"Hey batter batter batter!" I called. Old-fashioned, I know, but older taunts distract people just as well as newer ones do.
The batter was sweating and twisting the bat in her hands. I saw her glance up at me and frown.
Our star pitcher rolled her shoulders, took a deep breath, and began her wind-up. The softball flew from her hands and straight into the catcher's mitt.
"STRIKEEE THREE! Batter's out!" the umpire roared.
"YES!" the fans and the players cheered together.
Our championship game was going great. Rusty, our coach, was grinning broadly. The Bloomington Bashers (my team) were up by one and it was the final inning.
The sun was directly behind me and would be in the last batter's eyes. I looked around and sighed happily. It was the perfect day for a softball game. The grass was soft and an emerald green. The sky was the color of the ocean and there wasn't a cloud in sight.
I saw the batter who had just struck out whisper something to her coach. The opposing coach signaled to the umpire, who in turn, yelled "Time-out Panthers!"
I walked over to my best friend, Jo, the second baser.
"Nice catch, Sam. I thought you were going to drop that last one," Jo admitted with a laugh.
I chuckled. "So did I. I can't believe it! We are literally one batter away from being champions!"
We chatted for a couple minutes, and then the ump yelled "Game-on!". I trotted back to first base. I adjusted my visor, looked at the new batter, and instantly paled. Up to bat was number 16, commonly known as 'The Smasher'. She had arms like a gorilla and was at least 6 ft. tall. I could easily picture her climbing the Empire State Building and swiping at airplanes.
Our pitcher, Lori, closed her eyes and I could tell that she was trying to relax. When her eyes opened, however, she looked serious, calculating. Almost faster than my eyes could follow, she did her wind-up and hurled the ball.
I heard the batter hit the ball and at the same moment a crushing force hit me in my right shoulder.
"AAAAAARRRRGGGHHHH!" I yelled as the force of it knocked me over. I made a grab at the ball, and I felt my head hit the base. For a second, all I saw was the blue sky and then I blacked out.
As I came to, I noticed that something was horribly wrong. Instead of being on a softball field or in a hospital bed, I was in a cherry orchard.
'What happened?' I wondered 'Something about a softball game...' I was jolted out of my thoughts by the voices of people approaching. I slowly stood up, noticing an awful pain in my shoulder. The voices came closer and I quickly (by my standards) hid behind a tree.
Someone (a woman) laughed softly at something her companion had said. They finally came into sight and what a strange sight they were. A tall, muscular man, with golden armor walked arm-in-arm with a small, pretty woman who was wearing just a skimpy top and a skirt. The man had dark brown/almost black hair and he walked with an air of confidence. The girl didn't walk so much as dance. Looking at them, I had the strangest feeling that I'd met them before. As I struggled to think of who they were, I accidently let loose a sigh of frustration.
Immediately, the man turned to look at me. He drew his weapon and attacked so fast that I didn't even have time to flinch. Before I knew what was happening, I was flat on my back, looking at the strange spear, which was being held against my throat.
"Who are you?" my attacker snarled. Angry about being so rudely attacked, I didn't respond.
That seemed to make him mad and he pressed his weapon further into my neck, not piercing the skin, but close.
"I'll ask one more time. Who are you?" he asked, obviously losing the battle to control his anger.
"I'm Sam. Sam Fox. Who're you?" I managed to choke out. I was seeing black dots and knew I was close to passing out due to lack of air.
He seemed to notice and he reduced the pressure at my throat, just enough so that I could gulp down air.
"You do not know who I am? I am the mightiest man alive!" he bragged, clearly surprised that I didn't know him. "Who sent you?" I looked at him. Something about the golden armor and the weird weapon jogged my memory. All of a sudden, it hit me. He was Lu Bu! From history class! In our textbook it had mentioned his great strength and fondness of violence. That much was pretty obvious. Wait, if he was Lu Bu, then I must be in-
"ANSWER ME!" he roared. He lifted his weapon, and was ready to strike when his companion, who I had forgotten about, reached over and grabbed his shoulder. Furious, he turned to look at her.
"What do you think you're doing?" he hissed through clenched teeth.
"Stopping you from killing an innocent person!" she exclaimed.
I thought for a second that he was going to hit her. But then, he features softened and he said,
"Fine. You talk to her. If you can't get any information out of her, she dies. Agreed?"
His companion nodded and then he continued,
"I'm going to go look around. She might have friends nearby." At this he took off into the orchard, and I was left alone with this strange woman.
"Thank you for saving my life," I said, sitting up.
She laughed and replied, "No problem. My friend can get testy at times, but he's a good man at heart. By the way, I'm Diao Chan."
Of course! She was Lu Bu's girlfriend!
"Were you sent to spy on us?" she asked sadly. I knew that she was thinking that if I was a spy she would have to have Lu Bu kill me.
"No no no!" I quickly assured her, "No one sent me. In fact, I don't even know where I am."
She gave me the strangest look and replied "You are in China. Where do you come from?"
"Amer-" I was cut off by Lu Bu returning to glare at me.
"So? Is she a spy?"
The moment of truth. Will she tell him the truth?
"She is no enemy or spy, Fengxian." she whispered the last word, obviously trying to be subtle. Who is this Fengxian? Diao was still looking at Bu, so I assumed that it was a nickname or something. I mentally tucked this away for future reference. Fengxian (or Lu Bu) looked satisfied and said "Let us be off. You," he said, looking at me, "I will not hesitate to kill you if you don't cooperate."
He looked deadly serious. Wondering what his problem was, I nodded absentmindedly. And so, we started walking.
Diao walked next to him and I noticed that every now and then he would glance back, to make sure I was still following.
'Man, he doesn't trust me at all!' I thought to myself.' Luckily, she does. If Lu Bu and Diao Chan were sneaking around, hanging out in orchards, then that one guy, Dong Something, must still be alive'
After walking for a little while, I spoke up. "Where are we going?" I asked, looking around. All I could see were cherry trees and little streams.
"Back to the castle. I'll decide what to do with you there." Lu Bu replied curtly. Sighing, I kept walking. I noticed that every now and again, Diao would turn to look at Lu and that for a second, all signs of anger were washed from his face, replaced with pure bliss. But then he would notice me looking at him and he would finger his weapon and glare at me. I wondered why he hated me so much.
We walked for an hour (I think), rested, (mainly for me. Lu Bu walks FAST!) and started walking again. After the first break, they started holding hands. I didn't comment, not wanting to be glared at. The thick, pink cherry trees showed no sign of thinning, and I wondered if we were lost.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, we could see a huge castle, nestled on a mountain. The couple stopped holding hands and we stopped, still in the trees.
"You go first, my lady. I'll go through the eastern gate with Sam," Lu Bu said. At the thought of being left alone with him, I looked at Diao, pleading (with my eyes) for her to intervene. She gave me a comforting smile and turned to look at him.
"How about I take her, my lord? It will seem less unusual if two women come out of the orchard, even with one wearing strange clothes."
Lu Bu thought about it for a second. And I realized that I was wearing strange clothes to a foreigner (although technically I was the foreigner here). I was wearing my softball uniform; red shirt, long black shorts, tall red socks, and my favorite Allstar cleats. My outfit was pretty comfy so I was happy.
"It's too much of a chance. What if she turns violent?" Lu Bu said with a shake of his head. I couldn't help it, I snorted. Me? Attack her? Why on earth would I attack someone who has the protection of the strongest man on the planet?
They both turned to look at me, Fengxian looking angry (what a shocker) and Diao looking contemplative. Was she really debating whether or not she could beat me in a fight?
"Do you find something funny?" Lu Bu asked with his usual tone (angry). He took a threatening step forward.
"No. Listen, I'm not going to fight the one person who was nice to me right in front of the guards. What do you take me for, an idiot?" I replied, rolling my eyes, internally debating the possibility of his being dropped on the head when he was little.
Chan looked reassured and Bu looked a little less angry. He nodded and said "Alright, you two can go together. But," he said lowering his voice so that only I could hear. "If you even think about running, know that I'll find you. And whether she likes you or not, I'll kill you."
I nodded again, really getting sick of this whole threatening me thing.
He pulled her into a deep kiss, which lasted for several minutes. I stood there awkwardly, until finally, Diao broke it off, saying
"Travel well, my lord. Watch out for ambushes."
To my utter shock, he actually laughed. Who knew that he actually had a sense of humor?
"Fear not, my love. For I am the indestructible Lu Bu!" he said proudly. I resisted the urge to gag.
We waved good bye to "the indestructible Lu Bu" and walked towards the castle.
"Why can't you guys go in together?" I asked.
She sighed. "It's complicated."
"We have a long walk," I pointed out.
She laughed and said, "Lu Bu and I both serve under the tyrant Dong Zhuo. He is a wicked man, cruel, greedy, and selfish. My father sold me to him. After 2 weeks I was ready to give up hope, and then I saw him."
She looked at me funny. "Don't let him hear you calling him that. But, yes. He was literally my knight in shining armor. We talked a little bit, and fell in love. But, we have to keep it a secret, otherwise Dong Zhuo would probably kill Lu Bu and banish Me." she shuddered. I was struck by how open and trusting she was. I mean, to tell a total stranger her deepest secret?
We walked in silence. I tripped once and grass stained my socks. We were nearing the castle's gates when she spoke up and said "Let me do the talking. And, please don't tell Lu Bu that I told you about him and I. He would be so angry. At both of us. I mean, he won't kill you, most likely, but..."
I assured her that it would remain our secret. She smiled and led the way. Soon, we entered the gates and a guard yelled, "Halt!"
"So close," she muttered.
A man in blue armor walked up to us and, realizing that he had just yelled at someone of higher rank, quickly bowed and said, "Sorry! I didn't see that it was you, Lady Chan! Please forgive me for shouting."
I expected her to laugh and say no problem. Instead, she looked at him with hatred.
"See that it never happens again. You wouldn't want me to tell Lord Zhuo about this, would you?" she said, barely disguising the threat. The guard turned even paler.
"N-n-n-o-o!" he stuttered. Poor guy.
Diao led me on. "I hate those guys," she muttered, scowling.
We entered the castle, and the first thing I noticed was the cold. It was like Antarctica in here! Chan sighed and looked around sadly. I could tell that she hated it here. We walked to a small room with a cot on the floor.
"Home sweet home." she said with a roll of her eyes. She sat on the floor and motioned for me to do the same.
"If you hate living here so much, why don't you leave?" I asked, stating what seemed like the obvious solution to her problem.
She looked at me sadly.
"I would if I could, but I can't. I belong to Dong Zhuo. And I can't do anything about it."
"Maybe I can."
Diao and I had been so focused on our conversation that we didn't notice that we had an audience.
I looked up to see him standing in the doorway.
"Having a nice little chat?" he said, raising an eyebrow.
Diao stood up. I noticed that she was smiling for the first time since we entered the castle. Fengxian hugged her and then turned to glare at me.
"Did she cause any problems?" he asked Diao.
"Nah. She was super-duper!" I said sarcastically.
Bu scowled and walked over to where I was still sitting. I tried to get up but he pinned me down by my already-aching shoulder with his foot.
"You need to learn your place, girl." he spat. "I'm getting sick of your backtalk. Say one more word when I don't ask for it, and I'll cut out your tongue. Understand?"
Surely he wasn't serious. I was about to make some clever comment, when I saw Diao Chan. She was standing behind Lu Bu, shaking her head violently.
'Don't do it! He's serious!' she mouthed, pointing at his halberd. I sighed. I owed her that much. I nodded to Lu Bu.
He held me down for another second, and then he let me sit up.
"Diao, come on. Lord Zhuo called a meeting and he sent me to fetch you. Sam, don't move a single muscle." Lu Bu and Diao Chan left the room.
'Was he serious about not moving?' I wondered. I was sitting on the hard floor. My shoulder was aching, and I was tired. 'Ok Sam, stay awake. What do you remember about Ancient China? Okay, three major leaders, Cao Cao, Lui something and Sun Jian or some other sunny name.' I had to do a report, so I remembered the most about Cao Cao. He was a ruler who was nicknamed "The Hero of Chaos". There was something else about him. Something important...'oh well.' I sighed. I rolled my shoulder and it hurt a little less. I managed to get comfortable and I waited for them to return.
It was so boring! I sang through my choir concert (in my mind of course. Mr. Grumpy Face could be back at any moment) and still no one was back.
'Come on! Where are you?' I wondered. I didn't particularly want to see the person who threatened to cut out my tongue, but at least Diao was fun to talk to.
I had just decided to get up when I heard voices.
"Please. Let her live. For me." I heard Diao plead.
From my position on the floor, I saw two sets of feet stop in front of the thin paper door.
"Anything else. You name it and it's yours." Lu Bu promised. "Now that she knows about us, I can't risk anyone finding out. She has to die."
Panicked, I looked for a way to escape. There weren't any windows and the only door was blocked by Fengxian himself.
I heard footsteps come closer and saw Chan's feet in front of the door.
"No. If you are going to kill someone, kill me. I told her. I deserve the punishment." I couldn't believe it. This almost-stranger was risking her life for me.
"You know I would never do that to you." he replied in a low voice. He walked up to her and opened the door.
There I was, sitting on the floor with the most powerful warrior in China looming over me, but all I could think about was how he always seemed to wear armor.
"I'll give you one chance. Can I trust you?"
"Yes." It was the most bizarre feeling. With those four words, I knew that I would never betray him. He could threaten me, yell at me, boss me around, and I would never tell anyone about him and Diao Chan. I can't explain it.
He seemed to sense my honesty and he nodded.
"It's late. Can she sleep here?" he asked Chan. She nodded and he smiled.
"Sweet dreams, Fengxian," she whispered. He nodded and left.
She turned to look at me and said, "You can stand up now. He's gone."
I stood up, stretching. I rolled my neck and I heard a loud crack. My stomach rumbled loud enough for Chan to hear and she giggled.
"Sorry. Haven't eaten a lot today." I said with a smile.
"I wish I could help but I don't want to risk running into Dong Zhuo this late. He'll be drunk and..."
I didn't ask why. I didn't have to. The sadness and fear in her eyes gave me all the answer I needed.
"Well, you need to get some sleep," she continued. "Tomorrow is a big day. You have to meet my master, Lord Zhuo."
"Why do I have to meet him? Why can't I just lie low?" I asked.
"That wouldn't work," she explained. "If anyone sees you, they will report you to Him and he'll execute you, Fengxian, and me for spying. If we are lucky."
"Of course." I muttered. Why can it never be simple?
Diao Chan laughed and said, "It's never the easy way, is it? All you can do is keep on fighting. Goodnight."
Something about that struck me as very wise.
I laid back on the ground and stared at the ceiling. If I fell asleep, would my dream end? Will I enter a different dream? Why is my shoulder hurting? What happens if you die in a dream? Do you die in real life?
I felt a sudden rush of energy. Diao Chan's deep breathing told me that she was asleep. I was tempted to "accidentally" wake her up, but I decided against it. I silently got to my feet and snuck out the door. The moon lit the corridors as I retraced my steps from earlier today. As I turned a corner, I almost ran smack-dab into a guard. He looked at me, obviously drunk.
"Wh-ho ar-ee y-y-ou?" he stammered.
'This could be fun,' I thought to myself.
"I am Dong Zhuo! How dare you question me?!" I growled, using my best manly impression. At any moment he could notice that I was not big, fat, or male. That's what made it fun. "I demand that you surrender your weapon!"
The poor guy looked like he was going to throw up. He shakily drew his sword and handed it to me, hilt first.
"Here you go sir."
"At ease, solider." I replied as I took his weapon. Now, if anyone stopped me I could fight my way out. (Yes, I know I've never used a sword before, but it was late and I was cocky.)
I strolled down the hallway, not running into any more guards. The lights were out in all of the rooms, except one...
As I tiptoed down the hallway, I tried to mentally picture where I was in the castle. I took a left, then a right, and so next I should take another right. I should have turned, but I saw that someone had a light on farther down the hall.
'Curiosity killed the cat. Luckily I'm a Fox." I chuckled inwardly.
I stopped a little ways away from the door, peering into a crack in the wall. I saw a person, a guy, sitting at a desk. He was wearing robes the color of blood.
This fit, because when he stood up, I realized it was Lu Bu!
'Oh crap,' I thought. 'if he catches me spying then I'm dead.'
I started to walk away, but when he pulled out his weapon, he started cleaning it and talking.
"Oh Sky Scorcher. We've been through so much together. We have conquered all who crossed our path. But, to think, all that I want to do with you is rend Dong Zhuo's head from his shoulders!" he growled. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. After a few seconds, he opened them and continued cleaning his halberd. "I've tried to protect Diao from him, but every now and then, he takes her, and I can't do anything. It makes me feel weak. The worst part is, I know she's playing me for a fool. She's trying to drive me against my adopted father, and it's working. I have every right to kill her, or banish her, but I can't. I love her. Sure, sometimes she infuriates me, like today with that girl who interrupted our alone time. What really makes me love her is when she does stuff like that. That brings up another problem. Sam. What am I supposed to do with her? Diao wants her to meet Lord Zhuo tomorrow, but I don't know if that's a good idea."
He was about to say more, when the worst possible thing happened.
Lu Bu jumped to his feet like a cat, and I took off running. I turned to the left and found myself in the castle garden. Hiding behind a rose bush, I waited with bated breath.
Moments after I ducked behind the bush, he came running into the garden. Lu Bu cocked his head, looked around, and stared right at me.
"Stay still and you might live." he whispered, adjusting his grip on Sky Scorcher and walking towards me.
I couldn't move, even though all of my instincts were screaming at me to flee.
'If I'm going down, I'm going down fighting.' I decided.
I stood up, straightened the sword, and almost peed my shorts.
He looked like the devil himself. His halberd glinted evilly in the moon light. The moon shadowed his face, so all I could see was his mouth, stretched in a cruel smile.
Lu Bu was about 3 feet away when he stopped. I expected him to pin me down by my shoulder and demand info, but nothing happened. He just stared at me wordlessly for several minutes.
Finally, I was sick of waiting and tired of being scared. Lunging at him with my sword, I tried to quickly step to the side. What really happened is he blocked my attack easily and tripped me as I moved to the side. I tried to scurry away, but he grabbed me and pulled me up by the back of my shirt.
"I was going to kill you today. But because you are the only person in this camp besides Diao who doesn't quiver with fear whenever I see you, I'll let you live. But, if you ever spy on me again, I'll break every bone in your body. Now," he said, releasing me. "What happened to your shoulder?"
"I got hit with a ball," I told him, really confused about the sudden change in conversation.
"If you weren't spying, why were you in the orchard?"
"That's where I woke up."
"Where do you come from?"
That was a tricky question.
"Final question. What are you good at? Fighting? (He snorted) Dancing? Cooking?"
"I'm good at cooking." I said. Actually, I've only made Mac and cheese, but how hard could it be?
"Time for you to get back to Diao's room. And don't sneak out. Not all the guards you run into will be drunk. Now, give me the sword."
The second moment of truth. My sword was my only defense, not that it did me much good. I took a deep breath, and handed the sword over. He twirled it around, AND THEN BROKE IT IN HALF!
"That," he said smugly, handing me the bottom half, "is a good length for you. We must be going. And, not a word of our encounter to Chan, all right? I let you live, you keep quiet. Seems fair, eh?"
"Okay, but why?" I asked, still looking at the dagger sized sword.
"Well, I do have an image to maintain. And if I let a mouthy spy go unscathed, what would that do to it?"
He put a guiding hand on my unhurt shoulder and led me down the hall. All was going great, until someone bumped into him.
Obviously, this man had been drinking. The man scowled at Lu, saying, "Well, if it isn't the almighty lapdog of Dong Zhuo."
Lu Bu snarled in rage and before I knew it, had cut the man's head off. Blood pooled around the poor soul.
"Don't step in it." The nice, understanding Lu Bu of tonight was gone, replaced with the psycho killer of this afternoon.
I couldn't move. The head was looking at me!
I heard him sigh and walk over to me. He gripped my shoulder and I flinched. I know flinching is a sign of weakness to some people but this guy had just beheaded someone in front of me and grabbed my hurt shoulder!
I gasped as he picked me up and carried me past the mess. It would have been sweet except for the whole he had just killed someone thing. He dropped me on the floor outside Diao's room.
"Remember. Not a word." he hissed as he disappeared into darkness. Freaky.
I groaned and got to my feet. I opened the door and stopped dead. Diao was awake and looking angry.
'Of course.' I cringed mentally. I was too tired to deal with this.
"Where were you?" she asked coldly.
"Nowhere. I just took a walk." I sat on the floor and rubbed my throbbing shoulder. The angry look on her face was replaced with one of concern.
"Let me take a look at it." she ordered, dropping to her knees. I rolled my sleeve up high enough to let her see my shoulder.
"Ewwww..." she said as she looked at it.
"Thanks. That really makes me feel better." I said sarcastically.
It really was gross. The middle was a greenish blue and it was black towards the edges. The very outside was purple and red. The whole bruise was twice the size of a softball and oozing some sort of yellowish pus. I almost threw up looking at it.
"How did this happen?" she asked with a grimace.
"I got hit with a ball."
'It doesn't help that I keep rubbing it' I thought.
She took some water from a nearby pitcher and dabbed it on the bruise. I hissed in pain and she winced.
"I'm sorry but we have to get it clean. Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" she apologized as she dabbed.
She finished and tore a piece of her blanket into a bandage. I looked at my shoulder and to my surprise it didn't look as repulsive. Score.
As she wrapped my up shoulder, I smiled. Here was someone I had only known for one day, and she was taking care of me like I was family.
"There you go. That should make you feel better. Try to not move that arm much, or put any pressure on it. Well, you need to rest. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Good night." she said as she laid down on her bed. After making sure she was asleep, I picked up the sword Lu Bu gave me and looked at it. The handle was a pale blue and there was a weird Chinese symbol carved on the blade. I decided to ask Chan about it in the morning.
The blade posed a difficult problem. Where was I supposed to keep it? My handy sword belt that I just happened to always have with me? As I tried to think of a solution, I fiddled with my shorts out of habit. There was a hole in my shorts from an incident with a fishhook. Don't ask. Suddenly, it hit me. My shorts. The hole was just as good as a pocket!
I put the sword in my shorts (I know that sounds weird but it's what happened), and to my happiness, I didn't get stabbed in the leg. I have low standards for happiness.
I stretched out on the floor. It must be at least 3:00 in the morning.
'Might as well get some sleep. Big day tomorrow. Maybe.' was my final thought as I fell asleep.
"Wake up, Sam. Get up!"
I felt someone shaking my shoulder, so I rolled over onto my side.
"If you don't get up I'll break your ribs." a different voice offered.
Well, that woke me up. I rolled onto my stomach. Getting to my feet, I flinched. There was Lu Bu himself, wearing his golden armor. Sky Scorcher was in his hand, totally clean.
"That wasn't necessary." Diao was scolding Bu, who actually looked sheepish.
"It got her up didn't it?" he argued with a crooked smile. When he looked at her, his eyes were soft and he looked almost, handsome. But, then he turned to look at me, I saw nothing but black fury in his eyes and the feeling was gone.
I opened my mouth to speak but his eyes flashed a warning, so I closed it and stretched.
"We have to go. Now." he ordered.
"What's the rush?" I asked, rolling my neck.
"Dong Zhuo is in a good mood. We don't know how long this is going to last. Hurry!" Diao explained quickly. I walked over to the door and Lu Bu led the way.
I kept yawning as we were walking, and so I missed half if the advice that she tried to give me.
"Bow when you first see him...don't make ey-yawn-tact..." her voice got quieter and quieter until I had to strain to hear her.
We reached a door that was guarded by two men. One look from Fengxian and they were literally quivering. They didn't even give me a funny look as I entered the door. Inside was a very large man sitting on a simple golden throne.
"My lord," both Diao and Lu Bu said together and kneeled.
Zhuo looked at me with a raised eyebrow and I hurriedly kneeled and muttered "My lord".
"My cousin has come to visit, and she arrived late last night. I didn't want to disturb you, my liege. I know you have many, many important matters to attend to," Diao explained, laying on the flattery so thick that I'm surprised she didn't choke on it.
"I found her this morning and brought her straight to you." Lu Bu said, actually humble and non-threatening for once.
"Stand." Zhuo ordered me. Hesitatingly, I stood. "Turn around in a circle. Slowly. I want to take a look at the merchandise."
What? Did he just go there? I ought to tell off this pervert once and for all. I took a step forward and felt a stabbing pain below my knee. I looked down to see a thin arrow sticking out of my leg!
I whipped around to see a man with a bow standing in the doorway. He pointed to his bow then made a "turn around" gesture. Gritting my teeth, I turned to face Zhuo.
Zhuo looked at me appraisingly and said, "What skills do you have?"
Remembering my conversation with Lu Bu last night, I replied, "Cooking."
"Interesting." he said. Then, he continued to stare at me for several long minutes. Just when I was about to ask him what his problem was, he stood and said, "You're dismissed."
Lu Bu and Diao stood up and he gripped my shoulder and turned me around forcefully.
"Not you Diao." Zhuo called, and from his voice I could tell that he was smirking.
I looked at Diao and she winced. Lu Bu's grip on my shoulder grew tighter and I flinched, silently thanking the gods who reminded him about my hurt shoulder. She turned around and walked back to Zhuo. I was steered out the door and down the hall, until we were out of earshot of the guards.
He sighed and rubbed his forehead. I pulled the arrow out of my leg and looked at it.
"Who shot you?" I was startled to hear Lu Bu ask.
"I don't know. I was about to yell at that pig," he gave me a vaguely disapproving look, but I continued, "When someone shot me! He was wearing silver and blue armor and was carrying a black bow. He pointed to his bow and motioned for me to turn around. Then, when we left, he was gone. It's so weird. I want to punch that guy in the face."
He chuckled and said, "Good old Liao."
"He's the guy who saved your life."
"Saved my life? He shot me in the leg!"
"Think about it, Sam. If you had yelled at him, what would have happened? Zhuo would have killed you, or, most likely, ordered me to kill you. Instead, all you have is a slight pain in your leg, which, I bet, is already gone."
Dang it, he was right.
"Fine. You're right." I grudgingly agreed.
He looked down the hall and frowned. Then he started pacing.
"What's taking her so long?" he muttered then grimaced. "Aghh. Surely he wouldn't..."
Feeling extremely awkward, I examined the arrow that this Liao guy shot at me. It was just a piece of wood. The tip wasn't even sharp.
This awkward silence continued for several minutes. Finally, I spoke up.
"Is something wrong?"
"Are you sure?"
'I tried,' I thought.
He resumed his pacing and I went back to being bored.
I pulled out my sword and looked at it.
"Put it away. What are you, crazy?" Lu Bu barked.
I rolled my eyes and put it away.
"Why can't I have a sword?" I asked, bored.
"Women aren't allowed to carry weapons." he said with an air of explaining something obvious.
"Really? What are you guys afraid that we'll beat you up?" I asked, rolling my eyes. When he didn't answer I looked at him. "That's it, isn't it? Ha ha ha ha ha you "Big tough warriors" are scared of a bunch of girls?" I started laughing.
A muscle in his jaw twitched.
"Did I strike a nerve? Is the mighty Lu Bu frightened of people wearing skirts? You must be terrified of Diao Chan."
He finally snapped. "Silence!"
Scared, I held my breath. He took a step forward, turned around, and punched a wall. His fist cut right through it just as footsteps rang down the hall. He hurriedly pulled it out and hid it behind his back.
"Lu Bu! What are you doing?" Diao's voice seemed to calm him down. "What happened to your hand?"
"I punched a wall."
I decided not to say anything. Driving him over the edge once was enough for me.
"Well, come on. It's time for breakfast."
With the excitement of the morning, I had totally forgotten how hungry I was.
Again, they led the way. We passed many people, all of which gave me funny looks as we passed.
Finally, we got to a large room with a many tables, all of them about knee high.
"We have to wait, don't we?" I asked Diao, already knowing the answer.
I sighed and watched as Lu Bu went to sit at what seemed to be the head table. Already sitting there was Liao and some other person. Diao and I went to go stand with the other girls, toward the back.
"She's new," she informed them when they gave her questioning looks. Everyone seemed to accept that, and nobody said anything.
Then, Dong Zhuo himself entered and all the men rose respectfully, though I saw more than a few glares aimed at him.
"We can't talk anymore. Wait until I say otherwise." she told me. I tried to ask why, but she stomped on my toe. It didn't hurt, but I got the message.
Zhuo reached his table and Lu Bu made a toast, saying "To our lord!" as he drank from his glass. Apparently, this was an every day kind of thing, because everyone copied him. Everyone sat down and girls from the kitchen came in with platters of food. Diao handed me a pitcher, so I assumed that I was on drink duty.
The men drank and talked and laughed. Diao was busy the entire time, refilling people's glasses with her own pitcher and smiling sweetly. I saw more than one man check her out as she walked away. Waiting for Diao to signal me to do something, I found myself watching the head table the most. The conversation there seemed to go by a pattern. Zhuo would say something, Lu Bu would pretend to laugh, and then Liao would make a comment and Lu Bu would laugh for real.
The only interesting part of the meal was when Zhuo asked Diao to serve him. She walked over, filled his cup, smiled, and walked away. As she walked away, Zhuo said something, obviously about her, and Lu Bu gripped his glass so hard that I thought it would break.
I stood there, not moving, until Zhuo stood up and left. Within the next 5 minutes, almost everyone had slowly trickled out.
Eventually, the only ones left were the people at the head table, minus Zhuo of course. Lu Bu said something to Diao, who in turn motioned for me to come over. I walked over to the table and the nameless man, said "So this is the one causing all the trouble. You must be Sam. Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm Chen Gong."
"Hey." I muttered, wondering when I would get to eat.
"You weren't kidding." Gong said to Lu Bu.
"Nope." Lu Bu agreed as he took a drink. He nodded at a plate and I started eating some weird fish stuff.
"Weren't kidding about what?" Diao asked.
"About how impetuous she is," Gong explained, nodding at me.
"Wow. That's not rude at all." I muttered, looking Liao. "It's almost as bad as shooting someone in the leg!"
"You're angry that I saved your life?" Liao questioned incredulously.
"By SHOOTING ME IN THE LEG! Why couldn't you have thrown something?" before I knew it I was shouting.
"You were about to make the worst mistake of you life, which would have ended immediately. I had to act fast. Aiming with a bow is more accurate." Liao explained calmly. "Sorry for the pain that I caused."
"That-that's okay," I faltered, surprised by his apology.
Lu Bu gave me a strange look and said, "Diao, take Sam and get her a decent outfit. I'll talk to you later."
"Yes, my lord." she bowed respectfully and we left.
I was still surprised by Liao being so polite.
"You like him, don't you?" Diao was looking at me.
"Do I like who? Gong? Isn't really my type."
"No, Liao. You looked surprised that he apologized."
I sighed. "I guess I just thought that all of Lu Bu's friends would be like him. You know, physco and aggressive. But when he explained calmly and apologized. I was shocked."
"Lu Bu isn't that aggressive."
"'Isn't that aggressive'? I've known him for less than two days and he already threatened to kill me, chop off my head, break my ribs... and last night he killed someone!"
"What what?" I tried halfheartedly to confuse her.
"What happened last night? Tell me the truth." she demanded.
"I couldn't sleep last night, so I took a walk. I accidentally spied on Lu Bu, and he chased me into the garden. Then he asked me a bunch of questions, told me not to tell you, and he broke my sword! And we ran into a drunk on the way back."
That seemed to distract her.
"Before I met Fengxian, I ran into a drunken guard. I sort of convinced the guard that I was Dong Zhuo, and I demanded that he relinquish his sword. The poor guy had no idea what hit him." I chuckled.
Diao smiled for a second, but then frowned.
"He broke the sword? With his bare hands?"
"Yep. He gave me the lower half."
"And he made you promise not to tell me that he killed someone?" she asked sadly.
'I'm screwed.' I thought to myself. 'I can't lie to Diao, not after all she's done for me. But if I do tell her, Lu Bu could quite literally break my face. Maybe she won't tell him...'
"Yea. He made me promise. Sorry." she nodded and I knew I did the right thing. "He also knows that you've been playing him."
She turned to look at me, eyes wide.
'I went too far. Oh jeez she's gonna kill me.'
Trying to control the damage, I hurried to explain.
"He was talking and I overheard him saying that he knows you want him to kill his adopted dad, but he loves you and won't banish you or-" I edited a little "or anything like that. He just wants to protect you." Here I was, making excuses for a liar and a killer. What is this world coming to?
"Ok." she sniffled and I wanted to bang my head against a wall. "You need to change your outfit. Here," she pulled out a skirt and shirt from a drawer. We had arrived in her room and I hadn't even noticed.
"I'm not wearing a skirt." Never have, never will.
"You have to. It's the standard clothing."
"You have to!" she was getting annoyed.
"Sam! You have to! You can't keep wearing those strange clothes!"
"You just can't!"
Aggravated, she shoved me. Equally angry, I shoved back. She pushed me again and before I knew it we were having a good old fashioned cat fight.
I grabbed her hair and she retaliated by head butting my wounded shoulder. Pushing her away, I tripped her, but she pulled me down too.
'Diao is really good at fighting.' I thought as I pinned her down.
She twisted to the side and I lost my grip. We wrestled for a couple minutes until I pinned her again. Her face was bleeding and I was sure I had a black eye.
"Diao Chan!" I heard before I went flying into wall. You know the expression "My life flashed before my eyes"? Yep, happened to me. Looming above me, with murder in his eyes was, you guessed it, Lu Bu. He kicked me again and I swear I felt a rib snap. Stars danced before my eyes and I couldn't breathe.
Another rib cracked and I gasped. This jerk was actually killing me.
"Goodbye, Fengxian." I whispered, and then I let the darkness consume me. Dramatic, eh?
My ribs are on fire.
At least, that's what I thought. Just breathing was causing me excruciating pain. I opened my eyes to see that I was in Diao's room.
'He didn't kill me. Son of a monkey. Came close though.' I thought as I tried to move.
"Arfflesnuff." I gasped out as I moved slightly.
"Does it hurt?" Diao looked anxious.
I turned my head to glare at her.
Aaagghhh. This sarcasm thing works a lot better when you can move without experiencing extreme agony.
"Ok, this is what happened. We were fighting and some nameless guard intervened on my behalf. He managed to beat you unconscious before I could stop him. So, if anyone asks that's what you say. Ok?" Diao said, trying to take advantage of my confusion. But I wasn't buying it.
"No. Lu F-ing Bu showed up and kicked the crap out of me." I snarled.
"No-" she tried but I cut her off.
"I'm in pain. Not stupid. Your boy toy saw me kicking your butt so he kicked mine."
I tried to sit up, but she pushed me back down.
"Don't get up! You'll hurt yourself!"
"Too late." I hissed.
"I will tie you down if I have to. You need to rest and heal. Here, drink this."
She lifted a small bowl.
"Whoa. I'm not drinking that. You probably poisoned it or something."
You see, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what had happened.
Lu Bu had heard us fighting, and had rushed to intervene. He proceeded to kick me to a bloody pulp, but, when he heard me call him Fengxian, he paused long enough for someone else, maybe Liao, to walk in on him. When Liao asked what was going on, Lu Bu and Diao made up some story about finding me there, most likely involving pandas.
Fooled, Liao walked away. Then they realized that he would probably tell other people, so they had to let me live. Lu Bu was probably hunting down Liao as we speak.
As I was going through this in my head I didn't notice that Diao had forced the bowl into my mouth. A weird, tingling sensation spread through my body. I noticed my vision going blurry, and I couldn't feel my legs.
"Is she okay?"
"She would be a lot better if you hadn't butted in and almost killed her!"
"Are you mad at me for something?"
"No. Why? Should I be?"
"No, you just seem... angry. Anything I can do to help?"
"Your help is the last thing I need."
I heard him sigh.
"I'm sorry I almost killed her. Now will you tell me what's wrong?"
"No. Not unless you promise never to hurt her ever again."
"Fine. I swear upon my honor that I will never harm her ever again. Now tell me why you're mad."
"She told me about your late night meeting. The one you tried to keep a secret."
I opened my eyes. It all came rushing back to me. The fight, the tea, all of it.
Trying to get up, I found out that I was tied down.
"Untie me," I demanded angrily, "or so help me I will scream bloody murder."
Diao and Lu Bu stopped looking at each other and turned to glare at me.
"YOU TOLD HER?!"
"No, you'll hurt yourself!"
I couldn't answer them both at once so I settled for trying to yell. Not only did my ribs burn with the effort, but Diao put her hand over my mouth, so no one heard me.
I closed my mouth, partly because it wasn't doing any good, and partly because if I didn't I would be shrieking in agony.
Lu Bu was glaring daggers at me and so I answered him.
"Yes I told her! You should have told her! I was doing what any decent person would do!"
"What any decent person would do? By making her feel lied to and betrayed?" he retaliated angrily.
"SHE WAS LIED TO AND BETRAYED! BY YOU!" I shouted.
Then it happened. He swung Sky Scorcher at my neck. I shut my eyes.
About 5 seconds later, I noticed that I wasn't dead. I squinted and saw his blade an inch from my neck.
"The only reason you are alive right now is because I made a promise that I intend to keep."
He withdrew the halberd.
"Thanks." I muttered.
Lu Bu gave me a strange look and nodded.
Diao looked less angry and even Lu Bu looked calmer.
"Now that everyone is happy, could you please untie me?" I asked politely.
"No!" At least they were agreeing with each other.
I struggled against my bonds, not doing anything except hurting myself.
"Raargh!" I was in too much pain to form real words.
"Stop it. You need to heal. If you rest for 2 days I'll untie you, I promise." Diao tried to bargain with me.
"No! Let me out now!"
"We have to go. I'll be gone for a couple hours. I'll send someone to check up on you. Have fun." she said as they left the room.
'Have fun, she says. It's hard to have fun when you're tied to a cot.'
I tried to loosen the ropes, but whoever tied them knew what they were doing. Luckily, I still had one more trick up my sleeves. Well, in the space between the two layers of my softball shorts. It's not as catchy, but...
The ropes tied me down at the knees, waist, armpits, and neck. I reached down, winced, and straightened up. I had forgotten about my hurt shoulder.
Shifting my knee, I managed to lift the leg with the sword in it. It slid out, into my waiting hand.
It was an extremely awkward angle, but I managed to cut the ropes at my waist. Then I shifted and cut through the roped at my knees.
'Lucky for me Fengxian likes to show off," I thought as I slashed the shoulder restraints. 'Without this sword I would be stuck.'
With all the ropes cut, I sat up. It burned and hurt and made me want to scream, but I did. When the room stopped spinning, I looked at my ribs. They were all wrapped up nicely. My shoulder was wrapped with a fresh bandage and feeling better. I took a deep breath and tried to stand. My sword fell from my hand as a stream of vulgarities flowed from mouth. Diao was right. It was too soon. The room danced before me and I rushed through the air as I lost consciousness.
"Good thing you caught her, Liao. She could have been seriously hurt." Diao's voice floated through the air.
"How did she untie herself anyway? I thought you tied the ropes carefully." Liao asked.
"I have a pretty good idea. Look at this." Lu Bu spoke up.
He was holding my sword. I groaned and tried to move. Then it hit me. I wasn't tied to a bed anymore. I was sitting in a chair with my arms tied behind me.
"Like the new arrangements?" Lu Bu asked sarcastically.
"Why?" I didn't have enough strength say anything else.
"Don't you remember what happened? You cut the ropes and almost killed yourself!" Diao exclaimed.
"Now, since someone saw you cutting your ropes and alerted Dong Zhuo that you were escaping, Zhuo thinks you're a spy and ordered anyone who sees you to kill you on sight." Liao filled me in.
I started to hyperventilate. They are going to kill me!
I couldn't calm down. Trying to take a deep breathe made me gasp in pain, not helping the whole hyperventilating thing.
Lu Bu slapped me. The shock of it actually helped me calm down enough to breathe.
"We aren't going to kill you. Come on! If we were going to kill you, would we wait until you woke up?" Diao asked exasperatedly.
She had a point.
"We have a plan. Taking you to Dong seems like the best course of action. I'll explain what happened, and hopefully he will call off the hunt. I mean, what's the worst that can happen?"
"Him deciding to kill us all! That's the worst that can happen!" I pointed out.
Liao and Lu Bu shook their heads. I remembered that they were his top generals. They each grabbed an elbow and lifted me to my feet.
"It's our only hope."
Diao was right. We had to do this.
I was herded out the door, each step burning like a small bonfire in my ribs.
Finally, after what seemed like hours of walking/being dragged down the halls, we reached Dong Zhuo's throne room.
Surprisingly, Zhuo was the only one in the room. Did this guy have any friends?
We all bowed before him (me wincing and swearing under my breath).
"We found her and brought her straight to you. She was in Diao Chan's room." I could tell that laying the blame on Diao was killing Lu Bu, so I decided to take a drastic risk.
"May I speak, my lord?" I inquired politely. Liao, Lu Bu, and Diao all turned to look at me.
"You may." Zhuo permitted me to speak.
"I can't lie to you. This is what really happened," I began, ignoring the panicked look on my friends' faces. "Diao kindly offered to let me stay with her. But, I'm sorry to say, I took advantage of her hospitality. I said something about one of your officers, and Diao hastily defended his honor. Words were exchanged and I regrettably pushed her. She didn't fight back, but I didn't stop. Finally, she pushed back. We were fighting and, in the scuffle, my ribs were broken. She knocked me out and carried me to her bed. There, she dressed my wounds, tying me down for my own protection. She was out fetching water when your messenger saw me try to escape." I looked at the ground in mock shame. "Luckily for her, bad for me, she ran into Lu Bu and Zhang Liao on her way back. They caught me and bound my hands behind my back. Then, well you can probably guess what happened next." I concluded my elaborate tale, praying with every fiber of my being that he would believe it.
He didn't respond immediately. I stood there awkwardly while he looked at me in a calculating manner. Eventually, he motioned for Diao to approach him. She stood slowly and walked over to him. Zhuo was obviously trying to be quiet, but I could hear his every word.
"Is what she told me the truth?"
"Yes, my lord."
"If it's true, what officer did she insult?"
Diao didn't even hesitate. "It was Lu Bu, sir. She said he was overly-aggressive and, in her own words, physco."
Zhuo raised an eyebrow at this, but seemed to accept it.
"Why didn't you bring her to me as soon as she was unconscious?" he questioned.
"It was out of family loyalty. I was giving her a second chance."
He was silent for a moment.
"Lu Bu, Liao, stand up."
They rose to their feet.
"I believe that the story she told me is true. Did you find fault in it in any way?"
They both shook their heads.
"Well, then I have reached a decision. She will not be put to death." I let out the breath I didn't realize I had been holding in. "But, she will be punished. I order to have her flogged. Where is your choice, Lu Bu, for it is you who has the pleasure of doing it."
My heart stopped. 'Oh my gods' he was going to beat the living and soon to be dead snot out of me. I mean, in like 3 seconds he broke my ribs. Imagine what he could do without a time limit. While pictures of my soon to be broken limbs floated through my mind, Lu Bu was talking.
"Thank you for the great honor my lord. I will make her suffer," he promised, glaring down at me. Then, he winked. With that little gesture, all of my worries melted away. He had promised Diao that he wouldn't hurt me. I had nothing to be worried about.
"Please go take care of that now. Diao and I have some...personal business to take care of." he leered at her and I saw the horror on her face when she realized what he was implying.
"Please my lord-" she started but never completed the thought.
Zhuo had slapped her. He had finally gone too far. With a roar, Lu Bu sprang forward and cut off his head in one swift motion. Liao, Diao, and I all gasped. Lu Bu had done it. He had actually killed Dong Zhuo.
Overcome with shock after seeing Lu Bu kill his adopted father, I collapsed.
I didn't black out (for once), but the room was spinning.
"Stay with us. Get up!" I heard someone (Liao) shout. All of a sudden he did the unimaginable. He pressed his lips to mine and kissed me softly. My eyes widened and the room stopped spinning. Liao was looking at me gently, with love written all over his face. He helped me get to my feet, because, honestly, I could barely breathe, much less stand. Lu Bu and Diao were staring at us, looking totally shocked.
Finally, Lu Bu spoke up.
"We need to move," he said holding Diao's hand and walking towards the door. When he passed me, he muttered, "We also need to talk about the whole physco thing."
I laughed, actually laughed. Liao grabbed my hand and everything disappeared.
"Sam. Wake up. I know you can hear me," a voice I dimly recognized said.
"Diao?" I muttered groggily.
"Ummmm this is Josie. Diao? Have you been playing Dynasty Warriors before you go to bed again?"
"Where am I?" I asked, looking around. I was in what looked like a hospital room. Jo was sitting in a chair next to my bed, looking like she hadn't slept in days.
"You're in the hospital. Do you remember anything about a softball game?" she looked worried.
It came back to me slowly.
"Yeah. We were playing the game. It was the championship game. It was the final inning and they had 2 outs." I rattled off as each individual memory was processed in my brain. Jo nodded and smiled. "And the final batter was number 17, no it was 16. The Smasher." I froze, the smile on my face quickly turning into a mask of horror. Jo sighed and said,
"I'll fill in the rest. Lori pitched the ball and 16 hit it. It hit you directly in the shoulder and knocked you back a good, well I mean bad, 5 feet. You somehow caught the ball, and she was out, but you were unconscious, so no one was celebrating. Then, it got worse." Jo grimaced, obviously not wanting to relive what had happened next. I'll admit, I was intrigued. What could be worse than being knocked unconscious by a softball and thrown back 5 feet?
"We called an ambulance. Waiting for it was so scary. Your shoulder was bleeding and I, I thought you were dead. Then, a bunch of girls from our team went over to yell at 16. A fight soon started and Courtney beat the crap out of her. When the ambulance finally got there, they let me ride with you. You mumbled something about Fengxian but other than that, you were silent. The people carrying the stretcher tripped going up the stairs to the elevator and you broke a couple ribs. It was so horrible.
My ribs really were broken! I knew the pain was real!
"Please continue." I said, remarkably calm.
Jo took a deep breath and continued.
"I used your phone to call your family," she said, holding it up. "Anyway, you got to the hospital okay. They did an X-Ray. It turns out that 3 of your ribs are broken and so is your shoulder blade. They said that the ball must have been traveling at more than 75 miles per hour.
I took a deep breath. So it wasn't real. Then why do I still have the sword in my shorts?
A/N: I began this right after staring in disbelief at my TV screen. Lu Bu had just marched up and killed me in one hit in Dynasty Warriors. Sooooo….. Review. Yep. That's it