Friday, August 30, 2013

Ji Jiang IV

The city of Linzi bustled with activity. Reed pipes blasted and harps struck songs, and lutes resounded brilliantly. Cockfights, hunting hounds, liubo, cuju[1]... there was every kind of entertainment. The black-robed man watched it all through the thin curtain of yellow gauze as the carriage procession made its way through the crowds, melancholy creeping into his gaze.


On the roads outside of the city, a group of riders galloped forth like lightning. Hooves struck rapid drumbeats against the earth, sending a yellow dragon of dust flying in their wake.

Ji Jiang yelled: “Your Highness, why are you in such a hurry?”

Ahead of her, the King of Qi replied without turning his head: “That trick of luring the tiger away from its mountain won’t last long. He’ll soon realize. We have to stay ahead of him.”

His words did nothing to resolve Ji Jiang’s puzzlement. The King of Qi said nothing else, only whipped his horse on faster.


In Linzi, amidst the rumble of carts and the clamor of voices, someone suddenly shouted: “Mad Kuai is here, Mad Kuai is here!”

The crowds parted, allowing a disheveled man with an erratic gait to pass. He was gleefully singing something strange and off-key; a swarm of children followed him, singing along, although it was clear that none of them understood the lyrics.

In the carriage, the black-robed man stiffened in recognition. He knew that old song: “O phoenix, o phoenix! Why does your virtue fade? What’s passed cannot be stopped, oh, but what’s to come can yet be chased...[2]

Suddenly, the madman rushed to the King of Qi’s carriage and leapt against the window. “Your Highness,” he said quietly. “I’m not mad, but you are, and I don’t want to be buried with you. How else can I save myself besides feigning insanity? Your Highness, how I long for the king you used to be. Ai, you were so brilliant, so resolute...” Deep in thought, the black-robed man watched his guards pull the madman away.

Kuai Che laughed skyward, shoving aside the guards, and sang on. “Enough! Enough! Today’s governing men beware! Haha--” Laughing and singing, he left. The children followed, clapping and imitating him: “Enough! Enough! Today’s governing men beware...

The carriage proceeded for a little longer before the black-robed man’s expression suddenly darkened. He jumped up, shoved aside the carriage door, and seized the nearest guard by the lapels. “Where’s your king? Where did he go?”


At last, they arrived at the foot of Zhifu mountain, at the edge of the sea.

The riders dismounted, exhausted and soaked with sweat. Ji Jiang, too, was tired, but foremostly excited. She stood at the sea’s edge, spread her arms wide, and welcomed the winds that blew in from the sea. She took deep breaths of that familiar, salt-tinged air, her heart filled with boundless joy.

A few white clouds drifted along the sky; seabirds wheeled above the waters, calling to one another. Ji Jiang sighed. “Ai, I’d never appreciated the sea back when I lived on the coast. It took long years in Linzi to realized how much I missed it.”

The King of Qi was busy at her side. “Can you check the winds for me?”

Surprised, Ji Jiang said: “Check the winds? Your Highness, what...” Turning, she saw that the King of Qi had unbound the wooden case he’d brought with him. It lay on the ground, open, revealing three dark, awl-shaped objects placed side by side. They shone like metal, but she couldn’t tell what metal they were made of. A few strangely-shaped components lay beside them, baffling to the eye.

The King of Qi took out one of the awl-shaped objects and began to assemble it with efficient movements. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how to read the wind direction.”

“Of course not,” said Ji Jiang. “But...”

“Then do it for me,” said the King of Qi. “What’s the wind speed and direction? Will it change within the hour?” The King of Qi’s hands continued their work without pause.

Ji Jiang looked at the King of Qi, puzzled. She raised her head and watched at the movement of the clouds for a while, then squinted at the height of the waves. “Your Highness, are you going out to sea? With today’s wind, I don’t think you can go very fast even with sails unfurled all the way. It’s a west wind, with a little bit of a northern slant, very weak. It won’t change anytime in the next six hours.”

“Very good,” the King of Qi said. “Move to the side a little.” The King of Qi had finished erecting the strange, dark object so that it pointed toward the sky above the sea.

Ji Jiang said: “Your Highness, what is this?”

The King of Qi said: “The Trace-Dragging sword.” He gestured towards Ji Jiang. “Stand a little further away, a little further, right, like that. Tell the guards to stand there too. Tell them to watch the road. If they see the Guest of Canghai, intercept him. Don’t let him near me.”

Ji Jiang said: “The Guest of Canghai? That black-robed man? Didn’t you arrange for him to tour Linzi? Why would he be here?”

“He’ll come,” the King of Qi said. “He’s not particularly smart, but he’s lived through too much. He has sharper intuition than most. If I’ve guessed correctly, he’s not far from here by now...”

The more Ji Jiang heard, the more puzzled she grew. Suddenly, she startled-- hoofbeats sounded in the distance! In that direction, she indeed spotted a lone rider galloping closer. The breath in her lungs turned to ice-- despite the distance, she could see that the man on the horse wore black robes. Ji Jiang turned to look uncertainly at the King of Qi, but he didn’t seem to have noticed. He still knelt on the ground, making final, minute adjustments to the “Trace-Dragging Sword.”

The hoofbeats sounded crisper and crisper, closer and closer. She could see the black-robed man’s face now, the face of the Guest of Canghai.

The King of Qi continued working. The black-robed man, riding at full gallop, was at last close enough to see what the King of Qi was doing, and his expression contorted in shock. “What are you doing? Stop! Stop right now!”

The King of Qi didn’t even raise his head. “Shoot his horse!” he growled.

The guards raised their bows and nocked their arrows.

“Stop!” The black-robed man called. “Sto--”

With a flurry of whistling noises, ten arrows hit the horse beneath him in unison. The horse screamed, bucked, threw the black-robed man to the ground. It struggled, then collapsed.

Ji Jiang didn’t have the time to recover from her surprise before she heard a low, sudden roar. The ground shook beneath her feet. She spun around, and saw that the sleek, dark Trace-Dragging sword had flown into the air, trailing white behind it, soaring across the sea.

Ji Jiang and the guards watched, stunned. Behind them, the black-robed man cried: “No!” He crawled up from the ground and rushed toward the King of Qi. The guards, recovering, hurried to block him.

The black-robed man struggled furiously, unable to free himself. “Are you mad? Do you realize what you’re doing?”

The first Trace-Dragging sword soon disappeared into the distance. The King of Qi peered in its direction for a while, then began to assemble the second one. His hands worked faster than before with the speed of practice.

Straining, the black-robed man screamed: “Stop! Hurry and stop! You madman! Do you wish to die?”

Ji Jiang looked at the black-robed man, his formerly cold face now filled with fear and rage, his eyes bulging and frantic. He looked like an utterly different person from before. She laughed humorlessly. “Madman? You’re the one who looks like a madman here.”

The black-robed man hurriedly turned towards her. “You don’t know what your master is doing! He’s seeking death! Hurry and stop him! Stop him!”

“I don’t know what His Highness is doing,” Ji Jiang said coldly, “but I believe that whatever he’s doing is correct.”

The black-robed man, enraged and frantic, said: “No! No! He’s wrong, wrong! You saw the power of that Trace-Dragging Sword, didn’t you? That wasn’t made by the hands of men. A god granted it to him. And he’s using it to--”

A second Trace-Dragging Sword rose into the air, flying in the same direction as the first.

“Ah!” the black-robed man shouted in despair. “No!” The guards gripped his arms like iron. He could only look at Ji Jiang, pleading desperately: “Stop your master! Hurry and stop him! Stopping him is saving him, he has no idea what he’s doing, he’s mad! Hurry and stop him! Hurry and save him!”

The King of Qi began to assemble the third Trace-Dragging Sword.

Ji Jiang looked at the King of Qi, and shook her head determinedly. “No matter what he does, he must have his reason for it. It’s just like his battles-- he always arranges things beforehand in ways that other people don’t understand, but the results always prove him right in the end.”

The black-robed man said: “But this time, he’s absolutely wrong! If you don’t stop him, you’ll regret it! You’ll regret it for all your life! Believe me! Stop him! Hurry and stop him!” Ji Jiang didn’t move.

The third Trace-Dragging Sword rose into the air.

The black-robed man suddenly stilled, fell silent. He raised his head and calmly watched the Trace-Dragging Sword fly into the distance.

The Trace-Dragging Sword flew further and further, appeared smaller and smaller, until it finally disappeared beyond the horizon.

The seabirds returned to their graceful flight above the waters; the waves gently lapped at the rocky shoreline as before. The sea was still and perfectly normal, as if nothing had happened.

The black-robed man murmured: “I told you you were seeking death. Did you really think that no one had tried to destroy him in all those years? But he’s a god! Doom is certain to all who choose to oppose him. No one will ever succeed.”

The King of Qi watched the sea. “I doubt it! Here, I’m not using the power of mere mortals to confront him, but his own power.”

The sea was as calm as before.

“Fool!” said the black-robed man. If he can make the spear, he can make the shield, too. Did you think your little ploy could harm him?”

Suddenly, the corners of the King of Qi’s mouth lifted. In the distance, where sky met sea, a wisp of something shadowy and insubstantial rose. At first, it was so faint that it strained the eye to see. But that wisp of black gradually grew, spread, until it stained that patch of sky to ashen gray. The others followed the King of Qi’s line of sight, surprised but puzzled. Then a low, continuous growl like thunder emanated from that direction. Ji Jiang heard, and her heart lurched.

The King of Qi exhaled slowly, the tension completely gone from his face. He turned to the black-robed man and waved at his guards. “Let him go-- did you think I used the Trace-Dragging Swords directly against his snug hideout? I used them on the island itself!”

The black-robed man said: “What... what did you say?”

The corner of the King of Qi’s mouth lifted further. “Three Trace-Dragging Swords can’t destroy a normal island, but this is a volcanic island.”

Another series of roiling noises. Ji Jiang turned her gaze toward the sea.

The muscles in the black-robed man’s face contorted terribly. “You... you...”

The King of Qi said: “I’ve never liked to pit myself against an enemy’s strong point in battles. I like to borrow outside help, and the power of heaven and earth is the mightiest outside help of all. Once they activate, they can destroy anything from men to gods.”

The black-robed man roared in rage and leapt forward like a wild beast. He hit the King of Qi’s face, hard. The King of Qi staggered backwards, several steps, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. His startled guards rushed forth to seize the black-robed man.

Struggling, the black-robed man roared: “You’re not human! You’re an animal! A demon! You’ll pay for biting the hand that fed you!”

The King of Qi wiped the blood from his mouth. “I apologize,” he said calmly, “for destroying your home. But I think I did right by you. I tried to keep you in Linzi so you wouldn’t return to the island and meet the same fate as that thing.”

“Did right by me?” the black-robed man hissed, exhausted. “You call this doing right by me? Did I ask for you to ‘do right by me’ thus?”

The King of Qi said: “You’re a human being. It isn’t. I didn’t want you to meet the same fate as it.”

The black-robed man said: “Absurd! Absurd...”

The King of Qi sighed. “You followed it all these years. Did you really not realize at all? Very well, then, I ask you, in these eighteen hundred years, has it ever allowed you to see its body underneath those white robes?”

The black-robed man said: “That has nothing to do with you! I know he was born with a body different from ours! He’s a god. Of course he’s different from us--”

The King of Qi said: “No, it wasn’t a god. It was a creature of a class far different from ours, and far more powerful. Did you notice, when it walked...”

The black-robed man said: “Bullshit! Nonsense! You’re a madman! You think yourself clever--”

Ji Jiang suddenly gave a little scream. “Be quiet, everyone!”

The two of them, surprised, turned to look at her.

“You all...” Ji Jiang’s voice shook. “Do you smell that?”

“Smell what?” the King of Qi asked.

Ji Jiang said frantically: “That stench of fish!”

Once she mentioned it, the others quickly realized that the wind from the sea now reeked of something salty and harsh and almost imperceptibly sulfurous.

Ji Jiang looked at the sea, and her expression slowly changed to one of horror.

The sea was calm like before-- perhaps too calm. The seabirds from before had disappeared, every one of them, leaving the sky eerily empty. At the horizon, a thin, white band had appeared, and it was getting closer, getting taller

Something changed in the black-robed man’s expression. “What’s going on? Why is the tide coming in now, of all times?”

Ji Jiang murmured: “It’s not a tide--” She suddenly raised her voice: “Tsunami! It’s a tsunami!”

The others could now see it too, as that white line thickened further, and revealed itself to be a long, rushing wall of waves. Their expressions changed to one of fear; even the black-robed man and the King of Qi forgot their earlier argument.

Suddenly, someone yelled: “Hurry! Run away!” Several men rushed toward their horses.

“No!” Ji Jiang called. “We can’t outrun a tsunami! Hurry and climb the mountain! Climb Zhifu mountain!” Alerted by her words, the others rushed towards the mountain.

Along this region, the flanks of Zhifu Mountain rose steep and hostile. The group had abandoned all their unnecessary belongings, but they still strained for breath as they climbed. Their hearts raced, partly from the strenuous activity, mostly out of fear, but no one spoke. The thickening salt-stench in the sea wind sent them shivering

Gradually, the wind began to carry something else: a low rumble, as if demons in the depth of the sea were beating countless oxhide drums in unison. The sound shook their hearts yet further. Someone turned to look, and cried out in surprise. The white band from before had turned into a towering wall of water, stretching from horizon to horizon like a giant serpent cutting across the surface of the sea.

“Don’t look,” the King of Qi growled. “Hurry and climb!”

Ji Jiang had slowly fallen toward the back of the pack, but she gritted her teeth and kept silent, scrambling upward. Suddenly, a wind-worn rock broke off beneath her feet, and she was stepping on air. She cried out. Swift of eye and hand, the King of Qi grabbed her wrist and pulled her up. Broken bits of rock skittered off the edge, but the King of Qi didn’t bother to look. Wordlessly, he pulled her in front of himself and pushed her on.

A third of the way from the mountaintop, the roar of the waves already sounded as if they came from terrifyingly close by. Someone couldn’t resist turning for another look, and saw that the wall of waves was already ten feet high, advancing so quickly that the waves barely tilted forward, refusing to collapse.

The wall of waves grew in height yard by yard, encroached upon the shore li by li.

Seventy li, sixty, fifty... twenty, ten, five...

At last, when the waves were barely three or four li from shore, the group reached the mountaintop. Breathing sighs of relief, they stood or sat, exhausted, watching the sea.

The sea had become a sinister scene: that arcing wall of water was now tens of feet high, a bird of impossible scale diving toward them with wings spread wide. The roar of the sea, too, now deafened the ears, greater than the thunder of ten thousand cavalry.

With a mighty roar, the terrible bird engulfed the entire coast, threw itself against the bulk of Zhifu Mountain...

A very, very long time later, the tsunami began to fade. The group felt as if their ears still resounded with the endless roar, unable to tell the real thing apart from the ringing of their ears. The foot of the mountain was surrounded by endless waters.

“I’ve never seen a tsunami so terrible.” Ji Jiang had slumped to the ground. “Thankfully, Zhifu Mountain was still tall enough.”

The King of Qi walked over to her and crouched down. He patted her hand gently. “Good work, Ji Jiang. Your quick thinking saved us all.”

Ji Jiang suddenly flung herself against his shoulder, sobbing. “Your Highness, what just happened, exactly? What’s going on?”

The black-robed man gazed brokenly at the sea. “Do you see what you’ve done?” he murmured. “What have you done...”

The King of Qi patted Ji Jiang’s back and stood. “I only did what I must. That creature is too dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” The black-robed man showed no anger, only spoke in an infinitely tired voice. “Just who’s the dangerous one? You were the one who killed him. My master hesitated before he used you. You were too intelligent, he’d said, so intelligent as to border on dangerous. He would use you as little as he could manage. But the two before you... ai, the will of heaven. Truly the will of heaven.”

The King of Qi said: “The two before me? Your master chose two others before me? Who were they?”

“The first was Ying Zheng,” said the black-robed man. “The second was Zhang Liang. They, too, were extraordinary, but they lacked your breed of worrying intelligence. But Ying Zheng was too greedy, too ambitious. He kept demanding more and more from my master. When he obtained the state of Qin, he wanted all under heaven. When he obtained all under heaven, he wanted immortality. The construction project became his bargaining chip. My master couldn’t take it any longer and had me find Zhang Liang. Zhang Liang was extraordinarily gifted, pure of heart, fulfilled my master’s requirements in every way. But he possessed a face so delicate and feminine that he could never have become a feared, iron-handed ruler. My master only chose you because he had no other options left.”

The King of Qi suddenly thought of something. “Then, when you called yourself the Gentleman of the East Sea and went to see Qin Shihuang, you were actually planning to discuss the undertaking?”

“Yes,” said the black-robed man. “But he wasn’t concerned in the least about the construction project. He spent the entire time trying to bait the secret behind my immortality out of me. He was already avaricious beyond cure. A waste of several decades of my master’s effort. Ai...”

The King of Qi said: “Several decades? You contacted him that early on?”

The black-robed man said: “Yes.”

The King of Qi said: “How early?”

The black-robed man gazed into the distance and sighed. “Since his childhood, to be honest. He and his father were hostages in the state of Zhao at that time. Every time he played with the other Zhao children, he insisted on the role of king, even if he had to fight the rest until he was covered with blood and bruises... ai, my master put the most work into him. His father was not a favored son of the king, and he himself was of uncertain parentage. How could he have possibly succeeded the throne without help? The royal house of Qin abounded with princes in better standing than him. If it weren’t for my master, he couldn’t have laid a finger on the throne in all his lifetime.”

The King of Qi seemed to have realized something. “No wonder he was so obsessed with touring the coast, with sending out expeditions to sea, with finding you once he’d united the land. No wonder he ignored his ministers. He knew you existed from the start.”

The black-robed man sighed. “Enough, let us speak of other things. He disappointed me. But I can understand why he broke the deal, while I find your actions incomprehensible. Why did you do this?”

The King of Qi was silent for a while, then said: “For the sake of eight words: ‘Those outside my clan necessarily harbor different intentions!’”[3]

The black-robed man said: “I don’t understand.”

The King of Qi said: “You wouldn’t understand. If you had the capability to understand, you would have already, in the more than eighteen hundred years you’ve lived. You were willing to blindly serve your god, afraid to question anything. This is why he chose you for his messenger to humanity in the very beginning. I’m the exact opposite of you. This is why he chose me only when he ran out of options.”

The black-robed man said: “Don’t try to confuse the issue!”

The King of Qi said: “I’m not being confusing on purpose. There’s truly no way to explain to you in more detail. I ask you, can you accept the Infinite-Night cosmological model?”

The black-robed man, taken aback, said: “No, I believe in the Sky-Lid model. The sky is obviously curved like a cap. How could it be made of empty, insubstantial space? It’s too ridiculous.”

The King of Qi sighed. “In that case, you probably didn’t understand that floating star chart your master owned, did you?”

The black-robed man said: “Was... was that a star chart? I didn’t realize.”

The King of Qi sighed again. “See, if you don’t know even these basics, how am I supposed to explain to you the greatest secret behind the formation of this world? How am I supposed to explain the terrible conspiracy your master has hidden within this secret? That time, I spoke with your master for a day, and it took me half a month of thinking to fully understand it all. I tell you, you’ll never be able to see the truth behind this. The spark in your heart has stifled from your purposeless longevity. You’ve lost the ability to pry into something you don’t understand, to truly  think.”

The black-robed man was stunned for a long time. Then he said: “What secret? What conspiracy? What does it have to to with the stars? You speak incoherent nonsense. I think you’re mad. You must have gone mad!” He turned and stumbled away. “Mad... mad, Kuai Che was right, you’ve truly gone mad... haha, how laughable! My master was doomed by a madman...”


In October, the King of Qi deployed his armies south to join with the King of Han and the various other lords to attack Xiang Yu. Under the King of Qi’s onslaught, Xiang Yu found himself in dire straits, his territory shrinking.

In November, the King of Qi tightened the vise of his surrounding forces, trapping Xiang Yu and his ten thousand troops at Gaixia.

In February, the great battle began.


In the royal palace at Linzi, Ji Jiang couldn’t stand to wait any longer. She decided to hurry to the base of operations at Dingtao to await the King of Qi, so she could greet him in his triumph sooner.

When she arrived at Dingtao, she heard the good news: the alliance had won! Xiang Yu had been defeated at Gaixia and died by the banks of Wu River. The various armies were either clearing away the last enemy remnants or returning home in triumph. Dingtao was the shared base of operations for several of these armies; they were now returning here, one after the other, spirits extraordinarily lively. The whole city of Dingtao was jubilant with victory.

Ji Jiang, delighted like the rest, asked for directions to the Qi encampment. The Qi troops had neat and orderly countenances, their armor clean and bright, and they and their horses were visibly more majestic than the other groups’. Using her palace tally, she accessed the command center and asked as to the King of Qi’s whereabouts. Several officers recognized her, knew of her favored status with the King of Qi, and enthusiastically led her through camp toward the king’s tent. They told her: “The King of Qi has left on a matter of business. Wait for a while, he’ll return this afternoon.”

As her escorts walked, they proudly told her of the fierce campaign they’d experienced. When they came to the exciting parts, they practically radiated delight, chests puffed skyward. Ji Jiang caught their infectious enthusiasm as she listened; “What happened next?” she asked. “Who killed the Hegemon-King of Western Chu in the end?”

Her escorts exchanged looks, instantly deflating.

One of them said: “Don’t bring that up. Just talking about it makes you want to hit something.”

Perplexed, Ji Jiang asked: “What? What happened?”

The officer growled: “We did all that hard work, setting up ten sets of ambushes to weaken Xiang Yu bit by bit. He fled to the bank of Wu River with just twenty-six riders left. That’s when the Han soldiers rush out like a swarm of hornets! Hmph, they can’t do the hard fighting, but they sure know how to beat a dead tiger.”

Another said: “Our King of Qi made it sound so nice when he made us retreat three li. ‘We won’t squabble with the King of Han’s men for achievements,’ he said. But how is this about squabbling for achievements? This is about what’s fair and what’s not!”

Yet another added: “Ah, well, it’s only a thousand pounds of gold and a ten thousand household marquisate. Let them be the ones to grab for it. The people of the world have sharp eyes. Who doesn’t know that our Qi army was the one to defeat the Hegemon-King?”

The first man said: “I’m not going to grin and bear it! Why should we plant the trees and they pick the fruit? That King of Han is really something. He can dodge a hard fight faster than anyone, and jump back out to grab the profits faster than anyone!”

Another said: “Yeah, and he claims to be virtuous!”

Ji Jiang rolled her eyes, laughing. “Do you really think you got the short end of the stick? The King of Qi was keeping you all safe! Now, the Han army got a bad deal.”

That took everyone aback. Someone said: “Lady Ji Jiang, are you joking? The Han army took advantage of us, plain and simple, and you say they got a bad deal?”

Ji Jiang said: “I ask you: did you want that ten thousand household marquisate, those thousand pounds of gold?”

The man said: “Yes! Of course I wanted them!”

“And you?”

The others joined in: “Of course, who wouldn’t!”

Ji Jiang said: “Exactly. Who wouldn’t? There are three hundred thousand men in the Qi army, and who out of them wouldn’t want gold and a marquisate? But there’s only one Hegemon-King of Western Chu!”

Several paused, and one man seemed to realize: “Ah! Yes, I’d heard that the Han soldiers were so desperate to get their hands on Xiang Yu’s body that they started killing each other by the hundreds. Countless others were squeezed and trampled to death. In the end, they tore the body into five pieces-- the undertakers had a horrific time piecing it back together. The reward got split into five parts, too, one for each person.”

Ji Jiang said: “Which makes two hundred pounds of gold and two thousand households. What’s so impressive about that? Good for you if you managed to grab part of his corpse, but think about all those people who became corpses in the attempt! No matter how much you want gold and marquisates, they can’t be worth your life! Tell me, compared with the Han army, did you lose out or win out?”

Her escorts, realization dawning, near prostrated themselves in admiration for this outwardly unassuming girl. No wonder the King of Qi trusted and relied on her so, they thought. She indeed surpassed the ordinary. “Lady Ji Jiang, your sharp mind puts us simple warriors to shame. We hadn’t realized the pains the King of Qi took for our sake in all this time.”

In the space of the conversation, they’d arrived at the tent. Another one of her escorts said: “Still, I don’t see why the King of Qi threw away that magic mirror at Pengcheng. The King of Han’s men weren’t there to fight for it. We presented it to him for the taking. Why did he have to do that?”

Ji Jiang, puzzled, asked: “What magic mirror?”

The officer said: “After we took Pengcheng, a squadron of our people found a rectangular mirror in the Hegemon-King of Western Chu’s royal palace. Interestingly enough, that mirror could show you your five viscera and six bowels! We came together and decided to present this treasure to the King of Qi. Who knew that he’d take one look and-- come, guess what happened.”

Ji Jiang asked: “What happened?”

“The King of Qi ordered us to immediately carry that mirror out of the city and throw it into the river. Ai, the King of Qi’s strict with his orders, so no one dared to disobey. A treasure that fine, tossed into the rushing waters of the Sishui in front of our eyes. It’s a real pity.”

Ji Jiang was taken aback. She said slowly: “The King of Qi... why would he do that?”

The officer said: “Who knows? I wish I knew.”

Ji Jiang considered a while, and couldn’t think of any reason either. She said: “The King of Qi must have had his reason. Anyway, thank you, everyone. You can return and rest now. I’ll rest a bit too, here, and wait for the King of Qi.”

Once the officers left, Ji Jiang tossed off her shoes and lay down on the King of Qi’s camp bed. The exhaustion that followed her intense days of travel had pervaded every limb and bone. Her body ached all over, but in a good way, and her eyes drowsily closed in no time at all. From the pillow, she could smell the faint, familiar scent of the King of Qi’s hair. It put her heart at ease for reasons she couldn’t name, and she soon drifted into the world of dreams.

When she woke, the King of Qi stood in front of the bed, smiling. “So?” he asked. “Have you slept enough?”

“Yes.” The sight of the King of Qi made Ji Jiang ineffably happy. “Your Highness, you arrived before now, didn’t you? Why didn’t you wake me?”

The King of Qi said: “If I woke you, would you have gotten nearly enough sleep? Here, clean your face.” He handed a cloth, neatly wrung, to Ji Jiang.

Ji Jiang wiped her face, then set the cloth aside with a laugh. “You’ve come back from defeating the infamous Hegemon-King of Western Chu to help a little girl wash her face. I’ll have to tell it to the other girls in my hometown-- what bragging rights!”

The King of Qi gently pinched her cheek, laughing. “Why not, I’ll wash your feet, too, if you want! But other people might not believe you.”

Ji Jiang said: “Hmph! They dare not believe me? If they don’t believe me, send out a public decree, Your Highness: ‘We have a weakness for serving others. Our waiting upon the lady Ji Jiang in the matter of washing her face we confirm to be truth! You whom we address, do not mistake it for erroneous slander.” She barely managed to finish speaking before breaking into giggles, and the King of Qi, too, joined in.

The two of them took a while to recover. Ji Jiang continued: “Your Highness, I’ve heard from the others, you fought one beautiful battle! That ten-sided ambush formation left Xiang Yu running in circles. I heard that you had men sing songs from Chu at night, too. It drove Xiang Yu crazy, not knowing how much of his territory and people you’d taken. He spent the nights bellowing and singing and weeping in his tent. He’d completely fallen apart.”

The King of Qi sighed. “To be honest, I pity him a little. He wasn’t evil by nature, but he wasn’t meant for his position. I suppose our era of chaos forced him up there. He didn’t have much of a choice. If he were a little more clear-headed, a little more aware, willing to listen more to Fan Zeng, maybe he wouldn’t have fallen so far. But in a position like his, how many can stay clear-headed? Not to mention the--” Here, he suddenly fell silent.

Ji Jiang said: “Not to mention what?”

The King of Qi said: “Never mind, no point in bringing it up. That thing can no longer harm anyone.”

Ji Jiang, increasingly curious, asked: “Your Highness, what are you talking about? What ‘harming anyone?’”

The King of Qi thought for a moment, then said: “Very well, it’s all in the past anyway. There’s no harm in telling you. There was a mirror--”

“Ah,” Ji Jiang exclaimed. “A mirror?”

The King of Qi noticed Ji Jiang’s strange expression. “Did you hear about it?”

Ji Jiang nodded. “They told me that they found a magic mirror when they entered Pengcheng, a mirror that revealed your internal organs. They gifted it to you, but you threw it into the Sishui.”

The King of Qi said: “Yes, that mirror. It’s not a funny story. That thing is dangerous-- I may not understand the mechanisms behind it, but I know that using it for too long will damage one’s mind. Qin Shihuang and the Hegemon-King of Chu both grew perverse and unstable after they gained it. Could I allow it to remain in this world?”

Ji Jiang listened, both astonished and confused. She was silent for a long time before an idea came into her mind. “But Your Highness, you didn’t have to throw it away. You could use it for something else.”

The King of Qi asked: “What?”

Ji Jiang looked around, then leaned close to the King of Qi and said: “Gift it to the King of Han.”

Unexpectedly, when the King of Qi heard her mention the King of Han, the cheer in his face instantly disappeared, replaced by gloom. He sat down at the bed’s edge, silent, as if deeply preoccupied.

Ji Jiang said: “Your Highness, what’s with you?”

The King of Qi didn’t immediately reply. Then: “If my spies report correctly, the Guest of Canghai has gone to the King of Han.”

Ji Jiang said: “The creepy black-robed man? That’s good news! I saw from the beginning that he was up to no good, trying to get you to do all those strange things. I was pretty worried for you back then! And now he’s gone to bewitch the King of Han? Isn’t that the best thing that could have happened?”

The King of Qi said: “The Guest of Canghai isn’t worth my concern. I’m just worried that... ai!”

Ji Jiang said: “Your Highness, what are you worried about?”

The King of Qi said: “I’m worried that... it somehow survived. Ai, I can only hope I’m fussing over nothing...” He raised his head, gazing upward, brow slightly furrowed. “How could it be possible? That earthshaking tsunami... could its endurance truly be so great--”

Ji Jiang grabbed the King of Qi’s hand. “Your Highness, who didn’t die? What are you talking about?”

“Correct, he survived!” Accompanying the icy voice was the black-robed man, manifesting himself as suddenly as a ghost in their tent. “You were no more than an ant trying to shake a tree, a praying mantis trying to block a cart. It’s laughable that you thought any mortal could oppose a god!”

Ji Jiang felt the King of Qi’s hand go cold in hers. Startled, she looked at the King of Qi. His face was terribly pale.

With effort, he said: “That’s... that’s impossible. I’ve sent men to check. The island was buried in ash tens of feet thick. The volcano’s opening still steamed with molten rock!”

The black-robed man said: “Indeed, you managed to destroy the palace he’d built through more than three thousand years of hard work. All those priceless divine artifacts... But! How could you harm his actual body? He’s nothing less than a god of heaven. I told you that in the beginning, but you insisted on disbelieving me, insisted on working against him. Very well, then. Await your punishment!” He turned and left.

The King of Qi suddenly said: “Wait.”

The black-robed man paused in his steps and turned his head. “Oh?” he said in a mocking tone. “Do you regret now? Will you beg for mercy? It’s too late for that!”

The King of Qi said: “How many of his inhuman abilities remain?”

The black-robed man paused. “What did you say?”

The King of Qi said: “If I’ve conjectured correctly, most of his abilities come from his devices. His powers aren’t nearly as great as they were before, are they?”

The black-robed man looked at the King of Qi for a long time. Then he nodded. “Even if that’s the case, he has more than enough to take care of you!”

The King of Qi said: “Yes, I know. His intelligence is many times greater than mine. I never expected a full victory. Just achieving as much as I have is enough to satisfy me.”

The black-robed man laughed humorlessly. “Satisfied? You’ll die without a resting place!”

The King of Qi smiled lightly, bleakly. “I’ve been prepared for today ever since I fired those three Trace-Dragging Swords toward the sea. Let him come and exact his vengeance. I’ll wait.”



And here are the magitech rocket launchers as promised. 

[1] Cuju is basically ancient Chinese soccer. You might recognize it from Red Cliffs or that Han Wu Da Di drama.
[2] This is "The Chu Madman's Song of Reception" (《楚狂接舆歌》,) an old folk song from the State of Chu. It's first recorded in the Analects of Confucius, where a scholar pretending to be a madman sings it to Confucius and then disappears. Phoenixes are said only to appear when the land is wisely governed, so this whole song is quite political.

[3] Han Xin is quoting from the Commentary of Zuo. Ji Jiang's scholarly knowledge seems to be rubbing off on him.

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