The Tiger and the Crane
It all began with a vision.
The world was falling apart. Millions of people cried to the Heavens for meaning and peace. But cry as they might, there would be no peace. Two centuries ago, the Yellow River was stained with blood. Liu Xiu, the Guangwu Emperor, crushed hundreds of thousands of greedy, unfeeling, vicious bandits as they tried to carve the nation apart. For two centuries since, there had been peace, but now it was gone. Now, rivers of blood ran through the streets. The people cried and screamed and begged for morning to come, but the land was covered in an endless night.
Ten castrated men, Eunuchs who reveled with the Emperor's favor, scattered the people throughout the four winds. In their quest for power, in their quest for dominance over Heaven and Earth, they soiled the Honor of the Imperial House and crushed all hopes of resistance. Grand General He Jin, who had the great leaders Yuan Shao and Cao Cao by his side, failed to stop them. With his death, Han was surely at an end.
Although Yuan Shao and Cao Cao, with Han's finest at their back, crushed the Ten Eunuchs and gave a semblance of hope, it was shattered in an endless civil war. Dong Zhuo, Li Jue, Yuan Shu, pathetic men like these carved Fiefdoms of their own, torturing the people with their greedy schemes.
Yet, in this age, there was a dream...
Chapter 1: The Undying Promise
He stood before the Great River, his sword buried deep in the earth at his feet. The wind blew fiercely, letting his long hair flow behind his back. Even with this wind, the waters were peaceful today, and he sighed.
He turned his head to the north, to the lands of the Central Plains. The enemy came from those lands, they came to conquer and torture the people under his care. Embers and smoke fluttered nearby, reminding him of the battle he had just fought.
Cao Cao had come, with hundreds of thousands at his command, hoping to crush Dong Wu and Liu Bei. But they were not destined to win today. Even with men like Jia Xu and Cheng Yu by his side, the 'Prime Minister' of Han found his men scattered, found his ships burning like the city of Xuzhou. That metropolis had been avenged today. The thousands of civilians who had burned under Cao Cao's fury could rest now, knowing that their tormentor fled from the Southland's flames.
His men cheered. They were proud. They had stood against the greatest cavalry in the Empire, and won. They stood against a colossal navy, built from the hordes of Liu Biao and Yuan Shao, and won. Forty thousand men trounced hundreds of thousands of invaders, and none of the victors shed a tear.
Those northern bureaucrats and warlords, having sired a tradition of shoving as much stolen money as they could from their pockets, kept a tradition of neglecting the Southland. Of all the regions of the Empire, Dong Wu's territory grew their rice, their wheat, the very materials that feed a nation. For Dong Wu to be ignored, that was unforgivable.
But Zhou Yu (Gongjin) could not cheer. He could not smile. He could even barely congratulate his warriors.
For in the end, weren't these 'northerners' their brethren as well?
Zhou Yu turned towards the old capital at Luoyang. It was a city that stood proudly over the Central Plains, the crown jewel of the Chinese nation. But Dong Zhuo burnt it to the ground, and plundered its valuables, and only recently had the city begun to recover.
His thoughts turned to the many people who thought they could save this nation, and his eyebrows began to wince.
Yuan Shao couldn't save China; he had been extremely indecisive and brutal to his own men, and by letting those loyal souls die Benchu had simply dug his own grave. He died a forsaken men surrounded by only a handful of his most loyal retainers. Even his family had been captured by the enemy.
Cao Cao wouldn't save China; or at least his success would not bode well for many Chinese. The many years of brutal servitude under his iron fist left millions screaming in fear upon hearing his name, thus leading to the proverb: "Speak of Cao Cao, and he comes!"
Yet apparently there was another who wished to reunite China under the guise of order and prosperity. His name was Liu Bei, and he'd established an alliance with Dong Wu. But even with this seemingly friendly nature, Liu Bei could not be trusted. Han had failed to care for the people of China, and with this man so eager to restore that Empire to power, why should the situation change upon Han's restoration? Once leaders lose their right to lead, they should not have that right handed back to them without due cause. Zhou Yu could not let Liu Bei rule.
But even when he looked into Sun Quan's eyes, Zhou Gongjin did not see the soul of his sworn brother behind them.
Sun Ce was a young man. He was reckless and crude, intelligent and kind-hearted. Sun Bofu was, in short, a man with a vision and the drive to achieve it.
In only five years Sun Ce reunited the lands of Jiangdong and Jiangnan under one banner. Leading the descents of the great warrior Xiang Yu, Sun Bofu brought peace to a tormented land, and had proven to those pompous northerners that the Southland was a place to be admired. With men like Cheng Pu and Lu Fan beside him, he liberated millions from the tyranny of chaos and government betrayal.
But Cheng Pu and Lu Fan, famous and notable though they were, could not be said to be the ones who guided Sun Ce's hand.
That man was Sun Ce's sworn brother, Zhou Yu himself.
Long ago, when Yuan Shu still held sway over Sun Ce, Zhou Yu, and their men, the young warrior turned to his best friend and spoke aloud: "Someday, Gongjin, we'll save China from the hell it's in. We might have to do it piece by piece, but it will be done. Before that day comes, though, I hope that you'll stay fighting right next to me. I wouldn't trust anyone else's help over yours."
Gongjin could not help but smile. Bofu was naive, crude, and perhaps unorthodox in his political ideology, but he had the right spirit. He had this dream, this vision. Sun Ce was a man for the people of Jiangdong and, perhaps, the people of China.
But even with that heart of his, even with his resolve, Heaven still found a reason to take him from the Earth.
And in Sun Bofu's place, Heaven left Zhou Gongjin.
Heaven had left him this burden, this need to march forward to victory, to smash aside the hordes of the selfish, the soulless, and the mad. But how? How could he fulfill it?
He was not Sun Ce. Many might have admired him, but he did not have Sun Ce's aura. He could not inspire men to act; not in the same, divine fashion. Sun Ce claimed that Zhou Yu was the smartest man he'd ever met, but Bofu wasn't exactly the most rational person in Jiangdong.
"Promise me, Zhou Yu… Promise me that you'll take out those bastards and win this war… Wu will prevail, and I'm sure you're the only guy who can do the job."
Those were the words that were passed to him through a small slip of paper, a makeshift, hastily written letter from his dying brother. Sun Ce's little sister, Sun Shangxiang, was in tears when she handed the parchment over to Zhou Yu, while Sun Quan, somewhat older than Shangxiang but still much younger than Bofu, simply stood by with a stoic expression.
Zhou Yu had always wondered about that younger man. Bofu had faith in his younger brother's talents, and that faith was not misguided. Sun Zhongmou was more than capable of securing the land and fulfilling the people's needs, but somehow Gongjin doubted Sun Quan's intentions… There was something lurking behind those green eyes… Something selfish at best.
But he was Sun Ce's sworn brother. Such wavering thoughts could not blind his resolve. With Sun Ce gone, he was left to protect those of the Sun line, and for the Sun clan to prevail over all others, even if personal power meant little compared to China's well being.
Today, Wu had won at Chi Bi. Since Liu Bei's men made some contributions to their success by means of ambushing Cao Cao and whittling his already broken and meager force, Zhou Yu had to speak to that other lord's chief strategist: the esteemed Zhuge Liang.
He'd barely heard of the fellow. Some traveling poet mentioned Zhuge Kongming in passing, saying that his talents could easily match that of the legendary scholars Guan Zhong and Yue Yi of old. Zhou Gongjin had personally come across the scholar Sima Hui in his short-lived travels along the Jingzhou territory, and that brilliant man stammered excitedly that Zhuge Liang was far superior to those legendary heroes.
Who was this Zhuge Liang? Why was he held in such renown by so many talented minds? Why had he hid in seclusion instead of standing tall and helping right the world's wrongs?
Why did brilliant minds such as Sima Hui, Cui Zhouping, or this "Zhuge Liang" hide in their cottages for so long? So many storms had passed before this Kongming made his move. How many people died because he did not move sooner?
For his part, Zhou Yu did what he could, and now the southland was prosperous and safe because of his work. If this Zhuge Kongming were half as talented as others claimed, certainly this world would have been a much better place had Kongming moved out and made his mark!
But still, a meeting was in order. To harbor such thoughts for one's guest... Would ruin everything.
Cheng Pu nearly growled at the strategist's statement.
"Zhuge Liang of Longzhong, are you seriously suggesting that we of Dong Wu stand down and accept these sort of terms? We may have won today, but we lost several of our men. We spent so much grain, so many weapons, so much effort to drive those northern savages back, and you offer us a measly port and a handful of territories? You must be joking!"
"My my, General Cheng, are you forgetting that the forces of Han ambushed Cao Cao's hordes after you burnt them out and scattered them from the river? General Guan nearly killed Cao Cao at the pass, but the villain merely escaped. Surely you have not forgotten our contributions to the battle! Jiangling is a fine port, a strong position that will yield many rewards for all of Jiangdong. We of Han are the smaller of the two allied forces, I admit. That is why it is proper to allow us to administer the Xiangyang region. Cao Cao flees before our might, but if he will returns you will, at the very least, require someone to screen for you. Liu Biao is gone, and many of his finest warriors have joined the enemy. When the lips are gone the teeth are cold. Let us be your lips, let us hold off the cold wind of the Caos, and you will surely bask in our warmth!"
"And for that we must thank you once more." Zhou Yu nodded as tension filled the air. "By harassing Cao Cao all the way to Hua Rong you've terrorized the greatest threat China has ever known. The traitorous army will hardly think of threatening either of us any time soon. We may see peace for a few years at least.
"But, if I may, these notable and praiseworthy accomplishments do not seem to fit the intended reward. We gave you a home in Jiangxia. We allowed you to gather your beaten and tired forces and, I daresay, treated you as honored guests. Xiangyang ought to be ours, it is a glorious city whose strength could surely give us the power we need to dethrone the traitor. Surely your men could find solace in Gong An or even Wu Ling. Both regions are teeming with fish and life, great places to rest your weary hearts and minds. After fleeing from Cao Cao for so long, surely you'd like to have a peaceful home to return to?"
At that point Ma Liang, one of Liu Bei's most crucial administrators, gasped. "Oh, but sir! To hide in Wu Ling while the enemy lurks to the north would be simply irresponsible! My lord is a denizen of the Imperial Family. It is his duty to smite traitors such as Cao Cao. With the land in chaos, and the people hiding in fear, we must gather our strength to liberate the masses. Wu Ling, although prosperous, is small and lacks resources. At best we could stub Cao Cao's toe, but his hordes would consume us rather quickly. Even for you, we'd be a useless ally, a liability in the struggle against tyranny. Without us the battle would have been lost. Surely you wouldn't hand your friends your scraps?"
At those words, Cheng Pu glared, Zhou Yu's eyebrow twitched, and Zhou Tai, Sun Quan's personal bodyguard, let his hand drift towards his sword.
Lu Su, one of Sun Quan's chief diplomats, and Sun Qian, one of Liu Bei's oldest tacticians, glanced at each other with fear in their eyes. Immediately they tried to quell the situation.
"But as our hosts, you would surely grant us some leniency!" Sun Qian stammered, the grin on his face twitching as he glanced between the two sides with sheer terror.
"And even if you end up settling in Wu Ling, we of Wu would never abandon you, not when you aided us in our hour of need!" Lu Su added, chin twitching with dread.
But Zhou Yu sighed, and waved his hand. "It is clear that we are all tired from the battle. None of us are speaking properly, and perhaps it is best if we..."
At that point, a messenger came running into the chamber.
"My Lord, a thousand apologies for interrupting, but I have news. Madame is ill...!"
Zhou Yu's eyes widened, and Cheng Pu quickly spoke.
"Gongjin, I will handle things here as best I can. You should hurry."
Zhou Yu shut his mouth. As he brushed past Zhuge Liang and his confused expression, the admiral quickly ran to his wife.
Xiao Qiao, wife of Zhou Yu and one of the famed Qiao sisters, smiled as her husband came by her bedside. Her face beamed as she saw her husband enter her room.
She had been ill for some time now, he had known that. She had been bedridden and pale, but if some servant were to call him from an important meeting, surely it had to be important.
He took one look at her, and knew it was the end.
"Isn't this... Silly?" He heard a weak laugh. "Cao Cao's armies are not yet gone, and Wu must find some way to free herself from this conflict, and yet here you are with me, even though our country needs you most."
"But you need me..."
"My time is over!" She gasped. "I feel so weak... So cold..."
Zhou Yu turned to her bedside nurse, who stood there shaking her head in sorrow.
"Be happy, Gongjin. My time is through... Be safe, and I'm sure you'll find... Another."
Zhou Yu's eyes widened. The nurse ran from the room. He clenched his fist. This could not be happening! Where was that damn doctor?!
She was with child.
And now she was gone.
His wife was gone.
He had just crushed Cao Cao, he had just sent the northern hordes flying for their lives, and yet Heaven found it fit to take his wife and child away.
Zhou Gongjin sat at his desk. His eyes stared listlessly at the doorway. Warriors and tacticians came in and out, and he merely stared at him, like a waiter dealing with an indecisive patron.
Liu Bei's delegation had returned home, but Cao's forces had not left the region. His allies were frantic and desperate for advice, but he strayed cold.
They told him plans, they brought him news, they spoke of war and death and victory.
He nodded, he sighed, but he never smiled. They sung songs of glory, but he could only nod.
Lu Meng, one of Sun Quan's most trusted commanders, slammed his hands on Zhou Yu's desk.
"Don't be arrogant enough to think that you're the only one worthy of caring about Xiao Qiao. Her kindness was an inspiration for us all. We will never forget her passing. Yet, as Wu's most prominent strategist, and as commander in chief, it is your duty to recall Wu's current political dealings and to help her cause in any way you can. Commander, you must continue to uphold your duties in spite of this tragedy... To sit here like this and neglect your responsibilities is most unsightly. I know that you may feel great pain, as we all do, but you do have a duty to uphold."
But Zhou Yu glanced at him with cold eyes. "Fair enough. Yet I had already anticipated these moves. Liu Bei can't possibly survive if we decide to conquer him, and Cao Cao could easily take advantage of our conflict to try to consume us both. Zhuge Liang is no fool, and it is clear that he wants our alliance to remain strong. Besides, with Liu Bei as an ally, I'm sure we'll watch him become more powerful, and thus useful, as the years go on. Xuande may have a small amount of territory and few troops, but I'm certain that he won't remain that way for long... Of course we should also be wary of his movements in case he decides to turn on us."
There were other strategists and warriors bearing witness to Lu Meng's outburst. The Admiral's room was hardly one of privacy in this turbulent time. Lu Su, flustered as usual, spoke. "You speak of Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang as though they are ambitious and conniving. I swear that they are both good, honest men who simply want to restore China to her former glory. Our alliance with them should be a cause for celebration, not viewed as one of convenience to be used whenever we please..."
"But that's how alliances are, are they not, Lu Su? Alliances are not friendships in the schemes of politics. They are merely tools for each side to use, for good or ill." Lu Meng pointed out.
"Ziming, you are right in that many cannot be trusted, and that there are far too many people who would gladly stab you in the back, but Liu Bei and the wise Zhuge Liang are different..." The minister stammered. "Kongming personally expressed his goodwill upon hearing of Lady Xiao Qiao's death."
"Of course he would!" Bu Zhi, a mere court minister who had been called upon to attend this meeting, yelled. "And to think that you are such a high ranking persona. If Zhuge Liang did not express his condolences, there wouldn't be much of an alliance to speak of, and we'd be having an uneasy peace instead of a partnership against Cao Cao. Who taught you politics?"
Lu Su gulped, and Zhou Yu only sighed.
"You might think highly of Kongming, but you should consider whether he feels the same about you, Zijing. He may very well have manipulated you this entire time."
Lu Su shook his head. "Gongjin, paranoia leads to mistrust and more conflict."
Zhou Yu nodded. "But naivety leads to death."
That evening, all of Wu gasped in anticipation.
The nation's finest military leaders and analysts gathered in the war room of their capital city's fortress. Fort Jian Ye bristled with the rage of dismissed warriors and ridiculed scholars. Yet in the midst of all these complaints, there was a job to do.
A battle map stretched across a huge table in the center of the room. Zhou Yu stood beside this table, pointing at a certain marked spot on one of these maps.
"The province of Jingzhou is a crucial area that must be captured as soon as possible. If we fail to secure the port of Jiang Ling, for example, Liu Bei will be able to establish a base at this critical juncture. For us to sacrifice so much energy and time at Chi Bi for absolutely no gains is preposterous. We need to take Jiang Ling immediately. Liu Bei can have whatever he can scrape together, but Wu must be paid for her efforts. I trust no one here disagrees with this sentiment." Zhou Yu spoke as the other Wu strategists huddled around him, their eyes fixed on the map and the vast resources it marked.
"But if you don't give Liu Bei a base to establish his forces, how can we 'use' him as an ally?" Lu Su frowned, leaping up from his seat nearby.
Zhou Yu smirked. "You know Zhuge Liang better than that. He'll easily find a way for Liu Bei to create a base and gather resources. It's just that if they secure Jiang Ling, we of Wu would have lost a valuable opportunity to gain strength. We should think of Jiangdong first. Kongming's forces can be considered later."
Lu Su gasped. "If we do this, Admiral, the countless warlords across the land will know us as selfish, ungrateful thugs. We should treat our allies with generosity, not brush them aside as if they were flies. You yourself stated that Liu Bei is bound to become stronger as the years go by. Why not share his strength? Why should we insist on combating him?"
Lu Meng smacked his face with his palm. "You don't get it, do you? Liu Bei is like a wolf. As long as it recognizes that we are part of its pack, it will fight alongside us. But the moment we show weakness, or it has the opportunity to seize power, it will throw itself at us with jaws outstretched. It's inevitable, either we kill him now, or he will spell doom for us all."
Their commander's eyes narrowed in exasperation. "One of you acts like Liu Bei is our God, the other insists on killing the man before we can gain some use out of him. Thank Heaven Sun Quan made me Commander, otherwise either of you would lead us to ruin!" Zhou Yu groaned. "We will make our move now instead of babble on. Jingzhou will fall, and Liu Bei will have to run to Wu Ling. There he will be a shield against the southern hordes as we move against Cao Cao. Should we fail, Zhuge Liang can babble on to our men about how his men are our 'lips' against the cold. Surely we can not afford that."
As Wu prepared for its assault on Jingzhou, Liu Bei's army gathered themselves in the city of Gong An, a border town on the edge of Wu's lands that Sun Quan and Zhou Yu had let them borrow.
"What the hell?! We have two legions of troops, but we can't use them to attack those traitors! Dammit, we don't have any territory of our own, and those greedy Wu boys aren't going to let us have a base for ourselves... Why are we even dealing with them?" Zhang Fei hissed as Xuande gathered his officers for a crucial meeting.
"Yide..." Guan Yu groaned. His words may be true, but it was pointless to complain.
"If we want to earn ourselves a base, we'll have to move fast. Zhou Yu is moving towards Jiangling with everything he has, so an attempt to take the city will probably destroy our relations with Wu, and we need that most. I suggest we make a move on Maicheng and Xiangyang. Once we secure those areas, we can move through the mountain pass at Yidu and reach Baidicheng, where we can turn to Liu Zhang. The man is incompetent, and sooner or later we can convince him to hand his territory to us." Zhuge Liang spoke.
"But wouldn't Xiangyang put us too close to Cao Cao's fortress at Wancheng? We might just be leaping from boiling water into the flames." Sun Qian pointed out. "Wu Ling would be a far safer option, as it is so far away from both Cao Cao's army and Wu."
Kongming nodded. "Of course it would, but at this rate we have no choice... Moving into Wu Ling would only lead us into a snare. We could take the city, but because it is not weakly defended we will have trouble acquiring any more territory. At the moment, Cao Cao has withdrawn his forces from Xiangyang to engage the advancing Wu fleet at Mianyang. His main force will be far away from Xiangyang itself, so if we strike we can secure the city even with our limited troops. Wu Ling is the safe route in the short term, but it gets us nowhere in the long run."
Liu Bei stroked his goatee. "You're proposing that we run to Liu Zhang? What makes you think he'll shelter us?"
Zhuge Liang smiled. "Simple. Liu Zhang is too incompetent to face Zhang Lu of Hanzhong, and because Hanzhong is the lifeline of Sichuan Liu Zhang is doomed unless he can destroy his rival. He knows, or at least he will know that our talents are far greater than his, and if we serve him for that time being we can secure the support of the populace and overthrow him. Of course, he will know nothing of our motives, but in his eyes if we are loyal he can use us to combat Zhang Lu, which will keep him alive.
"We can worry about attempting to secure Wu Ling later, but I doubt that Zhou Yu would ignore that region. He might have Changsha sooner or later, but Gongjin would need to secure his left flank by taking Wu Ling, Ling Ling, and Gui Yang, otherwise he is simply asking to be stabbed in the back. By sacrificing our chance to take Wu Ling we gain Sichuan, and from there the restoration of Han will be much easier."
"So we will simply let Wu face Cao Cao's army head on while we take Xiangyang and run through the pass at Yidu? Would Zhou Yu and the others not call us cowardly for that?"
"When one has ample resources, like Wu, one can play at honor. Otherwise you must move according to your circumstances. We have only two legions, and that can only get us so far. We have to utilize our resources most efficiently, which in the eyes of more powerful factions means that we will look like cowards. It's inevitable."
Liu Bei nodded. "Then, to Xiangyang we go!"
The Wu army inched towards Jiang Ling, encamping itself every thirty li to rest. He did not want his soldiers to be tired upon attacking that critical city, yet he also did not want to give Zhuge Liang the chance to take it first. Filled with panic that his force's momentum would somehow be overtaken by Zhuge Liang, Zhou Yu reviewed the battle map in the Wu camp's planning tent.
"If my scouts are still accurate, Cao Cao has drawn his troops to engage us head on... As long as we greet his advancing melee forces with an equally potent ambush of firebolts and arrows, we should be able to mitigate the damage his men can do. But it looks like Kongming will have an easy ride through northern Jingzhou if I do nothing...
"But what can I do?" He shook his head. "Zhuge Liang is no fool. He will not be content with Xiangyang if he succeeds in taking that city. Could he be planning to move on Sichuan? Liu Zhang is someone who can be manipulated, but I doubt Zhang Ren and Fa Zheng would let him do so easily..."
The commander snarled as he slammed his fist into the table before him. Liu Bei would seize the lands that belonged to Wu, and he could do nothing to stop that theft from happening. If only Liu Bei would surrender to Wu! They'd have the strength of warriors like Zhao Yun and Guan Yu and the scholarly brilliance of Zhuge Liang and Pang Tong to help secure the prosperity of Jiangdong! But since Liu Bei would never surrender, he'd remain a thorn in Zhou Yu's spine.
After all, they all knew that Jiangdong could not let itself be deluded into trusting Han. Han cared for power, not for Jiangdong's safety. If Wu's people were to survive, they would have to assert their importance and authority, otherwise they'd be left to die.
As Zhou Gongjin muttered to himself in his war room, several other commanders watched with concern. Kan Ze, longtime friend of Huang Gai and one of Sun Quan's main internal advisors, treded slowly towards the angry strategist.
"Talking loudly to yourself when you have many people you know nearby is one of the telltale signs of insanity, Zhou Yu." He gave a worried smile.
Gongjin sighed as he turned to his old friend. "It's called thinking out loud, Derun. There's a difference. There's not like a voice in my hea-... Quiet, you!" Zhou Yu glared upwards.
Kan Ze chuckled. "At least it's good to know that you still have a sense of humor."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Zhou Yu frowned.
Kan Ze stared at his friend with worried eyes. "She may be gone, but we who still live have to move on. It seems that you're still caught in mourning for her, Gongjin."
"Derun, say no more." Zhou Yu's voice grew stern.
Kan Ze shook his head. "You should not blame me for being worrisome when I watch you waste away."
"Say no more." The admiral repeated, grinding his teeth together.
The other strategist merely shook his head and left.
But he was not the only person present.
Sun Shangxiang, daughter of Sun Jian and thus Princess of Wu, shared an uneasy glance with Cheng Pu, Huang Gai, and Lu Xun, the other officers who Zhou Yu asked to meet him in their planning tent. But, instead of noticing and talking to them (with the exception of Kan Ze who spoke to Gongjin first), Zhou Yu simply ignored them as he mumbled on about stopping Zhuge Liang's advance.
Zhou Yu wasn't this kind of man. He was not a person who would ignore his close friends under any circumstances, especially if he'd invited them to meet him in a certain place. Clearly, Gongjin had changed after Xiao Qiao's death. Now he was cold in eye and furious in attitude. Though parts of his old personality revealed themselves every now and then, like his joke with Kan Ze a short time ago, Zhou Yu was a far more stern and scheming man. Because Xiao Qiao had died, it was clear that he made it his priority to protect Wu even if it meant that he'd do the unthinkable. Because he had lost his family, Zhou Yu became cruel.
She shook her head. This wasn't right, not at all. She knew him before he was this way. She knew him as a man who would stand beside his friends, guiding them even if they were wrong. He was the kind of person who would abandon his post for a few minutes in order to help tune a young boy's flute upon hearing its awkward squeaks. He treated many ordinary peasants and townsfolk with respect upon seeing them, and never had that air of pompous "dignity" that men like Cheng Yu or even their very own Zhang Zhao would flaunt around.
He'd always been serious, but he was kind and thoughtful then... She wanted to see the old him, not this new, chilling imitation of her brother's best friend. His original goal of protecting Wu was doubtlessly still firmly intact, but the methods he used to achieve this goal were options that, at least in her eyes, he would have found horrifying and dishonorable.
Even Lu Su had seen that. Granted, Lu Meng and others knew how Lu Su foolishly looked up to Zhuge Liang, even though the latter was not a Wu strategist and had no intention of helping Wu in any way, shape, or form if such help would not advance his own pro-Han goals, but the fact that Zhou Yu was so dead set on stopping Zhuge Liang was very troubling indeed. That very action was not Zhou Yu's way, and she had to confront him.
"Zhou Yu..." She muttered, wondering how she should approach him.
"Oh, Shangxiang, I didn't see you there..." Gongjin blinked. "It's rather late, isn't it? Shouldn't you return to your quart..."
"You asked me to come here." She tried to smile. "You asked the rest of us to come, don't you remember?" She pointed at the other officers gathered behind here.
"No wonder why Kan Ze was here. I had completely forgotten. No matter. Huang Gai!" He called to one of the 'spectators,' seemingly refusing to make eye contact with her.
"How far are we from Jiang Ling at this rate?"
"Not very far at all. We're about twenty Li from the city limits. If we march from now, we'll make it by dawn... Our soldiers are quite fatigued, though. It seems that the breaks you scheduled in between aren't long enough..."
Zhou Yu sighed. "If it would take them that long to reach the city from such a short distance away, then they must be tired. Fair enough. Gan Ning, when the moon rises I want you to lead our scouts into position near their west gate. Take around a thousand troops with you. If we startle them from the least likely point, and follow up with a multi-front strike from every fathomable direction, the Wei forces will be so stunned that they'll send their troops everywhere to counter us, making their overall force much weaker. Once we gather our forces and assault a flank with a focused charge, the enemy position will crumble and we can take the city."
"So wait, you want us to attack tomorrow night?" Gan Ning blinked.
"Precisely. Let our soldiers have a day of rest beforehand, otherwise they won't have the stamina to crush our foes. We can let those Wei fools have another day to stumble around, can't we?" Gongjin chuckled with an eerie glint in his eye.
"What should we do about him?" Shangxiang muttered during their evening meal.
She sat at a table with several of Wu's key officers: Huang Gai, Gan Ning, Cheng Pu, Lu Meng, Lu Xun, Kan Ze and Han Dang. Zhou Yu was alone in his quarters, having requested that a nurse send food to him there personally.
"As long as he is performing his duties, it would be best to let him be. Trying to make him forget about his wife so early is unwise, Shangxiang." Lu Meng smirked at her.
Kan Ze could have sworn he saw a slight tint on her cheeks. "It's not like that at all!" She stammered, clenching her fists.
"Well, regardless, you are right. We need to do something about Zhou Yu, otherwise he may do something unthinkable. I can't believe that he'd be so dead-set on destroying Zhuge Liang's plans. As long as that Kongming does nothing to harm or potentially harm Wu, we should simply ignore him, no? But Zhou Yu seems to despise the man somehow. That's not like him. Of course, his temper sometimes got out of hand, but this is absurd. What is he now, a bitter, conniving, scheming man who enjoys plotting ways to slaughter people? If we as his friends fail to help him now, we'll lose him and perhaps all of Wu as well." Kan Ze sighed.
"We could always drug him, you know, and have Lu Xun or Lu Meng take over for the campaign." Gan Ning smirked.
"No, we're not going to do anything that will give him long term side effects." Shangxiang hissed.
"You're no fun." The pirate frowned.