[Cut to Generals' Residence. Li Liang's mother is in a chipper mood as she walks into the central courtyard. She spots Mulan sitting on the steps and approaches her]

Li Liang's mother: My, my, my, what are you doing home in the middle of the day? Oh, I forgot. You weren't drafted for this mission, so you have time to burn at home.

Mulan: It's true that I've been quite busy lately. It's a relief to have a little free time to relax at home.

Li Liang's mother: Of course. It's a blessing to have another person about the house to help out with the household chores.

Mulan [frowning]: Popo, do we lack for servants? If we need more, just let me know and I'll hire a few more.

Li Liang's mother: No, there are some things you can't ask servants to do. Li Liang is a finicky eater. Aside from dishes his nanny and I cook, he doesn't enjoy anyone else's cooking. His nanny has returned to her home village for a visit, while my back has been aching and my asthma has been acting up. [She coughs a few times for effect] I only hope that we can get someone to help out.

Mulan: Popo.

Li Liang's mother: Oh, I know. There are some things that can't be forced. There are some people that can't be forced, either. [Eyes Mulan significantly]

Mulan: Popo, I meant to say I could do the cooking.

Li Liang's mother [surprised]: You would do the cooking?

[Cut to scene in the kitchen, where Mulan is cooking up a few dishes. She shows Li Liang's mother that she can truly handle a wok with ease and skill. She presents a dish to Li Liang's mother to taste]

Mulan: Kung pao chicken. A little bit of chili and a lot of spice, guaranteed to whet the appetite. [Li Liang's mother fishes out a piece with her fingers and looks to Mulan in awe]

Li Liang's mother [dumbfounded]: How are you so capable?

Mulan: I've practiced since I was little.

Li Liang's mother [with an air of giving up]: I'm going back to my quarters to rest. When you finish cooking leave it aside for when Li Liang comes home.

Mulan [watches Li Liang's mother leave, then sighs]: Bienguan is in turmoil, the troops are moving around helter-skelter in preparation, yet here I am running back into the kitchen to work as a mess soldier. [She loudly sighs a few more times. Jili walks into the kitchen]

Jili: Listen to those sighs. You know, the kitchen is the life and death battleground for all mortals. As long as we guard it vigilantly, we need not worry about lacking for three square meals a day and everyone will be nice and content and happy, as happy as an immortal. [He grins at his little lecture but Mulan frowns impatiently at him]

Mulan [shortly]: Are you quite finished? Did you bring those things I asked you to? [Jili shakes his head] What's the matter with you? You promised you'd find those items for me.

Jili [breaks into a grin]: I'm pulling your leg! Since when have I not done something I promised you? It's in the room.

Mulan [distractedly]: Oh. Thank you.

Jili [concerned]: Don't be so downcast. You needn't fight this battle. I don't know why you wanted to see the latest military news.

Mulan: Don't worry about that. I have my reasons.

Jili: Well, you don't need to worry about any of us, because we don't need your concern.

Mulan [puzzled]: What do you mean by that?

Jili: Didn't you make arrangements for all of us?

Mulan: Are you saying that none of you need to go to battle?

Jili: That's right. No one serving under your banner was selected to go to battle.

Mulan [aghast]: How did this happen?

Jili: This problem centers around the whims of one great Marshal Li who resides in this house. [He shrugs his shoulders]

[Cut to General Li's meeting room in camp. He is sitting at his desk with General Liu, another general, and another officer, discussing tactics over a large map]

General Liu: We should concentrate our forces at the back of the mountain. If we can lure Shile's soldiers into the Windy Cliffs, we can then seal off their escape and surround them easily. We can then proceed to annihilate them.

General Li [nods]: Yes. That's a good idea. The hardest thing, however, is to lure Shile into the cliffs. This person is wily as a fox. It would be very difficult to get him to take the bait. [The other officers look to each other] Well, that's enough for today. We'll continue our discussion tomorrow. Go get some rest. [The officers all salute and leave the room. General Li gets up after they leave and stands there, deep in thought. Mulan enters the room quietly and approaches him]

Mulan: Have they left already? [General Li nods] What about you?

General Li: What about me?

Mulan: Why are you staying here? Why aren't you returning to your quarters to get some rest?

General Li [distantly]: I want to think things over first. You go to bed first.

Mulan: There's something I want you to see.

General Li: Bring it here.

Mulan: It's in the other room. Come over and see it. [Takes his arm and tugs] Come on, Brother Liang, come with me. [He reluctantly agrees and goes over to the other room. Mulan follows. They walk down the hall and enter a second room. This one has a large table with what looks like a model of the mountainous terrain the upcoming battle will take place in. General Li gives it a quick glance and doesn't look very impressed, while Mulan is obviously quite proud of her handiwork]

General Li: What's this?

Mulan: It's the terrain outside Bienguan. See, this is Bienguan. [She points at one hill with a small flag on it] This is Windy Cliffs. [She points to a second spot] This is where I predict you'll meet the Tujue. [She points to another spot] It'll be the main battle that will determine the outcome of the whole war. In my opinion, we should stop the Tujue there by luring them into the Windy Cliffs, then [General Li rudely interrupts her]

General Li: Say no more.

Mulan [puzzled]: What's the matter? Am I wrong? We really will encounter the Tujue there.

General Li [whirls on her and raises his voice]: That's enough! I don't want to hear anymore!

Mulan: Why are you taking it out on me?

General Li: You're dare ask me why I'm angry with you?

Mulan: I don't know.

General Li: I don't know myself! Now, why did you put this all together?

Mulan: I wanted to help you.

General Li: You wanted to help me? You wanted to help me ensure victory, right?

Mulan: You're my husband. What's wrong with me helping you?

General Li: True. We are husband and wife. There's nothing wrong with you helping me. But I'm a military man. I don't need your help on how to wage war. Are you saying I can't fight my own battles? [Mulan is speechless at this outburst] True, I need your help. But I need a wife's support and care. All I need is for you to say, "Go. Defeat the enemy and return home victorious." That's all I need from you. It's that simple, understand? Now, I still need to get ready for tomorrow. You'd best go to bed first. [He walks away, leaving Mulan shocked and about on the point of tears]

[Cut to General Li's meeting room. He is sitting at his desk with his officers standing at attention before him]

General Li: Where's General Liu? Hasn't he arrived yet?

General: General Liu is always punctual. He's broken his own record now.

[Soldier comes running in and salutes General Li]

Soldier: Marshal, General Liu has suffered a mishap! [General Li gets to his feet and hurries out the door. The soldiers all follow en masse to General Liu's quarters. They see he is lying in bed with a  bandage around his head]

General Li: General Liu, what happened? [General Liu struggles to sit up and salutes General Li]

General Liu: I encountered an ambush.

General Li [concerned]: An ambush? When?

General Liu: Yesterday I was returning from a visit when I was ambushed.

[We see a scene showing General Liu getting ambushed by three masked men. They simultaneously attack with swords and flying feet. He manages to fend them off for a short time, but one of the attackers manages to cut his leg. They flee after injuring General Liu. The scene returns to General Liu's quarters, where he shows his injured leg]

General Li [puzzled]: They hacked at you with their swords?

General Liu: That's what I don't understand. They spent all that time and effort preparing an ambush but at the last minute, they only injured my leg and then bolted. Why?

Officer: Maybe the Tujue sent spies to hurt our morale.

General Li: No, that's not right. If it was the Tujue, they would have killed you. [Mutters under his breath] Su Jili! [Turns to General Liu] General Liu, it's my fault that you were injured. Please accept my apologies. I swear to bring the offenders to justice and avenge this for you! [He angrily strides from the room]

General Liu [calls after him]: Sir, where are you going?

[Cut to field in camp where Mulan's troops are doing push-ups. Zhang Xi is barking out the cadence while everyone follows his lead]

Zhu You: Hey, can you slow down a little? [Zhang Xi ignores the comment and continues his count. Mulan is watching her troops with satisfaction. Jili comes over to join Mulan]

Jili: It's hard to believe that these are the same troops we recruited not so long ago. They have improved so much due to your efforts. [He shivers in the cold wind and shrinks in his clothing. He notices Mulan is still looking rather sad] You're not satisfied?

Mulan: How could I not be satisfied? It's good they have something to focus their efforts on. Of course I'm happy.

Jili: You know, I don't see a whit of happiness on your face, though.

Mulan: Oh, I'm happy. I just can't find it in me to smile.

Jili: That's because you must have something on your mind. [Sees Mulan is still silent] Does it have to do with Li Liang? [Mulan nods quietly. Jili sighs] I can't imagine what you two have to bicker about.

Mulan [shakes her head]: I don't want to talk about it.

Jili: Go ahead. Tell me. [Mulan shakes her head again] If you don't tell me, I'm going to ask Li Liang himself.

Mulan: How are you going to ask him? [Jili spots General Li approaching]

Jili: Hey, Li Liang! [He starts to move towards the approaching General Li. He doesn't notice the stern looks on General Li's and his soldiers' faces. Mulan tries to restrain Jili]

Mulan: Wait, don't cause any trouble. [Jili pushes her aside and happily approaches General Li]

Jili: Hey, Li Liang!

General Li [barks]: Arrest him! [His two soldiers walk over and grab a surprised Jili. Mulan steps forward. Her troops come rushing over from where they are training]

Mulan: What's this all about?

General Li [sternly]: You have been insubordinate and have plotted against General Liu. I will punish you to the full extent of military law!

Jili [struggling]: You've got to be kidding!

General Li: Arrest Zhang Xi, Liu Xiangzi, and Zhu You, also. [His other soldiers go to arrest the three men. Mulan's troops raise a ruckus but are unable to do much]

Mulan: Are you sure about this? Have you investigated this thoroughly?

General Li: General Liu is still in bed from his injuries. You can go see for yourself their handiwork!

Mulan: I don't believe they would do such a thing.

General Li [dangerous]: Are you saying I'm deliberately railroading them?

Mulan: No. I just think that recently you've been unusually harsh towards the troops under me.

General Li: I don't want to discuss this with you! [Turns from her] Take them all away! If they resist, execute them!

Mulan [protesting]: How you can do this?

General Li: I want everyone to strictly adhere to military law.

Zhang Xi [struggling]: Say it to my face, then! I'd rather die than be framed on a whim for something I didn't do!

General Li [furious]: How dare you!

Mulan [angry]: Li Liang!

General Li [turns to Mulan]: You're going to disobey a direct order, too?

Mulan: I just don't want you to kill innocents. I want to go with you before the Emperor and find out once and for all the rights of this.

General Li: Fine!

[Cut to the Emperor's throne room. He is sitting at his desk with General Li and Mulan kneeling before him. The Second Prince is standing near his father]

Emperor: You are both adamant in your statements. How do you expect me to determine the truth?

General Li: Your Majesty, with a war on our hands about to start any minute, the most important thing is maintaining morale and fighting preparedness. General Liu getting incapacitated right before a major battle is great blow to our army's strength. Your Majesty, I request that you severely punish the perpetrators immediately, lest this incident further sap our morale.

Mulan: Your Majesty, with approaching battle, we cannot afford to mistakenly execute any of our troops. Such a move would be the true blow to our army's strength. Your Majesty, please reconsider.

General Li [glares at Mulan]: I heard with my own ears Su Jili threatening to harm General Liu. How can you say we are slaying innocent men?

Mulan: I can produce eyewitnesses that Su Jili, Zhang Xi, and company were nowhere near General Liu's location when the ambush occurred.

Emperor: I don't want to hear anymore. I'm not concerned about whether we should or shouldn't execute a few footsoldiers. I'm concerned about who do we find to replace Liu Dayong and lead the advance attack against the enemy.

Second Prince [saluting]: Father, I have a suggestion. This may also help you find a replacement general for the advance attack. It would also resolve this bone of contention between Marshal Li and General Hua.

Emperor: Go ahead, my son. I want to hear your view.

Second Prince: In my opinion, it's more important to take care of our external affairs against our enemy first, then handle our internal affairs later.

Emperor [nods]: You have a point.

Second Prince: General Liu is injured and we cannot afford not to have some sort of advance attacking group. Since General Hua's troops are vehemently arguing their innocence in this case, yet there is no way of proving their guilt, we may as well let General Hua lead her troops in the advance attack. This will give her troops a chance to wipe away their possible guilt. I don't know, Father, if you approve of this proposal?

Emperor: I think this is a doable solution.

General Li: Your Majesty, your humble servant worries about the effect this might have on the morale of other soldiers.

Emperor [sternly]: If I order this, who dares to state their dissatisfaction? [The other officers cower slightly at these words] Well, then make it so. Hua Mulan, I give you orders to lead the advance attack for Marshal Li. Defeat is not an option!

Mulan [bows and salutes]: Yes, your Majesty. [She shoots a triumphant look in her husband's direction, which he does not see but probably feels. The Second Prince has a smug look on his face at the discord he has started between Mulan and Li Liang]

[Cut to gates outside the brig. Yiren is standing outside waiting for the release of the prisoners. She is dressed in her usual attire (i.e.-no armor) and greets the troops when they exit. All except Jili stop to gape at Yiren, whom they did not realize was a woman until now]

Yiren: Hey, are you guys all right? [They ogle her slowly, making her uncomfortable] What are you looking at? It's not as if you've never seen me before.

Zhu You: Who said we weren't all right? If anyone dared to harm a hair on my head, well. [Jili interrupts]

Jili [shortly]: What are you doing here?

Yiren: General Hua asked me to come pick you guys up.

Xiangzi: You know, while we were in the brig, I did a little calculating of our fortunes. I figured we'd be rescued by a VIP. And that VIP would be [Zhu You interrupts Xiangzi]

Zhu You: Uh, General Hua. It was General Hua. [He puts a hand over Xiangzi's mouth and whispers to him] Keep quiet, okay.

Yiren: Stop bickering. It's getting late. Hurry back to camp and get your things together.

Jili [puzzled]: Get our things together? [The other soldiers ask the same thing] Why? Where are we going?

Yiren: You're leaving camp.

Jili [surprised; walks over]: Right now, there are Tujue everywhere outside. Tujue? You mean we're going out to fight the Tujue?

Yiren [nods]: Yes. The Emperor has already given the order. General Hua's troops are going out as the advanced attacking force. You leave first thing in the morning.

Jili [blanching]: We're really going to war.

Xiangzi [counts on his fingers]: Oh my, I didn't expect to be this accurate. I predicted we'd be going up against the Tujue in battle.

Zhu You: Hey, can you figure my fortune out for me? This time when we go up against the Tujue, are we going to be on the short end of the stick or are we going to leave, never to return?

Xiangzi: Hm. Let me figure that out. [He counts rapidly on his fingers] Short end of the stick or with no hope of returning? [Zhu You nods his head and Xiangzi spits on the ground] Watch what you wish for! [Zhu You puts his hand over Xiangzi's mouth]

Zhu You: You shut your trap.

Yiren: Stop fussing and hurry back to camp to make your preparations! [They start to troop off. General Li is walking in their direction. Zhu You deliberately starts talking loudly in General Li's presence]

Zhu You: How could we compete in the recent competition without General Hua?

Xiangzi [playing along]: How could we?

Zhu You: Well, it's the same reason they needed us to go to battle, because without us, the war is impossible to win.

Xiangzi: Exactly. Without General Hua, no battle is winnable and no triumph is possible. [They troop off together. General Li is silent but he smiles grimly at their attempts at needling him. He starts to walk off when Yiren comes over]

Yiren: Cousin!

General Li: Yiren, what are you doing here in camp?

Yiren: Cousin-In-Law asked me to come pick them up.

General Li: Well, there's nothing here to do anymore. You'd best go home, too.

Yiren: Oh, I was going to wait here and return home with you.

General Li: Oh. But I still have things to do. You should go home first. [He walks off, leaving Yiren behind]

[Cut to Li Liang and Mulan's quarters. Mulan is sitting at the table, asleep on her arms. The door creaks open and she jumps awake, thinking Li Liang has returned. Instead, she sees Li Liang's mother]

Mulan [sleepily]: You're back?

Li Liang's mother: Still not in bed yet?

Mulan: Oh. Popo.

Li Liang's mother: I came to help Li Liang pack up his luggage. Don't mind me.

Mulan: I already packed for him.

Li Liang's mother: You did? [She walks over to the bundle Mulan put together] Oh my, why does it look like this?

Mulan [puzzled]: Is there something wrong?

Li Liang's mother: I've always personally packed his luggage each time. If anyone else packs it, he isn't happy with the end result. There are some skills that must be gradually cultivated. It's not something you can replace or pick up overnight. [She picks up the bundle and starts to leave]

Mulan: Popo, where are you taking that?

Li Liang's mother: Oh. I was going to take it back to my rooms and pack it there. When I'm done, I'll have the bundle sent to headquarters.

Mulan [puzzled]: Headquarters?

Li Liang's mother [sweetly]: Oh, I forgot to tell you. Li Liang said he had too much to do back at headquarters, so he won't be returning home. So you see, you needn't wait up for him. If you do, it's just a waste of your time. [She leaves the room smiling happily. Mulan looks hurt at her words and sits down with a sigh]

[Cut to Second Prince's quarters. Three men dressed all in black are kneeling before him. They look like the assassins sent against General Liu. The Second Prince is standing with his trusted eunuch at his side. The eunuch is holding a box in his hands]

Second Prince: This gold is your reward. Remember, you are to return home separately. Without my express permission you are not to return to the capital. Is that understood? [The assassins salute, take the box from the eunuch, and hurry out the door. The eunuch has a smarmy grin on his face]

Eunuch: Second Crown Prince (this is not a typo), you have truly hit upon a shrewd and calculating plan. With this recent scheme of murdering with a borrowed sowrd, you have managed to alienate Li Liang and Hua Mulan.

Second Princ: Humph! This is but child's play. [Sits down]

Eunuch: However, there is some little thing that I still don't understand. Perhaps your Highness could clarify it for me?

Second Prince: You're probably wondering why I pushed for Hua Mulan to lead the advanced attack.

Eunuch [feigns surprise]: Your Highness, you are too good! You have my kudos.

Second Prince: Li Liang and Hua Mulan have never been on my side. Even if they don't wholeheartedly support my brother, they would never be of any use to me. In that case, I may as well neutralize their power and influence, lest they hinder my grand plan.

Eunuch: Your Highness, you mean to "lose" them in battle, right?

Second Prince: Based on the latest reports, the Tujue have sent the great Shile. This man is exceedingly difficult to fight. If Li Liang and Hua Mulan join forces and expertise, they could defeat him. However, since the two of them have strained relations, they must be dreaming if they expect to defeat Shile. [Smiles grimly]

Eunuch: CP (this is also not a typo), you have truly come up with a great scheme.

Second Prince [stands up]: In this battle, it doesn't matter who wins or loses. Only I, Yangguang, am the true winner.

[Cut to city street. Li Liang's mother and Yiren are hustling and looking for Li Liang]

Yiren [pointing]: Cousin is over there! Right there! [Li Liang's mother and Yiren hurry over. The guard at the gate stops their progress. Li Liang's mother bristles like an angry hen]

Li Liang's mother: You dare to stop me? Do you know who I am? I'm your marshal's mother!

Soldier: Stop pulling it out of thin air. Scram!

Li Liang's mother: You've got nerve! [She is about to attack the soldier but Yiren manages to restrain her aunt just in time]

Yiren [to soldier]: She's telling the truth! [Su Jili comes over]

Jili: Stop this nonsense!

Li Liang's mother: Su Jili, you came just in time. Tell him to get out of our way.

Jili [motions to soldier]: Do you know that if anything happens to this lady it will prevent us from marching? [To Li Liang's mother] Mrs. Li, after you. [Li Liang's mother smiles smugly and saunters into camp. Yiren follows, but stops when she feels Jili's eyes on her. They both pause, waiting for the other to walk in first]

Yiren: So you're about to march, too?

Jili: Humph! If I wasn't going to march, then why would I be here?

Yiren [hesitating]: Well, I.[Jili keeps staring off into space, determined to make Yiren squirm a little longer. Li Liang's mother turns around when she notices Yiren is not with her]

Li Liang's mother: Yiren, what are you doing? Get over here!

Yiren: Oh! Yes, be right there! [She hurries off to follow Li Liang's mother. Jili watches her go]

[Cut to someplace inside camp. General Li is conducting a last minute inspection]

General Li [to soldier]: Have we inspected all the horses?

Soldier: Yes, sir.

[At this moment, Li Liang's mother and Yiren walk in. General Li's face lights up when he sees his mother]

General Li: Mother, you've come?

Li Liang's mother: It's the first time you're going to battle since becoming marshal. How could I not come? [She turns to Yiren to pull a small yellow triangle out of the basket. It has odd red lettering and symbols on it. (Good luck charm?) She hands it to General Li with a smile] Here, take this with you. It will keep you safe and guarantee a triumphant return.

General Li [nods]: Yes, mother.

Yiren: Cousin, Aunt and I will say prayers for you everyday in the chapel. We'll pray that the Li family ancestors will help protect you and ensure victory.

General Li: Thank you. [Li Liang's mother goes back to the basket and pulls another triangle out and rather sheepishly hands it to her son]

Li Liang's mother: This is, um, for that wife of yours who is leading the advance attack. After all, she's part of the Li family now. I wouldn't want the glory of the Li family to fall on her watch.

General Li [touched]: Mother.

[Cut to streets outside of the camp gates. Mulan is giving final instructions to her troops before they leave the capital]

Mulan [pokes Zhu You]: Where's your belt?

Zhu You [sheepish]: I gained a little weight recently, so I, uh. [He stops and quails under Mulan's stern gaze. She continues on the next soldier]

Mulan: What happened to your shoe?

Xiangzi: I had a little accident and got it dirty. Here, I'll clean it off now. [He bends over to brush off his shoe]

Mulan [barks]: No moving! [Xiangzi stays frozen in position bent halfway. Jili starts giggling at the sight. Mulan turns on Jili next] You think this is funny?! [All her soldiers quiet down] This is not funny in the least. I'm full of regret. [Xiangzi cautiously starts to straighten] In just a little while, we'll get the order to march out of the capital. Once we leave the city gates, you'll be entering a bloody battlefield where it's kill or be killed. It is not a training ground like in camp. It's a battlefield. In battle, none of you are allowed to make any mistakes because you only have one life to give. If you make a mistake, you die. Is that clear?!

[The soldiers halfheartedly shout, not quite used to Mulan's grave expression and words]

Mulan: Those of you I lead out today I hope to lead back, also. Move out! [The soldiers start marching out with Mulan in the lead. The Second Prince is dressed in armor and preparing to go to battle. He watches Mulan leave with coldly calculating eyes. His eunuch comes over]

Eunuch: Did you notice, your Highness? Li Liang and Hua Mulan have said nary a word to each other yet, even at this point in time. They won't even glance at each other.

Second Prince [coldly]: You're quite observant of their movements.

Eunuch: I'm just keeping an eye open to better see how your great scheme works out, your Highness.

Second Prince: Is it time yet?

Eunuch: Yes.

Second Prince: Then let's head out.

Eunuch: Yes, your Highness. [He sends out the command for the Second Prince's troops to march out]

[Meanwhile, General Li is leading his troops down another street. Mulan's troops are marching down a different street. Jili is encouraging the soldiers to hurry up. He is suddenly plucked from the crowd and pulled off the road. Yiren is trying to say a few words to him]

Jili: Well, what's the matter?

Yiren [stammering]: I, uh, I, make sure you take care of yourself on the road, okay?

Jili: Oh. [Turns around and tries to rejoin the troops, but Yiren pulls him back]

Yiren: No wait.

Jili: What's the matter now? [Yiren tries to hush Jili, then pulls a small grey bundle from her basket. She hands it to Jili] For me? What is it?

Yiren [embarrassed]: Don't ask.

Jili: Oh. Thank you. [He turns and runs to rejoin his troop. Yiren watches him go with tears in her eyes]

[Cut to Sui village at the border between Tujue land and Sui land. There are numerous civilian bodies laying where the Tujue soldiers slaughtered them. The Tujue Khan is standing amongst the bodies, his dripping sword in one hand, as he contemplates his next move. A soldier walks up and salutes the Khan]

Soldier: Sir, the Sui army is on the move.

Tujue Khan: Who is leading the army?

Soldier: Their marshal, Li Liang.

Tujue Khan: Li Liang?

Soldier: Yes. And Hua Mulan is leading the advance attacking group.

Tujue Khan: So they've both come. In that case, I must send this present to them immediately so they can have the enjoyment of it. Drag all the bodies back into the house.

Soldier: Yes, sir!

[Cut to General Li's tent. There is a scale model of the land where the Sui and Tujue armies will clash. It looks like the one Mulan made earlier. General Li, Mulan, and all the other generals, along with the Second Prince, are discussing strategy]

General Li: Our main army is located right here. [He indicates a spot on the model] We will spend the night here, then first thing in the morning, we head out. We head straight for the Tujue encampment. I have a plan for where to place our troops.

Second Prince: Marshal Li, since you already have a plan for where to place our troops, surely you won't object to hearing my suggestion.

General Li: Of course not.

Second Prince: General Hua, you are leading the advance attack. It is a heavy responsibility. What do you think?

Mulan [hesitates]: Based on what we know through intelligence, the Tujue army is currently at these two locations [indicates on map] and is trying to lure our troops into battle. I think we should split the army into three and send one head-on to face the Tujue, with the other two coming around the Tujue in a pincers movement from behind. We should avoid a direct charge and instead try to get the Tujue army to enter the gorge. We can then trap them and annihilate them in one fell swoop.

Second Prince: So Marshal Li, what do you think of General Hua's suggestion?

General Li [nods]: I agree completely with General Hua. [The Second Prince looks surprised at his words and hurriedly composes himself. Mulan notices his reaction and carefully watches him]

Second Prince: Of course. Marshal Li and General Hua discuss all matters under the sun with each other. It's to be expected that they discuss military strategy together. It's a good thing that we have two such military geniuses in the army like Marshal Li and General Hua. It's like having two marshals.

Mulan [hastily]: This is only my opinion. Marshal Li will still make the final decision.

Second Prince: Of course.

[A soldier comes running inside and salutes both General Li and the other generals]

Soldier: We have discovered the Tujue army's whereabouts.

General Li: Where are they?

Soldier: It's due west of camp about seven miles away near a village.

Mulan [aghast]: How could they move so quickly?

General Li: How accurate is this information? Where did you get it?

Soldier: A villager has just arrived in camp. He barely escaped though he is badly wounded.

Second Prince: Bring him in!

[The villager comes inside the tent, sporting a bandaged head and numerous bruises on his face. He is almost hysterical with fear]

Villager: You must save us! The Tujue are not human! They kill anyone they meet and burn any house they see!

Second Prince [sternly to General Li]: Marshal Li, you must send some troops to rescue these people immediately!

Mulan: No, we can't do that. [The Second Prince is surprised that Mulan dare speak back to him]

General Li [evenly]: We must not act hastily.

Second Prince [incredulously]: Sending troops to rescue Sui subjects is acting hastily?

Mulan: With the main Tujue army before us, the main objective is much more important. We must not let anything get in the way of our main goal.

Second Prince: Marshal Li, I think it's time you put in your two cents. Or are you of the same mind as General Hua yet again? [His tone is challenging; he's obviously trying to egg General Li into making a bad decision]

General Li: General Hua, your have a point. [Mulan stands a little straighter in response to his praise] There must be a reason why the Tujue suddenly popped up out of nowhere without rhyme nor reason. However, I have great faith in our Sui army. We have a huge enemy before us. The Tujue have gone too far when they stoop to killing our civilians. This villager took a great risk coming here to tell us about what happened. If we know all this yet we do not march out to help, then we are no better than mere animals! [The Second Prince nods his head in agreement] We march out immediately!

Mulan [blurts]: Brother Liang! [Realizing her mistake] I mean, Marshal Li, we should reconsider this.

General Li [stern]: Rescuing people is like rescuing a fire. You can't stall for time.

Mulan: But you know that doing this is extremely dangerous, yet you're insisting on still going?

General Li: Warfare is dangerous.

Mulan: But.

General Li: I have issued my order. Let's hear no more about it.

Second Prince [praising]: Marshal Li, your actions are decisive and sure. I see that you truly are a genius.

General Li: Officers, here are your orders! [Turns to Mulan] General Hua, have I made my instructions clear?

Mulan: Yes, sir, I fully understand and support your orders. As the leader of the advance attacking group, I volunteer my troops to do reconnaissance on this village in advance of the main army. Will you grant this request?

General Li [surprised]: You want to scope out the village first?

Mulan: The advance troops can go first and hopefully rescue some people. Plus, we can reconnoiter the surroundings and gather information for our army. This would be killing two birds with one stone. I think this solution is good for all involved.

General Li: You do realize this mission is extremely dangerous?

Mulan: I have long since put aside fears of living or dying.

Second Prince: I see that General Hua is loyal and honorable to the core with bravery to match. My father chose well when he picked you for this position. Marshal Li, rescuing people is like rescuing a fire. General Hua, we await your order to march, then you can start immediately.

[Mulan is thinking in her head and praying that her husband will support her. "Brother Liang, please trust me on this."]

General Li: General Hua, prepare to receive your orders!

Mulan: Yes, sir!

General Li: I am ordering you to immediately head to the village seven miles east of camp. You are to engage the enemy if you see them and save anyone you can.

Mulan: Yes, sir! [She marches out, leaving the other officers behind. General Li makes a move to follow her but the Second Prince has some more words]

Second Prince: Marshal Li, since the Tujue have suddenly arrived, we need to review strategy and tactics. We must prepare for the unexpected. Come. [General Li keeps casting glances in Mulan's direction; he obviously is worried about her but cannot shirk his duties as marshal]

[Cut to scene of the troops getting their rice rations for dinner. A soldier is scooping a ration for each soldier as he steps by the rice bin. Jili is impatiently standing in line]

Jili [muttering]: So long just to dish out rice? How can we run an army this way? Hey, hurry up in front! [Mulan abruptly yanks him from the line] What the heck are you doing?

Mulan: The advance troops, here is your order. We march immediately! If you cause any delays you will be punished accordingly!

Jili: Couldn't we at least wait till dinner is over?

Mulan: We march immediately! [She turns and leaves. Her troops are either excited or worried about having to go to battle so soon]

Zhu You: Hey, we're about to head out to go beat up some Tujue.

Zhang Xi: If we're not careful, we could be the ones getting beat up by the Tujue.

Zhu You: Now wait a minute, stop making them bigger than they are by making yourself smaller.

Zhang Xi: Oh really? I was making them bigger at the expense of your glory.

Zhu You [irate]: Zhang Xi! I'm going to get you for that! Now see here! [A fellow soldier calms down Zhu You and they both head off to regroup]

[Cut to scene in camp late that evening. General Li is running through the camp trying to find Mulan. He stops to talk to a guard on duty]

General Li: Have you seen General Hua?

Guard: General Hua has already left.

[General Li's face falls. He pulls the small yellow triangle his mother gave him to hand to Mulan. He looks at it and his face is filled with regret that he didn't give it to her when he had the chance. He clenches it in his fist in frustration]

[Cut to woods outside camp. It is morning now and Mulan is leading her troops at a fast pace. They stop near a grove of trees]

Mulan: Everyone, take a rest. We'll reach our goal in about an hour. Remember, no starting fires, no talking loudly, and maintain quiet at all times. [Her soldiers all hush her. She smiles slightly at them and turns away. They all sit down to rest when a rumbling sound is heard]

Zhang Xi: Hey, what was that? [The rumbling sound repeats. This time, Xiangzi also hears it. The rumbling continues]

Xiangzi: It's not me.

Zhu You: Why's everyone looking at me? It's not me. [Turns to Jili] Where's that sound coming from? [Jili looks uncomfortable and remains silent. Mulan, who has guessed the source of the noise, shakes her head in dismay. The other soldiers all lean in towards Jili and the rumbling continues]

Jili: What are you looking at? I'm the source. [He gets up and walks off]

Soldiers: Hey, we knew it had to be you.

[Jili goes over to a tree several feet away and sits down on the ground while leaning against the trunk. His stomach keeps growling. He recalls the little grey bundle Yiren gave him and he fishes it out of his pocket]

Jili [muttering]: I wonder why she wanted to give me a gift? [He opens the bundle up and brings out a tiny little bread roll. It is about the size of a golf ball, but is painted with food dye to look like a Celestial Peach] Wow. I have a special roll at my side at all times. That's too cool. [Looks to sky] Jade Emperor, you really treat me well. [He puts it in his mouth but pulls it out before he has a chance to bite down on it] This roll is so intricately made. It must have taken a lot of time and effort to make it. If I obliterate it like this it's really too cruel. [He puts it back in his mouth but again pulls it out again] But rolls are meant to be eaten. Besides, I haven't eaten anything all day. [He tries yet again to eat the roll but again can't bear to eat it. He pulls it out and starts looking at it dreamily] Jade Emperor, why must you torment me so? In such a cold and hungry time you give me such a super roll, yet you make it impossible for me to bear to eat it. You're being too cruel! You're just too cruel! [A loud boom of thunder is heard from above, making Jili quake in fear] I'm sorry, Jade Emperor. I was only kidding. Don't take it personally! I'll slap my mouth as punishment, okay? [Slaps himself a few times. He then puts the roll back in the grey sack and tucks it back in his pocket]

[Meanwhile, Mulan looks at the darkening sky in concern]

Mulan: The weather looks like it's changing. We must get on the road again.

[Cut to scene of General Li standing on the road that Mulan took earlier in the day. He is alone and looking very worried. His guilt is eating at him but there is nothing he can do]

[Cut to Second Prince's tent. He is sitting in a chair with a blazing brazier serving to warm the tent. A soldier comes in with a basin of water, then kneels before the Second Prince. He takes the Second Prince's boots off and proceeds to wash his feet for him. The Second Prince sits back and enjoys the feeling of warm water on his feet. His trusted eunuch comes in and greets him]

Second Prince: Why aren't you asleep yet?

Eunuch: We are at the edge with an enemy before us. I think it'd be better to sleep less in this case. However, I think that tonight I won't be the only person who can't sleep. [He chuckles at his little joke]

Second Prince: So how is Li Liang doing?

Eunuch: Your Highness, you do beat all! No one can hide from those keen and piercing eyes. This Li Liang refuses to take off his armor and continues to stand on the road with no intention of going to bed. You know, it looks like he has little faith in this mission and is worried about its outcome.

Second Prince: Li Liang isn't worried about the Tujue leading a night-time raid on us. He's worried about Hua Mulan. [Seeing the eunuch's puzzled expression] Even though I have been stirring the pot greatly, they are still husband and wife. Besides, Hua Mulan is leading her troops into danger all alone. It's hard to predict if she'll make it back alive. Li Liang is her husband; how could he not worry about her? Truth to tell, I'm a little worried myself.

Eunuch: What? You're worried about Hua Mulan's welfare also? [The soldier has finished washing the Second Prince's feet and puts back on his boots for him, then leaves]

Second Prince: Of course. I arranged all of this and even came on this trip in person so I could see the fun. If Hua Mulan goes on this mission and fails, then my journey will have been for nothing, as I didn't get to see anything entertaining or see her up against Shile's invincible army. Why wouldn't I be concerned? [The eunuch chuckles when he hears these words. They walk to the tent flap together and peer outside] There is no honor in court and no mercy in battle. This husband-and-wife team needs to learn this sooner or later!

[Cut to burned-out village. Mulan is standing in the middle of the street looking grim. General Li leads his men into the village and approaches Mulan]

General Li: What's the matter? You look awful.

Mulan [without emotion]: I'm fine. Go inside there and see something even more awful.

General Li: Oh?

Mulan: You'll understand when you see it. [General Li sees Jili retching in the corner, then turns and heads in the direction of the building indicated. He walks inside and sees many civilian bodies on the ground. A flash of lightning lights up the inside of the room. There is writing on the wall in what is supposed to be blood]

General Li [reading aloud]: "The Sui Empire: no descendents." [General Li is furious] Beasts! Even dogs and pigs are higher than they are! Soldiers! Give every body here a proper burial.

[Cut to scene outside the building. General Li is moodily staring at the ground. Mulan approaches him]

Mulan: When we arrived at the village they were already like that.

General Li: We arrived too late. If we had gotten here sooner, they may have been able to avoid a fate like that.

Mulan: You mustn't be so hard on yourself. The Tujue are the ones who killed these innocent people. [He eyes her but remains silent; he is still blaming himself over the massacre. A soldier comes running up to them]

Soldier: Sir, Marshal, sir, we have discovered the trail the Tujue left behind.

General Li: Where?

Soldier: It's in the immediate vicinity. Sir, let us go after these beasts and slaughter them all.

Mulan: We mustn't act too quickly. It could be a trap.

General Li [seething]: We came to rescue people, not to collect corpses!

Mulan: If we rush out and attack now, we may easily be surrounded. I understand what everyone's feeling; I also want to exact retribution for these villagers. But we came here to fight a war, not go after personal vengeance. We must not act based on emotion.

General Li [impatiently]: Are you quite finished? The battlefield never had room for mercy. In war, it's either kill or be killed. Who forced us to come here? [Mulan looks down and remains silent] The Tujue did. Since we're here, they will pay the price! [He strides off, leaving Mulan behind with her thoughts]

[Cut to where the Tujue army is stationed]

Tujue Khan: A big fire and a few wounded soldiers, and the Sui army is in complete disarray. You have absolutely no discipline. Li Liang, Hua Mulan, it seems to me that you have the name but can't back it up. Don't you have a saying: "To kill a snake cut off at least seven inches; to kill a man cut out his horse from under him?" I'll make sure the lead horse is cut off from your army. [He turns to an officer next to him] Have you prepared the thing I asked you to?

Officer: It's all prepared and brought into camp.

Tujue Khan: This war is finally about to go full bore.

[Cut to fields where Mulan's troops are standing around forlornly]

Zhu You: I never thought the Tujue soldiers were worse than animals. They didn't even let women and children go; they killed them all.

Xiangzi [murmuring]: It's too cruel.

Zhang Xi: Then what about us?

Zhu You: What?

Zhang Xi: Didn't you see those Tujue corpses?

Xiangzi: That's true. When I saw those Tujue corpses, I didn't realize I was looking at human corpses. I thought I was looking at a pile of rotting meat that was smeared beyond recognition.

Zhang Xi [nodding]: One day, we may all end up looking like that.

Xiangzi: That won't happen, will it?

[Jili looks as if he is paralyzed in place. He doesn't say anything and doesn't move. In concern, Zhu You comes over and taps him on the shoulder]

Zhu You: Esteemed One, what's the matter?

[Jili reaches over and, with shaking fingers, picks up his sword. He shakily gets to his feet and walks off]

Xiangzi: Esteemed One, where are you going?

Zhu You: Teacher, where are you going? [He gets no response. He turns to Xiangzi] You don't suppose he's possessed, do you?

[Jili walks off down the road in a daze. Zhang Xi, Zhu You, and Xiangzi all watch him go in concern]