Chapter 17: Crazy!
Previously in Legends of Ogre Gate: When Bao explained to the surviving bandit companions that the Demon Emperor would track them down and kill them for the offense of killing an Ogre, most of them agreed to travel with her. Eventually, they took to calling her Chieftess. Later, she convinced them to abandon banditry in an attempt to earn money in another way. As they head north, the Bone General seems to be hot on their tail.
Tung-on was a typical city, situated almost exactly halfway between Fan on the Fei River and Nansun on the Chezou River. It had a longer and more complicated name which actually came from a foreign tongue, but to most people it was simply referred to as Tung-on. To the west was the Little Demon forest of Zhang Chang, and to the east was Mount Dao. There were rumors that the Demon Emperor planned to build a canal connecting the two great rivers, a canal which would run directly through Tung-on. However, those were just rumors.
It was a bustling travel hub, and in some ways, a frontier town as far as the forces of the Demon Emperor were concerned, being the northernmost city under his control. Everything north of the Chezou River was considered free, although some regions to the far northeast of Qi Xien had been invaded or sacked in recent years.
Trade still went on between the Hen-Shi Empire and the southern cities. After all, the rich gold deposits in Jinxu were controlled by the Hen-Shi, and even the Demon Emperor needed gold to run an empire.
In the end, Bao decided to take only a small group into Tung-on; herself, Mao Yun, Third Zhou, and Liu Runfa, who had previously handled supplies for Chief Wang and had even been to Tung-on in the past. They split into two groups, with Bao and Mao Yun entering through the north gate, with Third Zhou and Liu Runfa through the south gate.
Despite the fact that Tung-on was a frontier town, with more strange-looking characters than you would expect to see in the central regions of the empire, Bao still didn’t feel comfortable riding into the city gates as a woman. Therefore, she disguised herself as a man, something she had become quite adept at doing in her days wandering the streets of Yu Zhing at night.
As planned, Bao and Mao Yun wandered the city for a few hours to become familiar with the place before meeting up with Third Zhou and Liu Runfa at a tea house in the middle of the city. After the scouting, the group confirmed that nothing much had changed in the city since Liu Runfa’s previous visits. Thus, they quickly split up to handle their assigned tasks.
Third Zhou went to purchase dried meat, Liu Runfa acquired staple food, which this far north in Qi Xien meant wheat-based foodstuffs like buns, and a newly invented food called “noodles.” Mao Yun found wine and tea, and Bao hunted down some basic spices like star-anise and cumin.
Fortuitously, Bao found what she was looking for almost immediately, leaving her with plenty of extra time to search for what she really wanted to find in the city: a book store. After a bit of asking around, she found a wonderful shop that even had paper books, which she found surprising considering how far Tung-on was away from the center of the empire.
Two hours later she was back in the tea house, reading a copy of The Tears of Emperor Chanku, a colorful account of how the last emperor of the Hao Dynasty had been assassinated. According to the official histories, when Emperor Chanku attempted to purge his government of perceived corruption with a string of executions, his enemies united against him. However, in this more romantic version of the story, a jilted concubine allied with the Empress to slay the Emperor in revenge for the excessive attention he lavished upon his newest and youngest concubine.
Nearly an hour before the appointed meeting time, Third Zhou hurried into the teahouse and sat down across from Bao. He looked out of breath and a bit flustered.
“Chieftess,” he said, looking around nervously. “Mao Yun was arrested!”
Bao’s eyes went wide. “What? How?”
“One of the local constables recognized him and accused him of being a rebel just like his father!”
Bao clenched her jaw. She had never pressed Mao Yun for more information about his past, including his father, but from various comments she had overheard during her time with the bandits, she became convinced that he came from a famous family. Based on Mao Yun’s accent, she could tell that he came from somewhere in the south of Qi Xien, which would explain why she had never heard of any famous family surnamed Mao. She was mostly only familiar with the Yu Zhing nobility. When it came to the situation outside of her home city, she was sadly ignorant.
“Dammit, where did they take him?”
“The constabulary next to the west gate.”
“Were you with him at the time?”
“No, but I was just across the street.”
“Alright. You wait here for Third Zhou, I’m going to go check out the situation.”
“Be careful, Chieftess.”
You can do this, Bao, she said to herself. It was a seemingly ridiculous situation. She, a young woman who had lived virtually her whole life within the walls of her clan estates, was now leading a group of newly reformed bandits. One of them had been arrested by constables loyal to the Demon Emperor, and needed rescuing. By her.
She shook her head as she first looked up at the moon overhead, then down at the ornately decorated cask of yellow wine she held in her hand. Then she straightened her long silk dress and took a deep breath. The dress was the type she had never worn in her entire life, nor would ever have imagined herself capable of wearing.
It was not the dress a lady would wear, but rather, the type of dress that “professional” women would be seen in. Bao could not be considered voluptuous, but was clearly a woman, and this dress made that embarrassingly clear. Just thinking about how revealing it was made her blush.
Finally she took a deep breath and strode forward. When she entered the door of the constabulary, she quickly looked around. There were two constables on duty, and in the far corner, Mao Yun was locked up in a cage with iron bars. As soon as she entered, he looked up, whereupon his eyes went wide and his jaw dropped.
Tilting her chin up, she turned to look at the two constables and smiled in the most seductive manner she could.
The constables’ eyes narrowed, but before they could say anything, she said, “I’ve come bearing gifts!”
She held the wine flagon out and cocked an eyebrow.
The two constables exchanged a glance, then one of them said, “Gift? Or gifts…?”
Bao’s smile deepened, and she said, “That depends.”
Inwardly, her heart was pounding and her mind was racing.
What am I going to do? I can’t just murder them! Her original plan had been to somehow kill the constables, to slit their throats. But now that she was standing in front of them, real living people, men who had actually done her no wrong, she realized that she was not so cold-blooded. They might be employed by the Demon Emperor, and were surely corrupt, but she couldn’t simply end their lives.
“Who is this gift from?” the other constable asked.
I’ll think of something, she murmured inwardly, swaying forward and lowering gracefully to her knees across the table from the constables. Then, she produced three drinking vessels from within her sleeve.
“Oh, I think you know who it’s from….” she said, placing the drinking vessels onto the table and filling them, making sure that her own cup was much less full than the other two.
The first constable thought for a moment and then said, “You mean it’s Lord–”
Before he could finish, the other constable elbowed him and said, “Don’t say it out loud!”
Bao chuckled. “That’s right, no need to say it out loud.” With that she raised her cup up and said, “Big bro constables, please, let’s drink! I wish you health and prosperity!”
The constables chuckled, raising their cups and then drinking.
Meaningless banter and drinking following. Bao’s alcohol tolerance had grown thanks to spending so much time drinking with Mao Yun. Furthermore, she was careful to pour herself the bare minimum, and the constables, the absolute maximum. Soon, they had had enough to drink that they didn’t notice she wasn’t even pouring anything into her cup.
She occasionally glanced over at Mao Yun, who seemed both nervous and angry.
After about an hour, the constables were clearly intoxicated, whereas Bao only felt slightly tipsy. By this time, she had her plan fixed firmly in mind.
Her eyes flickered to the side of the room, where an oil lamp burned, one of the three sources of illumination in the room. It rested on the wall next to a rack that contained numerous bamboo scrolls and even paper books, which were clearly the records of this constabulary.
She had also identified the location of what appeared to be the key to the cage, which was within the sleeve of one of the constables.
She bit her lip as she tried to decide when to make her move. The alcohol cask was almost empty. She didn’t have much more time left.
It’s almost time, she thought.
However, it was in this moment that one of the constables suddenly said, “Hey darling, didn’t you mention gifts?” He chuckled, and leaned forward, grabbing her by the wrist.
Before she could do anything, he pulled hard, causing her to slide across the table and land halfway into his lap. His arm slipped around her waist and he leaned forward as if to kiss her.
Suddenly time seemed to slow down as Bao’s hand shot toward her sleeve. Even as the constable’s face neared hers, her hand closed around the hilt of her knife. This constable was lucky, because his hand happened to be placed on the table next to him, making the perfect target. Were it not for that, Bao might have aimed for his throat or heart.
A thud could be heard as Bao violently stabbed the knife down, pinning the man’s hand to the table.
His head swiveled in shock, and his eyes went wide, and in the same moment, Bao shoved herself out of his grasp, simultaneously reaching into his sleeve and grabbing at the key ring tucked therein.
The other constable’s jaw dropped at the site of his partner’s hand pinned to the table, blood already oozing out.
Suddenly, a miserable shriek spilled out of the first constable’s lips.
While the two constables were focused on the knife, Bao leaped up and dashed across the room, tucking the key into her sleeve. She grabbed the oil lamp, and was just about to toss it onto the rack with the bamboo scrolls and paper books, when something caught her eye.
It was a small paper book with the words “True Fighting Manual” on it. Not hesitating, she grabbed the book and then smashed the oil lamp onto the rack. Flames leapt up instantly.
By this point, the constable had pulled the knife out of his hand, and the desk, and was on his feet, as was his fellow.
“You’re dead, bitch!” roared the first constable, cradling his hand as he took a step toward her.
The other constable drew a dagger from his belt and also began to approach. Instead of facing them, Bao danced to the side; only a meter away to her left was another oil lamp, the second in the room, which she immediately smashed onto the ground, causing flames to leap up.
“Dammit, this bitch is crazy!” barked the second constable, backing away from the flames.
Bao continued to hug the wall as she dashed toward the third oil lamp. By this point, the entire east wall of the constabulary was in flames, and the constables were hesitating.
Then her hands wrapped around the third oil lamp.
“Let’s get out of here!” the first constable said. “Let her die in the fire!”
As the two constables ran out, Bao, keeping the third oil lamp held in one hand and hurried over to the cage, using the key in her other hand to open it up.
“Bao, you’re crazy!” Mao Yun blurted.
“I know, come on let’s get out of here!”