Shir'le's War

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By Rob Pierce & Martin Helsdon

Introduction

1737-1744
In 1737 (T204), Empress Shir'le took her vengeance upon the Ming for their (presumed) complicity in the the Yasirid banking debacle that had occurred some years before. She conveniently decided to hold ransom former Viet Annam territory until such time as the financial costs of that debacle (to the tune of 1500gp + conquest costs) were repaid to Javan interests. Numerous other nations in region (Judea, Tokugawa, Hosogawa, and the Pure Realm) came to the Ming's aid (T205) and blunted any further gains. Shir'le, despite strong opposition from within her own government to end the war (1741, T206), she remained utterly determined to hold off the Ming and her allies. Disgusted with the opposition at home, she took what troops she could marshall and established an independent government of New Annam in the occupied territories. The new state didn't last long, however. Bereft of Javan support, and facing local rebellions and foreign assasins, New Annam's defenders were ultimately overwhelmed by Ming armies (1744, T207) with Shir'le fighting to the last.

The Newsfaxes

1737 – 1738 T204
Java: All of this military activity also included the departure of two huge fleets for the north – where the situation on the island of Hainan was causing the Javanese government considerable dismay. Two matters had sparked trouble between the Javanese and the Ming in the area: first, there was the matter of the prince Akivasha, who was being held in Wuhan as a veritable captive. Second, a Javan observation balloon had been damaged by Ming artillerists (despite the balloon being well outside Ming territory) and had been forced down in the strait between Hainan and the mainland.

The local Ming functionaries thought shooting down the balloon was pretty much all in good fun (no one’s eye had been put out, after all) but they were not pleased when (late in 1737) a huge Javan Skull Fleet swept into the Gulf of Tonkin. Under the watchful eye of N’dret’s warships, three Javan armies swarmed ashore.

Combat group Pipeline landed in Kwangsi, combat group Miserilou unloaded at Yu-Lin, then crossed the ferry arrow into Lingnan, and combat group Bombora splashed ashore in Annam. Of the three provinces, only Kwangsi was garrisoned, and the 5,000 Ming troops in Kwangchou surrendered when faced with five times their number (and after the fleet had flattened most of the middle of town with an off-shore barrage).

Bombora’s operations in Annam met with no resistance, and the army ended 1738 in Korat, where the undefended city of Sarnath fell easily to the Javan siege corps. The occupation of Kwangsi and Lingnan proceeded with equal ease. The proud Ming had not been prepared for invasion, certainly not from the south!

An effort to rescue prince Akivasha from his gilded prison in Wuhan failed when the commando team sent to retrieve him found the boy already gone, and then in command of a rebellious army attempting to capture the Ming throne. After trying to help him – and failing – the Javanese skullspyz slipped back south, shaking their heads at the boy’s fatal recklessness.

Miserilou swept across Lingsi and into Lingtung, meeting up with the advancing Pipeline group in late 1738. Almost immediately, their advanced cavalry patrols (and a flood of refugees from the north) reported the approach of the Regent Yongzheng from Kienchou. The Javan armies, now combined, advanced cautiously along the highway to the north, and encountered the Ming Imperial army in October of ’38. The Javan commanders Br’ee and Gr’ee were surprised to meet any resistance at all – but they did not know (at that point) of Akivasha’s coup attempt, or his defeat.

Lead elements of both armies ran into each other at Sanjiang on the 16th of the month, and by the 18th, a full-scale battle had erupted south of the town. 22,000 Javans supported by a passel of old-style draken and a massive artillery battery plowed into the 17,000 Ming (mostly the Imperial Guard, plus the survivors of the battles against Akivasha’s rebels). The Ming artillerists, who had been training for years to repel an Ice airfleet attack, immediately knocked down all of the Javan observation balloons.

As it happened, the generally superior quality of the Javan army (across the board, including scouting and cavalry) was matched by Yongzheng’s brilliance in command. He refused one flank, then piled in with his heavy troops on the weaker seeming of the Javan flanks. Gr’ee – commanding the Javans – responded with his best day, nimbly interposing his own reserves and slamming the Ming advance with his artillery. A furious melee spent the rest of the day in a cloud of cordite, the thunder of the guns and the screams of the dying. Yongzheng pressed vigorously, and the Javans (realizing they faced a brilliant commander) fell back in good order after a days’ exchange.

Yongzheng pursued the second day, but was unable to bring the quick-marching Javans to bay until almost a month later, when they turned on him at Pengkai. This time Gr’ee was ready, and smashed the Ming army with a fake double-envelopment. The Regent was wounded, half of his force annihilated under the ceaseless pounding of the Javan guns, and he was forced to flee north, carried in a litter.

The Javans chased him into the mountains between Lingtung and Kienchou, then let him go. An embassy was dispatched to the Ming capital, offering peace terms:

Java holds Ming accountable, Shir’le wrote, for the losses sustained by the Sunda Mercantile Exchange due to various fraudulent acts performed by the Yasarid Indians and countenanced by Ming. The losses to Java are accounted at no less than 1,500gp. Java will rule the provinces of old Viet Annam (comprised of Nan Chao, Korat, Gouangxi, Annam, Lingsi, Lingtung, Lingnan and Kwangsi) until such time as these monies have been recovered. The cost of replacing any losses suffered by the Javan military during the course of this repossession will be added to the Ming Emperor’s tab. At the end of this period, the peoples of the previously listed provinces will be subjected to a plebiscite and those provinces desiring to return to Ming rule will be allowed to rejoin their previous overlord.

Ming: Sun Ye turned purple and died a week later, and was almost immediately followed by his adjutant Kai-Shek (of indefinable causes). Everyone was stunned, and more so when two more messages reached the court in October: first, the Duke of Lingsi had collapsed and died while marching with his army to Lingnan, and the trouble with the Javans on Hainan had gotten much, much worse than anyone expected.

Lingsi became independent. The Javans invaded Annam, Lingnan and Kwangsi. The ministers panicked – every general in the realm was in India or the Amerikas or the South Seas – leaving only the mild minister Su Li (who had been vacationing in Ghangde on a “willow watching junket”) to rush back to the capital in an attempt to … keep Akivasha from proclaiming himself Emperor of the Ming.

The boy prince had returned (having just been hiding in a house on the outskirts of the capital) with a grudge against his half-brother, the nine-year old Hongzhi). As it happened the half-Javan prince – once he cast aside the whiny, lackadasical nature he’d assumed for so many years – proved a veritable firebrand of a leader. He made an appeal to the Imperial Army, and managed to secure the loyalty of some of the regiments. Su Li returned to Wuhan and was immediately captured and murdered.

Emboldened by this success, Akivasha and his supporters attempted to storm the Heavenly Palace and seize the boy-Emperor Hongzhi. Loyal regiments responded and the middle of the city dissolved into fierce battles between Imperial regiments, the mob, warrior-monks, rioting students from the University, triad gangsters and malcontents of all kinds.

Now, in the chaos of the palace, with ministers and lords fleeing in all directions as Akivasha’s troops advanced across the city, a middle-aged army officer named Qing Yongzheng found himself placed (by the departure or defection of his superiors) as commander of the Imperial Guard itself. Yongzheng was rumored to be an illegitimate son of the Emperor Ying Jujen and he moved swiftly to take advantage of the collapse of all authority.

Within hours of receiving the loyalty of the Guard, he proclaimed himself Regent for Hongzhi, dispatched couriers to all the regimental commanders and took the streets with the Guardsmen and several thousands students to stop Akivasha. Almost immediately, the new Regent showed himself to be a brilliant commander.

Akivasha, on the other hand, was young and reckless and almost immediately led his loyal regiments into a trap near the park of the Great Buddha. Yongzheng’s artillery batteries savaged the prince’s troops, then his cavalry plowed into them, wreaking terrible slaughter upon the ‘rebels.’ Akivasha fled out of the city, but Yongzheng’s cavalry pursued.

The half-Javan prince and his army retreated across the great bridges into Hunan province, but then Akivasha failed to move swiftly enough and was trapped against Lake Dongtung. Yongzheng pounced, smashing the remains of the boy-prince’s forces. Akivasha drowned while trying to escape in the mud-flats along the lakeshore. Yongzheng accepted the surrender of the remaining regiments, though his loyalists had slaughtered thousands while crushing the revolt.

Determined to give the enemy nothing, the Regent then pressed south with his bloodied army along the Great Road, reaching Lingtung province (and finding the fertile region in the hands of the Javans) by the end of 1738.

1739 – 1740 T205
Tokugawa Japan: The fleet remained busy – dozens of new ships were added, and the ronin Saigo Tsumiguchi was hired to command a motley and suspicious looking rabble of pirates, free-ships and mercenary marines. The armies of Japan were off for southern seas, where the Ice Lords (or so it seemed) raised their dreadful countenance again. The Ming ambassador had come bowing and scraping and whining, and Musugu dispatched a powerful fleet and army in response.

Ming: Whle Yongzheng waited in his camps among the green hills of Kienchou; all matter of business came to his attention and was adjudicated. Shipments of grain, cloth, oil and timber were dispatched to Japan, Persia and Java. (Java? What the…) Equally lavish gifts of gold and silver coin were sent to Nisei and Java (hey now wait a minute!) All this the regent did with great energy, for he surely intended to utterly destroy the invaders who had overwhelmed the southern provinces with their treacherous attack. But before he could begin his campaign, he waited for reinforcements – the veterans of the campaign in Alaska would soon join him. So he tarried among the lush fields.

At length, one of the juniormost of his aides, advisors, hot-drink-carriers and ministers approached the regent and asked the dubious question… “Lord of the World – if we are fighting the rascally Javans, why have you sent them so many gifts?”

Yongzheng looked down upon the boy with bristling brows and considered having his head lopped off. Yet, he thought, I am Ming now, and I am not merciless. “My son, we are not fighting the Javans. No, most surely not.”

“We’re not?” The boy looked around suspiciously, wondering if he could manage to run away before the great and powerful regent could snatch him up and lop off his head. “What about all the countless regiments of Javan Skull Soldiers, and their batteries of Skull Gunz and the evil, ferocious, baby-eating, iron-chewing, blood-drinking Skull Serferz? They’ve conquered many provinces…”

“Those invaders,” the regent replied in a kindly voice, “are not the Javans. Those are the Shikongou Dantai, who are very sly and cruel and tricky. And soon…” Yongzheng’s expression became fey and filled with fiendish delight. “…I will catches them and eats them, yes I will! Just like the… the Bagginses! I hates them!”

The boy did not stop running until he had reached the mountains of Guzhou, where he became a hermit and never spoke to living human being again.

The Javans (or could they be the nefarious Shikongou), it seemed, had ignored he demands to abandon the southern provinces and to go home. At the same time, an army composed of cavalrymen and mercenaries (under the joint command of Foo Liao and Bantag Yen) invaded Korat.

Java: The empress was dreaming: she was wading in the water on a northern beach, the azure sea surging warm around her feet. Golden sand stretched to the horizon. She looked up and the Shark God was rolling in the water, his gray flanks glistening with foam. Grasping his fins with her hands, she pressed her cheek against his rough, pebbly skin. He was swift in the water, faster than a trimaran, faster than the smoking, loud boats of the western ocean. They were flying in the air, high above a land cut with countless tiny terraces and rice paddies. A sprawling city of gold lay below them, filled with more people than lived in all of Javan lands. She looked down and saw a courtyard set among a palace of silver and jade. An old man was sitting, stirring a pot of some black liquid. The empress took a cup from him, seeing his old eyes glittering like the shark in black water. The liquid was hot and sweet and tangy. “What is this?” She asked, and the old man only shook his head. He pointed. There was a creature crouched in the shadows at the edge of the courtyard, small and twisted, with flipper-like feet and hands and pale glowing eyes. It hissed, snarling and biting.

Shirl’e woke, drenched in sweat. “The Ming are the enemy,” she said to a quiet, midnight room. Her son Wili was sleeping in his crib. Outside, the moon was riding high over the city, and gleaming on the water beyond the curving breakwater of the harbor. “Java will prevail.”

But Ming and her allies had gathered enormous strength against the Javans, enraged with fear of a new war against the Ice. The general Foo Liao led a powerful force of mercenaries against Korat, even as the citizens of Sarnath rose up in revolt against the Javan garrison. Puzzlingly, Foo Liao found the province abandoned and he wondered if the orders to attack had come by mistake. Regardless, he pressed on through the mountains into Annam.

At the very end of ’39, Foo Liao and his army clashed with the Javans under N’then (who had fallen back into freshly prepared fortifications in the ancient Javan homeland). 13,000 Ming troops crashed into the Javan lines, forced to fight in rugged mountains and along narrow canyons. N’then commanded some 10,000 men in defense… and Bantag Yen (the mercenary commander serving the Ming) pressed him hard, driving the Javans out of the mountains in a ferocious series of battles. Unfortunately for the Ming advance, they bled freely to buy such passage. N’then let them exhaust themselves, then counter-attacked and slaughtered the lot of them near Bien Phu.

Both Foo Lien and Bantag escaped, fleeing back to Sarnath, but both were sorely wounded, and did not recover until the end of ’40. N’then, meanwhile, had other problems to deal with.

At sea, admiral N’dret’s Skull Fleet had been prowling the waters around Hainan island for some time, waiting for likely Ming prey to wander into his nets. So, the arrival of an enormous Japanese fleet in early fall of ’39 was something of a surprise… but as the Japanese maneuvered to land their army on the beaches of Annam, N’dret struck.

The Javans were outnumbered almost two to one, but a large portion of the Japanese fleet was transports packed with men and guns and horses for the invasion of Annam. A sizable portion of the rest were light scouting frigates, who could not match the guns of the Javan trimarans. Still, N’dret planned a swift, sweeping strike to try and confuse the Japanese landing. What he got instead was a vicious sea-borne brawl. As the Javans lashed in, the Japanese fleet wheeled to protect their transports and the two lines of battle collided head-on. An enormous melee, shot with flame, clouded with smoke, filled with the cataclysmic rattle of ships burning, then convulsing as powder magazines erupted, spread across the Tonkin Gulf. The Javans were fearless, plunging in among the Japanese ships, gun-decks washed with blood and seawater, cannon blazing.

By the end of two days of swirling, confused battle, N’dret watched with surprise as his fleet clawed free, substantially intact, while the Japanese armada was a shattered wreck. Nearly every Tokugawa fighting ship was burning, captured or sinking.

The Japanese transport fleet cowered under Javan guns, and N’dret’s captains urged him to send the entire lot to the bottom of the sea. “Oro is hungry,” they exclaimed, shaking their skull pendants. “Let their white bones ornament his palace in the briny deep.” The elderly admiral shook his head. “No – these men are samurai and used to fighting on land – there would be no fair contest against them, trapped in their ships.” He turned, squinting into the glare of the noon sun. “We have no quarrel with Japan, only with Ming for the treachery they have shown our honest friendship. Escort them back to their islands.”

So the honorable N’dret sent a messenger to the Japanese fleet commander, lord Ito, and then escorted the shame-faced Japanese back north. He intended to follow them almost to Japanese waters beyond Taiwan, but when the two fleets were approaching that island, a third armada appeared!

Admiral Falcon and the Judean navy came prowling south, looking for Shikongou Dantai pirates… immediately, lord Ito and his fleet scattered to the east, fleeing for the open ocean and escape. The Javans broke away, and Falcon ordered his fleet to give chase. N’dret’s commanders sped away, satisified with the haphazard flight of the Japanese. The Judeans beat down, cramming on sail. The chase lasted six weeks, carrying both navies back into Hainan waters. Despite cunning efforts, N’dret failed to shake the Falcon, and was forced to give battle off Yu-Lin, despite being severely outnumbered and out-gunned.

Another brawl erupted, and now the heavy battle cruisers of the Judean navy weighed in, smashing the Javan trimarans to kindling, scattering their squadrons, irresistible and potent. Despite such a disparity of firepower, the Javan captains fought with all their skill, taking a heavy toll of the Judeans. Admiral Hr’ee was wounded – his leg torn away by a Judean shell – as he fought the Heart of Oro out of a cross-fire between two Judean heavies (the Deer Dancer and the Yoeme). N’dret wheeled his fleet, trying to cut to sea. Falcon pressed hard, trying to drive the Javans against the Hainan shore.

At last, Falcon himself was wounded and forced to abandon his flagship, the Sword of Wudan, which was sinking and ablaze. With his fleet mauled, the Judeans limped back north, much reduced. N’dret drew a sigh of relief – his Spearfisher was in no better shape, and indeed, was scuttled the next day, her crew unable to stem the flooding in her triple hulls. Yet Javan prowess at sea had won the day, again. “A poor victory,” N’dret said, looking over the lists of so many ships lost and so many captains slain. “And where are the Ming?”

Ashore, there was trouble in Kwangchou, where the local nobles and populace had risen up in revolt, eager to throw off the chains of the Javans. Fierce fighting in the streets followed, before the Javan garrison suppressed the revolt.

And in Lingtung, the Javan armies were waiting patiently. They were not idle, either, for Gr’ee was wary of the hitting power of the Ming, and of Yongzheng’s martial skills on the battlefield. This time, the Javan intended to gather every advantage he could. The Regent’s delay aided him, giving his men time to dig and prepare. News of the fleet’s victory at sea heartened him, for their supply lines home were not cut off.

Yongzheng and a truly enormous Ming army finally came boiling out of the Kienchou hills in early ’40, fire in their eye and spirits up. The Javans met them with a dizzying array of fortifications across the line of march, and smashed bridges and torn up roadway. Gr’ee had not waited in idleness. Second Lingtung would be as hard-fought as the first engagements.

42,000 Ming stormed south into the Javan fortifications, their advance presaged by a truly enormous artillery barrage. 16,000 Javans were waiting in their trenches and gun-pits. Their own guns lay silent, weathering the storm of Ming shells, until the enemy regiments were upon them. Then a blast of gunfire answered, rolling and echoing among the dusty hills. Thousands of Ming fell, mowed down as they tried to storm the Javan entrenchments.

Things turned against the Ming within hours – the Javan fortifications covered every avenue of approach, and their guns reaped a terrible, bloody harvest as Yongzheng’s regiments threw themselves again and again upon the Javan entrenchments. – Gr’ee’s men held on tenaciously, refusing to abandon their positions, repelling assault after assault.

After two days of confused battle, Yongzheng ordered his army back, but due to the convoluted terrain many of his sub-commanders did not receive the orders until a third bloody day had passed. The Ming army had entirely failed to break the Javan line. They streamed back north in unfettered rout, every unit gripped by fear and horror. Yongzheng was forced to order his guards regiments to shoot down fleeing men. Restoring some cohesion to the army took three months.

While Yongzheng was licking his wounds in central China, a Ming fleet under the command of Yang Do was making good time down the Mallaca Strait, heading home from India. Though they had heard the Shikongou fleet might be nosing about, they were not prepared for the appearance of a powerful Javan Skull fleet off Singapore. Yang’s captains tried to swerve towards the Sumatran side of the strait, whereupon the rest of the Javan squadrons sortied from Utaran estuaries. Suddenly the sea was black with Skull sails.

Poor Yang’s fleet was smashed or captured within the day. The Javans crewed their prizes, piled their captives onto transports, and then slipped back into the mangroves, waiting for the next victims to come along…

Still determined to crush the Javans (for now even the Regent was forced to admit the Javan army was in the field against him, not some rabble of mercenaries the Shikongou had hired), Yongzheng left Yen Li to block the highway road with a force of cavalry and artillerists. Then the main army swung east into Nanling, and down into the plains. Unopposed in the their crossing of the mountains, the Ming stormed into Lingtung once more.

Third Lingtung was another confused affair – N’dret had redeployed his army again, and his engineers had wasted no time while the Ming were hiking in the mountains. Again the Ming infantry found themselves advancing into prepared positions, and suffering from the withering fire of the Javan riflemen and guns. Despite Yongzheng’s exhortations and personally leading more than one assault, the Ming again failed to break the Javan lines. Battered, the Regent fell back to Shaoguan to regroup.

After taking stock of his army, the Regent shook his head in despair and ordered a retreat back into Kienchou, lest the Javans decide to strike for his capital. He was furiously angry, and with himself most of all. I am the better general! He thought, tasting bile rising in his throat. Defeated by poor ground…

The passage of a Danish fleet carrying the Empress Oniko through the Mallaca Strait in early ’40 went unmolested, for the Javan sharks had no quarrel with the Pale Flame or her men.

Back in the southern seas, there was one more fray to transpire – late in ’40 – a Ming fleet carrying Number Ten Ox and his cavalry force (so recently escaped from Kashmir) also essayed the Mallaca Strait. Ox was a careful fellow, keeping his scout ships well deployed and every hand on the watch. But the Javan admiral Pedregon knew these waters well, and as soon as the Ming had exited the Singapore Strait – where they thought themselves free of danger – his squadrons boiled up with a quartering wind and struck down upon the Ming fleet like a cayman lunging from the high cane.

Outnumbered, outgunned and out-sailed by the Javans, the Ming fleet shattered like rotten planking. The Javan trimarans wheeled elegantly around the lumbering Chinese junks, ripping the high-sided craft with broadside after broadside. Number Ten Ox’es marines fought furiously, storming over the side of any ship they could come to grips with – but the lighter, more maneuverable Javan frigates and battle-cruisers danced away on the waves, ripping the Ming decks with chain-shot. Pedregon had none of N’dret’s sense of honor – and these were Ming he was fighting. The Shark God fed well in the dark waters of the Riouw Sea, long into a night lit by the hell-fire of burning Ming ships.

1741 – 1742 T206
Tokugawa Japan: Still smarting from their defeat at the hands of the Javans, the Tokugawa set about rebuilding their fleet – and just to make sure nothing bad happened, fortified the cities of Bahrau in Johor and Hongkong.

Juhah: If possible (and many had not thought it…) the atmosphere of the court grew even fouler – with the Emperor showing his displeasure with the world in all ways, and to all peoples. The Ming ambassador was barely able to crawl away after a four-hour audience with the Blind King. Yui-yen’s displeasure was great – Judean fleets were not to be spent lightly, and rarely in the service of @$^%$ Ming fools!

However, the power of Judea was great, and another fleet was soon issuing forth from the shipyards and docks of Nantong. Lord Falcon was placed in command, and every power, intrigue and effort was bent to gaining him victory of the damnable Javans and their fleet. While a fresh armada sailed south, Yui-Yen also kept a weather eye on the north, where the tribes of the Gobi and beyond were becoming restive – though seemingly restrained by the Prester John – at least for now.

Ming: Ears singed by Yui-Yen’s displeasure, the Ming bent their backs under the heavy load of destiny – new armies were raised, beggaring the Ming merchant marine and threatening their economy with an even steeper slide into disaster. Some finesse was required to keep the government afloat with loans, but Yongzheng managed, even while ordering the government about from his camp in Kienchou. The ministers wrung their hands, the youthful idio Hongzhi whined, the soothsayers muttered… but the Regent was determined to crush the invaders in the south, once and for all, and to leave not a single Javan alive!

In Wuhan (while armies mustered and marched in the south), a Ming court issued indictments against the Javan generals, queen and nobles for their “illegal, immoral and fattening” war against noble Ming. After a hard glare from the Judean ambassador, the judges meekly cut short their long oration and declared the criminals tried and sentenced… to death!

Aided by brokers from the Pacific Mercenary and Trust, Yongzheng mustered two new corps of Ming regulars, plus the various bands of mercenaries under the command of Saigo and Bantag Yen in Ganzhou, managing to gather thirty thousand men by early summer of ’41. Having received certain news from his agents, the Regent then ordered his fresh army to storm south into Kwangsi!

Java: While the shipyards of Java continued to toil ceaselessly, commissioning more ships of war, and the skies above the peaceful tropical isles were now troubled by the passage of airships – a crisis was brewing in Sunda, within the precincts of the royal court. Though every servant and minister had cleared out, the sound of voices raised in fierce argument could be heard in the courtyards below… Shir’le was locked in a bitter dispute with her cousin Nita and her husband (and commander of the home fleet), lord Pedregon.

“You will destroy Java,” Nita shouted, overriding Shirl’e’s latest rant about the foul, mewling, toad-licking Ming. The younger woman’s face was tight with anger and fear. “Judea has entered the war, and our luck in breaking their fleets will not last. They are rich and blessed with limitless manpower – soon they will fill the sea with ships, while our numbers will dwindle.”

“Let them come!” Shirl’e growled, a wild light in her eyes. “If our battle trimarans do not sent them down to the Shark in ruin and fire, our airships will devastate their cities, lay waste to their countryside!”

Pedgregon grunted. “Our airships are even fewer in number, and soon the Ming and Judea will have their own – and then our skies will be dark with the enemy. My Queen, we must make peace if Java is to survive. Let us return to our ancient past-times – making beautiful toys, surfing, listening to the ukelele players strum in a tropical night, with the round moon high above the waves.”

“No!” Shirl’e turned on the admiral. “We must rescue our people from the tyranny of the Ming, we must restore old Annam… we must go home.”

“Java is our home,” Nita said softly, watching her cousin with growing alarm. A decision crystallized in her heart. “No one remembers Annam anymore… it is a land of strangers.”

“Not to me!” Shirl’e’s mouth twisted into a foul grimace. “We will fight on. Forever.”

“We will not,” Nita replied in a cold voice. “The council of ministers will not follow you, not anymore. Nor will I, or Pedgregon. You may go – take those who wish to follow you – but we will not.”

‘Traitors!” Sweat trickled down Shirl’e’s throat, and her eyes filled with darkness. She strode to the arched doorway, refusing to look upon a man and woman she once accounted friends. “Bow to the Ming, then, and see what evil consumes you.”

Despite the convulsions wracking the government, the Javan fleets continued to ply the waves – particularly the critical Riouw Sea and Selat Strait – where all trade to and from Ming and Judea was turned aside or interned. Trade fell precipitously on the routes to the west, as no merchant in his right mind was going to venture into such hostile waters.

Shirl’e was allowed to leave Sunda, and took ship north on a fast merchantman for Annam, where her armies bracing for a Ming counter-attack. In Sunda, Nita was crowned Great Kahuna, and Queen, and she promised the people a peaceful reign, though many wondered what would truly happen. “Where is the fleet? Our boys in the army? Will they ever come home?”

New Annam: While Shir’le was sailing up from Java, things in “New Annam” had plunged into confusion – no less than three separate attempts to murder Generals N’then and Gr’ee were made (by the Ming, by the Bhuddist clergy and then by the Judeans), resulting in the wounding of N’then in Annam. While he convalesced, word came that an army of Khemer-hired mercenaries had invaded the province from Dai Viet. A second Ming army advanced out of Korat through the mountains.

Gr’ee was faced by the Regent Yonghzheng’s army maneuvering to the northeast, as well as an increasingly restive Buddhist population in Kwangsi. He struggled to keep his men under control – rumors flew thick and fast, and somehow everyone knew (even before Shir’le reached Annam) that they had been abandoned on a hostile shore.

Summer advanced, the Kwangsi population revolted against the invaders, and Yongzheng’s army swept across the frontier from Nanling. The Regent found chaos – the Javan army had disintegrated, Gr’ee had disappeared, the Javan fleet had put to sea and not returned – Javan garrison soldiers were hung on every lamp-post, and scattered at every crossroads. Bands of angry monks, farmers and woodsmen thronged the towns. In fact, the Ming were immediately forced to garrison the province to suppress bandits and restore order.

In particular, the rebellious peasants – now provided with plentiful arms, ammunition and a free hand by both Ming agents (and capturing the equipment abandoned by the fleeing Javans) rampaged, wrecking Pure Realm temples, monasteries and farms – and settled old scores with one another. Rioting, mass hysteria, looting and other G8-related activities flared across the provinces of Kwangsi, Lingtung, Lingsi, Lingtung, Annam and Korat.

Yonghzheng was startled by the disaster he had set in motion, but his army pressed on. By the end of ’41, the provinces of Kwangsi, Lingtung, Lingsi and Lingnan were “liberated”. Kin Wah’s ‘reserve’ army had advanced out of Kienchou to secure the port of Kwangtung, and the Regent was preparing to invade Annam itself.

Meanwhile, at sea, a Judean-Hosogawa fleet had rendezvoused off Taiwan and then plunged south, every ship alert, every gun primed for battle. The armada took on water at Hong Kong, then swung wide around Hainan Island, seeking to intercept any Javan squadrons preying on the shipping lanes, or a fleet of transporting bringing fresh troops up from the south. Of course, the Javan armies on land had collapsed like sand before the Ming tide, but the Judean admiral had yet to receive this news.

As it happened, the Javan fleet at sea (under the command of the wily N’dret) had sailed to meet Shir’le and her entourage, which included four new Javan airships.

“We are still at war,” the Queen barked as she stepped down from a bosun’s chair on the deck of the Pedang Capat. N’dret met her with a confused expression. “The war had stopped?” He asked.

Accompanied by the wide-ranging eyes in the sky, the Javan fleet turned back north into Gulf of Tonkin and within days the DuQuoin swung within signaling range of the fleet - Judean fleet sighted, sixty miles north-northeast. N’dret and his squadrons prepared for battle. Huge trimaran battlecruisers heeled, bow-wakes flaring white as they picked up speed.

The Judean commander, Falcon, continued his sweep, unware of the Javan airships lurking in the upper air, their blue-painted shapes blending with the brilliant summer sky, watching his every move. Only two days later, the Javan fleet appeared on the southern horizon and by afternoon, the two fleets collided a hundred miles south-southeast of cape Tonggou Jiao.

Three hundred and seventy Javan ships (including many taken as prizes from the smashed Ming, Japanese and Judean squadrons of two years previous) engaged the combined three hundred and ninety Judean and Hosogawan vessels with the wind guage and a moderate advantage in guns. A day of swirling melee followed, tongues of flame stabbing in the murk of cordite smoke and burning ships, the queer wailing cry of the Lascars swarming over the side of a stricken ship, the quiet terrifying rush of the Malays with their long kukri knives… The Judean and Hosogawan squadrons took a severe beating. As night fell, Falcon ordered the fleet to break away under cover of darkness and make way to safety of the Chinese coast and the Ming batteries in Kwangchou.

N’dret’s airships could not be shaken – not with the moon shining on the ocean, and the wake of the Judean ships shining plain against the dark sea from a thousand feet. Two days later, the fleets clashed again, this time almost within sight of Hainan Island. This time N’dret closed in for the kill, his battle cruisers ripping broadside after broadside into the Judeans, his frigates slashing in with the landward wind, his airships raining flame and bombs from above. The Hosogawan squadron struck their colors, more than half their ships smashed to ruin, the rest captive prizes.

Falcon escaped with a broken fragment of his fleet, and the Javans once more ruled the seas. N’dret sent prize crews aboard, and sailed to Yu-Lin to harbor and repair. The Hosogawan crews were sent home, their parole accepted. The captive Judeans were held in a camp in the hills above the port.

A letter was waiting in the port, from Nita in Java. N’dret read the letter with interest, then frowned and looked at his captains. “The Queen… the new Queen thinks this war is foolish and without purpose – she says we should decide if we wish to join Shirl’e in Annam and fight, or return to Java and find peace.”

Two months later, after repairs were complete, N’dret’s fleet set sail for the south.

In Annam, meanwhile, Shirl’e landed to find a wounded General N’then and his army battling a widespread rural revolt, as well as simultaneous invasions from Korat and Dai Viet. Determined to free her ancestral homeland from the Ming dogs (and meeting up with a rabble of artillerymen from Lingtung) she threw herself, her guardsmen and N’thens troopers into the fray.

A confused and vicious series of battles in the Haiphong delta ensued, but the Javans managed to solidify their position amongst the fortified settlements they had built in previous years, then defeated Bantag Yen’s mercenaries and drove back in the Ming armies in disarray. General Liao’s motley army retreated not back into the high mountains of Korat, but towards Lingsi instead.

And in the spring of ’42, Liao’s battered column met the Regent’s army heading southwest in full array. The Ming troopers cheered to see Yongzheng’s banners advancing towards them, at the head of a massive army. Morale restored, the now combined Ming army struck into the heartland of Annam, determined to bring these Javan dogs to heel once and for all.

Now the numbers brought against Shirl’e and her freedom fighters were truly great and a bitter struggle ensued. Unfortunately for the Ming, they once more faced an enemy in prepared positions, backed by a powerful artillery corps. But Yongzheng had taken pains to prepare – and his own guns were numberless, and his engineers were everywhere, digging, fortifying, lending every aid and stratagem in the attack. Unfortunately, even while the Ming had forced Shirl’e and her army into open battle near the village of Hanoi, two columns of Javans (who had slipped out of the mountains to the east all unnoticed) stormed into the Ming rear.

The ‘disintegrated’ army once commanded by Gr’ee now sprang from the jungles and mountains in full force, and took Yongzheng and his host by surprise. A frightful debacle ensued, with the Ming regiments caught between two fires, filled with fear and then with blind panic. The Regent’s army disintegrated into rout. Despite the panic and the thousands of Ming dying under the Javan guns, Yongzheng and his Imperial Guard fought free of the disaster and a great portion of the Ming army escaped (though their morale was very poor). The Javan commanders wiped sweat from their brows – another close shave, only succored by Gr’ee’s sudden appearance.

Yongzheng tried to rally his army in Lingsi, but they were so badly shattered he was forced to fall back to Wuzhou in Lingtung before he could gather up all the regiments again. While doing so, he was struck by the devastation visited upon the provinces through which his army fled. The civil unrest ignited by the peasant rebellions had not ceased, swallowing up whole towns, farms and temples alike.

In Annam, the Javans regrouped themselves, and some of Gr’ee’s commandoes slipped over the mountains into Lingsi and Lingnan before the end of ’42.

1743 – 1744 T207
Tokuwa Japan: Late in ’43, the fleet dispatched to the Persian Gulf under the command of Admiral Mirragi returned – without being sunk by the rascally Javans or consumed by sea monsters or crushed by the falling sky! The shogun turned a blind eye to the celebrations which ensued. Everyone stuffed themselves with Ming pork and rice. Hmmm… very tasty.

Judah: Still displeased with the way the Ming were making a mess of the war in Annam, Yui-Yen considered dispatching a few Yaqui rifle regiments to clean things up… but then changed his mind.

Ming: Repeatedly battered and bloodied by the Javans, the Ming commanders were forced to adopt a modern style of line of battle for their musketeers and infantry. Yongzheng had hopes of finally crushing the Javan ‘invasion’, and had mustered three more armies in Lingtung, Hupei and Korat. After a great deal of marching here and there, the Ming armies swept into Lingnan and Lingsi, occupying both provinces. The Annamese bands which had raised such a ruckus there previously were now nowhere to be found.

As soon as the winter weather lifted in ’44, therefore, Yongzheng and his armies invaded Annam from Lingnan, Korat and Dai Viet. A massive force had been gathered, including mercenaries from all over Asia (and even beyond – a squadron of Aeronautical Research and Fabrication zeppelins was on hand to support the assault).

Java: While everyone lamented the deaths of so many of their kinsmen in Annam, Nita had turned her attention elsewhere. Shir’le would live or die by her own skill and wit.

New Annam: 1743 was a year of troubles in Annam. Shir’le’s old confidant and friend Gr’ee (who still owed allegiance to Queen Nita) was murdered on Hainan Island by yellow-robe assassins as he prepared to take ship south to Java. Shir’le herself was wounded by Viet separatists (financed by Ming, doubtless), and Annam itself was rife with rumors of an underground movement dedicated to her overthrow.

Late in the year, the Hanoi prison where the Ming general Foo Liao was imprisoned was attacked by a night zeppelin raid and the Ming officer escaped. The gray zeppelins faded into the darkness, almost as soundless as the bats flitting between the lamps of the city streets.

In ’44, even as Shir’le’s armies were busily fortifying everything in sight, four Ming armies invaded the province (Yongzheng from the northeast, Kin Wah from the east, the mercenary commander Gemish Huorn from the south and the Ming general Wang-li Chung from the north-west. At the same time the province erupted in open revolt – the fuel of rebellion lit by the saffron-robes priest-spies of the Realm.

Shir’le was determined to go down fighting – “Remember the A’lamo!” She screamed to her troops rushing to the barricades and redoubts in Hanoi. “Viva Annam!” Slightly less than 12,000 men prepared to face the Ming onslaught. Their two lone zeppelins thudded past overhead, laboring to gain altitude.

Sixty-thousand Ming (and mercenaries) stormed into the Haiphong plain, and the sky was suddenly aswarm with ARF airships. The Annamese scout zeps struck from the clouds, spitting small rockets and light cannon-fire. The ARF airships broke – darting aside far faster than the Annamese airships – and returned fire with a blaze of heavier rockets and the rattle of quick-firing cannon. Both Annamese zeps blew apart and plunged into the city below, wreathed in flame.

A massive Ming artillery barrage followed, with the ARF ships scudding about in the upper air, raining napathene bombs on the hapless Annamese infantry below. The first Ming infantry rush followed before the day was out… and a brutal melee spilled across the Annamese trenches and redoubts. Annamese rifle regiments poured volley after volley into the swarming mass of the Ming, but the Chinese just did not stop coming.

Three days of hand-to-hand fighting later, the last of the Annamese ‘rebels’ were hunted down in their holes and bayoneted (or hacked to bits with axes or sharpened shovels). Shir’le herself was killed after the Ming smashed through the door of her sick room – the first two men going down to pistol-blasts from her matching, pearl-handled revolvers – and then she wounded two more with a long knife before being bludgeoned to death.

Ming losses were high – the southerners had sold themselves dearly – but Yongzheng stalked through the shattered fortifications with a grim delight. “That’s put paid to them!” He coughed, looking rather pale. “Hah hah ha!”

Mopping up in the province took the rest of the year, as the rebellious Viets had somehow gotten the idea they should rule their own province and a Ming garrison was put in place to count the heads and round up the survivors.

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