The moment Seulgi set his foot on the bridge, an armored mounted troop came storming down the hill. He muttered a bitter curse and beckoned for his men to form a phalanx at their end of the bridge. The thundering noise of screaming soldiers and pounding horses was enough to drive any man to long for the safety of home. But he was a man with a mission; he had no time to succumb to his nerves. With his face set and deep brown eyes ablaze, Seulgi instead pounded his spear against the planks of the bridge. His men formed a shield wall behind him almost instantaneously.
He screamed out an order for a volley, and a hail fire of arrows answered his call like that of a dog heeding its owner. The cascade of deadly iron smashed with great speed into the charging cavalry and slew many of the enemy. With a momentum too great, they impaled themselves into the ranks of spears that waited for them.
A blaring trumpet cut through the deafening chaos, and the counter charge was ordered with Seulgi leading the front, his dreaded Yù Fēng cleaving into the first horseman he laid eyes on. The sounds of weapons clashing and that of wounded men crying out hammered against his ears- and the peace of the tranquil riverside. Seulgi shouted encouragement to his men- giving them words of courage, of honor and glory, and of home. The Sheng routed within the first few minutes of the clash, and the Iron Spear pushed to the other side of the river like a nail being driven into a board. A stalwart banner rose on the flagpole in triumph, and the bridge was theirs.
But it was not a time to celebrate, however. This would only be the first of many assaults, and the Sheng would not rest until the bridge returned under their influence. Seulgi knew this and, as he slumped against a post behind him, he called for a messenger hawk to deliver a message, which would contain just one word.
The morn was cold, but it was normal considering the surrounding mountains. Seulgi didn't mind the temperature at all. In fact, the preoccupation that consumed him drove away any concern of the weather. He even neglected the presence of his squire who followed him out to the edge of a cliff overlooking the surrounding area. All around him were vast dense forests of oak and pine, a river to his left flowing westward, and a large fort directly in front of him. That was the target.
Seulgi whirled around at the sound of rustling cloth with heightened awareness and killing intent. But it was only his squire who he unfortunately scared into dropping the tea that he prepared for his master. They stood there in awkward silence before Seulgi made a move to pick up the fallen utensils. The squire followed suite, and the mess was quickly removed.
Seulgi, as he was rising, chuckled, "Sorry, kid. Didn't see you there."
The squire made a dismissive hand gesture and gave a shaky smile. "No worries, sir. I should have said something."
Seulgi nodded and began to take his leave back to camp. He was feeling a bit more relaxed now. But something else had unnerved him; a peculiar sensation passed through his body as though a pair of eyes were staring at him from afar. He mentally shook his head. He was going paranoid. There was no one else here or was there? He sighed in exasperation and upon entering his tent, froze at the destruction he found. Everything was in complete disarray. His desk demolished, papers and documents scattered over the floor, and his mat useless.
He scowled lightly, his hands lifting up a torn parchment of paper- the contents unusable. Who did this? No man in his unit would dare steal from him. It was at this moment that his suspicion from earlier arose. The enemy was here. He ordered his squire to enter and help him put on his armor. The squire did so while occasionally glancing at the chaos in the tent with shock. When the last strap was done, Seulgi grabbed his glaive and rushed out. What he found was outside but pleasant. Any man who would have said otherwise…well…yeah.
The horns of war bellowed with intensity, and the clamor of soldiers, hurried and distressed, pounded in his ears. The sound of thundering hooves rumbled in the distance. Seulgi demanded a report from the nearest soldier he could find.
"It is the Sheng, sir," the soldier answered. "They revealed themselves not thirty minutes ago."
"How did they get past our sentries?" Seulgi asked.
"We've had no word from them at all," the soldier replied as he took up his spear to meet with his fellow soldiers.
Seulgi stood there in deep thought. The sentries were missing or perhaps dead, his tent searched and sabotaged, and yet there was no sign of an infiltrator. This boded ill for them all. The sounds of battle drew him outside with his glaive at his side. Its blade gleamed a menacing green hue. One swipe and he cleaved an unfortunate warrior in half. He looked ahead and charged straight into the enemy ranks with his weapon spinning as fast as helicopter blades hitting mud.
His face became sodden with blood and his armor drenched as he made it through the enemy ranks, facing yet another troop of soldiers ready to gut him. Seulgi's men followed his lead and soon it became a battle of bouts and spear thrusts. He broke its intense rhythm and jumped, impaling the enemy beneath him. Chaos broke out, and the rhythm of battle skyrocketed.
Seulgi swiftly parried a spear thrust and swiped the stunned warrior across the chest. He turned to his left and slammed the bronze pummel into the face of a crouching swordsman. Taking advantage of the soldier's predicament, he brought the blade down on the warrior's arms- cleaving off his hands. Seulgi, ignoring the sudden screams, took this opportunity to behead him and buried the blade into the shoulder of the soldier next to him. The second soldier could only look at Seulgi with terrified eyes and a gurgling bloody mouth.
Removing his blade from the fallen man, Seulgi looked up from the carnage and time seemed to slow. He sighed, a curse falling from his lips. They were losing ground fast. As much as he would have preferred to stay and fight, he was a man who cared more about the lives of his men than one bridge of many. He ordered them all to fall back to the river bank. They followed with the Sheng not far behind. The Sheng were persistent- he had to give them that. They would not stop until the bridge was taken. He made a seemingly insane decision.
"Retreat!" he yelled aloud. "Fall back to the other side of the river!"
His men stared in surprise. He was giving up the bridge to the enemy. This meant that the Sheng would have access to the other shore and could easily invade Ming. But at his next shouted words, any of the men's possible thoughts of confusion and panic dissipated. "As soon as you are across, bring it down!"
The men of Joseon redoubled their sprint across the bridge. Many began smashing apart the planks and supports with their weapons as they passed them by. Seulgi stood firm at the bridge's entrance and pointed his bloodied glaive toward the incoming Sheng who stopped a few meters short of him. His men shouted for him to hurry across but he ignored them. He would give them time to destroy the bridge even if doing so risked his life.
A Sheng soldier broke the ominous silence and charged at him with his sword raised above high above his head. Seulgi easily parried the man's cut and buried his blade into the warrior's neck. At that moment, soon three, if not more, soldiers charged forward to put an end to this madman's furious glaive. To the dismay of the enemy soldiers, these warriors were cut down with the ease of a knife parting butter.
"Anyone else?!" Seulgi raised a challenge, driving his glaive into the ground. The Sheng warriors looked at each other uneasily and none dared to step forward. Seulgi narrowed his eyes and advanced. They backed away at every step.
Seulgi glanced down at where his foot was going to be and discovered that an arrow with white fletching landed before him. Eyebrows raised, he looked up but saw no bowman. Instead there was the low moan of a war horn and a sudden shifting in the enemy formation. Someone was approaching. The enemy ranks slowly opened up to the arrival of ten people. nine of which carried the standard of their allegiance. Their captain rode up front carrying a bow beside-
"Oh, for the love of…" Seulgi muttered as he crossed his arms bitterly. The captain was a woman. Deep brown eyes observed him with a hint of mischievousness. The almost golden-brown shade of her hair contrasted with the shimmering blue of her armor. She looked to immaculate, too perfect. As if reading his thoughts, a smirk formed on her mouth. He took one look at her and instantly looked away.
"So…you are the leader of the Iron Spear." Her silky voice hinted at authority. "We have heard much about you and your achievements. It is an honor to be able to meet you face to face."
He grunted in reply. Her smirk faltered a little, her eyes narrowed menacingly. She said, "I see that you have dispatched…a few of my men."
She pointed at the ground littered with the bodies of Sheng soldiers which Seulgi refused to look at. The men around the two leaders shook with apparent expectancy.
"I am Zhao Meng," She bowed awkwardly on the horse. "I am known to others as…"
"The 'Silver Hawk,'" Seulgi said, shaking his head in disbelief.
"So you have heard of me, then." Zhao Meng smiled only slightly. "Perhaps a duel between the two of us would be…interesting."
A long pause stretched between Seulgi and the captain. The soldiers looked at each other with confused expressions and muttered amongst themselves. Zhao Meng awaited his answer, but Seulgi was not going to give one.
"Did you hear what I said?" she asked, giving him the benefit of the doubt. "I asked you to fight me."
"How about…no?" he answered his arms still crossed.
A maddening reigned between them and the murmuring around him increased in volume. Shock and irritation crawled their way across Zhao Meng's face. Seulgi suppressed a small grin. Not used to having her way, eh?
"Fight me," She said -no, commanded- with conviction that hushed even her own warriors .
"No, I will not."
To get his point across, he sat down next to his glaive, crossing his legs underneath him. Her grip tightened on her bow, and the lieutenant next to her drifted further away from her with a horrified expression.
"Fight me." she said once again. Her men started at Seulgi, expectancy heavy in their gazes.
The enemy warriors looked back towards Zhao Meng.
"Why can't you just"-
"Can we please"-
Zhao Meng growled in frustration and threw her arms up, fists clenched. Her lieutenants yelped in surprise, and the horses suddenly began to panic. Seulgi raised an eyebrow. What a bunch of sissies. The woman's voice broke into his train of thought. She was still talking.
Her eyes narrowed, and her tone contained a hint of a growl- animalistic like that of a tiger. "Are you not fighting me…because I am a woman?"
There was a moment of silence between them, but inevitably, he answered, "If you want to think of it that way. Yes."
"Why?" Her voice became a harsh whisper and the danger it hinted at became an almost assured killing intent.
"Because I don't like fighting women," he answered as if it were a matter of fact. She stared at him in disbelief. She couldn't stand the sight of him looking all smug when he was surrounded with no way to escape.
"You afraid of getting your arse kicked by a woman, is that why?" she jabbed, apparently hoping to provoke him.
He just laughed which just further fueled her rage.
"That probably would be true," He smiled weakly. "Except I would normally avoid such a fight in the first place."
"Well, you are in one right now." Zhao Meng rolled her eyes. "So fight!"
He became solemn once again and sought to be as irritating but truthful as possible. "No."
During this exchange, the Sheng soldiers became bored and started drifting away slowly. Some of them were even playing Go and managed to finish a game or two. They were used to this sort of talk between their captain and the enemy generals. Sometimes, they fought, but there were some who just outright refused to fight a woman. So the soldiers just took advantage of the time during their argument. Eventually, it would end in a fight. It always did. But with this man, they were not so sure. For some reason, he felt and appeared different.
"Enough!" She finally snapped and drew her blade. She rode up to Seulgi and put the blade to his throat with lightning speed. He didn't even flinch whereas the Sheng soldiers all rose in surprise.
"If you do not accept my challenge right now, I will cut you down where you sit," she threatened, pressing the blade against his neck. He looked amused. Amused! Just what was this man? She was obviously bent on killing him and yet he made no motion of fighting back. He was either very brave…or very stupid.
"Go ahead," he challenged. "Better to die like a warrior than to trample a fragile spring flower."
Just as she was about to swing, a loud voice boomed, "HALT!"
Zhao Meng whirled around to see a man adorned in golden armor towering above her. She muttered an angry curse and lowered her blade. Seulgi looked at the man with a blank expression but curiosity cut into him deeper than Zhao Meng's sword could possibly do. The new arrival was an older man with mostly brown hair; however, age could not hide the grey stripes. A full, glorious beard rounded out the effect. His eyes were a deep black abyss, that Seulgi was glad were not focused on him at the moment.
The man bowed slightly. "I apologize for my subordinate's irresponsible behavior, Kim Seulgi of Joseon. She will not go unpunished."
She shifted uncomfortably under the golden warrior's steady gaze. Seulgi almost felt sorry for her -almost. The man spoke, "I am General Zhu. It is a pleasure to meet such an esteemed commander as you."
Seulgi bowed his head and replied, "As I you, General."
"But it would appear that you are in a bit of a pickle," the General said caressing his beard. His eyes wandered over the crowd of Sheng troops and then focused back on Seulgi with a "what will you do now" look.
"It would seem so," Seulgi answered. The general nodded and pointed at his glaive.
"Will you stand down?"
Seulgi smiled weakly. "I suppose I haven't a choice, do I?"
The General laughed merrily. "No, you don't!"