“Good morning motherf*ckers!”

--Kiryu Coco


Chapter 300 – Decisive


“Your highness, we have rounded up the ones who were in charge of security at the weapon facilities. What do you wish to do with them?” an aide asked respectfully.


“Execute them all,” Princess Jin Hua said angrily.


The aide glanced discreetly at Prince Jin Bao who nodded grimly in agreement.


By the time the prince was rudely awakened to receive the urgent reports, the facilities had already been reduced to ashes. The cumulative efforts of a few months had gone up in smoke. The stockpile of fire powder and iron tubes vanished in a spectacular forest of flames that lit up the night sky. The glow could be seen from miles away, but the Jins were helpless and wasted many precious hours being obstructed by Ran Wei’s fierceness and Huang Ming’s trickery.


Prince Jin Bao’s first instinct was to conceal the scale of the disaster from his wife so as not to increase her ill humour. Yet he knew it was pointless, because she had taken personal charge of the facilities. Thus he woke his spouse up to inform her, and she took it as badly as he had expected.


Over the course of the time since the birth of their child, he found his wife to be cold and distant. No, perhaps even before that. All the way back when she had escaped from Wu’s royal wedding ceremony.


The royal physician had found nothing wrong with her health and the childbirth had been smooth. Give her time, the physician had said. But Jin Hua remained detached thereafter and barely spent any time with the heir, preferring instead to throw herself into her work. The couple continued to share the same bed, but the nights were without warmth.


In fact, this latest setback caused the first burst of emotion from her that the prince had seen in awhile.


The normally aloof princess could barely conceal her fury, and cursed out those responsible.


“Those sons of bitches,” she swore, frightening the prince with her language. Until this day, Prince Jin Bao had never heard his wife utter such coarse words before. Where did she even learn them from?


The prince stared his wife in stunned silence.


Jin Hua slammed a fist down on the table, causing the tableware to jump and scatter.


“I have enough of this. It seems that if I want something done right, I’ll have to do it myself,” Princess Jin Hua snarled and shot to her feet. But she then started to feel faint and nearly toppled over. Only the prince’s quick action prevented an injury.


Jin Hua wiped aside her tears of rage.


“I want him dead!” she shrieked, frightening the surrounding servants.


There was no question who she meant, even though the reports specifically mentioned Ran Wei as well.


“Of course, he must die,” Jin Bao agreed, suppressing his annoyance that once again it was Huang Ming who got a rise out of his wife.


“Summon the royal physician! Hurry!” the prince shouted. Once the servants had gone, the hysterical look from Jin Hua disappeared, replaced by a cold visage.


“This stalemate cannot last forever. I will write a letter to him and demand to settle this matter once and for all,” Jin Hua said calmly.


“But will they accept? They are safe and secure in Tigertrap Fort, and there is no reason for them to venture out of such an advantageous position,” Jin Bao asked.


Jin Hua shook her head. “He took in Ran Wei precisely for this reason. There are those in Wu who want a period of consolidation, but Huang Ming had rested for two years and he too will want to end this détente.”


Prince Jin Bao narrowed his eyes. He did not like the sureness in her tone. It was as if she knew Huang Ming intimately and could discern the thoughts of the other man.


“It is the same situation for us. Rather than wasting our time and resources to quell the stealthy Wei rebels and be worried of Wu across the border, it would be better for them to be gathered together so as to crush them in one fell swoop,” Jin Hua continued.


“What do you suggest?” her husband asked as he kept his jealousy in check.


“We will nominate a field of battle and fight a decisive battle to determine the fate of the continent. It will be the single, bloodiest battle of all history, and we will stake everything at this one throw of the dice,” Jin Hua said grimly.


Her husband was still hesitant. “But without your wonder weapons…”


“I have long been prepared,” Jin Hua smiled. “What they destroyed is lamentable, but I have other caches ready.”


“You have?” Jin Bao asked with a mixture of amazement and irritation. “I have inspected the land up and down and have not seen anything of the sort.”


Sensing his disquiet, Jin Hua laughed and the mask fell off. Before his very eyes, it seemed color rushed back into her cheeks, and the frigid outlook was replaced by the very bloom of rude health.


“I did not mean to keep it from you,” she said. “But utmost secrecy had to be maintained.”


“You mean… you know it was going to happen?”


“I have guessed at it. I needed to bait him with a suitable prize. Only after he is sure of parity that he would want to accept a direct challenge. And he knows that I know that.”


Jin Bao frowned. “Then those executions earlier…?”


“They had it coming,” Jin Hua said blandly, and the prince knew better than to ask further.


“You mean that Huang Ming is aware of all this?”


“He does. All he needed was an excuse to act. I gave it to him, and he seized it,” Jin Hua replied.


Jin Bao was astonished. “But why?”


“He knows as well as I do that prolonging the stalemate would lead to a devastating arms war in the future. We have already entered an age where fire weapons could tear armored men into shreds and shatter city walls with impunity, and it will only be more gruesome as time passed.”


“You sound like the two of you already know what is going to happen,” Jin Bao muttered, his frown deepened with discontent.


“Mm. Perhaps we do,” Jin Hua said enigmatically, and he became even more sullen. She reached out a hand to touch his cheek tenderly to cool him off.


“I am sorry to be so distant all this while. But just as I have kept tabs on him, he is surely doing the same to us. I have heard how there are rumblings in Wu about him and his family. Though they had inflicted a setback on us, it is actually the perfect time to draw him out into the open.”


“Why… why do you place so much importance on him?” Jin Bao finally asked the question that had been burning in his heart.


She smiled faintly. “Because the rest of them count for nothing. He is the last obstacle for us to conquer. The last question that I need to answer. Then we can live out the rest of our days in peace.”


Jin Hua’s eyes took a faraway look.


“Only him.”


The final battle is at hand,

For the fate of the land.