Tumbling down tumbling down...
Jax re-reads Ravages of Time, vol6

Before I start, I was wondering if people following this (all three of them) would be interested in more historical/cultural notes on the things, people, events etc. involved. I’ve so far just pointed out the occasional thing to google, but I can do more? But I figure it’s already pretty tl;dr.

Anyway, in this volume: Some important new characters, Guan Yu stands on horses, and Liu Bei’s SECRET TECHNIQUE revealed!!

Apropos of nothing, we begin with a random person with a hat chatting with an unfortunate farmer, whose land cannot be worked because the Guangdong Alliance has been camping on it for three years. This kind of sucks. The random person proceeds to go into the camp and is led by a new guy - Zhang He, not at all as beautiful and purple-y as his Dynasty Warriors version - into the main tent of the alliance leaders, who are very busy with debauchery. Lots of drinking is going on. They are toasting Yuan Shao’s safe return (last volume, remember?). Random Hat Person tells Zhang He that now all the lords are plotting to kill each other. All things considered he’s probably right. Yuan Fang pops up and, following a bit of a chat about uniting the country, calls Random Hat Person “Second Brother”. Say hi to the Second Genius, Xun Yu, everyone. At this point he is an adorable young thing who lets us know that “right is right and wrong is wrong”. Yuan Fang invited him to join him. He turns down the offer. He’s found someone with a desire to cultivate, he says. He’s a sweetheart, look at his precious face. Can anyone explain his moles to me? They are weirder than Yuan Fang’s hair.

New readers, if you’ve just fallen in love, you’ve made a reasonably good choice. Xun Yu is undoubtedly one of the most precious, genuinely good-hearted people in the series. There is also angst, badassitude, shippery and hurt/comfort in his future. Keep an eye out, he’s going to be pretty splendid in this volume.

Water Mirror and six of his Geniuses watch as the Guangdong Alliance camp disbands. The lords give away their extra rations to the Luoyang refugees in order to build up a good reputation. Xun Yu is waiting for someone else, though, a lord who’s just engaged with Dong Zhuo and been defeated. He’s in his proper outfit now with his darling little hat. These are robes not a skirt. If you feminize Xun Yu for your shipping bullshit I will be upset. The lord in question shows up badly battered, and Xun Yu leaps up all smiles and “Xun Yu congratulates Lord Cao Cao on a timely defeat!”

This is Cao Cao. If you know your Three Kingdoms at all then you know him. If you don’t then google him, if only for his poetry. He gets a bad rep usually because Liu Bei is a super-benevolent Imperial Uncle with a magical loyalty cock, but in Ravages he’s our buddy. I’ve heard that some Chinese fans are annoyed because his hairdo is Japanese but IDK. I think he’s pretty grand. Historically he was truly one of the greats, and is worth knowing more about in that context, but this is not history and should not be measured according to history. So I am going to stick with Liu Bei for my favorite and so should you.

Yes. Anyhow. Cao Cao lets us know that he returned in tatters following Xun Yu’s instructions. His men are understandably baffled by this. We see a bunch of them - we’ll see more of those folks so note their distinguishing features, such as Xiahou Dun’s curly ‘stache and Cao Ren’s manly jaw. They all call Cao Cao by his childhood name Ah Man, which is very sweet. The refugees come and Xun Yu lets them know that Cao Cao isn’t handing out any rations, they’re reserved for battle.

Something splendid proceeds to happen. The refugees name Cao Cao the only guy willing to go the distance and actually do something useful to eliminate Dong Zhuo and end the fighting, and ask to be taken into his army. They all salute him. There are a fuckton of them and it turns out that they’re all former Yellow Turban rebels who are already trained in combat. Everyone is understandably dazzled by Xun Yu’s clever stroke. Cao Cao calls him “our Zhang Liang”, which is a callback to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This is where you look up Zhang Liang and are suitably impressed - he was the strategist who helped Liu Bang found the Han Dynasty. Gosh Xun Yu is so happy here as everyone salutes him. Have I mentioned the horrible sadness of characters who start out really happy, yet?

In the meantime, the alliance having disbanded, everyone’s heading home and Yuan Shao and some of the other lords have to pass through Hu Lao Guan - Hu Lao pass or gate. If you’ve ever played Dynasty Warriors, DO NOT PURSUE LUU BU. You won’t need to, he’s waiting for them there, and they are trapped. The army’s top warriors are being called to try and face off Luu Bu and his scary subordinate Hua Xiong, and among them our pal Liu Bei and his brothers. Alas they are low in rank and get slapped around by the generals, which is apparently Just As Planned by Yuan Fang who wants to annoy those generals so they can kill Hua Xiong. Lots of psychology of warfare in these chapter, Art of War quotes etc. Have I mentioned already how it is mind-blowingly frustrating how Western fantasy never has any of this stuff? It’s just armies rushing at each other going RAAAAAARGH across flat plains. So dull. I’m enjoying this a lot even if it’s Yuan Fang. And then Hua Xiong starts killing generals. He’s very good at it.

(In an aside, a motley little crew of this one girl and her dorky baby brother and some shady types in cloaks are watching the fight. Remember this page. One day ten volumes down the line you will recall it and explode from the extent of Ravages’ pre-planning.)

Luu Bu is also watching for reports. When Hua Xiong kills his forth general, he tells Zhang Liao that he’s getting a headache. Oh no, what can this mean? Zhang Liao’s smirk is amazing. We see him in his proper design here, funny headpiece and all. Note how he’s got this incredibly boyish face. Darling baby ilu.

And then the main event. Guan Yu steps up and announces that he’ll take out Hua Xiong, here’s his cup of warm wine, if it’s cool by the time he comes back then Liu Bei loses his head. You all know this already but it is an incredibly famous Three Kingdoms story. Although I think in the original story he wasn’t standing on his horse. I DON’T KNOW OKAY it’s just a Guan Yu thing. He then chops off Hua Xiong’s arm, clean like a knife through butter. That is the painfulest looking shit.

Battle breaks out. Luu Bu rushes in to help Hua Xiong’s troops and lets the poor guy know that he really makes his head ache. Hua Xiong has a moment of angst and then meets up with Zhang Liao. No points guessing what happens next. Conveniently again we get a monologue explaining the whole plan of how the battle was just Luu Bu’s excuse to get rid of Hua Xiong. Also we learn that Zhang Liao killed Dong Huang (Dong Zhuo’s nephew and heir, remember) - it’s a wonderful early defining character moment for Zhang Liao. Wonderful. He’s so flippant yet proud of this murder, really relishes this emotional stab at Hua Xiong. And then he cuts his head off with one stroke like he’s batting a baseball.

Strategy ensues. In a slightly confusing exchange, we learn that Yuan Shao and Yuan Fang have apparently left the pass in order to join up with the alliance’s rear camp in the mountains, from which they’re supposed to be flanking Luu Bu’s forces. As it so happens, though, they roll up and leave that camp and tromp off leaving the other lords to themselves be flanked. One of the lords, Gongsun Zan of the funny tailed hat, explains the strategy for our benefit. Yuan Fang is once more a huge dick, though it is a very clever strategy - it’s getting to the point in the series, now, where it’s hard to follow the strategies as they unfold but once you get the explanation, everything clicks into place in poetic perfection. It’s really beautiful. Nothing only serves one purpose. Everything turns out to fit into everything else. I have never seen any other canon do anything like it and I can not imagine the kind of flowcharts that Chen Mou has going on in his notes.

The next chapter is kind of hilarious as we get the Ravages version of the famous fight between Luu Bu and the Three Brothers. Guan Yu of all people pulls one over Liu Bei as he presents him as the strongest fighter and all the lords swear to be really nice to him if he can beat Luu Bu. Then Guan Yu stands on his horse again I DON’T EVEN KNOW, and Liu Bei comes in with his two swords yes this is kind of badass I love how he has those two swords, and he nearly gets stabbed in the gut because honestly Liu Bei why are you wearing a bare your midriff armor why, and Zhang Fei basically makes Liu Bei’s sword fly out of his hand announcing it as “Big Brother’s secret technique” and that actually manages to hit Luu Bu. Seriously this fight is amazing. Liu Bei is so useless and he has got such a WTF look on his face throughout it all, and then he puts up a heroic pose while the other two do the actual fighting and it is basically cracktastic glory. In the final pages, we are back with Sima Yi and the Handicapped Warriors who let us know that Liu Bei and co. have defeated Luu Bu, though they didn’t kill him, and have become super famous for it. We also learn that Sima Yi has received a letter from his contact in the court, Wang Yun, who delivers Luu Bu’s promise: if the Handicapped Warriors kill Dong Zhuo, all debts (see: Xu Lin) will be forgiven. I sense a new arc approaching.

Next: Oh look, it’s a new arc. You may be satisfied to know that from this point on, the story becomes somewhat more linear and follows fewer people more closely. This is when Ravages truly kicks off.

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