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Rated: 18+ · Script/Play · History · #878224
The young swordsman begins his journey as an aristocratic Imperial officer.
EPISODE I
HOMECOMING

CHAPTER 1.2: GENESIS
(1-13-13) EXT. OUTSKIRTS OF JINZHOU FORTRESS – DAY OVERCAST.
FADE IN:
Ten armed horsemen ride off slowly towards the north. The sky is overcast, giving the scene a distinctively gray appearance. Jinzhou Fortress stands strong in the horizon, surrounded by patches of thin forests upon a field that is otherwise plain with grass. Wearing Ming uniforms and battle armor, the ten men all appear to be skillful and fierce fighters. Leading the pack is the fifty-five-year-old ZHOU JUZHENG, a clan elder. With decades of experience on the field, he has been molded into a strict stern man with an aura of fierceness, yet he also conveys wisdom.
Directly behind him are ZHANG SIJUN of twenty-five years of age, and YANG WULONG of twenty years of age. Each of them is equipped with swords, spears, and bows. Zhang is equipped with a matchlock as well. Everything about these two men's posture and the tidiness of their red battle robes shows that they are serious, confident men. The remaining seven soldiers are LIU YING, LIU HU, ZHAO MING, WU GUOQIANG, CHEN CHUAN, LI GUANQI and WANG LI. They range from ages eighteen to twenty-two, and from their typical young male behavior, we see that they do not give a damn about anything. Liu Ying and Liu Hu are equipped with matchlocks as well for they are the master sharpshooters.
Yang Wulong, wearing a medallion with a gold emblem of a dragon, stares up into the sky to get a taste of nature's beauty. The silence of nature is soon broken behind him.

CHEN CHUAN
(to Liu Ying)
Let them be aware that the ten master swordsmen of Wulin Clan have arrived.

LIU YING
Proceed.

Chen Chuan leans over the side of his horse and retrieves a wooden stick from the ground below while still in motion and tosses it into the air. Liu Ying swings his matchlock about, demonstrating superb and effortless handling skills and blasts the wooden stick from out of the air. Zhou Juzheng and his two senior officers, Yang Wulong and Zhang Sijun turn to look but do not seem to be disturbed by Liu's stunts; they all strive to maintain their stoic nature.
CUT TO:

(1-14-14) EXT. JINZHOU FORTRESS WALLS- DAY OVERCAST.
Jinzhou fortress is an amazing defensive fortress. The walls are thick and tall, manned by conscripts from the Northern Army. Cannons are positioned along various spots and lookout towers with archers as reserve are plenty. The thunderous rolling echo of the gunshot reaches the walls of Jinzhou and catches the attention of the lookout. The lookout immediately pulls out his spyglass and surveys the direction from where the gunshot came. Upon visual confirmation that the incoming swordsmen are indeed of Ming banners, the soldiers calls out for the gate to be opened.

JINZHOU SOLDIER #1
Open the gates.
CUT TO:

(1-15-15) EXT. JINZHOU FORTRESS - DAY OVERCAST.
The band of ten warriors rides into the large fortress; the garrison watches on as the Wulin soldiers enter with confidence and indifference to the local troops. Many civilian buildings exist within the fortress, but Jinzhou has transformed into a complete military outpost. Wagons occupy complete sides of city streets and soldiers sit outside to rest. The Wulin warriors ride on.
CUT TO:

(1-16-16) INT. JINZHOU FORTRESS COMMAND - DAY OVERCAST.
The ten warriors enter the dark grand passages of the fortress halls with escorts. Billowing white sheets hang from the tall architecture, flapping in the light breeze; their hard footsteps echo across the stone halls. The group finally reach the command room. The entrance is curtained off and guarded by four soldiers. Several more unarmed staff members await outside the room.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU'S STAFF
(salutes)
Captain Zhou. The General awaits you.

Zhou Juzheng takes off his helmet, clutches it between his arms, and turns to his two officers.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Go with these men and get some rest. We depart soon.

ZHANG SIJUN AND YANG WULONG
(salutes)
As you command. <to Wulin soldiers> Fall in.

The soldiers depart and follow the staff members as they guide them towards their guestrooms. Zhou Juzheng enters the command room, a simple room occupied by several army commanders locked in discussion and a large table with a battle map. Amongst the commanders stand ZU DASHOU, a slightly overweight but capable looking man of forty years of age.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU'S STAFF
General. The military advisor from Sanhaikwan has arrived.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Greetings General. Zhou Juzheng at your service.

The command staff end their discussions and are somewhat surprised by Zhou's old age.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
Greetings Captain. I am General Zu Dashou, commander of Jinzhou. I thank you for coming down so soon. As you know our battle advisor was slain in battle not long ago, shot through the heart by a stray enemy arrow.

ZHOU JUZHENG
I regret to hear that.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
What a bloody pity it was. To be honest I did not expect someone of your age to be sent down to this forsaken place.

ZHOU JUZHENG
My place belongs on the field, not on the staff. I am more than capable of handling myself. My loyalty lies with the Black Knights.

Silence falls upon the entire room by the merely mentioning the Black Knights.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
(stunned)
Black Knights. <laughs> My apologies, had I known you were elite, I would not have been so crude.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Many make that mistake, but only once. Fortunately, you are not the enemy.

One of the Jinzhou commanders is angered by Zhou Juzheng's tone.

JINZHOU COMMANDER #1
You are speaking to a general. Mind your tongue!

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
<to Jinzhou Commander #1>
Stand down. The fair captain meant no harm. There is no shortage of traitors in this country so we should appreciate his dedication and loyalty. <to Zhou Juzheng> Captain, I salute you.
CUT TO:

(1-17-17) INT. JINZHOU FORTRESS GUESTHOUSE - DAY OVERCAST.
The Wulin troops make themselves at home in one of the guest rooms within the fortress. The room is simple, with enough small beds for everyone and several tables abound. The soldier's gear are set upon the floor, and several of them have already begun unpacking and polishing their weapons.

ZHANG SIJUN
We should get as much rest as possible.

LI GUANQI
What exactly are we here for Sergeant?

ZHANG SIJUN
The garrison commander requested for battlefield advisors so we shall train the men and lead them into battle. Have no illusions for we are now on the tip of the sword.

Yang Wulong draws his sword and inspects the blade, polishing off the dust. Liu Ying stands by the window and enjoys the outside view while several other soldiers lie down on their beds.

WANG LI
I cannot sleep in this breeze. Shut the windows.

LIU YING
You had better get used to it. The winters here will be long and hard.

ZHANG SIJUN
(to Yang Wulong)
How are you handling it?

YANG WULONG
How am I handling what?

ZHANG SIJUN
(snickers)
Do not play a fool with me. Our Captain, Uncle Zhou. There is clearly tension between you two.

YANG WULONG
Tension? You take me for a fool? There lies no hard feelings on my part. I would not dare cross that man.

ZHANG SIJUN
You have taken a lot of abuse from him, and I believe that he has taken a liking of it.

YANG WULONG
I wonder why that is.

ZHANG SIJUN
Fortunately, the Captain and Master go back a long ways. If that were not the case, I fear you may already be dead.

Both men chuckle. Liu Ying overhears the conversation and approaches.

YANG WU LONG
Well, simple words cannot do me harm.

Liu Ying pats Yang Wulong on the shoulder.

LIU YING
We stand by you always. Brothers until the bitter end.

WU GUOQIANG
(to Zhang Sijun)
How are we supposed to lead men we do not even know? Bonds of brotherhood will not be easy to develop here.

ZHANG SIJUN
We will earn their trust and brotherhood when they realize we are the best young soldiers in the Northern Army.
CUT TO:

(1-18-18) INT. JINZHOU FORTRESS COMMAND - DAY OVERCAST.
The commanders and Zhou Juzheng continue their discussions before the battle map.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
Qing incursions into our zone have intensified recently, however, intelligence report that this is not an immediate precursor to invasion. Regardless, Jinzhou remains an obstacle.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Increased activity around our perimeter is not an immediate precursor to invasion, but it is an eventuality. Our armies should have intervened during Nurhachi's climb to power. Because of our incompetence, the militarization of every facet of Manchurian society has resulted in our current state of crisis. When Nurhachi announced the Seven Grievances, he believed he could win the war that he started. Qing war potential is extremely solid. Abahai will not stop until his father's dreams are complete. How is the defense of the city?

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
Our troops are veterans of city defense. The might of the Qing army, their cavalry arm, are not particularly well suited to siege warfare. Wall fortifications have yet to be breached, and Portuguese engineers have supplied us with ample firepower. We have withstood Qing attacks for seven years and remain standing. History speaks for itself.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Excellent. I see that you have several camps established as a perimeter even further toward the Manchurian zones.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
Yes. It is to counter Qing probes and makes it more difficult for their recon elements to pass through our security nets undetected and unmolested.

ZHOU JUZHENG
This defense comes highly unrecommended. With small units spread thin, they can be overrun in a single blow. The outposts should be withdrawn and consolidated to form a single body for protection of the eventual siege of Jinzhou.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
I understand your logic but believe me this is not a misallocation of valuable resources. Those outposts are absolutely vital to our security nets. Without them Jinzhou would be in far greater peril, and more lives would be lost.

ZHOU JUZHENG
How is your overall strength and offensive potential?

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
We have the men; all regiments are up to full strength. However, as you know, strength in numbers does not translate into victory. The men are fatigued, and morale is low. Replacements are aplenty but they are just conscripts, lacking the proper training. As I said earlier, this city has been under constant threat and attack for seven years. Many of the men have been here for equally long.

ZHOU JUZHENG
I have placed my life on the frontlines for the better part of my life, thirty and some years. From campaigns in Mongolia, Annam, the Southeast against the Japanese pirates that threaten our coastline and finally here in the Northeast, never once did my convictions falter. The current morale of the men concerns me not. We shall begin training tomorrow at daybreak, and I guarantee that morale shall be restored. I hope that the best available men have already been chosen and are in order?

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
Five of the finest soldiers have been chosen from each battalion for this routine.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Excellent. I will do my utmost to create an elite group of Special Forces soldiers. Inspections begin tomorrow, and I shall issue directives thereafter.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
Thank you. I am counting upon your services.

Zhou Juzheng and the General exchange salutes, after which Zhou Juzheng exits the briefing room. Several disgruntled Jinzhou commanders are left standing in the room.

JINZHOU COMMANDER #2
(frustrated tone)
General. Why is the man given so much respect and authority? He is only a mere captain.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
That man remains a captain because of his own choosing. If that were not the case, I would be saluting him instead.
CUT TO:

(1-19-19) INT. JINZHOU FORTRESS GUESTHOUSE - NIGHT
All of the Wulin troops are comfortably asleep except for Zhou Juzheng, Yang Wulong and Zhang Sijun. Zhou Juzheng sits by his bed playing a slow melody on his Erhu (string instrument) while the other two simply cannot fall asleep. Zhang Sijun stares blindly up towards the ceiling while Yang Wulong is constantly rolling around his bed to try fall asleep. The candlelight flickers about their faces, casting shadows that dance upon the walls.

ZHANG SI JUN
Very soon they shall make me a Captain. I cannot wait for the day when I get to lead my own troop. What do you say to that Wulong?

YANG WULONG
I shall salute you when that day comes. Until then, leave peace for mine restless ears.

ZHANG SIJUN
(chuckles)
You shatter my hopes little brother. Do not fear however, I Zhang Sijun shall always remember the comrades who helped me along the way. As I rise, so shall you, and when I make General you will certainly be there as my deputy chief of command.

YANG WULONG
Enough already. Let us focus on what we have at hand here at our new home shall we? Before anyone of us here leaps off reality.

ZHANG SIJUN
It certainly is a smooth tune Uncle Zhou. I did not know that you were acquainted with the Erhu.

ZHOU JUZHENG
We all must find something to keep our sanity throughout this war. <turns to Yang Wulong> How is your father?

YANG WULONG
His health never falters. He would most certainly wish to come back to his military roots here in the north as a member of the Black Knights, but beauracracy has led him elsewhere.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Of course. I have great respect for your father. A seat on the military council is perhaps the best position he could possibly have. This is my first time leading you men and we have yet to set foot on the battlefield together. <harsh tone> Do not let me down, and do not let your father down. Hesitate once on the battlefield and you will not be returning home.

ZHANG SIJUN
We shall return as heroes.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Were you being spoken to Sergeant?

Zhang Sijun realizes he has spoken out of turn and lowers his head.

ZHOU JUZHENG
There are no heroes. Not in this war.

YANG WULONG
I shall not let you down.

ZHOU JUZHENG
You had best not let anyone down. Simply listen to my orders and obey them without question.
FADE TO:

(1-20-20) EXT. JINZHOU FORTRESS - DAWN.
The sun rises atop the horizon, lighting up the Jinzhou fortress and casting long shadows of its buildings.
CUT TO:

(1-21-21) EXT. JINZHOU FORTRESS COURTYARD - DAWN.
Tens of scarecrows are lined up against the quiet fortress walls. The courtyard is empty.

ZHANG SIJUN
(shouts orders)
Loose!

The scarecrows are all of a sudden pegged with arrows and shot to pieces.

ZHANG SIJUN
Draw!

The camera pans out, revealing a distance of fifty yards between the Wulin soldiers and their stationary targets. The Wulin troops redraw another volley of arrows from their quiver and take aim. Liu Ying fires first, piercing his first arrow with his second.

ZHANG SIJUN
Impressive.

YANG WULONG
Excellent marksmanship. I reckon that any one of us will be able to strike down ten enemy troops before they are able to close the distance.

Zhou Juzheng arrives on horseback and reins his horse behind the line of men. He immediately confronts Yang's remarks with aggression.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Wishful thinking...Lieutenant. Warfare from a distance is simple and impersonal. However, when the battle becomes close and one can smell the stench of death, never hesitate to deliver the kill.

Yang swallows his pride.

YANG WULONG
Yes Captain.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Now, where are the troops whom we are supposed to train?

ZHANG SIJUN
Captain, it is still early. They will not be arriving for yet an hour.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Is that so?

A messenger rides into the courtyard at full gallop, reining his horse before the Wulin military advisors.

JINZHOU DISPATCH RIDER
Captain Zhou Juzheng?

ZHOU JUZHENG
I am he.

JINZHOU DISPATCH RIDER
(salutes)
Captain, you are wanted at headquarters. The General awaits you.

Sudden shouts can suddenly be heard from in the distance, followed by a series of low gongs. The empty courtyard comes to life as streams of soldiers rush out from their barracks, rushing through the central courtyard to report to their stations. Shouts and the sounds of movement fill the air. The Wulin troops look around, confused by what is unfolding surrounding them.

ZHOU JUZHENG
What is the meaning of this?

JINZHOU DISPATCH RIDER
We are under attack. Please, follow me.

The Wulin troops mount their horses and ride off behind the dispatch rider. After some travels within the fortress and passing many troops preparing themselves for battle, the group finally meets up with General Zu Dashou and several of his field commanders, all in full combat gear and on horseback. The General appears very uneasy about the situation and is about to speak when Zhou Juzheng interrupts him.

ZHOU JUZHENG
No explanations are necessary. However, I do need to know one thing. <pause> How strong?

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
Unknown. Several of our surrounding towns have been completely sacked and our garrisons lost with only a handful of survivors remaining. It appears as if Abahai is moving along his southern axis of advance. Scouts have yet to return, but we are mustering a body of cavalry and intend on intercepting this threat before the eventual siege of this city.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Our unit will ride alone. For us to lead raw recruits now would be complete suicide for everyone involved.

GENERAL ZU DASHOU
Indeed. I shall leave you; the force awaits at the northern gate. Good luck to all.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Thank you kindly.
CUT TO:

(1-22-22) INT. JINZHOU FORTRESS ARMORY - DAWN.
The rattling of metal armor and weapons fills the dark armory as entire companies of soldiers rush to ready their equipment. Entire racks of spears and phalanxes soon disappear as troops stream by; full quivers of longbow arrows are also passed out, as well as rifles. The Wulin soldiers led by Zhou Juzheng strap on their steel battle armor. Liu Ying and Liu Hu inspect several new rifles, inspecting the locks, barrels, as well as its weight and handling.

LIU YING
This rifle shall perform well.

Zhang Sijun inspects several rifles as well and picks one out; he tosses one to Zhou Juzheng.

ZHANG SIJUN
Uncle Zhou.

Zhou Juzheng catches the rifle but without even examining it tosses it back to Zhang Sijun.

ZHOU JUZHENG
This is simply excess equipment. I shall not be using one.
CUT TO:

(1-23-23) EXT. JINZHOU FORTRESS - DAWN.
The massive main gates to the fortress open and the convoy sets out numbering several thousand cavalry strong in all and divided into various columns and groups. Zhou Juzheng along with the Wulin troops following close behind him is one of several units operating small and independently. The men have dawned on their battle armor, and they gallop off at full speed, well ahead of the main cavalry forces.

ZHOU JUZHENG
(riding and shouting against the wind)
To the village of Shenfeng we shall go. Imperial cavalry will be not far behind. My sergeants Sijun and Wulong, once we return I shall grant you gentlemen your first ever command.

Zhang Sijun is especially excited, while Yang Wulong simply nods his head.

ZHANG SIJUN
I am grateful for this opportunity!

YANG WULONG
I shall not forget this.

ZHOU JUZHENG
In the meantime, you will each lead the men as your final trial. Just remember to follow my lead, and Wulong...

YANG WULONG
Yes Sir.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Remember not to hesitate in the heat of battle. Just follow your training.
CUT TO:

(1-24-24) EXT. OUTSKIRTS OF SHENFENG - MORNING.
The ten men ride on along a densely vegetated road in a somewhat different environment. Far away from the fortress of Jinzhou, the outskirts of Shenfeng village features rolling hills and forest. The color dark green simply envelopes the riders. Tall grass line both sides of road; a quiet but large creek runs parallel to the road, weaving its course through the local geography. Tall tree branches blanket the road, creating a ceiling of lush green leaves where beams of sunlight are shot through the various gaps. The troops continue riding until suddenly the corpse of a Ming soldier is spotted flowing down the creek.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Halt!

The unit comes to a halt as everyone reins back upon their steed; the horses neigh but then settle down.

YANG WULONG
(to Zhang Sijun)
We are close...

ZHANG SIJUN
Very close indeed...

ZHOU JUZHENG
Everyone be alert! I shall seek higher ground to get a better vantage point.

ZHANG SIJUN
Wang Li! Zhao Ming! Take point!

Wang Li and Zhao Ming dismount and with their longbows in hand rush off ahead of the group, hiding themselves behind the tall grass. The remaining soldiers have simply stopped on the road, waiting eagerly for the return of Zhou Juzheng.

YANG WULONG
I shall pull that soldier ashore. Like you and I, he performed his duty...and to the last. He deserves much better.

Yang Wulong is about to dismount but is halted by his own men.

LI GUANQI
This is a duty for us, Sergeant. You are in command.

Li Guanqi and Wu Guoqiang dismount and rush into the knee-deep creek to claim the body while Liu Ying and Liu Hu train their rifles upon the opposite shore, scanning for signs of the enemy.

ZHANG SIJUN
(scoffs)
Are you nervous about this command?

Yang Wulong's composure remains serious and unshaken.

YANG WULONG
No, certainly not. It was the right thing to do. My mind did not even flinch.

ZHANG SIJUN
Excellent. Remember, as officers we lead the men and they look to us for guidance. Even though we have yet to receive official command of our own companies, we must develop our leadership skills from this squad. This is our command.
CUT TO:

(1-25-25) EXT. SHENFENG OUTSKIRTS HILLTOP - DAY.
Located atop a large hill (more like a small mountain), Zhou Juzheng surveys the horizon through his spyglass. In the distance from his circular point of view lies Shenfeng, a small village of several hundred residents which has long since been evacuated and transformed into a garrison for a small number of Ming patrols. Wood barracks for the Ming garrison have all been burned to the ground, with smoldering piles of ash and cinder as all that remain. Corpses of Ming infantry can be seen littered across the garrison itself, but another stack of about fifty corpse’s burns, billowing black smoke high into the air. The camp is under the control Qing forces, but Ming banners still fly high and proud in the wind above casual and calm Qing patrols. Zhou Juzheng continues his surveillance and notices the departure of the fifty strong Qing cavalry, leaving roughly one hundred fifty infantry for temporary guard duty. Zhou Juzheng lowers his spyglass and traces the cavalry with his eyes. Dust clouds appear in the northern horizon, and Zhou Juzheng once again observes through the spyglass. Due to various geographical factors including trees, terrain elevation and declination, and most of all the sheer distance involved, individual soldiers could not be spotted. However, Zhou Juzheng's view is filled with shimmering reflective sunlight popping out through the forest. Zhou Juzheng snickers and places the spyglass away; he grabs his phalanx and hurries off down the hill to return to the men.
CUT TO:

(1-26-26) EXT. OUTSKIRTS OF SHENFENG - MORNING.
All of the Wulin soldiers, excluding Wang Li and Zhao Ming who remain on guard duty, surround Zhou Juzheng.

ZHOU JUZHENG
(calmly)
A hundred and fifty men. That is the strength of the enemy against whom we must face.

LIU YING
A hundred and fifty!

ZHOU JUZHENG
We may consider ourselves fortunate. This is an under strength infantry company without any form of cavalry support. We must hurry in our attack however, for it seems as if more reinforcements will be arriving shortly directly from the north.

YANG WULONG
Why not wait for assistance? Our own cavalry forces are directly behind us.

ZHOU JUZHENG
That option is out of the question. We have the initiative and we will capitalize on this opportunity. If we attack in force the element of surprise will be lost, and the lives of our own men will be placed in jeopardy. I do not wish that, and I am certain neither do our comrades.

LIU YING
I will follow you to the end my Captain, but ten men against one hundred and fifty...I do not believe fate will be smiling down upon such cursed odds.

ZHOU JUZHENG
On the contrary, I believe the odds lie heavily in our favor. We have an elite squad of ten men, representatives of Wulin. This is our opportunity to demonstrate the prowess and quality of our Clan.

Zhou Juzheng quickly looks each man in the eye and then finally nods his head.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Follow me.

Zhou Juzheng signals the men to move out; they follow suit behind their captain. Yang Wulong has the look of concern but follows the march.
CUT TO:

(1-27-27) EXT. SHENFENG - MORNING.
The ten men advance slowly together in a field of tall grass a hundred yards from the edge of the village. Many surrounding buildings burn, as well as piles of corpses of the Ming garrison. Columns of thick smoke rise into the air, creating a blanket of darkness above the village. The Wulin troops conduct a thorough surveillance of their objective. Qing troops patrol or stand guard at various posts in groups of two or three, with entire platoons of other troops standing about or looting. Qing troops pile up the corpses of another fifty or so Ming troops and torch it. The men's laughter can be clearly heard.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Watch carefully; this is the very reason why we fight. <points out various locations> The smoke is thick and the visibility low. This shall play to our advantage. We shall advance and strike with arrows until we close the distance. Utilize the smoke as a screen and conduct your kills accordingly. This company will be soon on the move; they do not intend on holding the garrison but instead are content with burning it to ashes.

ZHANG SIJUN
It is of no strategic value to them.

MANCHURIAN SCOUT #1
(faint off screen shouts)
Ming Cavalry are fast approaching! Make ready! Make ready!

The Wulin troops are caught off guard by the sudden appearance of a Qing scout riding fast along the road behind them. Several of the Wulin troops immediately train their shots toward the incoming rider but hold their fire. Zhang Sijun, Yang Wulong, Liu Ying and Liu Hu draw their bows and train it upon the unsuspecting Qing sentries in the distance.

MANCHURIAN SCOUT #1
(faint off screen shouts)
The Ming troops are almost here!

A sense of urgency overcomes the Wulin troops. They are not about to be discovered for they have adequate cover behind the long grass, however, the incoming rider has garnered the attention of the Qing sentries who have now begun to look to the scout. Wu Guoqiang speaks without turning his head; he tracks the rider with his longbow.

WU GUOQIANG
(trains his longbow along with the rider)
Captain. Your orders.

The rider continues his fast approach, but due to the distance from the sentries in Shenfeng his message does not go through. Zhou Juzheng looks to both the rider and the sentries and realizes that to maintain the initiative he must risk immediate exposure with swift action.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Take him out.

Zhou Juzheng draws his own bow just as Wu Guoqiang lets go his arrow, killing the scout with a piercing shot to the heart. Meanwhile in the distance, the Qing sentries are momentarily stunned by the sudden fall of the rider. Wu Guoqiang immediately reaches behind for his quiver to reload while others have already fixated upon their respective targets.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Loose!

A flurry of arrows is shot through the long grass , and nine unsuspecting Qing sentries are shot dead swiftly and silently. Despite reaction by those remaining sentries nearby, all visible targets are shot dead within a few moments of arrows whizzing through the air; reload times by the Wulin troops are exceptional.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Go!

The Wulin troops disperse and advance towards the burning town, their longbows armed. They quickly run through the long grass and emerge before a large wooden arch that is the village entrance. Many Qing sentries lay dead on the road and on the ground with arrows protruding from their bodies; the pools of blood under those bodies begin to flow as streams. The horse of the fallen dispatch rider waits and neighs under the archway. Zhou Juzheng hand signals the formation of two teams and the Wulin troops set off again, venturing into the burning village itself. Zhou Juzheng disappears around the corner of a building by himself, leaving Zhang Sijun in command of Wu Guoqiang, Li Guanqi and Wang Li. Yang Wulong is left in command of Liu Ying, Liu Hu, Zhao Ming and Chen Chuan.
The two assault teams venture off into separate directions and begin their hunt. As the men venture deeper into the village, visibility begins to drop considerably while the sound of roaring fires and Qing troop chatter grows. A series of stealthy kills ensues as the Wulin troops kill off individual Qing units within the village, either by shooting them in the back or by extreme close combat; they leave a trail of blood and death in their wake. Zhou Juzheng efficiently kills off the enemy with his phalanx despite his old age. Zhang Sijun's team, advancing from the eastern wing quickly kills off four sentries at an intersection. The kills are noticed by a lone Qing sentry looting an abandoned building, but before the alarm could be raised, his neck is snapped from behind by the hands of Chen Chuan. Yang Wulong's team halts at the corner of a building; ahead of them behind a blanket of thick smoke lies the burning garrison where most of the Qing troops currently are.
Zhang Sijun's team continue their advance with Zhang Sijun at the helm and Wu Guoqiang close beside him. The wind suddenly shifts direction, blowing the blanket of smoke ahead of them away and revealing a squad of twenty unsuspecting Qing troops; both parties exchange stares for a moment.

ZHANG SIJUN
No...

QING SOLDIER #1
(shouts)
Intruders!

The body of Qing troops come alive and charge towards Zhang Sijun's team with weapons drawn and a battle cry.

ZHANG SIJUN
Bring them down! Bring them down now!

The four men from Zhang Sijun's team begin to unleash their arrows with furious speed, sending many of the Qing troops crashing to the ground. Zhou Juzheng bursts through the wooden door of one building and intercepts several enemy soldiers with his bloodied phalanx, slicing through them as easily as silk. Wu Guoqiang empties his quiver but notices a crossbow-equipped archer hiding behind a ruined wagon down the street.

WU GUOQIANG
Look to the archer!

Meanwhile, the yet unsuspecting Qing troops setting fires to houses and burning corpses opposite Yang Wulong's team have realized something is happening; they can hear the sounds of battle behind the roaring fires.

YANG WULONG
We hit them now. Follow me!

Yang Wulong's team advances ever closer under the cover of smoke to the main body of Qing troops and reach the wooden staked fence of the garrison. Returning to Zhang Sijun's team, everyone is now engaged in a close swordfight with the Qing infantry. Zhang Sijun uses his dual swords to good effect. Seeing that everyone is occupied, Wu Guoqiang kills the enemy soldier in front of him and in a swift move swings the rifle from his back; he takes a quick aim and fires, hitting the archer right in the face. The sound of the gunshot thunders across the garrison, and the remaining troops of the Qing company come alive. Liu Hu is immediately spotted by the enemy, and while he fights courageously and brings down several enemy troops before he is enveloped, he is speared to death. Yang Wulong rushes to his aid too little too late, striking down the enemy only to find his comrade slain in battle. Liu Ying stops by beside Yang Wulong.

LIU YING
We must fight on! Go to his side later!

Yang Wulong is stunned by the loss of one of his own men.

LIU YING
Brother! He is slain! Leave him!

Liu Ying pulls Yang Wulong away, and Yang Wulong regains his battle composure. The fight continues with the Wulin troops demonstrating their superior swordsmanship, outright slaughtering the Qing troops in a clash of steel amidst fire, smoke and blood. The battle to retake Shenfeng garrison ends with the ground soaked red and littered with bodies and body parts, yet the fire rages on around them.
The Wulin troops regroup around the fallen body of Liu Hu; his body is seated against the wall of a building and his eyes stare up into the empty air, capturing his last expression. He had suffered five spear wounds and his blood soaked armor chest piece is terribly punctured. The men all remain stoic, except for Yang Wulong who displays signs of guilt.

YANG WULONG
He died under my command.

ZHANG SIJUN
It is to be expected. Do not bear the guilt. In the heat of battle many things can go wrong. Be thankful that it was not any worse.

Zhou Juzheng returns from the field with Wu Guoqiang, rearmed with a full quiver of arrows, acting as escort.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Who is it?

YANG WULONG
Liu Hu.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Liu Hu...he died a hero and he died proudly, serving his country and performing his duty to the last. As soldiers, we must each make peace with our fate.

Zhou Juzheng shuts Liu Hu's eyes.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Take his body with us. We shall regroup with the cavalry.

YANG WULONG
We are not holding onto this garrison?

ZHOU JUZHENG
Hold onto this garrison? Look around you Wulong. There is nothing left to hold for it will be reduced to nothing but ashes. There is nothing left for us here, and it never held strategic value. Qing forces are sweeping through the land towards Jinzhou and our efforts are needed elsewhere.

Yang grows furious by Zhou Juzheng's strict answer.

YANG WULONG
But why risk seizing Shenfeng?

ZHOU JUZHENG
It is trivial. <pauses> We had the opportunity.

YANG WULONG
(furious shout)
We lost a man over this matter! Liu Hu's death is not trivial!

LIU YING
Calm down brother! His death is not your doing!

Liu Ying and Wang Li pull Yang Wulong back while Zhang Sijun and Li Guanqi pull back Zhou Juzheng. The remaining men stand between the Captain and the Sergeant before an open confrontation erupts.

ZHOU JUZHENG
(furious shout)
Allow me to educate you on a matter or two! We lost one man to a full company of Qing troops! At the loss of one man, a company of others will not be able to ravage our lands! What we performed today was a great deed! I will not hesitate to sacrifice your life and the lives of this platoon in exchange for the destruction of a thousand enemy troops!

YANG WULONG
Your blood is as cold as ice.

Zhou Juzheng pushes Zhang Sijun and Li Guanqi aside and draws his sword from its sheath. The men freeze. The only sounds remaining are the panting of both Yang Wulong and Zhang Sijun and the roaring fires surrounding them.

ZHANG SIJUN
(slowly and cautiously)
Captain? Now is not the best time for us to kill each other. Please sheath your sword.

ZHOU JUZHENG
(panting)
Yang Wulong. Listen to me now and listen to me carefully. I will not tolerate such behavior, whether you be Yang Guoming's son or not. There shall be no room for cowardice! Those who fear death need not follow! There is only one route for disobedience, and that route is death.

ZHANG SIJUN
Captain. He just lost a man. Please forgive him.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Be thankful that I am willing to overlook your troubles today. I will not be so gracious the next time it occurs.

YANG WULONG
(bitterly)
There will not be a next time. I shall see to it.

ZHOU JUZHENG
Good. We shall sort this out once we return to Jinzhou. We must ride now and regroup with the main force.

Yang Wulong pulls away from the grasp of Liu Ying and Wang Li and regains his composure while Zhou Juzheng returns his sword to its sheath; the confrontation between Zhou Juzheng and Yang Wulong ends but everyone remains silent. Wang Li and Chen Chuan carry off Liu Hu's limp corpse and the platoon returns to where their horses await.
CUT TO:

CHAPTER 1.3: THE ENCOUNTER
(1-28-28) EXT. FOREST TRAIL - DAY.
The platoon rides fast along the same road as before, with the burning village of Shenfeng now too far away to be seen. Zhou Juzheng leads the helm and Yang Wulong, with a stone cold expression, rides close behind. They reach a point in the road where it expands into a wide field, encompassed by tall grass and other forms of cover around a ring of clearing in a forest and beyond. Behind them lies a large but bare hill, carpeted only by grass. Yang Wulong looks up into the sky and sees a large white falcon circling overhead.

ZHOU JUZHENG
What a magnificent creature. So pure and majestic.

Zhang Sijun begins to notice the rustling of leaves and the sound of movement hiding in the tall grass around them. He immediately draws his bow and aims towards the grass.

ZHANG SIJUN
(shouts)
Ride! Ride! Ride!

As one horse begins to gallop, other horses begin picking up their speed as well. The Wulin troops, some still unaware of what is going on, burst into full speed. A Qing officer shouts an order in the background and suddenly a flurry of arrows are shot out from the tall grass, whizzing through the air at high speeds. Chen Chuan, Zhao Ming and Wang Li, the three riders riding flank, are immediately each shot with several arrows and die instantly, collapsing from their horses.

ZHANG SIJUN
(shouts)
Ambush! Draw your swords!

The six remaining Wulin soldiers charge towards the tall grass at the same time that Qing infantry begin storming out onto the field. Zhang Sijun's swordsmanship with the dual swords becomes the main source of power for the group as he hacks through the rush of enemy infantry with terrible easy and accuracy. Yang Wulong attacks with his single sword while Wu Guoqiang and Li Guanqi and Zhou Juzheng fight with a halberd, a spear and a phalanx respectively. Zhou Juzheng finishes a kill and lets out a battle cry.

ZHOU JUZHENG
For the glory of the Empire!

A stray Qing arrow pierces through Zhou’s throat; he chokes upon his last words before falling dead backwards off his steed. The men, including Yang Wulong are stunned and horrified by the death of their disciplined commander. The Qing troops engage in a heavy battle with the five remaining Wulin troops, colliding into and surrounding them with sheer numbers of one hundred men.

YANG WULONG
Uncle Zhou!

WU GUOQIANG
Captain!

LI GUANQI
He has been slain! We are surrounded!

ZHANG SIJUN
I am assuming command! Let us butcher these savages!

The grueling battle leaves the ground soaked red in blood. Wu Guoqiang's horse is shot by an arrow and collapses, sending him crashing to the ground where he is subsequently killed by surrounding Qing troops. The Wulin troops fight on, but eventually all fall from their steeds to carry on the battle. Within a few moments the superior swordsmanship of the Wulin troops once again prevails, and the enemy numbers are reduced down to just six men. Liu Ying and Li Guanqi are each fighting one enemy soldier while Zhang Sijun and Yang Wulong both engage two enemy soldiers. While Yang Wulong has killed many of the enemy, he tries his hardest not to; he deflects and blocks enemy attacks and kills only when absolutely necessary. Zhang Sijun dispatches his remaining two foes quickly and grows furious upon observing Yang's passive approach to fighting, especially in the context of war. Swinging his sword, Zhang Sijun joins Yang Wulong's battle by charging from behind his attackers. Yang Wulong kicks one of the Qing soldiers, sending the soldier staggering backwards trying to regain his balance; instead of regaining his balance, he is decapitated with one swift swing from Zhang Sijun's sword. Zhang Sijun kicks the headless corpse, still standing with blood spewing out like a fountain from the base of the neck, out of his way and advances further. Meanwhile, Yang Wulong flips the final soldier over his back and pins him to the ground by locking the man's arm. The fight is over. Zhang Sijun angrily pushes Yang Wulong on the shoulder and shoves him out of the way.

ZHANG SIJUN
What is the matter with you? Why don't you kill? Kill him!

Yang Wulong hesitates and does not deliver the killing blow to the soldier who he has just defeated. The falcon is still circling overhead. The Qing solider struggles and tries to resist. Without hesitation, Zhang Sijun picks up the enemy's sword and with a furious battle cry jabs it right through the back of the injured soldier's neck, spilling streams of blood and pinning him to the ground permanently. Yang Wulong is dismayed at what he just witnessed.

Both men are speechless immediately afterwards' Yang Wulong is dismayed by the decimation of the Wulin troops and the field of death around him while Zhang Sijun simply turns around and walks towards the other survivors; Liu Ying and Li Guanqi.

LI GUANQI
Red Banner troops. We just fought against the Red Banner troops.

Li Guanqi points at a well-dressed dead soldier before him. Red robes lie underneath their black armor. Li Guanqi shows no signs of fear; that has long since passed, but he does show pain. He holds on to his injured shoulder, having sustained an enemy sword slash. Zhang Sijun picks up a bloodied Qing banner, rips it apart and tosses it aside.

ZHANG SIJUN
(scoffs)
Red Banner Troops...<to Li Guanqi> How is that shoulder holding up?

LI GUANQI
Fine. I am not a dead man yet.

Both Zhang Sijun and Li Guanqi break into laughter.

LIU YING
(looks about)
When is our cavalry to arrive? They are bounds beyond late.

A sudden arrow whistles through the air and is shot through Li Guanqi's chest from the back.

ZHANG SIJUN
Everybody down!

Yang Wulong, Liu Ying and Zhang Sijun drop to the ground by instinct. Li Guanqi, seemingly feeling no pain looks down at his chest in confusion; half of the arrow has pierced through his chest. Li Guanqi pulls the arrow out effortlessly, leaving a large and bloodied exit wound, gives off a look of confusion and falls over dead. The three remaining Wulin soldiers look up to find the silhouette of three horsemen at the top of the hill ahead. The three horsemen are soon joined by tens more of armed horsemen who ride up in wait by the edge of the large hill. The MANCHURIAN SWORDSMAN, the center horseman dressed in a Red Banner uniform complete with body armor drops his bow and charges downhill while the others remain at their positions. A lean man at seven feet tall and in his late twenties, the Manchurian swordsman's battle hardened appearance and lack of emotion on the battlefield suggests the ultimate soldier, focused solely upon his objective and success.

YANG WULONG
(to self)
What an amazing shot!

ZHANG SIJUN
(to Yang Wulong and Liu Ying)
Get up on your feet and prepare to fight!

LIU YING
(panicking)
We are going to die!

ZHANG SIJUN
(screams)
Shut your mouth! Shut it! Draw your sword!

YANG WU LONG
(to self)
The range was impossible.

ZHANG SIJUN
(screams)
Wulong! Draw your sword!

Yang Wulong finally gets up onto his feet, still stunned by the accuracy of the extreme long distance shot. Zhang Sijun draws his sword and prepares to greet the charging Manchurian Swordsman, but the Manchurian leaps off his horse instead and kicks Zhang Sijun to the ground. Before the Manchurian lands, Yang Wulong and Liu Ying are already in full attack mode as they initiate their charge. The Manchurian flips around and engages in a furious battle, his bare fists up against the two swords. With a coat of steel around his arms and flexible armored gloves, the Manchurian is able to block and engage against swords without a weapon. After forty bouts, Yang Wulong receives a heavy and quick fist to the face and is knocked down to the ground. Liu Ying jumps up and drives a hard crescent slash downwards, but the Manchurian clamps the sword with his two hands. The Manchurian surges forward against a weaker and smaller Liu Ying, pushing him back with his sheer brute strength. After a quick twenty steps, the Manchurian kicks the sword out of Liu Ying's hands, performs a flip over him and kicks him to the ground. Zhang Sijun jumps back onto his feet upon Liu Ying's fall and rushes forth with his dual swords. The Manchurian remains in a combat stance and draws Liu Ying's sword as soon as Zhang Sijun advances within striking range. The two powerful swordsmen and their swords collide, unleashing an impressive display of sparks. After fifty bouts, Zhang Sijun is knocked down again. The powerful Manchurian stands in the center of the three fallen Ming swordsmen. They all get up slowly, recovering from their hits and surrounding the Manchurian who is not at all intimidated. Zhang Sijun swipes the blood off his face.

ZHANG SI JUN
(spits blood)
Impressive skills. Whom do I regard you as?

The Manchurian Swordsman inspects Liu Ying's sword, not even bothering to make eye contact with Zhang Sijun.

MANCHURIAN SWORDSMAN
(coldly)
Besides the living, the dying, and the dead, there are no names on the battlefield.

ZHANG SIJUN
You are the dead.

Liu Ying picks up a spear off the ground.

MANCHURIAN SWORDSMAN
We shall see about that soon enough.

Zhang Sijun's formal politeness immediately transforms into fiery anger as he dashes forward for the kill. Yang Wulong and Liu Ying follow Zhang Sijun's lead and traps the enemy in a three-man ring, but even with three warriors against one, they cannot inflict any harm whatsoever. After forty bouts Liu Ying and Zhang Sijun are hit and stagger back a few steps while Yang Wulong continues fighting the Manchurian by himself. As Liu Ying tries to recover from taking a hit, the Manchurian throws Liu Ying's sword right back at him. Liu Ying dodges the sword by mere inches and watches it fly past him; it breaks the spear and lodges into a tree. Zhang Sijun charges back into the fight just as the Manchurian draws out his own sword; the ring of his sword sends a completely envelopes the battle. The Manchurian's first swipe slashes right through Zhang Sijun's armor and injures his arm. Zhang Sijun falls down and this time cannot get up right away. The Manchurian raises his sword and prepares to kill.
'With a battle cry Yang Wulong dashes forth and intercepts the slash with a sword; both his and the Manchurian's sword shatter like glass. Both men stand stunned for a fraction of a moment before backing up three steps to regroup.

LIU YING
Wulong!

Liu Ying retrieves his sword and tosses it to Yang Wulong while the Manchurian simply kicks a sword into his own hands. The battle continues, now fought only between Yang Wulong and Shiden. Yang Wulong is filled with so much fury and anger that his own hits become faster and stronger as he fights on by himself. The Manchurian begins backing up but soon releases a flurry of attacks of his own, knocking Yang Wulong's sword into the air far away and tripping him to the ground. Yang Wulong tries to crawl away but the Manchurian is right beside him with a sword pointed at the base of his neck.

MANCHURIAN SWORDSMAN
Imbecile! To think that you people could stand against me? Do you have any inkling of who I am?

YANG WULONG
(labored breathing)
Kill me now for I shall not be dishonored before I die.

MANCHURIAN SWORDSMAN
Such vanity...very well then.

The Manchurian swordsman raises his sword and poises to make the killer blow.
CUT TO:
© Copyright 2004 Elysianfields (elysianfields at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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