Chapter 10: That Spot
Bao lurched off of the bed and staggered to the corner of the room, where she emptied the contents of her stomach. She looked at her hands, which were drenched with blood, and then took a shaky breath. Then her mind began to race.
What have I done? she thought. What will I do? I need to run! Get out of here!
For a moment, panic welled up, but she quickly quashed it. It was not the time for panicking.
It’s actually not that bad. It’s not like any of these people are his friends. That was true. Over the months that she had been a part of the bandit troupe, she had come to realize that Chief Wang ruled by force and power. The bandits respected him, but they didn’t love him.
No one would mourn his loss, that was for sure.
However, there would now be a power vacuum that needed filling. Suddenly, a wild thought popped up in her mind, a thought so insane that it seemed impossible
What if I took over? she thought. After a moment passed she dismissed the notion. Ridiculous. I’m just a girl. No, I know what to do.
Not bothering to even wipe the blood off her face, she walked to the door, unbarred it, and strode down the hall to Mao Yun’s room. She knocked lightly, leaving bloody knuckle prints on the rough wooden surface of the door.
After knocking three times, she heard a muffled response from inside, then shuffling. Finally the door opened to reveal an irritated Mao Yun. As soon as he laid eyes on her, though, his expression changed to that of shock.
“Bao! What happened, are you okay?”
He reached out as if to prop her up, but she stepped back and waved her hand dismissively.
“I’m fine. Come with me.” Not waiting for a response, she turned walked back to her room.
Mao Yun hurried along behind her, and when he saw carnage on her bed, his eyes went wide. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then held back.
“You can probably imagine what happened,” Bao said, “and there’s no need to get into the details. The question is… what do I do now?”
Mao Yun’s mouth opened and closed a few times, but apparently he couldn’t even compose his own thoughts. Bao’s heart began to sink with the realization that perhaps her idea wasn’t going to work. Despite that fear, she pressed on.
“Pull yourself together, big bro Mao. I’m the one that just killed someone, not you.”
“R-r-right,” he said, shaking his head. “What do you do now? Run?”
Bao rolled her eyes. “Run? To where? Back to Yu Zhing? I don’t think so. Besides, there’s no need to run. Nobody here cares about Chief Wang. They only care about the money he earns them.”
“So… what do you mean?”
Bao was getting impatient. “Listen, as long as there’s a strong leader who’s willing to take charge and make sure these guys keep getting money, they’ll follow anybody who claims the title Chief.”
“You? But aren’t women called Chieftesses?”
By this point Bao was about ready to smack Mao Yun across the face. “Not me, you fool. YOU!”
“Yes. People here look up to you. They respect you. Plus you’re one of the most manly men here! Look at your shoulders! And your arms! As long as you exert the authority, they’ll follow you.”
Mao Yun appeared to be completely taken aback.
“Me…?” he repeated.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Bao began to explain her plan in detail.
An hour later, in the main audience hall, the bandits were assembled. Lounging in the seat of honor, where Chief Wang usually sat, was Mao Yun. He even wore the same fur-lined cape that Chief Wang often wore in formal settings.
Standing at his right hand was Bao. She had straightened her hair and clothing, but hadn’t cleaned away any of the blood. Her face was caked with it, as were her arms, and in her left hand, she held Chief Wang’s head by the hair.
The only sound that could be heard at the moment was the occasional plopping sound as thick drops of blood oozed off of Chief Wang’s head, to land in the increasingly large pool of blood at Bao’s feet.
Time ticked by, and inwardly, Bao began to smile.
It seemed her idea was working. She and Mao Yun had woven the perfect tale to try to convince the bandits of why they had slain Chief Wang, and why Mao Yun was now the perfect person to lead them. They had even made it seem as if Bao had intentionally lured Chief Wang into a trap and then defeated him after a brutal fight.
However, it was in that moment when the very person Bao had feared would speak up… did just that.
His name was Chun Chuixi, and had the reputation of being the best fighter among the bandits. He was ruthless, popular, and the exact person Bao had hoped to cow with the bloody spectacle of Chief Wang’s severed head.
Chun Chuixi was even taller than Mao Yun, although he was sinewy and lithe as opposed to Mao Yun, who was built like a bear.
“Hold on a moment,” Chun Chuixi said. “Maybe things with Chief Wang happened the way you said and maybe not. I don’t really care. But are we sure Mao Yun really qualifies to be the new Chief?”
“What makes you think he doesn’t qualify!” Bao growled immediately.
Chun Chuixi frowned slightly. “I mean no disrespect, little sis Bao, but big bro Mao doesn’t seem to be fond of… our line of business. He spends more time coming up with excuses why we shouldn’t go on raids, than actually raiding. Why would someone like that want to lead… people like us?”
Okay Mao Yun, thought Bao. You have to say something. Say the right thing and put this guy in his place!
Mao Yun slammed his palm down onto the arm of the seat. “How dare you!” he shouted. “I lead because… because I want to lead! I don’t need a reason!”
Inwardly, Bao groaned.
Chun Chuixi chuckled, sauntering forward a few steps and then turning to face the other bandits. “Brothers, this isn’t a decision that can be made lightly. Perhaps we should consider more than one option! After all, it wasn’t Mao Yun who killed Chief Wang. Look! That stingy old bastard’s blood is caked on little sis Bao’s face and arms. Maybe we should make HER the Chief!”
One of the other bandits called out, “Don’t you mean Chieftess?”
Things were rapidly spinning out of control, and Bao wasn’t sure what to do. Before she could say anything, though, Mao Yun rose to his feet and took a step forward.
“Big bro Chun, there’s no need to beat around the bush,” he said. “If you want to challenge me to a fight, then we can do it here and now!”
Chun Chuixi chuckled. “Oh no, I don’t want to fight you. The person who has the most right to take over for Chief Wang is none other than little sis Bao!”
Bao’s heart began to pound. Things were not playing out how she had imagined. She had been able to kill Chief Wang because he had been blind drunk, and she had surprised him. There was no way she could beat a full grown man in a fight. It didn’t matter that she and Mao Yun had been spending so much time training. Bao was under no illusion that sparring and practice was anything akin to real fighting.
Mao Yun snorted coldly. “You’re challenging a girl to a duel? Are you a man or not?!”
“There’s no need for a duel,” Chun Chuixi said. “Clearly Bao doesn’t want to lead us, she just wants to… ‘support’ the leader. So let her decide. Me, the best fighter among us, the most famous bandit in the region, Chun Chuixi the Spring Thunderbolt! Or… the soft, lazy, obscure son of a loser, Mao Yun, who doesn’t even have enough of a reputation to have a martial name!”
Bao took a deep breath. Chun Chuixi had played his hand well, and in truth, what he said made sense. At this point, if Bao said she chose Mao Yun, both of them would be laughingstocks. Even if Mao Yun somehow defeated him in a duel, he would still be in a very tenuous position at best.
Her mind raced as she tried to formulate some argument to defeat him with words.
Chun Chuixi glanced at the people behind him and smirked triumphantly as he saw their nodding expressions. He prepared the final nail to settle the matter. “That is why I–”
Suddenly, an arrow sprouted out of Chun Chuixi’s right eye. A wickedly sharp, bloody arrow.
The horrified bandits turned toward the entryway of the main hall to see a man standing there with a crossbow, a man dressed in the armor of the Demon Emperor. He tossed the hand-held crossbow aside and stepped into the room, drawing an Ox-Tail Dao.
A strangely accented voice behind the man growled, “Attack!”
More men poured into the room, all of them wearing the same armor.
The bandit force had grown in recent months, and now numbered nearly fifty in total, and it soon became apparent that there weren’t nearly as many Demon Emperor soldiers. However, these soldier were trained fighters, and some of them even used the seemingly magical fighting abilities of the Demon Emperor and his Ogre soldiers, making them vastly superior in terms of speed and strength.
Instantly, fierce fighting broke out all over the main hall.
It was at this point that another figure entered the room. He was tall and powerfully built, with features that didn’t even look human. He looked vaguely feline, with dark skin and sharp teeth almost like tusks that protruded from his lower lip. He wore strange clothing and armor, but held no weapon in hand.
He was definitely an Ogre, one of the inhuman creatures who came with the Demon Emperor from… the hellish Emo Cheng, or whatever other place they came from.
As soon as he entered the room, he looked around with cold eyes, and in that strangely accented voice barked, “Kill them all!”
All of this takes some time to describe, but actually happened in the time it takes a flea to jump off the back of a rat.
Bao and Mao Yun were at the opposite end of the hall, so the fighting didn’t reach them immediately. They simply stood there in shock, unsure at first of what was happening or what to do.
However, as soon as Bao saw the Ogre, she knew. The Demon Emperor, she thought. He tracked us down.
In the blink of an eye, Bao knew what she had to do. Leaning her head over, she said, “Mao Yun, you have to lure that Ogre into… that spot! Hurry!”
Mao Yun blinked a few times, then suddenly nodded. Unhooking the axe from his belt, he took a few steps forward and then pointed straight out toward the Ogre. “Hey you, dog! Come over and fight me like a man! Or are you scared!?”
The Ogre grinned and then suddenly flew forward far faster than a human should be able to, coming to a stop just a yard or two in front of Mao Yun, atop a stone tile that was slightly darker than the surrounding tiles. “You want to die, human? I can oblige!”
At the same time, Bao dropped Chief Wang’s head and lunged toward the seat of honor where Mao Yun had been sitting moments ago. Her hand shot out toward the left side of the seat, where a wooden switch was hidden. Fortuitously, her finger landed directly on the switch, and she pushed down hard.
Rumbling sounds suddenly filled the entire main hall, causing the fighting to pause momentarily. Even the Ogre looked around cautiously.
What happened next was something that not even the Ogre’s superhuman speed and strength could protect him against.
A chute in the ceiling suddenly opened up, and a massive pile of stones and boulders fell down directly onto the Ogre. He tried to leap out of the way, but was too slow. All he could do was let out a muffled grunt as he was first knocked to the ground, and then crushed into a bloody pulp as the rubble piled up.
Within the space of only a few breaths of time, the spot where the Ogre had been standing was now a pile of rocks and stone fully a meter and a half tall.
The eyes of the bandits went wide, and the Demon Emperor soldiers’ jaws dropped.
In the blink of an eye, the tide of the battle had turned. Now, the playing field was even.
It was a critical moment, a moment in which hesitation could lead to death. But Bao didn’t hesitate.
“KILL THEM!” she howled.