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Dynasty Warriors: Redwall - Jing Province INKS by chibigingi
Dynasty Warriors: Redwall - Jing Province INKS
Oh look, actual art.

Deciding to try and resurrect this project, starting with this.  IF I color it, it'll have a bg.  

Lu Meng (hare), Guan Yu (Badger) , and Xu Huang (arctic fox) belong to Koei-Tecmo/Omega Force (and China’s history), Redwall belongs to Brian Jacques.  Art done by me.
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Thieving a Plenty

It didn’t take Lü Meng long to catch up with the would be horse thief. Even if he had taken the time to to saddle Po and give chase, he knew that he wouldn’t get far, not on that horse. He almost wanted to spare a smile at the rotten luck of the thief but Zhou Yu had killed the humor within him. No, not a single shred of mirth or anything remotely positive could exist in a man so utterly ridiculed by Zhou Yu, he told himself as he followed after the thief on foot. No need to alert the rest for this.

As he expected, they didn’t get far, though he had to give credit to the man for managing to get this far. In spite of his foul mood, he could feel the corners of his mouth trying their damnedest to lift when he spotted the troublemaker’s futile struggle. The horse he decided to steal, a young grey stallion with white streaks throughout its mane, was by far the orneriest beast that had somehow acquired from Lord Yuan Shu. It refused any rider and had no reservation in letting others know as he thrashed and kicked when anyone came near. At most, if one was lucky or possessed quick enough reflexes, they could get the bite on the horse and manage a harness, but the moment someone walked around with a saddle or tried to lead the willful horse where it didn’t want to, it was all out war. Even Lü Meng had trouble with this one from time to time.

The thief somehow managed to slip a rope around its muzzle but it did him no good. Without the proper bite and reins, he could not get the horse to budge, and Lü Meng watched as he yanked and pulled on a horse that had not only dug its front hooves into the ground but say on its haunches, guaranteeing that he nor the man would be going anywhere. Not that it deterred the tattooed clad man in the least. He cursed, gripping the rope with strong fingers and his muscles bulging, adding to accent the colorful tattoos that decorated his armors and chest. Had Lü Meng been in a better mood, he might have taken the time to admire the artistry and dedication that went into them, but like the horse this man tried to ferry away, his mood was simply foul and his patience was greatly waning by the second.

“Come on, you stupid, stubborn, over-sized ass!” The thief snapped, throwing the rope over his shoulder and putting all of his weight into it now, leaning forward and nearly bumping his head on the officer’s chest. “Get moving, before I get REALLY mad!”

Had anyone besides Lü Meng or Ling Cao had come across the thief, they may have taken the time to mock him for his foolish decision, maybe explain that he could not think to get away with the horse. Maybe someone would have been diplomatic and worked out some kind of deal with him, or shown mercy and let him go. No doubt he seemed desperate and would sell the horse for gold. Unfortunately, the one to give chase was Lü Meng, and the moment he was within range, he was ready to put his new weapon to proper use. He gripped it closer to the blade for a more precise swing and though it did not hit his target, it forced the would-be thief to release the rope and surrender the horse. The action freed his hands, and it was then that Lü Meng realized the man’s true profession. Horse thief he may not be, but a down and dirty fighter, there could be absolutely no doubt!

“You got some nerve trying to sneak up on me like that!” His opponent was quick, far quicker than he was expecting, and once that curved sword of his nicked his shoulder pad, Lü Meng found himself falling back into a more comfortable state of mind. One-on-one fights, with someone he didn’t know was far more in his comfort zone than dealing with the political war that Zhou Yu had forced him to engage in and although he was fighting for his life, it was safer, more at home for him. And apparently, it must have down in his face or his form, as his enemy showered him with comments, even when he had to parry a strike aimed for his head. “You’re not too bad at this. I’ll give you that.”

What was Lü Meng suppose to do? Zhou Tai nor Sun Ce really ever complimented him during a bout (the former pirate didn’t really say anything to him at all) and this man, as pathetic as his attempt to steal the horse may have been, was an enemy. So, he said nothing and merely focused on the fight, trying not to get distracted by the jingling bells or the whirlpool of colorful and distracting tattoos, or those vibrant, crimson red eyes. A swing came for his head and he managed to block it, catching the hilt with the hook of his own weapon and twisted it around, forcing the weapon from his opponent’s hand in a single twist. If this were a spar, the fight would have been over, but the fool would learn a valuable lesson that day.

Never assume a disarmed opponent was helpless, and never assume that an opponent only carried one weapon on him. The jingle of the bells warned him of another strike. Lü Meng caught it coming from the left and just barely dodged, falling to a knee and watching the dagger zip over his head. And just like that, the fight only escalated from there and he found himself on a strict defensive, as the man revealed a second dagger.

He went for several areas, vital areas that would have put a quick end to the fight. Lü Meng was quick to guard those areas, either twisting around or barely moving the glaive and its hilt around in tight turns, never once realizing he was moving exactly where the thief turned warrior wanted him to go until his back hit a tree. With no where to go, he found himself pinned as a dagger dug into the cloth at his shoulder, successfully limiting the mobility of his swinging arm. Not a good position any warrior wanted to be in and the thief knew it! He snickered, catching the glaive with his foot and looking to plunge the other dagger into his opponent’s exposed neck, only to be stopped when the other caught his wrist and held it back.

The man clad in bells was strong, though thankfully not as strong as Zhou Tai. Those hours spent sparring with the former pirate likely saved himself from instant death, but it wasn’t from lack of trying on the thief’s part. He held him captive in this position, seeking to drive the blade closer and closer, merely needing the teeny tiny push forward, merely waiting for Lü Meng’s strength to give way for a split second. It was not a good predicament to be in but like hell he’d give up without a fight.

At least his opponent could see his fight and there was a gleam in those crimson eyes that almost seemed… admirable. “You ain’t bad, but you can’t beat me. Do you even know who I am?”

Lü Meng growled, answering truthfully and almost letting his arm slip. “No. Should I?”

He wasn’t sure how but he certainly left a wound on the man’s pride. His face scrunched into a rather black look and he released the dagger that pinned Lü Meng to the tree to add even more weight to his impending doom. In response, Lü Meng released his glaive and tried to counter, but it seemed futile. “Ha, well, let me tell you before I kill you. Name’s Gan Ning of the Bells, and you-”

He could say no more before his proclamation was drowned out by the angry wails of the horse. Lü Meng watched as the bulking grey stallion charged at the man named Gan Ning. Any man, whether decked head to toe in armor or sporting nothing but pants, boots and bells at his waist, move out of the way of a horse’s path when it charged and Gan Ning was no different. He released Lü Meng and sought to put distance between himself and the vexed beast, but to no avail!

Whereas most horses would have rushed forward and hold their ground once they spooked their opponent, this one went onto the attack. He kicked his muscular feet at Gan Ning and gnashed its teeth, longing to tear flesh should the man be foolish or unfortunate within its range. He swung his great head about, even using the rope as if it were a chained mace. Lü Meng had never seen a horse go on the offensive like that. Neither did Gan Ning, as he cursed and flailed about, doing anything he could think of to escape the horse’s wrath. Lü Meng found it hard to judge him for his panic, as he had seen far too many of his fellow officers take a beating at that particular horse’s hands (sort of) to judge any one man or woman harshly, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy a good laugh at the man’s expense.

Not that he did- adrenaline was one hell of a drug and considering how close the thief had come to driving a dagger into his neck and leaving his corpse for his lord or another to find as he made off with the horse, the most he could muster was a crooked grin. Now that his life was out of danger for a moment, he pulled the dagger from the tree and freed himself from the dagger’s grip. He stalked towards the man and the ballistic horse, pondering if he should have simply stood by and let him try his luck with the horse on his own. It would have served him right. He deserved to have his hand lopped clean off and be sent on his way, but Lü Meng wouldn’t be the one to exact such a punishment. If anyone could have the authority for such action, it’d be Sun Ce. It was one of his horses he tried to steal, after all…

If any were to handle the matter, let it be his lord. Lü Meng thought on the matter for a moment more before stepping in, making sure he announced himself for the horse’s sake, as well as his own as to not startle it with a sudden approach and thus turn its rage onto him. “Alright, settle down. He’s not going to hurt you.”

“Like hell! That thing’s looking for blood!”

Gan Ning may have been ducking and dodging, avoiding teeth and hooves, but there was little fear in his voice. Only anger, and Lü Meng snapped at him. “I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to the horse.”

Eventually the man lost his footing and went down in a heap of swears and jingling bells, and before the stallion could crush him, Lü Meng stepped in, grabbing the ropes that still dangled from its muzzle and called to the horse once more, pitching his voice low and calm, hoping to spread that soothing aura onto the rightly justified horse. “There, there, enough. He can’t possibly hurt you. Now settle down.”

The horse offered some resistance but not much, taking a liking to Lü Meng’s voice and ceasing its wild bucking. He grunted and snorted, flaring his nostrils, sparing the fallen thief from his trampling hooves but not its watchful gaze. He pinned the thief with the ferocity of his stare alone, accepting the gentle strokes from Lü Meng though had he released the ropes, both were certain that he’d charge him again. As humorous as that may have been, Lü Meng had his fair share of ‘fun’ for this evening.

As did Gan Ning, it seemed, as he merely sat on his rear and made no effort to either collect his belongings to fight or flee. If Lü Meng was expecting an apology or show of gratitude, then he’d be leaving empty handed, as it was clear that there’d be none forthcoming. Oh, he looked the part of a child that didn’t get what he wanted and his sneer rivaled that of his nephew when he was in the middle of a tantrum. “Fine. Keep the stupid thing. Ain’t going to get much for something as wild and unruly as that anyways.”

“Wild and unruly he may be, but he’s not yours,” Lü Meng said with a sternness that he was sometimes forced to use on his nephew and niece from time to time. To have to use it on a grown man… how embarrassing! Still, to hear that he would have sold the horse made him ponder and despite his foul mood, he could not silence his curious mind. “What were you going to do with the gold anyway? Food? Clothing? Supporting your family?”

Gan Ning spat, looking to be trying to push himself back up but a grunt from the horse kept him seated for awhile more. “As if anything so noble.”

Lü Meng took a wild guess. “Wine?”

Now that brought out a smile and his honesty hardly surprised him now. “Yep. And maybe food. Gotta eat.”

“Then why not steal those too? You’re willing to risk your life for a horse, why not steal wine and food, things that can’t physically fight back?”

It was perhaps the dumbest question he could ask but what else was he good for? Gan Ning’s eyes narrowed but whatever sarcastic remark he had on his mind would remain a mystery. He said nothing on that matter and seemed eager to draw an end to this encounter. “Heh, like you’d understand, what with your life of luxury and soldiering ways. So, you going to kill me now or what? Because if you want me to beg, it ain’t gonna happen.”

The remark struck deep, but if there could be any good that came from his suffering at Zhou Yu’s hands earlier in the day was that his wounds had no scabbed over and left it calloused, protecting the raw nerves beneath it. He gave the stallion another comforting pat on the neck before turning his attention to the man entirely. All reason and logic told him to kill this Gan Ning of the Bells, but he didn’t raise his glaive against the man. He may have acted tough and he may have been a thief, but he seemed honest and desperate. And it was that desperation that he tried to hide behind snide remarks and gruffness that cried out to Lü Meng. Was he not so desperate once? Was that not why he found himself in Sun Ce’s army at all?

No weapon dropped onto Gan Ning, but gold instead, and he half-wondered if he was suppose to feel some measure of amusement at the man’s confound expression. Wouldn’t enjoying that put him on par with Zhou Yu? He fought down the feeling as he pointed to the woods that stretched away from their camp. “Here… that should be enough. But if you really want to get more, you should find a more honest profession.”

“... Are you stupid?”

He almost regretted giving him what little gold he did, and he replied with a rather intimidating glower. “Would stupid release this rope and allow this horse to crush you into ground meat?”

And the way Lü Meng slacked on the rope made the man scoop up the gold that was thrown at him and bite his lip to silence any smart ass remark that begged to escape those lips. Yes, it was rather satisfying to see another so as he was told, even if it did put him in the same crowd as Zhou Yu, and he kept a careful eye on the man as he gathered his weapons and stalked towards the woods. Before he vanished into the dense trees, however, he paused and looked back at him. Lü Meng said nothing, waiting for him to speak or perhaps jump on to the attack again to get the rest of the gold that was stashed in his breast plate. But neither came. Without uttering a word, the man decked in intricate tattoos and bells looked him over and battle-hardened face broke into the strangest smile that Lü Meng ever seen. It wasn’t kind like Sun Ce’s, nor was it mocking like Zhou Yu’s. It rattled him to his very core, and just like that, Gan Ning of the Bells was gone, leaving behind a disgruntled grey stallion and a victorious but confused Lü Meng.

“Now what the hell was that look about?”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

CRASH! SMASH!

It was not Gan Ning’s intentions to make quite as big of a mess as he did and he wasn’t sure how it had escalated that quickly, but two things were for certain. He wasn’t going to pay for the broken cups and pots, nor would he clean the mess.

Those near his ‘chambers’ head the foreboding sound and knew to steer clear, lest they desired to be made an example of. None dared get near Gan Ning when he took to the drink and even here in Jing Province, they had learned to be weary of the former pirate.

And he was perfectly okay with this. Sure it would mean having to serve himself, but what man could even call himself a man if he didn’t help himself first? He was no lofty, long-nailed pasty white noble who needed his wine served to him in a jade chalice. He didn’t need someone to wait on him, or feed him. He was not a pampered kitten in need of them anyway. He could damn well help himself and he did. And he made damn sure that he did it all within Lü Meng’s damned ‘rules’, all so that he could rub it all in the man’s face.

Assuming there’d be enough of a face left from digging into scrolls and snooping around like a damned hellhound. A bloodthirsty, overbearing, holier than thou hellhound with saggy wrinkles like a shar pei that cared more about keeping up ‘good relations’ with the locals than in taking care of himself, or caring about his-

Someone was calling for him and the former pirate was ready. He had excuses planned and ready, and honestly he hoped it was Lü Meng. He couldn’t wait to see the look on his grumpy old face. He couldn’t wait to see just how worse it’d get when he explained that these broken bowls were purchased with the esteemed Chief-Commander’s gold and how he could not dare to think to punish him. Then maybe he’d talk to him and get through to him.

Or Gan Ning would have found himself roaming the afterlife without a head…

To his dismay, the one to find him wasn’t Lü Meng at all, but another. Someone he wanted to see even -less- of… or more? He was too drunk to have figured that out. “Oh, it’s just you.”

“Nice to see you too, jerk,” said Ling Tong, not at all sparing him a sharp look and he didn’t even look at the mess he made. He looked ready to argue, but it seemed that whatever he came to tell him was simply too great for them to exchange their usual pleasantries. Gan Ning may have been drink and spiteful, but even he could see how urgent his voice seemed. “We got a situation and you’re needed, immediately.”

Gan Ning let loose a sigh and flopped down on the cushions with a jingle and his stance was really easy to read. “And here I am, sloshed beyond hope. What a pity… who needs me and who do I get to fight?”

Ling Tong glanced around the room, only now noticing the mess, though it didn’t distract him for long. “It’s… complicated. Not sure if it’s going to resort to fighting. But you need to come with me. Orders are orders, you know.”

This did not intrigue the former pirate in the least. He hated complicated things and he hated pesky things like ‘orders’ too. Especially since it meant it probably came from him. No, he had no interest in going and he waved the younger officer off. “No fight, then no need for me. Go on.”

He seldom got tired of this game. He’d bide his time until ‘you-know-who’ came to confront him in person, then maybe he’d move. For now, he merely fell onto his back and rolled to the side, showing his back to Ling Tong and letting him know what he’d have to try a little harder to get him moving.

And Ling Tong, bless his conflicted little heart, fell right into the trap. He snapped, and quite viciously too. “I’m serious, Gan Ning!” You really need to move your ass!”

“Who gave the order?” Gan Ning kept his back turned. He tried to imagine how angry he’d look and while it held its own special place in his heart, it hardly compared to Lü Meng’s. Then again, very few did. “And what’s so complicated about it?”

“Lu Xun gave the order, and does it matter? It’s bad… I think.”

Now this only further cemented his position on the cushions and he let it be known with a snicker. “Ha! That little imp? Wrong answer. When the order comes from either Lord Quan or our ‘esteemed Chief-Commander’, then maybe I’ll move.” He added with a snort and sounded as though he were beginning to drift to sleep. “Maybe.”

Ling Tong was full of surprises and now was no different. He could hear him approaching but his reflexes were dulled by the gratuitous amounts of wine consumed, as Ling Tong was upon him. He pulled him where he would lay on his back and force him to look at him now. His words and the depth of the dread that underscored his angered words allowed the former pirate to have a hint of just how dire the situation truly was. “Our ‘esteemed Chief-Commander’ is in danger, Gan Ning!”

Lightning flared across the sky as the rain picked up again, almost as though even the weather wanted to help get through to Gan Ning. He could only stare at Ling Tong, so many emotions beginning to swirl within him that they all seemed to merge in within each other and made it impossible to pinpoint a single one when Gan Ning finally croaked. “What?”

~*~*~

“Do we need to rest for a moment?”
It was Zuo Ci that lured Lü Meng away from the visions, and the lightning strikes left him blinded much longer than he would have liked. This time he couldn’t refrain from letting out a gasp and pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose and forehead, meaning to block the offending light as well as dull the pain that racked in his head. It was like someone was throwing a mace against the walls of his skull!

“No, no, it’s alright,” Lü Meng said, speaking only when he was certain a groan wouldn’t sneak into his voice. Little by little, the pain ebbed into a more manageable throb. He lowered his hand slowly, resting it against his knee and gripping it, though… not as tightly as before. “I notice a lack of genuine concern in your voice, though. I have a feeling you’re causing these sudden headaches, mystic.”

“Always so suspicious and so quick to assume the worst in others.” Zuo Ci shook his head and his voice held only a shred of ‘pity’. Lü Meng didn’t believe it for a second. “Zhou Yu bred that into you, did he not?”

Lü Meng shrugged. “Perhaps, but I think it was for good reason. He’s right, after all.”

“You truly think so?”

“Would I be saying it if I didn’t? You have me here. You know I cannot lie in here.” The headache subsided but Lü Meng remained on edge. He noted how the mystic had deflected his accusation and he merely kept his own deck hidden for now. He didn’t need Zuo Ci to inform him of what he already knew to be true. “As harsh as his methods were when he started out, he was preparing me for the real warfare. The one that hides behind the battlefield and is far more dangerous than any blade or man that wielded said weapon.”

“Politics.”

“Exactly. I didn’t understand at the time, nor would I for an embarrassingly long time later. He was training me, preparing me, because he had the foresight to know that would be pulled into it eventually.”

Zuo Ci seemed perplexed. He asked, “I see, but you sound so certain? Was he truly acting in your best interests or are you merely making excuses for him now that you’ve come to respect him?”

“You saw what I just saw, right?” Lü Meng flexed his fingers and focused on making himself comfortable. His toes were beginning to fall asleep. “He had a cold and calculating looking in his eyes, but he was coaching, as well as antagonizing. At the time, he thought it was the only way to get through to me.”

“A peculiar method, I’ll admit… assuming it’s true. I see a jealous man who clearly knows what he can get away with and how to do it.”

Zuo Ci remained unconvinced, but Lü Meng refrained from raising his voice as he shook his head from side to side. “Then you’re looking at it through the lens of a foolish and guileless young man that had no idea how the world worked. He taught me much even before he and Master Lu Su took me in as their student. I only regret that I ignored those lessons for as long as I did.”

“You are indeed strange, Lü Meng.”

“Or changed. I like to think of it like that.”

“Oh yes, and changed you did.” At least they found something to agree on, but Lü Meng was certain that he was merely preparing to gather more dirt to sling at him. “However, I ponder, if that change was natural or a manipulation from those around you. How splendidly they must have worked if you think of them as beneficial to you.”

Lü Meng shook his head. Would this old man ever talk straight? Of course not. “Change isn’t natural. To suggest such is foolishness. And if you suspect that Zhou Yu manipulated me, then you may as well start accusing others of that supposed crime too, while you’re here. People influence one another, some more than others, and for good and for ill. So long as that influence is to bring out one’s true potential and to do good, should it matter?”

Zuo Ci took a moment to soak in Lü Meng’s words, likely looking for a way to twist them around to suit his own need but Lü Meng was prepared. The mystic may have given the appearance of a man who held an open mind, but he knew better. He was a man on a mission, and Lü Meng was certain he would have little luck in deterring him from his mission just as Zuo Ci would have little luck dissuading him from his own. Finally, Zuo Ci found his voice again and though steadfast and courageous, even Lü Meng was put off by the ocean deep laughter that emanated from the mystic’s chest. It may not have terrified him, but it certainly put him on edge. He waited as patiently as he could for Zuo Ci to have his fill so that they could carry on with this ‘trial’, and yet when it finally did, Lü Meng couldn’t combat the chill that show down his spine as well as the dull ache in his chest from a reopened wound that was once healed, or so he thought. “Zhou Yu and this Lu Su, they trained you well, I see. Though, trained may be the incorrect term. More like… tamed, because you were naught but a wild beast before.”

“A beast, you say?” Lü Meng chewed on the word and gave it a taste, and he determined he didn’t like it.

“Indeed. Your actions against your lord’s enemies is all the proof I need. Loyal, yes, but blindingly so. You were told by others that your lord had every right to the Wu territories, but what proof did he actually have? Did you ever set eyes upon this proof? Have you ever once questioned this supposed proof?” Zuo Ci was on the verbal offensive and he left no opening. Lü Meng had tried to interrupt but the mystic parried the words before they could even leave his mouth. “No, you never did. You never questioned Sun Ce’s actions nor his orders. You obeyed. You waited for orders, you only wished to fight. Someone else would point you in the direction of your enemies and you’d only react, lash out, never once stopping to consider how you were assisting your lord in the theft of another’s home and their lives.”

Lü Meng bristled and his shoulders tensed, but he could say nothing, as he didn’t trust himself not to fall into Zuo Ci’s trap. Oh, he knew it was a trap. Like Zhou Yu, he was jabbing and poking him, looking for a reaction, like prodding up a tiger trapped in a cage. That cage was getting smaller by the second. Those sticks, sharper, becoming swords.

“You were nothing more than an animal during your lord’s invasion of the Wu territories, baring your teeth, striking down others with claws, too busy wanting to appease your bloodlust and your master to hear their cries of protest. What did they matter to you? Like an animal, you saw the world in only black and white. If they stood at the pointed end of your glaive, they were your enemy and needed only to be struck down. If they stood besides you, then they were your ally, but then, were they really?”

“We did not fight everyone,” Lü Meng said, somehow managing to not only get a word in during his tirade, but keeping the anger from his gruff voice. An amazing feat considering the man’s accusations. “Many joined us willingly. Jiang Qin, Dong Xi, Lord Qiao and his daughters. Those that didn’t fight also welcomed us as well.”

“Yes, but why?”

“Because they honored Sun Ce’s claim and his charisma drew them in.”

“Or because they did not wish to invoke the wrath of a man who would earn the title of the Little Conqueror, though of course that never crossed your mind, not at all.” And yet, Zuo Ci had a perfect counter. He was beginning to hate this man. “Not loyal, mindless, beastly you. You never questioned why so many flocked to Sun Ce’s side, so soon after he had defeated the likes of Kong Rong and Taishi Ci.”

Now Lü Meng fought down the impulse to sneer, as the very name of the warrior struck him hard, slamming his heart like a spiked whip and once one of the thorns caught, it coiled around it like a snake that had found the perfect prey. Lü Meng tried to hide such a reaction, but all Zuo Ci needed was to see that look in his eyes to know that he had struck him deep. “Yes, Taishi Ci. That name brings you much turmoil, and I cannot help but wonder why.”

There was no point in denying the mystic’s observation, but he was not eager to discuss the matter in the least. Not yet. Not ever, if he could help it. “Now, you’re getting ahead of yourself, aren’t you? He haven’t even reclaimed our own homes yet. Far too early to try and dig at that wound.”

“Quite true. I will enjoy that story, but in its time. For now, perhaps I shall poke at… other wounds. Though your lord emerged victorious in ‘reclaiming’ his home, it came at a cost, did it not?”

Lü Meng’s sigh was heavy. Some relief, mixed with annoyance fueled it. Spared, and yet thrown into another frying pan. “As does everything. Whatever I lost is not enough to sully what we had gained, not even in the slightest.”

“So cold and practical, something that only reflects the efforts of Zhou Yu taming you. Did he tell you that, or was it something you learned later in your career, as a way of coping with such heavy losses?”

He knew who he was talking about, but he’d be damned if he’d give the man anymore satisfaction than he already had taken from this ordeal. There was some snark in his voice though it was all a cover and he suspected that Zuo Ci would see right through the smokescreen with ease, but that didn’t make him try any less. “I don’t know. You’re going to find out anyways, right? See for yourself.”

“I had every intention.”
A River's Final Meandering -- Chapter Ten
Chapter 01: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 02: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 03: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 04: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 05: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 06: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 07: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 08: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 09: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…

DISCLAIMER: This is a piece of fiction, inspired by the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the video game series Shin Sangokumusou | Dynasty Warriors. Names of individuals that I could not find their names either through the Koei Warriors Wiki or Kongming Archives are given false names and (hopefully) bare no resemblance to any other persons or characters, either living or dead.

Summary:

In which Lü Meng confronts a terrible horse thief and Gan Ning throws a tantrum...

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Gift Horse and Zhou Yu's Test

The benefit of Sun Ce’s decision to break off from Yuan Shu was that Lü Meng, and everyone else for that matter, were too busy to dwell on such paltry matters like discovering one of his lord’s key officers and trusted advisers despised him. The news came so sudden and yet, not many complained. If anything, it seemed to garner the opposite reaction. Everyone involved were quick to offer their assistance in the transition. Soldiers and their families worked around the clock to prepare, packing valuables, constructing carriages, whatever was available. It was a kind of organized chaos, Ling Cao had told Lü Meng, but he wasn’t quite sure he comprehended the phrase and simply took it for what it was worth, choosing to dive into work and busy his body instead of his head. He was just a soldier, nothing more. Leave the thinking to someone else.

It was strange, though, to work so far away from his lord, but at least he was with familiar company. Ling Cao was quick to put him to work and keep a curious and talkative Ling Tong out from beneath his feet. They were assigned to watch over the carriages during the exodus to Wujun, a task that others may have balked at but not Lü Meng. Guarding people, multiple people, was something he was meant to do, he figured. And like protecting his lord, he’d dedicate the same devotion to not only his family but Lord Sun Ce’s and the rest. It was something he was good at. Something he was comfortable with. Something he couldn’t possibly screw up and that add more kind to Zhou Yu’s fire.

‘Don’t think about him. Just don’t think at all.’

“You look like a rain cloud ready to unleash a monsoon.” Ling Cao’s comment caused his attention snap away from his thoughts and look to the man he walked beside. What he saw was the side of the horse’s face that Ling Cao rode upon and he brought his gaze upwards, stroking the horse’s muscular neck in hopes of grounding him back into the present since his mind apparently longed to wander. Not a good trait for a guard at all. He must have given Ling Cao a blank look as his expression softened and he rephrased his statement. “You look angry. What on your mind?”

“Nothing,” Lü Meng said, his tone flat and eager to retreat into silence once more. Days passed since he and Shi Ran eavesdropped on his Lord and Zhou Yu- did he really have time to be dwelling on that now? “Nothing’s on my mind.”

“You’re not a good liar, are you?”

It would figure he’d see right through him and if anything his expression soured. “Just thinking.”

“Of?”

Lü Meng couldn’t stop the huff that escaped his head and not once did he consider how his actions may have been considered rude. “Stuff. Just stuff.”

It would not be enough to placate Ling Cao’s curiosity, but it would be all he’d get out of him. He was determined to resist any more efforts unless it was followed by an order. Grumpy as he was, he couldn’t afford to disobey an order. He pondered if the veteran knew that. He was content to keep addressing him as a friend for awhile longer, it seemed, as his patience, nor his questions, never wavered. “How do you feel about leaving Runan entirely?”

Truth be told, he never gave the matter any thought. It had been five years since he left the village of Fupo and made his stay with Lord Sun Ce and his men, a long time for a teen at the time but so brief in the grand scale of time. Yuan Shu’s district wasn’t so much a home, but the people within it. Thus far, everyone he had come to know was leaving with them, so what was there left in Runan to miss? He answered truthfully. “No. Most here never seemed to consider this their home anyways as they’re from Wujun and Jiangdong. We’re not wanted or needed here anyways.”

“How did you figure that?”

Lü Meng shrugged, confessing with ease before Ling Cao could mistake him for clever. “Just heard it from others as we were preparing to leave. Lord Sun Ce and his men were wasting under Yuan Shu’s command but he’s not willing to risk harming his people in a direct fight. So, we leave and return home.”

Though he sat elevated near him on his stead, Ling Cao did not so much look down on him as others might have for his honesty, and that was a blessing for the former bodyguard at least. “Regardless of where or who to heard it from, that’s a good way of thinking about it. Sometimes it’s for the best not to think too hard on certain matters.”

“I’m not really known for thinking hard, so that should be easy.”

He wasn't even sure why he said it, but at least Ling Cao’s laughter lifted his spirits in a strange way. “No, maybe not, but you are still young and have plenty of time to learn your duties. For now, focus on the task at hand and it’ll all work out for the best.”

It was a well desired relief to know that Ling Cao wouldn’t enforce ridiculous expectations on him all at once. He wanted to keep it simple for as long as possible, but now that Ling Cao got him talking, he could feel all sorts of questions beginning to nag at him. Best get them out now while the journey was peaceful and there were no roaming Zhou Yu about to mock him for his ignorance. “Sir, can I ask a question?”

“Of course.”

“Does our lord expect trouble along the way?”

Ling Cao looked him over and his expression was hard to make out, despite his keen features thanks to his battle scars. “Why do you think so?”

“Because…” Suddenly, all courage left him and he found his voice fading into a whisper. A guardsman shouldn’t ask so many questions. “I don’t know. Forget I said anything.”

And yet, Ling Cao’s paternal instincts kicked him and he urged him on, like a parent nudging its fledgling off the branch. “No, no, speak your mind, Lü Meng. Our lord encouraged it, did he not?”

He regretted saying anything, but seeing it encouraged so only pushed the floodgates open. He had a feeling Ling Cao would not let him back down now. At least Zhou Yu wasn’t there to sneer in his direction and he chose to take some solace in the fact that Ling Cao wouldn’t take up that habit. He hoped. “I’m just curious as to why there are so many who are traveling armed, or why Lord Sun Ce purchased soldiers instead of carpenters or more supplies for the journey. Is he expecting trouble?”

“That’s something else you picked up from our charges while they packed?”

“Most of it is, but some of it’s me own.”

He wasn’t ashamed to admit to either- he may have heard Yenji or someone else mention it while he was moving from one carriage to the next, but it lingered in his mind and stirred his own brain into action. His answer pleased Ling Cao and his answer was blunt but nothing short of honest. “These are turbulent times and it’s best to expect trouble. We could be attacked along the way by bandits, and once we get to Jiangdong and the Wu territories, pirates could start becoming a problem.”

“Pirates?”

“Yes, with all the rivers and such. Pirates will become more common the further east we go, but I wouldn’t worry too much about them. Some can be talked down or employed, like Zhou Tai. And those that can’t? They’re nothing we can’t handle.”

Lü Meng wasn’t a complete idiot. He knew what a pirate was. He simply never thought he’d see one in his life, and yet, he was apparently moving to a district where they were apparently common. Then again, he could not have predicted a lot of where his life had led him or where it would take him, and it all required too much thought. “They’re just bandits on boats, right? I can handle them.”

“That’s the spirit, Lü Meng. Show no mercy or fear, and keep on looking ahead. Once they catch wind of any valuables we’re carrying, they’ll come sniffing, and it’ll be up to us warrior to send them fleeing with their tails between their legs.”

Oh to that Lü Meng had no doubt! Ling Cao’s confidence in the matter quelled any fear he might have harbored for the incoming threat, but there was still something else that bothered him. “Will that be all, though? Pirates and bandits?”

“One would hope, but not, it’s likely that we will be met with some resistance from those who make their stay there now.”

“But I don’t understand. I thought Lord Sun Ce had claims to those territories…” Lü Meng knew he was being foolish and he wanted nothing more than to just shut up and look ahead, like Ling Cao encouraged him to. But Sun Ce had expected him to question when he had doubt, and didn’t his lord’s orders outrank that of Ling Cao’s? “Why would anyone try to resist his return to Jiangdong?”

Now, any humor that Ling Cao’s battle-hardened face carried faded away, but Lü Meng felt no fear when looking upon him. Instead of mirth or smug confidence that he displayed on the topic of pirates, he seemed more reserved, but in a respectful way, as he spoke of the possible threat that waited for them in Jiangdong and the Wu territories. It was all very confusing for Lü Meng… “Because they may not honor the proof that our lord or Zhou Yu will present them. Because many of them have found success there and do not see themselves being allowed to keep all that they have gained if the Sun family and their army return to their rightful place. Or, simply put, because they are fools who do not wish to allow any to tell them what to do and seek to defy any authority that is not their own. Take your pick.”

It baffled him that there would exist so many reasons that they’d fight. He himself had ‘enlisted’ to gain fortune for his family and had obtained it in his own way, and yet, he still found himself picking up his spear every day. Thus was the life he made for himself and at least now he could be put to good use. Five years and all he had done was train and be pulled into small skirmishes. Would real battle await them for their homecoming or would they simply be for show?

The sounds of hoof beats approaching lured him from his thoughts and he couldn’t hold down his grin when he spotted Deng Dang among the regiment that now rode alongside them. Deng Dang returned the smile, as he pulled up next to him, accompanied by a man that Lü Meng could hardly bring himself to look at without feeling overwhelmed with what he suspected to be gratitude. Fa Shi! Had he ever thanked him for that night? “Captain, glad to see you would make it.” Ling Cao called out, throwing a respectful bow his way. “I hope Lord Yuan Shu handled your transfer well?”

“Bah, my loyalties never really were with him,” Deng Dang said, returning the bow before turning his rather gleeful gaze onto his brother-in-law. “How Lü Meng doing? Not giving you too much trouble, is he?”

“None whatsoever. Asking questions.”

“Good, that means he’s ought to learn something.”

Now Lü Meng found himself fighting down a growl. He was right there! Before his face could break into a scowl, though, Deng Dang was on him, nothing but smiles and motioning to Fa Shi. “Don’t get cross, Meng. I’m only teasing, but you never handled that too well. Congratulations on your promotion, brother.”

“Thank you,” Lü Meng managed to say. Whatever anger he felt brewing in his gut dissipated in lieu of Deng Dang’s genuine cheer. There was never any doubt that Deng Dang and his regiment wouldn’t follow Lord Sun Ce (the storm that Yenji would have cried would have threatened to flood not only her own carriage but every other carriage under their care), but it was still great to see him nevertheless. He really didn’t see his brother-in-law all that much, now that he thought about it… “I hope to do our lord proud.”

Deng Dang’s laugh was gruff and throaty, but filled with mirth, and now it was impossible not to smile. Fa Shi passed over something long and draped in cloth to Deng Dang and the youth would not have to question its contents for long as it was suddenly handed over to him. “I’m sure you will. Now, accept this gift from your proud brother-in-law and his officers. May it serve your well in your future endeavors.”

“A gift…?” Lü Meng had almost stopped his march but managed to keep his pace. He truly wasn’t expecting this! He tucked his spear under his arm to grab the object being handed to him. It was a weapon; even a dunce like him could tell that much and his excitement and curiosity overwhelmed and routed his confusions. He pulled the sheet back, revealing the most magnificent glaive he had ever set his eyes on. Truthfully, it was rather simplistic in appearance, but it was -his- glaive, and Deng Dang took advantage of his silence to explain each of its features, as though he were attempting to sell him the weapon itself!

“It’s a standard glaive, similar to the pikes you see the mounted officers wield. This blade here, see how it sticks out?” He pointed to the hook. “That’s to dig dig into armor or flesh of a mounted enemy and pull them off their horse. This part of the blade is for wide sweeps to swipe at the horse’s legs and officers, in case you’re surrounded. The part at the end is the sharpest, like a spear point, so you can jab it forward and put a quick end to your opponent once you dismount them.”

“It’s heavier than my spear…” Lü Meng observed, not thinking about it and hoping it didn’t sound like a complaint. No, he was just stating the obvious and admiring the glaive that his brother-in-law gave him. He felt like a fool. All of that lengthy explanation and all he could say was ‘it’s heavy’.

“Right, but with reason. You’ll need the weight to hold the weight of your opponent when you throw them down. It’s also sturdier and won’t snap in half like a spear would.”

Fa Shi snickered, breaking what Lü Meng feared was a five year silence and yet never hearing him sound so open and free. Even if it came out as a tease, Lü Meng didn’t really mind it so much now, as the mirth he heard put his conscious at ease. “Which will make the weapon smith happy. We’ve had so few fights and yet leave it to Lü Meng to wreck more than his fair share.”

“I won’t break this one, though!” Lü Meng would cherish it, clean it every day. He wanted to know how Deng Dang came to find such a fine weapon or how much it cost, but he knew better. Lord Sun Ce himself taught him that lesson many moons ago- something about not looking a horse in the mouth? He wasn’t keen on exactly what the wording was and why it involved not looking into a horse’s mouth, but he understood the message well enough. Don’t be ungrateful. Don’t question where it came from. He thought. “I’ll treat it with care, brother. Fa Shi.”

“Just don’t be afraid to bloody it. It’s a weapon, after all, not just for decoration.” Despite his warning, Deng Dang flashed him an appreciative smile. “Once we’re settled in our new home, I’ll show you some of the more extensive tricks with it and how to use it when mounted. But I know you- you’ll probably obsess over it and master it in no time at all.”

“I… Thank you,” Lü Meng said, grasping his glaive close and hoping that he did not look too much the part of a blubbering fool. If he did, then he’d take comfort that only these men here would be the only witnesses and whatever pride that he had would remain intact for awhile. “I’ll treat it well and put it to good use. I promise!”

“Good lad. Take good care of him, Ling Cao. He may be a troublemaker, but you’ll seldom find anyone more dedicated to his work.” Satisfied, Deng Dang gave his young brother-in-law a pat on the shoulder. It was brief, but a welcomed display of affection between the two, one that he knew Deng Dang to be relieved to show after so long of holding it all in for appearances. Without Yu Mao or others that feared he’s favor him, he was free to express the care he held for his brother-in-law and his family and Lü Meng welcomed it, even if it could only be small instances like this. He savored the feeling… since he knew that once it came time to make promise on practicing with the glaive, Deng Dang, or Fa Shi, whichever one that would help him, would not go easy on him later, and he would have to remember those good feelings for later, he told himself.

~*~*~

Lü Meng knew that he’d have the time to put his training to good use. He simply wasn’t expecting it to be quite so soon. Before night even fell upon them on the first leg of their journey, Lord Zhou Yu had returned and relayed what information he had gathered throughout Jiangdong and the Wu territories beyond it, confirming exactly what Ling Cao and Sun Ce had suspected. Those who lived there now were not willing to step aside and the prospect of an assault seemed inevitable. Some said assault, others proclaimed invasion. Lü Meng wasn’t sure how he felt, nor did he really care. As far as he was concerned, he’d just wait for orders and be given a direction to go fight. Let others busy their heads with all that complicated nonsense. He was here for fight, nothing more, nothing less.

His new weapon gave him a perfect outlet and his training with Fa Shi and Shi Ran offered a great distraction as his lord discussed their plans with his generals and advisers. The new distribution of weight hardly bothered him. He always had a stronger swing than what was appropriate for a spear, so it was almost a welcome blessing to swing something sturdy. What he had trouble getting used to was trying to pull off a mounted officer. Try as he might, there was always something off about the angle and with each pass he’d only managed to nick Fa Shi’s armor or miss entirely, and after several passes, he was feeling frustration beginning to nip at his waning patience.

“Again.” Fa Shi called out, never once sounding annoyed or impatient, and that didn’t help him. He should have been just as frustrated as him and yet he hardly seemed bothered at all! He waited until Lü Meng was in position before he reared his horse around and charged at him again. This time, as he drew close, Fa Shi let out a scream and the action put the young officer on edge, causing him to swing upwards at a different arc. This time, the hook of the glaive slashed the reins and forced it from the rider’s hands, but its rider never left the saddle, and Lü Meng cursed so much that he was breathless by the end of his tirade.

It was around this time that Zhou Yu decided to step in, and he would never understand the look that Shi Ran gave him from where he watched from the nearby carriage. “Watch your volume, Lü Meng. Unless you want to lure the attention of every bandit, pirate and wild animal in the province upon us.”

The look Shi Ran gave him was a cocktail of horror and scorn and it was most curious, but his attention did not linger on him for long. Lü Meng would not allow for it, as he worked on calming himself down. “No, sir. It’s not what I want.”

And oh what anger he held in that voice of his! Zhou Yu swore he could peel paint with the heat of that response and he pondered if all of it came from the training session. It sounded deeper than that, but perhaps he was looking too deep into the matter. It was so hard not to want to look at all the finer details. Fa Shi turned his horse around and bowed from atop his stead, addressing Zhou Yu as to give Lü Meng time to collect himself. “We’re sorry, Lord Zhou Yu. Lü Meng’s always been passionate about his training. We’ll call it a night if you fear it will put us in a precarious situation.”

“No, not at all. Perhaps if I could be of some assistance?”

From this angle, Fa Shi could not see how Lü Meng shook his head and he was forced to bite his lip to stop himself from cursing when Fa Shi accepted the offer. Damn him! “Of course! Would you like my horse, sir?”

“In a moment. Allow me to speak with Lü Meng first.”

No, Lü Meng didn’t want to speak with Zhou Yu, but what choice did he have? Fa Shi was clueless to the tension that existed between the two, but not Shi Ran. As Fa Shi dismounted, the dark-haired youth leaned over to Lü Meng and whispered over his shoulder. “I can try and talk him down if you want?”

Want? Yes. He knew that Zhou Yu would provoke him, even with Sun Ce’s demands to back off, and he wanted nothing to do with the matter. But he couldn’t back away from this, not without being insubordinate or making Zhou Yu suspicious. Before he could even find words to turn down Shi Ran’s offer, Zhou Yu was upon them and by the way the younger of the two stiffened, he could only wonder what cocky expression his new, charming tormentor wore. “Shi Ran, would you mind if I spoke with Lü Meng alone?”

“O-of course not, Lord Zhou Yu! I’ll just be over here… near the carriages where it’s safe. Call me if you two need me!”

Before he managed to retreat, though, Lü Meng took some solace in his silent apology. It was short lived. This would mean he’d be alone with Zhou Yu and he only had his own temper and flimsy control to rely on. Fa Shi was close by, though, he told himself. Fa Shi would stop him this time.

“It’s considered rude to not look at your fellow officers, Lü Meng. You may want to be careful with that, as some officers might take offense to that.”

It was certainly more words than Yu Mao would have used but it had the same effect, invoking a deep, guttural resentment within Lü Meng that he hoped wouldn’t bubble to the surface and show in his eyes when he looked at him. At least with Zhou Yu he found himself looking down and didn’t feel so terribly small as he did with Yu Mao prior. He was surprised to see his polite smile despite the edge in his voice. Not so surprising was the smugness that glistened in those deep brown eyes, as he addressed him. “That’s better. Now, your stance is accurate, but you’re intentionally holding back. May I ask why?”

He hoped to quell some of his flames by the time he spoke, lest he spit them out and set his lord’s friend alight that night. “I don’t think I’m holding back.”

“You are. I see it in your face. Every time Lieutenant Fa Shi makes a pass, you lock up and your response is too late to get the hook of the blade in.” There was no anger in his voice, but its tone wasn’t welcoming either. Zhou Yu had to expect his distrust in him and had the nerve to try and address him as though he genuinely wanted to see him succeed. It made him fume. “So, I ask again. Why do you hold back?”

He swore he could feel flames escaping his nostrils and tried to turn his head away without breaking eye contact. He wanted to burn this man but he was too low on the ladder to get away with it, he reminded himself, as he replied in earnest. “Because what if I hurt him? Or the horse?”

Zhou Yu said nothing as Fa Shi let out a low chuckle. “I wouldn’t worry about this one here. Po here has thick skin and I doubt anything will get through it these days.”

The horse flared its nostrils and nipped at Lü Meng’s turban, as though trying to soothe his worries in its own way. In spite of his foul mood, he could not resist the urge to shower the horse with affection, scratching the horse’s muzzle and finding some comfort to cling to, even when Zhou Yu stole it away. He grabbed the reins from Fa Shi and within seconds he was mounted atop the saddle, speaking as though he could not see the confusion that accented the young officer’s features. “Very well. I’ll give you someone you despise to practice with. Get ready for my pass, Lü Meng.”

He began to pull the horse around as Lü Meng found himself sputtering words, somehow managing to stop him in his tracks. “But, sir, I don’t-”

“Now Lü Meng, I was told by others you are an honest, if not brusque, man. Now is a horrible time to pick up on lying.” Zhou Yu wore a grin that would make any alligator envious and Lü Meng could bring himself to look up at the man before he pulled Po around and trotted to his position, calling to him as he did so. “Now get ready for my pass, and unlike Fa Shi, I will be seeking to strike you down.”

This was bad. This was really bad. Lü Meng felt a cold sweat hit him. He wasn’t surprised to know that Zhou Yu knew of his hatred of him. Of course Zhou Yu would see right through him. He was intelligent and Lü Meng knew he wasn’t the most difficult scroll to read either, so it seemed inevitable that he found out. No, he also wasn’t ungrateful for the chance to throw his tormentor to the ground and be allowed to get away with it. But he was afraid and he could not hide it. What if he went too far? What if he seriously injured him? What if he killed him? “Lord Zhou Yu, I can’t… I can’t do this!”

He wasn’t sure if Zhou Yu could even hear him as he now stood mounted at a far enough distance where the horse could break into a full gallop and merely waited for Lü Meng to get ready. Fa Shi had clearly seen Lü Meng’s fear and was hesitant to pass over his spear. “Lord Zhou Yu, are you sure this is wise?”

“No, it’s not, but it needs to be done. Have no worries, I’m merely testing him.”

“More like provoking, young lord.” Despite his mumble, he offered him his spear and took a step back. He wanted to offer his aide to Lü Meng, but he did not wish to expose too much about the young officer, especially against his will. And truthfully, what could he do? Like Lü Meng, he was far too low on the ladder to make a scene and get away with it. His next words weren’t at all meant for the strategist atop the horse but the man that couldn’t hear him from this distance. “Good luck.”

Zhou Yu said nothing to the officer and once again called out to Lü Meng, not at all liking that he hadn’t taken his position yet. It was hard not to see the panicked expression and Zhou Yu was quick to chide him for it. He chose his words with care. “You are an officer of Sun Ce, Lü Meng, an honor that I don’t feel you’re even remotely worth of. If you cannot properly utilize that weapon for his cause, then it’s worthless. Now, prove to me that our lord didn’t make a mistake that day and get into position. That’s an order.”

Oh yes, that wound went deep. Even from this distance, he could see him trembling and his face scrunched up into a horrid looking scowl. Had Zhou Yu been his enemy, he might have felt an inkling of fear but as it was, he felt more tickled from the expression and disappointed. The moment Lü Meng took position, he lost, and Zhou Yu was perhaps too eager for the chance to educate the young man and his lord.

He gave no further warning, kicking the horse and the urgency of the motion put the horse on edge, sending it charging at Lü Meng at full speed. The spear was at the ready and aimed where it would disarm the officer, hardly fitting for a practice run but Zhou Yu was confident that he would miss his target and that Lü Meng would not remove him from the saddle. Lü Meng, on the other hand, was terrified, enraged, and perhaps five other emotions thrown into a bag and shaken violently and he tried to tell himself that it was just practice. It was just Zhou Yu rattling his nerves and testing him. That the spear wasn’t actually going to pierce his chest, that this wasn’t the perfect plot to rid him of a troublesome pest, that his jealous didn’t overrule his logic…

He tried telling himself that but none of it seeped in. Now Zhou Yu was upon him and he had only seconds to act! He wanted to strike, but his body wouldn’t move. Even when Zhou Yu shouted at him, even when he could see the spear coming- nothing! He could move nothing!

What snapped him back to the present was the wailing of the horse and he rose his glaive, but too late. By the time he swung it, Zhou Yu had rushed past him, spear drawn back in but wounding him just as much with that smarmy grin. Lü Meng could see Fa Shi moving to intervene, but all it took was a movement from Zhou Yu and he backed away. The strategist lifted his spear up and made his intentions clear. He was coming back around for another pass, and Lü Meng, determined not to be embarrassed a second time, spun on his heels to face him. “Fine! Damn you too!”

He could not see Fa Shi’s worried expression or how Shi Ran motioned to them from the carriage, as his eyes only saw his opponent. He spread his legs apart and pulled the glaive into position, the sweep of the blade and tip touching the ground and the hook poised. The steel in his eyes warned Zhou Yu that he was not only ready, but eager. He would not be ridiculed like this! And if it meant letting a senior officer walk away with a few bruises and a lashing for himself later, then so be it. “Come on! Come on!”

Now he heard Fa Shi approaching and Shi Ran’s shout, but he paid them no mind. All he could hear were the thundering hooves of Po. All he could see was the glimmer of disgust and amusement in Zhou Yu’s eyes. All he felt was the desire to wipe that smug, arrogant grin off his face. He’d have only one chance…

Lü Meng swung his glaive, catching the spear and penetrating its shoddy defense, and yet it was enough to protect its rider… or so it seemed. Once again, the hook never touched Zhou Yu but it bit into the saddle and something ripped away, causing the saddle to slide off of the horse’s back and throwing its rider off the side. Lü Meng spun around, longing to see Zhou Yu’s fall from grace and it was just as satisfying as he could have possibly imagined. He could not hear it bones snapped or if he landed in an embarrassing position. All he could see was him fall over the side and roll in the dirt, and it felt… damn good.

Too bad the feeling did not last for long, as no sooner did he lower his weapon, he could see Sun Ce fastly approaching and he did not look happy. Suddenly he understood what Fa Shi and Shi Ran were trying to warm him about, and he, the fool that he was, immediately regretted not listening. He stood at attention, but it did him no good, as the moment his lord was standing before him, he was on him. “Lü Meng, what the hell did I tell you the other day?”

Any confidence he may have gained from his feat was gone and not even looking at Zhou Yu being helped to his feet by Fa Shi and another could make that pleased feeling return. Before his lord could bark another order, he did managed to fumble out some words in hopes of quelling a little of his anger. “Sir, that… I should not let others co… coer… convince me to do things I know not to be right, even if they are a senior officer. Right?”

“And what did you do?”

Lü Meng fought with himself, wondering the best course to take from here. He could throw the blame on Zhou Yu and explain how he provoked him, but… that did not matter, it seemed. By now, Zhou Yu stood upright and dusted himself off, and he looked back at his lord so that he wouldn’t see the man’s triumphant smile. The other option was just to accept that he failed to heed his lord’s advice, and his answer was meek for a man that just threw another from atop a galloping horse. “Not that.”

Would it be enough? He doubted it. But the one to come to his rescue was neither Fa Shi nor even Shi Ran. It was Zhou Yu. “My lord, please, there’s no need for that. It was all a training session that I more or less forced onto him. It was dangerous, however, he’s performed quite admirably, wouldn’t you say?”

Lü Meng wasn’t the only one confused and he allowed Sun Ce to ask the question that burned in his head. “What are you even talking about? He could have killed you- probably wanted to, and I wouldn’t have blamed him with how you ruffled him like that.”

“Oh, he wanted to harm me, but kill? No. And he did neither, despite having the perfect opportunity. He channeled his anger and used it appropriately instead of being consumed by it.” And then Zhou Yu looked to him and the man he praised wanted to run and hide, even when there was no where to go. What was Zhou Yu doing? Where did this come from? And how the hell was he expected to respond? “I’ll admit I may have pushed you too hard, Lü Meng, but I wanted to test you as well as teach you a valuable lesson. It was not out of spite or whatever you may think I feel about you. I merely wished to see how you’d perform when under duress and to see if you could hold back if necessary. But you’re decision to strike the saddle instead of go for me and risk gorging me… well played.”

No, even after his explanation he was terribly muddled. Zhou Yu may as well been speaking a different language and he was certain his own treacherous eyes were blank to reveal his confusion to all. He couldn’t trust himself to speak and so he didn’t. Which, apparently, fell right into Zhou Yu’s scheme splendidly. “And so modest, too. I see what it is that Sun Ce and others like about you. My lord, hold no anger for Lü Meng, for he performed well. Controlling his temper and turning it into an asset will need some work, but he shows promise at least.”

All the while, Sun Ce’s expression softened, and it seemed that if Zhou Yu’s aim was to win Sun Ce’s heart, then he most certainly won. There was no sign of suspicion in his gaze and Lü Meng nearly yelped when his lord slapped his hand on his shoulder. “Alright then, seeing as you had it under control and all, then I’ll take it back. Well done, Lü Meng.”

Gift horse. That’s what the saying was. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Did that apply here? If he said anything contradictory, he’d only be digging his own grave and invalidate any good that came from Zhou Yu’s ‘praise’. Did he mean any of it or was it all to keep them out of trouble? If so, why both? Why not just himself? It was all just… it felt him addle brained and Lü Meng wouldn’t stand for it! “Yes, my lord,” he ended up saying if only to put an end to his misery. No matter what, Zhou Yu won. Let Zhou Yu win. “May I be dismissed now?”

“Granted. Take the horse back to the rest and make sure his saddle gets repaired before you start your shift for the evening.” Sun Ce saw no reason not to let him go and Lü Meng was grateful. “I need to talk with Zhou Yu anyways.”

So relieved was Lü Meng that he left before he could see how Sun Ce’s face broke into a scowl and he may have rejoiced to see it was directed solely at Zhou Yu. However, he simply approached the now calm horse and took the reins and saddle. He was eager to flee to the makeshift stables and just call it a night. He had enough of being Zhou Yu’s punching bag for one night…

He wanted nothing more this evening than to return the horse to its proper place and retreat to his family’s carriage, but he was a fool to think his night would end so peacefully. No sooner did he reach the stables did he find trouble, or, perhaps more accurately, trouble found him. He could tell that something wasn’t right when he was eclipsed in another’s shadow and he looked up to see the bucking grey stallion. Its angered and distressed whiny pierced the heavens almost and set Po on edge, forcing Lü Meng to stop and stare at the man atop the horse, gripping to its reins for his dear life.

Lü Meng might not have thought too much of the occurrence except for three glaring details: this man could not have been part of their army for he had never laid eyes upon him before, the horse was protesting wildly to this man that had the nerve to try and abduct him, and lastly the golden bells that jingled at the horse thief’s waist would forever engrave themselves into his mind for the rest of his days, as long or as short as they may be...
A River's Final Meandering -- Chapter Nine
Chapter 01: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 02: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 03: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 04: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 05: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 06: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 07: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 08: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 10: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…

DISCLAIMER: This is a piece of fiction, inspired by the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the video game series Shin Sangokumusou | Dynasty Warriors. Names of individuals that I could not find their names either through the Koei Warriors Wiki or Kongming Archives are given false names and (hopefully) bare no resemblance to any other persons or characters, either living or dead.

Summary:

In which Lü Meng receives a new weapon from Deng Dang and must undergo a test from a harsh teacher...

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Interlopers

One or both of the quarterstaffs snapped from the weight and Lü Meng scrambled to recover. Down each of the youths went and he managed to drop to his knees and caught the smallest boy, Ling Tong, on his thigh. Shi Ran managed to land on his feet and Lianshi caught Shangxiang and broke her fall splendidly. From the corner of his eyes, Lü Meng watched in barely contained horror, as Sun Quan fell backwards, but Zhou Tai swooped out of seemingly nowhere and caught the young lord before any harm could come to him. Only then did Lü Meng let out a shaky breath, and just like that, the rest of the world caught up with him.

“Lü Meng! What in heaven’s name were you even thinking? You knew those staffs wouldn’t hold that weight!”

The one to jump on him was not his lord but Zhou Yu, a feat that surprised no one and when he closed the distance between them, Lü Meng squared his shoulders and braced for a strike that didn’t come. The one that was cuffed, however, was Quan, as Sun Ce turned his own attention to his younger brother, successfully drowning out Zhou Yu’s lecture with his own. “Quan, I told you to stop taxing my bodyguards like that! Now you’ve gone and broke two perfectly good quarterstaffs and could have seriously injured Lü Meng and the others!”

As Sun Quan struggled with words, Lü Meng stepped in and around Zhou Yu and tried to speak for the younger brother’s defense without angering Sun Ce or Zhou Yu. “My lord, forgive me, it was my doing. Lady Lianshi warned me not to-“

But Sun Ce cut him off, giving him a stern look that warned the young bodyguard to not dare speak out of turn again. By now, Ling Cao and the other generals had returned and watched in silence as Sun Ce disciplined his younger brother. “Quan, you are getting older and you’ll be taking on more responsibilities, and one of which is knowing the limitations of your fellow officers. Lü Meng could have broken his back or really injured himself, and what for? A game? You shouldn’t push your officers so or you’ll risk losing them. Do you understand?”

“Yes, brother…” It was unclear whether Sun Quan did understand or if he was merely speaking to appease Sun Ce’s anger, but it was enough to draw the heat away from him for the moment.

“As for you, Lü Meng…”

Now Lü Meng grew sick and dared not let anyone else see just how much he dreaded his lord’s incoming lecture. Zhou Yu backed away and Lü Meng was too caught up in his own dilemma to see if he wore a smug grin or not. Yu Mao would have- was Zhou Yu to be his Yu Mao now? Sun Ce was suddenly in front of him and any other thought he had simply fled his mind now. “Yes, my lord. I’m prepared for any punishment you deem fit.”

He sounded so much braver than he felt and he knew that if anyone there could see right through him, it’d be his lord. He was angry, angrier than he ever recalled seeing him in the five years he served under him, and his anger was clear as the sun in the sky. In lieu of that anger, he tried to make himself seem small, a grand feat considering he stood taller than his lord since his last and presumably final growth spurt. This did him no good, it seemed, as his anger seemed to intensify. “And there’s the problem, isn’t it? You are totally content to allow anyone to walk over you, despite what it does to you. You should have told him no, Lü Meng, because you knew that the staffs would snap after Lianshi warned you, right?”

He was terribly confused and he could do nothing to hide it. So, he chose not to for now. “Yes, sir, I mean, I thought they might, but I would have done it anyways.”

“And why is that? To make Quan happy? As an officer, you’re going to have to stand your ground and learn to check or question your superior officers, especially if you know they’re going to do something that will put their life or another’s in danger.”

It did nothing for his confusion and now the bodyguard was hesitant to say anything. Once he found his words, he chose to be honest again and he knew the inflection in his voice wouldn’t do him any justice as he probed his lord for verification. “But my lord, wouldn’t that be insubordination?”

“No, it’s only when you deliberately disobey an order, like Quan did,” Sun Ce said, casting a glance at Sun Quan and making the youth flinch. After that, however, his anger softened, though there was a hint of frustration to take its place. Lü Meng wasn’t sure why he looked so disappointed or why Ling Cao and Huang Gai were grinning behind their lord. What did he miss? What didn’t he understand? “Questioning your superior officer when you think they’re going down a path you know it dangerous, either physically or politically, is what is expected of a good officer. Sometimes you have to act as their eyes and ears, and sometimes their brains, like Lianshi did. You can’t just follow blindly and expect anyone to take you serious as an equal in this army.”

“I…” Lü Meng wondered which would have been worse for him, to ask further what Sun Ce mean and thus show his ignorance, or proclaiming he understood and made a liar out of himself. Neither were really good solutions and both could have backfired horrendously. What confused him was that Sun Ce had said ‘good officer’, when he knew he was no more than a bodyguard, but he was too filled with doubt to want to risk blatantly show off his confusion. So, he yielded to simply accepting his lord’s advice and hoped it’d be enough and that he’d figure it out later. “Yes, my lord. I’ll keep that in mind. I apologize my misconduct.”

Sun Ce let out a sigh and Lü Meng almost wanted to panic. It was never a good sign when his lord sighed like that! It seemed that he would have Ling Cao to thank, though, as he was quick to draw his lord’s attention away from the confused bodyguard for the moment. “Lord Sun, don’t worry. We’ll have enough time to fill him in. Neither he nor Lord Quan are beyond help and learn from this in due time.”

“You’re volunteering to explain his new duties to him along the way then, general?”

The scar that accented the veteran’s lip became all the more noticeable when he smiled and it threatened to push Lü Meng into madness if someone didn’t just tell him what was going on soon. “I am, my lord. It will leave you open to to handle your own matters and I wouldn’t mind the extra hand in dealing with Ling Tong’s training. He’d have more use for a babysitter than you, my lord.”

“Then make it so, Ling Cao.”

There were no objections to the matter and none there looked more pleased than Zhou Yu, as he failed to hide his smile even as he bowed his head. “Very well, then, it seems settled. My lord, would you kindly inform your former bodyguard of what’s going on? We wouldn’t want that confused expression to stick to his face forever.”

That hurt more than anything Yu Mao threw at him, but Lü Meng refused to allow his snarl to escape his throat. How much longer would he have to be mocked? Not much longer, as Sun Ce immediately intervened. “I will once you remove that barbed edge in your tone, Zhou Yu. Take it easy on him. He didn’t grow up around you to build a taste or an immunity for your snark.”

Whatever issue Zhou Yu may have had with him may forever be a mystery, but at least his lord was not willing to turn a blind eye as Deng Dang and others had before. And where Yu Mao might have scowled and sneered, Zhou Yu wore something of a startled look and a rather believable apologetic smile as he bowed… to Sun Ce, not sparing a single bit of it for the man he openly insulted. “I’m sorry, my lord. I will endeavor to speak in a more coddling tone, if it should suit you?”

There were unspoken words between the two, and one had to be deaf or dumb, or maybe a little naive to not hear the downright mockery in Zhou Yu’s smooth, cultured voice. Lü Meng heard it and he was certain that others did as well, but thankfully no one laughed at his expense. Sun Ce eventually shook his head and waved his friend off, before addressing his bodyguard- no, former bodyguard, Zhou Yu had said, didn’t he? “Lü Meng, from this day forward, you will no longer be a part of my personal guard. You will be an officer and thus work your way up the ranks. Ling Cao here will help your transition, but I’m sure you’ll pick up on it well enough. So congratulations, Lü Meng, you’ll be an officer of my own army. Do me proud!”

It was a lot to take in, and he was certain that he didn’t get all of it in. Yes, absolutely certain he didn’t understand it fully, but Sun Ce and others were smiling. Even Zhou Yu wa smiling, though he doubted its authenticity. But it had to be a good thing, right? He saluted his lord, cupping his balled fist in his hand and bowing at the waist, despite himself, despite not knowing just what he was getting himself into. “I will not let you down, Lord Sun Ce!”

~*~*~



“Meng, Meng, wake up!”

“I was never asleep to begin with.” Tried as he might, Lü Meng could hold no anger for Yenji for resorting to shaking him. After all, he eyes were closed and his breathing was a trained softness, meant to give the appearance of sleep but hiding a fully awake and conscious bodyguard. No, not a bodyguard anymore. Soldier. Officer. Promoted, apparently. No, he was too excited to sleep and old habits did now all for him to have the luxury of rest. However, the day’s events and his recent promotion left him dead to the world, a terrible spot to be in for a sentinel, but thankfully, it wasn’t his concern any longer. So, he opened his eyes and looked at his sister, curious as to why she was even up. “Yes, Yenji?”

His sister looked disheveled and tired and not to mention cranky, but all things considered, she had every right to be. Whoever woke her up had also woke her three year old daughter and when little Mailing was pulled from her sleep, nothing short of snuggling against her mother’s bosom would calm her. Lü Meng pulled himself up and tread carefully around his slumbering nephew that laid next to him, moaning softly at the loss of his pillow but succumbing to sleep before they feared another child to tend to. Yenji pointed to the window with her nose and her annoyance could not be masked when she whispered. “Shi Ran’s outside and he won’t go away unless you talk to him. Go before I throw a shoe at him.”

Lü Meng moved to the window with purpose, more curious as to what would have brought the teen out in the night than appeasing Yenji’s wrath. At first he couldn’t spot the youngster, but it’d only be a matter of time before he’d reveal himself. It was still dark. What would Shi Ran want to talk to him about so late at night? He called out in a terse whisper, letting Shi Ran know better than to fool around with him now. “Shi Ran, I’m here. What do you need?”

Yes, need, because no one would seek him out in the middle of the night because they wanted to, he told himself. A few seconds passed with only chirping crickets to fill the silence, but eventually, Shi Ran poked his head over the window sill, his sly grin would have been a welcome sight had he not managed to wake up Yenji and his niece and thus put Lü Meng in a terrible spot. “Can you meet me in the stables?”

“What is this about?”

“Come on, not here with your scary sister standing behind you.”

He didn’t need Shi Ran to tell him that as he could feel her eyes drilling into him like arrow points. And still, he could not help but sympathize with both the youth and his sister. One had something important to discuss with him, he hoped, and the other just wanted to have a full night’s rest for once! “She’s not scary, she’s tired. Now get going. I’ll see you there.”

What he should have done was just tell Shi Ran to just go and allow whatever he wanted to discuss with him to wait, but now he was entirely too curious to not know. Not that he would sleep any time soon anyways. “I’ll be quiet coming back in,” he said to Yenji, giving his unruly niece a kiss on the forehead in hopes of helping sooth her and leaving before anymore trouble could brew in their shared home.

“You better, or I’ll leave her with you tomorrow.”

It was hardly a threat but he learned not to tell her a thing, lest she come up with a real punishment instead. Hours passed and already he was feeling his shoulders tense from his failed feat from earlier in the day, and he hoped none of that pain spilled over into his voice as he called out to Shi Ran the moment he entered the stables. “So, you wanted to talk? Talk.”

He gave a nod to the guard out of courtesy, and though there was a only a single lantern lit, he could see well enough into the stables to make out every horse and stall. He spotted Shi Ran standing next to Sun Ce’s favored white stallion, making up for waking the horse from its slumber by offering it a tender stroke of its neck, and despite having just woken his sister and niece, he seemed willing to keep his voice low now. Perhaps wiling up the horses in the dead of night would have proved more disastrous and not to mention attracted unwanted attention, so he was willing to let it pass. “Sorry about waking your family, but Quan really wanted me to relay the message as soon as possible and you know how I don’t like to let others down.”

Lü Meng arched a dark brow and only grew even more curious now. Shi Ran didn’t want to see him, but Sun Quan? “Lord Quan has a message for me? Why isn’t he here himself?”

“He can’t, not at the moment anyways. Zhou Tai’s been reassigned to him now and you know Zhou Tai well by now to know that he wouldn’t allow his charge out of his sights.”

This surprised the young officer and he wore a terrible poker face. He didn’t realize that Zhou Tai had been reassigned. In the confusion that followed after his failed feat, the scolding that he suffered and then the promotion, he couldn’t focus too much on what else was discussed or if there was anything left for discussion at all. Obviously there was. “I didn’t know he was reassigned.”

“You wouldn’t have. Our lord made the decision after we were all dismissed. Sun Quan was just as surprised as you are, by the looks of it.”

“I hope our lord will be safe then,” Lü Meng said, unable to hide the concern from his voice. Should he even be concerned now? Being that he was no longer a bodyguard? He steeled himself and chased away any doubt he might have felt in even asking that. Of course he should. Sun Ce was still his lord and he was a loyal officer, one that would gladly give his life for him. “Anyway, what did Lord Quan want to tell me?”

That snapped Shi Ran back into focus, giving the horse one last parting scratch before pulling away to stand in front of Lü Meng. “Oh, right, the message. I wouldn’t make a good errand boy. Here.”

He reached into his coat sleeve and produced a letter, not at all noticing the horror that screamed in silence in Lü Meng’s green eyes thanks to the low light in the stables. Despite this, Lü Meng accepted the letter and opened it, keeping his eyes cast downward in fear that Shi Ran would see how his eyes danced across the parchment but didn’t comprehend the characters before him, that he could see the bold marks of the brush but knew near to nothing in their meaning. Moments passed and the words did not make anymore sense than they did when he first looked at them, and what was worse was that now Shi Ran was growing impatient. “Well? What’s is say?”

“I’m not sure.” Lü Meng did not mean to sound so terse, but it seemed inevitable. He pondered if he should have just been straight with the youth and told the truth and be done with it. But after the scolding and humiliation that he suffered today, he found he didn’t care much for the taste. So, he did something he never thought he’d do. He lied. “The light’s too dim and my eyes are tired. Makes it hard to read.”

And Shi Ran, never the wiser, extended a hand to him. “I’ll read it for you then.”

Lü Meng blinked back his surprise and couldn’t help but question Shi Ran. “What if it’s a personal matter, though?”

Shi Ran shrugged and made grabbing motions with his hand now. “Then I’ll force myself to forget it. You can trust me, right?”

Now that was something he had no doubt in. For better or for worse, he did trust him and most everyone he had met in Sun Ce’s ranks, and so without further reservation he passed him the letter. To see Shi Ran just breeze through it so easily was definitely a blow to his ego but he dared not utter a word, lest he give his handicap away. No one needed to know that Lü Meng, peasant born and stowaway to war, couldn’t read or write…

“It reads as this. ‘Lü Meng, I was informed by my brother to send a formal letter of apology for abusing my status and so I will do so soon. This letter is my informal one. Truly I am sorry I overtaxed you and know that I hold no grudge or ill feelings over the affairs, and I hope the same can be said for you. Signed, Sun Quan.’”

Lü Meng waited a moment and assumed that there was nothing left of the letter’s content. Still, he asked, just in case. “That all? Seemed an awful lot of characters for that.”

“Pretty much. There’s some filler stuff, you know, dates, titles, some fancy stuff that he’s probably put in out of habit. It’s mostly to appease any nobility we write to and like I said, probably just added it out of habit.”

Lü Meng was content, at least. To have some sort of apology even if it was unnecessary was enough to quell any qualms he had, or was suppose to have, according to Sun Quan and his older brother. “Thank you, Shi Ran. He’s going to want a reply to his letter, though, won’t he?”

“Mostly likely, yep. It’s why I brought some parchment and ink.” And just like that, Shi Ran was handing them to him. Lü Meng stared down at them as though he was being handed a snake and Shi Ran’s curiosity got the better of him. “What’s wrong?

“I’m not… the… uh… best when it comes to…”

“Writing? Oh, are your hands injured from the incident earlier?”

“Afraid so.” Lü Meng was so ashamed of himself, to readily admit to an injury he didn’t have instead of simply admitting the truth. It was strange, to be preferred to be seen as momentarily crippled than illiterate.

“No matter, I’ll write it for you.” And Shi Ran, ever eager to please, was more than happy to assist, getting right to work without Lü Meng even needing to ask. He moved to the table and flashed Lü Meng an imploring look once everything was ready. “Well, go on. Should I do the customary greetings, or more casual? You know what, given your rank, I’ll go with super informal. You don’t want to risk setting off the wrong people with that kind of stuff.”

“Ah, thanks, Shi Ran. You’re much too kind. Just tell him that his apology is appreciated, but unnecessary. All is forgiven.”

Shi Ran brushed out the words with such ease and finesse that Lü Meng swore he was mocking him and within a few moments, he was once again looking at him expectedly. When Lü Meng said nothing, he urged him on. “What else?”

“What else is there to say?”

Lü Meng wasn’t sure what else he could say, but at least Shi Ran was willing to leave it at that. “Straight to the point! Okay, I’ll add a respectful ending and that’ll be fine. I’ll get this to him immediately, so that he can sleep better tonight.”

“Thank you again…I didn’t realize I was causing him some discomfort at all.” The former bodyguard mumbled, turning away and allowing Shi Ran to work without distraction. All in all, it wasn’t too bad and at least he managed to get Shi Ran off his scent for the moment. He’d just have to hope that there wouldn’t be a next time. “Shi Ran, would I have to do this a lot as an officer?”

“Periodically. The higher the rank or political status, the more you’ll be expected to handle these kind of things. Tallying supplies, equipment, writing edicts and reports, issuing orders, you know, those sort of things.”

“And men of war? Like, those who strictly fight?”

Now this piqued Shi Ran’s interests but not enough to arouse his suspicions. He blew on the ink and give it time to dry as he considered the question, and his answer seemed genuine enough. “Well, not to the extent of state officials or strategists, I suppose. Not sure why anyone would want to do just that, but I guess not everyone has what it takes to ascend the ranks.”

“Maybe some people just like to keep it simple,” Lü Meng said, some malice leaking into his gruff voice despite his best efforts and he sought to change the subject before Shi Ran could wise up to him. “I cannot thank you enough, Shi Ran. You should probably head back home now before your uncle finds you out here.”

Shi Ran flashed him a snide grin and scoffed at the very notion, not at all worried about his uncle. “Old man won’t catch me this time! You worry too much.”

“Or just enough. Good nigh-”

His time as a bodyguard had offered him some habits and tricks and his ears, always attuned to his surroundings, caught the sound of booted feet hitting dirt, and in a rapid manner. Not running, but their pace was brisk and hurried. They, because there were at least two people approaching. “We’re about to have company.”

Shi Ran let out a ‘yikes’ and immediately darted back into the stall, grabbing onto Lü Meng’s arm and pulling him along with him. ‘So much for not being afraid of his uncle,’ Lü Meng thought to himself, all the while resisting the urge to smile. No, he wouldn’t tease the boy for his scurried panic-- being caught chatting in the stables would have raised suspicions and likely started rumors. He may not have much of a reputation to concern himself with for the moment, but he knew Shi Ran’s to be vital and for his sake, he joined the teen in hiding. The white stallion did not so much as protest the sudden visitors but grew curious and Lü Meng placed a comforting hand over his fuzzy muzzle, quelling its fidgeting with a familiar scent. The moment the horse settled down and they were crouched in the stall, the mystery men all but stormed in and they didn’t have to wait long to know who they were hiding from, as Sun Ce’s voice threatened to startle not just his own but the rest of the horses. “Now you just wait a minute, Yu.”

“Keep your voice down.” Zhou Yu countered the flames that licked the air with ice, but that did not make his tone any less deadly than Sun Ce’s. “You’ll wake the horses and thus your men.”

Their lord let out a growl but did make a conscious effort to watch his volume, as the next outburst was considerably softer, though still potent with barely contained anger. “Fine, fine. But seriously. I thought everything went as you wanted it to go today, so I don’t see why you’re acting like this.”

“Acting like what, my lord?”

Oh yes, Zhou Yu was definitely livid despite how sweet and coaxing his voice could be. Lü Meng wasn’t sure exactly how he knew or if it was his own suspicions of the man getting the better of him, but he wasn’t at all fooled by the honey in his tone. And neither was Sun Ce, for that matter. “Don’t play dumb. That’ll never work for you. You’re acting like I’m intentionally scorning you or something, and what for? Because of him?”

There was movement outside the stall and the two interlopers had tried to scuttle in deeper. Thankfully their movements were masked by Zhou Yu’s icy retort. “And are you not? You’re babying him and it’s unbecoming of you.”

“No I’m not. I don’t think I’m treating him any different from the rest of my men. I treat him like he’s a human being, like I’m suppose to.”

Lü Meng felt someone nudge him and he drew his gaze to Shi Ran. The teen mouthed the words ‘who’ when he looked at him. Lü Meng had a feeling as to who they were talking about but he wasn’t willing to make a guess, should he be wrong and risk looking vain or paranoid. He shook his head and placed a finger over his lips. It was already bad enough they were eavesdropping on his lord and him NOT be on duty while doing so like the other times. It’d be disastrous if they got caught.

“Oh? So bringing him into your personal guard instead of simply enlisting him as a soldier, as is customary, that’s not favoring him?”

‘Yep. Definitely me.’ The guilty party shrunk deeper into his hiding spot when Shi Ran flashed him a dubious look. Sensing his distress, the horse snorted and sought to move ahead when that warm, comforting hand began to drift out of reach. Lü Meng kept his head low, certain that he couldn’t handle anymore embarrassment tonight that was sure to come his way, so he kept close enough to the horse to keep it quiet. ‘This is going to go horribly.’

“You’re still going on about that? It’s been, what, five years? I’ll explain it you again for the hundredth time. I made him my bodyguard to keep an eye on him and monitor him. See what talents he might have and how best to utilize him in my army.” Sun Ce sounded exasperated. How many times did these two go over the matter, Lü Meng wondered. It had to be a lot, obviously, to get his lord so worked up. Then, of course, that meant that he was the cause of a lot of arguments for his lord and that only made him wish to shrink away even more, even when his lord took such a bold defense for him. “You’re the one that keeps thinking there’s more to it than that. How many more times will I have to explain myself to you before you’ll let it be?”

“Until I’m convinced you’re telling me the full truth, but I’m willing to let it go for the time being. After all, he is no longer part of your personal guard.”

“Right, by -your- recommendation, by the way. So why are you still so prickly about it?”

It was a good question but Lü Meng was certain he wanted nothing to do with it. He wanted to think that the reason his lord gave him was the truth. He didn’t want to think it was all just to appease Zhou Yu and whatever apparent disgust he held for him. But he could not ignore them or block them out now. “Because honestly I don’t think he’s ready, nor do I see any good coming out of him, not without some serious work. He’s brash-”

“He’s young.”

“He’s quick-tempered.”

To that, Sun Ce snorted, mimicking his horse almost perfectly. “So am I and you tend to find that charming.”

“He’s killed a soldier to mocking him about his age.” There was absolutely no mirth or humor to be found in Zhou Yu’s voice as it was more desolate than any desert Lü Meng could imagine.

“You harp on that and yet you are continuously taking shots at him. You’re baiting him and get upset when he reacts. Where’s the logic in that?”

“Someone has to make sure he doesn’t lose himself again, and I figured it may as well be me, seeing as you insist on coddling him.” And yet, there was no victory on either side and the last round lead to a momentary ceasefire. All the while, there may not have been humor in Zhou Yu’s soft, cultured voice, despite his words against him, and it only served to further confuse Lü Meng. How could someone who apparently despised him speak of him in such a calm and collected manner? He felt insulted and confused, a terrible combination for any man to feel. At least his suspicions were correct and that the senior officer was intentionally flinging insults upon him, but that did not make him feel any better. Only worse. “Thus far, he’s managed to keep his head, but I’ve been holding back. I’ll have to push him a little harder to see-”

“You’ll do no such thing.” The Sun lord snapped and his voice left no room for argument. “First of all, it’s an order, and secondly, despite what you think, he’s changed. You may not have noticed, but that’s because you haven’t been around him as often as I have since we picked him up. You watched him earlier today, didn’t you?”

“What I saw was a brash and overly passionate young man nearly lose his head during a duel that could have ended poorly, and then later on, nearly injure your siblings and his classmates with his reckless behavior.”

Something happened and both Lü Meng and Shi Ran were surprised to see them fall into view now. Sun Ce stepped forward and grabbed Zhou Yu’s shoulders and they feared for the strategist’s life, though it was for naught. There was no anger, no rage within the Sun lord, but his voice was edged with frustration, the sound of it making Lü Meng squirm. His lord didn’t need to stick up for him like this… “And did he? Okay, so he was close to snapping, but he managed to reign it back in, even before Quan showed up. And I’ll admit, he displayed poor judgement there, but he’s been scolded, and he’ll learn.” And then, to undermine everything, he muttered with a hint of a laugh. “I hope. But he’s getting better and he can only continue to get better. You’re not giving him a chance. You’ve seen the improvement, but you chose not to see it simply because you’re jealous.”

Shi Ran threatened to give them away with a gasp but he managed to throw both hands over his mouth, stifling whatever noise did manage to escape his lips. Lü Meng wanted to cast a fierce glare at the youth but he simply couldn’t bring himself to move, or blink, or even breathe. What did Sun Ce mean? Jealous? Of whom? Why would Zhou Yu, or anyone, be jealous? The strategist was quick to dismiss the notion and the interlopers watched as Zhou Yu managed to free himself from Sun Ce’s touch without hardly moving at all. “You were the one that reigned him back in the first place, and you more scolded Quan for pressuring him into doing it and less for Lü Meng. But if you seem confident that he’s improved, then I’ll leave the matter be. As for that last bit? Hardly. There is nothing he has that I desire, Ce, and that’s a rather cheap shot coming from you.”

“He has my attention, right? Or had. Sometimes that’s enough to make you flare up like a peacock.”

Zhou Yu turned away and had he not been seething, he might have spotted either of the two within the stall and they grew deathly still. Neither one wished to be caught, especially now, when the tension threatened to constrict even tighter and crush the air within their lungs. Lü Meng couldn’t breathe- he was too mortified to breathe and he hoped that Sun Ce or Zhou Yu would simply give up their fight and leave, or simply take it elsewhere. Whether Zhou Yu had heard his silent plea or simply had enough, the strategist was the first to turn about and continue on his way, moving to his stall and his voice stirring his own horse from its slumber. And thankfully, Sun Ce followed, sparing the two interlopers from their wraths for a few moments more. “Now I know you have a brain in that head of yours, Ce, and I know you’re not a fool. I’m going to be the better man and chose not to acknowledge that this part of our discussion never came up and will instead choose to focus on the more important matter at hand. In case you’ve forgotten it already.”

“I haven’t, you just decided to dwell on that instead! Fine, be that way, but know that you’re wrong, and I’ll be looking forward to the day he proves you wrong, too. I’ll be standing there, wearing the biggest grin I can muster, and you’re going to take it with the pride and dignity that I know you have and not be a big baby about it.” They could tell that Sun Ce did not feel like being brushed off and Lü Meng knew more than anyone that his lord did not handle defeat well. He could hear it in his voice, scratching like a tiger’s claws against its cage but unable to penetrate deep enough, as Zhou Yu would not even acknowledge his efforts. Their backs were turned to Sun Ce’s stable and the path was clear, but Lü Meng had no will to move. Even when Shi Ran waved at him, he remained in his corner, rubbing the horse’s fuzzy nose and hoping to distract himself from just how defeated he felt at that moment, knowing that Zhou Yu may as well be Yu Mao in different and deceptively handsome clothing. Not even the mysterious secret that Sun Ce was eluding to could distract him, as his lord finally dropped the matter and helped Zhou Yu saddle his stead. “You sure you want to ride out alone? I can send Huang Gai or another officer with you?”

“No, it’d only be suspicious if you sent any of your generals out with me. As it is now, they won’t question a single rider and if they do, who best to talk their way out of a predicament than me?” And just like that, Zhou Yu seemed more passive, calm, less prickly, and Lü Meng felt little warmth from it. Of course he sounded kinder- he wasn’t the focus on the conversation! “However, it would be prudent to get your affairs with Lord Yuan Shu in order and soon. Are you sure you wish to give him the Imperial Seal? I’m sure you have enough gold stored to purchase all that you need from him.”

“Of course I do, but what’s gold to the Imperial Seal? Besides, it’d be better to save the gold for when we have our return home. Who knows how much renovations that place is going to need, and we wouldn’t want to make a bad first impression by expecting the people to pay, right?”

Shi Ran was intrigued but was wise to keep his mouth shut, but Lü Meng cared little for where the conversation was going. What of the Imperial Seal? What of this talk of a homecoming? He should have cared, he wanted to care, but it simply wasn’t there. Not yet, anyways. Maybe in the morning once he’s slept this disgrace off, assuming he could even sleep, but now, he found it all too easy for him to simply shut his mind and heart down. Not think, simply be. Simply exist, even if it apparently brought his lord’s friend and strategist dissatisfaction. “You are kind, Ce, far kinder than any other man I know whose family name holds weight in this world. I wish you the best of luck with dealing with Lord Yuan Shu, but I have faith that you will come out of the deal just fine. I’ll send word out once I reach Wujun. You’ll take care of yourself, won’t you?”

Because of the angle, neither Shi Ran nor Lü Meng could see the expressions they wore, and it may have been for the best. Lü Meng didn’t want to think of seeing such a kind and warm expression on the face of a man that hated him, to know that he would likely never get a fraction of that kindness only made the bitterness he felt all the worse. “Well, I’m going to have to. I just gave up two of the best bodyguards’ I ever had. Be safe, Yu.”

And then, without another word, Zhou Yu lead his stead out of the barn and passed by Sun Ce’s stables, never once thinking of checking the stall, never once seeing how Lü Meng struggled to keep his eyes downwards, fearing that he would set the man alight with the intensity of gaze alone. Lü Meng remained perfectly still, even when it was clear that the strategist had mounted and rode off into the night. Where Sun Ce was and how long he would remain in the stables was a mystery to him, but at least he had Shi Ran to thank. When the youth tapped his shoulder, he rose to his feet once more and moved quickly and with purpose, never looking around at his surroundings and thinking only of retreating from the stables before anyone else could barge in and throw more at his feet.

He would never know just how close the two of them were to getting caught that night, as if he had taken a moment to stop, Sun Ce might have caught sight of their retreating forms and chased them down. However, it seemed that fortune was kind enough to offer him at least one victory this night, as they managed to make their way all the way to Lü Meng’s home before ever once slowing down. He felt Shi Ran at his heels and wanted to know why he was still following him instead of simply going to his own home, but he found that the question did not want to escape his mouth. In fact, he wasn’t even sure he was capable of speech at all, and Shi Ran’s question only made the lump in his throat thicker. “That was a lot to take in, I bet. You… um… you alright?”

Was he? Physically, yes. Emotionally? Angry, distraught, with hopelessness thrown in. He didn’t trust himself to speak and so he chose not to, knowing that whatever he’d say would be wrong and risk hurting the wrong person entirely. Five years had passed and he had hoped to escape that blotch from his past, only to see it had taken a different form. One that was intelligent, admired by others, and worst of all, close to his lord. One he could never combat or think to defeat, or prove wrong, apparently. No, he wasn’t alright, and he knew of nothing that could make it alright.

And Shi Ran, ever eager to please, scratched his head for a solution. “... you want to spar? You can always pretend the dummy is Lord Zhou Yu, if you think that’d make it better.”

Lü Meng finally gave in and looked back at Shi Ran and he couldn’t stop himself from protesting. “I don’t think he or our lord would appreciate that.”

“They don’t have to know, right?” Shi Ran shrugged. “I won’t tell them if you won’t. Come on, you know I’m trustworthy!”

His defenses were already torn asunder and now there was nothing that Lü Meng could do to resist that pull. He didn’t want to cultivate that deep anger within him, not when he could still feel Yu Mao’s blood cling to him still as if it was his own shadow, but at least here he could find some kind of release. Sun Ce proclaimed he had changed, but Zhou Yu wasn’t convinced. Which of the two was right? And was he wrong to find himself simply… going with Shi Ran’s advice? His defenses, already shoddy and poorly maintained, fell, and he found himself following after the teenager as they made their way towards the barracks. He should have tried to go to sleep, but he knew sleep would not come tonight, not without dragging along its friends, regret and self-loathing.

“Alright, but not a word. I don’t want this getting back to Lord Zhou Yu… as if he needs anymore reason to hate me.”
A River's Final Meandering -- Chapter Eight
Chapter 01: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 02: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 03: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 04: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 05: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 06: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 07: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 09: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 10: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…

DISCLAIMER: This is a piece of fiction, inspired by the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the video game series Shin Sangokumusou | Dynasty Warriors. Names of individuals that I could not find their names either through the Koei Warriors Wiki or Kongming Archives are given false names and (hopefully) bare no resemblance to any other persons or characters, either living or dead.

Summary:

In which Lü Meng and Shi Ran find themselves in a bit of a pickle...

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Terra Fecunda

Lü Meng didn’t have time to prepare himself for the abrupt shift in scenery and pulling out of the memory gave him a terrible headache, ripping through his skull like a stray lightning bolt.  He could no more stop the pained gasp than he could stop the thunder that always succeeded lightning and he wasn’t sure how he managed to stop himself from grabbing his temples.  Though what stopped him was a mystery to him- he wasn’t sure why he bothered keeping up appearances as Zuo Ci had already seen how cowardly and weak he once was.  ‘Once,’ he reminded himself, squinting his eyes and concentrating his efforts on fighting the headache.  ‘Once a coward, never again.’

He waited for Zuo Ci to speak up, but the man was oddly quiet.  Was he still entranced in the memory or merely musing over his findings?  Either way, he was determined not to wait in silence for long, and broke it, unaware of how his voice would affect the mystic if he was still entranced.  Maybe he’d return the favor and spread his headache?  He could only hope.  “So, thoughts?  Opinions?  Since my life is on display, I’m curious as to how this is meant to contribute to your investigation.”

Perhaps too much of his spite hung on his voice and years spent controlling his temper were pushed aside so easily.  And the worst part was that he wasn’t sure exactly why this recent memory threatened to undo all of that hard work, but he at least managed to reign it in and display it through a coat of smarm.  Seconds passed before Zuo Ci said anything and when he did, Lü Meng felt little comfort in it.  “I’m afraid to admit that I do not have much to say.  You are hardly the first to be lured into war so young, nor the first to succumb to your own emotions.  I wonder, just how much you and your adversary have in common after all.”

Now this caught Lü Meng’s attention and he tried to hide it, but to no avail as he was certain it escaped in his voice.  “So he was a fugitive once?  I’m sure his reasons were far nobler than my own, or so he would proclaim.”  Admittedly, he did not know of this and he was torn on whether the skepticism he felt was justified or not.  Could have easily been a ruse to deter him from his mission, though it could also be a way for him to learn more about his enemy before the inevitable confrontation.  Either way, he was content to leave his fugitive days, as brief as they were, behind him.  “What I learned from my experience is to have the strength and courage to face the consequences of my actions, regardless if they lead to punishment or a reward.”

This piqued the old man’s interest and he took some measure of pleasure in seeing his baffled expression, even if it was short-lived.  It made the headache he suffered all the worth it.  “Oh and tell me, you feel you were rewarded for your actions that day?”

“Of course I was,” the Chief-Commander said and proudly as well.  Perhaps it was a bit arrogant of him and it was fear of it consuming him as it had so many others that made him calmly explain himself.  “Look at it from where I had come from and you’d understand perfectly why I would see it as a reward.  I was granted amnesty when I should have been executed.  Even better than that, my family was taken into Sun Ce’s care, including myself and Deng Dang.  I didn’t understand just how much of a blessing it was until later, but I was never ungrateful.”

“So you feel that killing that man resulted in your reward?”

The Lü Meng of now understood where the Lü Meng of his teen years did not, and now he was more than happy to explain to the mystic.  “No, I was granted a second chance to redeem myself, but I was rewarded for my decision to join Deng Dang’s army in the first place and to present myself to Lord Sun Ce, even when they intentionally made it difficult for me to do so.”

Zuo Ci’s expression was near unreadable but not for long, and he wasn’t sure if his eyes were deceiving him when he wore a rather contented smile, as though his response pleased him.  Not that he was certain if it was a good or bad thing, but it seemed it would simply have to remain a mystery for a while more as the mystic was keen on moving on ahead.  Whatever laid in the man’s mind as far as his final judgement on the matter went would simply have to be addressed later, the Chief-Commander thought to himself and relieved that his headache seemed to be ebbing away slowly.  He felt displaced, one moment there in this shared realm and the next, looking at himself, kneeling in front of Sun Ce, too nervous to understand the kind smile that the young Sun lord wore as he confessed his crime to him.  All the while, Zuo Ci was there, asking him questions, letting him witness his past but keeping him in this strange limbo.  “Yes, I can see where one would commend you for your bravery, even when you were clearly either coerced or goaded into the action.  Swallowing your fear, and your pride, to do the right thing… it would seem that the courage you are renowned for did not simply develop on the battlefield as I originally thought.”

“In this age of chaos, I find one cannot afford to be a coward, and even though I didn’t know it at first, there’s more to courage than simply fighting.  Take the ones who chose to stay behind and tend to their fields, for example.  To choose to continue working, so that your family or others can eat, instead of abandoning one’s duties.  To choose stability over fame can be just as courageous as venturing out, can’t it?”  

Zuo Ci mulled over the question and moments passed in silence between them, before he chimed in, his voice threatening to dissipate the wall between the realm they were in now and that of the past once more.  “Yes, courage can come in many forms, but one must be weary.  At what lengths would one be willing to go to justify courage, and when does courage turn into recklessness?  When does one’s efforts to display their bravery impede upon another’s liberty and peaceful way of life?”

Now Lü Meng tried to resist the pull, despite its inevitability, at least long enough to where he could prepare himself for what the next memory would be or perhaps guide it to where he wished to go, like when one took control of a dream.  He wasn’t sure if it was even possible, but he would at least say he tried.  “If you’re talking about my lord’s decision to break away from Yuan Shu and reclaim his homeland, then I’ll simply tell you that you’re wrong.  It was not a decision he made neither lightly nor recklessly, and he had every right to retake his homes, does he not?”

He wasn’t expecting Zuo Ci to laugh and though it was soft, it was just as mocking to him.  “I’m sorry.  You’ll forgive me for finding it hard to believe that when you and your men are so confident that these lands here are yours as well.  It hardly surprises me that you feel this way when I suspect it is your late lord’s doing in the first place.”

Oh, Lü Meng was seething, but all of it remained locked inside, squirreled away and waiting to be used as fuel later on.  He couldn’t show just how deep his anger went and why it threatened to undo all of the training that he endured to keep his emotions under control.  He suspected that the mystic knew it was there and sought to exploit it, and it only added fuel to his endeavor to contain himself.  So, he took in a breath and considered his words with care, reigning his voice back into a careful neutral as though his slip up never occurred.  Like Sun Ce had done, this man was goading him on, and he’d refuse the bait.  He knew that Zuo Ci would likely just waltz into the memories anyway, but he was confident that his opponent, if he was considered one, would find nothing short of truth.  “That is a topic we can debate later though admittedly I grow tired of.  The matter with Wujun and my former lord’s decision to return to them, however, I’ll be more than happy to discuss with you instead.  You are aware that the Sun family that I serve descended from Sun Tzu, correct?”

“I am aware.”

“Then you would know that he wrote the famed Art of War in those lands, and there were other details, proof that those lands were his to return to.  Those that refused that proof and fought were in the wrong, simple as that.  We gave them a chance to resolve the matter peacefully, just as we did here in Jing province several times before, and they refused it.  Lord Sun Ce, nor Lord Quan, are warmongers.”

Zuo Ci’s eyes narrowed and he began to fade into the background, a familiar eeriness surrounding Lü Meng once more in warning.  The rain that had once drizzled and soaked his armor shifted into a welcoming sweat, cooling his warmed skin and offering him something to combat the midday humidity that assaulted him and his training partner.  “You speak with such confidence.  Now let us see why…”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It was hard to think five years had passed since the young Sun lord took him and his family into his service.  Not that Lü Meng bothered to keep track of such things now, as though they were not at constant ends of one battle after another, he was kept busy with one thing or the other.  More often than not, he found himself being pulled into either manual labor or training by his senior officers, neither of which he really minded.  One gave him something to do to pass the time between the sometimes lengthy lulls in combat, and the other gave him the much needed training he’d need that apparently his lord felt that he and his men were missing out on.  

In truth, Lü Meng didn’t mind the training.  In fact, he rather liked it!  Day by day, he grew stronger, his endurance improved, and even he could tell that he had put on some much needed weight, finally filling in the armor without is sagging off of him.  The physical activity of the training also helped to make the passage of time all the more tolerable.  Sun Ce had said that the rigorous wasn’t so much as to improve his skills, but to stave off the madness that seemed to stalk his troops from the inactivity that their lord placed upon them.

Not that Lü Meng understood what any of that meant at first.  He honestly didn’t understand a lot that was going on around him and he didn’t want to ask since he was absolutely certain that he was the only one that didn’t comprehend the tension that threatened to strangle the officers he had come to know and respect.  They were restless, he once overheard from where he stood watch outside when his lord was at a meeting.  They worried that their young lord would grow lazy and his claws would dull from where he writhered beneath Lord Yuan Shu’s shadow.  None had really paid much attention to his young bodyguard to think to get his opinion on the matter, but if they asked if he felt that their lord was restless, he’d give them an honest answer.  Painfully bored.

Sparring at essentially become a much needed pass time for Sun Ce and though he had many officers that he considered worthy opponents, most of the time he’d call upon his bodyguards instead.  Said it was a good way to test their skills and keep them on their toes, though sometimes Lü Meng figured it was simply a spur of the moment idea and they were usually the quickest to find.  Between himself and an older, more formidable man (whom he had to eavesdrop one time to even get his name, that being Zhou Tai), he was starting to think themselves to be his favorites, though he was certain that his lord must have favored Zhou Tai more.  

A former pirate and already seasoned in combat, Zhou Tai was quiet, intimidating, and thus far, Lü Meng had seen Sun Ce best him only a handful of times while he himself had yet to best him in a duel.  His only relief, if one could consider it such, was that the former pirate never chided or bragged about his countless victories, nor did he ever put his opponents down.  But then again, Zhou Tai barely said anything at all and gave off such an aura of complete indifference, so there was that.  Better for there to be no feelings towards him than those of hate or disgust after his own experience with Yu Mao.

Even now, there was little emotion to be seen in that hawk-like face of his and had he not known him to be fiercely loyal to the Sun family, he’d feel unnerved by that glare alone.  He reminded himself as he did at the start of all of their duels that it was only a spar and nothing more, and he snapped to attention just in time to block the strike aimed at his head.  

The loud ‘crack’ of the reinforced wood threatened to deafen him and it resonated throughout the barracks, letting any passerby know that Sun Ce’s boredom had reached its peak once again.

Zhou Yu watched the fight proceed for a bit before making his way deeper in, knowing better than to announce himself and giving the two dueling officers a wide enough berth as to not distract from Sun Ce’s entertainment, though by looking at the young lord, one would be hesitant to even call it that.  The proud and energetic head of the renowned Sun family has half lounged on the chair, chin cupped in a supporting hand and watching with little interest.  No, not quite that, Zhou Yu mused to himself.  He seemed invested and deep in thought, but not directed at the fight taking place in front of him.  So, the man closed in on his lord and childhood friend, certain that he’d hear him over the deafening cracks and shouts that rang through the air.  “You don’t seem that enamored in your officer’s duel, Ce.  You may want to be careful they don’t catch that.  You’ll hurt Lü Meng’s feelings like that.”

Even his smile was delayed and though he was alert, he remained slouched in his seat, as if without a care in the world.  “Oh, and why do you say that?”

“Because, like all of us, he works so hard to please you and wouldn’t want to feel that his lord is disappointed in him,” Zhou Yu said, coming to stand next to his lord and watching the fight with some interest.  From this angle, he could see just how hard Lü Meng was trying, despite being at a clear disadvantage.  It was admirable in a way, but it seemed useless.  Zhou Tai simply could not be defeated in a duel.  Lü Meng, unaware of his critical eye, gave the fight his all, going on the offensive and looking for any opening he could exploit, though Zhou Tai seldom left one.  Those he did were sometimes a trap and having sported a welt the size of a ripe melon for a week, Lü Meng had grown weary of those ‘openings’.  Zhou Yu noted his hesitation to the blatant openings that his opponent gave him and couldn’t help but comment to Sun Ce.  “He seems to have caught on to Zhou Tai’s baits, at least.”

“If you knew how much Zhou Tai doesn’t hold back, you’d learn pretty quickly too.  However, this is good.”  Sun Ce gave a nod and he did seem more invested in the fight than a few moments ago.  Now if it came from his chiding or having come from reaching a conclusion on his as of yet unspoken dilemma, Zhou Yu wasn’t sure, but he could always pry into the matter if need be.  “Zhou Tai will probably win this one too, but it won’t be for Lü Meng’s lack of trying.”

“You don’t sound too confident in your bodyguard’s ability, Ce.  You trust him to secure your life but not to defeat another in a duel?”

Now Sun Ce pulled his gaze from the fight and flashed Zhou Yu a knowing grin, in turn inflaming the strategist’s curiosity all the more.  “I trust him with my life because of his fight and his single-minded focus on his task.  Look at him, Yu.  He may not have the skills or experience that Zhou Tai has, but he has spirit and determination to match what he lacks.”

Zhou Yu did as he was told.  As he watched, he couldn’t help but see what his friend meant, but he still held onto his doubts.  And of course, as he knew Sun Ce so well, he expressed his doubts, trying not to allow his own personal feelings towards the bodyguard that Sun Ce seem to favor to sour his words too much.  “While heart and determination are good traits to have, when it comes to safeguarding your life, I’d prefer skill and experience, not to mention some intelligence to be able to access a situation, instead of just charging in with brute force and sheer dumb luck.”

Sun Ce’s laugh almost drowned out Lü Meng’s shout as he went for an opening and he just barely saved himself from a blow to the face when he swung the other end of his quarterstaff around to block Zhou Tai’s immediate counter.  The loud crack brought all eyes to back to the fight, including that of Sun Ce’s, and his interests finally seemed to arrive, though late.  The fight itself, however, never stalled and continued on, its intensity crackling through the air with even more fervor.  “Oh, he’s picked up on his deadly counter at long last!  Yu, I know you don’t think highly of him-”

“What an astute observation, my lord!”  His soft, cultured voice dripped with sarcasm and any other who dared speak to Sun Ce in such a manner would have been reprimanded.  With Zhou Yu, though, not only did he get away with it, but Sun Ce carried on as if he was never interrupted.

“But I think you’re being closed minded on his potential.”

“You say that when you expressed your doubts earlier?” Zhou Yu scoffed.  “So he blocked an attack?  Tell me why I should be impressed.”

“Because now he knows it can be done and knows to block where he previously didn’t.  Soon, he’ll learn to counter it and he’ll be one step closer to the day he’ll beat Zhou Tai in a duel,” Sun Ce said, now having sat up straight and definitely interesting in the fight now.  His gaze was upon his officers and yet he could feel his friend’s eyes upon him.  “Look at him now and compare him to how he was fighting a few moments ago.”

Zhou Yu obliged and could not deny what his lord had seen nor what he could clearly see.  “He does seem more confident than before.”

“And yet, he hasn’t let his success, as meager as it may be, get to his head.  He’s still aware that Zhou Tai can go for the kill at any moment.  So what if he’s not the best duelist?  Fact is, he got heart and strives to succeed, and he’s learning, to top it all off.  I happen to find that admirable.”

Zhou Yu could see all those points and could not help but smile, to see his lord was more observant than he had initially let on.  These months of inactivity may have threatened to dull his claws, but at least his mind was still sharp and poised. He did see some of what Sun Ce had mentioned, but he remained skeptical, and with good reason.  While Lü Meng had not allowed his success to fester into arrogance, he was allowing something else to act through him and he was quick to bring it up.  His observations, as well as what he personally knew of the young bodyguard, would not allow him to do any less.  “What about his temper?  You find that to be an admirable trait?”

Another ear-splitting crack, another shout, and it was impossible to not notice Sun Ce’s wince.  “I haven’t quite figured that much out yet, no.  He does seem to wear his emotions out in the open, don’t he?”

“Only the negative ones I find.  Right now, he’s frustrated and it’s starting to have an adverse effect on his form.”  It was easy to see from where they watched and to those nearby could hear it in Lü Meng’s angered grunts and shouts.  Zhou Yu didn’t need to say such but sadly he knew that Sun Ce may have been blind to this glaring flaw.  After all, it was easy to overlook such things when one was guilty of such flaws themselves.  And had it been Sun Ce out there getting heated, maybe he would have been more forgiving himself.  “You should call off the fight before Lü Meng gets himself hurt.”

He could see his hesitation to do so but before he could repeat himself, Sun Ce relented with a sigh.  He couldn’t blame him.  To see someone on the verge of finally accomplishing their goal, only to be cut short before he could succeed.  Perhaps Sun Ce felt he could win, but Zhou Yu simply knew better.  Sun Ce’s hand rose and his shout was loud, strict and edge with authority, penetrating through the ruckus caused by the fight.  “Alright, enough, both of you.  At ease.”

A fear formed in Zhou Yu’s gut that Lü Meng would be too incensed to hear or obey his lord and he was more than eager to jump in, but he was surprised to see both combatants back down just as suddenly as the fight had started.  Part of him felt disappointed to see Lü Meng surrender so quickly, but apparently he didn’t know the bodyguard as well as he thought he did.  Perhaps he did have a brain in that skull of his, or more likely, Lü Meng simply focused his frustration through other means, such as his mouth.  “Why?”

Zhou Yu wasn’t sure why he was expecting anything calm to come from the young man, and silently chided himself for it, as Sun Ce offered him an explanation.  To give the young Sun lord credit, he hardly sounded intimidated in the wake of Lü Meng’s anger and were his ears fooling him or did Sun Ce sound rather jovial when he addressed his bodyguard?  “It looked like you two were going to go all out and I didn’t want to risk either of my men getting hurt.  What if I need you both later and you’re too exhausted and injured from practice to be of any use?”

“But my lord, I was so close!”

“You think so?” Sun Ce arched a brow and then looked to the taller of the two.  “Zhou Tai, your opinion?”

The former pirate was definitely the better off of the two, though Zhou Yu could make out a gleam in his eyes, a hint of excitement despite being only slightly winded compared to his sparring partner.  “Close, but not enough.”

Few were surprised by this assessment, but fewer still were surprised or could blame Lü Meng for expressing his frustration.  He was going to snap and say something, but before he could, Sun Ce was quick to check him, never once raising his voice or allowing anything remotely sharp to edge his jovial tone, not the tone that his friend would have taken with the youth in his current state.  “See, even Zhou Tai sees you’ve gotten close, but that’s enough for one day.  I’ll need you both for your duties later, and besides, you wouldn’t want to wear yourselves out before Quan and the others show up, do you?”

And yet, for all of Zhou Yu’s doubts, there was some method to Sun Ce’s madness when it came to dealing with his officers.  His friendly and encouraging words, as well as the mention of their incoming visitors, seemed to quell that rage in a heartbeat, and Lü Meng wasn’t the only one that brightened in response.  Zhou Tai’s smile was subtle, but it was definitely there, as Lü Meng asked, “Will they be here soon, then, my lord?”

“With the way you’ve been shouting, I’m surprised they haven’t swarmed in here yet!” Sun Ce flashed his bodyguards a smile, never once alerting them to the set of eyes that loomed from the windows and doorway.  By this time, they had tried sneaking in behind two officers, both of which were highly amused but were good sports about it.  Zhou Yu spotted the small caravan immediately, however, and had applauded his friend for keeping Lü Meng distracted for as long as he could.  

Few things could get past the ever vigilant Zhou Tai, however.  He was quick to spot them and his warning came mere seconds before two of the caravan broke off and hopped onto Lü Meng’s shoulders.  “Incoming.”

“Speak of the devils,” Sun Ce said with a howling laugh, not at all concerned for the safety of the children and teenagers that began to overwhelm his young bodyguard, much to Zhou Yu’s dismay.  “Quan, Shi Ran, careful with Lü Meng!  You’re not so tiny anymore!”

Not that Lü Meng showed any strain in hefting the two of them up.  Once he stood at his full height, though, though, they jumped off, sparing themselves a scolding as well as Lü Meng’s back.  Zhou Yu was curious about the rapid shift in attitude that occurred within the bodyguard, but thankfully Sun Ce was more than happy to explain.  “Works every time.  Anytime I see his temper start to flare up, I either send to the stables to muck stalls and tend to the horses, or plan a visit with Quan and his classmates, and just like that he mellows out.”

Honestly, Zhou Yu was impressed and didn’t even try to hide it.  “So, instead of using negative reinforcement, you counter with physical labor and a positive outlet.  You’ve done well, Ce.”

“Took some experimenting, but it definitely works.  He seems comfortable around horses and they usually don’t give him any lip when he grumbles to them, and when it comes to young ones, he turns into a cuddly panda bear.” Sun Ce smiled, but it wasn’t entirely of mirth, nor of cockiness to have Zhou Yu compliment him so.  “Besides, it’s not just me.  You should acknowledge that he’s changed because he does work hard.”

Zhou Yu was content to leave it at his compliment to Sun Ce, but for his friend to chide him like that made him bristle and he didn’t notice how Lü Meng glanced their way to see his borderline annoyed expression.  “You must forgive me, Ce.  You’ve had more time to be around him to notice such things, but I will take your word for it.  Who would better know your bodyguards than the one he serves to protect with his life?”

Lü Meng was not entirely deaf to their conversation and he could catch bits and pieces, but in truth he was too invested in greeting young Quan and his friends to really care what his lord and his closest friend were discussing about him.  “Lord Quan, you have grown!  You’re almost as tall at me now.  I’ll need to be careful or else you’ll tower over me and then how will I ever shield you?”

“You could climb on Zhou Tai’s shoulders!”  Shi Ran said, pushing his way and making sure he was at the front of the brigade and not once seeming to notice or care that he was blocking the way for the younger and smaller ones.  For his suggestion, he was rewarded with a pat on the head and reveled in the attention.  Of course, Shi Ran pegged himself as everyone’s favorite and didn’t bother trying to hide it.  “Lü Meng, we heard you fighting from a whole li away!  Who won?  It was you, wasn’t it?”

Lü Meng was hesitant to answer but one of the officers that walked in with the brigade was quick to spare him from answering and disappointing Shi Ran with the truth.  “Both won, as both men fought their hardest and did not back down or expose their weakness to one another.  With each duel, we grow stronger, wiser, as so long as you walk away from your battles alive, then that alone is a victory worth celebrating.”

The one that spoke was Ling Cao, a man that Lü Meng had grown an almost instant liking and respect to when he arrived in Sun Ce’s forces.  He was a strong warrior, but surprisingly kind, despite his grizzled and scarred appearance, as though he wound he suffered only imbued more wisdom on him.  When Sun Ce, Zhou Yu and Han Dang returned with Lü Meng and the new recruits that day five years ago, he stayed in the general’s home until he recovered enough of his strength and got his own family situated.  Those days were brief in the grand scheme of things, but it left its impact on Lü Meng and Ling Cao’s son.  Not content to allow Shi Ran to hog all of Lü Meng’s attention, the eight-year-old managed to take advantage of his small size and maneuvered around to where he could climb onto Lü Meng’s back.  He crowed triumphantly from where he was perched on the bodyguard’s shoulder.  “But you’re training him, Dad… so he should have won, if you spent all of those nights-“

“Tong, hush your mouth and get down from there.  He is one of our lord’s personal guards, not a horse.”

It might not have been enough to spare the truth from coming out, but there came no immediate retaliation at least.  As Ling Tong slid off, the other officer that joined them let out a loud and boisterous laugh, the sound booming and terrifying though Lü Meng would rather take a hit from Zhou Tai in a duel than admit that it startled him.  Huang Gai had a way of making his presence known and it had conflicting results from others as some of the children practically shifted like nervous stallions in a storm.  “Well, now he’s a babysitter, but don’t worry.  This lot won’t give him any more trouble than our lord already does.”

“Hey!  I don’t think I give my bodyguards that much trouble.”

“One would have to have battles to fight in order for your bodyguards to be of real use, I think,” Zhou Yu said, whatever soured his mood before seeming to have been cast aside for the time being, despite the sting of what Lü Meng suspected was almost a backhanded compliment in his direction.  Despite the affection he received from the teens and children around him, he couldn’t help but suspect that not everyone here liked him, and he never thought that Zhou Yu would be the type to hold anything against him.  What had he done to earn his ire, he wondered.  Before it could fester and spoil his good mood, though, Zhou Yu was eager to draw the attention of not just his lord but his officers as well.  “My lord, Ling Cao, Huang Gai, myself and others would like to have a few words with you if you have a moment.”

Sun Ce was quick to oblige and looked to his bodyguards.  “Now’s a good a time as any.  Zhou Tai, with me.  Lü Meng, I trust that you can hand your new charges for a bit?”

It was more of a request than an order, but one that Lü Meng was happy to obey.  Even when his curiosity grew within his mind as to what they’d be discussing.  What would they want to discuss?  And why was Zhou Tai allowed to attend?  All questions and no answers came to his mind at the moment.  “Not a problem at all, my lord.”

“Don’t worry, Lü Meng,” said Ling Cao, patting him on the shoulder as Sun Ce, Zhou Yu and Huang Gai migrated to the entryway.  Zhou Tai lingered but Lü Meng’s attention was on Ling Cao and the young lady he motioned to.  “You’ll have Lady Lianshi to help you with this one.  She’ll keep the princess in line so that you can focus on the boys.”

Now Lü Meng was surprised and wondered how he had managed to miss the young princess among the group when she spoke so loudly and with heated purpose.  Sun Shangxiang huffed, despite Lianshi’s efforts to reign her back in.  “Nuh uh!  I’m staying with my brother and the rest of them!  I don’t need to be treated special or any different just because I’m a girl!”

“It’s okay, you don’t look or act any different from the rest anyway, so I wouldn’t know the difference,” Lü Meng said, not really thinking about his words or how they came out, so when Shangxiang’s eyes widened and anger flashed in them, he was curious as to what caused such a reaction.  As Shi Ran, Ling Tong and some of the other boys laughed, he retreated his gaze to Lianshi in hopes of sparing himself from the princess’s wrath.  “I welcome your company, Lady Lianshi.  You and the princess both.”

“It’s my pleasure, Lü Meng.”  Lianshi flashed him a polite smile, as if sensing his silent distress and seeking to quell it with her aura alone.  She was calm, polite, sweet but strict from what he had known of her.  Such a drastic difference from her own charge, but a welcomed one for Lü Meng.  Given how easily he seemed to offend Shangxiang, he had a feeling he’d be looking to her for some much needed guidance on this endeavor.  

“Zhou Tai.”

Sun Ce’s calling did more than alert the former pirate in question and Lü Meng turned to see why his colleague hesitated.  That was when he noticed how Zhou Tai and his lord’s brother were discussing something in near solitude away from them.  Another mystery but one he was certain that he’d never solve, at least not from Zhou Tai himself.  At Sun Ce’s beckoning, Zhou Tai whispered something to Sun Quan, gave a blink-and-you-miss smiles, then turned on his heel and was at Sun Ce’s side, so fast that one swore he ever fell behind at all.

Now, it was just Lü Meng, Lianshi, and the youths, and whatever his lord and his officers were going to discuss would eventually reveal itself when it was ready.  His curiosity was present, yes, but he knew better than to allow himself to be too distracted, especially with the likes of Shi Ran and Ling Tong to monitor.

~*~*~

“Lü Meng, Lü Meng, do that thing!”

Sun Ce was right to call off the duel when he did, because it was clear that the young ones were being exceptionally active today.  While Sun Quan and Shi Ran were growing into fine young men, they still had an abundance of energy, and apparently the two of them were instigators of the constant barrage of feats.  He did not need anything more than ‘the thing’ to know what Quan wanted and he let out a snicker, turning his head to face the younger Sun lord and not once getting distracted or letting Sun Shangxiang come close to hitting him as they ‘dueled’.  He had to admit that her tenacity was something to admired and he suspected a blow would hurt like hell, but he managed to fair better against her than he had against Zhou Tai earlier (though truly, that was nothing to brag about) as he addressed her brother.  “You still like that?  Didn’t our lord request we stop doing that?”

He remembered the event though vaguely, and perhaps it was wrong of him to put such faith in the young teen to give him a straight answer.  Sun Quan flashed him a pleading look and what else could Lü Meng do but want to give in?  “I don’t recall such a request.  Please, Ling Tong and Shangxiang hasn’t seen it yet!”

Sun Quan didn’t have to do much to twist Lü Meng’s arm and he found himself relenting.  “I’d love to, but that’ll depend on if Princess Shangxiang doesn’t break the quarterstaff, or our fingers.  Ease up a little, Princess.”

Shangxiang gave it one more hearty ‘whack’ but both held fast and she let out a sigh, handing the quarterstaff back to Lü Meng.  By now, Shi Ran, Ling Tong and the rest of the now curious young ones flocked around them.  “Those are strong, but I prefer a bow anyways.”

“Me too!” Shi Ran said.  “We should have a contest one day, Princess.”

Ling Tong tugged at Lü Meng’s sleeve as the bodyguard expected the quarterstaffs for their durability.  Wouldn’t do him good if they snapped!  “Lü Meng, are you good with a bow?”

“No, afraid not.”  He openly admitted.  He wanted to play it off as a joke and he hoped to dissuade them from questioning him any further by displaying something he was good at.  “Alright, so let’s see.  Princess Shangxiang, you grab onto this end, and Ling Tong, you get this one.”

The two were curious and eager to oblige, but before they could move into position, Sun Quan protested.  “But they’re so small, Lü Meng!  I know you can lift heavier people!”

“Yeah, why don’t you do Quan and me first?”  Shi Ran joined in, not at all content to let anyone go before in sans Sun Quan.  Then his eyes lit up with an idea and Lü Meng was certain he wouldn’t like it before he even said a word!  “Oh, do all four of us!  Two on each end to balance it out!”

“Uh…” Admittedly, Lü Meng wasn’t the brightest person in the room, but he could not ignore the feeling in his gut when Shi Ran made that suggestion.  “That doesn’t sound like…”

“That’s a great idea!  Why don’t you do that, Lü Meng?” And yet, any chance that Lü Meng might have had to protest was stripped from his very being, as Quan was more than eager to have the feat done.  And it certainly didn’t help when others chimed in, eager to see the feat done and to be a part of it.  Once again, Lü Meng suspected he was being goaded on, but what else could he do?  When Sun Quan turned to him again, he knew there was no way he could say no, not without looking both weak and cowardly.  And Lü Meng knew that he was neither.

“Alright then.  Princess, you and Shi Ran get on this end.  And you, Lord Quan and Ling Tong, you get on this one.  We’ll take turns for the next round, alright?  Hang onto the ends tightly.  Now, get into position and when I give the signal, tuck your legs in and hang on tight.”

They flocked to their positions, with Ling Tong and Shangxiang looking to Shi Ran and Sun Quan for guidance.  Lianshi immediately objected and her concern was a good countenance to the excited murmurs of the rest.  “Lü Meng, I’m not sure you should do this.  I don’t think the quarterstaffs will hold their weight, and Quan’s a little heavier than Shi Ran.  Won’t that effect the balance?”

All good objections, but Quan was quick to silence the naysayer before Lü Meng even had a chance to consider her warning.  “Lü Meng’s done this plenty of times.”

“And he’s strong.  He can totally do this!” Shi Ran said, equally confident and looking ready to wet himself with excitement as he cheered the bodyguard on.  “We’re ready, Lü Meng!”

“I’ll be careful, Lady Lianshi.” Lü Meng flashed her a smile, showing nothing but confidence in hopes of quelling her probably well-justified concerns.  In truth, while he suspected that the quarterstaffs might snap, he didn’t consider the balance problem, but if he raised any objections, he’d have his hands full with several disappointed teenagers and children.  Once they were in position, he brought the quarterstaffs over his neck and shoulders, finding the perfect angle and once he did, he squatted his knees and wriggled his shoulders.  He was getting a good feel of the weight and bracing himself, trying not to let the doubt that Lianshi’s objection gnaw at his brain.  Shi Ran was right and he’s lifted heavier objects before, but he dared not make the young ones wait a moment longer.  He let out a breath and gave the signal.  “And… now!”

All four youths swept their feet beneath them in almost perfect unison and all of their combined weight came crashing down on Lü Meng at once.  He had told himself that he was strong, but for a brief moment, he began to doubt that.  His knees buckled beneath him and his shoulders immediately protested this new burden, but he caught himself from dropping to his knees.  He immediately tried to figure out the balance and pushed against the weight, not at all hearing the surprised cheers from the ones around him or Lianshi’s started gasp, as all of his attention was allocated to keeping the dangling youths from touching the ground.  He held his breath and strained, hating to admit that Lianshi may have been correct.  Sun Quan was simply too heavy and threatened to throw off his balance if he dared push up, but Quan cheered him on.  Unaware of how much the bodyguard struggled, the young Sun lord urged him on, and the joy in his voice was enough to cancel out whatever doubts he had or what sense Lianshi tried to instill in him.  “Higher, Lü Meng!  Higher!”

What choice did he have?  He could no more disobey an order from Sun Quan than he could for his own lord, and so, with strength he was absolutely certain he had and was desperate for, he began to straighten his legs and push himself up.  It was like pressing a horse!  A great, unbalanced and kicking with all of its might horse!  His chest screamed for air, his muscles begged for him to release the burden, but the excited cheers from the children… they drowned out everything.  Fears, doubts, self-preservation, all of it was silent in lieu of the joy he heard from the ones around him.  So, he pushed himself, standing against the weight and pushing his living weights higher and higher.  A little more, a little more, and-

SNAP!
A River's Final Meandering -- Chapter Seven
Chapter 01: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 02: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 03: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 04: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 05: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 06: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 08: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 09: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…
Chapter 10: chibigingi.deviantart.com/art/…

DISCLAIMER: This is a piece of fiction, inspired by the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the video game series Shin Sangokumusou | Dynasty Warriors. Names of individuals that I could not find their names either through the Koei Warriors Wiki or Kongming Archives are given false names and (hopefully) bare no resemblance to any other persons or characters, either living or dead.


Summary:

In which Lü Meng is provoked by a young Sun lord to do the impossible...

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I will be taking TEN people at a time, and when I am done with all ten people, I will open for the next ten people. I add people to the list as I receive requests. Even if all ten spots are filled, feel free to send in your request! You will be added to the reserved list, and when the first set of tens are done, you will be moved up to an active slot.  If there are any changes made to this list, you will be notified via Note on DA, Tumblr or email (I will be: chibigingi@gmail.com) if you do not have a DA or Tumblr account.  I hope this seems fair to everyone.


The Dos and Don’ts of Commissions

I DO:

-Original characters: Humans, elves, orcs, furry, mecha, Gaian Avatars, MLP etc.
-Fan art: PLEASE INCLUDE REFERENCES as I may not know the character
-Erotic art: Soft heterosexual and homosexual, artistic nudity
-Mild violence: Blood, small wounds, etc.

I DO NOT:

-Pornography of any type
-Anything derogatory or discriminatory to a specific race, religion, group, etc
-Political statements
-Excessive violence and gore

If you have questions on whether your commission idea is acceptable, please message me and we’ll discuss it.


PRICING


Inked Lines

Bust - $10

  • $2 for any extra character (per character)

Full Body - $15

  • $5 for any extra character (per character)

Flat Colored

Bust - $15

  • $2 for any extra character (per character)

Full Body - $20

  • $5 for any extra character (per character)

Full Colored

Bust - $20

  • $2 for any extra character (per character)

Full Body - $25

  • $5 for any extra character (per character)


Additional Notes

If you request seems complex or if I have any questions, I will message you before proceeding.  I just want to make sure I don't make any mistakes with your product (those are always irritating for the buyer). Only after I have verified what you want and after the payment has gone through will I start the commission, and I do them in order of which I get them.

In general, the process of a commission is thus:

  1. You request a commission.

  2. I verify your request.

  3. You accept/clarify my verification.

  4. You send me payment.

  5. I send a work-in-progress as I go down my commission list (there will be one for each stage/correction if needed).

  6. You accept/clarify any changes to the art.

  7. I send you final art.


HOW TO PROPERLY REQUEST COMMISSIONS

Or better yet, how to properly write a good description so that the artist doesn't make mistakes.  If there is one thing I'm nitpicky about, it's people saying 'draw me' or 'draw my character, he looks like Cloud'.  Sorry, those aren't the best descriptions.  What I am looking for is at least a paragraph worth of details, as well as some previously drawn images or even examples from pre-existing characters to go along with it.  I need to know what they look like, how their personality is, and if desired, what kind of setting they're in.  If I have questions about anything, I will verify a few things, even send a rough sketch before putting in the details and ink.  I just want to make sure that I don't muck up your character/request, that's all.


LENGTH OF WAIT TIME

While I am employed full time, I plan on using most of my free time to work on my portfolio as well as my commissions.  Most of my commission work, however, will be done on my days off, which will fluctuate due to the nature of my job.  Lines should take about a week, and colored pieces should take about two weeks.  If there are any circumstances that would otherwise prevent me from finishing within those times, I will contact you and let you know as soon as I can.


THE LIST

In order to appear on the list, you MUST Note/PM/email me, with the subject 'Commission'.  

1.) TheVEO

2.) 

3.) 

4.) 

5.)

6.)

7.)

8.)

9.)

10.)

Reserved List

1.)

2.)

3.)

4.)

5.)

6.)

7.)

8.)

9.)

10.)


Payment Methods


I will only accept PayPal, or e-check via PayPal, at this time. If you have any problems with PayPal, then contact me via NOTE/PM/email and we can discuss alternative methods of payment.  Please send the payment to chibichan35@hotmail.com.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I donate?
A: I will always accept donations; it's your choice if you want to donate or not.  I appreciate it muchly, though!

Q: How long should a commission take?
A:  Lines should take about a week, and colored pieces should take about two weeks. It may take longer depending on the number of characters in a piece or if multiple changes are needed between WIPs. If my times change for any reason, I will let you know via Note/PM/e-mail as soon as I can.


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chibigingi
Stacey Lynn LeBlanc
Artist | Student | Traditional Art
United States
Current Residence: Land of Crawfish (Louisiana)
Favourite genre of music: J-Pop and techno
Favourite style of art: Anime/Cartoon
Operating System: OSX
MP3 player of choice: iTunes
Favourite cartoon character: Lu Meng (DW), Date Masamune (SW), Revolver Ocelot (MGS), Knock Out and Breakdown (Transformers Prime)
Personal Quote: "No Venture, No Gain"
Interests

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:iconnueteki:
Nueteki Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2015
:iconrudeboyskunkplz::iconrudeboyskunkplz2::iconrudeboyskunkplz3:
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KodyBoy555 Featured By Owner May 15, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Do you do requests and art trades?
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wuggernugget Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2015  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Happy Birthday! I wish you a lot of happiness today!MenInASuitcase Hide Birthday Emote birthday cake Happy Birthday Godliek :D 
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Happy Birthday! :) :cake: :party:
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Happy B-Day! ^^ :iconcakeplz: :hug:
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Happy birthday! :iconkermityayplz:
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Happy Birthday!!! :D
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HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!
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Happy birthday! :iconcakeplz:
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Happy Birthday! 
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