The Divorcee is a Wicked Black Belly Chapter 71: Developments

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The clearing at the back of the palace which was usually devoid of activity hummed with the noise of clashing swords and the noiseless whir of drones flying above the make-shift battleground.

Sitting inside a camouflaged Jeep were An Ning, Yi Hai, Du Lu, Min Song and the emperor. Their heads almost bumped as they stared intently at the TV screen in front of the dashboard. The images that the drone reflected back on the small screen were not only sharp but detailed in 4-D angles. This was the genius of Yu Yan's weapon designs and what made her a formidable figure in military circles for years.

When An Ning took over Yu Yan's company after her death, besides eliminating the department that experimented on outfitting human skeletons with machines in an effort to create humanoid drones, she did not scale back at all on improving military technology designed to kill thousands in a heartbeat.

An Ning was not a prude neither was she scared of pushing the envelope. War has always been part of the human experience. It powers human development in many forms, the pursuit of fame, for example, or the pursuit of glory even money. Conflict instigates change and positions of power. One need only look at the Amazons and their blood-drenched history to realize even freedom needs a show of brutal force to attain and keep it.

An Ning looked at the ring on her left finger and smiled. Nobody understood what the changes a shift of power can mean to one's individual future better than Enxuo, Hippolyta's right hand man. Enxuo built a banking empire with Ceres for the sole purpose of hindering and eventually capturing Yu Yan. But he was after all the apprentice of the Amazonian queen Hippolyta, whose cunning and genius in plotting and carrying out winning strategies in battle kept the Amazon tribe alive and flourishing for hundreds of years.

Even when the Amazons were incarcerated by Yu Yan's dark magic, Enxuo carried on with one goal in mind: the eventual reinstatement of the Amazon's might and power in Saravia. He never wavered, he never lost sight of his goal and so even with the absence of the tribe, Saravia became a fortified nation quietly existing under the radar of most of its neighbors. Mysterious enough to warrant the attention of the world. Rich enough to destabilize or destroy enemies if it wanted to.

Enxuo had taught An Ning one important lesson when fighting an unknown stronger enemy: always leave yourself an open way out. And this ring, which once belonged to her grandmother Hippolyta, was her way out.

The ring was a spatial dimension especially created by the powerful warlock Li Cheung for his beloved wife Hippolyta. Unlike his wife, Li Cheung never went to war with another country or fought in the fields of battle but his position as the the emperor's ultimate adviser guaranteed a life constantly threatened by assassination attempts, deadly palace intrigues, and precarious changes in status. The fact that he held his position as adviser to the emperor until his disappearance years ago spoke of Li Cheung's ability to ride the wind and seize the moment so to speak.

The ring was left in Enxuo's care to be given to Ceres when she finally takes the mantle of power but since Ceres was imprisoned and afterwards chose instead to follow an easier life with her husband An Ma, the ring passed on to An Ning's care before Enxuo decided to withdraw from Saravia and disappear god knows where.

The space inside the ring was big enough to accommodate three mountains and rivers. Enxuo instead stuffed the space with toys he considered necessary for battle. Guns, ammos, trucks, satellites, makeshift cell towers, armors, tanks, generators, drums of gasoline, batteries, computers, drones, camouflage clothing and footwear, communication equipment, tents, blankets, and of course, can of wet and dry food.

Enxuo, who accompanied Hippolyta in hundreds of bloody war campaigns across the world, was nothing but thorough. He even hid a chestful of wet suits at the bottom of an empty wine barrel, along with medicines that could immunize ten villages for years.

That morning, when the troops arrived at the clearing, everything had already been arranged as if in an arena. Weapons and armors were displayed on long tables ready for use. The gray, camouflaged van was parked under the trees. A mid-sized generator was already powering up the satellite along with the high-tech computer equipment inside the van.

When Min Song and the rest of the officials reached the square, they stopped dead on their tracks when they saw the empress dowager. She was holding something in her hand, twisting and pulling on what seemed to be like two sticks, looking up at a mechanical flying machine hovering above her head.

The sight of the flying object scared the soldiers so much, they instinctively ducked and took cover far away from its reach. The empress dowager burst out laughing, calling them back and showing them the object while patiently explaining what it was for.

Yi Hai, who was already acquainted with the empress dowager's war toys, didn't even blink . He didn't ask where the object came from, assuming that her majesty must have brought it with her from her native homeland, along with that strange thing she called a van parked a little distance under the trees.

The nervous soldiers gradually calmed down when they saw their commander's unruffled expression. General Chen was also unflinchingly unconcerned by the strange object so their nervousness somewhat eased up so that they even showed curiosity and excitement when her majesty showed them how the object worked and what its purpose was.

This small group of soldiers had been personally handpicked by Yi Hai to lead the surveillance team into Laniang. Because of the gravity of the mission and the need for utmost secrecy, it was decided that the men will not attempt to infiltrate the village but rather use other means to spy on its inhabitants.

The small object hovering above their heads was to be that secret weapon.

That first day, Yi Hai and his team were given a crash course on modern warfare using modern equipment that most of them realized will, from then on, affect how Yuqui will resolve conflicts and wars in the future. Looking on from the sidelines, even Gu Sheng was startled by this realization. He threw a somewhat worried frown in An Ning's direction. His stepmother met his look with a blank one of her own. She knew what Gu Sheng was thinking but considering all other options, they really had no other choice but to give their all in this high stakes game of upmanship.

Du Lu stunned everybody when he stood in front and demonstrated how to operate the thing the empress dowager calls a drone. The drone flew above their heads, it circled the surrounding trees high and low while they watched the feedback on a small screen placed on a small table beside Du Lu.

Suddenly, at the corner of the screen, the shadow of a movement was caught. General Chen manipulated the drone so that it followed the shadow which eventually revealed itself to be two wild pigs snarling at each other on the monitor. They could even hear the grunts and snarls coming from somewhere. One of the pigs suddenly rushed at the other pig and they watched, awed and fascinated, as the fight escalated into a killing spectacle when one of the pigs buried its long, sharp snout in the other pig's neck.

They watched as the blood flowed on the ground. The dying pig twitched and thrashed its body, crying and snarling angrily then was still.

The soldiers were stunned, amazed at witnessing such a carnage from some distance away.

"How far is the range?" Yi Hai asked Du Lu.

"About 400 feet."

"Should we let this drone go during daytime or nighttime?" Yi Hai again inquired. He was already thinking far ahead. The drone was obviously designed to give the surveillance team cover and an easy way out to avoid unnecessary confrontation which could get all of them killed. And there was also the fact that he and his men will be going into battle using weapons they haven't even seen before yesterday. A lot was at stake and he didn't want to have to meet defeat at the most crucial hour before the mission even had the chance to start.

"Depends on what information you want to get," Du Lu said. "If you use it during daytime, you might encounter some problems you don't want to deal with like people discovering the drone and alerting the whole village with their screaming or something. I think you'll have more flexibility during the night time because then you can release the drone and go about your business as freely as you can without fear of discovery."

Yi Hai nodded and the training continued up to the driving tests until the week was almost over and Du Lu once again was faced with a decision he had been postponing giving an answer to.

"What are you going to do with Sei Sei when she and Min Ling arrive tomorrow?"

The emperor finally voiced out the burning question everyone of them had been trying to skirt around with in the last few days. An Ning didn't look up from watching the monitor. She was obviously leaving the decision to Du Lu. Sei Sei was not her subordinate and neither was she willing to make Sei Sei's fate a matter of imperial prerogative. The line between the monarch's authority and military matters concerning soldiers and treason must be observed at all times. Du Lu knew it so the decision lies squarely on his desk.

"Have her arrested when she enters the gates," Du Lu said without expression. There was not a flicker of emotion on the beautiful masculine face but behind the eyes, a storm of ember sparked into tiny flames and were instantly extinguished.

An Ning lifted her eyes to his with equal coolness.

"I would like to interrogate vice general Sei Sei if General Chen will allow," she said.

"This subject has no objection, your grace," Du Lu answered. A lock of hair had fallen on his brow thereby shielding his eyes from her probing stare.

"How long before the training ends, An Ning?" the emperor asked.

"Another two weeks," she said then was quiet. The emperor read the hesitation in her eyes and frowned.

"What is it?"

"I'm thinking about something."

"What?"

"You may not like it."

"Come on, out with it."

"I want to go to Laniang with Yi Hai and his team."

The silence that followed was a bit oppressive.

"Why?" Du Lu asked, totally surprised.

An Ning shrugged.

"Because I want to. I promise you, my decision has got nothing to do with you and your team's ability, Yi Hai," An Ning hastily added. "I just feel that I need to go there."

"Feel? There's no 'feel' in warfare," Du Lu mocked.

"I don't know how to explain it," An Ning said, ignoring his mockery. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want to get a first hand look at the enemy. I understand how you feel about Sei Sei. All we have are conjectures yet she's going to jail for them. All these, about the witch and Laniang and why Gu Fang died...if I'm wrong then...but I know I'm not, yet... I guess there is some part of me that wish all these are mere conjectures and that vice general Sei Sei have absolutely nothing to do with it."

"You don't want to punish the innocent," the emperor said, nodding his head in understanding.

"Precisely."

"And if her majesty's conjectures are true?" Min Song asked from the back of the van.

"Then she dies and all her kin with her."

The merciless finality in her cool, pleasant voice made the emperor shiver. He quickly averted his gaze from the cruel lines of her face and met Du Lu's eyes. There was a sharpness and coldness to it that matched the same in An Ning's. Gu Sheng realized in that instant that his stepmother and this general whom he barely knew may stand on the same side all the time but in this case, a chasm seemed to have opened between them. It was concession enough from An Ning's side to stay her hand even when all her instincts were trying to tell her otherwise.

The following morning, before the clock struck ten, Min Ling and vice general Sei Sei entered the palace gates. Yi Hai and his soldiers immediately surrounded them. Sei Sei was arrested and taken away. Min Ling, who watched the commotion with an utterly flabbergasted look on his face, didn't even had the opportunity to utter a protest before Sei Sei disappeared from his sight. He tried to ride after them but a phalanx of soldiers stopped him. Enraged, he immediately rode to the palace presumably to seek answers from someone, specifically Du Lu.

An Ning, who came disguised as an itinerant to witness the arrest, watched the crowd still lingering about. Her attention was caught by a boy, about twelve years old, who seemingly and casually disengaged himself from the throng and disappear into a narrow street which she knew led to the public market.

She leisurely followed after him, carrying the sack of potatoes she asked Yi Ying to prepare that morning. Because of the lateness of the hour, the public market was not as crowded so she had no trouble watching and following the boy. She saw him stop at a fish stall and talk to a short, burly man with a thick beard. A few minutes later, the two of them left the fish stall and enter a door behind.

An Ning ambled towards the stall and made a show of checking the fish. Because the walls of the house behind the stall was thin, An Ning was able to hear the sound of argument inside. She looked around then casually turned and opened the door. The two men and the boy arguing inside looked totally surprised to see her. An Ning pulled out a gun and shoot. The three bodies crumpled to the ground in a dead faint.

An Ning then tied their hands and feet and ruthlessly stuffed their bodies inside the ring, which sucked them in quietly and without effort. Afterwards, An Ning casually went outside, continued checking out the fish on the stall then just as casually left the market. It didn't even take ten minutes.

When she arrived at the palace, Du Lu and Min Ling were already engaged in a heated argument. Du Lu's face was flushed with anger. Min Ling was totally aggressive and threatening. Min Song and Gu Sheng were quietly observing them from the sidelines. Yi Hai was tense and Kang Jun totally scared.

"Where did you put her?" An Ning casually entered the room and asked Yi Hai.

"In the storage room, your grace," Yi Hai said, then as if compelled to do so added, "It's where General Chen requested to put her."

"Put her in the dungeon. Along with these three," she said, then pulled out the three unconscious bodies from the ring on her finger.

The men watched her, completely and utterly stupefied by her action.

"What...who...?" the emperor stammered. "What the hell are you wearing?"

"I went to the gates to personally see what would happen after vice general Sei Sei is arrested. While everyone else showed their shock at what happened, this boy instead walked rather scampered away hurriedly. I followed him to the public market where I saw him approached this bearded guy in a fish stall. They then went inside the house and I casually eavesdropped on their conversation. They were arguing. They didn't know why Sei Sei was arrested and one of them, presumably the other guy, wanted them to tell the chief about it. They couldn't reach an agreement who the messenger should be though so everybody was mad because nobody wanted to go. I opened the door and shot them with morphine-infused bullets. They'll be fine after they get a little sleep."

The men looked down at the bodies on the floor. The sight of three unconscious men were nothing compared to the shock of watching them being pulled out of a small pinky ring though, their dazed minds were thinking. How in hell did they even fit into that itsy-bitsy thing?

"The dungeon, your grace?" Min Ling's outraged voice cut into the still dazed and paralyzed silence. "I still don't understand why Sei Sei was arrested and you're now putting her in the dungeon?"

"Yes, got a problem with that?" An Ning's voice was partly flippant, partly contemptuous.

"Why? What did vice general Sei Sei do wrong?"

"Treason and other stuff."

"What? General Chen, what is her majesty talking about?"

"You explain. We're leaving. Come, Yi Hai. Let's get this treasonous bitch to the dungeon and these three co-conspirators with her. This is the first time for me to interrogate someone inside a dungeon. Can't help being excited."

An Ning opened the door and called out.

"Someone, come and help with the prisoners. Come on, lets get going!"

Five men rushed into the room and lifted the three unconscious bodies away. An Ning gaily followed behind them. Yi Hai didn't look back and followed after her. Watching their retreating backs, Du Lu gave a deep and unwilling sigh.

"We'd better go," he said.

"But general..." Min Ling protested.

"If you want to know what the heck this is all about, I think you should just follow us and refrain from shooting your mouth off next time," the emperor said, annoyed. "It's totally outrageous, your behavior, Master Min. I've never been so embarrassed after watching you berate your commanding officer like that."

The emperor snorted then turned away, the sleeves of his robes quivering still with indignation. Du Lu speared Min Ling with a warning look then followed after the emperor. Min Song and Kang Jun left without saying another word. Min Ling watched them, his expression still rebellious. After a while, he gave himself a little shake and followed his brother and Kang Jun out the door.
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