A Cruel Romance - Volume 2 - Chapter 17

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Chao Hsiao-Hu sat teetering in a brand new military jeep; the road was uneven, so its passengers bounced in it like peas in a frying pan . Through the open window, the winter dawn cast the faint cross-shaped scar on his face in soft yellow light .

The staff officer next to him squinted at a newspaper as he read it out loud, his voice broken up into trembling segments . He finished an article and folded up the paper, and as he sat rubbing his eyes, Hsiao-Hu asked: “Where would you say Major-General Wen is right now?”

The staff officer considered Major-General Wen’s speed and did some mental math . “I say they’re ahead of us . They’re coming in from the west, it’s a shorter trip . ”

Chao Hsiao-Hu rested his elbow on the window sill and unbuttoned his blue felt collar . His regiment served under the Central Government, yet they still wore Jinsui uniforms . A strange sight, but it mattered not .

“Ho Bao-Ting has a large army . Let Old Wen take the lead . ” He took the newspaper from the staff officer and folded it into a paper airplane, launching it carefully through the window . “I know Ho Bao-Ting very well; he’d run off at the first sign of trouble . All we have to do is intercept him on the way . ”

The staff officer nodded approvingly . “Great idea, Colonel!”

– : –

Commander Ho sat in his meeting room and told his officers: “I don’t know this Wen, but I know Chao Hsiao-Hu very well . He’d run off at the first sign of trouble, so all we have to do is charge at him on his way here . ”

The officers nodded approvingly . “Great idea, Commander!”

– : –

Since they both had such insight, the real fight was quite lively and engaging . Major-General Wen was from the Academy, first-rate in both strategy and bravery, but he had few men and fewer guns and found himself struggling against Commander Ho on his own turf . After much sweat and toil, he managed to establish a stalemate . Commander Ho had sent out three divisions who’d continued harassing the locals as they fought him off, all leading very vibrant and self-sustaining lives . Their morale was strong, looking ready to continue the seesaw battle indefinitely .

The Central Government hadn’t thought much of Commander Ho’s motley crew, but it turned out that his men were all extremely well-trained bandits, well-armed and well supplied, not to mention in league with the Mongol gangs .

Major-General Wen suspected that his distinguished reputation was about to be laid to rest in Jehol .

Frustrated, he sent Chao Hsiao-Hu multiple telegrams calling for backup . Chao Hsiao-Hu, though, remained “still as a virgin,” refusing to make a move .

– : –

The weather cooled rapidly after the second snowfall .

Because their master feared the cold, the staff at Ho Residence worked around the clock to built underground heating into the main living areas . Above the heated floor, the house warmed up very evenly . Ho Chu-Chu ran around in Commander Ho’s room sweating buckets, her little braids unraveling in her playful bouncing .

Commander Ho called her over and helped her out of her pale green jacket . “Thirsty?”

Chu-Chu bounced into his lap and picked up the teacup he was just drinking from, gulping down the remainder of its contents in one go . She leaned back into Commander Ho’s arms . “It’s so hot, Papa! I want iced plum juice and soda!”

Seeing that she was about to slide off, Commander Ho tried to hoist her up with his hands under her arms . “I knew you would say that—”

His words died when he felt a small hard clump on her chest . It felt like a tumor, or some kind of growth .

“Lass, what…”

Chu-Chu twisted around to stare at him . “Huh?”

Commander Ho turned her around had her straddle him, reaching for the buttons on her little shirt . Chu-Chu blushed and gripped the hem of her shirt, giggling . “What are you doing, Papa?”

Commander Ho knocked her hands away solemnly . “Settle down, let me see what’s going on . ”

So Chu-Chu let him . The shirt fell open to reveal the bare chest of a small girl . Commander Ho examined her ribcage and searched for the tumor, finally finding his target under a pair of tiny nipples .

He touched it gently with his hands and asked anxiously: “When did this get here? Does it hurt?”

Chu-Chu only lowered her head with a frown .

Thinking she was unwell, Commander Ho said: “Don’t be afraid, I’ll get you a doctor . ”

Chu-Chu turned away, her voice like the buzz of a mosquito . “Don’t…”

Commander Ho was still talking to himself: “How did it get there? When? Right on top of—”

Before Commander Ho could finish expressing his dismay, Chu-Chu fell against his chest and whispered into his ear . “Papa… Mrs . Chang said…”

Commander Ho patted her impatiently on her back . “What did she say?”

Chu-Chu’s voice dropped even lower . “She said I’m growing breasts . ”

Commander Ho froze .

He slowly recovered over a long moment . Thinking back to his earlier actions, he burst out laughing .

How was he supposed to know this was what puberty looked like on a little girl? He’d worried himself sick thinking she had tumors .

Taking another look at Chu-Chu, he noted that the two pink dots on her chest really did seem to be showing the first signs of puffing up . Over the next few years they’d fill out like balloons, until she—what if he gave her to Hsiao-Shun?

Commander Ho smiled at Chu-Chu’s belly, lost in thought . If she married Hsiao-Shun, he’d have raised both halves of the little couple, and how delightful that would be!

But he’d have to wait a few more years . That big cock of Hsiao-Shun’s… Wouldn’t do to let him stab her to death with it .

He turned his gaze back to Chu-Chu’s chest, finding those pink dots more and more like flower buds . In spite of himself, he wrapped an arm around Chu-Chu’s back and licked one gently .

Chu-Chu shrunk away .

Still curious, he wondered if a child so young could even feel anything there . His lips lingering on her chest, he suckled her gently .

Chu-Chu let out a small whine, her voice like a kitten’s . “Papa!”

Papa heard her call and tightened his hold, as if he was about to crush her into his own body . He spasmed a little and let out a long, weary sigh .

Chu-Chu nearly suffocated in his hold . Then she smelled something strange .

Commander Ho let go of her . “Go on, lass . Papa’s tired and need to be alone for a bit . ”

– : –

Commander Ho was indeed very tired . He changed into a new set of trousers and lay down in bed .

In the evening, Feng Guo-Chung came over with reports from the battlefront . There wasn’t anything interesting to report—the war dragged on, tedious and unchanging .

“Had it been worthwhile to meet them head on, we’d have sent Wen packing already!” Feng said once the reports were done . “Chao Hsiao-Hu though—we haven’t heard anything from him . ”

“Not even Wen dares to test our defenses, let alone some bandit brat,” Commander Ho said dismissively . “Never mind, it’s time we stopped mucking around with him . We attack tomorrow, route Wen first, then surround and finish off Chao Hsiao-Hu!”

– : –

“Tomorrow” came quickly . Setting the details of the planned attack aside, Commander Ho, in his boredom, had the sudden thought to bury Lan Bai-Shan’s ashes before the new year arrived .

He didn’t want to keep his urn around anymore . Back when Bai Su-Ch’en had been tormenting him, Lan had shown no sign of coming to his aid, which saddened him a little . If Lan no longer cared about him, then there was no point holding on . He’d continue down his earthly path, and Lan could go on into the wheels of reincarnation .

Once the idea had formed, he promptly hired a fengshui expert to locate a burial spot . Fengshui experts were easy to come by, and the land was vast and boundless, full of options . Within two days, a burial ground was chosen . It was among a grassland between two small hills, a long river winding by . It was perhaps a little out of the way, but no prosperous place with good fengshui would be left vacant to serve as a gravesite .

All there was left to do was wait for the construction of a tombstone .

While he waited, Major-General Wen did not fall back like he’d expected, apparently determined to fight to the last man . Commander Ho paid him little mind; Wen could struggle all he want . Once he was done mopping up the stubborn bastard, he’d settle things for good with that imperishable brat .

– : –

Ho Chu-Chu stood playing a rubber ball with Commander Ho, her clothes drenched in sweat . She bounced the ball to Commander Ho, who then bounced it back, both of them cheerfully engrossed in their game . Hsiao-Shun stood in the background and watched them with big blinking eyes .

Chu-Chu tired out not long after, and she dropped the ball, panting heavily as she bounded into Commander Ho’s lap . Commander Ho wrapped an arm around her waist and played with her little braid around his finger . Chu-Chu drank Commander Ho’s tea with whole-hearted concentration, the picture of childish innocence .

“Lass,” Commander Ho said suddenly . “Once you grow up, how about you marry Hsiao-Shun?”

Chu-Chu threw him a glance and shook her head . “I don’t want to marry Hsiao-Shun gege!”

Commander Ho smiled . “Who do you want to marry then?”

Chu-Chu dove into his arms . “I want to marry Papa!”

Commander Ho laughed . “Lass, have you no shame?”

Chu-Chu squirmed in his lap and pouted .

“Why do you want to marry me, but not Hsiao-Shun?”

Chu-Chu buried her face in Commander Ho’s chest, watching him with only one visible eye . “Papa’s nice to me . Hsiao-Shun gege always ignores me . If I marry him, I’d have no one to play with and be bored to death!”

“Ha! Do you know what it means to marry a man?”

“I know . It means I follow him wherever he goes . ”

Commander Ho patted her little rump . “You little imp, you know everything!”

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