember right Infinite Castle is still considered the most beautiful player structure to date in Life 2.0 and Second Life's history.
"Let's be realistic here, Feng Wen." Zhi began, this being a rare moment of him calling me by my real name in-game. "It's only a matter of time now before the public finds out you're either Prince's or Guiliastes' son. And then it's only a matter of time before the public starts putting two and two together that Prince is a woman, especially since it's not exactly uncommon knowledge that Professor Min Gui Wen is married, and we don't exactly have the technology to produce a biological child between two men."
"But what does that have to do with politics?" I asked, a bit bewildered by where Zhi was going at.
Zhi nearly tripped up the stairs, causing my parents to stop and look at him questionably. Zhi waved his hand that he was okay, but when he turned to me his face suddenly changed to an expression of irritation. "Feng Wen, I swear... What I'm saying is that you're going to eventually be dragged into the political side of this game because of your parents kind of being politicians in this game, and extremely important ones at that. Your mother is the most famous player to date, and the Overlord of the most populous continent in-game. Your father is publicly known as Prince's right hand adviser, and also a famous player for being part of the Odd Squad. And on top of all that is when the little factoid of Prince and Gui's child winning the Battle Tournament that Prince hosted is revealed, all hell is going to break loose in the media."
We had reached the top of the balcony, where I saw at the left and right of balcony were hallways. My parents went left, and we walked through the slightly chilly stone hallways that were lined with torches. "At that point," Zhi silently lifted his hand, raising two of his fingers. "you're going to only have two options. You can continue to try and ignore the onslaught of the public, that will make what you've seen so far a walk in the park. Or two, you can step up and take control of your public image by formally declaring your parentage and your association with the Odd Squad. And if you don't plan on completely annihilating yourself in society, I would go with option two."
The hallway was long, our footsteps echoing against the stone floor. I appreciated the length of the walk though, because Zhi had just given me one of the toughest and life defining decisions I would face in my life. The whole situation only weighed heavier on me the longer we walked, my mind unable to handle the flood of emotions and thoughts there were being spawned. Through the sea of processes in my head, something Dad said rang through the noise. 'I don't see much of anything ever going back to how it used to be.' is what he told me before the duel. Did he know that things would turn out like this? That me finding out Mom is Prince would create an irreversible domino effect, even if Fan hadn't gotten involved?
I felt a small bump to my lower back, as if someone had thrown a beanbag at me. I looked to see Zhi with his left hand curled up in a fist, his eyes narrowed. "Hey, don't get all bummed out on me just because of what I said!" He said, "I just said what I did because I want you to be aware of what's to come, so that when the moment comes you'll make the right choice. But for now, just calm down and enjoy the moment that you're in Infinite Castle, something that nearly every person has dreamed of! Enjoy the moment you're with your parents, and that your previous ideas about Prince were false! There are still silver linings to these gray clouds!"
Before I could ask as to why Zhi seemed so wise in such an obscure subject, my parents finally stopped in front of a metal door that had an eye-level identification device on the lock; which made it look very out of place in the medieval themed castle. Muffled voices could be heard through the walls but not the door, which told me the door itself was probably quite thick. Prince walked up to the device, looking straight into the little screen. Suddenly a holographic scanner appeared and ran across Prince's face, focusing particularly on his eyes. "Positive I.D; Player Prince, Overlord of the Central Continent." It chimed in a feminine, robotic voice. The door swung open, revealing the volume of the room inside to be nearly eardrum-shattering with the amount of screaming and yelling.
"What do you mean there are players demanding refunds for the Battle Tournament!?"A woman screamed, sounding absolutely outraged at the idea. I couldn't see because my parents were still standing in front of the door, their eyes threatening to pop out at whatever was going on inside.
"With those damn rumors on top of the accusation of a scandal, they think the tournament was rigged!" Another female voice yelled, who sounded like it was my aunt Shui Han.
"Ladies, please!" I heard a gruff male voice boom, but was ignored among more shouting.
"And what are we suppose to do about it? If we give in, we just confirm their false accusations and destroy our reputation!" The first voice cracked, the owner growing increasingly emotional by the sound of her voice.
Suddenly, Prince gave a cough that silenced the room. From the side, I saw his expression had changed to one of the fearless leader he was known for; an expression that quickly irritated me.No, Feng Wen! You've got to remember that's Mom! I quickly told myself, trying to calm my subconscious reaction. However no matter how much I tried to see Mom in that expression, the woman who would make me cookies and read me bed time stories as a young child, I just was unable to. It's like her entire demeanor changes when she's Prince...
"Prince..." I heard another voice say, this one sounding like a young girl.
"I know this is stressful time, but let's at least act like the adults when we are in front of new company." He said, moving himself inside the room as Dad followed closely behind him. I took that as my cue to enter the room, with Zhi following me as well. The room was a decent size for how many people were inside, which was roughly around fifteen to twenty individuals. They were all seated or had seats at a large, round glass table that had monitor built in the center of the inside of the table, allowing everyone to be able to see what was on the screen. On top of that was a large screen that was on the wall directly across from the door, also allowing visibility to everyone in the room no matter where they were seated. All eyes focused on Zhi and I, though it was evident they were more interested in me than in Zhi.
"Feng Wen!" Squeaked a familiar voice, to which suddenly there was soft and round orb in my arms.
"Meatbun!?" I replied, totally astonished to see our family pet in the game.
"Meatbun-bun missed Feng Wen! Meatbun-bun wondered when he could play with Mommy and Feng Wen in the castle!" Meatbun exclaimed happily, snuggling closer to my chest. No more than a second later Meatbun was suddenly asleep, producing soft snores that were actually quite cute.
Hearing how happy Meatbun was to see me helped my mood a bit, knowing that the only thing the little pet was concerned about was eating and playing with those he loved. Even something as simple as this can be a silver lining, I suppose. I smiled as I whispered to the now sleeping pet, "I missed you too, Meatbun."
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
We quietly seated ourselves, with Prince taking himself at the head of the table with Dad at his right and with me sitting to his left. Zhi sat to the left of me; who for once did not look out of place with the presence of Doll at the table, Odd Squad's necromancer. Of course I still continued to hold Meatbun in my arms, if for anything comfort of the impending news we were about to hear. I doubt we were called here so quickly for anything except bad news.
"Alright Lolidragon, spill. And all of it, don't even bother to sugarcoat a single thing." Prince commanded, glancing over to me at the second sentence.
My aunt let out a loud, drawn out sigh before she began. "Well, since you have been in the hospital for over a month you've been isolated from everything that has transpired in that time period from the media to in Life 2.0, so let me start from the beginning." Shui-yima then flicked her right wrist, the monitors turning on and displaying a numerous amount of news articles. With the same hand, she snapped her fingers and the monitor in the table displayed a 3-D hologram of a crowd of people carrying a flag, in front and facing them the familiar face of my kidnapper: Fan. "After you and Feng Wen were admitted into XX Hospital, Fan took advantage of your absence in-game and started a rebellion in Moon City. At first we thought we could subdue it, sending Nan Gong Zui and Ice Phoenix as diplomats since they were natives of the city on top of having the governor of Moon City go with them to meet some of the self-appointed leaders of the rebellion. But..."
"But...?" Prince asked.
Nan Gong Zui was the one to reply, "They could not be soothed- feeling not only abandoned by their Overlord who had been gone for a week by that time but also cheated, since their own City's Champion in the Battle Tournament, Mirage, was defeated by Yi Min who is at the heart of all the rumors."
"And because of this, the governor was actually killed in a riot by the rebellion, and promptly driven out of his own city. With the governor gone, we have officially lost control of Moon City and now is under Fan's control." Shui-yima finished. The words hung heavily in the air, the idea of Prince losing control over his domain was nearly unfathomable. "With Moon City now the base of the rebellion, there are other insurgents appearing in the other cities under your control, including Infinite City. With the loss of not only its continent's Overlord, but its own governor the city is having a crisis. When you went offline, we had to struggle to find someone who could fill your spot as governor for the time being, so we ultimately picked Wicked since he was head of the military department and would be similar in how he would run the city. Well..."
"That didn't go according to plan, either." A long haired blonde elf spoke up, unmistakably being my brother-in-law Zhou-gege. "Even though I was just a stand in till you or Gui reappeared, a good half of the city completely rejected me as a leader on the terms that their allegiance was only to Prince, and no one else. On top of that were the insurgents, who riled up those that rejected my leadership even more and leading them to into an attempt to take over the castle. Of course they were no match for the garrison and the physical defenses of the fortress, but as I am sure you saw it did leave scars on the architecture."
"This rebellion has also created a financial depression from merchants bailing out on Infinite City for more stable cities, or continents for that matter. So basically Infinite City is in absolute turmoil spiritually and financially because of the loss of its leader, and that is the first thing you are going to have to do is resolve this on top of dealing with the rumors!" Said a black haired woman that I recognized as Yu Lian, Odd Squad's mage and financial adviser.
"And here we are at the very heart of the problem." Lolidragon said, snapping her fingers again. The monitors began to focus on particular news articles, the titles of them making me cringe."Latest in Battle Tournament Scandal!"and "Love Triangle of the Century!" being particularly painful to look at. "Since the Infinite City Duel Incident, the media is out of control with wild speculations and theories, most of them being absolutely ridiculous like you double timing Gui and Yi Min. But there a few that are dangerously close to the truth like Yi Min being related to you as your brother or nephew."
"Either way as to how close they are to the truth," Ugly Wolf began, propping his head up against his right hand. "all of our reputations are taking a serious blow. It would be foolish to deny at this point that there is no connection between Yi Min and the Odd Squad, especially after the scene nearly half of the world saw when Fan logged off." I guessed that Ugly Wolf was referring to the moment Prince grabbed and embraced me, which in retrospect now makes a lot more sense as to why that happened.
Prince's face went pink, and flickered his eyes away from the group. "S-Sorry, I couldn't think at the time... But even so, you can't expect me to not react like that when my son had been kidnapped..."
Dad was quick to defend, something he always did when Mom was criticized for anything. "Why should Prince take all the blame? What about me? Do you think I would have acted differently if I had known that this would have been the result? No! He's our son, for God's sakes. Everyone here is just as guilty as we are, even Lolidragon was crying!"
"Everyone please, calm yourselves!" Ugly Wolf replied, quieting the group that was quickly becoming noisy. "I wasn't blaming anyone for anything, especially considering what happened. What I am trying to say is we are going to have to deal with the repercussions of everything that has transpired till now. Even before the kidnapping, there have been rumors revolving around the relationships between the three of you; I would probably even say as soon as Yi Min debuted at his first match."
"So what would you recommend me to do about this?" Prince asked, sitting up straight from his previous lounging position in his chair. "As you said, at this point we can't deny that Feng Wen has a connection to the Odd Squad. But what can we say without revealing well... Everything...?"
The room buzzed with chatter and suggestions from everyone at the table, but I didn't pay attention to what was being said. Instead I was sucked into my own thoughts, constantly going back to the advice that Zhi gave me not even a hour before. Should I just let my parents handle this, and try to live peacefully? Or... I didn't need to finish the last option, because that was the one I decided right then I was going to take. It's time that I finally take control of what I do, instead of letting the media dictate my decisions. I put Meatbun on the table and quickly stood up, silencing the room. "May I make a suggestion?" I asked, looking over at Prince.
Prince gave me a motherly smile as he nodded and replied, "Of course."
I nodded back, seeing a small glimpse of my mother behind her avatar in that smile. I turned to look at every individual that sat at the table as I spoke, "What has been lost is the trust of the people; they feel lied to, cheated and unimportant by their leader. While this has only come to head after I entered the game, after I had been kidnapped by Fan- I believe all of this was nothing more than a catalyst to the inevitable." I took a deep breath to calm myself, preparing myself for what I was about to say next. "If we are going to gain back the trust of the public, than we need to give them the truth. All of it."
I looked over at my parents, who looked as if I declared I was dropping out of university to be professional panhandler. My father was the first to response, "Feng Wen... Why?"
I took another breath to steady myself, my emotions and nerves acting up from an idea that I was fearful of myself. "Mom... Dad... Do you really think you were going to hide these secrets forever? That Dr. Min Gui Wen is married to Prince, or that Prince is actually a woman and a mother at that? That Lan Lan-jiejie and I are your children? Now the world even knows that Prince- that Mom saved the world from being dominated by a terrorist! That..." My train of thought began to unravel, my pent up emotions taking control. "That those s-scars on Dad's chest in real life came from saving Mom's life..." The more I thought about all the secrets, the lump in my throat increased as well as the difficulty to hold back the tears that were threatening to escape.
Prince jumped up immediately and grabbed a hold of me, bringing me to his shoulder. "Feng Wen... I'm sorry..." He choked, sounding on the verge of tears himself. "I kept it all from you because I thought it would keep you safe, but I was wrong. I was horribly, horribly wrong. Please forgive us... Forgive me..."
I clenched his armor as I buried my face into his shoulder, not giving a damn that I was crying like a baby in front of a group of people. If there was one person I couldn't hide my tears from, it was Mom. "These secrets have done nothing but cause pain, Mom... They've caused pain in the people who trusted you as a leader, and they caused me to feel such resentment to someone I love..."
I felt another pair of arms wrap around me, which I knew belonged to my father. Mom pulled me into a tighter embrace and whispered in my ear, "No more secrets, then."
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
"No more secrets, then." The words that Prince spoke echoed in my mind as I regained my composure. While they were meant for comfort and reassurance, I felt neither from them. Instead they only stirred the storm of emotions that was inside of me, leaving me feeling conflicted and more agitated. I roughly pulled away from my parents, leaving both my father and Prince with a concerned look. I ignored their gaze and sat down, not wanting to look at Prince's face.
But Prince is Mom! Part of me said, trying reason with my confused heart. How can she be Prince? How could she act in the manner that Prince does? Mom is gentle, caring and modest in her demeanor. While Prince is aggressive, cold, arrogant, obnoxious, pompous, good for nothing bastard! I heard scream inside my head, If he had never existed, none of this would have happened! I wouldn't have had to go through the Battle Tournament just to find out what happened, that spineless excuse of a human named Fan would have never bothered us, which meant I would have never gotten kidnapped and stuck in a hospital for a month!
The argument between my conflicted beliefs continued, causing my heart to ache and my mood more irritable. Why does it all have to be so complicated?
When everyone had sat down, Shui-yima began to address the group again."While I'm glad we have finally decided to enlighten millions of girls that they have raging hormones for a middle aged woman and her teenage son, we also need to address the matters that are concerning in the game as well." She pulled up a map of the Central Continent, where countless red dots were covering the land. "Fan is mobilizing an army as we speak for a full scale assault on Infinite City. If we don't have an army to meet him with by tomorrow night, we might as well surrender!"
"Like hell we'll surrender to a coward like him!" I exclaimed, standing up as the sheer idea of it made my blood boil. How dare she even bring the thought to mind! "I'd rather be tied up and stripped naked at school before I'd let him set one foot in this city!"
I felt a hand on my shoulder, turning around to see Prince. "Now, now calm down Feng Wen." He tried to soothe me, "You don't need to worry about it, I'll make sure that Fan is in forty different pieces before he even gets within ten meters of the city walls!"
"What? No way!" I protested, appalled that he had the gall to say such a thing to me. Who does he think he is to tell me to just sit back and not worry!? "That bastard's head is mi-"
"WILL YOU TWO SHUT UP FOR ONE GODDAMN MINUTE?" I heard my aunt yell, her tone being the one I always dreaded hearing as a child. We both went silent immediately, with me sitting down like I always did whenever she spoke with the tone. "You can bicker all you want over who gets to mutilate Fan later, right now we need to figure out how we are going to solve this problem! Right now the city is split down the middle as to whether they should stand by your side or not, and though you want to tell the truth the worst thing we can do now is reveal all of it right now."
"Lolidragon makes a point," My father replied, his finger on his bottom lip. "If we decided to tell everything now, we'll only be shooting ourselves in the foot. People will be reeling from the shock of finding out Prince's identity on top of Feng Wen being our child, who is now a high-profile individual as well."
"Then what are we supposed to do?" Zhi said, giving a skeptical look. "Just continue to lie to world? How long can you keep this masquerade going before it all comes crashing down?" I couldn't help but give out a small sigh. This is just going to get us nowhere, now. I looked at the giant slab of metal that was the entrance to the room, vaguely aware of the murmurs forming from Zhi's remark though countless thoughts were running through my head. I need to get out of here and actually do something. Sitting around and arguing is not going to get us any closer to bringing Fan to justice.
Dad's expression became disgruntled, "I never said lie to them! We just- Wait, Feng Wen where are you going?" Was all I heard before the door shut behind me.
Feng Wen's sudden departure caused an uncomfortable silence among the room. After a minute, his friend Zhi Sano heaved an exasperated sigh. "He's become so rash, now-a-days. That cool, collected nature disappeared when he dueled you, Prince."
"What do you mean?" I asked, curious as to what insight he had with Feng Wen's change in demeanor.
The young boy propped his head up with his arm on the table, facing me directly. "You have to understand exactly what Feng Wen has been going through. Since the beginning of the Battle Tournament he had this idea that Prince was some sort of arrogant playboy, who had messed around in the marriage of his parents. He was calm and collected going in, but as time went on he became more and more obsessed with bringing you down. Then when he finally got there, Fan pops up literally out of nowhere and completely flips his world upside down. And I won't even start with how he feels about the media!"
I mulled over Zhi Sano's words, trying my best to put myself in my son's shoes. I only knew what I saw in the matches and whatever Gui learned about before the duel, but even with that little amount of information I saw a small aspect of the picture that Zhi had painted. Every glance towards me grew more resentful with each match, the tone of his voice becoming bitter whenever he addressed me. I knew he had a misconception about me, but never to that extent. After the incident with Fan, in real life he would frequently give me an conflicted look as if he was unsure who I was. How much of this is because of Fan's hand? Would he have acted differently if he had found out a different way?
I stood up and pushed in my chair, everyone's gaze still on me. "I'm going to find Feng Wen."
Gui gave a solemn nod, and Zhi an approving smile. Lolidragon lightheartedly replied, "Alright, should be easy since you'll both get lost in the same place!"
It didn't take to much aimless wandering around the castle grounds to find Feng Wen in the training field, completely focused on tearing apart his fifth dummy, judging the amount of debris littered around him. In one swift move he took off both legs and one arm of the dummy, straw flying everywhere from the dismemberment.
"You know if I remember right, you never liked getting messy." I began, causing Feng Wen to twist his head around in my direction. His messy hair was covered in straw and drenched in sweat, with drops running down from his forehead to his cheek. "Never liked playing in the dirt like other kids, never had to get onto you about wearing clean clothes or taking a bath, unlike your sister."
He furrowed his brow, looking confused and slightly annoyed by my presence. "How did you find me?"
I gave a slight smile and shrugged, "The same way you got here, I suppose."
He stared at me with a dumbfounded look before he dropped his sword and sat himself down on the ground. As he brushed the straw out of his hair, he spoke, "I couldn't stand it any longer. After a month of being stuck in a stupid hospital, of slanderous rumors spreading around, Fan's presence growing stronger, and what happens? I end up sitting at a table where people are yelling at each other."
I sat down next to him on the dirt floor, "We just got back today, Feng Wen. There needs to be a strategy, something that I know you of all people recognize." You've always been one to think before acting, ever since you were a little boy!
"We don't have time for that!" He exclaimed, gesturing his arm up in a dramatic flair. "The fact of us being out for a month is exactly why we can't waste another moment! He's had time to build up, recruit an army and turn half of our forces against us!"
"Feng Wen, this isn't you... Please take a moment to calm down and clear your head!" I pleaded, having begun to see truly how different he was acting.
I instinctively put my hand over his, as I always did when I tried to comfort him in real life, but he jerked his hand away and stood up. "I can't, I won't! I won't let myself be held back and told I don't need to worry- that it isn't my problem! This is my battle as much as it is yours, so I am going to fight damn it!" He grabbed up his sword with a trembling hand and swung it violently at the dummy, taking its head off with a clean cut.
Feng Wen's actions caused something to click in my brain, my motherly demeanor becoming the one I held as Prince. Feng Wen noticed, and he immediately scowled in response to the change as I got up to meet him face to face. "Could you even fight Fan, let alone defeat him?" I asked, knowing full well the weight of my words would have on him. "With such an arrogant attitude, I'm not too sure you could."
"I won the Battle Tournament!" He shouted, causing me to discreetly prepare myself for what would happen next. "I've defeated some of the best warriors in the game!"
"But you haven't defeated me. Fan has tasted defeat by my hand in battle before," I stepped back and pulled out my faithful dao, giving off a slight shine in the warm sunlight. "and if I recall we still haven't finished our duel, have we?"
His eyes narrowed and he changed into a defensive stance. "No... We haven't."
"Then let us continue!" I exclaimed, changing myself in my standard position. Time to give you a lesson in humility, my dear son!
"My pleasure!" He shouted, lunging directly at me. He spared not a moment of time, unleashing a barrage of strikes that were fast and powerful. I blocked all of the attacks, albeit with some difficulty, and successfully parried with a slash to the arm. My intention is not to kill, but to wear him down. I told myself, noticing the deep gash in his arm that began to ooze blood. I'm a much higher level than him, so by stats alone I could bring him down in two blows.
Just because I was physically stronger than him didn't mean he was no match for me, though. And I was quickly reminded of that fact when he blocked my downward slash and suddenly struck me in the ribs with his left knee. I could easily tell broke at least two of my ribs from the amount of force and pain that was making me want to double over. The attack left me momentarily dazed, which he quickly took advantage with a flurry of strikes from his short sword. When I finally regained my composure and began to block him again a third of my health was already depleted.
Now I was on the defensive though, which was the worst position for me to be in. I was built for constant damage dealing, not as a tank where constant damage was being taken. But I knew how to turn it around to my favor, waiting for a good strike for me to parry. Feng Wen went for an diagonal slash which I blocked and pushed him back. He staggered, giving me the opportunity to strike him, successfully leaving a large bloody tear in his chest plate and thigh. I watched his health drop dramatically to a fourth left, his breathing becoming ragged. It didn't deter him, though- if anything it just made him even more aggressive than before. While I held the dominate position in the battle now, he didn't leave any opportunity be wasted to get any sort of nick or cut on me.
I could tell his fighting was off from the very beginning, immediately wailing on me in a manner unlike the style he always showed as I watched him in the tournament. He was being clumsy, having let me get a hit on him with the first attack I had done. His attacks were not very strong either, he was not going for any critical points like he usually did but opting instead for attacks that were quick and with a high chance of success. Which are usually the weakest attacks! I thought to myself, getting hit in the chest by another minor strike.
With an inward sigh, I decided that it was time to bring an end to this. Hopefully he has realized now he can't just take Fan by himself, especially with how he is now. Or at least blew off enough steam he won't be so reckless! He made his next attack, a diagonal strike which would hit me from my left shoulder to my right hip. With careful precision, I swung my sword to mirror his attack, from the lower right to the upper left, angling it so it would be in the same line as his. The tip of my blade got to him first, slicing open his palm and sending his sword ten meters away.
I knew that alone wouldn't stop him, though. Weaponless, he immediately blocked my next swing by grabbing the hilt of my dao. He tried to grapple it out of my hand, but his level 56 character was no match for my level 92. I pushed him back with all my strength, which sent him flying into the nearby wall. Before he had a chance to get up, I rushed over and firmly pinned him to the wall. "Feng Wen... Do you understand now?"
The look of defeat in his eyes killed me, with it even being more painful because I was the one who ultimately caused it. But it was for his own good, he had to be knocked down so he could build himself up as a better person. "Yes... I do..."
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
Feng Wen's PoV
I had never felt more of a fool then I did now. Here I was, pinned up against a wall by one of the most powerful players in the game, my life hanging by a thread. All because I threw a temper tantrum about what I wanted all along- the truth. I didn't want to look his way for the amount of shame I had, but there was no way to evade his pained eyes. Prince loosened up his grip on me, gently leading me down the wall to sit up against it. He quickly took out a tiny bottle of liquid and started to pour it on my wounds. While it didn't increase my health, it stopped me from bleeding out. "You were right about one thing, though-" Prince began, "this is your fight as much as it is mine. But you'd never be able to win if you fight for vengeance, you have to be fighting for the right thing."
"And how do I know what is the right thing?" My voice cracked, emotional and weary from all the burdens I had been carrying on my heart.
"Because the right thing isn't something based in hate, pride or selfish desire. It's love, humility or selflessness." Prince replied in a gentle voice, brushing away the hair that covered my face. With a sad smile, he continued, "Feng Wen, you just have no idea how much you remind me of myself when I was young. I first created Prince for all the wrong reasons- I did it so I could show up your uncle. I was so focused on power and fame, that when I finally got it I had no idea how to wield it. All I had ever thought about was the positive aspects of it, that there were no burdens to come along with it. It tore at me, it made me cranky and miserable which caused me to lash out at others, be irresponsible, and even worse, ignore your father!"
I listened quietly till the last part, to which I made a slight gasp. "No, you're lying! Dad starts acting pitiful if you ignore him for more than five minutes!"
Prince gave a small chuckle at my reaction, "Yes well, that was back when your father was still working on me to even look at him without punching him in the face."
"So that's why he gets jumpy when you're mad..." I said in a moment of clarity.
Prince was silent for a moment, looking solemn and thoughtful. The familiar soft gaze of my mother in his eyes as he gently pushed some of my blood and sweat soaked hair behind my ears. "I know I have hidden so much from you, Feng Wen. I realize now just how much my deception has hurt you, and all I can ask at this point is your forgiveness. After this is all over, I want to sit down with you and tell you all the adventures that I and the rest of the Odd Squad have had! So please..." He looked at me with an anguished expression, "Please believe me that while I am Prince, who is a leader and warrior, I am still your mother who loves you, your father, and your sister very much."
I stared at him, unsure as to how to respond. I had realized I was acting childish over finding out the truth, having forgotten the initial regret I felt while at the warehouse, however a part of me was still conflicted as to how alike Prince was to the woman that cared and nurtured me. But does it matter? I asked myself, scrutinizing my own doubt. They're still the same person, so what is the point in thinking about that? People wear masks and show different sides of themselves in these kind of situations, why would Mom have to be any different? Hong Peng as well as Dad came to mind, both acting completely different in the company of strangers or acquaintances. And what about me? I realized, feeling more and more like the world's largest hypocrite. I would dare not even think about how I act with my family and Hong Peng with some random stranger in school, God forbid Life 2.0 where people see me as a cold and merciless killer. After all, that's the only way to keep all those fans from completely ravaging me!
"Okay." I firmly replied, determined to turn over a new leaf. Just because Dad said that things will never be the same, doesn't mean that can't be better than before!
Prince gave a brilliant smile, pulling me into a tight squeeze. "Music to my ears!" He said happily as he preceded to give me a kiss on a cheek.
"Mom!" I cried suddenly, shocked and slightly mortified. "It's one thing to do that when you are, you know... Normal... But when you're Prince!? What if someone sees us!?" It was already bad enough when they got that picture of Dad and I together, I don't want to even think if someone got a picture of Prince kissing me! And not just that, it's really weird to be kissed by a man who isn't your father!
Prince gave a childish pout, the same that Mom used on me whenever I rejected her hugs or kisses. Sigh, what is with my family and constant pouting? "What happened to acknowledging I'm your mother, too?" Prince said pitifully.
When she does it in real life, she knows I can't argue because of how bad I feel on top of how cute she is when she does it... It's definitely not the same effect with Prince's masculine features and voice. With an inward groan, I could do nothing but relent. "Okay, okay. But only once and a while, okay? And not in front of anyone, even Dad!" I said, feeling a bit flustered at the idea ofanyone seeing that scene.
With another grin, he looked at me expectantly, which left me feeling a bit bewildered till I realized what was being waited for. "Mom, come on! You can't be serious?" Does my family live to make me feel awkward?
"I'm waiting!" He said with an impish smile, putting a finger to his cheek.
"Ugh, fine... Just this once, though!" I stressed, not wanting my embarrassment levels to crash through the roof. I can't believe I'm kissing a guy... Even if it is on the cheek and it's actually Mom... I looked around, making sure there was no one in the training grounds with us. Closing my eyes, I quickly leaned in to make contact...
The sound came from the entrance to our right- a sound that was unmistakably a camera taking a picture. I immediately opened my eyes and shoved an unprepared Prince away from me, which sent him crashing into the dirt floor in his back. I can't describe how I felt with anything but absolutely terrified. That's when I heard the thunderous sound of multiple pairs of feet clamoring to the entrance, obviously knowing where the next big story was. We're so dead. I'm so dead.
I didn't dare want to look at the people who caught probably the most misunderstood scene in history, if not from fear but sheer embarrassment. However this decision changed suddenly someone began to roar with laughter, so hard in fact I heard them hit the floor from laughing so hard. "O-Oh my god!" I heard a familiar voice cackled.
"Damn it, Lolidragon!" Prince exclaimed as he sat up, rubbing his head. "Thanks to you, I probably have a concussion!"
I turned my head to find my aunt on the floor clutching her sides in an uncontrollable fit of laughter. Behind her the rest of the group had gathered, who probably had been following her. "Oh stop whining, you big baby!" She reprimanded Prince, her laughter calmed now to a series of giggles. In the air next to her was a small bat like creature that seemed to consist entirely of one giant eyeball. She then pulled what looked like a photograph out of her pouch, swinging it around a couple of times. "Oh man, this one is definitely going on the fireplace mantle tomorrow morning!" She said with a mischievous smile.
Hong Peng's PoV
I opened my eyes from my slumber to a chilly morning, sleepily removing my headset as I sat up from my bed. I rubbed the grit out of one of my eyes as I ran over the events that had transpired in the game to wake me out of my stupor, unable to suppress an amused smile and chuckle from Feng Wen's massive embarrassment at the end. I'd probably feel the same way if I was caught in that kind of scene too! They were lucky it was us and not someone else, though. I shook my head at the thought, and jumped out of bed to ready myself for the next school day.
My house was not near as lively as Feng Wen's, who had a rather rambunctious family with loads of character. Instead it was just me, my younger fifteen year old brother, my mother and sometimes my nineteen year old sister, who would frequently visit our estranged father. The house was usually fairly quiet, with my mother a soft spoken woman and my little brother Ye Shing always on video games of some sort, with Life 2.0 being his biggest addiction at the moment.
"Wow Hong-gege it's 9:00, and you're awake? You sure are up early today!" My brother greeted me as I walked into the living room with an apple in one hand and my backpack in the other.
I sat down next to him on the couch as he finished the remnants of his cereal. "Well Ye Shing, I gotta be at school to uh... help my friend." I hesitantly replied, fully aware how he was going to react to my answer. But it's true, I promised his parents I'd stay near him in school while he recovered. God forbid how fans and journalists would take advantage of him while he's on crutches...
Ye Shing looked at me skeptically, "Oh let me guess, your 'best friend' Feng Wen, right? The most anti-social famous player since Kenshin?"
I said nothing, knowing it was pointless to try to argue with him. I didn't really talk about Feng Wen with anyone but my mom, the person I trusted most in my family, mainly out of fear for his safety. I also didn't want to be pestered by my siblings or other friends and family about meeting him, so the only one who I told about my adventures with him were Mom. However one day Ye Shing overheard me telling our mother about one of Feng Wen's battles, and he instantly accused me of lying since he hadn't known who I played in Life 2.0. Of course I didn't really matter to me if he thought I was or not, so I never corrected him or tried to prove otherwise. And even if I tried, I don't think I could convince him outside of having Feng Wen say it himself in person. Even after journalists found out our address, he just thought they were mislead because I sit right next to him in class!
My lack of response seemed to have agitated him, "Right, next you're going to tell me you've meet Prince and had a pleasant conversation with him over a cup of tea." He snorted, getting up to put his bowl away.
I felt a slight frown form on my face as I mumbled to myself, "Actually there were cookies too..." Suddenly my phone began to ring, unsurprisingly the caller being Feng Wen. "Hello?" I answered, looking at my watch to see the time was now nearly quarter after nine.
"Hey, are you at school yet?" Feng Wen asked before he suddenly exclaimed, "Are you kidding me!? Shui-yima come on... Don't put the picture up..."
Distant cackling that I could only assume was his aunt's came from the speaker. "Not yet, sounds like you're ready to go though!" I chuckled, unable to help myself.
"Hey! Don't you laugh too!" Feng Wen let out a sigh, "I didn't really think she was going to actually go and print it out..."
"Oh calm down, it's just a picture!" I replied, amused by his exasperation.
"It's a picture of me kissing a guy on the face!"
"Yeah, but the guy is your mom."
"Don't remind me." Feng Wen said with a deflated tone. "Anyway... When are you leaving? You need to be there before me, remember?"
"I'll be there in ten, I still need to walk Ye Shing to his bus stop." I answered before giving a shout to Ye Shing to head to the door.
"Alright, see you then!" He replied before hanging up the call.
Feng Wen's PoV
I am not looking forward to this... I thought with a sigh as I stood in front of the transporter in our garage. I made the decision to stop hiding behind disguises as part of my move to stop letting the media or rabid fans rule my life, but it didn't make me any less anxious about the reactions from it. As I continued to have a staring contest with the device, Mom came up from behind me and began to stuff the lunch she made for me in my backpack. "Now remember what I told you this morning, keep your head up high, good posture and most importantly, confidence! That's what I do, and I haven't been mobbed in years!"
I turned my head back to look at her incredulously, "You know that wouldn't be bad advice if it wasn't for the fact I'm on crutches."
"Being on crutches doesn't mean you can't be confident. All you have to do is look like high-class merchandise, and those girls won't even bother trying!" She replied, zipping up my backpack. "There, now you're all ready to go!"
"Yeah but that's more... Your thing, Mom." I remarked, not wanting to tell her it was one of the things that always irritated me about Prince as well. It's the same kind of arrogant attitude that one guy has in Dad's class... I thought to myself, remembering the guy that sat in the back trying to act all cool. Though last time I had gone to Dad's class all his groupies had left him and were busy trying to burn a hole through me with their eyes. With a small shudder at the memory, I said, "But don't worry Mom, I am definitely considering your advice."
She smiled as she went over to press the button that loaded up the coordinates to the school, "I'm not too worried, you'll figure out what works best for you. And even if you don't, Hong Peng and Dad are there to watch out for you."
"I don't know if Dad being near me is exactly a boon right now..." I whispered to myself before she came back and gave me a kiss on the cheek goodbye. After I said farewell to her, I hobbled over to the transporter. A few minutes later I found myself in the main entrance of the school, the normal hustle and bustle surrounding me as I got out of the transporter.
"About time you got here!" The familiar voice of Hong Peng chimed from my right, turning my head to meet my good friend's amused smile and crossed arms. He briskly ran his eyes over me and quirked his brow, "Looks like someone decided to take my advice and live dangerously, today." Some individuals had begun to look over at us in a response to Hong Peng's voice, as if to approach us. However one glance at Hong Peng's intimidating look was enough to send even the most fervent fan girl to head the other direction.
Hm, Hong Peng can keep them away with just a menacing glare... I thought to myself, I don't really have that kind of threatening aura to me, though. "And looks to me like someone isn't going to get a girlfriend today, either." I jokingly retorted, unable to hide my smile as I got an expected slap upside the head. "Hey, don't pick on the injured one!"
Hong Peng gave me a skeptical look and roll of the eyes as we began to head to my Computer Science class, "Pfft, yeah you're so defenseless."
"Well it's not like I can exactly take a crutch to a fan girl's head now, can I?" I replied, not that I wouldn't want to with some of them...
We continued to banter back and forth till we got to my classroom, to which I said Hong Peng goodbye till I saw him after class. I wasn't the first one in the class for once, which was something I had always made sure I did before I had to take my leave from school. As soon as I opened the door, everyone who was currently present turned to look at the door with a myriad amount of expressions being made.
If I've really stopped caring about their opinions, then I need to start acting like it. I told myself, strengthening my resolve. It took some willpower to ignore the chorus of whispers that followed the stares, but I successfully tuned them out as I laid down the schoolwork that I had completed over my leave on Professor Wing's desk. He gave me an approving smile, "It's nice to have you back, Min Feng Wen. Do you need any help?" He asked, nodding to my crutches.
I shook my head, "I'll be okay, but thank you for the offer!" I answered before I made my way to the desk. It was still a few minutes before class, so I couldn't help but hear snippets of the conversations happening around me as I pulled out my textbook, notebook and pencil.
"Did you hear the call to arms that Prince made?" A guy with black hair a couple of desks to the left asked another, "He's asking every able body to fight in the siege against it tonight!"
"I did, and it's even crazier that he said that..." I saw the other guy glance over in my direction, "and his priest are going to help as well!"
"That's a hell of a bold move, considering all the talk surrounding those two and Professor Min..." The black haired guy replied.
"Sooo, are you going to fight in the battle, tonight!?" A rather overly excited girl whispered from behind asked her dirty blonde friend.
"I'm not really sure..." The blonde replied, "I mean I am a big fan of the Odd Squad and... you know... but after what happened during the duel I don't know if I can really trust Prince, anymore. I was in the Battle Tournament too, remember?"
The other girl let out a sigh, "I know, I know... But if Prince really didn't care about his people, I don't think he would have said what he did during the address either. That's why I'm going to fight!"
"Alright settle down, everyone!" Professor Wing announced over the drone of the classroom, causing the group to quiet down. "I know a lot of exciting things are happening in the virtual world right now, and that there is so much to gossip about involving it. Because of all of you seem so well versed in the latest developments of Life 2.0, I figured we could have a little pop quiz about the language that it's written in- C+++37*!"
"I don't understand why everyone started groaning about the pop quiz, honestly." I told Hong Peng after class as we headed towards the one we had with Dad, "Most of the people in that class are also in my programming class, and that was stuff we had been covering since the start of the semester!"
"You know how most freshman are, Feng Wen." Hong Peng replied, "They're too busy partying or following the antics of certain famous players that will not be named."
"If they're letting their academics fall because of that, that's not remotely my problem." I answered, not feeling sympathetic towards individuals who would be so caught up in others' lives to let it affect them like that.
We turned the corner into the hallway of where the classroom was located in, finding it congested but not impassable. This is certainly better than that time with the journalists or with the mob of girls... I thought to myself as I looked at the people who seemed to have gathered for the sole purpose of gawking at me. I tried to keep myself looking disinterested and aloof, but it was hard when surrounded with people doing a poor job of whispering to one another.
"What happened to his leg?" A girl asked.
"Do you think he's like that because of that Fan guy?" Someone else questioned.
"I wonder if Professor Min knows he's like this..." Another girl pondered.
"Or maybe he's the one who did it to him when he found out about him and Prince." A guy snickered in response, causing my facade to falter for a moment as bubble of anger threaten to pop from the comment. You little son of a bitch...
The two minute walk to the door seemed like eternity, neither of us not wasting another moment to get inside the room. With the door closed behind us, we found ourselves to be the last ones of the class to have entered. Looks like everyone got the memo that Dad and I were returning and decided to show up early... I thought to myself as I found myself once again with everyone's eyes on me- everyone with the exception of Dad.
Dad had looked up from his mound of papers when the door had closed, but quickly looked back down. The less eye contact the better, I suppose. I figured was his logic behind it, but from the looks on everyone's faces it didn't seem to be working. They probably think something along the lines of what that bastard said out there.
Unlike my previous class, this was unusually quiet as we waited for Dad to begin the class. The only sounds heard were those of school supplies being shuffled around or a bodily noise like a sneeze or cough. Eventually Dad stood up to greet the students with a polite but forced smile, "Good afternoon, everyone! I hope everyone did okay with the substitutes while I was away on leave. Does anyone have any questions regarding anything covered or not covered in the past month?"
Immediately a girl's hand shot up, to which Dad nodded in response. "I have a question that isn't related to the material in the class!"
Oh boy, here it comes. I thought to myself, knowing exactly what the question related to. I looked to Dad who seemed a bit conflicted as to what to do, as he was always so open to answering questions. "... Well since I haven't been here for a month, that's understandable. This is the only question I will answer that is not related to class, though!" He replied.
The girl opened and closed her mouth, turning her head in my direction as if remembering my presence. Finally she said, "May I ask why you had gone on leave? Usually students are told at least a brief reason why, but we haven't heard anything!"
A complicated expression appeared on Dad, but was quickly replaced with one of resolve. "I will not go into much detail, as it is still a very sensitive subject for me, but I had a family emergency involving my wife and youngest child."
My jaw nearly dropped like the rest of the class' at my father's declaration, in complete disbelief at what he just said. I darted my eyes towards Hong Peng, who looked like his eyeballs were about to pop out of his socket. This is the first time he's ever mentioned us...
One of the girls looked like they were about to faint, "I had heard a rumor you were married but... Wife..." She said whispered, as if she spoke it any louder the ceiling would fall down. Rumor? It's not exactly like he hides his wedding ring in his pocket!
"Children...?" Someone mumbled near me, sounding like they were trying to put pieces to a puzzle together. Is this one moment going to be the one where someone finally makes the connection? I wondered.
"Now," Dad began, grabbing the stylus to the digital board, "since now we know where I've been, let's see if you remember where the Song capital was after 1127 C.E..."
C+++37: I made this based of the actual computer language C++, which is the most common language used in creating video games right now. The most current version of the language is C++14, which stands for 2014. So since this is takes place somewhere around 2137, I made it C+++37.
Brownie points if anyway can answer Gui's question for the class!
Time was wasted by no one that night, coming back to a house bursting with motion. My uncle and aunt were busy on the phone, trying to recruit old comrades for the battle. Mom was single-handily cooking dinner, while Kenshin handled the clean up. And when my father came home, he immediately went to work on grading assignments. I tried to match their speed, but unfortunately I was the last to log in because of the large load of homework that was given and my cast slowing me down in preparing for bed. But I finally made it into the game, where I found myself in the practice area of the castle, now brimming with activity as players practiced for the upcoming battle. I couldn't help but watch as practice dummies were hacked, stabbed and exploded by the variety of classes* that were using them.
"Hey, stop daydreaming and get your butt over here!" I heard Zhi call from my right, causing my head to turn to see the child priest standing near one of the entrances. "We have work to do!"
I followed Zhi through the doorway and into the castle hallways, busy with people carrying loads of armor, weapons, and potions. I couldn't help but wonder out loud, "How many people did we manage to get?"
"A little over fifteen hundred, which isn't that terrible considering that Infinite City's official population is over nine thousand, but..." Zhi trailed off.
A grim expression came over his face as we continued to walk, squeezing through the crowded stone hallway. "We're expecting over two thousand players to come against us, not including any pets or siege weapons."
"Two thousand players...?" I said weakly, my heart trying to recoil from the staggering numbers. The most enemies I have fought at a time was about five or ten, and they were monsters! How am I suppose to survive when there are two thousand players that would kill me as soon as they laid eyes on me?
"Relax, relax." Zhi said as we neared the end of the hallway, the bright lights of the room shining through the entrance. "Prince put us in a team with him and Doll, so we will be a hard match for anyone!"
"Maybe, or it'll paint a big red target on our backs." I scoffed.
Leaving the hallway, I realized we were in the throne room of Infinite Castle. While it was not congested as the rest of the building, there were at least forty to fifty people congregating in the large room, the drone of multiple conversations buzzing around the large room. As we move towards them I saw my parents and the rest of the Odd Squad unsurprisingly at the center of the crowd, talking to a few unfamiliar faces.
Zhi rolled his eyes, "You're the most pessimistic person, I swear." He began to push through the large circle, heading towards the center. "Alright, I've returned with Mister Gloom and Doom!"
"Hey, what is that suppose to mean!?" I asked indignantly. Prince gave a small cough, catching my attention. With a smile, he gestured his head over to a couple that was standing close to him in the group. While they looked no older than my parents, it only took me a moment to realize who they were. "Grandma, Grandpa!" I whispered happily, immediately hugging both of them like I was a small child again.
"My goodness, how tall you have gotten in a couple of years!" Grandpa said, who was now at eye level with me.
"And how handsome as well!" Grandma chimed in, giving a small pinch to my cheek. Her eyes darted around to the crowd and then past me, where my parents were standing. "You two did good bringing me such a wonderful grandson, it's so obvious how much he takes after his mother in appearance!"
"Grandma..." I mumbled in embarrassment, my other cheek now matching the pinched one in color.
"What in hell's name is going on?" A gritty feminine voice called, the owner appearing as she pushed through the mass to us. With long blonde hair and voluptuous body, she would be considered pretty if it wasn't for the boorish expression she wore on her face. "Yer' ol' man* was a couple of minutes late, and we got another pretty boy joining the ranks?"
"You didn't tell him about Feng Wen?" My father asked in disbelief. Him?
Prince quickly became flustered, playing with his fingers as he tried to look anywhere than my father. "Uhhhh that's not the only thing he doesn't know..."
"Prince..." My aunt said softly, her tone that causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, "Does he know anything?"
"Wait, wait-" I interjected, wanting at least one thing to be clarified, "You keep saying him, so is this person a tranny?"
I suddenly found myself by the collar by the woman, who was looking at me as though she wanted to pop my head right off. "Listen here, pretty boy. Yer' ol' man will tolerate that guy-" Gesturing her left hand towards Prince before turning it into a fist, "saying that shit, but don't think 'cause you look like him you'll get off so easy!"
While I could have probably broken out of her grip, I didn't want to hit a lady with my mother present. I'm not sure if she would scold me or praise me for retaliating, so I'll assume the former!But I had no need to prepare for a punch to the face as Prince quickly came over and grabbed hold of the woman's hand on me. "I would appreciate if you didn't threaten my son, Western Wind." He said in a low whisper.
Western Wind's eyes widened, looking back at Prince and then back at me. He finally let go, though his eyes were still on Prince, "But I thought you and that damn bard were homos!"
"Yeah, about that..." Prince trailed off, as if unsure what to say next.
"He's the one that's the real tranny, Western Wind!" My aunt said in an impish whisper, her devil's grin at full force.
"WHA-" Western Wind cried before Prince kicked her in the back of the knees, causing her to fall flat on her face. After a moment she recovered, lifting her head and said in hushed tone, "Yer' telling me that this whole time that yer' not a man!?"
"Not in real life, anyway." Prince remarked, bending down towards Western Wind, "Sorry if that makes you feel even less masculine knowing you were having your ass handed to you by a woman!" He quietly taunted, an arrogant smirk on his face. I gave an inward groan as I ignored my desire to forcibly wipe it off, I wonder if Mom knows just how much that look makes an individual want to hit Prince!
"Like hell it doesn't! I don't care what you look like downstairs, yer' ol' man will keep challenging ya' till my arms fall off!" Western Wind said hotly, jumping up immediately to attack Prince. In one swift move Prince pulled out his dao and blocked the attack, soon leading to a full on match between the two. I felt left out of the loop as the rest of the Odd Squad began to laugh at the scene, like it was an inside joke. I'm so confused...
With a large boom the giant doors to the throne room were slammed open, causing everyone inside to become still. Nan Gong Zui stood in the entrance, his breath ragged as if he had been sprinting. "They're here." He said breathlessly.
Prince's eyes widened, and promptly dropped Western Wind from the headlock he had on her. "Everyone, to your positions! Make sure everyone in your assigned teams are present!" He shouted, quickly making his way to the door. Zhi and I were right on his heels with the rest of the throng, who became nosier than before after his announcement. "Zui, any new information?"
"As expected, Fan is not leading this siege personally. The coward has assigned generals to most of his forces while he hides in his little hole in Moon City, all players that you have had previous run ins with." Nan Gong Zui, his brow furrowed in disgust, "As of right now two teams and two individuals that have their own armies, all with a strong desire to bring you down in any way possible."
"Who is leading this siege, then?" Prince asked as we made our way down the giant staircase of the entry room.
"Hell's Marauders. On top of the wealth that Fan has surely promised them, they want to reestablish reputation and strike fear in anyone who follows you." Nan Gong Zui replied.
"And the others?"
"Team Phoenix is the other group, their army last stationed at Star City. The two players are Haung Wei of the Eastern Continent and Pretty Princess, whose locations are unknown at the moment."
Dad looked at Prince worriedly as we left through the castle's grand wooden doors, "Are you sure you and Feng Wen will be okay? Surely these degenerates will be looking for you two especially..."
Prince grasped Dad's hand as they walked, "We'll be fine, after all weren't you and Wicked the ones who suggested this type of structure for the offense teams? Anyway, we have Doll and Hong Peng, they'll take care of us!"
"Yeah! Doll will make sure no harm comes to Prince-gege, Feng Wen-didi or Zhi-didi!" Doll said firmly.
"See? I already feel safer knowing Doll is ready at a moment's notice!" Prince chuckled.
Zhi was unusually quiet through this exchange, which when I looked over at him had a blank expression as he stared off into the blue sky and surrounding scenery of the now heavily fortified Infinite City. However a flick to the face was all that was needed to bring him back, "Hey, watch it! You'll make them bigger than they already are!" He cried, rubbing his cheek.
"What's with you? You were just staring out into nothing!" I replied, looking around to see barricaded buildings and wall gates as we made our way to the city walls, which we would stand atop of and assess the situation.
"Who, me?" Zhi asked in a flustered manner. "It's nothing, I was just thinking about the new info..." He trailed off, slipping right back into his thoughts.
This time I flicked him on the nose, causing a disgruntled face as he rubbed it, "The generals? And you were telling me not to worry!" I replied, my previous worries having now been replaced with excitement. I just got to think of this like the tournament, only with more people! I kept telling myself, the only phrase that seemed to calm my nerves. "We'll just kick their asses like the rest of them!"
"I doubt Fan would make them generals of his armies if they were only as talented as the average player." Zhi rebuked, pulling out his staff to prepare buffing our party* as we ascended the stairs.
I was about to refute Zhi's comment, but the words were lost as I saw the first glimpse of enemy army before us. All I saw was a sea of players, taking up much of the surrounding northern face of the city. Dotting the human face landscape were a variety of large siege weapons such as trebuchets, battering rams, ballistas and siege towers.
"Archers, draw your bows and hold till Legolas' signal!" Prince bellowed, "Mages, on my mark stop your large scale spells and focus on creating a barrier! As for the warriors, prepare to lay down your lives for the mages and archers! The enemy cannot be allowed to break through our walls!"
"Yes, my lord!" A chorus of fierce voices resounded.
Prince shoot his right fist into the air, "Long live Infinite City!"
Our forces stirred with excitement as everyone echoed, "LONG LIVE INFINITE CITY!"
Yer' ol' man: This is a twist on the "sonny" that Western Wind says in the novel. For a refresher, it's a honorific that is referring to one's self as a "old man/father", saying they superior and deserving of respect in an insulting way.
Party: Just another MMORPG term for a squad, small team, etc that can be joined or left with ease. Different from being part of a guild, which is more permanent than a party. (I figured I would explain this for any non-mmorpg readers out there. I know I have some!)
Unlike in a duel, there is no one to tell you when to start the fighting in a war. Instead there is just an eerie silence among both participates, both anxiously waiting for the other to make a move. Scanning the front lines of the enemy army were dozens of faces, all laced with anxiety and fear. Our soldiers were the same, the players inside the city fidgeting restlessly, and the archers' arms starting to tremble from holding their position for so long. The siege army finally began to move forward, the thunderous sound of their march following closely behind. Prince snapped his fingers, the chorus of whistles as the first volley of arrows being released following after. The shields of the enemy army were risen to block the volley, but rays of light were seen when a few arrows made it through.
Our foes continued on their path towards us, their marching unfazed even as they approached the traps surrounding the city and our forces. They eventually got through the arrays of snares, pitfalls, and other booby traps- but at no small cost as the sky lit up with player causalities. Now with them within fifteen meters of our walls, they were about to meet the next line of our defense- the offense teams.
"Now here's the plan you two, since you haven't been filled in yet." Prince began, his eyes still locked on the approaching army. "Doll and Hong Peng are going to provide a distraction while Feng Wen and I sneak our way to the back to take out Hell's Marauders."
"So we're cutting the head off the snake..." Zhi mumbled, nodding in approval of the plan.
Prince turned his head towards us as he grabbed up two large shields that were lying nearby, "Exactly. But it's of utmost importance that you keep Doll alive, because we're only going to be able to slip by if she uses her most powerful summon."
"You can count on me!" Zhi replied with a salute and smile.
As the warriors started to run out of their formation to meet our soldiers that were outside the walls, it seemed to me as though the more pressing problem hadn't been addressed yet. "May I ask how we're even going to get down? It seems we're the only offense team that is still inside, and we can't go through the gates because they're barricaded..."
Prince merely smiled, tossing one of the shields to me. "You're going to need this in a minute." He said before nodding to Doll, leaving me baffled. What? Why would I need a shield? I don't use these to begin with, and none of the enemies even know we're up here!
Doll returned his gesture before closing her eyes and taking a deep breath,
"O' hear my cry, ye wicked of hell
Send forth Astaroth's beast...
As the words left her mouth, the earth began to shake and groan. Our forces seemed to have already known this was going to happen, as they had been no one near the area as the ground began to split open, swallowing dozens of enemy players. The ones who had not been swallowed up began to direct their attention to the section of wall we were currently standing on, causing an array of arrows and weak magic spells to rain on us. Now I knew why Prince had handed me the shield, as both of us threw it over us and our smaller companions. Doll seemed oblivious to the situation, though- the beads of sweat on her forehead instead from her deep concentration as she continued her incantation,
Rise up o' steed of Belphegor
Strike down my foes, as I hide in your shadow!"
Slowly a creature of awe and terror inspiring size rose up from the rift, its skeletal frame covered in armor of shadows and flames. On both of its front legs were three claws, each claw at least three meters in length and one thick. It stood clear well over the wall's height, with the entirety of its skull directly in front of our eyes.
Doll fell to the stone floor, looking absolutely exhausted. "All aboard..." She said weakly.
"Come on!" Prince urged, dropping the shield and grabbing Doll into his arms. Prince dodged any incoming fire as he sprinted to the edge of the wall, jumping off the front and onto the creature's skull- landing expertly on the narrow ridge of its nose.
Knowing he wouldn't be able to make the jump because of his small stature, I quickly followed Prince's example by grabbing Zhi (Who let out surprised squeak) and leaping off the wall towards the creature. Unfortunately my landing was not nearly as graceful as Prince's, with both Zhi and I toppling hard into the creature's skull. "Geez, could have at least warned me you were going to do that!" Zhi cried from underneath me.
I began an attempt to stand up on the creature when it suddenly lowered itself to stand on four legs, the only reason for me not falling off the creature was Prince pulling me back onto the monster's skull. The creature began to lumber into the crowd slowly, much slower than I originally thought.
"What it lacks in speed and stamina, it makes up in defense and strength." Doll said, now sounding on the verge of passing out. "It's nearly immortal as long as the summoner stays alive, which is the big catch. Since..." She almost dozed off mid-sentence if it wasn't for the creature's sudden jostle snapping her awake, "since it is one of the most powerful summoned creatures, the summoner becomes very lethargic on top of a severe reduction in health and mana regeneration."
"Which is why Hong Peng has to stay by her side instead of helping us, because once they realize they can't hurt the monster, they'll go after her." Prince replied. He looked around the raging battlefield, his brows furrowed in concentration. Enemy players who were attacking our forces were now starting to swarm the beast we rode on, wailing away on its bones. The creature paid no mind to them, and simply continued on its walk- crushing any players that didn't move out of its way. Prince focused his attention to the far right, where close by enemies were using trebuchets and ballistas on Infinite City's walls. "Doll, have it go after that cluster of siege weapons there. Feng Wen and I will escape in the resulting chaos!"
Doll nodded, waving her staff in that direction. The hell creature began to turn, with more rays of light surrounding it as it crushed unsuspecting players underneath. Prince began to unleash waves of fire from his dao towards the enemies below as we made our way to the siege weapons, hitting dozens of players in paralyzing or life threatening burns. Zhi followed in his example, now chanting massive healing spells for any nearby allies that were in his area of effect. As for me, since I specialized in short range and acrobatic attacks, I was left only to do nothing but to sit down and analyze the situation. Man, I have never felt so useless in this game till now. I brooded, taking my eyes off my teammates to the pandemonium that was occurring below on the ground.
As Prince predicted, many of the players had given up or had already died trying to attack the giant. Instead they opted to target Doll to bring the fearsome beast down or to retaliate against Prince's devastating flames that had claimed the lives of quite a few warriors. Past our small area, it was hard to define exactly what was going on since all I could see was just a sea of armor.Maybe we should invest in some uniforms for the army after this, it's impossible to tell who is who!
I looked back at Infinite City, which was slowly getting farther and farther away as the creature continued to lumber through waves of enemies. Even though they were covered in hot tar, craters and blood, the walls surrounding Central Continent's capital were still holding up strong. The barrier that must have went up after we left was smaller than planned, only covering a 40 kilometer* radius around the castle, leaving the walls and buildings close by defenseless. Will Dad be okay? A scene of the walls being breached with my father being one of the bloodied causalities followed the intrusive thought, my heart clenching in anxiety. No! It'll hold till we get rid of Hell's Marauders, after all it's said that it would take months for those walls to fall...
"Running away, you spineless bastards?" Prince suddenly called out haughtily, turning my head to see him swinging his sword for the blaze to conquer another victim. "Go ahead, run back to your leaders and tell them we're coming for them!"
I rolled my eyes at the scene, turning my attention to the aforementioned "spineless bastards" below. They were indeed moving away out of Prince's range, but what he failed to notice was they were running back and underneath the creature. That's strange, I wondered, why would they do that? They're just at a higher chance of being crushed- unless... I quickly got up from my spot, and crawled over to the back of skull so I wouldn't be noticed by any enemy eyes. As I feared, players had somehow begun to climb up on the creature by its tail, which was plowing through the earth as it was dragged.
Not wanting to wait for the enemy to come to us, I unsheathed my short sword and jumped to my feet. "I'll be right back!" I called out to my teammates as I began to run down the edge of the beast's vertebrae.
"What? Where are you going!?" Prince exclaimed, obviously worried for my safety.
While nothing makes me feel worse than worrying my mother, I couldn't just set back and do nothing anymore. "Don't worry, just stay up there to protect Zhi and Doll while I take care of some fleas!" I said trying to sound confident, hoping it would ease his mind. Truthfully, I was terrified with there at least being six different players ascending towards us. Yeah, this is definitely going to be nothing like the Battle Tournament! I conceded, taking back my wishful thinking from earlier.
As I approached my first opponent near the middle of the creature's back, I realized how much of a disadvantage I had put myself in as the male warrior shouted, "Is that...? Holy shit, Yi Min is on this thing!" Bringing the attention of everyone else in the area on me, well there goes that slim chance of the element of surprise. As soon as I got within striking range, I sprung off the vertebra and swung downward at the warrior.
The man attempted to try to block the strike, but he was too slow at pulling out his weapon, causing the attack to be successful. He apparently wasn't that strong of a player, as he disappeared in a ray of light before I could even see the damage I had dealt on him.
"Damn, he really is strong..." A man in silver armor mumbled in a mix of fear and awe down near the tail of the behemoth.
"Hmph!" I suddenly heard behind me, moving quickly enough to only get a cut on my arm where a dagger had aimed at my back. "That might be so, but can he keep up with a thief?" A man in cloaked black armor stood in front of me and disappearing the next. I heard a faint step from behind me, and immediately turned to block another attempt at my life. "Not bad, not bad. So you being an agility warrior is true!"
He suddenly dropped a smoke bomb, causing the area to temporarily covered in a black fog. The area had gotten louder as well, leaving me deaf as I frantically used my senses to figure out where he would appear next. In the corner of my right eye I saw a disturbance in the smoke's fading cloud, allowing me to parry the incoming attack from the back. "Not going to say anything back, are we? Fine, let me rid this game of your arrogant attitude!" The thief sneered, dissipating into the smoke in a blink of an eye.
Three attempts were enough for me to figure out his methods, leaving me ready to go on the offensive. I whipped my sword to my right side as fast as I could, spinning on my heel to carry the attack to where my back was a moment before. "Too predictable." I simply said as I felt my sword slice through his armor and into his flesh. This thief must have not had a lot of hit points either, as the light from his death disintegrated the remaining smoke.
It seemed seeing the fate of the thief made the rest of the enemies on the creature to jump ship, with the exception of one player. With a high quality bow in hand and unflinching posture on the precarious terrain, I knew the golden haired boy must have been an exceptional archer to be away from the majority that were sending volleys towards Infinite City. "My, my." The archer started, pulling an arrow out of his quiver and nocking it. "You certainly do live up to the stir you've caused, don't you?"
I furrowed my brows and ready myself for anything. Thieves are at least similar to warriors, but I've never gone up against an anything like an archer! "I never intended to cause a stir in the first place." I replied, trying to make time to think up a strategy against the archer.
"Ha! If that was the cause, you wouldn't have drawn attention to yourself like going into a tournament!" He scoffed, his bow and green eyes never wavering from their target.
I opened my mouth to argue back, but I couldn't find the words to do so. He is right, technically. But I didn't want attention from the public, I just wanted Prince-
"What the hell are you doing down there? We need you up here!" I heard Zhi shout from above, causing me to foolishly jerk my head upwards to see his chubby face. He looked at me and then seemed to try to see the archer, putting his tiny hand over his eyes to get a better visual. "Have we met that guy before? He looks kind of familiar, but I can't tell from here..."
The soft snap of a bowstring reached my ears, my body jerking into a defensive position instinctively from the sound. Yet the arrow never made contact, whistling right over my head. "It missed?" I asked out loud, confused. I thought he was a skilled archer! How in the world could he have missed?
The archer smiled heartlessly, "I didn't miss."
A sense of horror filled me as I understood his words, turning around to see the small figure from earlier now staring blankly back at me with an arrow pierced through his chest, red blood soiling his white and blue robes.
"HONG PENG!" I screamed, my chest tightening in distraught from the first time seeing my best friend in such a state. Ignoring the archer, I began to run back up the creature's spine in hopes of reaching Zhi before the archer could try to finish him off. I can't let him die! I won't!
He said nothing back, but instead looked down at his wound and touched it with his hand. He raised his now bloody hand up, staring at it with the same blank expression. I was almost to him with the beast jostled again, causing Zhi to lose his balance and fall off completely. Without even thinking about my own safety, I jumped off- gripping onto Zhi as we plummeted to the ground.
40 kilometers for American readers is roughly 25 miles.
P.S. If anyone can guess what the creature is (It's based off an animal that existed), brownie points!
I don't know for how long we were falling, but I knew when we stopped as I felt every bone in my torso break on impact. I had positioned us midair for me to be Zhi's cushion when we would finally reach the ground. I knew I could survive the fall, which meant Zhi would survive and could heal us both once he got a potion down. With most of my body broken with an unconscious priest on top of me, I realized I hadn't thought about anything else that could come after making it to the ground.
We were surrounded by players, enemies and allies alike. Our grand entrance into the fray caused the fighting in the surrounding area to stop and look at us, unfortunately all warriors or thieves. "Get him!" Someone cried out among the silence, causing the chaos to resume. All the enemies were charging towards us, with our allies trying to stop them. With my only functioning arm, which had been holding onto Zhi when we landed, I fumbled around in my pocket for a potion. I finally found a small potion and shakily brought it to my mouth.
It tasted awful, like all potions did, but I was healed up enough that I could actually get up and move, albeit very slowly. I gasped in pain as I moved Zhi off me and slowly got up, trying my best to move as fast as possible since our surrounding allies began to dwindle in number. Gritting my teeth I sheathed my sword and picked Zhi back up, which then I began to stumble towards a group a bit away that I only knew were friendlies because one of them I recognized as one of my classmates. It's probably better to get out of here and find another priest to heal us. I reasoned, knowing I would just give the enemy more time to kill us if I stayed to try and find another potion.
"Feng Wen, what happened? Are you two okay!?" I heard Prince come through the party chat, absolutely hysteric. "Hong Peng told me he was going to bring you back up, and next thing I see is both of you crashing to the ground!"
"I can't explain now, Mom! Zhi's been shot, can you tell me where the closest priest is!?" I asked desperately. I obviously needed a priest as well, but my health was regenerating slowly, allowing me to slowly increase my pace as I weaved through the on-going battles. Something in that damn arrow must have disabled his health regeneration, because his health points haven't increased nor has he even regained conscious yet.
The channel was quiet for a moment before Prince replied, "I just asked your father, he says there should be one due north roughly ten meters away."
I looked around as I wandered aimlessly, unsure what direction north was. Asking Mom isn't going to help either, she's the one who cursed me with this!
I had just recovered enough health to quicken my pace to a brisk limp when I felt the agonizing pain of an arrow penetrate the back of my left knee, causing me to crumble to the ground. I had barely been able to protect Zhi from the impact, forcing myself last minute to fall to the side as my left leg gave out on me.
"Feng Wen, are you there? Feng Wen!" I heard Prince yell through the chat.
"You didn't think you were going to escape from me that easy, did you?" I heard a voice afar from behind me, the owner being the same that put an arrow in Zhi.
That no good, goddamn son of a bitch... I cursed under my breath, trying to think rationally as my anger began to reach its maximum. In a last, desperate attempt I began to look for another potion, praying silently that I would be able to find one.
"I'm sure by now you realize just how big of a bounty is on your head, with 100 crystal coins for every level you're demoted." The archer said, his voice getting closer with every word. "Your precious little priest is worth even more if brought back alive to the rebel leaders, but I'm sure they'll reward me handsomely if getting rid of both of you wins this siege."
I felt a small glimmer of hope as I wrapped my hands against the familiar shape of a health potion. Breaking the end of the arrow that still resided in his chest, I pulled Zhi as close as possible to me. This way that damn archer will only be able to hit me. In a split second I whipped the potion out, and made the motion to bring it to my mouth- as I predicted, the archer knew and sent an arrow flying at me. His attack was so powerful that it pierced through my hand and through the glass bottle, leaving it only cracked with a hole from the arrow passing through.
"How sad can you get?" The archer sneered, "Your comrade lies dying in your arms, and you try to save yourself! I took you as one with honor, Yi Min."
I couldn't help but show a weak smile, "It wasn't for me."
Now the archer realized that I had positioned the bottle over Zhi's face, the contents of the potion now steadily streaming into his slacken jaw. Zhi let out a small cough, signaling that my plan was successful.
"Bastard!" He growled, quickly shooting another arrow at us from his position. He attempted to strike at Zhi in the head, but instead was intercepted by my shoulder. I let out a howl of pain as I teetered on the brink of life and death, my health slowly dropping from 1% to 0. At least he has a chance of surviving now, he can help the others. I thought, my blood now coating both of us from my fatal wounds. A bright light began to fill my vision and my body numbing as the game prepared for me to hit zero...
I was still blinded by a bright light, but not the light of the rebirth point. Instead I felt the arrows disappear in my body as my flesh mended back together in those torn places. One of the rarest spells in the game, the resurrection spell! As the light got dimmer, I saw Zhi standing defiantly beside my half healed body, his robes dyed completely in red and his eyes fierce in every meaning of the word. "Sanctuary!" He called out, a beautiful dome of light suddenly cutting the three of us from the action surrounding us.
The archer was dumbfounded by the recent turn in events, but quickly recovered when the barrier went up around us. In a split second an arrow was sent flying towards Zhi, but he stepped aside in the same speed. The arrow flew past him and into the dome, disintegrating immediately. "Don't think you can try that again, you only got me the first time because I was caught off guard." He said coolly.
"H-How..." The archer stuttered in disbelief at Zhi's speed.
"Surprised?" Zhi asked, a cocky smirk appearing on the boy's lips. "And don't think you can escape either, this barrier has no way in or out." By the look on his face, I knew he wanted to take care of him personally. Well, I know he is more than capable of handling himself. So I think I'll just sit back and enjoy the show!
It seemed Zhi's smug expression had irritated the archer more, his teeth barring as he pulled out another arrow. "Dark arrow!" He cried out, the arrow nocked in his bow emitting an ominous black mist.
"Resiliant!" Zhi yelled in response, the arrow leaving the bow as the last letter left Zhi's mouth. The arrow was nearly a meter away from Zhi's face when it suddenly flipped around towards its owner, embedding itself in the archer's chest. The archer fell to his knees, the irony of his reaction being a blank stare.
"Ah, now I remember you!" Zhi said, walking over casually to the increasingly pale archer, "You're Pretty Boy Archer, from that raid party long ago! Do you remember me, Zhi Sano?" But I knew Zhi didn't expect him to answer by his 'devil may care' attitude he had at the moment, which was confirmed when he spoke after the archer's silence, "Of course you don't, otherwise you would have remembered that I'm not a standard healer build, I'm an agility priest!"
The archer attempted to nock another arrow in his weakened state, but his health was so low that Zhi could just knock the arrow out of his hand. "Tsk, tsk. You're still putting up a fight?" He asked as he took a step back, "Then let me end your suffering by God's Hand!" He said, his voice raising as he said the spell's name. Descending from the sky came a large, beautiful hand of gold light, a hand large enough to even hold a large boss monster.
The hand snatched up the archer, who began to scream in pain. Zhi's smirk turned into sadistic smile, "God's Hand doesn't actually deal damage, its only purpose is to disable the target and change their element to holy. But it seems you have a dark element arrow sticking out of your chest... Which means with the pressure from the skill driving the arrow even deeper into you, it's increased the damage by tenfold." He explained matter-of-fact as his opponent continued to writhe in agony. Finally the archer went limp, a ray of light signaling his demise.
Zhi let out an exhausted sigh as he flicked his wrist, the dome began to slowly evaporate into an array of light. He looked over at me and smiled slyly before offering his hand towards me, which I gladly took. He started to heal both of us as he spoke, "Thanks for saving my sorry ass, I can't believe I actually let that guy get a hit me..."
"Do we even need to count off the times you've saved mine?" I said, doing a quick stretch for the areas that were hit. It then occurred to me that the area was unusually quiet for being in the thick of a giant battle. I took a look at our surroundings, finding ourselves encircled by countless players, all eyes on us with a variety of expressions, the majority being one akin to unease.Were they watching the duel? I wondered, preparing for any of them to strike.
Zhi seemed to be thinking the same thing, "You've seen what both of us can do by ourselves, do you dare find out what we're capable of together?" He asked with an air of confidence. What the hell is he doing? He's going to get us killed!
It wasn't hard to see the anxiety in their faces by Zhi's words, some of them shrinking back at his cocky expression. However his smugness seemed to rile up one individual in the front, a warrior covered in steel armor who shouted, "There's only two of you, and dozens of us! Don't think his one sword and your light show will save you!"
The crowd began to murmur in agreement, brandishing their weapons and inching closer. "Kill 'em!" and "Let's get 'em!" started to resound throughout the crowd.
"Damn it, Zhi! What were you thinking!?" I exclaimed when I realized we were about to get overwhelmed. I grabbed onto his wrist and broke into a sprint, his short legs barely able to keep up with me. He might be an agility priest, but it's still nowhere near as high as mine!
"I was hoping that it would scare them off! You know, the stuff that Prince does!" Zhi looked behind us, realizing that while we were still ahead of the mob, we weren't getting any farther from them. "Agilitas!" Zhi said, casting a spell which raised the agility of the targets, increasing the distance between us and our pursuers by a large margin. But we weren't safe yet, with there still being plenty of foes around wanting to slaughter us at any given chance. "Now go left! No, you're other left!" He ordered as we blazed through the crowds.
"Look," I said as I took my sword and slashed out at a warrior who was attempting to clothesline us with his own weapon, "Prince can be intimidating for a lot of reasons. But you? Even in a dangerous mood like earlier you still looked like a cute little boy!"
The word of us being on the field must have been spreading, as the concentration of players around us seemed to be increasing with every moment. "Hmph!" He pouted as he ran alongside me, puffing out his cheeks out of annoyance.
"You're not helping your cause, right now!" I teased, before seeing some fool extend his arm out to try and stop us last minute. In a split second I grabbed his arm, and thanks to the breakneck speed we were going, ripped it right out of his socket.
"Are you trying to show off now!?" Zhi asked incredulously, his expression turning even sourer. "And don't call me a little boy!"
I gawked at the dismembered arm I just tore off, "What? No way!" I cried, skidding to a stop. I quickly tossed the arm aside.
Zhi acted unconvinced as he stopped alongside me, stubbornly declaring, "Yeah right! Two can play at this time!" He pulled out his holy book, his only 'weapon' that was used for extremely high-powered spells. He flipped open the book and bowed his head, "Almighty one, hear your child's prayer! Honor me with the Panoply* of God, so I may show thine enemies your great power!"Streams of gold light began to emit from the book's pages, threading themselves around Zhi. The threads turned into ribbons, wrapping themselves from his shoes to the top of his robes. This was one of the most powerful spells in the entire game, where a priest could essentially take the strength and defense of a warrior, but in return lost health and mana regeneration as well as the ability to do any other spells during its duration. With it being highly exhaustive on mana, it typically did not last very long without the use of mana potions.
Standing around as Zhi's spell took effect allowed the group behind to catch up, who were now encircling us again. They must be planning to attack at once, from all angles so we can't escape.When the spell was finished, Zhi threw a challenging gaze at me, something that immediately flared up my competitiveness. "Just because I'm a priest," He began, turning to face the warrior from earlier. In the blink of an eye he jumped up and grabbed the warrior by the neck, swinging himself upwards to grab another enemy warrior nearby with his legs. With a twist of his body, both of the warriors were lurched forward, their necks snapping from the force. With their bodies now gone into a beam of light, Zhi landed perfectly on the ground. "does not mean I have to be protected by an overzealous warrior!"
"Overzealous!?" I yelled in disbelief. Who was it that saved your sorry self from becoming a kebab? "Yeah well, just because I'm a warrior," I started, throwing my sword at full strength at an unsuspecting thief. With my increased agility and already high strength, the sword went straight through him and two other players behind the thief, killing them all instantly. "doesn't mean I need some priest that's self-conscious about his height!"
The surrounding circle of players were too stunned to move away from us as I walked over into the cluster to retrieve my sword, with Zhi flailing his arms as he followed, "See!? That was unnecessarily flashy! You're just trying to one up me!" He cried.
"Well from what I can tell, the score right now is you with three kills, and me with five!" I replied.
"Oh, so we're keeping tally now?" Zhi said, tightening his fists. Zhi must have been quite angry, as his next victim took a surprising turn with a female thief. In his blind rage he swept out her legs, hearing a crack! as one of her tibias broke from impact. When she had fallen face to face with him, he round kicked her head right off her shoulders. He doesn't screw around with his martial arts, does he? I thought, a little impressed. As the ray of light appeared, he pulled out a mana potion and drank it all in one gulp. "That's four to five now, bitch! And I'm just getting warmed up!"
Now I'm pissed. Within seconds I had taken my sword and shoved it up some warrior from his stomach to his throat, hitting every major organ in the sword's path. "Four to six!" I shouted, turning to look at Zhi. But he wasn't nearby, anymore.
Instead, he was three meters away with two lights behind him now as he greeted me with a triumphant smile, "Six to six!" Zhi exclaimed. I couldn't help but growl under my breath, rushing towards him to catch up on his new road of slaughter, unaware of the direction we were going lead to Hell's Marauders.
Panoply - It's another word for "a complete set of armor"
Chapter 11: Chapter 10: Battle for Infinite City (3)
I felt the hand that held my sword tremble as silence persisted from Feng Wen's end, emotions of desperate agony and rage welling up inside of me. It's just a game, Lan. The voice in my head tried to reassure me, but his sharp cry of pain continued to echo in my mind. I watched as the battle around me was beginning to take a turn for the worst, our numbers dwindling fast and the war weapons against us slowly wearing down the walls that protected my beloved city. Everything is falling apart...
I was at a loss of what to do, torn between my desire to find my son and my duty to complete the mission as the siege weapons were now within attacking range. But how can I complete the mission if Feng Wen and Hong Peng are gone? The question only validated the choice of going after them.
"Go find them, Prince." Doll said, her voice weak but stern. "Without them, this mission has already failed."
"But Doll, if I leave you'll..." I trailed off.
She smiled softly, an aura of maturity so unlike her child-like appearance. "No war is without sacrifice."
I wanted to argue, but the look in her eyes told me it was pointless to try. I nodded, "For Feng Wen and Hong Peng."
She looked at me approvingly as she nodded back, stretching out her staff into the sky. The hell creature suddenly let out a fierce roar, stopping all the activity in the area as the surrounding sea of players stared at the beast in fear. "Go forth Pride of Hades and reap their souls!" She called out, her summon obeying her command as it stood up on its hind legs. With another ear-shatter cry from the beast, it took one of its massive claws and slammed down onto a ballista, causing millions of shards of wood and metal to explode into the crowd.
"Wow..." I couldn't help but mutter in awe. The chaos that resulted as it continued its rampage was amazing, screams of terror and lights to the rebirth point decorating the field. It set a mangonel filled with explosive ammunition on fire, resulting in the entire siege weapon exploding and killing anyone in its radius.
"Prince, go!" Doll commanded, shaking me out of my stupor. I felt my chest clinch as I lurched off the creature's skull and onto a nearby trebuchet that had yet to meet its fate with the fearsome beast. I landed neatly onto the narrow wooden pole of the contraption, and quickly scurried down to the ground as the rest of the crowd was distracted by the summon- now whipping its tail into two other siege weapons.
I looked around, trying to make heads or tails of the direction I figured Feng Wen and Hong Peng had crash. Of course it was pointless because the scenery changing with the position of the players on the field, so I took my best guess and sprinted in the direction.
I heard people crying "Prince!" and "Blood Elf!" around me, cursing my features and regal armor that made me stick out like a sore thumb. Come to think of it, how would Feng Wen and I be able to sneak to the back with faces like these? Players began to try to swarm me, wanting to make an attempt at my life. "Your reign ends here, Prince!" Some idiot who stood in my path declared, his face looking like someone had smashed it into a door.
Annoying. I drew my faithful dao back and bellowed, "Pure White Inferno Rhapsody!" I swung my dao at the foolish warrior, who was engulfed by the brilliant white flame that erupted from my blade. He let out a scream of pain and tried to escape into the crowd, causing the players around him to also ignite. I smirked in satisfaction as a handful of light rays beamed into the sky.
"The legends are true... He really can kill a legion with just one blow..." I heard someone in the crowd murmur in fright. I couldn't help by quirk my brow in confusion. When have I done that? I thought, trying to think of any time I've ever even come close to the number of a legion. I mean there is that one time I took out that gaudy Huang Wei's gang on the Eastern Continent... But I had Kenshin with me then...
With the crowd sufficiently scared out of their minds, the survivors in the remaining area quickly scrambled to get away from me as fast as possible. With no one daring to impede me any further, I followed my instincts and continued on my quest to find the two boys. As I searched I continued to P.M "Feng Wen?" And "Hong Peng?" to both respective parties, hoping that at least one of them would answer me. Why won't they answer? Even if they died, they should still be able to reply to me!
Suddenly the earth shook with great force and followed by an inhuman scream, causing me to stumble face first into the now beaten terrain. Why does this always happen to me? I lamented as I flipped myself over onto my back and into a sitting position. I looked in the direction of the sound only to see the great hell beast crashing into the earth- a beam of light from its skull streaking into the sky. Doll, I'm sorry... I couldn't save you too... My chest tightening as I continued to watch the scene dazedly.
I felt a sharp sting near my jaw, "I expected more from you, Blood Elf." The cool, familiar voice bringing me back into the present. The cool metal of a blade was pressed harder into my skin as my head was viciously yanked back by my hair, bringing me face to face with a male elf. "Have you lost your touch since the last time we've fought?"
I squinted at the elven warrior, his passable looks and stupid looking rose in his mouth not ringing a bell. "Should I know you?" I asked.
"You pompous little..." He seethed, pulling on my hair so hard that I felt a handful rip out of my scalp. Only then did I notice the five other players surrounding my captor, all wearing the same blinding white outfits and roses as the him. "Don't think we forgot that you stole Fire Phoenix from us!"
"Team Phoenix?" I asked, the vague memory of that battle from long ago coming back. It must be, because I'm feeling that same bout of nausea!
The man with the blade smiled cruelly. "Good, I knew you couldn't forget the sight of the six most beautiful men you have ever laid your eyes on!"
I looked at him incredulously. Let's see here, number one is my husband Gui, number two is my son Feng Wen... I started to rattle off in my brain. "Nope, you guys aren't even in the top ten!"
Apparently I must have hit a sore spot with my comment, as his entire face went red with fury. "You're dead!"
Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. As I realized I was not in a good position to insult someone's appearance. I closed my eyes in anticipation of seeing Star City's rebirth point when I opened them...
"Correction," I heard from afar, feeling the soft woosh of an arrow above me. I opened my eyes gingerly to see my husband with his guqin in hand, staring down the group behind me with great intensity. "it's you who is dead."
"Gui!" I cried happily, as I felt the hand that held the blade against me slump over my shoulder.
"D-damn it..." The Team Phoenix warrior swore before his body disappeared in a ray of light.
"And you haven't forgotten me, have you?" The familiar voice of my sister-in-law said mischievously from behind. I turned around to find she had stuck her dagger deep into the back of their priest, the end of it sticking far out of his chest. "After all, I was the one who killed you last time!"
The priest followed his warrior teammate, now causing the remaining four members to panic. "Retreat!" yelled the mage, whose skin had become as pale as his white robes.
However a moment his chest featured six different holes, his body slumping to its knees to reveal my brother in a fierce pose. "What self proclaimed gentleman wishes to leave a beautiful woman's company so quickly?" He asked, giving a sly smile to his wife. Lolidragon of course only rolled her eyes at his lame line. Dear Buddha, did Hong Peng and him both go to same pick up artist school? I wondered.
With me now free to play with my sword, I quickly removed the battlefield of the remaining three members of Team Phoenix. "Wow, that was fun!" I exclaimed as I wiped my blade of their blood and turned to the rest of the group, "Thanks for- OW what was that for!?" I cried, rubbing the back of my head from Lolidragon's right hook to my head.
"For being a rash, thick-headed idiot!" She cried, "Why didn't you tell us something went wrong!? We knew something must have happened when we saw Doll's creature was defeated!"
"S-Sorry..." I said bashfully, feeling embarrassed by my actions. "But Feng Wen and Hong Peng-"
"Do you think they would approve of you running off and abandoning your mission, when they have most likely already died? If you had died you would have let not only theirs, but Doll's sacrifice be in vain!" Lolidragon reprimanded me, her fury evident on her face.
I sighed deeply, realizing how much of an idiot I was. I don't think I could face any of them if we lost the city because of my stupid hotheadedness...
Gui came over and embraced me. "But it's okay, now. We're going to continue this mission and win. For them."
I looked up at my husband, feeling so undeserving of love from such a gentle and intelligent man. "Okay..."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Lolidragon said, her characteristic grin back on her face. "We've got a team of losers just waiting for us to pulverize them into nothing!"
With renewed determination, the four of us made our way to Hell's Marauders. It turns out that, as usual, I had been going the wrong way the entire time. In factI had been actually heading in the opposite direction of where Feng Wen and Hong Peng had fallen, and even from Hell's Marauders. "It's a miracle sis' neither you or Feng Wen get lost in the grocery store." Yang Ming remarked on the way.
"That's probably because they use their sense of smell to get them where they need to go..." Lolidragon snickered, "They could probably find their way to a noodle shop fifty kilometers away by their nose alone!"
I didn't bother replying, instead taking out my annoyance on a poor warrior that had just happened to get within range of my blade. In one swipe his torso was split in two before disappearing.You know, actually I've seen a lot less enemy players now that I think about it. I looked around, seeing that the mob was instead migrating over to the right. Something big must have been happening over there, because the amount of player deaths made it look like there was light show going on instead of a war. I hope those aren't our soldiers providing tonight's entertainment...
Suddenly I was stopped by Lolidragon's hand, who had been leading the group through the fray (There was no way they were going to let me do it, after all!). We were quite far from Infinite City now, near the entrance of the Forest of Ghost Wolves. In front of the entrance stood a group of six scary looking men, looking at us with haughty expressions. "Hell's Marauders..." I hissed through barred teeth.
"Ah, so you finally arrived Blood-Stained Elf!" The leader of the group said, an amused smirk on his face. "I would address you as his "Lordship", but you won't be the Overlord for much longer."
''Cut the crap!" I roared, causing the leader to shrink back at my voice. "I am in no mood for your petty remarks or childish games!" I was already pissed off when you decided to wage war against my city, now my son and his friend are no where to be found because you wanted your fifteen minutes in the limelight! I gritted my teeth as the thought only enraged me more, "I'll make you wish you had never entered the Adventure Tournament thirty-seven years ago!"
When the leader saw that his teammates saw his reaction, he quickly straightened up and put on an arrogant mask. "You'll rue the day you messed with Hell's Marauders, Blood Elf! Get ready to find yourself in ten different pieces!"
I readied myself, lowering my blade as I prepared to battle. "Only ten?" I mocked, "What an amateur." However when I moved myself into my famous stance, the leader of Hell's Marauders looked at me with pure bewilderment. The rest of his team followed, to which I noticed they were looking behind me, not at me. I began to turn my head to see what could be so distracting in such a pivotal moment, but instead I found myself suddenly knocked down and trampled over by two sets of feet.
I ignored my aching back to pull myself back up in time to see Hong Peng's cute little priest slide underneath the leader and grab a hold of one of his legs, effectively sending him face first like I had been a moment ago. They're alive! I thought elatedly as I saw Feng Wen rushing towards the rest of Hell's Marauders. With seemingly no effort Hong Peng hurled his opponent headfirst into a nearby tree, a beam of light streaking up when he made contact. W-When did he get that strong? "Fifty-seven!" He shouted towards Feng Wen.
Feng Wen however had just finished his business with the thief and archer of the team, having used each others desperate attempts of hitting him to kill each other. "Haha, I just took out two more! That's fifty-nine for me!" He called back arrogantly.
"BULLSHIT!" Hong Peng bellowed, quickly running up to Feng Wen who was about ready to decapitate one of the warriors. In mind blowing speed Hong Peng grabbed a hold of Feng Wen's sword arm just as Feng Wen started his attack, using the motion to propel himself and kick the thief backwards out of Feng Wen's range. The combined strength of Feng Wen's failed attack and Hong Peng's kick caused the warrior's rib cage to completely cave in, killing him instantly. Hong Peng landed gracefully where the warrior had been a moment before. With a smug smile, he turned towards my son. "Fifty-eight! Two more and I win!"
Hong Peng quickly made a dash for the remaining two members of Hell's Marauders, with Feng Wen following close behind. This is when I finally noticed that Hong Peng's extraordinary strength must have been the result of a spell because of the unusual gold ribbons laced around his armor and the rather large mana bottle he grabbed out of his inventory. The boy priest chugged it before tossing it behind him, to which Feng Wen caught the empty glass bottle mid-air.
The Hell's Marauders' mage hid behind their warrior in fear, rightfully knowing that he would be no match for a warrior and priest pair at close range. What no one had been expecting was Feng Wen suddenly launching the glass bottle that he caught over Hong Peng's head and at the warrior's face. The result was a bloody explosion of glass as the warrior let out a scream of agony, falling to his knees as he covered his glass stricken face with his hands.
Feng Wen suddenly sprinted past Hong Peng, now in the lead of their little race. With a great leap he lunged high over his two opponents, landing on the warrior's face as he brought a downward slice onto the mage. The resulting beams of light obscured him for a split second before we saw the triumphant smile on his face as he said, "Sixty-one."
"How was that fair!?" Hong Peng cried as Feng Wen walked over to him, "You used my bottle to kill him!"
"You're just mad I beat you again!" Feng Wen gloated as he crossed his arms.
"Oh, you mean the time I beat you at chess in five moves or last week at the hospital when you lost to me in your favorite board game, Chutes and Ladders?" Hong Peng replied smugly, unable to hide his shrewd smile.
"Chutes and Ladders is not my favorite game!" Feng Wen roared indignantly, a nerve obviously hit as his face went pink. "It was either that or the game that describes your love life, Sorry!" I couldn't help but wince at that insult.
"Better than the world thinking I'm gay for my parents!" Hong Peng retorted, his voice rising to meet Feng Wen's level.
Feng Wen was furious, "Do you have a problem with my parents!?"
"No, my problem is with your face!" Hong Peng remarked, pointing at his face.
"I can't help that people think my face is pretty!" Feng Wen replied, pointing back at his own face.
"Pretty like a woman's, maybe!" Hong Peng snapped back.
Feng Wen leaned over and pinched one Hong Peng's large cheeks, narrowing his eyes in return, "At least I don't look like a pygmy!"
A split second of pure shock ran across Hong Peng's face before it was replaced with sheer fury. He grabbed Feng Wen's face and brought it within inches of his face, "Take. That. Back." He said in a cold voice.
"Pyg-my!" He taunted with a devilish grin.
"ARRRGGHHHH!" Hong Peng roared in his high-pitched voice, tackling my son to the ground. "TAKE IT BACK, PRETTY BOY!" He demanded as he started to punch and kick Feng Wen, leaving dents in his armor.
"GET OFF ME YOU DAMN MIDGET!" Feng Wen replied, retaliating back to turn it into a full scale brawl. "DO YOU REMEMBER HOW EXPENSIVE THIS ARMOR WAS TO REPAIR!?"
"WHY DO YOU CARE? YOU'D LOOK BETTER IN DRESSES ANYWAY!"
"YEAH, YOU'D BE DESPERATE ENOUGH YOU WOULD WANT TO SEE ME IN A DRESS, WOULDN'T YOU!?"
"SAYS THE SON OF A TRANNY!"
I just stood there in disbelief as the two boys continued to hurl insults and fists towards each other; which consisted primarily of each others' sexuality and appearance. Even Gui seemed to be completely befuddled by his blank stare at the event currently taking place. Yang Ming walked up beside me, "Is someone going to stop them?"
"Why?" Lolidragon asked with a grin, her eyes never leaving the two. We watched as Feng Wen picked Hong Peng up in the air with an annoyed expression, to which Hong Peng retaliated by continuously kicking him in the chest. "This is hilarious!"
I said nothing to the two, instead making my way over to the arguing boys who were both completely oblivious of everyone else's presence. I loudly cleared my throat when I was about meter away from them, "Ahem!"
Feng Wen's mocking laughter died at the sound, still holding Hong Peng who had stopped mid-kick at the same time. Both turned their heads to face me, an expression of fear on their faces as their eyes grew larger. "P-Prince..." Hong Peng stuttered.
"Is there a problem that I need to be aware of, boys?" I asked coolly, quirking my brow.
Feng Wen immediately dropped Hong Peng onto his feet, and started patting down his messy hair. Hong Peng returned his action by brushing off the footprints on Feng Wen's chest with his hands, "No problem here!" They both exclaimed simultaneously.
I couldn't help but grin in amusement from their reaction, "Good! Now..." I looked around the battlefield, which had been severely depleted of warriors, the enemy's and ours' alike. It seemed that word had gotten out of Hell's Marauders' embarrassing defeat of being the collateral of two teenagers' quarrel, when Wolf-nii called out through guild chat, "Enemy forces are surrendering! We've won!"
"Send word out to all the team leaders to return to Infinite City, then. Tonight, we'll celebrate our victory!" I replied, my smile returning as Gui put his arm around me, signifying the end of battle.
"You're going to have to tell us how you guys defeated Hell's Marauders!" I heard Yun say excitedly, who had to stay back in Infinite City to create the barrier.
"Nan Gong Zui and Western Wind are also wanting to know," Wolf-nii added, "Nan Gong Zui is quite unhappy he wasn't able to be there, since he got stuck near the wall by a mass of forces."
"Actually..." I said, turning back to Feng Wen and Hong Peng. It looked as though they were in the midst of apologizing, with Hong Peng apologizing first. Of course, it took some prodding as well as an adorable look from the smaller boy to get Feng Wen to relent and apologize for calling him a pygmy. "I'll have to let Feng Wen and Hong Peng be the ones to tell that story."
Chapter 12: Chapter 11
After our victory against Hell's Marauders, all through the evening and night the city celebrated. Alcohol and food were easy to come by in every corner of Infinite City, everyone taking a moment out of the clean up for a little merriment.
The Odd Squad and their entourage were no exception to this, celebrating away from the masses of fans in Infinite Tavern, the only bar and inn personally ran under Prince's command. Even though my parents would have my head if I drank at said party, I still came to enjoy the company of my family and Zhi, who was very determined to drink all of Prince's best liquors. I was curious how long he was going to be 'drunk' before he passed out. After all, he's worst lightweight I've ever seen. The one time I drank with him, he passed out within one shot of the baijiu...
There was a large rectangular table that was set up in the middle of the dining room instead of the usual round wooden tables and chairs you would see in a bar in Infinite City. I sat Prince's left side, with Zhi sitting on my other side. Beyond the mugs filled with beer, all laid out on the table were an assortment of spirits, liquors, and wines- an alcoholic's heaven would be underestimating the sheer amount of alcohol that was present. I looked at Prince worriedly, I mean I knew Mom liked to drink, but this is...
"We have fought long and hard for this moment- the moment where we may drink in freedom with no worries!" Prince said, raising his mug and taking a large swig of it. Everyone followed, the first step in what was soon to become complete chaos.
A half hour and plethora of alcohol later...
Why am I even here? I thought desperately, watching complete pandemonium unfold. I was one of a few players in the entire building who hadn't drank their weight in alcohol yet, with the state of the room showing the results of it. The large rectangular table was covered in empty bottles, with my uncle and aunt currently trying to play darts blindfolded- only the darts were said empty glass bottles with dartboards that didn't exist.
My older sister had been swinging her dagger wildly, saying she was practicing a new "dance" till my sober brother-in-law, Zhou-gege, made his presence known. As soon as she locked sight on him, she was all over him like a dog and a piece of meat. And while it was kind of sickening to see her clinging onto him so shamelessly, it was easy to see where it came from with those two...
The duo in question were my parents, who were too busy with each other in another part of the room. I would have yelled for them to stop or get a room, but I had already fought off both of the drunkards from suffocating me in parental affection. Dear Buddha, it's even worse than seeing them being lovey-dovey in real life... At least Mom is well... Mom in real life.
The worst for me had yet to come though, as I watched Yang-shushu jump from the main table and onto the bar counter to begin his "bar surfing" that he claimed was a "professional" at. I saw a small boy with dark brown hair currently trying to woo the NPC barmaid, who was a beast like Ugly Wolf. Ah, so that's Zhi's newest target. I thought as I rolled my eyes at the scene.
Zhi hadn't stayed seated beside me for long, within one beer he stumbled off after one of the better looking NPCs, who were the only workers on the premise because of the nature of the party in question. As he continued to drink, though, the more extreme the objects of his affection were- deteriorating to anyone who was attractive and female, when he began to hit on my aunt as well as my older sister. Now it seemed like he hit the new low of anyone who looked even remotely feminine. I better stop him before he finds someone who won't take kindly to his advances.
"Did I ever tell you that your hair compliments your beautiful eyes?" Zhi said with a slight slur, his face flushed a deep pink. The barmaid giggled and folded her wolf like ears back, surely blushing underneath all her fur. However the barmaid saw me now standing behind Zhi, suddenly showing such a meek expression at my presence. Zhi seemed confused by her reaction, but still (unfortunately) determined to win her, "What's wrong, miss? Surely my honest words could not have made such a deep impact on your beautiful soul!"
I placed my hand on Zhi's shoulder, spinning the boy around to face me on his barstool. "Come on, Zhi! Time for you to go to bed!" I said sternly, trying to replicate the way my older sister would tell me when it was bedtime as a young child.
He just silently sat there, his jaw slightly agape as he stared at me like it was the first time he ever met me. His gaze made me feel very uncomfortable, giving me a sense of dread and deja vu. Suddenly he launched himself off the barstool and wrapped his arms tightly around my neck, "I'll be in bed for you anytime, gorgeous!" He cried happily, tightening his grip on me.
"WHAT!?" I yelled, in total shock by his proclamation. You've got to be shitting me, not him too!
"This means you're going to be my girlfriend, right?" He asked excitedly, but then turned his head on my shoulder to look at me with a cute pout, "Or is this just a one night thing?"
I felt a huge sense of relief upon hearing the word 'girlfriend', oh praise Buddha, he just thinks I'm... the realization hitting me, a girl. Goddamn it! I pried the boy off my body, setting him down in front me as I got on one knee to face him eye to eye."Zhi, look at me! It's me, Feng Wen! You know, your male best friend?"
"What!?" He said indignantly, looking as though I've insulted him. "Why are you talking about Feng Wen!? I thought you were into me! Damn him and his face..." He grumbled under his breath, suddenly grabbing the mug that was his from the counter and taking a huge gulp of it.
"Wait, what? No! No, just..." I groaned in frustration, "Ugh, whatever!" It's pointless to argue with a drunk like him!
"Yay! So you are my girlfriend!" He exclaimed with glee, dropping the mug on the floor and latching onto me again, rubbing his cheek against mine like a cat.
"Uh huh, yeah sure..." I mumbled dryly, pushing his head away from my face and getting ready to pull him off me again. The shit you put me through, Hong Peng. I noticed he had suddenly gone limp though, turning my head to see him asleep, drooling on my shoulder. I let out a sigh, at least he's more manageable this way.
I wanted to go find our room, but I had no idea what room it even was. I looked around the dining area, trying to find someone who would be able to show me. The NPCs had already left the area, since it was now past closing time, and nearly everyone else was passed out or the sober ones already gone. However I spotted that there was one couple still awake, one couple I figured I should take charge of before they log off in their drunken state and make me into a middle child.
I quickly and nimbly avoided the broken glass, chairs and other destroyed property as I made my way towards my oblivious parents while I carried Zhi- who had now covered my armor in drool.Thank goodness I have high dexterity, or this would be impossible. I thought as I tiptoed over the comatose bodies of my aunt and uncle. "Mom... Dad..." I started to say as I got closer, trying to get their attention. After the sixth time, they finally removed themselves from each other's faces to look at me- who finally made it through the war-zone that was the dining area to stand in front of them. Dad looked dazed as could be, like he had no idea where he was or what was even happening to him; while Prince looked like I had pulled him out of Nirvana with his displeased expression. The whole scene made me a bit worried that Mom had gone and taken advantage of Dad, honestly.
"Hey!" Dad exclaimed, breaking out of Prince's grip and latching onto me. "Your Highness, you never told me you dyed your hair!" Your Highness? That's his pet name for Mom... I looked over at a currently confused Prince, where two pieces in my head finally clicked together. No, no, no! Please no, anything but this! I thought in horror. He got even closer to my face, an expression on his own that should only be reserved for Mom. "His glorious Majesty is as beautiful and radiant as ever, though!" He said brightly, now trying to close in on my face.
If Prince hadn't gotten to him first, I would have also decked him right in the face. "Stupid Gui!" He said angrily, now starting to kick and punch on him. "That's not me, that's our son!" But Dad didn't seem to mind being beaten, in fact he seemed quite happy about it. Is Mom abusive or are both of my parents into BDSM? I seriously wondered, helplessly watching the massacre. Once it seemed Prince was satisfied, he stopped and pulled out a potion to shove in Dad's mouth.
After Dad swallowed the potion, he looked at Prince with a dreamy expression. "Our son? We have a child!? Are we married!?"
"Yes, we're married! We have two! You birthed our oldest, and I birthed this one!" Prince said, blushing so deep that it was apparent on his already flushed face.
Dad beamed at his words, but then looked confused at Prince's last sentence. "How could I give birth to the first one?"
"It's a long story!" Prince answered quickly, his temper starting to flare again.
"How could you birth our son?" Dad continued his barge of questions.
"Prince's face turned the shade of his eyes at that question, "Stupid Gui, stop asking stupid questions!"
Prince attempted to pulverize Dad again, but I grabbed his arm before he could. "Now, now! Let's play nice!" I said, trying to calm down the situation. After all, it's not like I need that question answered for me. It's not hard to figure out with how big the age difference between Lan Lan and I is... I looked over at Dad, who was the one out of two I could trust to not get me lost. "Could you show me where Zhi and I's room is?" I asked kindly, adjusting my hold on Zhi because of me lurching forward to stop Prince.
Prince looked at me inquisitively, "Room? Why would you need-" He glanced at Zhi, and then back at me. "Oh. Ooooh!" A huge grin exploded on his face as he started to giggle. "Yeah Gui, show him to their room! It seems our son is all grown up, now!" What is he babbling about? I wondered.
Dad suddenly became weepy, "All grown up? B-But..." He stared at Zhi before wailing, "No one will carry on the family name, then!"
To say I was in disbelief when my brain finally processed what they were implying to is an understatement at best. I really, really hope they don't believe that about him and I. It's bad enough that the media thinks I have a thing for my parents... I thought hopelessly. How did I get to this point, again? Oh that's right, I went outside. I need to remember to never do that again.
"I guess there is no helping it. After all, I fell for that face too..." Dad sighed in resignation, getting up to stumble towards a nearby hallway. I followed silently, praying that no one would have a recollection of tonight. I think I might just hide in my room tomorrow, just in case. I followed my unstable father who was being helped by an even more unstable Prince to a room that was a couple of doors down from the entrance of the hallway. Dad let out a loud sniffle and what was I think was suppose to be a hug, but it felt more like I was just his new support. "The next time I see you, you'll be a man!"
"Goodnight, Dad. Goodnight, Mom." I said irritably, my patience with this whole night at its maximum. I quickly opened the door and went into the room, not shutting the door fast enough for me to avoid hearing Prince say, 'And now it's your turn!' to my Dad, followed by a door slamming shut and me grimacing. I swear if one more crazy thing happens to me tonight, I'm going to crack!
The room had two large beds on the left wall that were a couple of feet from each other, a nightstand between them and a little wooden chair in a corner on the opposite side of the room. It was clean and simple, all the necessities for someone passed out on booze or an individual wanting to get the day over with. I jerked back the blankets on one of the beds, dumped Zhi on it and pulled the blankets back over him. I sighed in relief of finally accomplishing my mission, looking over my own bed behind me with anticipation.
I hastily started to remove my armor so I could be more comfortable laying down, though at this point I think I could sleep like a rock even if I was wearing heavy armor. I heard Zhi mumble, causing me to instantly stop and wait to see if he did something else. Last thing I need is him waking up again. After a few minutes of silence, I continued till I was down to my tunic and leggings. I climbed into the bed, unable to suppress a grin as I felt myself relax against the soft mattress. No rowdiness, absurdity or obscene behavior. I thought blissfully as I laid on my side, feeling a greater appreciation for silence and beds. Nothing can ruin this momen-
"Hehe!" a voice giggled from behind me, where a pair of small arms came circling around my torso.
"AHHH!" I screamed in fright, jerking away from the embrace. I turned around to find the boy I had just put in the other bed staring at me longingly. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN MY BED!?" I roared, my patience gone. In a moment of fury I kicked him off the bed with such force he slammed into the nearby wall.
I heard the mischievous chuckle of Prince from outside the room, "Now, now! Don't be so rough in there, boys! You'll have to pay for it if you break it!" I thought you had gone into the other room!
Thinking I had knocked him out cold, I got up out of my bed over to his slumped form against the wall. I'd feel bad leaving him on the floor, even if he is making a complete fool of himself.However when I grabbed a hold of him, his eyes snapped open and he latched his arms around me again. "Please don't leave me..." His voice trembled, leaving me slightly flustered as he locked his gaze with mine. "If you knew I..." His eyes showed such pain, something I had never seen before in the game or real life from him. Is he actually talking to me? Or is it the alcohol? I wondered in great confusion.
I waited for him to finish his statement, but it never came as his eyelids drooped shut and his head nodded over. I sighed as I picked him back up again. "Time for some rest, buddy." I said as I laid him back down on his bed and put the blankets over him. I walked over and settled back into my own bed, turning to face his. I decided I was going to wait and watch for him to log off before I would- just in case he decided to do something again in his drunken state. "After all, we've both have had a hell of day." I mumbled to myself, remembering insane and exhausting battle we had just fought.
'Your precious little priest is worth even more if brought back alive to the rebel leaders...' I recalled that bastard of an archer saying to me, trying to fight the fatigue from today. At the time I didn't think much of it because I was so concerned on protecting my dear friend's life. Why would they want Zhi? I mean I know he's my teammate, but everyone treats him like he's some unimportant sidekick... While the treatment Hong Peng got in-game and real life from others always pissed me off, it also reassured me his safety because no one saw him important enough to try to harm him. I felt my eyelids get heavier as my vision of Zhi in his bed blurred and darkened, What does Fan want with him...?
Chapter 13: Chapter 12
I felt a soft nudge against my shoulder as my conscious came back into the real world, "Hey, wake up!" A voice demanded, indistinguishable in my groggy state of mind.
I flipped over to the other side of the bed with a slight groan. Come on, after last night can't I just get a few more minutes? I thought wearily. I had expected another nudge, but instead I was greeted with a rather hard flick to my ear. "Ow!" I exclaimed, now wide awake from the sharp sting. "Why would you do such a thing!?" I asked my unknown assailant, starting to remove the headset begrudgingly from my head.
"Because-" They began, my vision now unhindered by the mask to reveal it was Hong Peng. "I figured you would rather have me wake you up than your mother with a dangerous kitchen utensil!"
I jerked back in surprise, startled by his unexpected presence. How late did I sleep in that he is here already? I wondered in bewilderment as I flipped the covers off of me. "What time is it?"
Hong Peng glanced at his wristwatch, "A quarter after nine. Why?"
But it's Thursday! My first class isn't till 11 and his till 12! "What in the world are you doing here so early?" I asked in disbelief as I went to my dresser to get my clothes.
"Don't you remember what your mom said last night in game?" He asked, sitting on the bed to watch me quickly rummage through my drawers. "When we were cleaning up she said that she was going to have a celebratory breakfast this morning."
"She did?" I replied, now rushing as fast as someone with a cast on their leg could go into my adjacent bathroom to clean up. Though I was honestly reluctant to hurry with the idea of facing my parents after what happened last night in mind. Especially with Hong Peng here... Now causing me to wonder if Hong Peng remembered the events that happened in-game.
"Geez of all things I would think you would remember, it would be the one thing that involves food." I heard him reply dryly through the door.
"Hufhuf, yor hurlarfious!" I remarked with my mouth currently occupied by my toothbrush, the second to last thing on my morning routine. He doesn't seem to act like he remembers, or he could be playing it off so it won't be awkward. Not that it really mattered to me, since he obviously said all those things because he was drunk.
"So you keep telling me." He replied in an amused tone through the door. He paused for a moment as I began to change my clothes, "Speaking of remembering, my memory is a little foggy as to what happened after we got to the tavern."
Only after had I finished changing did it hit me what he said, causing me to immediately open the door to look at him. "Wait, you don't remember?"
He looked at me with concern, "No? What happened?"
He doesn't remember! I thought happily, realizing that the others wouldn't remember the rest of the night either. "Oh, you know how people get when they drink." I replied casually, feeling a huge weight lift off my chest. "It's more like what didn't happen!"
"Feng Wen... What did I do?" He asked, his tone matching the expression he had. "I didn't do anything embarrassing, did I?"
I couldn't hide my sly smirk as I remembered all the hilariously awkward things he did in his drunken state. Maybe I'll have a little fun with this. "Which part? Where you were using cheesy pick up lines on a NPC she-beast or when you started hitting on me?"
This is gold. I thought, entertained by Hong Peng's reaction. His face had started to go pale before changing to settle to a bright red, his expression evident of his great humiliation. He covered his face with one of his hands, "I'm never drinking again..." He said in defeat.
"There, there!" I said, walking over to place my hand on his right shoulder. "You were actually the most normal drunk there!"
He looked at me incredulously as he stood up and adjusted his collar, "I think that's more worrisome than it is comforting, Feng Wen."
We left my room and entered the living room, where the TV played the morning news highlighting the battle from last night. "... In a fierce battle between the two most powerful figures of the Central Continent, Prince was victorious in defending his city and the heart of his kingdom, Infinite City. However while the Blood-stained Overlord featured fearsome skill against Team Phoenix, the final blow was dealt by the hotshot warrior Yi Min and his priest companion Zhi Sano..."
"At least they're not calling me a sidekick, for once." Hong Peng remarked in a bland manner as we stopped to watch the captured footage of our bloody rampage, which right now was showing me brutally destroying a warrior in the fray.
"It was hard pressed to call you one in the first place." I replied, the morning news now switching topics to the recent surge of activity between two of the largest crime syndicates in Southeast Asia.
Hong Peng just shrugged as he grabbed the remote and turned it off before we continued forward. "It's not a big deal, anyway."
Walking into the kitchen we found Mom hard at work adding to the already mind boggling amount of food on the kitchen island. Of course she wasn't alone in her work as she had Dad as well as Lan Lan helping her. That's odd, Kenshin usually helps her. The answer to my question was quickly found with Kenshin seated at the table across from...
"Uncle Fox!" I said excitedly, making this the first time I could actually speak to him in many years. It wasn't exactly a good time to sit down and chat when I was kidnapped, or while in the game with the siege looming over our heads.
"Feng Wen." Uncle Fox replied calmly, opening his eyes to gaze on the cup of tea in his hands. He turned to look at Hong Peng and I, his cool and expressionless demeanor making it difficult to read the man. Not more than a second later he turned his attention back to his tea. He took another sip before sitting the cup down gently on the saucer and getting up from his seat.
"Are you leaving?" My mom asked in bewilderment as she glanced at the half empty cup, "You haven't even finished all your tea!"
"Yes." Arctic Fox said, darting his eyes towards my mom and then to Kenshin, to which Kenshin replied with a wordless nod. With that, Arctic Fox made his way to leave the kitchen.
"What?" I said in disbelief, "I just got to see you! Where are you going?" I asked as he passed Hong Peng and I.
Arctic Fox stopped, his eyes darting from me to Hong Peng and than back again to focus on me. "Work." He replied, and then left without another word.
"He's talkative." Hong Peng remarked sarcastically.
"Says the one who barely utters a word outside of the game." I retorted back at Hong Peng.
"I wonder what that was all about..." Mom trailed off as she picked up the tea cup, emptying its contents in the sink before she started washing it out. "He never wastes a cup of tea!"
Leave it to Mom to overreact when someone wastes her food or drink. "I'm sure it's nothing, Mom. Anyway, he said he was leaving for work!" I replied, trying to soothe my mother as I sat down where Arctic Fox had been sitting previously. Hong Peng, always one to help others, decided to aid Mom in washing the dishes while Lan Lan and Dad worked on setting out the food.
"Hm..." She hummed, as if mulling over something. "Feng Wen, since we agreed not to keep secrets from you anymore, you should know what your Uncle Fox really does for a living..."
"What?" I said in confusion, "You mean he doesn't work for the military?"
"Son..." She began, letting out a sigh. "He's the Silver-Masked Fox of the Ice Emperor Syndicate."
Is there anything normal about this family!? I thought in sheer disbelief, my jaw on the verge of falling off. "Well... That explains all the stuff he taught me when I was younger..."
Hong Peng seemed to be in the same amount of shock as I, who had stopped mid-stroke of washing a pot. "That... That was unexpected. Even from this family." He remarked, causing Mom to turn to him. She looked like she was going to say something in return, but she only continued to stare blankly as if she lost her words. She must have realized she couldn't argue with that statement!
No other earth-shattering revelations were revealed after that, with breakfast being as normal as it could possibly be with my family. This of course consisted of Mom and Lan Lan trying to stop their husbands' from bickering while Shui-yima cracked open a beer with her meal. This left Yang-shushu and I to eating most of the food, while Hong Peng watched the whole scene with a 'How did I end up here?' expression on his face.
I wasn't sure what to expect after the events of last night, with the school having been previously divided as to who should or would win the battle. As usual Hong Peng had gone first in the transporter, in case fan girls would decide to try and take advantage of my current disabled state. What I hadn't expected however was the scene I saw when I got out of the transporter and into the main lobby of the school.
There was Hong Peng looking overwhelmed and extremely confused as to why a huge horde of people had surrounded him, all questioning and attempting to carry conversations with him. While most of them were guys, there was also an impressive number of girls within the ranks of the mob.
"Are you really him? The one who plays Zhi Sano?" A girl said in disbelief, looking unsure whether she should be star-struck or terrified of Hong Peng.
"Dude, you were amazing last night! I never knew a priest could even be capable of the things you did!" A man said, taking his cell phone to take a picture of him.
"U-Uhm yes... Thank you, yes..." He said hesitantly, quickly getting flustered from the sudden amount of attention towards him. He reminds me so much of how I acted when that first happened to me. I looked at him with pity, After all, the times he has been mobbed before it was because of me.
"Hey! Hong Peng!" I shouted, drawing his attention as well as the crowd's. As usual the girls' faces suddenly turned a crimson, with some gasping in excitement.
Seeing a way out of his situation, he mumbled apologies as he quickly shuffled through the mob towards me. With a nod towards the direction of my class, we began to walk down the hallway. "Are you okay?" I asked him when we were far away from the majority of the group, though there were a few who looked as they were failing to be discreet about following us.
He looked back, his expression unsure. "Yeah, I'm okay." He replied, "If anything, it felt kind of good to finally to be seen as more than just a sidekick."
His comment made me feel uncomfortable. Why is he so stuck on the idea of people thinking he's a sidekick? Isn't he the one who told me not to care about what other people believe? "Hong Peng, you know I've never thought of you as just a sidekick. We are and always will be partners, a team!" I replied.
"Yes, right. Of course. A team." He said distantly, distracted by others in the hallway who were trying to get his attention. He seemed to be quickly becoming more comfortable with this new recognition, waving back and smiling at a couple of girls who had shyly greeted him. Before long we were at my classroom, to which he finally focused back on me. "Alright, here you are. Do you want to meet back here?"
I thought for a moment, considering what would be the best option. Wobbling over there by myself could lead me into trouble, so maybe he should walk over here. A fleeting image of Hong Peng walking the hallways and suddenly being all friendly to bunch of vultures flashed through my mind, causing a sudden rush of irritation. "No, I'll meet you at your classroom. It's closer to the cafeteria, anyway."
It's true, the cafeteria is closer to Dad's classroom by about five minutes. I thought as I saw Hong Peng looked at me with concern, "Really? Are you sure-"
"Very sure. What, you think I can't handle myself around this lot?" I remarked, sounding harsher than I intended as I gestured around to the surrounding student body.
"Weren't you one who said you couldn't do anything?" He replied incredulously, "Well, since you're so certain I'll see you after class then." He ended coolly, to which he turned around to leave.
I couldn't help but feel a tinge of guilt as I walked into my class, where half the desks were already filled with gawking classmates. I really shouldn't have acted like that. You said it yourself, he's more than just a sidekick. He deserves to be recognized, even if it is by a bunch of busybodies. By the time I had gotten out my notebook and pencils, I had decided that when I saw Hong Peng I would apologize. But first I got to pay attention in class, I've got a lot to catch up on!
Damn these stupid crutches and damn Professor Wing for going over by twenty minutes! I grumbled in my mind, frustrated by how late I was. Hong Peng and I's classes ended around the same time since I had a 2 1/2 hour class versus his class which ran little under two. I'm starting to feel hungry again too, even with that big breakfast we had earlier. By the time I had finally gotten to the hallway where Dad's classroom was, it was already 2:05.
As expected, the hallway was busy with people wanting to speak or get a glimpse of Hong Peng. Some of the group he was currently surrounded by I recognized since they were also in the class that Hong Peng and I shared, leaving me to assume that the majority were his classmates. Once again it seemed to consist mainly of young men admiring his gaming prowess, however there were a couple of girls there as well- including a very beautiful brunette that Hong Peng was currently talking to. I watched quietly as she giggled and twirled her hair at whatever Hong Peng was saying to her, who was having trouble suppressing what would have been the kind of goofy grin that Dad gives Mom.
She stopped twirling her hair to grab a piece of paper and pen out of her backpack. With a few strokes, she ripped the top half of the paper off and handed the scrap to Hong Peng. Hong Peng took it quickly, failing to hide his excitement of whatever it was. With a flirtatious wink, Hong Peng and I watched her walk off in the opposite direction.
Instead of shouting like I did last time, I ignored the gazes and stares as I hobbled through the crowd to him. Even when I was right in front of him, I had to give him a light kick in the shin to stop him from staring in the direction of where the girl went. "Oh, Feng Wen! There you are!" He quickly said.
"I've been here for a couple of minutes." I remarked dryly, feeling quite annoyed as I felt a frown quickly developing on my face. "Let's go get something to eat." I gestured towards the cafeteria, which Hong Peng obliged to.
You're acting stupid, Feng Wen. You're not the only person out there who would want to be his friend.
Yeah, but instead they want him for his fame. They want Zhi Sano, not the real Hong Peng.
Can you trust no one anymore, Feng Wen? It's not like they're going to take him away from you.
But it's not just them I'm worried about...
I looked over at Hong Peng, the argument in my mind never seeming to cease. I quickly became uncertain as we made our way to the transporters, having finished the day's classes. Any conversation between us was minimal since the crowd in front of Dad's classroom, our meal consisting of only the occasional question to pass a napkin or condiment. And while we walked to our classes he was too busy greeting others, or looking at that damned scrap of paper like he was at the very moment.
"So uh... What did that girl give you, anyway?" I asked, trying to sound casual.
"Her in-game name." He replied, his tone cautious. "She said if I ever had the time the two of us could meet up, you know. Grab a bite to eat, stuff like that."
"Right, right." I said, sensing that my presence wouldn't be welcomed by him even within the same city in that event. After all, he is as aware as I am of how girls act around me. "Well remember that tonight we're suppose to have another meeting, with Prince and them. Mo- I mean he told me they found out something important." Recalling the text message that my mother sent me during my second class.
"... Oh. Alright." Hong Peng said, suddenly sounding disappointed. We stopped at the transporters, with Hong Peng waiting for me to load up mine before he left. "I'll see you later tonight, then."
"Okay. See you then." I replied, trying to sound not as downtrodden as I felt.
Loading up into the game, I opened my eyes to light shining through the windows of the inn's room. The sun's rays brought a cheery atmosphere into the two bed room, a contrast of how I felt from seeing Hong Peng's absence from the room when I looked over at his disheveled bed. I got on a few minutes after him, why is he already gone? He usually waits for me...
"Are you coming, slowpoke?" I received a P.M, coming from none other than the boy priest in question. "I don't have all day now!"
Not wasting another moment, I jumped out of the bed and hurried down the hallway, awkwardly re-equipping my armor along the way. At the end of the hallway was Zhi, shaking his head in disbelief with a small smile as he watched me hop down the hall in an attempt to put on my boot.
"Why did you leave?" I asked when I finally reached him, now putting on my gauntlets. "I wasn't that long!"
Zhi bit his lip nervously, before quickly changing to an annoyed expression. "What, can't I just do my own thing sometimes?"
"N-No, I didn't say that..." I replied, unprepared for him being so defensive.
"Then don't ask stupid questions. Anyway, I only wait on you so you don't get lost trying to find me!" He then turned around and started towards the door, "Now come on, we'll be late if we don't get going."
I looked at the time, a disgruntled frown settling on my face as I followed. But we're only twenty minutes away from the castle, and the meeting doesn't start for another hour.
Ten minutes passed in an awkward silence, the only noticeable sound being the crowd buzzing around us as they cleaned the streets of war debris. I was too busy staring at my feet as I walked to notice Zhi had stopped suddenly, causing me to walk right into him. "Hey! What are you stopping for?" I exclaimed, looking around to see the cause. But I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, with the people of the city trying to steal a glance at us as they continued to restore Infinite City to its former glory.
Curious, I bent my head to look at my companion's face, who was staring out in the distance and mouthing silent words thoughtfully. His eyes flickered to me, finally acknowledging my presence. "Ah, hey Feng Wen!"
"Hi?" I replied in bewilderment, "Is something wrong?"
"Uh. Um, well looks like I can't make it to the meeting after all! Something came up in a P.M, so I gotta run!" He blurted, now beginning to walk off in another direction. "You can make it to the castle from here, right? I'm sure you can, I believe in you! Tell me the highlights later!" He said cheerfully, waving as he left.
I gave a half-hearted wave as he disappeared into the surrounding crowd. "Bye..." I mumbled to myself.
If life couldn't be any shittier to me, my god forsaken sense of direction turned what should have been another ten minute trip into forty minutes of hopelessly wandering around till I got to the castle's walls. With no question the guards opened the gates and I carefully made my way to the war room, thankful that there were signs since my mother's lack of direction was the source of my curse.
"Positive I.D: Player Yi Min, 3rd General of Infinite City Army." The scanner rang, opening the door to a tamer chorus of voices than last time I had entered the room.
"Hi honey!" Prince chimed happily upon seeing me, cutting the conversation between him, Ugly Wolf, my father and aunt short. His expression quickly changed to one of confusion, "Where is Hong Peng?"
My already dampened mood went farther south, "I think he had to meet someone else, so he can't attend."
Prince and Dad looked at me with great concern, evidence that I was unable to mask my deep displeasure. My aunt however did not seem so perturbed, "Uh oh, looks like there's trouble in paradise!" She replied teasingly, to which both of my parents sent a seething glare towards her.
Prince gave a sigh, "Don't listen to your aunt, Feng Wen. I'm sure Hong Peng will sort things out. He's been a loyal friend, and I doubt that will change."
I nodded solemnly, feeling a bit better from my mother's comforting words. I hope so.
"Since everyone who will be attending the meeting is here, shall we begin?" Ugly Wolf asked.
"Yes, we have a lot of hard things to swallow today..." Prince replied, his positive demeanor taking a turn for the worse. "Everyone be seated."
On command, I found my seat between Dad and where Prince's chair was. I looked around the room, seeing nearly everyone had followed and was currently watching Prince in uneasy anticipation. The only two that were not watching Prince were Uncle Fox and Kenshin, whose gazes were on me instead. W-What? Do I really look that bummed out over Hong Peng?
"Infinite City is safe again, and to that I have to thank every one of you." Prince began, pacing around the room with his hands behind his back. "But the kingdom and even our very lives are not, with new intelligence from both within and outside of the game telling us a much darker story than originally believed."
Our lives? I thought worriedly, tensing at the still fresh memories of being held captive in that forsaken basement. And I wasn't alone as Yu Lian quirked a suspicious brow, "You mean to tell me that Feng Wen's kidnapping was not some one time attempt?"
"No. What happened that day was his declaration of war on me and anyone who associates themselves with Infinite City." Prince replied solemnly.
"How!?" I cried in disbelief, jumping up from my seat and slamming my hands on the table. "He's already a criminal by kidnapping and attempted murder, you mean to tell me he plans on doing more and the police have done nothing about it? Why isn't he prison already!?"
"Because we have no idea who he is." Nan Gong Zui replied calmly, "No name, no face, no valid IP to trace him. The one time we had seen him before, when the damn bastard crashed my wedding to try to seduce my wife, we later found out he wore a disguise. And to complicate matters worse, he is likely someone with a lot of power in the real world."
"And why do you say that?" I asked incredulously. I felt a hand over my own, turning to see my father with eyes that gently pleaded for me to calm down. With a deep sigh to settle my nerves, I sat back down in my seat. I can't lose sight of the problem at hand.
"Only someone with a lot of money, a lot of power or both would be able to gather together everything he has at his disposal." Nan Gong Zui replied, "We do have one lead for his identity at this point, and if we're correct it is the worst situation we could possibly imagine."
"Lei Qiang." Uncle Fox said coolly, his eyes narrowing.
"L-Lei Qiang?" Yang-shushu stuttered, his face paling. "Y-You mean the Dragon Head? The leader of..."
"the oldest and most notorious crime syndicate in Asia, Tiāntáng Lóng*." Nan Gong Zui finished. "Very few know who or where Lei Qiang comes from, his family name even remaining a mystery. And those who try to tell are murdered in cold blood before they can."
The room was silent, with everyone but Uncle Fox and Nan Gong Zui trying to digest the possibility of facing one of the most dangerous men of all of Asia. That explains why Uncle Fox left so quickly this morning... It's common knowledge that Tiāntáng Lóng and the Ice Emperor Syndicate have been rivals for decades. I felt my heart quicken before it tightened in anxiety at the thought of all the legends surrounding the man who held the title of Dragon Head- all consisting of an individual with deadly and awe inspiring skill.
"What reason do you have to believe that Fan is Lei Qiang?" My father asked, clearly trying to calm the increasingly restless room.
"I'm sure you have heard on the news lately that Tiāntáng Lóng's activity has increased dramatically within the last two months, starting around the time you came back as well as Feng Wen making the public eye. Arctic Fox has confirmed that many of the members in the enemy army last night were associated with the syndicate, including the archer who was tailing Feng Wen and Hong Peng." Nan Gong Zui said, turning on the display in the table to show the news story that I had seen earlier. "And what is known about Lei Qiang is that he is good looking, manipulative, power hungry, and a womanizer. Sound familiar, Prince?"
"Unfortunately." He growled behind barred teeth. "This isn't the first time I've dealt with that damn syndicate before, either. If only I had known this would happen, I would have gone into that room when I had the chance..."
"Mom?" I asked, curious by her statement.
Prince looked over at me, "Something else I never told you, Feng Wen. Remember when the times I would leave for days, even weeks at a time for business trips?"
"Yeah?" Dad would always whine and sigh for her to return, and he'd always be so engrossed in missing her he would burn all the meals! I prayed a silent thank you for Kenshin normally taking over cooking after a couple days' time. At least Kenshin doesn't burn the food!
"Well let's just say that business was foiling some of Tiāntáng Lóng's more sinister plots." Prince replied with a smirk.
"While it's all great that my sis here is gloating about her glory days-" Yang-shushu began, flailing his arms around wildly. "I think everyone is failing to miss the point that we've managed to piss off an entire crime syndicate and its extremely powerful boss!"
"And there's also no point in causing a panic in something we have no control over." Nan Gong Zui said dryly, "Until we have a face we can put to Lei Qiang, for now we can only add extra security to your household. In the time being Arctic Fox has informed me that he and the Ice Emperor's elite will cooperate with the authorities to battle Tiāntáng Lóng on the condition of immunity from the law in their..." Nan Gong Zui glanced over at Uncle Fox, "...methods of doing so."
"Surely there's something we can do to fight back." Ugly Wolf pondered, scratching his furry chin with one of his long claws.
"There is." Dad replied, "If we can keep taking back Prince's domain, that means Fan will have less support from anyone who might be sponsoring funds or manpower to him. After all if you can't win in virtual reality, where with money you have an limitless array of ways to overpower your opponent, how do you think that will reflect in real life?"
"Poorly." I couldn't help but remark, to which Dad nodded with a smile.
"Exactly, and he'll lose followers both in-game as well as real life because of it. We might be able to find some hints of his identity or whereabouts in real life as well from interrogating some of his supporters. So right now our focus should be which city we need to reclaim next that will be the most beneficial to us and the most damaging to him." Dad explained.
"Alright, then what are we waiting for?" Shui-yima replied excitedly, switching the table back to the map of the Central Continent. "What's our next target, Prince?"
Prince stared silently at the table as he carefully considered his options. "Sun City."
Tiāntáng Lóng means "Dragon of Paradise"
Chapter 15: Chapter 14
And so it was decided that a week from that moment we would take Sun City back.
It was no easy seven days, however. Restlessness grew readily along with the tension that enveloped the house, the product of the recent turn of events. Uncle Fox decided he wanted to be the extra security that Nan Gong Zui spoke about, which I couldn't help but assume so he could have an excuse to stay close to Kenshin. After all, everyone can see how badly he would like for Kenshin to live with him instead of here. But even with the chance to be by Kenshin's side daily, the stress of the situation seemed to be getting to him. He would always interrogate me whenever I got home, asking who I was around and what I was doing. Even after I answered I was with Hong Peng at school like I always did, he never seemed satisfied with my answer. Why does he only question me? I mean I can see with how the enemy has moved that their method to get to Mom is through me, but Hong Peng and Dad are in a similar position. But he never bothered either with questions, in fact the seldom time Hong Peng was over that week neither spoke to each other. And they were always in the same room too! I get that they're not the chatty type, but come on.
Though Hong Peng wasn't around as often as he usually was, to be fair. In fact, he was barely there at all. Ever since that girl entered the picture, I barely even got to say hi to him in real life or the game. He did keep to the promise he made my parents, staying close enough to ward off anyone who had an unsavory intentions towards me. Yet he found every loophole he could to distance his lady friend, and subsequently himself, away from me. Whether this was excuses of meeting her in the game or sitting at a separate table with her, leaving me alone to watch their "fun" as they chatted while I ate by myself.
But it wasn't just this sudden change in Hong Peng's demeanor that gnawed at me, but the girl herself. Even though she flirted and acted like she was interested in him, she didn't seem invested in conversing or even being around him. In fact, she seemed almost annoyed. She'd always give an odd look whenever his eyes left her as well, but when she saw a poster about Life 2.0, the expression on her face turned my stomach. Who does she think she is? Is she even worthy of Hong Peng's attention?
Stop it, you idiot. He has every right to having a girlfriend and other friends. His world does not have to revolve around you.
I know that! But something just isn't right about her.
Eventually I couldn't stand in silence any longer, and approached Hong Peng the day we were to reclaim Sun City. I had convinced him to come over after school, though it took a "request" from Mom to get him to agree. Everyone was home except Dad and my aunt, who were both still at work when we arrived. Which meant that while I would have preferred to speak to him in private, I was unable to because of Uncle Fox's constant presence. Sheesh, does he think someone is hiding in the walls or something?
"Hey Hong Peng?" I asked while we sat on the couch watching TV some time after we had entered the door.
"Hm." He mumbled as he flipped through the channels with the remote, his mind evidently elsewhere. Annoyed by his sad excuse of a response I leaned over and ripped the remote out of his hand, placing it back on the coffee table. It took him a moment before realizing what I'd done and asking incredulously, "What the hell was that for!?"
"So maybe you would actually do something other than act like a zombie when you aren't around that damn girl!" I exclaimed, snatching the remote out of his reach when he tried to make a grab for it.
"What is your problem?" Hong Peng asked, "Ever since I've started doing stuff with her all you've done is mope around and be pitiful."
My problem!? "I'm not being pitiful! You would be like this too if I decided someone I hadn't even known for a week was more important than you! You aren't even dating!" I was quickly becoming frustrated, "Do you even know if she's interested in you, the real Hong Peng?"
Hong Peng's eyes widened slightly at my question for a moment, before quickly being masked with disappointment. He shook his head, "Maybe what she said was right. Maybe you are just jealous that I was the one she approached and not you."
"What!?" I shouted in disbelief, blown away by such a ridiculous accusation. "What kind of goddamn filth is she brainwashing you with? Are you really going to tell me you're going to believe such an outlandish claim?"
"You're the one who's questioning whether anyone could like me, so no! I don't think it's that impossible at all!" Hong Peng retorted, raising his voice to match my own.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw my mother glance around the corner from the kitchen, our argument now being heard clearly from all that were present in the house. Stressed, I got up from the couch and wobbled away for a moment. Now they're all going to know what this over, wonderful... This is such a stupid thing to argue about. Resolved to try to focus on the important things at hand, I let out a sigh and limped back over. "Hong Peng, listen... This isn't-"
"No! You listen to me, Feng Wen!" He said, standing up from the couch so I had to lift my head slightly to meet him eye to eye. "Ever since the very beginning, every damn thing that has ever happened to me is the result of you or your family! I'm sick and tired of not having any control in my life, whether it's because of my father or you!"
"Do you really think I want any of this?" Gesturing the hand that held the remote to the TV, where in the background a gossip panel was droning on about the recent events in the game. "At first this was to me what it should have always been- a game. Now our very lives are at stake, Hong Peng!" Unable to control myself, I began to shake the remote wildly towards him as I continued, "Did you know that there is an entire crime syndicate after us? That we just found out that there is not just one, but two powerful and evil men that want my family dead? Fan isn't the only one we have to worry about, but Huang Wei maybe as big as a threat as him? No, instead you've been too busy chasing after someone in a desperate attempt for a stupid relationship to know-"
"ENOUGH!" He roared, lashing his hand towards my outstretched arm.
Before I could even react, Uncle Fox and Kenshin had already sprung into action. With one hand on his wrist and the other holding a dagger to Hong Peng's throat, Uncle Fox's eyes showed his every intent to kill if he dared move a muscle. Kenshin had pulled me back away from Hong Peng, his grip firm as his gaze shifted between the two of us. Mom had now entered the room as well from hearing all the commotion. "What the hell is going on in here? Can I not cook dinner in peace?"
"Relax." Hong Peng said coolly towards Uncle Fox, "I was just going to take the remote. I promise I had no intentions to hurt him."
Uncle Fox was not convinced, "Words mean nothing to me."
"Fox, let him go." My mother commanded, a subtle hint of Prince's tone in her voice. Uncle Fox focused his gaze on Mom, both staring each other down with great intensity. A moment passed before Uncle Fox reluctantly let Hong Peng free, which Kenshin followed his example with me.
Hong Peng touched his throat where the dagger had been, his eyes distant as he stared down at the coffee table. "... I should go. I don't think it's best if I stay any longer." With not a moment to linger, he began to walk towards the front door.
"Wait, Hong-" I began, before he rose his hand to cut me off.
"Please, Feng Wen." He said, staring down the doorknob as he reached for it. "I have a lot to think about."
"Hong Peng..." I trailed off, unsure of what to do.
He looked back at me, his eyes unable to hide his remorse. And with that, he left.
I would be lying if I said that the crushing feeling of depression didn't continue well past the time to log into the game. Nor that I was the only one whose morale was low after Hong Peng's abrupt departure. But even though I tried to focus on our mission to infiltrate Sun City, Hong Peng's absence in game was a painful reminder of the earlier event.
Because of this, Ugly Wolf was our priest for our four man team into Sun City. An unusual team of three warriors and a priest, Dad as well as my aunt insisted that it was necessary. Western Wind was a native to the city after all, making him indispensable in leading us through secret passages and alleyways unnoticed. Prince of course was the one who would break the crystal to bring it back under his control. As for me I was the third warrior in the group because, in Shui-yima's words, 'I'd be better off helping than sitting around in the camp brooding'. Whatever the hell that's suppose to mean. I thought bitterly, if that's the only reason I'm going then I think someone else better suited for sneaking or at least with lighter armor should be swimming in this goddamn water.
The plan was suppose to be simple- even though the city was currently under martial law by one of Fan's generals, the majority of the citizens were still loyal to Prince. Since we wouldn't face any resistance from the citizens, our only need was to slip past the guards set up by said general and take out the crystal that resided in castle in the center of the city. The catch however was getting into the city in the first place, with whoever was holding down the city having placed hundreds of men around the city walls, making any sort of attempt by land impossible to accomplish.
"I really am- hack- not suited for this kind of thing." I heard Ugly Wolf beside me, who continued to cough up more water as we laid in a small, hidden cave near the bay of Sun City. With no way of entering the city by land, my father had the 'brilliant' idea of us swimming into the city by the bay right before dusk. "I'm a beastman in heavy priest cloth, it does not mix very well with water."
"Yer complainin' about cloth, how 'bout you try swimming in heavy armor!" A gruff voice retorted. Alarmed, I quickly stood from my slumped position against a rock and whipped out my sword in the direction of the voice. There was a heavily built man in front of me, the grit of his voice matching his expression. "What the hell are ya' doin', kid? You think I got time to spar with you? I haven't even beat yer' old man yet!"
"Old man? Seriously?" Prince asked incredulously, sitting on a rock as he dried his hair with a small towel he had pulled out of his inventory.
I squinted my eyes, my confusion steadily growing as I asked, "Western Wind?" Isn't Western Wind a woman?
"You bet yer' ass it's me, kid! Now stop gawkin' and lets get movin'!" He replied, moving his way towards the back of the cave.
"Care to explain how...?" I began, turning to look at Prince as I pointed at Western Wind.
"He met a giant clam and made a stupid wish. Now he is a girl during the day and his original male form at night." Prince replied, stuffing his towel back in his inventory. "That's the short of it, anyway."
"... I think it would have been better if I hadn't asked in the first place." Feeling more confused than before.
The cave was already small when we had entered it from the ocean, barely enough room for the four of us to sit down and catch our breath from the twenty minutes of wading through the cool waters of Sun City Bay. Yet as we followed Western Wind further into the cavern, the passage became narrower till we could only pass through single file. And poor Wolf-yīshēng* has to suck in just to fit. It didn't last long, however. Within five minutes of squeezing through the tight passage and scrapping exposed skin on sharp rock walls, the cave suddenly opened up into a wide tunnel.
"Alrigh', this means we're on the western outskirts of the main city now." Western Wind said in a hushed tone, his voice echoing slightly off the cobblestone walls. "It's a misfortune that this tunnel system doesn't lead to the castle, so we'll hav' to go above ground to get to the tunnel system that will."
"I never got to ask how you know so much about the city's layout, Western Wind." Ugly Wolf commented as we moved forward, still following Western Wind.
"Ha! I wasn't the good and honest man that you know now." Western Wind laughed, "Back when I was married-" He quickly gave Prince a nasty look, "My wife and I would have all sorts of run-ins with the guards. Gotta know how to move around the city if ya' don't want to end up at the rebirth point!"
Ugly Wolf waited a moment before replying, "... Well then, I suppose that good things can come even from unsavory deeds."
The only source of light in the tunnel was the soft glow of a magic orb that Ugly Wolf had conjured from a scroll his wife Yulian had given him for the expedition. Though even with it, Western Wind's sudden left turn made it appear he disappeared into the black. I'm glad that someone with knowledge of the area and a good sense of direction is the one leading this party. Feeling a small amount of appreciation towards the gritty crossplayer, this place would be disorienting enough to someone with a sense of direction. If Mom and I were left to our own devices, I know we would never be found again.
"Here!" Western Wind exclaimed, his voice loudly projecting off the walls. Far enough ahead from us that we could only see a vague outline of his frame, it appeared he was just staring into darkness. As we came closer however, we soon saw a copper ladder's faint reflection in the light.
"This is the way to the next tunnel system?" Prince asked, investigating the condition of ladder.
"You betcha, pretty boy! This'll lead to an alley behind the main armory, and then it's only three blocks till the church that has the entrance to castle's system!" Western Wind replied.
"Hm." Prince lifted his head and squinted his eyes towards the ceiling, "This ladder is only designed to hold one person at a time, which means it'll take longer for all four of us to get to the surface since we'll have to wait for one of us to reach the surface before someone else can climb."
"It's not like we could all reach the surface at the same time, anyway." I remarked, "The first person up will have to be able to defend themselves if there is already an enemy stationed above the exit."
"Right. So who's first?" Prince asked.
"Not you, that's for sure." Ugly Wolf replied, "The last person we need to die in this party is you, Prince. It may sound harsh, but we need someone that could be easily sacrificed for the sake of the mission."
"That leaves you out of the equation as well, Wolf-yīshēng. You're the priest, after all. You're there primarily for Mom's support." I replied, starting to think for the best candidate. "Western Wind wouldn't be good, either. Sh- I mean he is our guide, after all. Losing him is like losing the only advantage we have over the enemy at this point. That only leaves-"
"You." Ugly Wolf finished.
I nodded, "I'm essentially just a bodyguard- a rather ineffective one too since I'm 20 levels under Western Wind, who is the second lowest level player here."
Prince's expression showed he hated the idea and wanted to argue with it, but was unable to do so. Instead, he came over and hugged me. "Are you sure about this, Feng Wen? We could see if we can get anoth-"
"Mom, please. You need to trust me." I replied, returning Prince's hold on me. "I won the championship after all, didn't I? That has to count for something."
Prince was silent at first, before letting out a sigh and slowing pulling away from the embrace. His eyes showed a mother's pride and worry as he placed a hand on my cheek. "That it does."
"While I hate to break up the touchin' moment here," Western Wind cut in, "someone needs to get their ass up on that ladder real soon!"
Prince gave a quick glare towards the surly man before turning back to me, "Be careful, okay? Think before you act."
That's the pot calling the kettle black! "Of course, when do I not after all?"
"Well..." Prince trailed off, apparently thinking of an example in his head. Everyone else seemed to have a supposed example as well, Ugly Wolf with a knowing look and Western Wind failing at his attempt to suppress a fit of laughter. The only one who isn't a hypocrite here is Wolf-yīshēng. I thought in annoyance. Not allowing myself to be the butt of the joke any longer, I walked past Western Wind and grabbed a hold of the ladder.
Mom wasn't kidding about the ladder. Feeling the ladder's bronze rungs giving underneath my weight as I made my way upwards. The groaning of the bars every time I lifted myself to another did not help my unease with it. This thing is so aged it seems like a miracle it hasn't already snapped with me climbing it. What's going to happen when someone like Wolf-yīshēng tries?Thankfully I did not have to bear with it for long with it being a relatively short ascent towards the surface. Being weary of what the unknown could hold for me I carefully slid the manhole back, the scrapping sound of it hitting the alley's brick path feeling like the loudest alarm to any enemies nearby.
Cautiously I peeked my head slightly over the edge, the darkness from the tunnel helping my vision in the slightly brighter nighttime of Sun City. I don't see anyone nearby... Noting an archer on a rooftop several meters away from me, I saw nothing else but large wooden crates of blacksmith supplies and trashcans in the alley. There's no way he can see me from this distance, though. And his attention seems focused farther out, towards the walls I would presume. Deciding that it was safe, I P.M'd the message back to the group before hoisting myself out into the alleyway. Soon after the hole echoed the sound of the ladder's groans, albeit much louder, under Ugly Wolf's large stature.
"... can't believe this..." A voice carried from down the alley, sounding like a man's. Shit. Shit! I cursed, hiding quickly behind a nearby crate.
"... Get told I'll earn a fortune if I fight for them, and so far I've only gotten paid three crystal coins and a piece of shitty equipment. And it isn't even for a warrior! It's for a goddamn mage!" I crept my head over the crate, seeing a man in low level equipment strolling towards the manhole. He must be ranting to himself. I figured, seeing no other player with him.
I watched nervously as the mercenary continued towards the hole, unable to do anything without making myself known. As I predicted, the man was so focused on the few coins he held in his hands walked right past me and into the manhole cover- stubbing his toe with a loud thunk! "Goddamn it!" He exclaimed, dropping his coins right down the hole in surprise. He bit his lip in pain as he looked down the hole, the sound of coins bouncing off stone echoing softly from the hole. "Of all my shitty luck... What is this thing doing uncovered, anyway?" He wondered out loud, now bending over to look down the hole.
Sorry man, you're luck is about to get even worse! I thought to myself, not daring to wait for him to find out. With one swift movement, I pulled my sword out of my sheathe, grappled the man from behind and slit his throat. With blood dripping from my sword and down my arm, it wasn't the cleanest of kills but effective enough to send him instantly to the rebirth point.
It was a few moments before I heard the movement of someone climbing the ladder again, who must have heard the commotion from above. A few minutes later the top of Ugly Wolf's furry head emerged from the hole, looking around cautiously before lifting himself out of the hole. Just in case, both Wolf and I sat behind crates as we waited for the other two to make their way up.
"What happened?" Ugly Wolf asked me in a hush whisper from the other side of the alley, hiding between a very large crate filled with iron poles and dumpster.
"Some mercenary came by, so the only thing I could do was hide behind this crate and hope he didn't walk in the path of the hole. As norm of my luck, he did and I had to kill him." I replied.
"Ya' what!?" Western Wind exclaimed, clearly pissed. He had been out of the hole for a while and currently helping Prince out of the hole. "If that bastard had any sort of brain he's already gone and yappin' to his buddies about what happened!"
"What was suppose to do!?" I argued back, "Just let him figure it out and go tell them sooner? Or worse yet, go see if he can stick his sword through Wolf-yīshēng's head?"
A loud gong began to ring, followed by another and then another- till an entire series throughout the whole town could be heard. Ugly Wolf only sighed and shook his head, looking over at my now very displeased mother. "Well if they didn't know from him, they sure did now with you two yelling like a couple of idiots!" Prince said sourly. It looked as though he was about to reprimand us even further, but his expression became apprehensive by the sudden sound of feet clamoring towards our direction. "We need to get out of here and get to the church. Now."
Yīshēng: A suffix one uses in reference to a medical doctor. Since Feng Wen knew Ugly Wolf first as his doctor, he refers to him with this suffix in place of others.
Chapter 17: Chapter 16: Infiltration of Sun City (2)
Hong Peng's PoV
"... Seems we have... the plan..."
Where am I...? I can't see anything...
"... what about the boy..."
... What boy... Why do I feel so tired...
"...here... will you retrieve him..."
Feng Wen's PoV
There is a different type of fear that comes with a covert mission. In a battle, there is a clear sense of what and who is an enemy or an ally. If you fail, there's always the chance that the enemy is solely responsible for it. But this was no simple fight on a battlefield. Every sound, whether the continuous ring of the warning gongs or our ragged breath as we sprinted in and out of the city's shadows, only escalated the panic in my heart. If we saw a shadowy figure nearby, there was no way of telling they were an innocent civilian or an enemy guard without the risk of blowing our cover.
"How close are we, Western Wind?" Prince asked softly. We had taken refuge in an empty, unlocked shack that we found a couple of streets over from our original location. While it was cramped and stunk of mold, we had been able to relax slightly with the footsteps having not been heard for quite some time.
"... About that." Western Wind began in his guttural voice, "I might have... made a wrong turn in the passageway earlier."
"You what!?" Prince replied in a harsh whisper, "Are you telling me we aren't anywhere close?"
"No! I never said that!" Western Wind said defensively, "But non' of that matters now, since we've been steer'd off course by someone acting a bit too much like mommy..."
"Like you would have done much better, rocks-for-brains." I jabbed back, not caring if I sounded childish.
"Hush you two." Ugly Wolf said, "There are more important matters at hand. Western Wind, do you think you can figure out where we are now?"
Western Wind gave me an annoyed look before replying to Ugly Wolf. "You bet yer' ass I can. But I'd need to be outside of 'ere this damn shack to get a baring of my surroundin's."
Ugly Wolf thought a moment before replying, "Since you've been able to avoid being caught in similar situations and you are the native to this area, would you go out to take a look around? We haven't heard anything outside in a while, so it should be safe to leave. We'll stay here and wait for you to come back."
"Sure, just make sure junior 'ere doesn't cause anymore trouble!" He replied, his comment irritating me further. Without another word, Western Wind quietly cracked the door open, the soft light of the moon streaming through as he peered outside. Quickly he shed some of his less important armor pieces to enhance his stealth and left the shack, leaving only Ugly Wolf, Prince and I.
It was only silence for a while after Western Wind left, time seeming to have slowed to a crawl as I looked at the game's menu. It hasn't even been five minutes yet, but it feels more like an hour. I looked over at Prince and Ugly Wolf, who seemed to be having a private discussion in the P.M system by their expressions. And yet again, I'm left out of the loop. I let out a sigh, Western Wind could really be gone a hour as well. This wait is going to be hell if this keeps up...
"Feng Wen?" Prince suddenly asked.
"Hm?" I turned, surprised that I was actually being acknowledged considering how intense their conversation looked a minute ago. "Yes Mom?"
"Have you been able to get a hold of Hong Peng yet?" He asked with a slight tilt of the head.
Why did he have to bring that up at a time like this... The crushing feeling returning to my heart again. I looked at my P.M conversation with Hong Peng, which showed he was online but still had not answered my messages from earlier. "No, I haven't. He's still ignoring me."
"You don't know if he's ignoring you, son. He might be preoccupied with something else." Prince tried to reassure me, but his last sentence just made the feeling even worse. Yeah... Probably with that goddamn girl again...
Trying to take the events from earlier off my mind, I let my mind wander with Prince sensing he did not help my emotional state. Can my life get even more ridiculous? First I find out my parents are the leaders of the Odd Squad, then a massive syndicate is trying to kill us, and now my best friend has decided to drop me cold turkey over a girl he barely knows. A memory flashed through my mind, the words of the archer regarding Hong Peng echoing once more. I turned to Prince again, who had turned his attention back to Ugly Wolf. "Hey Mom, can I ask you something?"
Prince twisted his head to give me a sincere smile, "Of course, you know I'll answer you the best I can."
"Back during the battle... after Hong Peng and I fell off the summon, we encountered the archer that had shot Hong Peng. He told me that the rebel leaders wanted Hong Peng brought back to them alive."
Prince and Ugly Wolf looked at each other, both sharing a bewildered expression. "Alive?"
I nodded, their reaction making me more uneasy. "Hong Peng was unconscious at the time, and you're the first one I've told this to."
Prince leaned back against the wall we were sitting up against, letting out a soft sigh as he stared upwards in deep thought. "This isn't good... I didn't think they were going to try to manipulate those associated with us..." He trailed off.
"It shouldn't come as a surprise, Prince." Ugly Wolf added, "He's Feng Wen's closest friend, and the media has made sure to broadcast that fact to the entire world. It was only a matter of time before they would come after him too."
"People have found out his address too, who knows what other information they have on him... We might have to consider speaking with his mother about relocating the family for now." Prince commented.
"Mom, Wolf-yīshēng, what are you talking about?" I asked, getting more anxious each time they spoke.
Prince glanced at me, a distressed frown having now replaced his smile. "I know we haven't spoken much of him, but you need to understand just how pathetic of a man Lei Qiang is. He is lazy as well as a coward, having all his dirty work done by his henchmen and running away or hiding behind his precious heir from me. The possibilities are endless as to why he wants Hong Peng, blackmail or torture for information to even trying to recruit him, especially now with Hong Peng's skill being demonstrated during the battle."
Like hell they'll ever touch him. I seethed, they'll have to get through me first. "Is this where Huang Wei comes into play?" I asked, trying to sound calmer than I was. Knowing is half the battle is what they say, after all.
Prince nodded, his brow furrowing with contempt. "Like many syndicates, in Tiāntáng Lóng the leader's mantle is passed through the family. If the Dragon Head is the one calling the shots, his heir is the one who puts them in motion. When I first met Huang Wei many years ago, he was already a well known mob boss on the Eastern Continent. And when I met him again, he was in league with Fan."
"Add that Huang Wei has remained the most elusive general of the resistance to track and that a great number of the enemy players have told us they were hired through him, it only seems logical to assume that Huang Wei has some sort of tie to Tiāntáng Lóng." Ugly Wolf said, "This is why we believe they're actually brothers, with Huang Wei staying close to his older brother to remain under the radar but still able to carry out his orders."
Prince now had an expression of discernment, "Though there is still one thing I will never understand."
"What is that?" I asked, still trying to digest everything I had been made aware of.
Prince hunched over, clasping his hands together as he continued to muse over the thought. "The last time I dealt with Tiāntáng Lóng was nearly three years ago, in a government-led raid of one of their larger bases. There, I met and dueled the heir."
I thought back to three years ago, a vague memory appearing of Mom telling a thirteen year old me that she had been invited by some old friends to a trip in the mountains. Naive to her true dealings at the time, I didn't question her then. Nor did I when she came back looking battered and tired, saying she got roughed up while hiking.
"How...? How do you know it was him?" I asked in disbelief.
"How could I not, where a single individual with armor like the scales and claws of a dragon taking out twenty men right in front of my eyes." Prince answered "Not even the best mercenary would possess such skill. The only resemblance of a man was the piercing gaze behind his helmet."
He was truly a remarkable warrior, the only ones I know comparable to his skill being Fox or Kenshin." Prince locked his gaze with mine, guilt in his eyes. "He caught me off guard, knocking my saber out of my hand. The perfect opportunity to get rid of me once and for all. And yet..."
I tried to swallow the lump that had formed in my throat, but it refused to go down. "Yet what, Mom?" My voice cracked.
"... He hesitated." Prince answered, "Giving me enough time to grab my weapon and escape."
The door slammed open, immediately sending us to our feet with our weapons at ready. Western Wind stood in the doorway, his breathing ragged and his shoulder shook from fatigue as he braced his arms against the frame. "What the hell, Western Wind? Scare the shit out of me next time, will you?" Prince remarked.
"Hostages..." He heaved, gripping the door frame so tightly the aged wood splintered. "They've taken hostages."
"What? Why!?" I asked in disbelief.
"How do you know this, Western Wind?" Ugly Wolf questioned, casting a spell on Western Wind that would help his stamina recovery.
"About quarter of kilometer north I came upon two guards chattin' it up. I listened in even though I could only catch bits and pieces of it, hoping maybe I could find out some info about the current state of the city. They said that the big guys knew where and when we would move next, so they took hostages to hold against us."
"Damn it!" Prince exclaimed, stabbing his dao into the wall in anger. "How the hell did they find out!?"
"We'll have to find out later, because now we have to figure out what to do." Ugly Wolf answered, "If we rescue the hostages, we'll lose even more time than we have now and increase our chances of one of us getting killed. If we don't and they kill them, our reputation will probably drop dramatically. Even if the hostages are just losing a level, it'll look like we care more about Prince regaining his power than his own subjects."
Western Wind rushed over and grabbed Prince's shoulders, forcing him to look at the man directly. "Prince, we gotta rescue 'em. Please..."
"Western Wind?" Prince asked in bewilderment, expressing the shock we all felt from seeing the gritty warrior like this.
"They mentioned... Lovely Consort..." He choked out. Lovely Consort? Is that the wife he was referring to earlier?
Prince's eyes widened before he gripped the man back on his arms with a look of determination. "I swear to you, Western Wind... To amend for what happened in years past, we will find her and bring her back to you."
Western Wind's new information proved to be true as we approached the church that held the passage into the city's castle. Soldiers scoured the streets, forcing us to move upwards into the rooftops. This gave us a remarkable view of the city and any enemies that might wander from down below or the rooftops themselves. We watched from a house nearby as a couple of warriors lazily walked around the courtyard of the cathedra. Their paths wrapped around the front of the church where large wooden doors granted entrance inside.
"They must know about the passageway if there are soldiers patrolling the building." Prince began, "But looks like they figured we didn't know about it by the limited amount of guards posted."
"Aye, and low level'd newbies at that." Western Wind commented back, pointing towards the painfully cheap weapons and armor they were toting around. "When I was out I took a look towards the castle itself. Ya' can't get within two kilometers any direction without a hoard of soldiers right around the corner."
Prince showed a small smirk of pride, "Looks like Gui predicted correctly, then. They think we would head straight for the castle."
"Then let's make sure we give them a reason to still believe that." Ugly Wolf replied, furrowing his brow as he searched through his belongings. "We need to set a distraction for those guards as well as any units of men in the surrounding area. We must have them believe we are heading directly towards the castle through the city's streets." He sighed in frustration, "Unfortunately, I don't believe I have anything we could use for such a distraction. Yu Lian only gave me light scrolls."
We sat in silence for a moment while Western Wind kept watch on the soldiers down below. We began to search our inventories and brainstorm ideas when Prince suddenly exclaimed with an ecstatic whisper, "Wolf-nii, here's our distraction!" He then pulled out a couple of fu, crumpled and beaten up from being in storage for a long time.
Ugly Wolf took one of the fu from Prince's hands, taking great care not to damage them any further. "How long have you had these? I don't think I've seen anything like them."
"If you want to be technical, over thirty years." Prince replied with a smile, "It's an alternative version of the illusionary charms* that Jing created years ago."
Ugly Wolf nodded, but doubt still remained on his face. "That explains where they came from. But I don't see how that will help us here, the illusion was created from Jing's imagination when she activated the spell. Unless you're trying to tell me Jing thought up this exact situation three decades ago."
"That was the original version, but she continued to develop the spell. Eventually she could create a fu for the spell itself, so anyone could make an illusion. She gave a couple to me to use to draw crowds away from me during the tour." Prince examined one of the remaining fu in his hand, "I had totally forgotten she gave them to me soon after though."
Ugly Wolf grinned, which made him look even more terrifying than he usually did. "Thank the Almighty for your terrible memory, then."
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean!?" Prince protested, but he was quickly hushed by the wolf-man.
"It means you two are going to sneak eastward towards the castle and set two distractions around the two kilometer mark that Western Wind spoke of," Ugly Wolf began, handing Prince and I each a light scroll. "You two are the fastest and stealthiest of us, so you'll use the remaining light scrolls we have to attract attention to the charms. The illusions should look like we have split up into pairs, with you two separated since you're both main targets. That should spread out the forces thinner and farther away from the castle and ourselves."
"Eastward..." I looked to my right, searching in the darkness for the castle.
"Other side, Feng Wen." Ugly Wolf corrected.
"Oh!" I turned my head to see the silhouette of the fortress.
"You too, Prince." Ugly Wolf sighed.
"I was getting there! I was just uh, looking out for more guards!" Prince replied quickly, obviously embarrassed by having to be corrected as well.
Ugly Wolf rolled his eyes, casting a dexterity buff as well as one for speed similar to Hong Peng's. "Get going, you two, we can't afford to waste anymore time."
Prince immediately responded, jumping up from his place on the roof and breaking into a run. I followed in haste, launching myself after Prince from rooftop to rooftop. During the trip Prince would frequently look back to check if I was still behind him, or slow down so I could catch up. I'm fast, but he's so high level it's hard to keep up! I thought wearily, my stamina also not as high as Prince's. I think I am finally starting to understand now why he is considered such a feared opponent, especially after having dueled him. I was having a hard time imagining how anyone, even at his level, could hold their ground against someone of such raw power and ruthless style.
Eventually he slowed to a halt, signaling that our surprisingly uneventful journey was at its end. It looks like they really did move them all down to streets. What an idiotic idea. He knelt low to the rooftop and quickly beckoned me to do the same. "We're at the border, see?" He began with a whisper, extending an arm over the edge to point towards a large group of at least twenty soldiers below us. They were definitely stronger than the guards we had seen at the church, but with it came a carefree and apathetic attitude. There were small groups gambling and drinking liquor, while others were trying to mess around with the unsavory NPC women who would walk the streets after dark.
"Don't let yourself get careless, Feng Wen," Prince warned, giving me a knowing look. "I can see what you're thinking, but don't underestimate your enemies. Even if they're fools like these."
I didn't answer, instead scanning the area for a good place to set the first illusion. It needs to be somewhere near a lot of routes, so they'll scatter in pursuit. It'll also make it more believable than something like us suddenly disappearing while being chased down a narrow alleyway. It was a main thoroughfare of the city, lined with an abundance of stores, businesses and inns that the continental powerhouse was known for. However, judging by the types of shops and the NPCs wandering around, we were very much in the heart of the red light district. Luck would have it that the city is based off actual city layouts. I smiled smugly as I zeroed in on an intersecting road. It lead straight to the port, an open area with dozens of routes spawning from it. Historically this part of town would be found near the docks, and it looks like the designers decided to follow that example.
I quietly told Prince of my discovery, to which he nodded in agreement. I, however, noticed a snag in my plan, biting my lip as I informed him. "There is one problem, though. I'm not sure how we can get down there and set our diversion without being seen."
"Hm." Prince hummed thoughtfully, swiveling his head to look for a solution. "Ah ha! I know how!" He declared, quickly scrambling from his spot and heading towards the other side of the street.
"What? How?" I asked, but he was too far now from me now to hear me. "Wait for me!" I called desperately through the P.M system, now trying to catch up to him. Ugh, why are both of my parents so spastic!?
I finally saw a famous characteristic of Prince that was easily seen in his real life persona- unpredictability. Unable to fathom what idea my mother cooked up now, I hopelessly followed Prince across a rooftop bridge and down into an alleyway. We walked a few meters before stopping in front of a boring wood door. I looked at him in bewilderment, "What are you doin-"
"Shh!" Prince quickly silenced me, his red eyes darting nervously down each end of the alleyway. "Keep calm, follow my lead and learn from the master, alright?"
I gave him a blank stare before nodding my head wearily. I've got a bad feeling about this.
Prince started to run his hand through is hair and proceeded to do the same to mine like I was five again. Is this really necessary? He rapped on the door three times, a moment passing before a smooth feminine voice answered "Who goes there?"
"Two gentlemen in dire need, madam." Prince replied suavely, sending a uncomfortable chill down my spine. What the hell is he doing!?
"... Is that so?" The woman replied, before opening the door to reveal herself. Unsurprisingly, behind the door was a sultry woman dressed to show her profession. I thought hearing my mother speak with such a tone was disturbing. My level of panic rose steadily as I saw the woman give us the largest, most hungry looking grin I had ever seen. It pales in comparison to this. "How unexpected! The mistress will definitely want to meet you both."
With that she turned and beckoned us in. Prince followed readily, while I was much more hesitant to follow. Passing through a hallway and curtain, we were led to a large lounge, filled with a dozen girls in similar dress. They all stared at us with great interest, before throwing each other challenging glares. Oh. My. God. My feet wanted to flee. He brought me into a lion's den! My own mother!
"Don't look nervous." Prince P.M'd me, who maintained a cool and disinterested guise. "They'll take you as an easy prize if you even acknowledge their existence."
"How could you bring your own son to such a place!?" I asked incredulously, trying to plaster on the icy mask I could once easily apply.
Prince flickered his gaze on me briefly, still holding his expression. The woman gestured to two plush chairs near the girls for us to sit in, with me taking the chair farthest from the group. "Because I know the worst thing that is going to happen is your father wailing at me for a hour over this."
"What a pleasant surprise." I swiveled my head leftwards, where the new voice originated from. A small, yet grand staircase was centered in the impressive parlor. At the top was a woman of great beauty, a braid of dark hair draped across one of her bare shoulders. She was unlike the other girls, her attire similar to the rest of group but there was a certain flair of class not only to her dress but to her mannerism as well. She must be the one in charge, noting that the aura of superiority she exuded was reminiscent of Prince's.
She descended the stairs, and Prince stood up in response. Remembering I was supposed to mimic everything he did, I quickly scrambled to my feet, albeit not as gracefully as he. "Madam." Prince greeted her as she approached us, taking her right hand and kissing atop of it just as a gentleman from old times would. When he straightened up, he glanced at me and then glanced back at his hand. "Oh come on! You must be joking, right?" I complained.
"The less you resist, the faster we'll get out of here," Prince scolded.
With an inward groan, I mumbled a dissatisfied, "Ma'am..." and followed his example.
Meeting her gaze again, she was clearly amused from the small smirk on her lips. "Never did I believe I would not only see his Lordship, but one of his many lovers in my house. Tell me, gentlemen, what brings you here? Have you grown bored of each other, and desire the company of a woman instead?"
Dear Buddha, I'm going to puke! The idea that the NPCs believed that lie about us was becoming too much for my poor body to handle, nausea now flooding my insides. I wasn't the only one revolting against the implication, as Prince's cool facade flickered for a moment with disgust.
"Fair lady, you are greatly mistaken!" Prince replied, turning up the charm with his classic smile. "This boy and I are not lovers, only comrades in arms. We come to your house to seek your aid in liberating the city."
The mistress looked intrigued, a brow raising upwards as she folded her delicate arms. "The Overlord seeks a favor from me? How interesting. I would happily aid my liege, however..." She walked towards us, passing Prince and stopping in front of me. I froze as she traced the tip of a fingernail across my cheek, a smile with a hint of greed appearing, "I expect his Lordship to provide reimbursement."
"Mistress, such a beautiful youth," one of her girls chimed in as she drew closer. Shit! No, no, no! "And so timid in our presence! Surely he has never experienced the touch of a woman."
The other girls whispered and murmured in agreement as the girl came around, looking at me with an excitement that escalated my discomfort in this situation. "Indeed, " the mistress began, turning towards the girl. "You have yet to have a client, haven't you, Arzum? To have this one as your first would leave the others all envious..."
"MOM!" I started to slowly creep my hand back towards my sword. I would take being tortured by the Dragon Head and his heir themselves over this situation!
"Unfortunately— !" Prince exclaimed, quickly grabbing my arm and dragging me towards him. "While he appears naive, he is currently dealing with heartbreak as he has had a fight with his lover." What? What lover!? "He is too incapacitated with grief to consider such entertainment."
The mistress narrowed her eyes, "But my liege, filling holes of the heart is our specialty, whether it be a man consumed by lust or loneliness."
"Ah, but sadly," Prince now showing a face of sadness and feigned desire, "while I may not be his lover, his lover is indeed a man!"
"WHA— " I began, before being kicked in the shin by Prince's very hard metal boot.
"A man?" The mistress asked incredulously.
"Yes! Together since the beginning of his adventures, his beloved walked out on him yesterday after a great feud! Since then, the only emotion he shows is one longing for his return," Prince said dramatically. "I do not lie, my good lady. Many desire his attention, including Guileastos and myself, but he only has eyes for one!"
Is he referring to...? A heat the intensity of fire crept up onto my skin and face. "Mom, what the hell are you saying!?" I p.m'd in distress, now hoping I hadn't caused another misunderstanding about my love life. Like not having one to begin with!
"Just trust me. Lolidragon got me out of a bind back in the old days with this trick!" Prince replied, giving me a small pat on the back.
"Shui-yima also caused a bar to close down because she tried to clean up the mess she made by mixing bleach and ammonia!" I retorted back.
"Is this true, Champion? Can no one else soothe your pain but this man his Lordship speaks of?" she asked me.
"Do it. Say yes." Prince commanded.
Why me? "Y-Yes..." I stuttered out, my face still burning as I avoided eye contact with the woman. It's bad enough I have to lie... But about this of all things! I hope Hong Peng never finds out... There were already problems between us as it was, I didn't want to add another one to the list.
"No worries, Madam!" Prince began, putting his arm around me in a sly move to comfort my distress. "After I reclaim the city, I will be stationing a troop of my finest men that will surely do business with you."
The mistress looked interested in this new proposal. "Will your soldiers be offered such luxuries?"
Prince showed a charismatic smile, "They will be given an allowance just for entertainment! A good leader must keep his warriors in high morale, after all."
The mistress mulled over the offer, tapping her lips with one of her slender fingers. Finally she smiled, "Very well, my Lord. My girls and I will assist you."
Illusionary charm - This originates in volume 4, chapter 6 of the novel and chapter 35 of the manhua.
The "old trick" Prince is referring to is in volume 2, chapter 1 of the novel and chapter 8 of the manhua, where Lolidragon convinces Fairsky and White Rose that Prince is in a relationship with Gui to scare them away from him.
Chapter 19: Chapter 18: Infiltration of Sun City (4)
"Do you think she will keep her word?" I asked, releasing a sigh of relief as we reached the rooftops once again. Finally out of that nightmare.
"I am confident she will. As a business NPC, she understands quite well how exceptional of an offer I gave her in exchange for her aid." Prince replied, now watching for that part of the plan to commence.
"I still can't believe those women were NPCs with how they were acting..." The idea of giving away my chastity in such a manner was ridiculous as it was, much less to a NPC!
Prince looked sympathetic, "It's part of their coding, dear. They're not like the Dictator of Life or even how Kenshin was, but they still have high AIs."
"I guess so..." I had forgotten some of the things my mother informed me of after the Warehouse Incident. I always thought of Kenshin as just a hired hand or when I was even younger, like some sort of undercover agent that worked alongside Uncle Fox when I believed he worked with the military. The idea that he and Uncle Sunshine were victims of Long Dian's experiments is still hard to wrap my head around.
There were suddenly shouts and hollers from the streets below. Prince and I peered down, seeing the previously lazy lot of soldiers scrambling from their seats as they hurried to ready themselves for battle. "There they are! I saw them go towards the bay!" One of the men who was geared as a lookout shouted towards the other.
I turned to see Ugly Wolf and Prince, or I should say their illusions, running at breakneck speed on one of the paths towards the harbor. There was more clamoring from another street close by, now seeing an apparition of myself and Western Wind heading in a similar direction. "Remember to kill on sight! They're extremely dangerous players!" One of the troop leaders screamed over the resulting chaos.
The streetlights suddenly went out, leaving the area in total darkness. "That's the signal, come on!" Prince exclaimed, jumping up and beginning his way back towards the church. Off in the distance I saw that the remaining light scrolls were activated, as small orbs lit the path towards the illusions' direction. The clash of steel started to resound throughout the blackness of the immediate area, evidence the second part of the plan had been set in motion. This will be an easy exit, now.
In quick time we reached the church, the only sources of light from the moon and the soft flicker of oil lamps inside the church's windows. We met up with the other two, who were still in the same place we left them. "What the hell took so long!?" Western Wind griped as we returned. "I nearly grew a beard waitin' on ya'!"
"We had to..." Prince looked at me. "Improvise. How are things here?"
"Better than expected," Ugly Wolf replied. "Whatever your little impromptu plan was, it worked so well it even had the patrols running towards that direction." He paused a moment, scratching his furry chin. "I didn't see anyone leave from the inside, though. So I would suspect there is at least a guard or two in the sanctuary."
"But that's where we need to be," Western Wind remarked. "The staircase that be leadin' underground is hidden under the altar."
"Then we'll just have to take care of anyone in there by knocking them out." Prince said, giving a small nod towards the church. "We need to move while they're still distracted."
Even without a soul in the vicinity, we maintained our previous manner of stealth as we moved forward. For once Prince led the group, carefully and quietly sliding down the roof to the dark street below. "Front door is too obvious..." Prince PM'd the group as we made our silent approach, taking great care to stay close to the surrounding buildings for an easy get away.
"We can break open a window!" Western Wind suggested a little too enthusiastically.
"Yes, because the sound of shattering glass is way more inconspicuous." I remarked dryly.
Even though his face was hidden in the shadows, I could practically feel his glare as he seethed aloud, "What did ya' say ya' litt—"
"Are there any back doors, Western Wind?" Ugly Wolf interrupted.
Western Wind grumbled audibly before replying, "I think there's a courtyard door on the west side of the church."
Prince shuffled in an unusual manner in his walk, "But which way is—"
"It's your left, Prince. The side with the hand you nor anyone else here writes with." Ugly Wolf answered, already knowing his question. I frowned as the statement made me think of Hong Peng once more. Hong Peng is left handed, now remembering fond memories of my family and I teasing him for how clever he must be.
Entry into the courtyard was surprisingly smooth, which if anything made me feel increasingly uneasy. I know that this is a result of that diversion, but there's no way we are over the worst of this night. There was no time to turn back now, though. Daybreak was quickly approaching in the game, nor could we wait till the next night to continue. A game day is every four real hours, giving us two days per night. We have enough time in reality to wait, but surely Pretty Princess or the hostages would move by sunset... I bit my lip, now realizing how wrong this mission could go if we didn't already have the upper hand. And I'm not too sure about that, anymore.
Ugly Wolf and Western Wind hid in the bushes of the courtyard (Well, Wolf-yīshēng tried. It's kind of hard to hide an eight-feet tall beastman!) while Prince and I entered first, slowly inching the door open to ensure as little sound as possible. As Ugly Wolf had anticipated, we found two players strolling through the pews as we approached the sanctuary. This confirms that they know about the passage, since these are the only guards and they're only patrolling this room. They were weak and inexperienced though, so Prince and I easily snuck up behind them to knock them out. When they were secured and blindfolded, we alerted the other two to come in.
"A'right, it's gonna take two of us to move this damn thing," Western Wind said, walking over to the incredibly large altar. It was so large that Ugly Wolf could have laid down on it and still had some leg room. Makes me wonder if this church isn't involved in some crazy sacrifice quest... I knew full well how bizarre some of the quests in the game could be.
"How were you able to use this passage in the first place if it took two people? Was Lovely Consort a warrior too or something?" Prince asked as he walked over to help Western Wind with the altar.
"Nah, she was a thief. It ain't heavy, anyway. Just too large to be handled by one person." He replied as they both slid it back. As promised, an old and narrow staircase was revealed in the dim light of the church. Without another word, we descended down the stairs. Ugly Wolf and I slid the altar back on top of us, leaving us in momentary darkness.
"How are we going to see if it's like this the entire passageway?" I asked, feeling the walls with my hand as I carefully made my way down.
"Inferno Rhapsody!" Prince exclaimed, immediately causing me, as well as Western Wind, to pull out our swords. Enemies already!? Prince's black dao flared, bursting into a bright red flame that lit up the entire stairwell. We looked around him, seeing no one in front of him. He turned back to us with a smile, "We'll just use this instead."
I let out a sigh of relief as I slid my sword back in its sheath, "Can you warn us next time, Mom?"
Western Wind chuckled as he put his sheathed his weapon as well, "Yeah, Junior here almost peed himself!"
"You're one to talk, don't think I didn't see you hide behind him!" I retorted.
"I wasn't hidin'!" Western Wind replied indignantly. "I was just coverin' his back!"
I wanted to say more, but Prince gave me a look that I knew from whenever Lan Lan and I fought when I was a small child. That didn't stop me from saying it to myself though, pretty sure you're supposed to be spotting for enemies instead of cowering your head behind Prince's shoulder.
The staircase was long, taking us deeper and deeper into the bowels of the church. As we neared the end, we were faced with another problem. "There's standing water?" I asked out loud, peering over Prince to see the flickering light of his dao reflecting off the water's surface.
"Yeah, this is the cistern of the church. It's only ankle deep though." Western Wind replied, "You afraid yer' gonna get your hair wet, pretty boy?"
I turned my head to him. "No, my fear is that we're going to give our location away if there's anyone down here with us!" I was getting increasingly annoyed with Western Wind's constant jabs towards me to the point that I PM'ed Prince, "Why did we bring a useless idiot like him along with us? He's a criminal who does nothing but make stupid remarks and get us lost. I'm sure we could have made our ways through the tunnels just fine without him!"
Prince glanced behind him, catching my gaze. As quietly as he could, he walked off the staircase and into the water before he replied, "He isn't as brainless as he makes himself out to be, he just likes to mess around with people." Prince waded through the water a couple of steps before the rest of the group, including myself, followed, "Though he is being a bit harsher with you, but you aren't exactly helping your cause with how you react. I know you haven't dealt with a lot of people in your life, but you can't just expect every good person to treat you kindly or have a clean past."
Mom's words seemed so illogical, nor did I feel had answer my question. "How is he a good person? He's committed crimes in-game, he constantly belittles others with his fake air of superiority. What has he done that makes you so tolerant of such a character?"
Prince let out a low sigh, which echoed softly against the stone walls of the cistern. "You really do remind me of myself when I was younger. So confident, thinking that such things are so black and white..." He remained silent for a moment, the only sound to my ears being the rhythmic splashes of our feet through the water. "There's not enough time now to follow this through to its fullest, but I reassure you that he is one of the most loyal and reliable men you will ever meet in your life. What matters is not what mistakes he made in the past, but what he does now earnestly as my dear friend. That, Feng Wen, is a reflection of an individual's true character."
I said nothing, instead trying to digest everything that was said. How can she just discredit his past so easily? I thought discerningly, What if this is all a ruse? What if he decides to turn back to his old ways, or betray us? No matter how much I tried, I was unable to wrap my head around such an accepting mentality. Is her bond with that man that strong, her faith that resilient?
"Stop." Western Wind suddenly said in the party chat, causing everyone to come to a halt.
"What is it?" Prince said, looking around the area. But the only movement that could be seen in the dim light were small ripples along the water's surface, created by our feet trudging through the reservoir.
"Listen." He replied, his face the most serious I had ever seen it. A soft plunk, plunk could be heard from an adjacent hall. Prince moved his dao in that direction, but it was too far away as well as too long for us to get a clear image.
"It just sounds like water dripping. What's so concerning about that?" I asked, disgruntled that our progress was being slowed by something so trivial.
"That's not water, boy." Western Wind unsheathed his sword, "We've got company."
"WHITE INFERNO RHAPSODY!" Prince bellowed, swinging his dao savagely in the direction of the sound. The entire cistern suddenly went bright as a large white flame engulfed the dao and sprung forward, followed by a series of yells.
"Aquarius' Embrace!" A woman's voice shouted, the water beneath us suddenly taking a life of its own. I was knocked off my feet by the current now forming, and enveloped by the water. The fire from Prince's dao was extinguished as he too fell prey to the spell, the area now returning to darkness.
I quickly regained my footing, grabbing my sword as I struggled to move in my water-logged armor. Sounds of water churning and splashing echoed off the walls, making a loud and disorienting clamor of noise that worsened by the second. My vision was blurred from water streaming down from my soaked hair, clearing only slightly as my eyes adjusted to the sensation.
I began to move my free hand to my face when the same feminine voice reprimanded, "Ta-ta-ta! I wouldn't move a single muscle of that cute body if I was you!"
The cistern lit up once more from an unknown source, revealing male players from a variety of classes surrounding us. I blinked for a moment, then saw a petite female mage somehow standing on the water's surface. "After all, I don't want my boys here to hurt such beautiful men such as Prince and yourself!"
"Pretty Princess." Prince growled, tightening his grip on the dao.
"Careful, Prince." Ugly Wolf warned, "If it wasn't obvious enough already, she's a water mage. Not only are your fire attacks useless against her, but we are surrounded by her strongest element."
A slight blush spread across Pretty Princess' face as she giggled, "Oh, Prince! It's so wonderful to hear my name pass through your lips!" Her comment seemed to cause a ripple of envy among the men, whose glares intensified towards Prince and myself.
"Even if Prince isn't much good, there's still Western Wind and I." I remarked, "All these groupies of hers look weak like the rest we've seen."
My face must have betrayed my thoughts, as Pretty Princess turned to me and tilted her head with an amused smile. "Still thinking about trying to escape, sweetheart?" She then walked over and knelt down in front of me, the water beneath her solid as stone. "Since you don't seem to care about your own safety, maybe you'll care more for the one who seems to value yours so highly. Even in his sleep, the only name he mumbled was yours." She placed a finger on her lips with a facetious expression, "What do you call him, again? Zhi Sano?"
"WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO HONG PENG!?" I roared, making a grab for her. She backed away just in time, her little entourage tightening the circle surrounding us. Western Wind quickly pulled me back, which only angered me more. "LET GO OF ME! I'M GOING TO STRANGLE THAT LITTLE BITCH IF SHE DID ANYTH— "
"Calm yer'self, kid! You think yer' in any position to make demands?" Western Wind hissed, tightening his hold as I continued my attempt to struggle out of his grasp.
Pretty Princess pouted. "What a mean thing to say! Maybe if you're a little nicer, I'll let you see your partner before we execute him and the others!"
"LIKE HELL YOU'LL TOUCH HIM!" I screamed back.
"Game or not, we can not let them kill anyone, Prince." Ugly Wolf said, "We need to handle this diplomatically or everything we have worked for will have been for nothing."
"Feng Wen." Prince began, his voice the same soothing tone that Mom would use in real life. I slowly came to a standstill as Prince continued, "Hong Peng must be one of the hostages. If we go peacefully, we might be able to rescue him."
No matter how much I wanted that wench's neck in my hands, Prince's reasoning was true. I forced a somber sigh, masking my fury with an expression of feigned resignation. "Fine," I muttered to the woman. "We surrender."
Hong Peng's PoV
"... why have you called me again?"
There's that voice again... Where have I heard it before...? My mind felt numb, and all senses but sound were impaired.
"Is it wrong to call my lover, Lei Qiang?" Replied a sultry voice, one which I had become acquainted with in the last week.
My blood ran cold. No... There's no way...
The first voice let out a deep chuckle, "Amusing you call me that when you actively pursue Prince's lover, Guiliastes. You really do live up to your name, don't you, Lovely Consort?"
"You wouldn't have asked me to get close to Yi Min's little priest friend if I didn't, now would you?" She replied, "Who would have thought he would be so easy to play with! I can't see how someone as gorgeous and cool as Yi Min could even stand to be around the guy, and he even had the gall to desert him the first chance a pretty girl looked his way! Does the kid really think any woman would pick him over Yi Min?”
Her words cut me deep, No— I— It wasn't... I desperatelytried to find another excuse, but all I could find was my own fault. Instead, all I found were the flaws in the false logic I had clung to before. I kept telling myself that my actions were beneficial for us both... I told myself that he would be safer if I kept my distance from him. That he would be better off without me. My heart wrenched at the realization of my own stupidity, and now look where I am. In the middle of the lions' den, alone and undeserving of salvation. I could only pray at this point that my selfish actions would keep Feng Wen from here, I'm not worthy his loyalty or compassion, anyway. I never have been.
"Don't you ever speak of that troublesome brat in such a manner, woman." He hissed, "He's a greater threat than you could ever imagine. Greater than Prince or even the Silver-Masked Fox."
Lovely Consort let out a frightened squeak, "Forgive me, Wan Sui Ye! I'll never speak of that boy again! But..." she trailed off nervously, "If I may ask, why bother with this kid when Yi Min is of so much more importance? I mean, you even told me not to bother remembering his name!"
I let out a sharp gasp, he considers Feng Wen a greater threat than those two? The conversation that had carried on in the background suddenly came to a halt, fuck.
I heard the click-clack of Lovely Consort's heels against the stone floor as he spoke suspiciously, “Are you sure you used the full dose of that toxin?”
“O-Of course!” She stammered, her voice now drawing closer. I relaxed my muscles and slowed my breathing, a contrast of my racing thoughts. “I-I mean neither of us imagined he was going to suddenly decide he didn't want to see me anymore...” Her tone suddenly became malicious, grabbing my jaw and digging her nails into my skin, “How dare he think someone as lowly as him can call it quits on me? Does he think he's better than me? Or maybe...” She snickered as her talons began to draw blood. “Maybe he finally saw Min Feng Wen's jealousy of the attention I was giving him, and thought he was going to steal me away from him.”
What a disgusting, egotistical woman. Her words another reminder of the sheer idiocy of my actions, leaving more of a sting than the new wound on my face.
“Say one more word involving that boy,” That man's voice began, his tone causing me to cower, “and your fate will match the others.” She said nothing, but the hand on my face trembled.Instead, her hand left my face and I heard her move back to her original spot. He continued in a cryptic manner, “When we are finished here, I'll be moving my good friend to the villa near XX City. His assistance has been most beneficial as of late, so I believe he deserves to be let outside every once in a while.”
“A-And what of Wan Sui Ye?” Lovely Consort asked apprehensively, her form of address now making me sick.
What that bastard said next confirmed my deepest fears, “I will stay at my palace, to wait for Prince and that problematic child. They will come for me, a fate that no one can escape. And when they do, they will learn of Tiāntáng Lóng's glory at the end of the Huang Taizi's blade.”
A loud knock on wood came from in front of me, followed by another man's voice, “Mistress, you requested me to inform you when the other Madam returned to the castle. She succeeded in capturing Prince and his team.”
Her voice was laced with ill intentions, “Excellent! Who else was with him?”
“As expected, Yi Min was in Prince's entourage.” As the man began, my heart dropped into my stomach, “The Madam wished me to inform you that the plan was successful, with Yi Min surrendering immediately upon learning of Zhi Sano's capture.”
No... No! I wanted to scream, to curse out loud from hearing those words. After everything I did, why do you still insist on coming after me? My insides started to twist from frustration, you're not safe around me anymore...
Lovely Consort giggled, a sound that was once pleasing but now brewed contempt in me. “Wonderful! Tell her to bring them here. I'm sure Yi Min will have a lot to say to his teammate once he sees me here.” The man excused himself, and I heard Lovely Consort's voice projected from behind once more, “You are truly a genius, Lei Qiang! To think we could make good of the little hiccup in our previous plan, by fabricating that rumor about hostages!”
“Enough flattery,” He replied, clearly annoyed with her pandering.“Go prepare for their arrival. Do not fail me like the others, Lovely Consort.”
I remained still till I heard her walk past me and close the wooden door behind her. I've got to warn them, I desperately tried to PM Feng Wen, then Prince, and even Gui. But it was useless, the toxin was still in effect. The poison was so powerful that it hampered nearly every sense and line of communication. I bit my bottom lip, damn it. This is all my fault. I can't just sit here, I've got to do something.
I weakly moved my wrists, testing the strength of the rope and knots that held me bound. I could tell the rope was a strong, heavy-duty type that even a warrior of my level would struggle to break with sheer force, much less a priest. The knot was decent as well, and it would be pointless to try to undo it from my position. This seems to be the only thing physically constraining me, though, I noted, as I was able to freely jerk my torso and legs around in every direction. I assumed they thought that the toxin itself would have been enough, only placing a blindfold and rope on my wrists as a simple precaution. I'm surprised someone like him would allow them to do such amateur work.
I took a moment to think of a plan, I should be able to since my dexterity is higher in-game... I lifted both of my legs up and placed both feet on the seat of the chair, placing me in an uncomfortable crouched position, my back braced up against the high wooden back of the chair. I began to push myself up with my legs, feeling every uncomfortable bump and groove of the decorated back against my spine as I made my ascension. Within a few seconds I felt my arms freed over the chair, and quickly swung them underneath me to bring them in front of my body. I couldn't help but have a small smirk between my deep breaths, lifting my hands up to push the blindfold off my eyes. Still got it.
Seeing as the toxin's effect was slowly decreasing, though it was still very much active, from how exhausting such a simple action was, I tried again to PM Feng Wen. But again I was met with an error, much to my displeasure. Looking around the room I first saw the large wooden door in front of me, and then a large crystal to my right, immediately telling me that I was in the main room of the tower. Seems they decided it was safest to keep me holed up with them in the most important room, figuring I couldn't break it on my own if I did escape. Not that I would though, that right belonged to Prince and Prince only. I have no interest in being a ruler of any kind.
The room wasn't truly a room either, where instead of walls stood columns in classic Ottoman style to hold up the circular enclosure. This allowed an open view of the city below and the soft glow of the approaching sunrise. Looking to my left I only saw more of the city, initially bewildered by the lack of wind from the high altitude till I noticed the sun's rays giving a slight glare against a transparent surface. To my back, I saw much of the same except a small device built into the ceiling.
One exit, several stories high, in a glass room held up by an inner and outer circle of columns. I debated the scenarios that could unfold if the area became a battlefield, one way in and out is troublesome, but there's decent cover. The columns are also spaced close enough that someone of Prince's caliber could easily maneuver to the crystal in a fire fight. I furrowed my brow, realizing however that the likelihood of any projectiles was slim considering the individuals I knew would be present. I figured Ugly Wolf would have replaced me and Western Wind still came along. I knew Lovely Consort was a thief, but I had no idea what Pretty Princess was. I'll have to assume she may be the one person with projectile attacks, like an archer or mage.
I heard a faint series of steps from somewhere out in the hall, causing me to quickly slip my blindfold back on and slink back down in my original position in the chair. I listened closely as I heard the footsteps come closer to the door, before passing and slowly fading away in the other direction. Just a guard, I guess. I decided once more to try the PM system again, this time messaging Prince. I don't know where exactly they are leading them, but he probably needs to know about what I've learned more than anyone.
“Hong Peng?” Prince's shocked voice came through the PM system.
“Finally, it went through!” I exclaimed happily, quickly asking about my foremost worries, “Where are you guys? Is Feng Wen okay?”
The sound of surprise still continued as he replied, “We've been captured by Pretty Princess, with them taken us into the castle now and taking us upstairs. As for Feng Wen...” His hesitation worsened my anxiety, but he finally answered, “Well, I think it's best if I wait to tell him you've messaged me.”
Hearing his response about Feng Wen was discomforting, but I couldn't dwell on it. Keeping him safe and getting Prince's castle back was the number one priority, “Listen to me, Prince. I don't know what exactly Pretty Princess has told you, but there's more going on than what we originally thought.”
“What do you mean?” Prince asked, and I quickly explained the conversation I overheard. The line went silent, causing a small rise of panic that I had lost the ability to communicate with him again. Finally in a grave voice he replied, “This is bad. This is really bad. I never imagined Western Wind's ex-wife would be involved with Lei Qiang. He's already starting to make moves outside the game again, using his pawns to do his dirty work. It's only a matter of time now before he sends out his favorite dog...”
My mind was swimming in fear and panic, the future looking bleaker by the second. My lack of response must have tipped Prince off to react, “It's okay, Hong Peng. While this is sobering news, now we know what his plan is. Let's focus on getting out of this mess first, alright?”
I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat, “Right...”
Special Note: This chapter has some previously undefined forms of address used, and it is my challenge to you, my readers, to try to find out their meaning and tell me in the reviews! I will only say that they do have relevance to the plot, so I would highly recommend doing this exercise.
Chapter 21: Chapter 20
Since Lovely Consort had now returned, the wait for the group's arrival was excruciating. I ran the plan that Prince had explained in my head over and over again, trying to make sense of it, yet finding none.
“Don't you have a shield spell?” Prince had asked me after our initial conversation.
“Yes,” I answered, “it reflects any projectile attack away from the selected area or wearer, and back to the caster.”
“Perfect! I want you to use it on Lovely Consort as soon as possible.”
“On Lovely Consort?” I asked, completely bewildered by Prince's request.
“You'll see, trust me.” He replied reassuringly, “We're almost there now, so be ready.”
I had asked what he was planning, but I was met with silence from the other line. Worse yet, Lovely Consort had arrived shortly after the end of the conversation with Prince, leaving me to predict where Lovely Consort would be located by the time Prince executed his plan. It's not like I can cast it on her without her seeing the status effect, I had reminded myself, while I listened to the sound of her movements within the room.
I finally decided to cast the barrier to the right of me upon the sound of wood scrapping against the stone flooring and Lovely Consort's excited muttering. “Wait 'til they see me!” She mumbled to herself in anticipation, “Prince and Yi Min will be furious to see a pretty girl tied up so brutishly!”
Other indistinct sounds accompanied her monologue, until finally she exclaimed, “Oh! I guess this wouldn't work out too well if the kid still looked like a hostage, would it?”
No matter how tempting it was to ruin her fun by revealing myself at that time, I maintained my comatose appearance as she undid my blindfold and rope. I just hope whatever Prince has planned actually works...
Not long after, the loud groan of the main doors could be heard, signalling their arrival. With the hasty whisper of a spell, Lovely Consort released me from the poison's effect. I opened my eyes cautiously, wary of what scene I would be greeted with.
In front of me stood a group of ten or so, only four of the faces which I recognized. While Ugly Wolf and Prince maintained their typical composure, and Western Wind paled as his sight focused on Lovely Consort, it was Feng Wen's that was the most unnerving for me.
With a harrowing glare, the rest of his face was void of emotion. His piercing stare jotted between Lovely Consort and I, before settling on me. I had no choice but to return his gaze, frightened that any other action would ruin my chances of returning to his good graces.
“Lovely Consort? Is it really you?” Western Wind asked in disbelief, his eyes still transfixed on her.
Lovely Consort seemed shocked, “I— Uh—”
“What is the meaning of this!?” Pretty Princess exclaimed. “Why are you tied up and not the kid?”
“W-What are you talking about?” Lovely Consort stuttered before quickly regaining her composure, “You and Zhi Sano are the ones who kidnapped me!”
“Kidnapped you!?” Pretty Princess shouted indignantly. Her fist shook with rage as she clenched her wand, a clue to Prince's plan. Oh I see now. If Pretty Princess attacks her, it'll repel back at her!
“Are you really that dumb of a bitch to have forgotten your own captive, already!?” Lovely Consort hissed, before she turned to Western Wind with a pitiful whine, “Babe! Don't think I forgot about you after all these years! When Second Life rebooted to be Life 2.0, I only got on this game to find you again, dear!”
Western Wind seemed conflicted, “R-Really? B-But what abou—”
“What are you, stupid!?” Pretty Princess interrupted, pointing an accusing finger at me, “That whore and Lei Qiang were the ones who wanted to get close to this useless idiot of a kid in the first pl—” Her words were cut short by the sudden crack of her tibia snapping.
Prince was in shock, “Feng—!”
“Don't you dare ever speak of him in such a manner.” Feng Wen said coolly as he looked down on Pretty Princess, who had fallen from his bone-shattering leg sweep. He turned his attention to Lovely Consort, drawing his sword ominously as he approached her, “And you...”
No one, not even the guards, risked even a breath as Feng Wen stood in front of the thief. Lovely Consort shook with fear as he lifted her jaw with the point of his blade, “Y-Yes...?” She whimpered helplessly.
“You disgust me.” His tone was callous. “To go so low as to sell your soul to devils such as Lei Qiang and his spineless heir, you're no less a murderer and a coward than them.”
No. Please. This isn't him, this can't be him. I thought in a panic— Feng Wen's words were so cruel for a man who I knew to be so good-natured and caring. He gripped her face in a manner similar to how Lovely Consort had done to mine earlier, his left metal gauntlet slowly crushing her jaw as he prepared his sword with his right. Without a thought, I shouted, “Feng Wen! Stop!”
Feng Wen froze, a split second of silence passing before he let go of her. He turned his head, showing his pained expression, “Hong Peng?”
“Let her be. She isn't worth our time, she never was.” I replied with a soft smile.
My words seemed to bring some comfort, yet Feng Wen still looked troubled. He absently dropped his sword, cautiously starting his way towards me, “Hong Peng...”
Feng Wen had barely taken two steps before Pretty Princess' voice rang out, “Dilong's Wrath!” The stones in the wall began to crack and pop out as torrents of water spewed out, quickly taking the shape of dragons. The water dragons raced through the air towards Feng Wen, only to ricochet off the spell I had laid down earlier in that area, sending the dragons back towards Pretty Princess. An explosion of water flooded that part of the room, sending Pretty Princess and everyone behind her flying into the wall.
I pushed my now-soaked hair from my eyes “It just had to involve dragons,” I grumbled.
“You!” Lovely Consort bellowed. I didn't have time to turn my head before I was pulled off my chair and into Feng Wen's firm grip. I looked back to see a throwing dagger embedded in the top of the chair, right where my neck had been a moment before. “This is all your fault! If you hadn't had your little change of heart, I would have had Lei Qiang and Gui to myself!”
I couldn't help but scoff at such a bold claim, “Do you really think a bastard like him would only be fooling around with you? I assure you, you're only one of a dozen of women if not more in his routine.”
“You know nothing about him!” She screamed, my words obviously touching a nerve as she attempted to throw another dagger at us. As I expected, even with me in tow, Feng Wen effortlessly dodged the attack with his high dexterity. “You think you know his plans? That his only targets are Yi Min and Prince?” she said menacingly, causing Feng Wen's hold to tighten.
She smiled. “Oh no, he wants their families. He wants your family.” Her smile turned into a grin, “He knows about your mother, and your baby brother. You think they're safe from him? No one is. Not you, not him, not even me! But that's okay, you know why?” She reached for the sheath on her hip, pulling out a dagger much larger and threatening than the others. “Because I'll just kill both of you here, then I'll find you in real life and kill you there too! Then he'll be so happy with me, maybe he will let me be his wife!” Her hand began to shake with excitement as she began to inch towards us, “What a wonderful fate—”
She suddenly stopped walking, confusion on her face as she looked down to see a sword driven into her back and through her rib cage. On the other end was Western Wind, his breath ragged with emotion as he said, “The only fate you have, you psychotic bitch, is one in hell!” With a roar, he drove the sword further into her back, until it was evident that only the hilt remained.
Not a moment later, Lovely Consort disappeared in a ray of light. I looked over to where the rest of the group had been, only to see that Prince and Ugly Wolf remained. “Where did everyone else go?” I asked.
“Well, while you two were busy playing around with that crazy woman, we cleaned house of who remained from that gigantic water spell.” Prince replied calmly.
“Prince, does that mean you routinely kick people off the tower when you're cleaning your house?” Ugly Wolf joked.
Prince smirked. “I've been tempted a couple of times with Gui and my idiot brother.”
Well, it seems like the worst is over now. Seeing as there wouldn't be anymore fighting, I began to break away from Feng Wen, only to be met with resistance. “Uh, Feng Wen? The battle is over, you can let go now—”
“Are you going to leave again?” He asked severely.
I was unsure of what to say, especially with the audience we had. “Feng Wen, we can talk about this later. You can let go now,” I replied reassuringly, attempting to escape again - only for his grip to tighten. Does he not realize the severity of the situation we just found out we are in?
“No, I want an answer now.” He replied, his tone fragile.
“Feng Wen, this really isn't the time for this,” I said sternly, continuing to struggle against his grip. “There are more important things we need to take care of—”
“Stop pushing me away, Hong Peng!” He yelled, bringing me to a standstill. Up to this point I had not dared to look at his face, but I was forced to see that pained expression again as he fell to his knees, wrapping his arms around my neck. “Don't push me away again...”
I really am the worst, the guilt twisting my insides once more. I put my arms around him to comfort him, I can't win. Either I continue to endanger him, or I hurt him. I let out a sigh, “I don't deserve such a loyal companion as you, Feng Wen. And because of that, it seems I have no choice now but to do everything in my power to protect you.”
“Hong Peng...” He trailed off, lifting his head enough for me to see the relief on his face. He looked at me for a moment before he touched the dried blood on my face, “She hurt you earlier, didn't she?”
“Ah, don't worry about it.” I said reassuringly, followed by a sad smile, “It didn't hurt as badly as I hurt you, I'm sure.”
Feng Wen gave a small laugh, “Are you sure they didn't get you drunk too? I think you might be confusing me for a pretty girl with those kind of words!”
That's the Feng Wen I know. I couldn't hide my grin, “Me? What about you!? You were—”
“Okay, okay!” Western Wind shouted in annoyance, “How about after ya' two get a room, ya' can help Prince claim his city back?”
“Always one to ruin a heartwarming moment, Western Wind,” Prince remarked dryly. “but he does make a good point.” Prince began to walk past us and towards the crystal in the center of the room, “we need to get this done and then start preparing for tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Feng Wen asked.
Prince nodded solemnly and turned to look at me, “Yes. Tomorrow we are moving the Jun family into protective custody.”
Chapter 22: Chapter 21
Feng Lan's PoV
As I was buttoning my coat up, I looked in the mirror to examine my appearance. No hint of armor underneath, good. Even though it was just a small precaution to move Hong Peng and his family in case Lei Qiang attempted to use Hong Peng again for whatever sick plan he had up his sleeves, it was still taken with utmost severity. Bringing Feng Wen and I out in the open is a hazard more than ever, especially if Hong Peng heard right. Lei Qiang's new object of obsession is Feng Wen... I felt my chest tighten as I felt both anger and anxiety rise, remembering words from long ago, “Do not think this is the last we will see of each other, Prince. I will not rest until your legacy is but a faint memory to the world.”
I tried to push the memory away as I approached my son's bedroom door. From within I heard him talking to someone, though too softly for me to distinguish exactly what. “Feng Wen, are you ready?” I asked as I pushed open the door.
“Y-Yes!” he said, sounding surprised by my presence. With the door fully opened, I saw him scramble from his bed with his coat and shoes on.
I couldn't help but grin at his startled appearance. “Good, but were you talking to yourself in there or something? I heard you whispering before I opened the door.”
“No! Hong Peng and I were talking... for quite a long time, actually...” He trailed off softly, fondly thinking back on whatever conversation they had held.
“I'm glad to hear you two are getting along again.” I replied, delighted to see my son happy and at ease once more. I looked down at his left leg, glad to see the cast now gone, “How's it feel to finally have it off? Is your ankle still doing alright?”
Feng Wen smiled, a contrast to his somber tone. “Yeah, it's doing great now. I'm really glad you convinced Wolf-yīshēng to come by early this morning to take it off...”
“I'm happy your ankle is better, but something tells me there's more on your mind, son,” I replied, giving him a knowing look as we began our walk to the garage.
Feng Wen shifted his gaze away for a brief moment, “Mom, I know that you know more about the syndicate than you have told me... I want you to tell me all you know.”
“Mom, please! You promised me,” he pleaded.
With a sigh, I looked away from my son's desperate expression and gazed at the elaborate details of our home. “I wish I could tell you as much as you think I know, Feng Wen. If I knew everything about Tiāntáng Lóng, Arctic Fox and I would have gotten rid of them a long time ago. But the truth is I don't know that much more than anyone else does. I've fought against Lei Qiang for over 30 years, and yet have only confronted him twice.”
I turned my head back, seeing Feng Wen intently listening. We turned the corner into the kitchen as I continued, “Once was when I first learned of Tiāntáng Lóng, following a series of events that is another story in itself. I didn't see his face, and he didn't see mine. But he assured me that he would not rest until he had eradicated me and my family from the Earth.”
“You must have done something to really piss him off.” Feng Wen said, sounding a bit impressed.
I gave a coy smile. “Like I said, a story for another time.”
We had finally reached the garage and now waited on Kenshin to arrive to accompany us. “And what about the second time?” Feng Wen asked.
The memory left a bitter taste in my mouth. “Not long before we found out we were having you, Arctic Fox approached me with information of a new threat stemming from Tiāntáng Lóng. I was not at liberty to know the details, but I knew it was a grave matter by Fox's expression.”
Feng Wen let out a small gasp, “Uncle Fox never shows emotion!”
“Exactly,” I replied. Kenshin walked in at that moment, his face unreadable as usual. “which is why I accompanied Arctic Fox that very night to the base where Lei Qiang was residing. Unfortunately Ice Emperor's soldiers had already started to lay siege to it by the time we arrived, giving Lei Qiang enough time to escape.”
“But they got rid of the threat, right?” Feng Wen asked, watching the transporter light up as Kenshin activated it.
“I believe so.” I said, not as confident as I wanted to be.
“It's ready.” Kenshin said, turning his head back to me.
“Let's not waste anymore time, then.” I replied, looking over at Feng Wen.
Feng Wen's expression was thoughtful, evidence that he was still stuck on our prior conversation. “Right,” he said, before finally a smile formed, “You know, this will be the first time I've been to Hong Peng's house!”
I made my way into the transporter, “Well, it's not like you've exactly had the opportunity to in the short time you've known him.”
Feng Wen nodded, his sweet smile still present. “It may be, but even the first day it felt like we had known each other for ages.”
I gave him a knowing look as my sight slowly dimmed, “Like I said before, a good friend can be determined by who they are now. Not by their past, their status, or the time in knowing them.”
Before Feng Wen could reply, I was greeted by bright light of the outdoors. Stepping out of the transporter, I found myself in a small, gated community. What a quaint little place! Now recognizing it as the neighborhood near our home, well if 20 minutes away is considered close, anyway.
After Feng Wen and Kenshin came through, it wasn't long before we were in front of the Jun residence. A house indistinguishable from the rest of the traditional-style houses, it was a textbook example of a normal family home. Something which I had no experience in, even before I had become Prince. With my irresponsible parents running to god knows where every month, I was taking care of both Yang Ming and myself by the time I was thirteen!
I knocked on the front door, which prompted movement from within the house. “I got it!” yelled an unfamiliar, male voice. While similar in its lighthearted tone to Hong Peng, it was higher in pitch and booming, unlike Hong Peng's deeper and soft-spoken voice.
“Ye Shing, it's okay! I'll get it!” I heard Hong Peng from behind the door.
“Why are you being so weird, lately?” Ye Shing asked in annoyance, “Do you think there are assassins behind the door or something?”
“Oh no, wait I got a better one!” Ye Shing began, “Let me guess, your imaginary 'best friend' decided to come visit you finally?”
Hong Peng laughed nervously, “Haha, funny you should say that—”
“Oh give me a break, big brother!” Ye Shing exclaimed, “You've been doing this whole 'buddies with famous people' way too long now!” The door began to open, “I get you want to impress Mom but next you're going to tell me that we're going to have a sleepover with the Odd Squad—”
With brown, wavy hair and adorable round face, the dumbfounded young man behind the door looked like a slightly taller version of Zhi Sano. His mouth continued to move, but no sound came as he stared in disbelief at Feng Wen.
“Is this your little brother you've talked about, Hong Peng!?” Feng Wen said excitedly, showing his lack of social skills as he began to grab the boy's face and pinch his cheeks, “He's such a cute little boy!”
Feng Wen's words must have hit a nerve with Ye Shing, who snapped out of his shell-shocked state to loudly complain, “Little boy!? Excuse you sir, I'm only a year younger than you!”
“You're fifteen!?” Feng Wen said in disbelief, before turning to Hong Peng, “Were you this short at fifteen?”
“No... You could say I've always been mature looking for my age...” Hong Peng replied in an awkward tone.
"Hong Peng, are you going to explain why the hell the champion of the Central Continent is on our goddamn doorstep!?" Ye Shing demanded.
“Maybe when you finally listen to me, and stop swearing so much!” Hong Peng remarked in annoyance. “If you're not going to tone it down on a daily basis, at least do so in front of guests!”
I let out a small laugh, catching the attention of the two, “Your brother certainly is different from you, Hong Peng.”
It seemed that Ye Shing finally noticed Kenshin and I's presence, focusing on me with an enthusiastic grin. “I-I'm sorry, I didn't see you there!” He stuttered as he held out his hand, “I'm Jun Ye Shing, and you are his...? Sister? Cousin?”
I took his hand to shake it, yet Hong Peng introduced me before I had the chance, “That's Feng Wen's mom, Ye Shing,” letting out an exasperated sigh.
Ye Shing let out an embarrassed chuckle and quickly let go of my hand, “Oh! Nice to meet you, ma'am!”
A soft woman's voice came from within the home, “Hong Peng? Is that your friend at the door?” A moment later a petite, raven haired beauty appeared at the door.
“Yes Mom, it's Feng Wen. His mother and uh—” Hong Peng glanced at Kenshin with uncertainty, “housekeeper are also here with him.”
“Housekeeper...” Kenshin mumbled under his breath. Better than being called a maid!
Feng Wen gave a nod and large smile, “It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs. Jun!”
As expected, Mrs. Jun's first impression of Feng Wen was obvious by her flustered expression, “The pleasure is all mine!” She turned to give me a smile, “You're Feng Wen's mother, correct? Please, come in! Hong Peng told me that you and I have quite a bit to talk about!”
Upon her invitation, Hong Peng pulled his brother back from the door, allowing me to make my way into the house. “Indeed we do, but we will have to keep it brief for now, Mrs. Jun.” I replied, “Right now time is of the essence, it's imperative that you and your family are moved somewhere safe.”
Mrs. Jun seemed very perplexed by my statement, “Please, call me Shu Fang. Yes, Hong Peng told me that was the reason why you were coming. But he never explained why that would even be necessary. I haven't even spoken to their father or sister about any of this yet!”
“It's best right now if you don't,” I began, vaguely knowing some of the basics of Hong Peng's family dynamics. “The less people that know, the better. Keeping them out of the loop will protect them from becoming targets as well.”
“Targets?” Shu Fang asked worriedly.
Hong Peng let out a sigh before placing a hand on Feng Wen's shoulder, “Would you help me finish packing?” Feng Wen eagerly nodded, followed by Hong Peng saying, “Thanks, and you're coming to pack too, Ye Shing!”
“What!?” Ye Shing complained, though he immediately followed Hong Peng and Feng Wen deeper into the house, “I wanna know what the hell is going on here!”
“Well, maybe if you do as I say and pack your bags, I'll tell you!” Hong Peng griped back, before opening a door and directing both of the young men through it.
With the children now in Hong Peng's room, Shu Fang and I were left alone in the main room. Shu Fang sat down on their maroon sofa, and gestured to its matching chair, “You were saying, Mrs. Min?”
I waved my hand, declining her offer. “I'm fine, but thank you.” Even with Kenshin here, I must stay vigilant. I took a deep breath, knowing what the weight of my words would be, “Shu Fang, I know you will not understand everything I am about to tell you, so bear with me until I can explain further. As of right now, my son and I are being pursued by the notorious crime syndicate Tiāntáng Lóng. Because of this, they've already attempted to use Hong Peng to get to Feng Wen, and we fear they will try again, either with him or with his own family. This is why it was decided in conjunction with the local law enforcement that you and your family be under our protection until this is resolved.”
As expected, Shu Fang's expression showed her confusion and fear. She spoke in a quiet voice, “Why... Why are they after you?” A bought of muffled chuckles, recognizable as Hong Peng and Feng Wen, came from behind the door. Shu Fang glanced over at the door, before a third voice within the room shushed the two, “I know I can trust you, and Feng Wen. I can trust you because of my son. Hong Peng speaks highly of you and your family, and I've seen the good influence on Hong Peng since he's befriended Feng Wen. And because of that, I cannot understand why a group so terrible has set its eyes on you.”
I looked down at my feet, I knew I had to tell her. Why did I think I could hide it? I remembered the promise I made to Feng Wen, No more secrets. That applies to the public, too. Once this is all over, I'll tell it to the world. With determination, I looked her straight in the eyes, “Because I'm Prince. My enemies transcend the limits of the game, where I've battled Tiāntáng Lóng and other nefarious groups for over 30 years.”
Before Shu Fang could even make a sound, a bellow came from behind the bedroom door, “What? Are you telling me that a few minutes ago I hit on the Overlord of the Central Continent!?” Which led to roars of laughter from Hong Peng and Feng Wen, “Guys, shut up! This isn't funny! What if my friends found out!?”
I let out a small snicker, and saw that even Shu Fang had cracked a small smile. I returned it with a smile of my own, “I know it's a lot to take in, and you may still have your doubts, but I assure you that you're in the best hands that Asia has.”
Shu Fang glanced over at the door again, her smile still holding, “I've always been told I'm too trusting of people. Yet,” Shu Fang turned to me, “out of everyone I've ever met, you seem the most sincere. So have no worries, you have my trust.”
Chapter 23: Chapter 22
A week had passed since the Jun family had been safely moved into my home. The transition was smooth, with spirits higher than they had been for quite some time. It had become routine for Shu Fang to accompany me in cooking, where we would make enough food to feed the small army that had become my household. It had also become typical to see Hong Peng storm Feng Wen's bedroom to wake him up in the morning, or Gui be asked a barrage of questions by Ye Shing. I can't deny I love having an extra set of hands that knows how to cook, or how refreshing it is to not be the one who has to threaten Feng Wen to get up in the morning. And I don't think I've ever seen anyone so interested in Chinese history than Ye Shing, he has truly become a delightful companion to my husband.
Yet even still the worry of Lei Qiang's heir, the Haung Taizi, reappearing nagged my every thought. Tomorrow we meet and discuss our next course of action. Both Gui and Nan Gong Zui are certain that they are unaware of our plan, and that Lei Qiang would not send Huang Wei far from him, but there's always that chance... My heart seemed to flutter on the subject, will I be able stand my ground this time? To defend this home if he strikes?
With time drawing nearer, I decided I would take my suit of armor to Lolidragon for improvements. I walked into my study, unexpectedly finding Hong Peng sitting in my reading chair. With my old novel in hand, he seemed to express the same somber feeling as I before he realized I had entered the room. “Ah, I'm sorry!” He quickly apologized, dropping the book as he abruptly stood up from the chair, “I should have asked your permission Min-fūrén*, I just wanted to sit down and read a little before—”
“Why need to apologize for that, Hong Peng?” I asked before I teased, “If anything you should apologize for acting so formal with me. Do you not remember that this is your house as much as it is mine? Or that my family is yours?”
Hong Peng's expression softened, followed by a shy nod. “I remember your words, yet...” He paused for a moment, “even with your sincere generosity, I think I'll always feel like an intruder.”
“Nonsense!” I exclaimed, “As I said, you are just as much a son to me as my own. In fact, I should be thanking you.” now walking over to the bookshelf that was home to my novel. Reaching up, I slid my fingers into the empty space and along the wood, pressing the button that the book normally hid. I heard the mechanical whirs of the shelf revealing my armory behind me as I turned back towards Hong Peng, who watched in awe as the wall transformed.
“W-Why is that?” Hong Peng stuttered, his gaze now transfixed on the suit that was displayed on the center wall of the armory.
I approached the suit, looking it over for any possible damage left after its last repair. “For as long as I can remember, Feng Wen has always kept to himself.” I ran my hand over the right shoulder, where only a couple of months before I had been stabbed by Fan's android. “He didn't befriend his classmates, go out to play or have fun with children his age, nor even show interest in dating. He liked staying home; whether it was spending time with us, reading, or happily tinkering with electronics.”
“He told me he can't trust people.” Hong Peng replied, “That they're shallow and only want something out of him, so he's always suspicious when he's approached by someone.”
I couldn't help but feel disheartened by those words. For they confirmed something that I had always known to be true, but wish it wasn't. “I know Gui and I are at least partly to blame for that attitude, if not the reason entirely.” I focused on a large gash up the armor's right palm, which had been welded back together after my close encounter with the Huang Taizi three years ago. “After all the incidents that occurred with Lan Lan when she was younger, when we found out we were expecting a second child we grew fearful for their safety. As Feng Wen grew older, we realized that it wouldn't take long for someone like Lei Qiang to make a connection if he were to even see him. So we went to extreme lengths to shield him from the world... to shield him from who we really were. From who I am.”
“That bastard is persistent. If he's chased after you for this long he would have eventually learned about Feng Wen anyway.” Hong Peng said in disdain, “People like him are irrational, they'll continue to search for their prey until they've succeeded or they've bred a dog in an attempt to do it for them.”
I nodded solemnly, “But even in such tribulation, he's found someone he can trust— you, Hong Peng.” I turned and gave Hong Peng a soft smile, “And for that, you have Gui and I's deepest gratitude. Thank you for being by our son's side in our darkest hour.”
Hong Peng looked lost as to how to react, his face tinged with pink as he awkwardly mumbled, “No, don't thank me... I don't deserve it, really...” He's such a modest boy, I thought fondly, his humility reaffirming my opinion of him. After he had regained his composure, he remarked, “I really had you all wrong before...”
“Wrong?” I asked in bewilderment.
Hong Peng's eyes shifted towards me, before settling on the book he had dropped on the nearby end table, “When I was much younger, I thought a lot like Feng Wen had. That Prince was this terrible, arrogant man that made a hobby of violence and womanizing a sport.” Hong Peng let out a small, half-hearted laugh, “And that's just putting it nicely. I really hated Prince. To me, he stood for everything I had come to resent.”
“Unfortunately, that's a reputation I have with many,” I replied, dejected by his confession, “and I don't think it'll ever go away, either.”
A small smile formed on his lips, “Maybe not for everyone, but it did for me. By the time I met Feng Wen, I had learned that Prince had made the world a better place, though even then I still held some bitterness towards him. It took me this long, no matter what I told myself on the surface, to accept the truth.” His smile grew into a large grin, “And now that I have, there's nothing more I want now than to live by it. That Prince has fought and continues to fight to protect the people and his loved ones.”
Even with such moving words, my somberness remained, “But not without a great price, Hong Peng. And not without many failures along the way. I have a body count I'm not proud of, all in the name of protecting my loved ones. I've failed to shelter my son away from my greatest enemy, who is now hunting him down with fervor. He won't rest until Feng Wen's blood is on his hands.”
“I won't let him!” Hong Peng exclaimed, “I'll— I'll let him have me before he gets anywhere near Feng Wen!”
“I won't let him have that chance, Hong Peng.” I said with resolve, “With Feng Wen, with you, with anyone here. I was the one who brought him onto us, and I will be the one who brings him down.”
Chapter 24: Chapter 23
Feng Wen's PoV
In the midst of forested mountains, far off from our starting point amid the trees, laid a secluded villa*. With beautiful gardens and regal architecture, the mansion was reminiscent of the country estates built for the emperors of old. But this place, even in all its splendor, did not set the same relaxing aura that was intended. I knew even then that within those walls my entire life could change in a fraction of a second.
“Here's what we know,” Nan Gong Zui's voice from three weeks ago still distinct in my mind. “Recently we were informed that Lei Qiang has been receiving financial assistance from one of the largest companies within Asia for decades now, Caishen. The owner of Caishen also so happens to have suddenly gone on a unprecedented 'leave of absence' two months ago, the time where Tiāntáng Lóng started coming out into the open again. The owner hasn't been seen or made contact by family members, leaving them worried that foul play is involved. This, along with Hong Peng's new information, leads us to believe that Lei Qiang is involved in the disappearance of this man.”
“Feng Wen...” I turned away from the sight at the sound of my mother's voice. Helmet in hand, she wore a concerned frown with her rugged armor, “Are you really sure you want to go through with this? It would make me feel so much better if you didn't go...”
“Then we need to remove him from Lei Qiang's clutches!” Mom had replied during the meeting, “Whatever might have been the case between the two beforehand, it's obvious that things have gone sour, forcing Lei Qiang to take what he wanted by force. We need to set up a team to go to the villa Lei Qiang mentioned in his discussion with Lovely Consort, and extract the owner. I can already vouch for Arctic Fox and I to be the leaders of this team. Kenshin will accompany us as well!”
“Then I volunteer to be part of it!” I declared, jumping up from my seat.
“Feng Wen, no! It's one thing to be part of this kind of stuff in-game, but this is real life! What if—”
“What if Lei Qiang finds me? Has me tortured and most likely killed?” I asked. “It's obvious at this point he knows where I am, he could send that piece of shit of a lacky he calls his heir right now and attack me if he wanted. Either way I'm in danger, and I refuse to stand idle against this tyrant!”
“I do, Mom. I really do. I won't let him threaten the lives of others, not anymore. He needs to be brought down,” I said, eliciting a downcast expression from her.
She let out a defeated sigh, “I knew you would say something like that... But you can't blame me for trying, at least.”
“Hey, don't worry so much!” I began in my attempt to reassure her. “I've got Hong Peng! You think he's just going to let me get knocked upside the head or something?”
“If Feng Wen is going, so am I.” Hong Peng announced matter-of-factly.
“Absolutely not.” Arctic Fox replied coolly.
Hong Peng's eyes narrowed questionably, “And why not?”
Arctic Fox had not been deterred by Hong Peng's icy look, “Your presence will make this more complicated.”
“As if this situation was simple to begin with?” My father remarked, “I think I can speak for my wife and I that it would give us a piece of mind if there was another set of eyes on Feng Wen.”
“This has become his battle too. His fighting skills aren't half bad, either.” Mom added, “He might need a bit more training, but we have time for that.”
Hong Peng looked back at me from securing his gun holster on his hip, “Yes, because if anyone has the right to smack that thick head of yours, it's me.”
I turned back to Mom and smiled, “See? No worries!”
She returned my smile with a half-hearted one, “Regardless, you two will stay by my side, understand?”
“Of course, Mom, of course.”
She began to run her hands over my armor, checking it for defects or imperfections, “And be careful with this armor, as well!” With her motherly instincts on overdrive, she moved to Hong Peng and started to do the same to him. The impending situation seemed to have been affecting his nerves, jumping from her initial touch on his right shoulder, and holding an anxious expression as she continued to look over, “It's not meant for taking damage, and could rip from something as small as a nail in the wall.”
“If that's the case,” Nan Gong Zui interjected, “we have enough members to split into two teams. This will allow greater coverage of the building, and back up if one group is compromised.” Nan Gong Zui's expression became severe, “Because of the nature of the mission, the armor being used will have to be lightweight and allow great range of motion. This means it offers little protection, and that you'll be nearly as vulnerable as if you were in your street clothes.”
“How come you get to wear your armor, anyway?” I asked, noticing that her armor had at least double the reinforcement that Hong Peng and I's did.
“Because,” She patted Hong Peng's arm with a satisfied smile, a signal to the end of her inspection, “if shit hits the fan, I need to be able to take the damage while you two escape.”
I nearly complained about this plan, but the stern look she gave kept my mouth closed. Instead, I swallowed the lump in my throat and put on a brave face, it won't get to that point, Feng Wen. Go in, find the guy, get out. No problems. I looked around at our six man team, who with the exceptions of Hong Peng and I, were all veteran warriors. Kenshin's body is made of the strongest material known, Nan Gong Zui is a seasoned police chief, Uncle Fox is a deadly syndicate assassin, and Mom is one of the most famous warriors in history!
I started to feel more confident, there's no way this can go wrong! Lei Qiang doesn't even know we're here! With every member geared up, we silently made our way towards the villa. For an estate its size, and one presumably holding a captive, its quiet atmosphere left an unsettling feeling over me. ... Right?
When we were within a kilometer of the estate, we stopped within a thicket to survey the building.The villa had many entrances, several of which had security guards posted at or near the doors. “This will be troublesome,” Nan Gong Zui began, his tone already exasperated, “he's bumped up the amount of guards since we were here two weeks ago. At least that confirms that our target is here now.”
“Troublesome?” Mom remarked in amusement, “This is a good sign, Nan Gong Zui. It means our information is correct, and are on the right track.” I could imagine my mom's characteristic smirk by the tone of her voice, “Anyway, when has a couple extra thugs ever stopped us?”
Nan Gong Zui nodded, “True. Then at this point let's split up, we'll have better success finding an easy entrance with smaller numbers and larger ground to cover. I'll activate our tracking frequency in case one of us hits trouble as well.” Nan Gong Zui gestured to our right, “Fox, Kenshin, and I will take the east side.”
“We'll take the west then.” Mom replied, turning in the opposite direction.
Mom had already took a couple of steps away from Nan Gong Zui before he said, “Oh, and Prince?”
Mom turned her head back towards him, “Yeah?”
“For the sake of your party's safety and my sanity, please let Hong Peng lead the way. We all know how you and Feng Wen are about direction...” Nan Gong Zui replied, causing a stifled snort from Hong Peng.
“Right...” Mom replied, unamused by the comment. She then turned to Hong Peng, “After you then, I guess.”
With Hong Peng leading us westward, we quietly made our way around the estate. It's probably is a good thing Hong Peng is in front, with every turn and twist around the gardens that surrounded the mansion, the more lost I felt, these gardens make Infinite Castle's gardens look tiny!
Hong Peng came to a sudden stop after slipping between a set of bushes, holding his right arm out behind him to stop Mom and I. With the mansion setting the backdrop for a tranquil pond surrounded by wisteria and red toons, the elegant setting was marred by the presence of a couple of boorish henchmen. “Here,” he said, bringing his arm forward to point towards the top of the mansion where a covered walkway ran across the third floor of the building. Lined with windows, the two men lazily patrolled together across the decorative balcony. “We should go through one the windows, I can't imagine there would be many guards in those rooms, if any at all.”
Mom lifted her head up to look at the walkway, then looked at Hong Peng, “The windows? Why not use one of the doors at the end of the walkway?”
“Think about it, where are the guards coming from?” Hong Peng replied, “There's only going to be more behind those doors. All the entrances are probably fortified with not only extra guards, but alarms and weapons.”
“If that's the case, we'll probably have to disable an alarm on the windows as well.” I added, taking a moment now to closer analyze the area. I carefully ran my gaze, looking for anything that could be a control panel. As luck would have it, a small rectangular box was situated on the side of the mansion, deep within a tangle of vines. I gestured towards the control panel, “Since there's three of us, two of us could take out the guards, and the other could disarm the alarm.”
Hong Peng's body seemed to stiffen at my suggestion, “If that's the case...” He began, his voice sounding unsteady, “I'm willing to try to disarm the alarm.”
“Are you sure, Hong Peng?” I asked him, worried by his reaction. “Mom could do it, and we could take out the guards inst—”
“It's bad enough one of you will be in immediate danger,” Mom interrupted, “I'd rather not have to worry about both of you tangling with those two men in particular up there.”
Before I could ask what she meant by that, Hong Peng spoke. “It's decided then. Anyway, if worst came to worst I can just use brute force, right?”
“Correct.” Mom replied, “Alright, let's go get those guards then, Feng Wen!”
We waited a moment for the guards to move farther down the walkway before dashing forward into the open. With the suits giving us the dexterity and speed we had in-game, Mom and I quickly clambered up the columns that supported the balcony. Behind us, the rustle of leaves informed me of Hong Peng's move towards the control box.
With both feet now on the dark, hardwood floors, I turned my eyes to the two men in front of us. Their backs turned, they slowly continued their stroll while deep in conversation. I glanced over to Mom, who remained still as she watched the men.
“On the count of three,” she whispered, gesturing three fingers to each guard respectively. I nodded, watching her slowly curl each finger back. On three, we both bolted towards the pair. With having longer legs, I reached the two before Mom. With a leap, I launched myself over the guards. I quickly grabbed the men's heads with my hands and smashed them into each other with a sickening thud. In perfect timing, Mom finished the job with a devastating ankle sweep, which sent both guards to the floor.
We waited a moment, posed to strike if one even murmured, but only silence followed. I let out a sigh of relief as I stood up straight, while Mom began looting their unconscious bodies. “That was easy! Why were you so worried about these two idiots?” I asked her, remembering her comment from earlier.
Her hands stopped moving, tilting her head up to look at me, “We were lucky they were distracted, Feng Wen. Because,” with a jerk, she pulled back the sleeve of one of the men, revealing the image of a wolf on his forearm, “these men are the third highest rank in the syndicate.”
I was dumbfounded, “How did you...”
She turned back to his body, now taking folded pieces of paper she had found in their pockets, “When we were watching them, his sleeve slipped down a bit when he was talking. I knew then other one had to be yazi* as well.” She stood up, twisting her head back and forth, “We're going to have to be even more careful than before. We thought Lei Qiang would step up security, but not this many guards. Nor that he would bring his top soldiers here as well.” She stood silent for a moment, “I'm starting to think there is something more going on than just a simple hostage situation...”
Chapter 25: Chapter 24
Mom's words brought back the sense of dread that I had previously felt, but I forced it back into the corner of my mind. She may be right, I began to tell myself, but that doesn't mean this mission will be any less successful. That doesn't mean...
My thoughts were interrupted by a soft clamor against the outer walls. My body tensed as I looked over the edge, ready for a fight, only to see Hong Peng. Using great speed, he scaled the wall up to the walkway with surprising ease. As he grabbed the edge, I offered my hand to pull him up, which he took readily.
“You've already disarmed the alarm?” Mom asked, her attention now focused down below where the control panel was.
“Ah, yeah.” He began, his breath a bit ragged, “it was a lot more simple than I anticipated!”
“No kidding.” Mom replied, “I guess that idiot relies more on brawns than brains, after all.” She approached one of the nearby windows. “Let's get moving,” she said, carefully and quietly opening the window sill. “I'd rather not stand around and wait for the Huang Taizi to pass by. If yazi are here, he's here as well.”
“Huang Taizi...” I muttered in disgust, the idea of meeting him face to face sending a conflicting wave of terror and bloodlust down my spine. I waited as Mom slipped into the room first, my mind racing with new, abrupt thoughts, if we could get rid of both Lei Qiang and his heir here, we wouldn't ever have to worry about them bothering us again...
“We're clear.” Mom voiced over the comm, signaling the clearance to enter.
I made my way to the window, only to realize that Hong Peng had not moved yet. I turned to see his body rigid with fright, “Hong Peng?” I asked worriedly.
“I-I-uh...” He stuttered.
I took a few steps towards him, only for him to take the same amount away from me. “Hong Peng? What's wrong?” I asked again, my chest tightening from his reaction. I thought after what happened he...
“I don't— I don't think we should...” He sputtered, continuing to back up until he had reached the railing of the walkway.
With nowhere to go, he was unable to move away as I approached him, placing what I hoped was a comforting hand on his right arm, “Is what Mom said scaring you?” I asked him. The tension in his arm lessened, yet I had to grasp his left forearm to prevent him from pulling away, “Look, even if that bastard of a heir shows up, we'll get him together okay? I don't care how good they say he is, he can't take all three of us!”
Hong Peng did not seemed reassured by my words, “Feng Wen—”
“Hong Peng... Please...” I begged him, I don't want you to be in danger either, but together we could finish them for good... Then you, then all of us, can live in peace...
Hong Peng remained quiet, the silence disturbed only by Mom's voice over the comm, “Where are you boys? Hurry up and get in here!”
I tugged on his arm, “Come on, Hong Peng. We need to go.”
“Okay...” He said, his defeated tone troubling me even more.
With the matter settled, we made our way back to the window and climbed through. Following Hong Peng, my eyes slowly adjusted from the bright sunlight of the outside to the dim interior. With bed linens designed in an obnoxious pattern, a gold trimmed chest of drawers, and some other pieces of furniture that could only be described as loud, the yellow-painted room was surely a bedroom fit for eccentric royalty.
“And I thought Infinite Castle had some tacky looking rooms.” I mumbled under my breath, I really thought the worst room I could see was the 'Prince' room Dad made 'for Mom' years ago...
“This is probably one of the better looking rooms...” Hong Peng muttered back, causing me to turn towards him, my helmet hiding my horrified expression, how pessimistic can you be to think it'll get worse!?
“We're in too,” Nan Gong Zui said over the comm, “and we've hit the jackpot. We've found the central computer of the estate. Now it's only time before Kenshin convinces the computer's AI to let us into the main network, and then their entire database is ours.”
“Unbelievable!” Mom said elatedly. “Keep us updated, I want to know any important pieces of information you come across regarding Lei Qiang and the Huang Taizi. There seems to be something much more sinister up Lei Qiang's sleeve here, to the point he has sent yazi and likely the Huang Taizi here as well.”
“Copy that, Prince.” Nan Gong Zui replied, “We'll keep an eye out for the Huang Taizi or anything suspicious. We can't let this opportunity pass, so as right now you three will be the only ones actively looking for the hostage.”
“Loud and clear, Nan Gong Zui.” Mom answered, “Good luck.”
“You too.” Nan Gong Zui said, the comm now quiet again.
Mom turned to Hong Peng and I, “Time to go find our hostage, boys. Follow me.”
On the other side of the room was a wooden door, engraved with a fierce dragon. As quietly as possible, Mom cracked the door open, peering through the small gap. Ever so slowly, she pushed the door open, her head swiveling back and forth on the other side. “Looks clear...” she whispered, moving forward.
Staying close behind, we walked into a hallway that looked as if it belonged in a palace. With scarlet walls and high arched ceilings, the beauty was undermined by its emptiness. As we began to carefully walk down the hallway, a shiver went down my spine. This isn't creepy at all... It felt more like I had walked into an abandoned building than into a villa.
“I don't like this...” Hong Peng said under his breath.
Mom glanced over at Hong Peng, “Don't worry, Hong Peng. I'll make sure nothing happens to you or Feng Wen. And if we get in trouble, I want you two to run, okay?”
Being told to abandon my own mother did not sit well with me. “But Mom—”
“No buts, Feng Wen.” She said sternly, “We've had this talk before. I didn't want to bring either of you here, but I was obligated to keep my promise to you. I can't stand the idea of losing you, or Hong Peng, so do as I say. Okay?”
“Yes, mother...” I answered, turning to see Hong Peng giving her a silent nod.
We walked in silence for a while, the only noises to be heard was a soft hum from the helmet's comm link, or the occasional creak of the wooden boards beneath our feet. “I don't understand why we haven't seen anyone else for a while...” I whispered aloud.
“Probably because they're on the other side of the building,” Mom began, scrutinizing every door we passed along the hallway. “If you had a hostage, or something even more important as the case may be, you wouldn't want to divide your forces too thinly. Keep a solid front line, such as posting numerous guards outside, and then keep the rest close to your critical point. But there is a weakness to that strategy...” She came to a halt in front of a door similar to the one we had originally entered the hallway from. Extravagant in both size and style, the greatest difference was that the dragon craved into the door featured five claws instead of three. “And that is you leave your other weak spots defenseless.”
With a light hand, Mom cautiously opened the door. With larger windows, the bedroom was more distinguishable than the previous. While larger and with more elaborate furnishings, the bedroom's decor was much more tastefully done. Dad would love this room, noticing one wall lined with bookcases, all filled with old tomes and historical texts about ancient China.
Mom began to search the room, carefully combing through every nook and cranny. Hong Peng and I followed her example, although we were both unsure of what she was looking for. After a few moments, Mom groaned in frustration, “Goddamn it...”
I turned away from the bookshelf that Hong Peng and I had been searching, “What are we even looking for?”
“I thought that with the dragon that was on the door, this was an important room to Lei Qiang or the Huang Taizi.” She explained, walking over to the nearby reading table. “The five clawed dragon was the symbol of the ancient Imperial family of China, and is the same symbol used by the Dragon Head and his heir.” She ran her finger across the table, removing a streak of dust off its surface, “But it looks like this room hasn't been used for ages. Everything is covered in dust, and the bed linens smell musty as if they've been there for years.”
“Then we should leave and look somewhere else, shouldn't we?” I asked. I looked over at Hong Peng, who had decided to start reading one of the books off the bookshelf, who reads a book at a time like this!? “After all, isn't our main mission to find that CEO?” Hong Peng finally noticed I was watching him, and clumsily put the book back on its shelf.
Mom let out a soft hum before answering, “Go ahead out the door, I'll be there in a second. I want to check one more thing...” She walked to the other side of the room.
I gestured Hong Peng towards the door, “After you, my friend.”
Hong Peng shook his head as he made his way forward, “Thanks, you're such a gentleman.”
I couldn't help but chuckle as I followed him, “Dad always stressed the importance of being one!”
As Hong Peng made his way through the door, Nan Gong Zui's panicked voice came through the comm, “Prince, where is Feng Wen!?”
I had already walked back into the empty hallway before I answered, “Hong Peng and I are in the main hallway, while Mom is in one of the bedrooms. Why do you ask, Nan Gong Zui?”
With a loud boom, the door to the room slammed shut. An ear splitting noise rang through the comm unit, leaving me no choice but to throw my helmet off to get away from it. Hong Peng did the same, his expression one of sheer horror. There were shouts of men behind the door, as well as loud thuds and crashes.
“Mom!” I yelled, turning to try to jerk the door open, but with no success. Having no time to deal with the helmet, I quickly detached the comm unit from the headpiece and placed it in my ear, “Mom are you okay!?”
While the painful noise had disappeared, the signal was now garbled, “Go— need— run!” She commanded, the scuffle of a fight now being heard in the background.
“No! I'm not leaving you!” I cried, now ready to activate my light sword to cut my way through. I was stopped by Hong Peng's sudden grip on my right wrist.
“We need to leave, Feng Wen!” His hand trembled with fear, “He knows we're here, Feng Wen! We need to get away from here!”
“I AM NOT LEAVING MOM BEHIND!” I screamed at him, “I refuse to be a coward, unlike you!” I immediately regretted my words, seeing Hong Peng's hurt expression. He let go of his grip on me, leaving me with even more guilt. Hong Peng's expression quickly turned serious as I attempted to apologize, “Look, Hong Peng, I'm sorr—”
Hong Peng suddenly lunged at me, sending us both crashing to the floor. From underneath him, I could see that an armored man stood where we had been only a moment before. With the armor's ornate details and powerful aura, there was no question of the man's influence within the syndicate. From beneath his helm, I could see the thirst for blood in his eyes.
He turned his body towards us, and silently lifted his arm over his head. With a flick of his wrist, numerous men started to pour out into the hallway from adjacent doors. Among them was a group from the bedroom door, three of whom dragged Mom out, continuing to struggle against them. Knowing that things were taking a turn for the worst, I quickly attempted to push Hong Peng off me. “Hong Peng, we've got to go!” I said in a panic.
He said nothing, only staring back with crippling terror. His body shook violently, and his breathing became shallow as the armored man and his subordinates made their way to us. Over the comm piece, I heard Nan Gong Zui swear loudly, “Fuck, we were too late!” A group of four men came up from behind Hong Peng, and ripped him off of me. From the other direction, I was grappled and pulled up by two more. “Feng Wen, get away from Hong Peng at all costs!”
“Hong Peng...?” I asked dazedly.
My voice seemed to have woken Hong Peng from his fear-induced trance, now resisting the men who held him. In a display of unseen strength and prowess, he slipped out of their grip and knocked one out with a expertly landed punch to the temple. More men came to aid the remaining two, as now the other one had been sent flying into a nearby wall by a roundhouse kick. It took six more men before Hong Peng was subdued.
“Is the area secured?” The armored man asked one of the men.
The man gave a low bow, “Yes, my liege!”
A slow clap could be heard from behind a nearby door. One of the yazi opened the door, revealing a man with delicate features and arrogant air. “You never cease to impress, my old friend,” he said bemusedly.
“Lei Qiang...” Mom growled, attempting another break away from her captors.
The effeminate man raised his eyebrows, before letting out a chuckle, “Foolish as always, Prince. Why, I am just Fan Ming Hao, a simple business man.” He gestured his hand toward his friend, “The title of Shān Zhǔ belongs to my companion here.”
“What?” Mom gasped, her gaze now switching to the armored man.
Lei Qiang pulled off his helmet, revealing a head of wavy hair and handsome face. He gave Mom an arrogant smirk before walking towards Hong Peng, who upon seeing Lei Qiang's approach, began to struggle with greater fervor.
“Huang Wei!?” Mom exclaimed.
“Get away...” Hong Peng whimpered, “I told you to stay away from me..!”
“H-Hong Peng,” My voice cracked with emotion, “what are you talking about!?”
“You think I would just let my heir walk away? After everything I've done for you?” Lei Qiang came around behind him, pulling out a dagger from his side with his left hand. “If you continue to struggle, I'll do what I must to bring you back.” With haste, he sliced through the upper right of Hong Peng's armor, exposing his shoulder. With black scales, a five-clawed dragon was ingrained in his skin. “After all, I have missed you...”
N-No... It can't be...
“... my son, Huang Hong Peng.”
Chapter 26: Chapter 25
Feng Lan's PoV
“But even in such tribulation, he's found someone he can trust— you, Hong Peng.” My words from before echoed through my mind. “And for that, you have Gui and I's deepest gratitude. Thank you for being by our son's side in our darkest hour.”
“It was you?” I choked, “Three years ago, that was you? This whole time, it was you?”
He turned his head away, his silence and guilty expression answering question. Instead, he turned and pleaded to my son, “Feng Wen, please... I didn't—”
“I don't want to hear anymore of your lies, you fucking low-life.” Feng Wen growled, now starting to violently struggle against his captors. “You and that bastard will die for everything you've done!” He ripped his arm away from one of the men and quickly disabled him with a strike to the temple. “DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME!?” Feng Wen screamed, as more men rushed towards him to subdue him, “I'LL KILL YOU!”
In one swift motion, Lei Qiang threw his knife behind him and pulled out a gun, pointing it at Feng Wen, “Mind your words, boy. You have no idea who you're dealing with.”
“No! Please!” I begged, “Leave him out of this, I'm the one you want!”
Lei Qiang shifted his gaze quickly to me, before returning his focus to Feng Wen. “For over thirty years, you have been a thorn in my side, Prince. A hindrance, an annoyance, but never a threat. That's where you, and this brat you call your son, are different.” With a soft click, the gun's safety was disabled, and a feeling of hopelessness filled me. “And now, I'll finally be rid of that threat.”
“NO!” Hong Peng roared. Using the weight of the men against them, he pulled his legs out from underneath him, then kicked the gun out of Lei Qiang's hand, leaving him stunned. Now's our chance! Quickly I began my own break for freedom, slipping my right arm free to begin knocking out the guards inhibiting me. Halfway through my group of enemies, I looked over to Feng Wen— only to be met with a horrifying scene.
The corpses of syndicate soldiers laid at Feng Wen's feet, his light sword drawn and his body covered in blood. He turned to Hong Peng and Lei Qiang, and charged forward. “Damn it!” I cried as I turned away to block an incoming attack from one of the men.
I looked back. Hong Peng had incapacitated the men holding him. For a brief second he stared in apprehension, paralyzed as Feng Wen closed the distance between them. With a jerk, Hong Peng turned around and shoved Lei Qiang backwards, twisting around in time to interrupt Feng Wen's downward strike by catching his right hand with his own left.
Hong Peng's reaction only seemed to further enrage Feng Wen. He slugged Hong Peng in the jaw with an unexpected left hook. The successful punch caused Hong Peng to let go of Feng Wen's hand, enabling Feng Wen to attempt another strike. Hong Peng was quick to recover, however, and countered Feng Wen's attack. Hong Peng knocked Feng Wen's sword out of his hand, grabbing it as it fell. In the same movement, he struck Feng Wen in the head with the hilt. Feng Wen crumpled to the floor upon impact.
I froze in place, my worst nightmare unfolding before my eyes. “FENG WEN!”
Hong Peng dropped the sword and stared down at Feng Wen, his face pale, “F-Feng Wen... No... I...”
A loud boom came from the floor above, followed by the explosion that caused it. The explosion shook the building, throwing everyone to the ground. Fragments of wood, metal, and other debris came raining down with great force, taking out a couple of the men. A small sense of relief washed over me as I saw Hong Peng quickly shield Feng Wen's unconscious body with his own.
“What the hell?” Fan yelled, his arms covering his head from the debris.
Hong Peng lifted his head and let out a gasp, “That came from the server room. They blew up the central computer!”
“Damn it! I forgot about those pests!” Lei Qiang hissed as he drew his sword. As if on cue, a figure in black armor sped past me and towards Hong Peng. In the blink of an eye, Lei Qiang had moved in front of Hong Peng and Feng Wen, intercepting Arctic Fox's attack. A blur of light followed immediately, the blades of their light swords becoming indistinguishable as they clashed. With each strike Arctic Fox made, Lei Qiang countered with ease. Yet with each block, Arctic Fox moved into his next attack with perfect tempo. Arctic Fox attempted an uppercut strike, swinging his sword from his right hip up to Lei Qiang's left shoulder. Lei Qiang began his parry against the strike, only to find out he had been fooled. Fox abruptly ended his strike and quickly side-stepped Lei Qiang, causing Lei Qiang to falter and leaving Hong Peng exposed.
Arctic Fox knocked Hong Peng back from Feng Wen with a brutal kick to the ribs. With distance between the two boys, Arctic Fox made his way towards Hong Peng, a murderous aura following him. “I knew as soon as I saw your face who you were,” Arctic Fox said coolly. “You look just like your father.”
Hong Peng attempted to get up, wincing at his likely broken ribs, “I didn't know... Please, you've got to believe me...”
Lei Qiang regained his footing in short time, and pulled out another gun. Knowing Arctic Fox was too distracted with Hong Peng, I drew my sword and lunged at Lei Qiang. Lei Qiang sensed my approach, twisted around and pulled the trigger at me. I dodged in the nick of time, the bullet lodging itself in a crony's head instead. Lei Qiang brandished his sword, and our blades met in a shower of sparks.
“Fox! Grab Feng Wen and run!” I shouted, swinging my blade to the left to block Lei Qiang's strike at my waist. I saw Arctic Fox's hesitation out of the corner of my eye. One after another, I dodged Lei Qiang's attacks, taking a couple of steps back each time in an effort to create some distance between him and the boys, “FOX, NOW!
Fox glanced back at me for a second, then withdrew his blade. Arctic Fox lifted Feng Wen into his arms, Hong Peng's expression both pained and relieved from the sight, “Feng Wen...” Arctic Fox turned his head back towards Hong Peng, and kicked him in the stomach before sprinting out of the hall with Feng Wen.
The scene left me distracted for a moment, just long enough for Lei Qiang to use his leg to sweep my ankles out from underneath me. I caught myself with my left arm, and countered back with a strong kick to the knees. Lei Qiang wavered, but remained upright. I rolled away as he smashed his blade downwards, leaving a small hole where my body had been a moment before.
Damn it, he's so strong. I jumped back up onto my feet, my breath ragged and skin sweat soaked. Lei Qiang, however, showed no signs of fatigue, even taking a moment to relish in my exhaustion with a snide grin. I won't be standing for much longer if it continues like this.
“What's wrong, Prince? Have years of playing mommy left you out of shape?” Lei Qiang twirled the hilt of his sword in his left hand, “You don't exactly have a good record right now, after being disarmed so easily by a fifteen-year-old boy three years ago.”
“Father, please! Just let them go!” Hong Peng begged, tears rolling down his face as he held himself up by his right arm. “I'll go back with you willingly, if you promise to leave them alone!”
Lei Qiang gritted his teeth at Hong Peng's words. “I should have taken you back long ago, before you met that brat.” With another snap of his fingers, the remaining men surrounded Hong Peng and grabbed hold of him. Even with all his injuries, Hong Peng began to struggle fiercely against the group. Lei Qiang gestured Fan towards Hong Peng. Fan nodded in compliance.
From his pocket Fan pulled out needle and syringe, and came behind Hong Peng, who was unaware of Fan's approach. Lei Qiang smiled as he watched Fan stab the needle into Hong Peng's exposed shoulder. “It'll just be a minor setback, after a couple of weeks you'll remember what your purpose is... your destiny.” The injection started to show its effects immediately as Hong Peng slowly stopped resisting, his eyelids drooping as his head slumped forward.
Shit, I can't let him take Hong Peng! I darted my eyes around the area, looking for anything I could use as a distraction. The hallway was relatively barren with decor, yet I found my answer near on the wall near Lei Qiang— another alarm panel. I pulled out my gun, toggled it to stun, and pulled the trigger. Lei Qiang evaded the shot, his expression amused until the alarm system began to blare across the building.
“Lock down initiated, all personnel must maintain their positions...” A woman's voice rang across the estate, doors now starting to close and self-lock.
Lei Qiang expression of shock was replaced with rage, “What did you—!?”
“Oh, nothing but a little electrical shortage, that's all,” I said smugly. “I can't have you and your buddy here running off with Hong Peng.”
Lei Qiang bared his teeth before he roared, “THERE'S STILL TIME! GO AND GET THEM OUT OF HERE!”
The group of soldiers quickly obeyed, beginning to rush down the hallway with Fan and Hong Peng in tow. I brandished my sword again and lurched forward. I was intercepted by Lei Qiang, pulling up my blade to block his strike towards me.
“You're not going anywhere, Prince,” Lei Qiang growled, “It's time to fulfill the promise I made over thirty years ago!”
Chapter 27: Chapter 26
Feng Lan's PoV
"Code Red.” The automated voice called out, smoke from above now drifting down into the hallway. “Fire detected in main server room, please follow standard procedures...” Caught up in the fervor of our duel, the heat that spread from the growing blaze went unnoticed by Lei Qiang and I. Swiftly I evaded every swing of Lei Qiang's blade, surreptitiously leading him deeper into the smoke. I can't win this through brute strength alone...
Lei Qiang swung again, and I began another sidestep back into the smoke. He turned off his saber in mid-strike and lurched it upward. The hilt of the blade slammed into the front of my helmet, cracking it. “Don't take me for a fool, Prince,” he growled, followed by a hoarse cough. Smoke began to flood the interior of my helmet, blinding and suffocating me. “I wouldn't follow you into the smoke unless I knew it would work in my favor.”
I deactivated my sword and quickly backed up. I hit the side of my helmet, and my communicator detached from the rest of the headgear. I ripped off the helmet, causing my hair to come undone and the intense sting of smoke to set in my eyes. There was no sign of Lei Qiang as the smoke got denser, the black cloud and tears impairing my vision. If I can't see him, he can't see me. Right? My lungs ached as I tried my best to hold my breath, knowing that even a slight cough could give away my position.
“Prince, where are you!?” Nan Gong Zui shouted into the comm piece, the volume deafening. A wisp of smoke moved abruptly within the cloud. I pulled out my sword in time to meet Lei Qiang's, the glow of our blades dissipating the smoke around them.
“Damn it, Nan Gong Zui!” I yelled, creating enough of a distraction to successfully knock Lei Qiang away with a kick to the chest. I turned off my sword and sprinted out of the cloud, praying I was going in the direction of Hong Peng. “I'm dealing with Lei Qiang right now, where are you!?”
As my vision returned, I was greeted by flames that now engulfed the area. Rooms and doors in the hallway quickly set ablaze.“Are you telling me you're still in there!? Where are Arctic Fox and Feng Wen?” Nan Gong Zui replied.
At the mention of Feng Wen's name, I muzzled my anxiety and continued down the hallway. “I am!” I briefly turned my head back to see Lei Qiang emerging out of the smoke at an alarming speed. “I don't know where they are, I just know that we need to get out of here before the system seals us in!” I looked around in desperation for any sign that I was heading in the right direction, or at the very least an exit to the outside.
I let out a sharp howl as I felt my head being jerked back, my long hair now in Lei Qiang's tight grip. Nan Gong Zui heard my cry, “Shit, hang in there Prince!”
In quick response to his grip, I brought my sword back behind me. I cut my hair with an upward jerk, and with it the hold Lei Qiang had on me. I spun around to face him as his surprised expression became one of contempt, looking up from the hair that remained in his hand to my face.
“What's wrong?” I asked, readying my blade for his next move. “Do I remind you of a certain brat now?”
Lei Qiang let out a growl, and sprung forward. I parried his thrust, sparks erupting as his blade grated down my own. He continued his barrage against me, his strength unwavering. My defense weakened with each strike, my body on the verge of collapse. My reflexes slowed, and I began losing more ground against him.
I swung my blade sluggishly, which Lei Qiang side-stepped with ease. I lost my balance, toppling forward and onto the ground. Shakily, I tried to prop myself back up, only to receive a strong kick back to my newly healed shoulder. I landed on my back with a loud thump. I closed my eyes as pain radiated from the shoulder and down my right arm. I felt a strong pressure on my chest, gingerly opening my eyes to find Lei Qiang's foot firmly over my heart.
“Still as thick-headed as when we first met, Prince.” Lei Qiang said, his tone faintly nostalgic. “If you had just stop being so nosy, we would have both been so much happier. I wouldn't have to kill you or clean up this little mess your son has caused me!”
“Even if you kill me now—” I wheezed under Lei Qiang's weight, “you'll still lose. If I don't bring you down, I have faith they will.”
Lei Qiang pressed on my chest, making me violently gasp for air, “YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT HONG PENG!” He roared, now pointing his blade at my throat, “DON'T THINK YOU AND THAT BOY CAN STOP ME FROM TAKING BACK WHAT'S MINE!”
“You're a madman!” I shouted back, his words as deranged as the look in his eyes.
“Call me what you want,” he sneered, “but soon all of Asia will bow before its god-given ruler.” Ruler? What the hell is he talking about? “Now that I have both my sons, there is nothing anyone can do to stop me.”
“Both your sons...” I murmured, as my breathing became more erratic. Ye Shing... was with Gui, Lan Lan, and Wicked...
My expression betrayed me as Lei Qiang's face lit up with a sadist's glee, “Did you really think luring you and your brat here was only to take Hong Peng back?”
Tears threatened to escape my eyes, but I refused to give Lei Qiang that satisfaction. “Y-You monster...”
Before Lei Qiang could utter a word, Nan Gong Zui tackled him from the side, sending them both to the floor. I quickly sat up, waves of pain from my shoulder washing over me. “Prince, go! Find Arctic Fox and Feng Wen!” Nan Gong Zui yelled as he wrestled with Lei Qiang.
I scrambled to my feet at Nan Gong Zui's words. However, the idea of leaving my friend with that brute of man made me hesitate, “But—”
Lei Qiang had overpowered Nan Gong Zui, knocking him off with a strong kick to his stomach. Nan Gong Zui quickly recovered, pulling out his own saber in time for Lei Qiang's swift assault. “GO!” Nan Gong Zui screamed.
I began to run as fast as my stiff legs would allow, a sense of dread filling me as I moved farther down the seemingly never-ending hallway. At least the way is clear, swinging my head around to be aware of any possible debris. I saw a hall branching off ahead just a few minutes after leaving. It would have been even grander than the one I occupied, had it not been for the blaze that tore through its decor. That might mean that's the main hallway, which would lead to an exit...
I heard Nan Gong Zui's howl of pain from behind. My heart dropped immediately and without a thought, I turned around. In the distance, Nan Gong Zui had fallen to his knees. One hand was on his sword and the other held tight to a deep gash in his hip. Lei Qiang stood in front of him, his sword posed to behead.
“NAN GONG ZUI!” I yelled, now sprinting back to him.
As I fumbled for my pistol, Lei Qiang made his strike. My throat clenched as I watched the blade swing towards Nan Gong Zui's neck. It never reached its target, though. I watched as Nan Gong Zui jerked his sword upward, blocking the attack and knocking the sword out of Lei Qiang's hand. I let out a sigh of relief, and finally grabbed hold of my gun. The loud ring of gunfire filled the hall.
But it wasn't mine.
Nan Gong Zui's body remained upright for a moment, before slumping to the side. A revolver had appeared in Lei Qiang's right hand, its barrel pointed at where Nan Gong Zui's torso was a moment before. Lei Qiang's arrogant smirk reappeared, priding himself in his handiwork.
“NO!” I screamed, opening fire at Lei Qiang with no reserve. Yet each shot missed as Lei Qiang ran away like the coward he was. He ran back into the cloud of smoke from which we had come from before. “DAMN YOU, LEI QIANG!” I roared.