Your passion has inspired me. The stronger you grow, the more intense I become. We're rivals!”

--Domon Kasshu, ‘Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2’

 

Chapter 283 - Fire and thunder

 

If General Yin Yanzhao was present to see the Princess of Jin chastened, he would have erupted into protective fury and redoubled his efforts.

 

However, even without that visual encouragement, the rebel general was already determined to come to her rescue. Historians would debate about his course of action, for instead of lunging directly towards the large city square where the Princess of Wu and Prince of Chu were for the mass wedding, the general only sent a token force there. It was still made up of his elite, dare-to-die soldiers, but nowhere as substantial as his main focus.

 

No, the majority of the general’s carefully recruited troops were instead headed towards the Princess of Jin. Some historians would say this was a calculated feint. By capturing the princess, the general would provoke retaliation from Jin. Coupled with the disturbances elsewhere, the kingdom of Wu would swiftly fall.

 

At least, that was what they had theorized.

 

The truth of the matter was more primal. The famed General Yin Yanzhao plunged the capital into chaos not because of some ambition of power, lust of revenge or some other vendetta, but out of desire.

 

Otherwise, what would cause him to divide his already limited forces so lopsidedly?

 

Though, limited if you consider the grand scale when it comes to destroying an entire kingdom. It is still formidable when then challenge is shrunken down to razing a city.

 

General Yin Yanzhao had the better part of a legion, the same elite and handpicked veterans that had followed him from Beihai. Using his position as the Commander of the Imperial Guard, Yin Yanzhao had kept these men close to him, replacing those previously in the guard.

 

Now these men who were charged with the defence of the palace now raged through the city streets. A small portion headed towards the mass wedding square, while the rest were led by the general himself were on its way to where the Princess of Jin was.

 

Huang Ming had thought of this scenario, but there was still some chance that the general would act rationally and go to devote most of his troops to capture the newly wed royals at the square first before taking the Princess of Jin.

 

Once more, Huang Ming was outnumbered. But once more, he was prepared. Just like what he had done in Beihai, he had already seized the strategic areas surrounding the residential area. His men had thrown together some barricades and forced the rebels to be funnelled into the tightly packed street, where the general could not use his superiority of numbers to overwhelm those stood in between him and the Princess of Jin. Huang Ming had to hold out until Sunli had finished off whatever the general had detached to the square and then come to his aid.

 

Indeed, General Yin’s men were grim veteran elites, clad from head to toe in black armour and their weapons gleamed wickedly.

 

“You ugly bitches,” Huang Ming commented slowly as he saw the approaching menace.

 

A few men around him chuckled. “Perhaps you should do something about them, sir,” one of them suggested facetiously.

 

“Eh, they look comfortable enough,” Huang Ming demurred sheepishly, and the men laughed in appreciation of his effort to lessen their nervousness. Most of them were still stunned at the situation. How could the famous General Yin do this?

 

“Is that you, Huang Ming?” General Yin shouted from atop his mount. He rode fearlessly forward, completely confident in his invincibility. Having decided on this course and thrown the dice, there was no doubt in his mind of his success. It was only a matter of going through the motions, that it was inevitable for him to have Princess Jin Hua in his arms at the end of the day.

 

Seeing how the general was approaching unarmed, Huang Ming climbed up the barricade to parley. From a distance, it looked like two leaders exchanging some gentlemanly words. If it goes well, perhaps there wouldn’t be any violence…

 

In reality, the two men were locked in hostility.

 

“What are you doing here?” the general demanded coldly.

 

“I’m literally your cockblock,” Huang Ming smirked.

 

The general’s face twisted with rage, incensed by the vulgarity. But almost immediately, his anger dissipated.

 

“You see that most of my men are here,” he said slowly, jerking a thumb back at his forbidden soldiers.

 

“They are quite obvious, yes,” Huang Ming replied dryly.

 

“Then you know my goal,” Yin Yanzhao continued. “There is no need for you to put up a pointless struggle here. Let me through, and we can go our separate ways.”

 

Huang Ming shrugged. “You’re willing to do this much for her, what makes you think I would believe you would stop here? What if she asks you to burn the city to the ground? No, I reckon we do need this pointless struggle.”

 

Yin Yanzhao laughed harshly. “I expected as such,” he admitted. He tilted his head slightly, as if to study his younger opponent from a different angle. “You disappoint me,” he added.

 

“Oh?”

 

“You probably think of me as a madman, don’t you? This no mere whim or fancy, young man. You have no idea the full extent of my determination or what I will do to rescue her. If you insist on standing in my way, I will destroy you and everyone that is dear to you,” General Yin threatened quietly.

 

Huang Ming responded coldly: “Now it’s my turn to be disappointed. You planned, plotted and sacrificed all this time… for what? You have been strung along like a puppet, and you still think you are some hero in a romantic play? Absolutely pathetic.”

 

“It seems we are both disappointed by each other,” the general said evenly, not rising to the provocation. He pulled on his reins and made as if to ride away.

 

“Oh,” Yin Yanzhao suddenly stopped, as if suddenly remembering something. “Don’t expect to receive any help. You said it yourself: I have planned and plotted for a very long time. As we speak, the Jins are now attacking once more. You know as well as I do that there is no one good enough left to stem the northern tide this time. Your father and brothers will have problems of their own in Tigertrap Fort from Wei. There is no way for the kingdom of Wu to survive this quandary,” he taunted.

 

Huang Ming took a deep breath, and the general allowed himself a smile as he enjoyed the reaction.

 

“Your brain must have shrunken, because your head looks like a misshapen potato,” Huang Ming said derisively.

 

The general could hardly believe his ears. “What?”

 

“I know that you know that I know you have preparing for this day a long time. Did you think we have been idle all this time?” Huang Ming smirked.

 

***

 

“You ugly bitches,” Huang Ke sneered, unknowingly echoing his younger brother.

 

He was standing at the walls of Tigertrap Fort. The tall and powerful man could see in the distance that there was a dustcloud appearing from Wei. A dustcloud kicked up by marching men and horses, no doubt.

 

Huang Ke had chafed when he was told he could not attend Huang Ming’s peculiar mass wedding event.

 

“Wei will definitely try something, so be prepared to repel any possible incursions,” his brother had warned in his letters.

 

Huang Ke smiled. He glanced to look down the length of the wall. The battlements were fully manned, and a few of the parapets were armed with a great metallic tubes on a carriage with two wheels. Others had the more familiar wooden ballistae. They were familiar because soldiers of the day knew of siege weapons that threw spears into the ranks of enemy soldiers. What was different was the loading mechanism. His own wife Liu Yuchun had upscaled the mechanical crossbow so that they could fire much faster than thought possible.

 

Huang Ming may have thought of the ideas, but he left the designs was left to his sister-in-law Liu Yuchun  and actual alchemical process where needed to Ma Jun. The portly wine maker had been delighted by this new-fangled ‘science’ and devoted himself to experiments to find out how the world works.

 

Regrettably, they only had a handful of these cannons. Huang Ming’s hands-off approach due to his busy circumstances meant Ma Jun had experience plenty of burns and scorches in the slow production process.

 

Huang Ke was more than happy to take charge of the testing, having seen the potential of firearms. Anything to get out of fertilizer duty, for the manure was a key ingredient for the explosive power used in the weapons.

 

He did not ask how Huang Ming and Ma Jun had figured this out, nor there was no interest for him to do so. All he needed to know was how to use the final product and which end to point the new weapons at.

 

The approaching Wei invaders had no idea that they were literally marching down the barrels of guns pointing at them. How could they, when Huang Ke had been training his men in secret recesses of Tigertrap Valley, far away from prying eyes.

 

They were already within range, but Huang Ke did not give the order to fire.

 

“They are up to something,” Huang Ke muttered, frowning as he squinted at the distance.

 

“Sir?”

 

Huang Ke’s countenance became grim. He could make out the Wei men busying themselves. They were unloading things from draught animals.

 

By now, even his men realized what was happening.

 

The Wei had cannons of their own.

 

“Well, that is interesting. So the Jins were so generous to give them such precious toys,” Huang Ke said.

 

“Sir… shouldn’t we, uh, fire now?” one of his soldiers asked nervously.

 

“Why?”

 

“Well, what if they shoot at us?”

 

Huang Ke laughed. “I suppose you are right. Get ready,” he ordered as he raised his arm…

 

***

 

“After the defeat in Beihai, it would be obvious for the Jins to seek an alliance with Wei. Let me guess, they plan to attack via Beihai in the north and Tigertrap Valley in the west at the same time, while you tie me down here with your little rebellion. Tell me if I’m wrong,” Huang Ming challenged.

 

Yin Yanzhao was indeed taken aback, but he soon recovered his composure.

 

“Even if you figured it out, so what? It is all proceeding as planned. Wei and Jin really are attacking, and you are here, nowhere near to fend them off,” the general countered.

 

“What makes you think I need to be there at all?” Huang Ming demanded.

 

***

 

“FIRE!”

 

Huang Ke bellowed and swung his hand down. His men snapped into action. One heartbeat later, plumes of flame belched from the metal tubes, accompanied with thunderous roars that shook the very heavens.

 

The Wei soldiers who were still in the midst of setting up their weapons looked up at the skies and at each other in astonishment. Which crew among us had fired so quickly?

 

There was a tremendous cacophony of explosions, followed by sounds men and beasts shrieking in pain and horror. The very ground they were own seemed to heave in revolt, gouging up debris, stone and clouds into the air. After the first roll of thunder, there was an eerie silence. Then came the moaning and groaning of wounded men, some crying piteously for their missing body parts…

 

The Wei soldiers further back were horrified. Did our weapons malfunction? Was there an accident?

 

Then it happened again.

 

And again.

 

***

 

“My brother’s hand glows with an awesome power and with a loud roar, he will defeat the Wei with all of his love, anger and sorrow,” Huang Ming said confidently.

 

General Yin had no idea how to process the drivel he had just heard.

 

“You think your brother can hold out against Ran Wei’s full might?” he scoffed.

 

“Of course. Even I defeated Ran Wei. My brother won’t be able to live it down if he can’t match my feat,” Huang Ming grinned.

 

“Assuming either one of you live past today,” the general sneered.

 

“What makes you think the Princess of Jin is pining for you at all?”

 

Infuriated, the general pointed at Huang Ming. “I will tear you from limb to limb myself!”

 

“Give it your best shot, you tryhard!” Huang Ming taunted. He motioned at his troops and in unison, they booed the general. There was no cursing nor swearing as was the custom in battles.

 

Only jeering disdain.

 

General Yin Yanzhao was now someone of contempt, an object of ridicule.

 

He sought to get a reaction,

Only to receive farts in his direction.